Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Santa Fe Railroad / Dining Car China


santa fe railroad dining car
Cochiti Dining Car interior, California State Railroad Museum
The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, often referred to as the Santa Fe Railroad, was one of the most glamorous passenger trains during the golden age of railroading.  One of the more popular features of Santa Fe trains were their Fred Harvey dining cars and their reputation for good food and a good time. Fred Harvey was successful in many hospitality endeavors. His management of the Santa Fe dining cars was legendary. Harvey began serving meals on moving trains as another way for the AT & SF Railroad to offer unparalleled service to it's passengers. Harvey already had established himself as a top rate hotel, restaurant and tour operator and the extension into the railroad dining car business was natural.

Santa Fe Super Chief China

You'll find an excellent museum and historic exhibition in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. The founding of Frisco Texas, it's strong connection with the Misouiri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, the MKT, and life in an early frontier environment is all presented in fine detail at the Frisco Heritage Museum.The original china was made available to the public in two sales held in 1971.

mimbreno china
AT & SF Mimbreno china teapot
Among their collections is china that was used on the Santa Fe Railroad's "Super Chief " dining cars. During railroad's golden years, most railroads had their own distinctive designs used on everything from plates, cups, towels, playing cards and just about anything the passenger would regularly use. The Pullman cars which usually operated as a franchise managed by the Pullman Palace Car Company also had their names and logos on many items.

The Santa Fe Railroad adopted the southwest and Indian cultures as a major way the rest of the country would view their railroad. Much of this was coordinated by Mary Colter who worked for the railroad beginning in 1910 and served as it's chief interior designer and architect. Colter worked at this capacity for both the railroad and for Fred Harvey.  Many of the features you see today relating to the old Santa Fe train stations and Harvey Houses and dining rooms are part of Colter's legacy.Other well known creations designed by Mary Colter include the Desert View Watchtower constructed in 1932 at the Grand Canyon National Park's south rim. Also, the interior designing of the famous El Tovar Hotel, the Lookout Studio at the Grand Canyon south rim, the Phantom Ranch buildings at the canyon's bottom and the designing of Bright Angel Lodge at the south rim. In total, Mary Colter has twenty-one projects for Fred Harvey.

mimbreno designs
AT & SF Mimbreno cup and saucer
The Mimbreno china shown in this article was part of that. This type of china was used on AT & SF Railroad dining cars right up until passenger service was discontinued in 1971.The china seen here was produced exclusively for the AT & SF Railroad from 1936 to 1970 by the Onandaga Pottery Company. Today, authentic pieces like the ones displayed here are considered quite rare. Railroad china is a sought after artifact by collectors. Reproductions which claim the same high quality are offered by several companies. Any collector would want to verify production methods, etc before purchasing any reproduction.


Three additional Western Trips photo articles you'll enjoy are the Cochiti Dining Car ... A Tour of the Old La Posada Harvey House in Winslow Arizona...and a Tour of a Pullman Car.

Mary Colter and the AT & SF China

The Mimbreno China that was utilized by the Santa Fe Railroads's Super Chief dining cars were all about the Southwest. Mary Colter was given the commission to design AT & SF Railroad china based on the concept of the Mimbres Indians.
mary colter santa fe china
Mimbreno Mary Colter creation


The Mimbres Indians lived in the Mimbres Valley in southwest New Mexico. Archeologists believe that the Mimbres Indians evolved from the Mogollon culture. It's believed that the Mogoillon culture evolved from the Anasazi Hohokam cultures. The most famous artifact from the Mimbres culture was their pottery. Their pottery had designs based upon animals and geometric forms.  Like other elements of the train's interior, Mary Colter's china adapted the Mimbres likenesses of birds, turtles and fish to contemporary life. Colter's original designs had shades of brick red with charcoal accents.

mary colter mimbreno china
Animal designs on salt and pepper shakers
What eventually happened to the Mimbres culture is unclear. They were essentially unknown until the early 1900's when essays were published by Jesse Walter Fewkes.Institutions involved in Mimbres research during the 1920's included the School of American Research, the Museum of New Mexico, the Peabody museum of Harvard University, beloit College, the University of Minnesota and the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles California. Most researchers believe that the Mimbres Indians possibly drifted southward and combined with other cultures there.

See Original Santa Fe Railroad China

In addition to the Santa Fe Railroad china on display at the Frisco Heritage Museum in Frisco Texas, a fine collection is on display at the California State Railroad Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California. At the California museum, which is one of the largest in the world, on display there is also the Cochiti Dining Car that was part of Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe's Super Chief train. The photo at the top of this article show the place settings inside the Cochiti Dining Car.

Another excellent venue displaying a wide range of authentic railroad dining car china is the Galveston Railroad Museum in Galveston Texas. 

(Photos from author's private collection)






1 comment:

  1. I love to enjoy the rich culture and heritage of China.!I am just absolutely fascinated by China Adventure Tours. I cannot WAIT to go there one day!

    custom china travel

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