Virtual Exhibitions 2011, no. 1

Promotion and Transformation of Landscapes along the CB&Q Railroad

Eric D. Olmanson

This virtual exhibition shows some of the many ways railroads reshaped landscapes of the American West between 1847 and 1965. You may choose to read chronologically starting with the overview, or go directly to a theme that interests you by clicking on the navigation slider below. To see an image's full view and caption, click the image thumbnail. All rights reserved for all exhibition images. For permission to use an image, contact the Newberry Library.

Chapter 7


Burlington Vista Domes

Although conservatively managed, the CB&Q was an innovative company. It was the first railroad to use a printing telegraph, the first to use radio, and the first to employ centralized traffic control. The most famous and visible innovation was the Zephyr line of diesel engines that marked the gradual phasing out of the steam engines. The Burlington was also the first passenger line to take full advantage of the passing scenery with the Burlington Vista Dome which debuted in 1945.

Cover of brochure: "Burlington Vista-Domes" - a view from inside the vista dome
Cover, CB&Q brochure, "Burlington Vista-Domes ...ten years of the idea that revitalized train travel" (1955)

Looking out the window of the train was a popular pastime while traveling. John Stilgoe compared it to watching a movie or television.

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The Burlington first enhanced this experience by producing guides to educate passengers about the historical significance of various sites along the route. The Vista Dome took it to a new level, by thrusting the passengers above the other cars and encircling them with windows, creating a more visceral experience and making the viewers feel almost part of the landscape. Demand immediately outpaced supply, and the Burlington files are full of correspondence with groups—from Masons to Girl Scouts—seeking to book group fares in the Vista Domes. When the railroad booked a group, such as the Girl Scouts, they would notify newspapers along the route when the Vista Dome would be passing by, garnering free advertisement, and allowing mere pedestrians to imagine themselves in the dome.

Brochure cover "The Burlington Vista-Dome in 1945"
Cover, CB&Q "The Burlington Vista-Dome in 1945" brochure (1955)

Not only did people like to look out the windows from the Vista Domes, but people in small towns along the way flocked to see them pass by. These images are from a brochure published in 1955 which included views from the inside and the outside of the domes.


Creative Commons License 2011 Eric D. Olmanson
This refers only to the text and does not include any image rights. Please click on an image to view its individual rights status.