On This Day: The Orange Blossom Special

1939 postcard featuring the Orange Blossom Special, published by Dade County Newsdealers Supply Co. Florida Memory Image No. PC2948

On this day in 1925, the Orange Blossom Special set off from New York on its maiden voyage to Florida on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. No doubt buttressed by the success of Henry Flagler, SAL Railroad President S. Davies Warfield conceived of the trail as a means of capitalizing on the booming development in Florida.

This deluxe passenger train ran only during the winter, and quickly became known for its speed, luxury, and amenities. It was also the first electric-powered train to run between New York and Florida, and later, the first diesel-powered passenger train in the southeast. In 1926, it boasted a 36-hour travel time from New York to West Palm Beach, though the train wouldn’t make it to Miami until 1927. A southbound train would leave New York after lunch and arrive in Florida in time for breakfast.

First arrival of the Orange Blossom Special in Miami, January 8, 1927.  From left to right, Miss Hialeah, SAL President S. Davies Warfield, Miss Miami Marcia Hand, Governor John W. Martin, unknown, unknown, Coral Gables Mayor “Doc” Dammers. Florida Memory Image No. NO39349

E. M. Frimbo, “The World’s Greatest Railway Buff”, boasts about the chef aboard the train:

Our chef…spent nine of his forty-three years with the Pennsylvania Railroad as chef on the celebrated all-Pullman New York-to-Florida train the Orange Blossom Special—the most luxurious winter-season train ever devised by man. Nothing even remotely resembling a can opener was allowed on the premises. All the pies, cakes, rolls, birthday cakes were baked on board under his supervision. Cut flowers and fresh fish were taken on at every revictualing stop, and the train carried thirty-five hundred dollars’ worth of wine, liquor and champagne—these at pre-Prohibition prices—for each run.

During its maiden run, Ervin T. Rouse and Robert Russell “Chubby” Wise watched the trail pull into the Jacksonville Seaboard Railroad Station and were inspired to write a fiddle song, “Orange Blossom Special.” Bill Monroe (The Father of Bluegrass) recorded it in 1942, as did Johnny Cash on his 1965 album “Orange Blossom Special.” Wise recounts:

… even though it was about three in the morning we went right into the Terminal and got on board and toured that train, and it was just about the most luxurious thing I had ever seen. Ervin was impressed, too. And when we got done lookin’ ‘er over he said, “Let’s write a song about it. So we went over to my place … and that night she was born. Sitting on the side of my bed. We wrote the melody in less than an hour, and called it Orange Blossom Special. Later Ervin and his brother put some words to it.

Arrival of the Orange Blossom Special in West Palm Beach, December 1938. Florida Memory Image No. RC06958.

The Orange Blossom Special made its last trip on April 11, 1953, as heavyweight equipment was falling out of style in favor of more modern, flashy, and lightweight trains like the Silver Meteor and the Champion.