Solarium Lounge Car River Rouge (arrived 1980)

The Original Floor Plan and Interior Finishes of the River Rouge


The River Rouge was one of 15 special end-of-train solarium lounge cars built especially for the new 1929 Trans-Canada. This car design was new for the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had previously only constructed cars that had the potential to generate revenue such as sleepers, day cars, and parlour cars. The cars were built entirely for the comfort of long-distance passengers, the only revenue being generated was from small sales in the buffet, and bath-shower appointments. The floor plan was unusual, although it generally followed that of some other tail-end lounge-sleeper cars.. The unusual exterior end appearance with its tall glass solarium windows was a major advertising feature for the new trains in 1929. (... INSERT thumbnail sketch 1.92, , and photstats # 1 and # 2 - closeups of the original solarium end of the car)


Like the dining cars, the interiors were finished in walnut paneling with carved wood capitals above the window trim, extensive marquetry, and subtle book-matched burls, instead of the more commonly-used Honduran mahogany. The furniture was also constructed with walnut frames, and heavily upholstered in plush. Deep wool Axminster carpet provided a comfortable and quiet atmosphere for spending many hours on the long trip.

At the tail-end was a small square solarium (or "sun") room with tall windows made of "vita glass" which supposedly allowed the healthful benefits of ultraviolet light for the passengers. It was finished in walnut panels and contained 8 leather upholstered walnut-framed chairs and 8 brass lights. A few small folding chairs could also be used to increase the capacity. (.. INSERT photostat # 3 - original solarium room)

A glass door lead into the sumptuous "observation parlour" with burled black walnut panels and deep plush upholstered chairs (13) and settees (2). A large carved walnut book and magazine case also stood in the centre along one side with a heavy brass lamp & Tiffany shade. 6 brass double-globed light fixtures and four singles adorned the walls of this room. Two ornate fandoliers and one ceiling grill adorned the ceiling. 8 small grills decorated the lower clerestory, adding to the air flow comfort. (.. INSERT photostat # 4 - original interior)

A central opening at the end of the parlour lead into the hall which turned to the left and traversed this side of the car to the end. Just to the right of this opening was a small writing desk with overhead library shelves, and in the centre of this wall, on line with the parlour, was a mirror with fluted walnut trim. The first door in the hall allowed access to the buffet-kitchen where small snacks, hot and cold beverages and other incidentals could be prepared and served by the car steward. Clothes cleaning & pressing, and appointments for the bath/showers could be also be made here. (.. INSERT thumbnails 1.- 87, 88, 89, 90, & 91)

The next two openings in the hall lead in to the double smoking/card room for men and women. These two rooms were separated by a low wall which made the room look more open and larger. 2 sofas and 6 specially-constructed chairs upholstered in leather seated 7 in each room. (INSERT photstat # 5 - original interior of smoking rooms)

The next hall door was to the mens' washroom which was completely tiled to a height of 5 feet, and contained a toilet, a sink, and a small bath/ shower. Special tanks under the car carried extra water for these facilities and made the cars among the heaviest operated by the railway. They were also a first for the Canadian Pacific which was responding to pressure from the traveling public accustomed to their availability in the United States. Although bathtubs (without showers) had been used on very early first class sleepers in the 1880's and 90's they were discontinued until 1929. They were not used again until the re-outfitting of stainless steel Canadian VIA cars in 1994.

The next and last opening along the hall entered the "ladies' suite" of rooms comprising small lounge, a toilet room with sink, and separate bath/shower room. The lounge contained one sofa and two chairs, with a small vanity chair situated in front of an elaborate mirror with side lighting arrangement. ( ... INSERT photostat # 6 - original ladies room) The separate bath-shower room was also completely tiled and contained a small bench. All of these rooms contained windows. although the toilets and shower rooms were fitted with special textured glass which permitted light but not detailed images to pass through it. At the end of the hall was located a cabinet for extra hot water tanks, and opposite this, a curved cabinet for a Baker Heater also used for supplementary water heating.


A Brief History of the River Rouge before its Arrival at the Museum

The history of this car is similar to that of the dining car Argyle in that it was part of the Trans-Canada service for the 1929 and 1930 seasons only, the train being canceled in 1931. Since these cars were "non-revenue generating ", they were not assigned to other trains during the lean years of the economic depression. The were instead "moth-balled" - stored for when more prosperous times returned and the public could afford to travel in this style again. A couple of the cars were used on special trains during this period, and had ice-activated air conditioning installed.

