Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad [RG0889.AM]


RG0889.AM: Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

Records: 1892-1970, n.d.
Size: 0.25 cu. ft., 1 box


The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) started out as the Aurora Branch Railroad on February 12, 1849 in Aurora, Illinois. By 1864, the railroad had 400 miles of track (all in Illinois) and adopted the familiar name Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., which properly described its trackage stretching to Burlington, Iowa and Quincy, Illinois on the Mississippi River. The Burlington, as it came to be known, completed its own line from Aurora to Chicago in 1864.

The railroad across Iowa was the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad (B&MR), incorporated in Burlington in 1852. Operations began over the first few miles of track on New Year’s Day, 1856. The railroad reached Ottumwa by 1857, through Murray in the fall of 1858 and was completed to the Missouri River in November 1869.

In 1868 the CB&Q completed bridges over the Mississippi both at Burlington and Quincy, giving the railroad through connections with the B&MR in Iowa and the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad in Missouri. The B&MR continued building westward into Nebraska as a separate company, the Burlington & Missouri River Rail Road in Nebraska, founded in 1869. During the summer of 1870, it reached Lincoln, the newly designated capital of Nebraska, and by 1872 it reached Kearney. That same year the CB&Q absorbed the B&MR across Iowa. By the time the Missouri River bridge at Plattsmouth was completed, the B&MR in Nebraska was nearing Denver, Colorado. That same year, the Nebraska B&MR was purchased by the CB&Q. The CB&Q completed the line to Denver in 1882, making it the first direct rail line from Chicago to Denver.

The turn of the century brought about the purchase of the CB&Q by railroad “Empire Builder,” James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad. Hill’s Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads purchased 97.2 percent of the CB&Q’s common stock, paying $200 per share.

Perhaps the Burlington’s best-known achievement took place in 1934 with the introduction of the Pioneer Zephyr, America’s first diesel powered streamlined passenger train. Its high-speed diesel-electric propulsion system was the forerunner of thousands of diesels that replaced steam locomotives on virtually every railroad a few short years after WWII. Burlington’s first freight diesels were purchased in 1944, and 95 percent of its trains were diesel powered by 1953.

In 1945, Burlington created America’s first vista-dome passenger car. Some of the Burlington’s passenger trains included the Aristocrat, the Blackhawk, the Denver Flyer, the Denver Zephyr, the Pioneer Zephyr, the Twin Cities Zephyr, the Mark Twain Zephyr, the General Pershing Zephyr, the Kansas City Zephyr, the American Royal Zephyr, the Nebraska Zephyr, the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr, and the Sam Houston Zephyr. In cooperation with other railroads, the Burlington also ran the Empire Builder, Exposition Flyer, California Zephyr, North Coast Limited, Zephyr-Rocket, and the Western Star.

On March 2, 1970, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad became a part of the Burlington Northern Railroad, which merged the CB&Q with its owners, the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific. Shortly thereafter, America’s passenger trains were nationalized with the creation of Amtrak. The silver, stainless steel Zephyrs gave way to a rainbow of equipment from railroads across the nation.

The BN painted the Burlington’s bright Chinese red locomotives Cascade green and they continued pulling freight trains of all kinds. On September 22, 1995, another merger took place, combining the BN with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad creating the current BNSF railroad.

Note: This background information is courtesy of the Burlington Route Historical Society.


The collection consists of miscellaneous publications and other items issued by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Of particular interest are the Educational Bulletins from 1923-1924. These bulletins provide information about construction and maintenance of railroad equipment.


Box 1

  1. Rules and Rates of Pay for Locomotive Firemen, 1905, Aug. 1
  2. Educational Bulletins, 1923-1924
  3. Locomotive diagrams, ca. 1892-1938
  4. California Zephyr brochures, 1956-1957, 1967-1968
  5. Miscellaneous, 1956-1963, 1969-1970, n.d.

Subject headings:

Burlington Route
Burlington Northern Railroad
California Zephyr
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

Acc. Unknown
Acc. 1981.0146

TMM/tmm 02-10-2006; 04-10-2019

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