A Brief History
Robert D. Turner
The completion, in 1906, of the Spokane International route from Yahk, west of Cranbrook, to Spokane, Washington, expanded the possibilities for travel on the Crowsnest Pass Route. The Canadian Pacific, in cooperation with the Union Pacific-controlled Oregon Railway & Navigation Company (O.R. & N.) developed a first-class express passenger service in direct competition with the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads. Times were competitive with first-class trains operated by the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific on their lines across the northern states.
The Canadian Pacific and the Soo Line spared little expense in outfitting the new trains. Contracts were given to the Barney & Smith Car Company of Dayton, Ohio for the construction of much of the needed equipment. Barney & Smith was one of the finest carbuilders of the era and produced beautifully constructed passenger cars for railroads throughout North America. Other cars were built at the CPR's own shops. The complete train set of passenger equipment consisted of a baggage, express and mail car, a tourist sleeping car, a 40-seat first-class coach, a dining car, a first-class sleeper and, the highlight of the entire train, a compartment-observation car which provided luxury sleeping compartments and a large observation lounge. The equipment was delivered from the builders in 1907 and placed in service as soon as possible on the new trains. In total, eight sets of equipment were ordered for provide the service. Some were ordered by the CPR and others were purchased by the Soo Line.
The 80-foot (24.4-m), compartment-observation cars with their spacious, open platforms and graceful arched windows, were named for cities along or near the route of the train. Canadian Pacific cars were named Spokane and Cranbrook and Soo Line cars were named Curzon, Yahk, Fernie, Nelson, Twin Cities and Winnipeg. The first-class Soo Line sleepers for the train were given names beginning with 'V': Viking, Venturia, Verga, Venus, Velva, Venlo, Valhalla and Vanoss. All of these cars were built by Barney and Smith.
The Soo-Pacific train did not operate all year because passenger travel fell during the winter months and there was insufficient demand for the first class service to keep it running. Normally, the trains operated only through the summer months.
The beginning of the First World War doomed the Soo-Pacific Train de Luxe. Passenger travel declined and the priorities of the war effort in Canada shifted resources elsewhere. Moreover, immigration to western Canada all but stopped. The beautiful cars were used elsewhere on the CPR-Soo Line first-class trains. A Chicago-St. Paul-Vancouver service, via the CPR main line through the Rockies, continued to be operated during the summer months for many years. This service operated under various names including the Soo-Dominion and The Mountaineer.
The beautiful Barney and Smith cars stayed in service until the late 1930s when most were sold for scrap. Some ended their days in work train service but fortunately, the compartment-observatin car Curzon and the first-class sleeping car Omemee survived as summer homes in Wisconsin and were eventually acquired by the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel at Cranbrook. They are key components of the Soo-Pacific train set that is one of the major attractions of the museum.