The Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe

The Soo-Pacific Service Concept of the CPR

·   This was a joint Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) & Soo Line International Service between the USA and Canada.

·   In the late 1880's, the CPR took over control of a small mid-western line, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway (shortened to Soo Line). This line already had connections to the CPR at Winnipeg.

·   Connections to the east already existed as well, through Sault-Ste. Marie, North Bay, Ottawa, to Montreal. From there, integrated services were available to New York, Boston, and Portland, Maine. Connections also existed south from Minneapolis to Chicago - the hub of railways in the USA.

·   Connections were soon built from Minneapolis / St. Paul to the north-west, through Portal, North Dakota, to Moose Jaw on the mainline of the CPR From there, service was integrated with existing trains to Vancouver, and Trans-Pacific ships to the Orient, as well as to Pacific ports in the USA. This combination gave the CPR a direct route through to the Pacific in direct competition with the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads.

·   In the first decade of the 20th century, several Soo-Pacific routes were employed by the CPR and its subsidiary, the Soo Line, to compete with several American railways. Some of the following titles were used to promote the various train services out of Minneapolis/St.Paul at the height of the trains' popularity:

  1. Soo - Spokane(Portland, Oregon. added in 1909)
  2. Soo - Winnipeg
  3. Soo - Pacific (included the Soo-Imperial Limited, the Soo-Seattle, the Soo-Dominion, and the Mountaineer - the last of the famous Soo-CPR trains which lasted until 1961)
  4. Soo - Chicago
  5. Soo - Atlantic (via Sault Ste. Marie, Montreal, New York, Boston and Portland, Maine)
  6. Soo - Twin Ports (Chicago - Milwaukee)

The Soo-Spokane

In 1907, Barney & Smith Co. (a major competitor of the Pullman Co.) completed a special order for six sets bound for a joint international service titled the Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe. This brand new train linked the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) in the mid-west United States, with Spokane, Washington, heart of the wealthy Inland Empire. But, the service is through western Canada instead of the mid-western states. The whole train was advertised as the best money can buy.

Description of the Cars

The six tail end cars constructed for the 6 complete train sets were a wonder of craftsmanship and design. Beautifully proportioned, and luxuriously outfitted, they graced the end of each train with their brass railed open platforms. electrically-lit domes, and coloured striped canopies. On the outside end of the railing was a new feature - an electrically illuminated circular tailboard signs spelling out Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe.

Inside, the Art Nouveau marquetry decorated much of the walnut panelling. All was enhanced by the new electric light, and reinforced by the beautiful stained glass over the windows and in the upper clerestory ceilings. Green plush-covered wicker chairs were spaced around the lounge, and a reading library included daily newspapers. This was set next to the beautifully carved sideboard and writing desk complete with leaded glass.

Next along a hallway was the pantry where the car steward prepared and served light refreshments to the well-heeled passengers. Further along were five private staterooms - four compartments and one drawing room - each panelled in a different exotic woods including mahogany, walnut, and satinwood. As in the lounge, art-nouveau inspired marquetry adorned the surfaces. Fold- down sinks, hoppers (or toilets), and plush-covered seats, head-rests with monogrammed antimacassar, and deep wool carpets covered the rooms. It was the latest in design and creature comfort !

Since the cars traversed a foreign country, and as an acknowledgement of the international flavour of the train, names were selected representing Canadian cities from the East Kootenay region in the southwest corner of the Province of British Columbia. The Canadian names will be Fernie, Yahk, Nelson, Cranbrook and Curzon. Only the name Spokane broadened this conformity. Due to a special arrangement between the railways for ownership based on mileage in each country, four of these tail end cars were owned directly by the Soo Line. The Spokane and the Cranbrook were directly owned by the CPR.

In each set, and ahead of the end car, was the 12-1 first class sleeper, followed by the dining car, the first class coach., the tourist sleeper, and at the head, the exceptionally long mail-express-baggage car. At the front was placed a fast Pacific type locomotive, capable of maintaining a very fast schedule. All in all, to equip the six complete train sets need to maintain a daily schedule, there are 36 cars, all specially built, for this new service.

Inauguration of the Train Deluxe - July 4, 1907

July 4, 1907 was a red-letter day in both Spokane and the Twin Cities, as well as in all the communities along this unusual route — Cranbrook included. Trains started from each terminal simultaneously and travelled in both directions to inaugurate the service. The Soo Line route westward began at St. Paul, up through Portal, North Dakota, and across the border onto Canadian Pacific tracks. Connecting with the CPR mainline at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the route continued west to Medicine Hat, Alberta, (actually Dunmore Junction, since the Hat was several hundred feet lower and several miles away).

The route left the CPR mainline at Dunmore and followed the more southerly Crowsnest Route through Lethbridge, the scenic Crowsnest Pass in the southern Canadian Rockies, on through Fernie, Cranbrook, and Yahk. Two miles south of Yahk, at Curzon junction, the route took the rails of the Spokane International Railway to cross the international border five miles further south at Kingsgate. The route continued 25 miles to Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. Sandpoint was next, and then it was onwards to Spokane.

This Canadian route was, believe it or not, at 1480 miles, was 10 miles shorter than the Great Northern Railway, and 40 miles shorter than the Northern Pacific, between the Twin Cities and Spokane! The new train also took the United States mail contract away from Great Northern which infuriated its owner James J. Hill. In 1909, the service was extended to Portland. Ore., via the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. (later a Union Pacific road). The name then became the Soo-Spokane-Portland Train Deluxe. Fierce competition was then on with the two American rival railways.

For several reasons, including increased competition, the shortening of the Great Northern Railway mainline in 1909, and an economic recession in 1913, this great train was cancelled in early 1914. With the outbreak of World War I that year, this deluxe service was never reinstated

Dispersal of the Cars

The various cars, including the tail-end cars, were assigned to other international routes used by the Soo Line and by Canadian Pacific in the 1920's. These included the Twin Cities and Montreal, via Sault St. Marie, and the Boston and Montreal. The cars were used as well in other Soo-Pacific services such as the mainline CPR route to Vancouver. In the late 1920's, the outer stained gothic sash in the tail-end cars is covered by steel letter boards. However, the interior stained glass and all decoration in most cars was preserved from the 1907 design.

The stock market crash of 1929 set many railroad operations into a tailspin. Most wooden cars were beginning to show their age, and were put into storage, finally being put up for sale, or scrapping. It became common for people to buy these fine older cars and make them into summer cottages by a lake. Both Curzon and Omemee ended up in this situation - fortunately with good owners, who respected their heritage value.