By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
Recently, we reprinted some excerpts from Lee Mandel’s book, Sterling Hayden’s Wars, describing Hayden’s preparations for his 1959 voyage from Sausalito to Tahiti. The book also tells the story of the Pullman car the actor and author later brought here as a writing studio:
In 1965, Sterling and Kitty Hayden were traveling across the country aboard the Burlington Zephyr when the train made its scheduled stop in Chicago. As they waited, a vice president of the Burlington Railroad came aboard, looking for another railroad executive. Unable to find him, he recognized Hayden and shortly thereafter the men were enjoying drinks together. Hayden mentioned that he would like to buy a caboose to restore and use as an office. The VP responded that it would be possible to buy a business car, as the railroad would occasionally sell off some of its properties. Since he was broke at the time, Hayden declined to make an offer.
About three weeks later, Hayden received a package from the railroad. It contained several photographs of a 1890s Pullman car that was currently unused in a railway roundhouse in Galesburg, Illinois. It was luxuriously built, featuring mahogany paneling inside, brass beds, and a galley. It was for sale and the railroad was asking $2,000 for it. Hayden couldn't resist; he immediately purchased the car.
Attached to a mile-and-a-quarter-long railroad train, Hayden and his friends Billy Pearson and Louis Vogler rode the car back from Galesburg to Oakland, California, the three of them drinking the entire time. From there the car was transported to Sausalito. For the next several years, Hayden would be using it as his office where he worked on his newest writing project: a novel.
The Hayden family had moved back east in 1965, renting a house in Redding, Connecticut, on the advice of Kitty's sister. Once again, Sterling was unhappy with it and roughly six months later, he uprooted the family and they moved back to the San Francisco area. Kitty bought them a house in the Pacific Heights section of the city. This, too, did not please her husband as he felt it was too high-scale for his tastes. By then, he was drinking heavily and spending most of his days writing in his railroad car.
Less than two years before his death, Hayden reflected on his railroad car. In a diary entry dated November 9, 1984, he wrote: "And it's coming back to me, just how it felt. 16 years & 7 months ago. That magical afternoon ... in this old private railroad car: Burlington Northern No. 93.
“Built in Burlington Yards-1890. For some forgotten wheel (A vice Pres. or a Division superintendent). Oh the magic of that car! A schooner of the rails. Iron lined rail."
In 1968, he gave his beloved railroad car to his daughter Gretchen but soon after it was confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service to pay off her father's federal tax debt.
Robert Harrison, writing for the Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Library, adds the following details:
[Hayden’s] daughter Gretchen and her friend Peter Laufer used the car in Sausalito for three years. In 1971 they moved No. 93 to the Morgan Railcar Company in Greenbrae for refurbishment.
Morgan began efforts to refurbish it, including replacing the sashes and painting where needed, but in the midst of the work the car was seized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because Hayden had not paid his 1968 taxes. CB & Q No. 93 was scheduled for auction at the Morgan yard in June 1972. The auction was postponed when Hayden’s daughter Gretchen filed suit against the IRS alleging she, not her father, was the owner. The suit claimed it was in fact her mother who bought the car in 1965 and in turn gave it to Gretchen in 1971. The IRS rescinded the seizure after concluding the car’s value was not worth the cost of pursuing a court order.
The car remained with the Hayden family on the Greenbrae siding through the 1970s. The car’s existence since those years is not clear. Currently it is thought to be located in West Redding, California.
Hayden died in Sausalito on May 23, 1986. As reported by his close friend columnist Herb Caen, “We knew for months that Sterling was dying, but, to borrow the excruciating last words of another great friend, Bill Saroyan, we thought an exception would be made in his case. Sterling had cancer, but he was bigger than life and would beat it, somehow, some way.”
You can browse past issues of this newspaper since 1971 on a new online archive at https://cdnc.ucr.edu. The archive was made possible by a grant from the Sausalito Library Foundation.