Remembering The Empire Builder’s 70th Anniversary

For the 70th anniversary of the Empire Builder in 1999, Amtrak commissioned artist J. Craig Thorpe to create a design that would appear on a commemorative menu cover to be used aboard the train.

I rode No. 6 to Chicago in 1999 when those menus were being used. I asked the dining car steward if I could have one but she said no.

So the reproduction above was scanned from a menu that I later purchased from Amtrak.

Back then the Empire Builder even had its own magazine, which was published twice a year.

In a piece written for the National Park Traveler, Thorpe noted that he had created paintings of the Empire Builder in various settings at the eastern end of Glacier National Park and ridden the train to and from the park.

He describes his work in illustrating the Empire Builder in the park in the article, which can be found here:

The Empire Builder has since celebrated its 80th and 90th anniversaries and although Amtrak did mark it occurred in a more muted way.

A news release noted that passengers departing Chicago on the 90th anniversary of the Empire Builder received commemorative certificates. Sleeping car passengers received a wooden train whistle.

The online Amtrak store had for sale prints of some of Thorpe’s paintings of the Empire Builder along with other merchandise. But there was no special menu cover.

Given the view that the current Amtrak management has toward long-distance trains and its emphasis on saving every possible dime, it seems unlikely that we’ll see menu covers like the one above again anytime soon.

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