Olympian Hiawatha

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Olympian Hiawatha

Postby gokeefe » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:21 pm

As part of my research for the "Closed & Vacant" stations topic in the Amtrak forum I found myself doing a fair amount of research on the Milwaukee Road and read up on the Olympian Hiawatha and it's unfortunate end in 1961.

Having also gained an understanding of the route used by the Empire Builder and the North Coast Limited via the CB&Q into Chicago I was even more surprised that a train going via Mikwaukee to Minneapolis would have had trouble competing with trains that skipped Milwaukee (and the northern Chicago suburbs) entirely.

I would appreciate any thoughts on why this train seemed to have such difficulty competing against services that did not reach as many people.

Finally I think this train is worthy of a topic all it's own and consequently here it is ...
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby gokeefe » Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:06 pm

Here is a page with the MILW Passenger Timetable showing the Olympian Hiawatha during it's heyday as a streamliner.

I also find it notable the Olympian Hiawatha is the only northern transcontinental service that was ever discontinued prior to Amtrak. I can't think of any others ...
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby vermontanan » Fri Jul 20, 2018 8:50 pm

gokeefe wrote:I would appreciate any thoughts on why this train seemed to have such difficulty competing against services that did not reach as many people.


The reason is that the other "services" really did "reach" as many people, and the right kind of people. While the Olympian Hiawatha certainly could tap more of the Wisconsin market than the CB&Q route, one has to realize that west of the Twin Cities in places like the Dakotas and Montana, Minneapolis/St. Paul (not Milwaukee) is (or this case, are) "the big city." This is true even today looking at ridership data from Amtrak. From Fargo, the number one destination for Amtrak passengers by numbers thereof is Chicago; next is St. Paul. Milwaukee is No. 7. From Minot, St. Paul is the No. 1 destination. Milwaukee didn't even make the top 10.

And it is west of the Twin Cities where the Olympian Hiawatha had nothing going for it. Population served in South Dakota on the Milwaukee paled in comparison to GN and NP routes across North Dakota, and GN even had two passenger train routes between the Twin Cities and Minot; The Olympian Hiawatha might have served Butte and Missoula, but so did the NP. When it came to exclusivity of service west of South Dakota, being the only railroad offering passenger service in Roundup and St. Maries and Othello was unproductive compared to the same situation in places like Williston, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell/Whitefish, Pasco-Richland-Kennewick, Yakima, and Wenatchee.

Great Northern basically built Glacier National Park and its hostelry infrastructure and capitalized on exclusive rail access. UP and NP got the lion's shares of rail traffic to and from Yellowstone. The Milwaukee claimed to serve Yellowstone, but even the CB&Q (via Cody) brought in more people. The Milwaukee Road, in spite of building the white elephant that was/is the Gallatin Gateway Inn for Yellowstone travelers, was able to attract relatively few patrons to use its trains via its circuitous Three Forks gateway.

Connections? Just about none for the Olympian Hiawatha west of Wisconsin. GN (and NP to a lesser extent) attracted passengers to its transcontinental trains from secondary trains from places like Duluth, Grand Forks, and Winnipeg. But the big missing link for the Milwaukee was in the Pacific Northwest: No Portland section of the Olympian Hiawatha and the all-important connections to/from California via SP, and no direct connecting service to and from Bellingham and Vancouver, BC that was so well-served by the Great Northern.

Equipment? The home-grown equipment on the Olympian Hiawatha was generally considered to be vastly inferior to the Budd-built equipment of the GN, NP, CB&Q, and SP&S. The only dome car run the Olympian Hiawatha was its Super Dome, which very much lacked forward visibility, one of the most appealing things about dome car riding. And after 1955, the Olympian Hiawatha was the lone "transcontinental" passenger train on the Milwaukee while GN still operated two real streamliners (Empire Builder and Western Star) and to a lesser extent, the NP had the Mainstreeter to accompany the North Coast Limited.

All things considered, the Chicago-Twin Cities-Pacific Northwest corridor really had more passenger trains than it should have (indeed, NP and MILW explored running trains on alternate days), and when the time came to start whittling down the fleet, the train with all the inferior attributes (after the Columbian, of course) was the first to go.
Last edited by vermontanan on Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby gokeefe » Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:24 pm

Well that is certainly interesting to read. Although I had often read about MILW's "home brew" equipment I had never seen any indication regarding quality (positive or negative).

With regard to Portland this of course makes a lot of sense and I didn't realize that Milwaukee would be such a low priority destination for the West. I also never thought about connections to California. I have to agree that for a first class passenger service that's a pretty big deficiency.

