With the bold slogan "Nothing Faster on Rails," the Milwaukee Road inaugurated its Chicago-Twin Cities Hiawatha passenger service on May 29, 1935. Pressured by intense competition on the route between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul - including the Burlington's pioneering diesel Twin Zephyrs - the Milwaukee Road had turned to the American Locomotive Works to design the fastest steam locomotives of the day. The results did not disappoint.
The Hiawathas were initially headed by oil burning Alco 4-4-2 Atlantics created specifically for intense 100 mile per hour daily operations. The engines and their entire trains were renowned for their colorful, aerodynamic styling by industrial designer Otto Kuhler - who lamented, however, that "I did get disgusted every time an uninitiated person asked me, 'Is that a diesel?'" The Hiawathas seduced passengers with luxurious surroundings that included the Tip Top Tap Room, the first standup cocktail bar on American rails.
The popularity of the service soon mandated longer trains and larger locomotives. Enter the Kuhler-styled coal-burning F7 4-6-4 Hudsons turned out by Alco in 1938. Among the heaviest Hudsons ever built, the massive F7s outclassed the more-famous New York Central J-series Hudsons in almost every way: larger firebox, higher boiler pressure, taller drivers (84"), and more power at speed. Unlike the NYC Hudsons, however, the F7s were born just as their technology was dying. Within a decade, the F7s and their trains were replaced by diesel-powered Hiawathas magnificently styled by designer Brooks Stevens. Sadly, none of the steam-powered Hiawathas were preserved.
Did You Know?
The F7 was capable of running at up to 125 miles per hour. This prompted a proposal to increase the cruising speed of the Hiawatha from 90 to 105 miles per hour along the Chicago-to-Milwaukee route. However, a gentleman's agreement between the three railroads competing along the route prevented the increase, as trains on the other two roads did not have the ability to reach such speeds.