GENERAL ARTICLES

First Call for Dinner

To the passengers it's just another meal, but to the railway dining-car staff it's a matter of juggling time, space and a steak well done, please"

FREDERICK EDWARDS October 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

First Call for Dinner

To the passengers it's just another meal, but to the railway dining-car staff it's a matter of juggling time, space and a steak well done, please"

FREDERICK EDWARDS October 1 1942

First Call for Dinner

To the passengers it's just another meal, but to the railway dining-car staff it's a matter of juggling time, space and a steak well done, please"

FREDERICK EDWARDS

DINING-CAR steward Ted Sadler still remembers the customer who ordered lamb chops, ate lamb chops, and congratulated the steward on the excellence of his steak. “Did you say ‘steak?’ ” asked Ted Sadler. “Finest steak I ever sank a tooth into.” “But they were lamb chops,” Ted Sadler protested. “Steward,” the customer said, giving Ted Sadler the freezing glance, “are you trying to tell me I don’t know a lamb chop from a steak?”

Even under normal conditions and in a reasonably sane world, feeding the travelling public in railroad dining cars is a catering job differing radically from all other catering jobs and complicated by problems that would start the average restaurant manager heaving dishes at the help. The dining-car steward seldom knows how many customers he may be expected to serve at any given time. He takes on supplies only at certain points, and if an unanticipated demand denudes his iceboxes of a suddenly popular dish, he must improvise a substitute from the material on hand. He can’t send around the corner for an extra dozen steaks. His storage capacity is limited, his service is restricted by the demands of the timetable, and he may on any run be required to serve between two and three hundred hungry people within a couple of hours in a dining room containing only thirty seats, with the help of four waiters and five men working elbow to elbow in the crowded kitchen.

That is the ordinary pattern of things in the dining-car services of Canada’s two great railroads; all in the day’s work for stewards, chefs, cooks and waiters. In these yeasty years of wartime pressure all problems and perplexities of the dining-car departments have increased and new problems have arisen; problems involving personnel, equipment, supplies, and car shuffling. Old-timers like Chef Walter McGruder (more than forty years in the business) and Steward Ted Sadler (over a quarter of a century’s service) have never seen anything like this, because nothing like this has ever happened before.

Passenger traffic on both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific is setting new highs month after month. Trains between Montreal and Toronto and into and out of Ottawa are running regularly in two and three sections, on some occasions have been split into as many as eight sections; and eighteen cars is the length of an average section. At any moment the number of regular passengers on any train is likely to be heavily augmented by groups of servicemen being transferred from one place to another, going merrily home on leave, or returning, not so merrily, from leave. Special trains are carrying troops to embarkation ports, bringing prisoners of war from ocean ports to inland compounds. And they all have to eat.

To meet their demands both railroads have adopted heroic measures. Dining-car department staffs have been greatly increased, new types of rolling restaurants have been devised to meet special requirements, often remodelled from equipment formerly regarded as obsolete. Some types have been transferred from their original purpose

to duty as wartime lunch wagons.

Exact figures covering the number of personnel employed in the dining-car services of the two roads are unobtainable, because the figures change from day to day. The same is true of equipment. But a good guess is that the total of the road staffs of the two railways, as of midsummer, was around six thousand men, and the number of diners of all types in regular service around two thousand cars.

The standard dining car is regular equipment on all North American railroads. The one in most general use has thirty chairs. Another type seats thirty-six; and there are a few of the most modern design that can seat forty. The railroads would build longer and larger diners if they could; but the size of the car is restricted by track limitations, sharp curves, and conditions in some tunnels.

After the standard diner comes the café car. This hybrid, half dining car, half parlor car, has a seating capacity in various types of from twelve to twenty-four chairs, uses a standard dining-car kitchen with a slightly smaller staff. Then there are the buffet cars—buffet-observation, buffetparlor, and buffet-sleeper—serving complete meals from what must surely be the smallest restaurant kitchens known to the culinary art. Tourist sleepers provide a coal stove, an icebox and cupboards. The porter keeps the stove going. The passengers do their own cooking and wait on themselves.

