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Reviewed by:
  • The Train of Tomorrow
  • Jeff Schramm (bio)
The Train of Tomorrow. By Ric Morgan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi+211. $49.95.

In a fit of postwar optimism, General Motors collaborated with passenger railcar builder Pullman Standard to create "the train of tomorrow," a streamlined rolling advertisement for GM's locomotives and other products, and for the seemingly endless possibilities of rail passenger travel. The train consisted of a General Motors Electro-Motive Division E-7 type locomotive and four domed passenger cars, Star Dust, Sky View, Dream Cloud, and Moon Glow, designed with an upper tier of seats and a glass roof for viewing scenery. The train of tomorrow went on tour across the United States and Canada from May 1947 to October 1949. After the tour it was sold to the Union Pacific Railroad where the cars, though separated from one another, remained in passenger service until the 1960s.

Ric Morgan's meticulously researched book is divided into two parts. The first, "The History of the Train of Tomorrow," contains seven chapters [End Page 474] that chronicle the train from its initial conception to eventual disposition. The idea for the train was conceived in the waning days of World War II by Cyrus Osborn, general manager of Electro-Motive, after a ride in a locomotive cab through the Rocky Mountains. A large-scale model was constructed by GM's styling division under the direction of Harley Earl and shown to railroad executives. The response was positive. While the cars were constructed by Pullman Standard, the design and much of the engineering work was done by GM. The train was to be a showcase not only for GM's railroad offerings but also those of other GM divisions such as Frigidaire.

The two chapters dealing with the concept and refinement of the idea of the train are in many ways the most interesting, for they give a look at the inner workings of at least a small part of the behemoth that was GM. While Morgan provides little analysis, the story itself is captivating. The rest of the history of the train slips into chronology but nonetheless includes some wonderful slice-of-life moments such as the grade-crossing collision with a Chevrolet driven by an Indiana farmer, a perhaps too-real illustration of the conflict between road and rail transportation in the postwar period.

The second part of the book, "The Train of Tomorrow Inside and Out," is a comprehensive and detailed first-person narrative walk-through of the train with ample photographs and plans to give the reader a real feel for what it was like. An appendix contains an anonymous first person daily diary of the nationwide tour and more technical information.

This self-professed labor of love for author Morgan is exhaustively researched and well-illustrated with photos, drawings, advertisements, and even the musical score to "Wonderful Train of Tomorrow." Indeed, one could almost re-create the actual train with the information contained in this book. Morgan mined a wide variety of sources, including corporate brochures and newspapers, and also made use of oral histories. Despite the wealth of technical and other details about the train, however, the larger context of its development, exhibition, and later use is ignored. Even the important story of how one small division swayed GM management in favor of promoting rail travel is lost. Nor is there any address to the larger story of the decline of passenger rail travel in the United States.

In the mind of the public, General Motors killed the American passenger train to promote the use of highway vehicles. This urban legend refuses to die despite all evidence to the contrary. Morgan's book, while not overtly addressing the "conspiracy," does remind readers that GM not only produced buses and automobiles but also diesel-electric locomotives and even a futuristic passenger train. It also is an example of the unbounded technological optimism of the United States during the postwar period. Thus this line from "Wonderful Train of Tomorrow": "Oh today's the day are you goin' my way towards a shining brighter 'morrow?"

For a short time that brighter 'morrow at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 474-476
Launched on MUSE
2008-05-02
Open Access
No
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