An observation car/carriage/coach (often abbreviated to simply observation) is a type of railroad passenger car, generally operated in a passenger train consist as the last carriage. The cars were nearly universally removed from service on American railroads in the mid-1950s as a cost-cutting measure in order to eliminate the need to “turn” the trains when operating out of stub-end terminals.
The main spotting feature was at the tail end of the car: the walls of the car usually were curved together to form a large U shape, and larger windows were installed all around the end of the car. On older cars, the rear end of the car consisted of a large, canopied porch-like area. At this end of the car, there was almost always a lounge where passengers could enjoy the view as they watched the track recede into the distance.
When passenger trains were still the preferred mode of intercity transportation in America, observations often were used by those campaigning for public office, especially for the Presidency of the United States. The candidate’s train would pull into town and stop with the observation end at the station, then the candidate would appear on the observation platform to deliver his “stump speech”. The observation platform made a perfect temporary stage for just such an event. Like political candidates, famous personalities such as members of a royal family or film
stars would use the open observation car end as a stage from which they would greet well-wishers and fans during public tours.
While the cars manufactured by companies such as Pullman-Standard conformed to somewhat standard designs, some railroads created their own distinctive designs for observation ends. For example, the Milwaukee Road’s passenger trains were often rounded out with either a “Skytop Lounge” or a finned “Beavertail observation” the latter due to noted industrial designer Otto Kuhler. The Milwaukee's observations were easily recognizable as the observation end of the cars were not only rounded, but also slanted toward the front of the car, often with windows extending up from the normal window height to the roofline.
Four railroads bought dome-observation cars from Budd — the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, and the Western Pacific Railroad for use on their joint California Zephyr, and the Canadian Pacific Railway for The Canadian and The Dominion. The WP touted this combination car type as “the best of both worlds” in passenger amenities.
- White, John H., Jr. (1978). The American Railroad Passenger Car. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-2743-4 (pbk.: set); ISBN 0-8018-2722-1 (pbk.: vol. 1); ISBN 0-8018-2747-7 (pbk.: vol. 2).
Fictional Observation Cars