New Types of Cars

WAR CONDITIONS have brought two new types of train restaurants into service, and have increased the usefulness of a third. Special requirements of troop trains have led to the creation of the commissary kitchen car. Smaller parties of servicemen in transit are being taken care of in table diners; and for the convenience of soldiers travelling on leave who have to pay for their own meals, the lunch-counter car, a type formerly coupled into excursion Continued on page 24 trains and race-track specials has been put in use. The very latest thing in diners introduced by the Canadian National only last June is a coffeeshop car, with kitchen and pantry in the middle of the car, and accommodation for forty in two compartments one on either side of the kitchen. Settees along the side walls replace the chairs, and tables for two are arranged in front of the settees, leaving the floor space in the middle free for service. The coffee-shop car is in service on through trains carrying large numbers of local passengers. The menu provides a selection of combination mealsatmoderateprices.

First Call for Dinner

Continued from page 19

C.N.R. officials claim that the military long-table-diner and the commissary kitchen car were first developed by their road, and that the café car was introduced first into Canada by them, as was a combination sleeping car and diner used on troop trains.

Dining-car equipment is a model of compactness. It has to be for a standard dining car’s kitchen, approximately twenty-five feet long by twelve feet wide contains a coal range, a charcoal broiler, iceboxes, a serving counter, a steam table, a sink, and other paraphernalia common to all restaurant kitchens, with room for a chef, three assistant cooks and a pantryman to do their stuff. The kitchen on a buffet-parlor car is even smaller—about five feet long by three feet wide—and here one cook, using a gas stove and a vertical gas broiler, prepares full course meals single-handed, to be served by the porter. Buffet-parlor cars have twenty-two chairs, not counting the smoking room. Service is continuous and not limited to parlor-car passengers. These days the two-man crew may be called on to prepare and serve as many as fifty separate meals on a single trip. A sample menu lists a number of à la carte items and five combination table d’hote meals, including such dishes as broiled chops and steaks, chicken pie, lobster salad, cold cuts, and corn beef hash.

Feeding troops en route to embarkation ports is the biggest single job dining-car departments have to tackle. A troop train leaving a point in central Canada for an east coast port is likely to serve five meals during the trip to as many as twenty officers and seven hundred non-commissioned officers and men. Here is where the commissary kitchen car, really a big kitchen on wheels, and an innovation in this war, comes into service. Standard diners that have outlived their usefulness make excellent commissary kitchen cars. Interior furnishings are ripped out, and kitchen equipment is installed in their place — hotel-size ranges, drumshaped steam kettles, refrigerators, cold-storage chambers, potato peelers, dishwashers and sterilizers, and similar items. The cooks work behind a serving counter.

Troop trains carry a food-service Í staff of fourteen, including one ! steward, one chef, two second cooks, two third cooks and four dishwashers. Four waiters take care of the officers who are served sometimes in a stan-

dard diner, sometimes in a tourist sleeper converted into a dining car by the simple process of placing removable tables of the familiar pullman type between the seats, The same waiters do extra duty in the commissary kitchen car, helping the cooks to serve the hot food to the fatigue parties.

The commissary kitchen car is cut into the middle of the train. The men are served cafeteria fashion on trays in the cars they have been assigned to. The N.C.O. in charge of each car details a fatigue party of waiters for each meal who carry the food from the commissary kitchen car and distribute it to the soldiers. Working from both ends of the train and starting with the cars farthest from the kitchen it is possible by this method to serve hot meals to seven hundred soldiers within ^twenty minutes !

Railroad dining-car departments carry full responsibility for feeding the men on troop trains, and are not subject to military control. Advance notice is served on the railway officials that so many meals will be required for so many men on a given date. It is up to the dining-car department to fill the order.

Menus vary with the seasons, but an average breakfast will include oatmeal or another cereal, eggs, bacon or ham or sausages, and jam. Lunch and dinner will include soups, roasts or boiled meats or fish, or cold cuts, two vegetables and a dessert. Tea and coffee and all the bread the soldiers can eat go with each meal. The boys put away a lot of bread and butter, consume as many as 275 long sandwich loaves, each loaf yielding thirty-six slices, on a single trip.

