The new full dome car was a massive piece of equipment, weighing in at over 90 tons and riding on six-wheel trucks. The car became the observation and lounge car for first class passengers. There were 32 seats in the lower level lounge, and more in a special upper deck lounge section, with a further group of sofa seats on the upper level, angled to get an easier view of the passing scene. GNRHS Archives photo.
Because of the increased weight of each consist due to the four Great Domes plus the storage mail cars, four Passenger F locomotives were assigned in order to maintain the westbound schedule of 43 hr. and 50 min. and the eastbound 44 and 1/2 hr. schedules. The westbound Empire Builder's schedule was speeded up by one hour and ten minutes in 1955 in order to meet the requirements of the new US Post Office contracts. These had the 1955 Empire Builder carrying priority storage mail westbound in two streamlined baggage cars in addition to the working RPO-storage mail car. Within a year the Passenger Fs were assigned between St. Paul and Seattle when the Electrified District between Wenatchee and Skykomish was discontinued on July 31, 1956. The Passenger Fs operated westbound through to Seattle from St. Paul. On the eastbound trip they were changed out at Havre where each set received major servicing by the Havre Diesel Shops. During the eastbound Havre stop passengers and employees who were Passenger F-unit fans enjoyed the action as the incoming set was cut off and proceeded to the shops while the newly serviced set backed down and coupled up for its trip to St. Paul.
As indicated above, one storage mail car was inserted in the westbound consist of the Empire Builder in St. Paul for its trip to Spokane. This car came from Chicago via Milwaukee in the Milwaukee Road's Morning Hiawatha, train 5. It was always a Great Northern streamlined baggage car so that the Empire Builder's EB colors and appearance were maintained when it joined the westbound streamliner. The Seattle to St. Paul storage mail car was not in the eastbound consist of the Empire Builder leaving Seattle on Saturdays and Sundays, and the mail which was handled the other days did not have the priority status of that handled in the westbound Chicago to Seattle and St. Paul to Spokane storage mail cars.
Notice also that the RPO-storage mail car was assigned between St. Paul and Seattle in both directions. The Burlington Route operated its own stainless-steel RPO-storage mail car along with its own E Series locomotives in both directions between Chicago and St. Paul. This was done in order to provide more time in St. Paul for the handling of mail by the RPO crew assigned between St. Paul and Minot. US Mail was, and had always been, important on the Great Northern, and the storage mail cars plus the RPO-storage mail car added considerable revenue that offset passenger operation losses the Empire Builder, despite the Great Dome cars, was beginning to experience.
The three Great Dome Coaches replaced the 48-seat flat-top coaches in each consist as of May 29, 1955. Each Great Dome Coach had 46 "Day-Nite Sleepy Hollow" reclining seats on the main level divided by the dome section into an 18-seat forward section and a 28-seat rear section. All 46 seats on the main level were reserved and individually assigned in advance. The upstairs dome area had 24 lounge-type seats that were not reserved, but were designed for exceptional sight-seeing by the coach passengers. This all-glass penthouse provided unexcelled viewing of the passing scenery in all directions. The men's and women's very large dressing rooms were located below this dome area.
The interior decor of the Great Dome coaches was also beautiful and comfortable. Brilliant colors and designs had been adapted from the art of the Pacific Northwest Native American nations. This art was presented as inlaid murals on the interior walls of each main floor section, and the drapes along side the Venetian-blind windows carried this art in its fabric. The coach seats themselves were very comfortable, and included leg-rests to create sleeping positions during night travel hours.