THE MOST LUXURIOUS railroad car in Europe could be found on the Orient Express, which whisked its riders around in opulent fashion. The words alone conjure up an image of almost wicked luxury. America's toniest train, on the other hand, had an entirely different look. It was the Super Chief on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, and it went fancy by going native, celebrating the art of the American West.
As the Santa Fe sped from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, its passengers were carried in cozy comfort, surrounded by a Western look that would have made many a modern decorator jealous. When the passengers wanted a bite to eat, they went off to the dining car, where they found themselves dining on plates specially created by Mary Colter, a designer and a devotee of Indian art. When Colter was commissioned to make the plates, she went out and began researching designs. When she found the ancient motifs of the tribes of the Mimbres Valley, she knew she had found what she was looking for. She adapted the geometric patterns and stylized animals, using different images for each serving piece. The result was some of the most attractive china ever put on wheels.