Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sceneramics, Part 1

Ten 'Sceneramics' were built by Pullman Standard for Milwaukee Road, numbered 50 to 59 and were delivered in 1952 at a cost of $325,000 each. Originally christened Super-Domes*, the cars were painted in Milwaukee's attractive harvest orange, royal maroon and black passenger scheme. The Sceneramics are often confused with other specialty dome cars, so let's get some definitions out of the way:
  • Sceneramic - a full-length dome, built as Super-Domes for Milwaukee Road in 1952, retired by VIA in 1982,  used mainly between Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver (*I'll use the term Sceneramic throughout this series for clarity)
  • Skytop (Skyview in CN service) - an 8 double-bedroom, round-end bar lounge car, built for Milwaukee Road in 1949, refurbished by CN at Pointe St Charles in 1965, retired by CN in 1977, used mainly in Eastern Canada, the Corridor and Jasper-Prince Rupert
  • Skyline - a mid-train dome, built for CP in 1955, still in service with VIA, used in Eastern and Western Canada
The Sceneramic design was unique for its time, involving three-level construction:

51" from railhead car-end entrance level (no vestibules) with one washroom at each end, two Waukesha DC enginators (generators) and electrical equipment at one end, A/C unit, compressor and water tanks at other end. Placement of this heavy equipment was necessitated by the drop-floor design of the car, and essentially made the car mechanically independent from the rest of the train. The entrances led to side passageways that were open to dome level, leading down three stairs to:
23" from railhead 28-seat lounge and stainless steel kitchen/bar in centre of car below:
104" from railhead 68-seat full length dome reached by six stairs up.
There was no centre sill, instead two 24-foot girder-type General Steel castings at each car end met with side sills that were load-bearing in the centre of the car. General also produced the 6-wheel, 11-foot wheelbase Timken roller bearing trucks with 36 1/2" wheels and large outboard springs, each weighing 33,275 pounds, to maintain the 15'6" external height cars' stability. The Trane A/C plant had a 20-ton capacity to keep the car and its 625 sq.ft. glass dome comfortably cool, the refrigeration equipment capable of producing 20 tons of ice per day. The 21 rubber-mounted double-glazed dome glass panels measured 3x5 feet and were lightly tinted. Manufactured by Adams & Westlake, the outer layer was 1/4-inch Pittsburgh Plate Glass Solex heat-resistant plate glass, with a 3/8-inch laminated Solex safety plate glass inside, separated by a 28-inch steel roof panel. Two Waukesha Motor Co. 25 kW diesel generators rated at 40 volts DC rested on pull-out tracks for servicing, also accessible from inside. The 85-foot car, with supplies and passenger load at 224,080 lbs. total weight.

In Milwaukee Road service, the cars were called Super Domes, initially used on the Chicago-Tacoma Olympian Hiawatha and Chicago-Minneapolis Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas.
After 1957, the Sceneramics were deemed surplus to the needs of the Milwaukee Road. Acquired by CN in 1964-65 intended for use by sleeping car passengers, the cars were named after western Canadian rivers upon shopping:
  • 2700 Jasper, ex-MILW 50, acquired by CN in 1964
  • 2701 Athabasca, ex-MILW 53, acquired 1964
  • 2702 Yellowhead, ex-MILW 54, acquired 1964
  • 2703 Fraser, ex-MILW 56, acquired 1964
  • 2704 Qu'Appelle, ex-MILW 51, acquired 1965
  • 2705 Columbia, ex-MILW 52, acquired 1965 
Initially numbered in the 2400-series, the cars were renumbered into the 2700-series in 1974. Names were visible on car sides, with numbers on ends. Existing CN parlour car car 573-Athabaska was renamed Great Slave Lake to prevent a conflict. (Columbia at Jasper, above. Jasper at Vancouver, below. Both photos - Brian Schuff collection)
The first four cars entered service by July 1964 after shopping at Transcona. CN replaced 39 centre-dome seats with lounge seating in twos and threes plus revolving single club car seats in 1971. In 1973, the entire upper level was modified with all lounge furniture in red/purple/blue/green with a total capacity of 54 seats.
Modifications were also made to the kitchen, lounge, passageway and a dome serving area was added. The attendant is getting ready to 'highball' in more ways than one. Numerous ashtrays on tables make one wonder about a smoke-filled dome. Notice the clear plastic bound covers on the magazines at right for passengers who have given up on getting a decent view out the dome windows and are tired of looking at their own reflection - 1974 interior photo (Brian Schuff collection):
Some early limitations of the cars' design was the mildly comfortable seating and the minimal forward view from the dome. CN passenger angling for a shot of mountains:
CN passengers made the most of the Sceneramics. A British family travelled across Canada in July 1964, at the dawn of CN's Sceneramic fleet. Their candid photos reveal views of a family exploring our great nation aboard CN's newest passenger cars: dome view of Hell's Gate, dome interior, lower level lounge, single dome seats and passageway and the difficulties of Sceneramic phorward photography, even on a curve! Single CN SW shepherds Sceneramic shadowed by spruce and surprisingly sheer, snow-capped sierra:
For a spine-tingling Sceneramic saga at Jasper, check out Bruce Harvey's Runaway Super-Dome. Thanks to Elijah Hall for the link! Yellowhead in service, 1974 (this and bottom photo, Brian Schuff collection):
CN featured the cars in several brochures from the mid-60's to the early-70's:
John Hardy spent some time in a Sceneramic aboard the Super, heading west from Winnipeg in 1973, from his book Canadian Rail Travel
     "On this trip, the train had a full length Sceneramic dome car in which I rode for much of the afternoon. This car had been purchased used from an American railway as part of CN's passenger marketing strategy. The upper, glassed level of the monstrous car was laid out as an observation lounge with a bar in the middle portion. The lower section contained a lounge, kitchen and generators. Only three passengers and the bar attendant occupied the observation lounge. By moving to the front of the car, I was able to photograph a couple of stations as the train passed through rural Manitoba. Riding up in the warmth of the dome car, I felt insulated from the harsh winter which gripped the Canadian Prairie outside."
Initially, in 1964 the cars were to be serviced in Jasper, but maintenance facilities there proved inadequate, resulting in movement to Edmonton on the Super Continental. Until 1968, the Sceneramics were used on the Super Continental and Panorama. In 1969 they operated year-round on the Super only, though in 1970 they interestingly operated out of Toronto. 1972 CN onboard brochure:
Though I should have known this while writing this post, I did have an opportunity to ride in a Sceneramic on CN's Super Continental. Okay, I was four. L.C. Gagnon photos (three, below) of our family in the dome. We appear larger than life in the reflections!
Two Sceneramics at Jasper. Perhaps one was the Sceneramic added to our train at Jasper.
Our train is stopped at an outlook to view majestic Mount Robson. Check the CN logo on the car ahead, the stepbox and the natty porter's uniform.
From 1970-78 the cars operated Winnipeg-Vancouver from September-June, and Saskatoon-Jasper-Edmonton-Vancouver in summer, except 1976 used Winnipeg-Vancouver year-round. From 1978, the cars operated Edmonton-Vancouver only, except from October 1979-January 1980 operation was Vancouver to Winnipeg. Here's Qu'Appelle at Edmonton:
This 1974 end view at Edmonton shows the cars' lack of vestibules and black end doors with silver push bar complete with car name. This photo brings us to the 'end' of Part 1. Read more about the cars in VIA service in Part 2.
Running extra...

Though I consider this post on VIA's Canadian in 1984 my favourite Trackside Treasure post due it's F-unit-laden photo subject matter, I feel like I have given birth to this Sceneramic series. I've been able to cobble together more information and photos (many through the generous co-operation of Winnipeg's Brian Schuff) than I've found in any other single location. Loaded with links, click away to discover more Sceneramics! It seems  that once passengers got off the train in a place like Jasper, they proceeded to take photos of the biggest thing around, be it the mountains, a totem pole, Jasper the Bear or a CN Sceneramic!

Speaking of the biggest thing around, check out Ben Alain's Youtube video of the Alberta Free-Mo event. The shooting took three hours, and the editing really lets you enjoy the various Free-Mo modules, meets, rolling stock and even off-layout happenings. Very enjoyable to watch - better than those hokey fish tank screensavers. Imagine yourself riding the pilot of the unit on this train! A model railway in a hockey arena - very Canadian!


Ian Lisakowski said...

WOW! Just awesome Eric! Thanks to that fantastic floor plan showing the redone interior, now I have to adjust my updated interior on my first Sceneramic! Thankfully I haven't started the second one.

I know I'll be referring to these posts many, many times.

Can't wait for Part 2.


Zartok-35 said...

An excellent subject for elaboration! Between that shot of Athabasca you posted a few years ago, and Bruce Harvey's 'Runaway Superdome' story, I've been hooked on Sceneramic Superdomes. I even bought a model from Walthers! It's VIA, as the 1980/1981 Super Connie is my specific area of interest.

I especially like the part about their summertime switching here at the home front. Up to now, I had only read about adding sleepers.

I can hardly wait for the next post!

Eric said...

Hi Ian,

As a Superliner aficianado, I knew this post would interest you. Thanks for your kind comments, and I'm glad that it has positively (more than negatively, I hope) affected your modelling project.

Part 2 will include VIA operations and a healthy dose of Sceneramic rumours.


Eric said...

Thanks for your kinds comments and the building anticipation for Part 2, Elijah. It'll feature my observations of the Sceneramics on the Super Connie of 1980-81.

Thanks also for that link to Bruce Harvey's excellent story. I've added the link to this post. It's a great story!

I like the other Super Connie (the Lockheed Super Constellation), too! They're both elegant and classy forms of transportation of their respective eras.


One Man Committee said...

Wonderful wonderful wonderful post. I didn't set foot on a VIA train for the first time until 1986 so I missed the Sceneramics, but I've always been fascinated by them. Thanks for this treasure trove of information.

Eric said...

