All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Dining & Entertainment

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On the Branch Lines

In the early days, there were no sleeping cars or dining cars on the branch lines, so the passengers had to fend for themselves. Those who knew what to expect brought wicker baskets well-stocked with sandwiches, molasses cookies, cakes, and whatever else was available. Before long, food was passed around and shared by everyone in the car. The conductor, who was generally on a first-name basis with most of the passengers, was usually invited to the feast. As his contribution, the conductor would brew a huge pot of tea on the heating stove at the rear of the car. As the train crept along the festivities grew. Gradually the distinction between first- and second-class broke down as people wandered all over the train. Typically, someone would have a mouth organ or button accordion. Before long, people were singing songs, dancing jigs in the aisles and clapping time to the music.

In the CN era of the 1960s, the trip across the Island still took almost a full day. Although the passenger service had declined by then the menu included choices of bread, soup, meats and fish. Tea and coffee were staples, but alcoholic beverages had disappeared from the menu. And class distinctions resumed. Despite the shrinking numbers of passengers, the dining car in the 1950s and 60s was still an exquisite place to eat. Ray Guy called the dining service on the Railway "one of the best restaurants anywhere." The dining car staff, consisting of 3 waiters, a chief steward, 2 cooks, a pantryman and a 'newsie' who sold coffee and sandwiches, still served the meals on white linens, and people still dressed in their best to dine in the Diner.

Dining car interior.
Dining car interior with set tables, Corner Brook Railway Museum. Railway Coastal Museum.
Two mannequins seated in the dining car diorama.
This diorama of a dining car setting recreates some of the ambience of a diner in the 1940s. Railway Coastal Museum.