No More Giant Spuds
In the early 1900s, the railroad was the way to travel. There was, of course, economy class that offered affordable tickets with few amenities. But in first class, the well-to-do could ride in style. The wealthiest travelers could even book a private parlor car. Every train included a dining car with gourmet chefs, waiters sporting white gloves and jackets, and white linen tablecloths. But on April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany, entering World War I. All that railroad luxury was about to become a thing of the past.
On this date in 1917, the Northern Pacific Railroad announced sweeping changes in both freight and passenger service. George T. Slade, first vice president of the railroad, said the American people had to understand that the war was not a farce. Sacrifices would have to be made. His railroad would not be the Northern Pacific, but would band together with all the other railroads in one great transcontinental railroad.
Slade said passengers could expect far fewer luxuries. The NP planned to remove deluxe accommodations including observation cars, dining cars, and parlor cars. The trains would have “as few trimmings as possible.” Some passenger trains would be discontinued entirely. Slade said luxury had to give way to utility.
One of the items to be discontinued was the giant spud. The “Giant Baked Potato” was featured in ads for the Northern Pacific dining service. Hazen J. Titus, the head of the NP dining car service, had introduced the giant potato. The potatoes weighed two to three pounds and were an instant hit with travelers.
By announcing such changes, the railroad was getting a head start on war-time regulations expected from the government. Slade said the Northern Pacific would give freight and troops priority. Passenger trains would have to pull over and wait. This was a reversal of railroad policy. Passenger trains had always had priority over freight.
Slade’s words came true. In December, President Wilson nationalized the railroads. The Northern Pacific was, indeed, part of a transcontinental railroad system.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
The Dickinson Press. “Ban Luxury During War, N.P. Order.” 28 April, 1917.
This History Channel. “U.S. government takes control of nation’s railroads.” "http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-government-takes-over-control-of-nations-railroads" http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-government-takes-over-control-of-nations-railroads Accessed 26 March, 2017.