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July 4-10, 2007

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The Train of Tomorrow
(By Ric Morgan; Indiana University Press; 211 pages; $49.95 cloth.)

One way to jump-start the next generation of high-speed rail between the Bay Area and L.A. would be to remind people of how sleek, glamorous and downright cool train travel was 50 years ago, before we completely sold our souls to the internal combustion engine. Take the dome car, a vision of fluted, streamlined metal on wheels with a glass-topped lounge for maximal sightseeing by day or star-gazing by night. Conceived in 1944 by Cyrus R. Osborn of the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, the dome-car innovation was put into practice in 1947 as a four-car demonstration train, known as the Train of Tomorrow to the U.S. and Canadian crowds that took innumerable tours of it over the course of 28 months. The cars offered the latest in transportation chic, with etched-glass panels, private dining rooms and custom silver- and glassware—not to mention evocative car names: Star Dust, Sky View, Dream Cloud and Moon Glow. Ric Morgan's fascinating and wonderfully illustrated history, The Train of Tomorrow, includes Osborn's original napkin sketch, the initial scale model (complete with miniature people and even doll-house-size food for the kitchen), photos of visiting celebrities (Walter Pidgeon, Ginger Rogers, Joan Leslie, Herbert Marshall), Haywood-Wakefield couch seats, vintage advertising and even sheet music for the forgotten ditty "The Wonderful Train of Tomorrow." After a decade of regular service for the Union Pacific, the Train of Tomorrow found an ignominious resting place at Henry's Scrap Metals in Pacatello, Idaho. Luckily, in recent years, train buffs have rescued the Moon Glow and hope to restore it to its past glory. AMTRAK, eat your heart out.

Review by Michael S. Gant


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