November 25, 2007


Next stop: 1954: Private rail cars hitch a ride with Amtrak and whisk passengers back in time (Jim Mueller, November 25, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

Think stewards and housekeepers and wait staff. Don't forget the executive chef to create and supervise preparation of fine meals. Think four courses with a typical dinner consisting of lobster bisque, black-Angus beef tenderloin, twice-baked potatoes, fresh veggies and Chocolate Choo Choo Molten Cake with strawberries. The Creative Charters cars go out on charters every 60 days or so. Hiring the cars costs $8,000 a day, including the meals, and bookings are recommended 30 to 45 days in advance. "Some folks make reservations a year early," Henry said. They also are available for catered parties and corporate events when they're parked in Houston.

And, of course, they'll travel anywhere served by Amtrak. It's a simple hook-up, according to Henry. Latching onto the rear of a westbound Zephyr, the Evelyn and Warren R. have visited the Rose Bowl, Kentucky Derby and several Super Bowls. They've been leased by Barry Manilow and taken over -- temporarily -- by Fortune 500 companies.

Honeymoons, family vacations, bar mitzvahs -- their uses are only limited by one's imagination.

Ask Mac Percival, the Chicago Bears field-goal guy of the1960s. He said he grabs any chance to hop on the Evelyn and Warren R. for a cross-country jaunt. Percival's favorite routes are the Los Angeles-to-Seattle Coast Starlight and Oakland-to-Denver California Zephyr. "You experience the California coast and two sets of mountains," said Percival. As a perk of being Henry's brother-in-law, Percival has taken "20 or 25" such trips over the years. "If there's any room, Patrick's good about taking us along," he confided.

"People who've been on cruises get the Evelyn and Warren R.," Percival said. "You unpack one time. You move around between cars. It's all about the dining and scenery. There's nothing like viewing the U.S. from the top of the Warren R. dome car. Seeing the desert between Houston and Los Angeles [Sunset Limited route] is spectacular."

Kim and Hutch Hutcherson second that. They took the Warren R. and Evelyn between Chicago and San Francisco in August 2006. With 11 family members, the Hutchersons sat "spellbound" leaving Denver, as the train climbed into the Rockies and later followed the Colorado River at 30 miles per hour. "You see parts of the country that are inaccessible by car or any other type of transportation," said Hutch.

Fun, he said, even with 11 relatives of varying ages in close quarters for nearly three days.

"The cars are so spacious, nobody gets under foot," he said. "We saw the trip as a great opportunity. Kim and I thought it was just nice to be with family. To catch up with each other and enjoy the food and scenery. Taking a train is so much more relaxed than driving. You're pulled through the center of America at 80 and 90 miles per hour on some of the straightaways, while standing on that rear platform. Then the train slows down -- and going up through the Rockies is thrilling. Taking the switchbacks through the mountains, being in the middle of such spectacular country."

"Having the two cars gave everyone plenty of room," added Kim. "You spend time up in the dome car. There's a TV area. You walk out to the rear platform. And the food is unbelievable. Dinner is served in the formal dining room [of the Warren R.] on fine China with the best crystal. We'll do it again. We told Patrick we'd like to go the Northern Route [Empire Builder] next time. Through the Dakotas and Montana to Seattle. We have family and friends ready to go."

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2007 10:43 PM

Toys for the well-off, hobbies for cliques of afficianados: nothing wrong with that.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 26, 2007 5:00 AM