Less Than a Century in the Making

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Well, it did take almost 57 years, but I now have ridden on both of the 1948 Twentieth Century Limited’s  “Creek” observation sleeper/lounge cars, the signature equipment of the “Most Famous Train in the World’s” post-World War II equipment update.

In August 1966, I’d been able to settle into a seat in the rear lounge on New York Central train 25, the westbound Century between New York and Chicago, and partake of some of the wonderful “Water Level Route” (as the NYC advertised itself) scenery from the “Sandy Creek”, sister car to the more well-known (due to its appearance in many publicity photos) “Hickory Creek”.

By this time in my life, I’d been able to see and photograph both of the cars, and even sat in one of them  (no, I don’t recall which one) prior to departure from Grand Central Terminal in New York.  On August 15, 1966, however, I boarded a Harlem Division commuter train to GCT in the late afternoon so that I could walk down the red carpet set out for the Century’s departure, and, instead of simply watching the observation disappear into the darkness, I’d actually be on board!

Now, while I would have preferred to have traveled in the first-class sleeper accommodations, budget dictated that a Sleepercoach room (coach fare plus seven dollars) would have to suffice.  Alas, when checking in, I was advised that one of the two Sleepercoaches assigned had been “bad-ordered”, and replaced by a twelve double bedroom “Port” sleeper.  This meant that some of the passengers booked for the unavailable Sleepercoach, including me, would be traveling in coach.  My seven dollar space charge was refunded on the spot, in cash.

Still, I was actually on the Century, and eventually wandered back to the twin-unit main diner.  Next to the rear door was a sign indicating that the cars behind were for “Sleeping Car Passengers Only”.  Nonetheless, the friendly brakeman that I encountered indicated that it would be all right for me to go back to the observation; I didn’t wait for a second opinion…

I did, however, return later in the evening, west of Albany in the Mohawk River valley, to enjoy some after dark observations from the obs.  Since this was shortly after the 1966 U.S. airline strike, the train was still both long (18 cars including the RPO and baggage-dorm) and full.  Due to the train length, there was noticeable “crack the whip” action in the “Sandy Creek” on a number of the curves.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that less than a year later, on December 2, 1967, the Centuries would depart for the final time.  Not long thereafter, both of the “Creek” observations left the employ of the NYC.  The “Hickory Creek”, in effect, “ran off and joined the circus”.  Eventually, it was parked, and began to suffer serious deterioration, sitting in storage in Florida.

By 1991, however, it had been acquired by the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey, and subsequently restored and run in excursion/charter service (for more detail, see Karl Zimmerman’s article in the Spring 2006 issue of Classic Trains).

Thus, when I saw the announcement on February 22 of the opportunity to ride on the “Hickory Creek” from Philadelphia to New York on Saturday the 25th, well, it didn’t take long to decide!

Kudos to the United Railway Historical Society of New Jersey, led by Kevin Phalon, for providing this opportunity; one that as of December 2, 1967 I was fairly sure that I’d never have.

In addition to the image above, more photos are available at:

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