Originally recruited to be a flight stewardess with American Airlines, Jane Smith (now Gillette) actually didnt like to fly much, but was crazy about trains. "I was hired by Velma McPeek, known affectionately as Mama McPeek, We all adored her. She was very protective of us all. She was totally responsible for the Zephyrette idea and gets full credit for it. We were hired by her in
Chicago, but took some instructions and were paid by WP in SF down on Mission St. - Jim Hickey was our WP contact in California." Jane began work in May of 1958, and worked through 1959, plus a few on-call trips after that. "Although only there for a couple of years, there was never a dull moment!" Because there was also another Smith, Maggie, in the rotation, Jane became known "Little Smitty" (and Maggie was "Big Smitty").
Except for the very first group of Zephyrettes in 1949, all the hostesses were trained on the job. "Mary Lou Gordon and her roommate Nancy Trimarco were my teachers. Nancy was a red haired Italian. But the porters always felt she was part American Indian. They were so wise about so many things. No one ever fooled any of them."
A Zephyrette had to do her job, no matter what, and McPeek was always there to encourage the Zephyrettes. Jane Smith writes, "Once, when I was very sick with a high fever, I called to say I could never take #17 [the west-bound Zephyr] out in my condition. She told me the train had never left without a Zephyrette, and met me at Union station in Chicago with a shopping bag full of cold remedies, magazines, Kleenex, cough drops and all kinds of stuff to gargle. She had the porters make down my bed, and I took dinner reservations and she put me to bed! All that on a Saturday afternoon. She rode #17 with me to Aurora, where she lived, with strict orders to take care of myself. I got up the next day and was promptly ushered back to my room as I ventured out for the morning tour of the cars."
"I was also in a movie - when I was very new, before I owned my own uniform and wearing a loaner that was much too large! It was called Magic Rails to Yesterday, and was shot by Universal International."
Jane tells a story that illustrates her out-going quality that was so essential to be a good Zephyrette: "I was supposed to train a new Zephyrette, and my boss told her to meet me at Union Station in Chicago. The girl said Union Station is one block square and three stories high. How am I supposed to find Miss Smith? My boss replied, Just look for a group of people that are laughing and talking and having a good time and you will find Miss Smith. Shes a scream! The new girl had no trouble finding me!"
On the train, of course, the passengers were the focus of everything. "We all shared lots of humor and grief with the folks aboard. There were plenty of quirky passengers - that's for sure!"
Sometimes the job of Zephyrette simply meant pointing folks in the right direction. She often thought that if she ever wrote a book on her CZ experiences, shed call it Which Way is the Diner? Says Jane, "You cant imagine how many guests having cocktails in CZ11 [the Dome-Observation, the last car in the train] would ask that!" And once there, no matter how good or inexpensive the food, some passengers just werent satisfied. "Hard to believe that folks complained at the $1.25 Early Dinner! Not bad for meat loaf or creamed chipped beef with veggies, rolls and ice cream."
As might be expected, pretty, single young women whos job it is to be kind and helpful tend to generate a following, some of the attention welcomed, some not. "The girls did do lots of kind things and helped people who were grateful long after the trip. Several wrote to me and some sent Christmas cards, etc. The son of a Rio Grande conductor had a crush on me and used to meet the train in Denver with flowers and gifts. He lived in Grand Junction and I was ever so embarrassed by his attention."
Because of the immense popularity and prestige of the Zephyr, VIPs were not uncommon. "Once had Mamie Eisenhower in Mr Murphy's [the President of the Burlington Route] private car en route to visit her mother in Colorado, and when the steaks were ready to be served, the power went out! Seems they were on the temp generator out of Chicago and no one remembered to hook them up to the main power off the engine. She was a great sport and crawled around in the dark searching for an outlet."
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