No. 10135 Electro-Motive E-8 ABA Diesel Locomotive, heading up the "Orange Blossom Special" Streamlined Passenger Train
Seaboard Air Line Railroad
In November, 1925, Seaboard Air Line Railroad established a fine seasonal first class passenger train with Pullman-car sleepers, the “Orange Blossom Special,” which quickly became celebrated as the way to travel between New York City and Florida, dismaying Seaboard’s competitors Florida East Coast Railway and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. But the train was made up of heavyweight non-streamlined cars, which FEC and ACL made obsolete with lightweight streamlined cars on their new diesel-powered streamliners “Champions” in 1939 (see Nos. 10648 and 10576). Seaboard did not follow suit with the “Orange Blossom Special,” and so the public flocked to the competitors’ new streamlined trains, and by 1953 the “Blossom” would be gone. Seaboard had two streamliners (all coach), however, the “Silver Meteor” (introduced 1939), followed by the “Silver Star” (1947), so that the line remained competitive through the 1950s and 1960s (see No. 10126). The “Silver Fleet” was equipped with lightweight sleepers in 1949.
In the early 1950s, Seaboard purchased a number of new and powerful 2250 horsepower per unit Electro-Motive E-8 diesel locomotives to head up its “name trains,” able to achieve speeds of up to 100 m.p.h. with their deluxe passenger trains.
No. 10135 represents an accurate model by MTH in “O” gauge of Seaboard’s citrus colored E-8 ABA diesel locomotive, pulling the colorful 7-car all-Pullman streamlined passenger train, the “Orange Blossom Special,” Nos. 10136 and 10137, as it would have been seen in its final days, 1952-1953, running between New York and Miami on a 25 ½ hour schedule (the “Silver Meteor” made the same trip in the same time - see No. 10126).
The seven streamlined passenger cars on this model train, although attractive, are incorrect, as the “Orange Blossom Special” was never streamlined. The car colors are not correct, either, and the cars should be heavyweights, repainted in bright colors in the fall of 1951 (correct colors are maroon with light gray bands above and below the windows).
The “Orange Blossom Special” was the brain child of Seaboard’s Chairman and President (1918-1927) S. Davies Warfield, who wanted to lure wealthy Northerners to build and play in Florida, as Henry M. Flagler had done with his Florida East Coast Railway and “Florida Special” deluxe passenger train, with service from New York to Miami as early as 1888 (see No. 10435). Flagler had concentrated on Florida’s east coast, from Jacksonville and St. Augustine through Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, and Palm Beach to Miami (and even extended to Key West by 1912).
If the name Warfield seems familiar, it may be because S. Davies Warfield’s niece was Bessie Wallis Warfield, later Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson, who ultimately became the Duchess of Windsor. Warfield had raised the future Duchess after the death of her parents. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor often traveled to Florida aboard the “Orange Blossom Special.”
Warfield saw an opportunity to have his railroad serve both east and west coasts of Florida—Florida East Coast had no lines to the west coast. By January,1925, Seaboard had its tracks on both coasts, diverging at Coleman in central Florida southeast to West Palm Beach and southwest to St. Petersburg. To promote the new route, Warfield wanted a fast, new winter train from the Northeast to the Sunshine State.
The new train would be called the “Orange Blossom Special” and would be conceived to meet the demands of high-class service and attract the well-to-do and their wealth from the Northeast to Florida. The train was to be all-Pullman with unsurpassed equipment, have unexcelled service, and run on time, a winter-season-only operation, starting just before Christmas.
Revenue service for the “Blossom” commenced in November, 1925, to West Palm Beach. The train carried sleepers from Boston and the Midwest, as well as New York. The new train departed from Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan.
Warfield insisted that the “Blossom” was to provide “gilt-edged” service to and from Florida. His stately clientele would have a secretary, barber/valet services, ladies’ maid/manicurist, showers for men and women, and gourmet food—nothing but the best —served on china adorned with orange blossoms. Dining tables were set with Irish linens.
But Seaboard could not rest on its laurels. In 1925, Atlantic Coast Line/Florida East Coast’s “Florida Specials” (Nos. 10354 and 10435) were faster to West Palm Beach (the “Blossom’s” trip time was about 36 hours) and went all the way to Miami. So the train was speeded up a bit, and by January, 1927, Seaboard had extensions to Miami on the east coast and Naples on the west coast. At this time the “Blossom” ran in two sections for the first time, east coast and west coast, separating at Baldwin, Florida, 18 miles west of Jacksonville. The average passenger count for both sections was 143 patrons, with something over 210 as a maximum, for the 36-hour trip to Miami (about the same time to Naples via Fort Myers).
