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Originally operated by Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW), and Western Pacific Railroad (WP), The California Zephyr was considered to be the pinnacle of design, comfort and luxury of the late 1940s. The route of the California Zephyr covered 2,525 miles and took an average of two and a half days to complete. Indeed, Architectural Digest featured the singer’s sprawling Beverly Hills estate in a lavish 2007 pictorial and interview that chronicled his tasteful, well-heeled home obsessions. Stewart explained that during his 63-city American tour of 2007, he used a suite in a Chicago hotel as his home base, affording plenty of room for wife Penny Lancaster, their young son Alastair?and the seven huge touring cases the singer uses to transport his train modeling pieces, tools and supplies on the road. Its inaugural run on March 12, 1949, attended by politicians, hollywood stars, and corporate executives, spared no expense. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy handled the train from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, where it was then handed over to the Denver and Rio Grande Western.
Assisted by noted Los Angeles interior designers Thomas Allardyce and Illya Hendrix, the Deco and Art Nouveau collections of his rocker years have been largely supplanted by Roman busts and Regency furniture, with a particular fondness for 18th century French and Italian pieces.
After flying to and from the tour’s various outlying stops, Stewart would return to the hotel and immerse himself in hours of painstaking model scratch-building and detail work.

The Zephyr presented each inaugural female passenger with an exotic corsage of silver and orange orchids flown in from Hilo, Hawaii.Throughout its twenty-one year run, the California Zephyr ran with cars of mixed ownership split between the three railroads. The Denver and Rio Grande Western would then handle it until reaching Salt Lake City, Utah, where it would be taken over by the Western Pacific for its final leg into California. Squire of a 28,000 square foot manse that recalls the dignity of an English manor and sunny spaces of the Tuscany countryside he loves to holiday in, Stewart has furnished his personal life with the same earnest elegance he’s channeled into his unlikely, late-career renaissance as black-tied ballad-slinger and late-blooming interpreter of the American songbook. He’s already invested over a dozen years in the Grand Street and Three Rivers layout alone. This mixed consist depended mostly on what cars were available at the terminals rather than the railroad it was operating on at the time. Scheduling intentionally placed the trains in the grandeur of the Feather River and Rocky mountains during daylight hours, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night. Even more remarkable, Stewart built much of the massive layout in hotel rooms while touring! This practice allowed passengers the most breath-taking views of the route during the day time.

Today, the stainless steel cars of the original California Zephyr are extremely popular with private collectors and several operate in charter service through Amtrak. Each railroad contributed cars to the California Zephyr, lettered for the participating roads. Yet the magazine barely hints at the other obsession the singer keeps discretely separated from the residence’s sprawling collection of antiques, oils, and ornately framed photos that document much of his private and professional life. It measures 23 feet wide by 124 feet long, for one thing, a 1,500-square-foot HO-scaled diorama that captures the essence of post-war Manhattan in intricate, jaw-dropping detail, from its recreation of a crowded terminal station for the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads to the towering brick and stone skyscrapers that frame it. The California Zephyr was the grandest (and thus the most famous) way to reach the Golden State and the West.

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