My pleasure, OMC. Though the cars are often identified with their mountain routing, they certainly had a Winnipeg presence. And that was before they entered the purgatory of East Yard where Brian and I independently photographed them.

Thanks for your kind comments, and I really enjoy bringing to light anything from the earlier eras of VIA.


Anonymous said...

Dear Eric...Sure looks great! The ex milw domes were sure a big rolling fish-bowl. Often extreme hot in the summer when the ac was working, hotter when it wasn t. My only riding experience was July 1979, Vanc to Ed with the Fraser or Qu Appel in B/W CN colors. At Ed it was switched out to a heavy weight lounge car for Ed to Tor.I took pictures in East yard in Wpg in 1982 with 3 cars sitting, 2 in CN and 1 in VIA colors. Those were the days. The consist for my trip is in your collection of consists sent to you for your book. It is so kind of you to share these images to the world of passenger train followers, Viafiles and others. look forward to more Eric. I-Spy to follow with sat consist of no 1. 6401 and 64-- with 21 cars and Banff pk at Diamond MB. R3K.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, observations at Diamond and observations on dome-observations!

That July/79 consist is indeed in my Consist Companion book - Fraser off and Lake Makamik on at Edmonchuk.

Check back for VIA and CN-painted cars at East Yard. Fraser ended up there in CN colours - I noted it in October 1980 and then again in 1982. Bad order, baby! Code 5!


BA railsystem said...

I really enjoyed this post Eric. Very educational especially for someone like myself who came after the Sceneramics. I liked all the technical details you provided and was amazed at how heavy these cars were. Thanks for the link to Big Valley. Now I am looking forward to part II.


Mark Perry said...

Great post my friend, great pics!


Eric said...

Thanks, Ben and Mark for your kind comments. Everyone is looking forward to Part 2, so I'd better set the bar good and high! Brian's photos have certainly added to my own. I'm hesitant to posting others' photos, hence the plethora of links. The vacationing family's photos were very cool...I did not attempt to contact them, though.

As a post grows too long, with a wearying number of photos, it's time to serialize, as British magazines have done for decades. That's how we end with Sceneramics, Part 1 AND Part 2. Too much good stuff! I know what it's like to have a short attention span and be faced with too much material to get through.


Randy Zarowny said...

Have a look at the link if you don't know about it.
We had no.57 BC Rail 152 for the Pacific Starlight Dinner Train.
We found it had bad springs on one end and did a change out of the large main springs.
Also crawling around under and in the car I did find out about the very large castings that were part of the frame of these cars.
The end doors were a bit screwy in that they conflicted the washroom doorways, so we removed the end doors so that folks wouldn't get trapped in the washrooms. Heavy but nice riding car!

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Randy. Good to have you aboard. Regarding engineering of the Sceneramics, it sounds like some was good (under-car castings) and not so good (hey, this door doesn't open right).

Looking at the original MILW floorplans I posted, I can see how the bathroom might be temporarily blocked. Plus it looks like there was an access door in that spot, too.

Here's a link to an original MILW publicity article (copy/paste/click/scroll, sorry) which shows the 'Commonwealth one-piece cast steel platforms':


jeff kehoe said...

Great history there. Nice some of them are still around. Had a ride in one back in the 1950s when I was just a kid, but I can remember it well. Only on the they say.
Jeff Kehoe

Eric said...

Good to have you aboard, Jeff. The Super-Domes were certainly revolutionary for their time - and big. Glad you had a ride on one in their heyday. Their life on CN and moreso VIA was not always happy, but other owners were able to bring them back to life!

Thanks very much for your comment,

Anonymous said...

A little-known historical note...there were actually 11 of the super domes built for MILW. The original #50 was wrecked on a pre-service demonstration trip just after being delivered. At a point just outside Superior Montana the train hit a washout bridge. Several sleepers and the Superdome derailed into the creek bed. One sleeper took out a support pole for the overhead catenary wire. The wires fell right on top of the dome roof and grounded out causing a fire. The Superdome and a sleeper were gutted. From what I remember from the Trains Magazine story, there were not fatalities and Pullman built a new #50 for MILW soon after. The original car technically never entered revenue service before it's destruction.

Mike Lisowski

Mike lisowski said...

Further info on the wreck of MILW 50...the wreck occurred Sunday May 31, 1953. 6.5 miles outside Super MT. The wreck was caused by a broken rail leaving the Superdome stradling a wood trestle. Downed catenary wires ignited spilled diesel fuel from the unit's Waukesha generator which led to the fire which burned out the car. The carcass was returned to Pullman Standard as a wreck "repair" hence no new number for the car. In fact only a few parts could be salvaged from the hulk and a new car was constructed. Bookkeeping wise the job was given a repair/rebuild number but semantics aside MILW got a new car. There is a photo at of the wreck site and a detailed description.

Eric said...

Thanks very much for that interesting MILW history, Mike. These cars, albeit a small fleet, have a very interesting story to tell!


Eric said...

Thanks very much for that interesting MILW history, Mike. These cars, albeit a small fleet, have a very interesting story to tell!