Because of the travel pressures of World War II including troop movements, the cars were brought back into use. However, in 1941, 13 of the 15 "River" cars were converted to "Cape Car" configuration whereby the card rooms, bath-shower rooms, and ladies' lounge were replaced with bedrooms. The observation parlour and the solariums were also heavily modernized. River Humber, which became Cape Humber, and later Cape Ray, and still later business car #4, is now an example of this style at the Revelstoke Railway Museum not far from Cranbrook.

The River Rouge, (and sister car River Dee) however, were changed in a different way becoming café-parlour cars # 6591 (and # 6590) in which the only original rooms to survive intact were (thankfully) the sumptuous observation parlour and the solarium. Both of these rooms were painted, although the original paneling and window trim remained. The rest of the car was literally gutted to provide an 18-seat café where the buffet and card rooms had been. A small galley & bypass hallway were constructed where the men's and women's bath-showers had been, and two washrooms on each side of the hall were installed near the A-end door.

All the cars received new ice-activated air conditioning at this time as well. This work necessitated the removal of the inner solarium door and the installation of return air vents in the end inlaid & burled division bulkhead panels leading to the café. Hat & coat racks were also installed onto the main decorative panels over the window, and the brass ceiling fandoliers were replaced with new special louvred light-vents

The modernization also entailed massive steel alterations on the exterior, and the provision of a small service door on the side of the car into the galley - similar to the dining cars. The end of the car was also changed with the removal of the small decorative brass railing across the end door. The brass-sash solarium windows were replaced with walnut framed windows of a different design. A diaphragm was also added so the car could be used with cars attached to the tail-end - something it was not designed for on the Trans-Canada's - other than the open observation cars used on certain sections of the route. The original simple lines at the end of the car - used for some much original promotion - became more cluttered. (.. INSERT thumbnail 1.86 showing altered exterior)

Work Done on the River Rouge after its Arrival

(* Note - of all cars at the museum, this car has had the most restoration, reconstruction, and replication work done to date )


The car had suffered a fire just before the decision was made to release the car from service. The fire could have engulfed the car had it not been discovered immediately by workmen nearby. Fortunately, only a small amount of damage occurred - mostly to modern overlays of plywood in the café area which had been converted to sleeping quarters.

When the car arrived in Cranbook, it was stored off-site on a CPR spur about 2 blocks from the museum. The first work entailed the removal of all modern materials and an assessment and inventory of original features.


The careful removal of the parlour and solarium panels was done since these were the only two original rooms left. The many parts were transferred to a small workshop where they were repaired and restored. New carpeting and new, but original-looking, lights were installed to bring the two rooms up to a presentable display standard. (... INSERT thumbnails 1. - 117 & 118 - interior panel restoration). The rest of the rooms were substantially changed so that work was left until a later stage. In the meantime, it was repaired and painted temporarily for a small café operation with the galley and two washrooms. This also removed pressure from the unfinished dining car for this type of interpretive activity.

Work then began on the steel exterior of the car, including re-roofing, scraping, priming, painting, re-lettering, and under-car painting and repair. 62 Windows were also completely rehabilitated - both interior walnut sash and exterior mahogany sash - including 6 types of non-standard window sizes for these special cars.


Under a special work program to prepare the train for exhibit at Expo'86, the rest of the car was completed and involved one of the largest restoration and replication projects the museum has ever done. First, the modern rooms were completely removed right down to the steel frame. During this process, it was discovered that several original walnut panels had been re-inserted in different places as a result of the renovations done in the1940's . For instance, some of the ladies room inlaid paneling (long thought to have disappeared) was discovered upside down, backwards, and joined in haphazard ways behind the fire walls of the galley; the backs of these panels sometimes painted and used as the hallway finish. Some were able to be rescued so the original designs and spacing of the unique inlay patterns were able to be recreated in the restored ladies room using new walnut paneling.