Small parties of travelling service men may be fed in a long-table-diner —a standard dining car with the furniture removed and replaced by tables and benches running the length of the car—making a room much like an army mess hall. The food is prepared in the dining-car kitchen. This arrangement can serve fifty-five men at one sitting.

Lunch-counter cars are almost exact duplicates of the stationary lunch wagon designed in imitation of a railroad coach that is a familiar sight on many city streets. Shortorder cooks serve sandwiches, soups, eggs and bacon and similar light meals with hot or cold beverages over the counter. Prices are low to fit the bank rolls of soldiers paying their own way.

Steward Is Boss

IN THE dining-car dynasty the steward is Head Man. He consults with the chef as to menus, but he is responsible for stocking the kitchen and the linen and silver cupboards, supervising the waiters, seating the customers, auditing the checks, collecting payments and making change. Cigars and cigarettes are in the steward’s charge, as is the first aid kit that now is standard equipment on every railroad passenger coach.

A minimum of three hours’ time is required to stock and prepare a dining car for a regular run. Supplies are issued on the steward’s order from commissary stores depots located at key points. One day’s linen issue from a busy commissary store may include 3,000 table napkins and 600 tablecloths.

Commissary stores look after the laundry; and the official dining-car laundry list covers twenty-nine different items, from babies’ bibs to coffee bags. The soiled linen is turned in at the end of each run, checked and washed in city laundries working under contract, then reissued as requisitioned. Each depot employs one or more seamstresses to take care of tears and worn spots.

Dining-car crews are being shunted around these days as are the cars they operate. A normal week for a steward might start him on Monday afternoon, keep him shunting back and forth over a four hundred mile stretch and he may, or may not, have Saturday off. An emergency call often drags a man away from the bosom of his family just as he gets himself comfortably settled beside his radio, with slippers and pipe.

As top man a steward is paid $145 a month for his first year, works up to $170 in his third year, and stays there. Should he show executive ability above the average a steward may gain promotion to an inspector’s job; but many stewards fully qualified for inspectorships prefer life on the road. A chef starts at $140 a month, goes to $165. Waiters’ salaries are fixed at $87.50 a month. The craft is organized on a closed-shop basis, the scale fixed by union agreement. Promotion must be earned, for the same agreement stipulates that advancement comes solely through demonstrated “fitness and ability.”

Dining-car stewards, daily in close contact with all sorts and conditions of people, develop a strong streak of

homespun philosophy. They know their human race. They have seen the great and the near-great and the small—the Tritons and the minnows —in their unguarded moments, and they are not easily fooled.

These shrewd judges tell you that the men and women who stand highest in the community are almost always the most co-operative and the least trouble in the diners. The stuffed shirts are the headaches. Drunks are a pest, and so are the merely convivial fellows who order soft drinks at their tables and proceed to spike them with hard liquor. This is a forthright violation of the law anywhere in Canada. Dining-car crews resent it, but they are helpless. The customer is always right. Badly behaved children grow grey hairs for stewards and waiters. A mother with two naughty brats ata table takes up as much of the crew’s time as two sittings of four adults each.

Common sense and consideration for others should govern dining-car etiquette. It is smart to answer the first call for meals. Waiters and cooks are fresh, cars are not crowded, linen is immaculate,service is smooth. Don’t harry the waiters. They are human, they must carry heavy trays, work fast in cramped quarters. If you must have a meal in a hurry order simple ready-cooked dishes. No amount of waiter-baiting will shorten the time it takes to broil a steak properly. Don’t sit around interminably gossiping after you’re through eating. Others, hungrier than you, are waiting for the chair you are occupying.

The boys say the travelling public is for the most part disposed to be considerate and helpful, more so since the war than before. The barbarians are a small minority. Tips have fallen off, but the waiters regard that as a natural development. Tips, by the way, are pooled, then divided pro rata among the crew.