With the collapse of the Florida economy in the late 1920s and the stock market crash of 1929, the Seaboard Air Line Railway was forced into receivership in 1930, a condition that lasted until 1946. A federal judge ruled that the property was to be run by two receivers (trustees), Seaboard’s President Legh R. Powell, Jr., and E. W. Smith, a Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which controlled 14 percent of Seaboard’s stock.
The “Blossom” struggled through the 1930s, continuing to operate on a regular schedule but adding coaches to both east and west sections for operating economies. The big news was that for the 1933-1934 winter season the Seaboard made transportation history: The “Orange Blossom Special” was air-conditioned throughout, for a time the longest-distance air-conditioned train in the world. The train took pride in running on time, which its competitor, the “Florida Special,” could not claim, as it was frequently late, operating on a faster schedule than the “Blossom” (the “Florida Special” New York-to-Miami run was 29 hours and 45 minutes at this time, compared to the “Blossom’s” 31 hours). But by early 1939, the “Blossom” was setting speed records as a diesel-powered train, making the New York-Miami run in 26 hours and 15 minutes. Seaboard introduced General Motors Electro-Motive E-4 diesel locomotives (2000 horsepower per unit) in November, 1938, to power the “Blossom,” with six “A” units and three “B” units specially painted in “citrus” colors of yellow, Pullman dark green, and orange, with silver pilots and running gear. These were the first such locomotives (ABA) in the Southeast, providing Seaboard with a competitive edge over its rivals Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast, still using steam locomotives (ACL and FEC would not run their first diesels until December, 1939).
Then, in February, 1939, Seaboard introduced its revolutionary lightweight all-coach diesel-powered streamliner “Silver Meteor” on “Blossom’s” New York-Miami route (see No. 10126). This new train may not have been in the same class as the “Blossom,” but it was to become the type of train that would appeal to future travelers—fast (25 ½ hours New York-Miami) and flashy. The “Meteor” would not take on lightweight sleepers until 1949, but it would operate all year.
World War Il arrived in America in December, 1941, but the “Blossom” finished the season as usual in April, 1942. Then in October, 1942, the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT) put a freeze on deluxe passenger trains with sleepers for civilians to provide for troop movements. By government decree, the all-Pullman “Blossom” was suspended for the duration of the war. The all-coach “Silver Meteor,” however, was allowed to continue to run during the war years.
The war ended in 1945, and the “Blossom” was reinstated in December, 1946, as an all-Pullman 16-car consist operating as one section out of New York, dividing at Wildwood for east and west Florida shores.
For the 1948-1949 season, the “Blossom” no longer served the west coast of Florida—it became a strictly New York-Miami train. The “Silver Fleet,” now equipped with lightweight sleepers, would handle Tampa-St. Petersburg Pullman passengers.
In 1949, the “Florida Specials” were streamlined, no longer obligated to use outdated heavyweight Pullmans, but Seaboard management continued to outfit the “Blossom” with traditional heavyweights. Since it took four sets of equipment to operate the “Blossom,” it would be prohibitively expensive to introduce new streamlined lightweight cars on the train. Running time New York-Miami was now 25 ½ hours.
The decline of the “Blossom” was not for lack of dedication—all Seaboard personnel were committed to providing quality service, as reflected in the railroad’s new 1947 slogan “The Route of Courteous Service.” It was simply economics that led to the train’s demise. There was growing airline and automobile competition, and passenger revenues were declining.
There was one last effort made to “modernize” the “Blossom.” In the fall of 1951, all the train’s heavyweight cars were repainted outside in maroon with light gray bands above and below the windows, an appealing color combination much brighter than the traditional dark Pullman green. Car interiors were redecorated at the same time in up-to-date colors and styles. More powerful Electro-Motive E-8s (2250 horsepower per unit) headed up the trains.
The 1952-1953 season was a carbon copy of the previous one, but it was to be the train’s last. On April 13, 1953, the “Blossom” pulled into New York City’s Pennsylvania Station for the final time. Dome cars, movies, twin-unit diners, bingo, and automat-meal cars helped out on other trains, but such features would have been out of place for the “Blossom,” always considered the flagship of the Seaboard. The “Blossom” just wasn’t conceived to be part of the new streamlined era. The image of elegance could no longer justify the expense—the train had done its job for 25 winter seasons, and did it well.