Some of the galley equipment and furnishings were used in the restoration of the galley of the dining car since these items were similar or identical. The whole A-end of the solarium car (about 80% of the total) needed a new floor installed over the steel girders, and on top of this were built the new laminated walls. Also, before any interior walls were re-constructed, the exterior steel walls of this end of the car had to be restored to their original window configuration. This necessitated removal of sheets of steel and relocation of steel posts. All new work was re-rivetted to the original design and window opening's placed in their original locations. Some windows in the café were originals, and two modern hallway windows were found to be original from the Ladies' Lounge.

The new interior core walls were a reconstruction of the original plan and covered with new walnut veneered panels. The core was made up of 2 sheets of 5/8 inch plywood glued together. Onto both sides of this were glued 1/8 inch walnut veneered panels to make up the original 1 &1/8" inch panel thickness. These walls were fixed to the ceiling steel, and the new floors with recessed metal clips.

In many locations clues were found in original steel that had survived, such as clips for the panels, and darkened areas showing where panels had been located before modernization - in many ways "detective work". Several new hallway corners had to be curved - one with a double-reverse curve near the end door. Templates and steaming methods were improvised to bend the laminated core plywood, then let the glue dry. The veneers were also steamed and glued. New electrical wiring was also installed, along with new plumbing to the galley and two new washrooms.

30 original-looking brass wall light fixtures were purchased for the car - single and double globed for a total of 40 globes. The air supply and return ducts were also extended ( part having been removed during work service), for consistent air movement throughout.

The car was painted and re-lettered, and carpet matching that previously installed in the lounge and solarium was installed throughout. All original furniture found to date was moved into the car through the windows for the card rooms and women's lounge.

Three full sofas and nine small (unusually delicate) arm chairs were located in the CPR archives in Montreal and donated in 1985 (the are the only examples ever found of these types which were specifically made for the River-series solarium cars). Two were upholstered in plush for the ladies lounge, but the six for the card rooms were left in their old leather for future work due to costs. Furniture in these small lounges was designed so that it could not be moved in or out of rooms and into halls where it could disrupt passenger movement and delay emergency movement.

Eight walnut-framed solarium chairs were also found for that room, but remained in their vinyl upholstery due to expense, someday to be re-upholstered in blue and red calfskin leather.
The car was then ready to go for exhibit to Expo'86 in Vancouver.


More furniture was found for the observation parlour including 2 special settees (each seating 2), 5 closed arm chairs and 7 open arm chairs - all re-upholstered in plush, and a reasonable match to the original design. This left only one open-arm chair to locate to complete the entire car, which had had no furniture when located in 1981.


All 40 glass globes were replaced with more-original-looking and robust fixtures. The temporary globes included with the 1985 brass fixtures did not resemble the original globes well enough, and were too thin and easily subject to breakage. All exterior windows were covered with special solar glazing.

Work Yet to do on the River Rouge (as of 1999)

  1. Find one more closed arm chair for the observation parlour and re-upholster (extra material is stored for this) (.. INSERT colour photo # 1 - showing re-upholstered chairs).
  2. Re-upholster the 8 solarium room chairs and the 6 special arm chairs in the card rooms - in calflskinl leather).
  3. Replace the air duct above the observation parlour and reconstruct the ceiling to provide for the 3 original vents instead of the present 2.
  4. 2 decorative fandoliers will have to be found for the ceiling of the parlour, and 4 decorative fan units will have to be found for the ceilings of the solarium room, the card rooms and the ladies lounge .
  5. The end of the car will need final restorative steel work including special small brass-topped double gates across the end solarium door (unique to the River-series solarium cars). ( .. INSERT thumbnail # 1.93 -cshowing exterior back of solarium car).
  6. The ladies bath-shower room needs to be restored with floor and wall tiling, bench, and tub,

Other Notes on the River Rouge

At gala dinners and other functions this car is usually used for social receptions before and after dinners. The car will become one of the two most important "first image" cars in the new museum line-up with its tall solarium windows being compared beside the earlier brass-railed platform of the 1907 car Curzon. Both cars will be the first ones seen on entering the new facility.

The River Rouge is often confused with Cape Cars which were a 1941 modernized form of the 13 of the original 15 River Cars. Although a few Cape Cars still survive (in greatly modernized condition), this car is the only River Car returned to its original floor plan and appointments. In this respect, it can be considered to be the only survivor of its type.

Future Website Additions ...

The original menu of services & prices for this car


Trans Canada Limited