How could these three subjects possibly be connected? Let me explain. On another post last week, Trinity River Bottoms Boomer asked me if I owned a CP Royal Hudson. I do not, but it prompted me to read about this royal locomotive and its history. The making of its striking paint scheme of royal blue and silver with gold trim, complete with the Royal Arms over the headlight and Imperial Crowns on the running boards, was for the first ever visit to North America of a reigning British monarch, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth. The year was 1939. War was looming and this month long, coast to coast, international rail tour, was to strengthen the allegiance between Britain and its North American friends - Britain knew that, soon enough, they would be in need of help.
The Royal Train was made up of 12 of the finest passenger cars of the era, with the paint scheme matching the locomotive - 6 each from the rosters of CP and CN. CP pulled the train westbound to Vancouver with an H-1-d 4-6-4 Hudson, No. 2850. The King was a bit of a rail buff and often rode in the cab. This single locomotive pulled the train over 3200 miles, with 25 crew changes, without breakdown or replacement - an endurance record of the day. The King was so impressed that he gave official consent to name the locomotive the “Royal Hudson,” a name that stuck to all similar class Hudson’s of the day. (The return westbound train was pulled by CN, using at least 4 different engines.)
King George and Elizabeth had two daughters who stayed at home in England while they were in North America. Their elder daughter, age 13 years at the time, is the present day Queen Elizabeth II, whose husband, Prince Phillip, died 2 weeks ago. As you can now see, Prince Phillip’s in-laws were those same royal passengers pulled by CP Royal Hudson No. 2850, 82 years ago next month.
Pictured is a bronze medal that was struck to commemorate the Royal Tour of 1939. If you look closely, you can see the Royal Train’s east-west routes across Canada. The medal belonged to my late father-in-law which we found among his personal effects. The engraving does not show, unfortunately, the route of the Royal Train in the US.
Lesser known (to me at least) was the 4 day trip that King George and Elizabeth took to Washington, the New York 1939 World’s Fair, New Jersey and other places, including York, Pennsylvania. The link below will take you to the details of the US part of their tour, rail road security precautions, what RR’s and locomotives pulled the Royal Train on this leg of the journey and the hot dog picnic lunch hosted by President Roosevelt and the First Lady. (Hot dogs were unknown in England. The day following the picnic, the Toronto Globe and Mail headlined: “Roosevelt’s Red-Hots Relished by Royalty.”)
All this impressive travel and friendship building was only possible because of North America’s extensive and interconnected railroads. During this tour in North America, King George became known as the “people’s king” due to his willingness to engage, thrill and walk-about with the countless spectators who gathered to admire. He and his wife departed North America on June 15th of that year. Less than 3 months later, Britain was at war. A conflict that drew in both Canada and the USA - allies forged with the help of a Royal Train.