All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Dining & Entertainment

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Dinner in the Diner

From the very beginning, the Railway provided excellent food services to its passengers. Travelers on the Overland Express, the train from St. John's to Port aux Basques, which took at least 26 hours, looked forward to the best food on the Island. The Diner tables were elegantly set with white linens, silver cutlery, and crested china. The Railway cooks took immense pride in preparing their excellent Newfoundland style dishes.

"In those busy days on the Newfoundland Railway the line-up of passengers trying to get into the diner for dinner usually stretched back through the first sleeper and ahead through the first coach." (Fabian Kennedy)

A menu from 1905 contains a selection including mock turtle soup, fresh fish, mutton chops and sirloin steaks, as well as potatoes, oatmeal, sardines and, of course, bread and tea. Cigarettes could be had for 20 cents a pack, and a Bass Ale for a quarter. A glass of scotch would cost you 30 cents. The freshest possible ingredients were used, with fish and game being purchased from people right along the track as the train moved across the Island.

The first trans-island trip in 1898 took 28 hours. Over time, the train was able to make this trip in 24 hours. With the trip taking so long, passenger comfort was a priority. The opportunity for a good meal went some way to making the long journey enjoyable. One passenger, Gordon Williams, relates pleasant memories of his dining car experiences in the late 1930s. "If I left on the Express, I always hoped that there would be enough time, so that I could have dinner in the dining car. It was not always possible, as it depended on the number of passengers in sleeping cars, who were served first. Dinner was a real treat, and I always felt that I was being treated royally. The tables were covered with stiff damask covers, accompanied by similar large napkins. Creamers and sugars were of gleaming silver, as was the flatware."

A train trip in the early days still posed its inconveniences, but it was seldom looked upon as a hardship. There were always friends to talk to and gossip to exchange. The crews were approachable and usually ready to bend regulations if a passenger had a special request. The passengers generally looked upon a train trip as one big party.

Click for video interviews
Dining and Entertainment Slideshow
Dining and Entertainment Slideshow
Dining car galley with two chefs, 1948.
The kitchen in the dining car (1948) was set up to be a functional workspace were meals could be prepared. "Overland" Schedule, 1948.
Newfoundland Railway dining car menu from 1953, Newfoundland Railway.
This menu from the Newfoundland Railway dining car was especially printed for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, June 2, 1953. Railway Coastal Museum.
Table setting with silver and crystal in dining car diorama.
Table setting in the train diorama at the Railway Coastal Museum. Railway Coastal Museum.
Set of Reid Newfoundland Company playing cards.
To while away the long travel time playing cards were made available to passengers. Railway Coastal Museum.