Unveiled in June 1929, the “Empire Builder” quickly established itself as the flagship passenger train of the Great Northern. Named for GN founder James J. Hill, it ran from Chicago (via the Burlington to St. Paul) to Seattle, with a separate section to Portland. Post-war plans for the new streamlined version were unveiled in early 1945 with the arrival of EMD E7A-A diesels attired in brilliant Omaha Orange and Pullman Green (later known as the Empire Builder scheme); deliveries of matching cars continued through 1947. Not content with this upgrade, GN completely refitted the train once more in 1951 and assigned A-B-A sets of F units as standard power. The Empire Builder reached its pinnacle of luxury in 1955 with the arrival of brand-new Vista-Dome and full or Great Dome cars offering incredible views of western scenery. This longer and heavier train was pulled by A-B-B-A sets of F units.
Rustic western decor with weathered oak trim, saddle leather accents and a unique G Bar N logo, styled after a cattle branding iron, helped make Ranch cars memorable to all who rode them while traveling on the Empire Builder. Ordered from American Car & Foundry in 1951, these 85′-long cars featured a lunch counter, dinette booths and lounge seating. The Ranch cars, named in the Lake series, were very popular with passengers; so much so that when GN used the cars on other trains during the 1955-56 winter season passengers barraged the railway with letters of dissatisfaction. The cars returned after the winter season and remained in service into 1967. That year, the GN made sweeping changes in its public image and introduced its striking, modern Big Sky Blue and white scheme, which the cars wore until the Burlington Northern merger in 1970. The cars served briefly in the new Cascade Green and white Hockey Stick scheme until passenger operations were turned over to Amtrak in 1971.