Did the Olympian Hiawatha connect at any point to a route that could have served California?
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby vermontanan » Fri Jul 20, 2018 11:24 pm

gokeefe wrote:Well that is certainly interesting to read.


You might find the second half (passenger service) of this interesting: http://www.gngoat.org/GN-MILW-NP.pdf

gokeefe wrote:Did the Olympian Hiawatha connect at any point to a route that could have served California?


Kind of. The last westbound Olympian Hiawatha was scheduled to arrive Seattle Union Station at 755 AM. There was a tunnel connecting Union Station (served by the MILW and UP) with King Street Station (served by the GN and NP). Passengers could walk through the tunnel and possibly connect with GN train 460 departing at 805 AM arriving in Portland at 1210 PM or with NP train 408 departing Seattle at 1210 PM arriving Portland 410 PM with through cars to SP train 11, the Cascade, arriving in San Francisco (via bus from Oakland) at 905 AM the next morning. But the Empire Builder/North Coast Limited arrived in Portland on SP&S at 700 AM and California passengers could immediately transfer to SP train 9 (Shasta Daylight - by 1961 this train ran only tri-weekly in the off season) departing 745 AM arriving in San Francisco at 1120 PM that same evening.

With regard to the other big destination in the area (American Pacific Northwest/Canadian Pacific Southwest), Vancouver, BC, Great Northern scheduled train 358 to depart Seattle at 730 AM from King Street Station, 25 minutes before the Olympian Hiawatha got to adjacent Union Station. And in the event of late trains, passengers to/from Vancouver, BC on GN transcontinental trains often changed trains at Everett. In the early 1950s after the christening of the "Mid-Century" Empire Builder and the creation of the Western Star using the 1947 Empire Builder equipment, GN touted its service from Vancouver, BC via Everett/Seattle and Chicago (then via GTW-CN) to cities like Toronto and Montreal as being significantly faster than that offered by CN and CP, which by this time had yet to offer its passengers the streamliner option.

The Olympian Hiawatha actually originated and terminated at Tacoma, not Seattle, so some have touted this as a "plus" for that train. Maybe, but Tacoma is hardly a Portland or Vancouver. NP served Tacoma via buses from its East Auburn stop, and by the end of Olympian Hiawatha service, a trip from Chicago to Tacoma on Empire Builder and GN 460 (via Seattle) was over an hour and a half faster than the Olympian Hiawatha.

As for other points that could have been used to "access California" from the Olympian Hiawatha: Travel all the way to Southern California (Los Angeles) was possible from Butte, Montana via Union Pacific's "Butte Special" and a secondary train from Salt Lake City. The timing was good in Butte for this, but UP trains arrived and departed at the NP station in Butte, meaning the best connections were to/from the NP North Coast Limited. The UP and MILW shared Union Station in Spokane and in 1961, the UP did provide Spokane-Portland service via connection to their "mainline" trains at Hinkle, Oregon. But the connections were timed for the UP trains at Hinkle, and didn't work for the Olympian Hiawatha.

So, west of the Twin Cities, basically nothing for connections - at all - for the Olympian Hiawatha.
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby wjstix » Tue Nov 20, 2018 12:58 pm

Sorry for re-surfacing an old posting. Anyway, important to understand the Olympian Hiawatha was the post-war streamlined version of the Milwaukee's old Olympian transcontinental (Chicago - Seattle) train. The Milwaukee did very well with the Hiawatha competing with the Burlington and other railroads between the Twin Cities and Chicago. IIRC, the Milwaukee ran a morning and afternoon Hi right up until Amtrak. It was the Oly Hi from Chicago to Seattle that failed, for reasons others have already stated.
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby gokeefe » Tue Nov 20, 2018 9:06 pm

wjstix wrote:It was the Oly Hi from Chicago to Seattle that failed, for reasons others have already stated.


Very much agreed. We're talking about a transcontinental service that failed well before the others due to its inherent weaknesses.
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Re: Olympian Hiawatha

Postby vermontanan » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:44 am

wjstix wrote:IIRC, the Milwaukee ran a morning and afternoon Hi right up until Amtrak.


Nope. The Afternoon Hiawatha was discontinued on January 23, 1970, over a year before the start of Amtrak. Thereafter, the only Chicago-Twin Cities passenger service on the Milwaukee Road was the Morning Hiawatha (both westbound and eastbound) and the Fast Mail (coach only, and handling passengers only eastbound).

--Mark Meyer
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