July 11, 1905
The Scott Special, a train operated by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, set a new speed record for travel between Los Angeles and Chicago. The Scott Special arrived at Chicago’s Dearborn Station at 11:54 a.m. – 44 hours and 56 minutes after the train had departed Los Angeles for a trek of 2,265 miles (3,645 kilometers) at an average speed of 51.1 miles (82.2 kilometers) per hour.
“The train was in excellent condition when it arrived, save the coating of dust and grime,” reported the Wisconsin-based Racine Daily Journal newspaper. “The crew was smiling and happy, although showing traces of the strain they had undergone.” In making the trip between Los Angeles and Chicago, the train broke travel records established by the Peacock Special in 1905 and the Lowe Special in 1903.
The person behind the historic run of the Scott Special was 32-year-old Walter E. Scott, for whom the train was named. Known widely as “Death Valley Scotty,” he had been a stunt rider for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.
Scott was without question a colorful character whose activities included some fraudulent mining schemes to gain a lot of money for himself. He was also a shameless self-promoter, and he saw the chance to break the train speed record between Los Angeles and Chicago as yet another opportunity to get himself on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Scott, therefore, helped finance the arrangements for his namesake train.
The train consisted of a baggage car, a sleeper, and a dining car, with a total of 19 locomotives used and exchanged along the way. Those on board the train as passengers included Scott; his wife Ella (whom he called “Jack”); and Charles E. Van Loan, a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner.