The Mysterious “Golden Era” Passenger Railcars on the Northeast Corridor

Sometimes, very rarely, but sometimes, when taking a train into New York City, you can glimpse a jewel from a bygone era – a vintage Pullman or classic railcar.  Curious when I first saw one, I dug into some research and it turns out that you can rent them and, for a fee, Amtrak will, basically, tow you and your group along for the ride.  I’d imagine it would be a great way to take a trip across America … although starting in the industrial graveyards of Newark wouldn’t be a scenic place to begin your journey.  Very soon after departing east-bound from Newark, and as you pass through Harrison, NJ, there is a large rail yard to the south (map below). That’s where you can see these cars.

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Apologies for the blurry-cam photos. That’s the consequence of only getting to see this on a train nearing full speed.

The Pullman car "Babbling Brook"

The Pullman car “Babbling Brook”

The Babbling Brook was built for the New York Central Railroad in 1949.  Not many years later, inexpensive and faster air travel, brought the heyday for passenger rail travel in the U.S. to an end, and the car was sold to Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1957.  Passenger jets and still cheaper air travel finally caught up to Babbling Brook, and, in 1969, the car was sold to the Quebec Mining Company, where it was used as the official car for executives.  Since 1986 the car has been in private ownership, available for rental.  Sleeping for 8, with buffet, observation lounge, full service kitchen, shower, and separate water and fuel tanks.

The Pullman car "Hickory Creek"

The Pullman car “Hickory Creek”

The Hickory Creek was built in 1948, also for the New York Central Railroad.  Hickory Creek was christened by Dwight Eisenhower, and was part of New York Central’s famous “20th Century Limited” line – running between New York City and Chicago.  As it was with Babbling Brook, the 20th Century Limited could not compete with air travel, and it closed in 1967. Hickory Creek was retired and sold that same year.  After a few years in the service of Ringling Brother’s and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Hickory Creek sat in a junk rail yard for nearly 20 years.  In 1991, the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey purchased the Hickory Creek, and it has since been fully restored to its former glory as an observation & parlor car.

The Louisville & Nashville "Ohio River" car

The Louisville & Nashville “Ohio River” car

Information about this car is hard to come by, but the Ohio River was built in 1926 for the Pullman Company.  Originally called the “Mount Tom”, it was built as a lounge and observation car for service between Chicago, IL and destinations in Florida.  Pullman sold the car to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 1948.  Rebuild as a business car and rebranded as Ohio River, the car finally ceased passenger service and was sold to private owners in 1972. The car was rebuilt again, with multiple staterooms, a lounge/observation room, dining room, galley and crew quarters.  Remaining in private ownership, occasionally available for charters, Ohio River was publicly featured in celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal.

Keep a close-eye out if you are traveling the Northeast Corridor, and maybe you will spot one of these beauties as well.

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80’s, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP’s in the mid 1990’s. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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