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Midwest Rail Rangers on TrainWeb: The Former Santa Fe Hi-Level Lounges: The Final Northbound Run

Farewell to the Pacific Parlour Car: Part 2 of 3

The Final Northbound Coast Starlight with a Pacific Parlour Car

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:
President & Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers Corporation

Published: February 26, 2018


In January 2018, Amtrak gave just a few weeks notice that the much-loved Pacific Parlour Car would be permanently retired from the Coast Starlight. This was one of our favorite cars; an excuse for us to fly 4,000 miles out to the West Coast a few times every year to ride. In honor of the Pacific Parlour Car, we will be writing THREE separate articles for TrainWeb over the coming weeks.

The FIRST article focused on the history of the car... and featured over 50 photos of the cars taken between 1954 and 2018.

You are currently reading the second article which focuses on the "Farewell Trip" for the Pacific Parlour Cars that we rode between Salem, Oregon and Seattle, Washington on Train #14 on Saturday, February 3, 2018. This was the last northbound trip and featured two Pacific Parlour Cars.

Our THIRD and final article on the Parlours will focus on the "mystery" Pacific Parlour Car #39971 that was sold off by Amtrak and never went through a complete re-build when the Pacific Parlour Cars got their latest re-design. Where is it?  What condition is it in?   (This article will be released in mid-March 2018)

Amtrak's Pacific Parlour Cars WERE (Ugh... we can't believe we are using the 'past tense' here!) one of the nicest amenities that Amtrak offered. The first ride Robert remembers doing was about two years after their re-launch, when he got a trip on the Coast Starlight as part of a high school graduation gift (during the summer of 1997).  Sure, he was only 17 years old  -- and not ‘of age’ to partake in the wine tasting -- but there was just something special about the cars none-the-less. Maybe it was the fact only sleeping car passengers could use them? Maybe it was the fact they made the Coast Starlight truly stand out among the all-Superliner equipped western long distance trains that all looked the same? Maybe it was the fact the Pacific Parlour Cars were as close as you could get to riding aboard a private railroad car without paying a private car price?  Maybe it was the last whispers of Amtrak that Robert remembered in the 1980’s during his childhood... when trivia games and fun afternoon activities for passengers were still offered in the lounge.

Collectible Coast Starlight teddy bears, like this guy, were given out as trivia prizes on the Coast Starlight around 2009

Robert really fell back in love with the Coast Starlight's Pacific Parlour Cars during the spring of 2009. In February 2009, he was laid off from his long-time job as a television news producer in Milwaukee (as a result of the economic downturn that was happening). He had another job lined up almost right away, but couldn’t start that position until July 2009 due to some contractual issues with his previous employer. What better way to pass the five months of unemployment than to put a serious dent into the 400,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points that he had managed to amass over the years?  Robert's best friend from high school was a bachelor too at this point and had an apartment Robert could crash at in Los Angeles – so he pretty much saw how many times he could ride between Milwaukee and Los Angeles that spring via the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight. It was a pretty sweet deal. Amtrak Guest Rewards points provided transportation, meals, and lodging when no income was coming in!  Looking back at his pictures, it looks like Robert did at least eight round-trips during that period. He literally became recognizable among the Pacific Parlour Car attendants that spring.  His three favorite all-time attendants were Richard, Nanette, and Jane. We are not sure what happened to Nanette, but we later ran into Richard and Jane on the Southwest Chief a few years ago.... they are now working in the dining car and lounge car. They were great Parlour Car attendants though! Yes, Robert rode so much that he even had their trivia questions at the wine tasting memorized and would win whatever prize he wanted. Down in our basement we have about three Coast Starlight teddy bears sitting in our Amtrak memorabilia collection!

A few years after the repeated Pacific Parlour Car rides, Robert's first girlfriend from college (Kandace), came back into his life – and we got engaged and married in 2012. Over the past five or six years, we were lucky enough to take several rides together as a couple on the Pacific Parlour Cars. We would make a point to head out to the West Coast and ride the Coast Starlight at least twice a year – just for the Pacific Parlours. Sometimes on a long holiday weekend we would plan a trip just to ride from Los Angeles to Seattle. Other times, like when we were going to Hawaii or Alaska for a longer trip, we would incorporate a ride to enjoy the Pacific Parlours, too. We were pretty envious though of our West Coast friends who could pretty much hop aboard them anytime they wanted to. Every time we stepped aboard and sat in one of the comfy purple chairs brought Robert back the feelings of his first ride in 1997… a feeling of luxury and "Superior Service" as the etched glass in the cars read… without having to pay an extreme upgrade price.

Anyway, on Wednesday, January 17, 2018, we came across an internal employee advisory that had just been issued. Robert was at work when the message came across. At first, he just skimmed it. He thought it was just the advisory that had been issued months earlier reading the Pacific Parlour Cars would be off of the Coast Starlight through the first part of March 2018 for "routine maintenance". Robert then took time to read it further – and it was actually a notice saying the cars were going to be permanently removed from the Coast Starlight in just a little over two weeks. Robert quickly shared it with Kandace -- and we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was surprising because earlier announcements by Amtrak had come out saying the cars would be pulled off for "service" during the winter months, but would be running one round trip during the winter, and full Parlour Car service would be restored come March 1, 2018.  We guess it wasn’t to be!?

As soon as Robert read the notice, he got on the phone and called Kandace who was at work. Robert told Kandace what was going on – and wondered if there was any way we could possibly get to the West Coast in the next two weeks to take one last ride on the cars together. We also sent the advisory out to some friends who also enjoyed the Pacific Parlour Cars as much as we did – and polled them to see how many people might try the same last-minute booking.

At first, it looked like we weren’t going to be able to make it out there. While Robert's employer is a little more flexible with time off, Kandace's employer requires her to put any time off requests in about four weeks out. That is just how it is. With Amtrak’s less-than-stellar "two week notice" for the removal of the Pacific Parlour Cars – taking any actual vacation time to ride an entire leg wasn’t going to be possible. It kept buzzing through our heads that night – could we really make it from the Chicago area to the West Coast for just a two-day weekend and actually ride the Parlour Cars?  We both felt that even a short ride would be better than nothing. If we couldn't be part of the historic last trip there would definitely be some regret. We did have Saturday, February 3, 2018 and Sunday, February 4, 2018 off – so we could do this – but would just have to go out and back and only ride a small portion of the route. The next stumbling block were flight prices. Booking a flight with such a short notice would cost a pretty penny. We were looking at almost $750.00 for both of us to fly to Portland on Saturday and fly back the following day from Seattle. Luckily, we did have enough Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points, which would make it possible to do the trip for free. Next, we checked Amtrak and the rate for a roomette on the Coast Starlight wasn’t that bad from Portland to Seattle. Of course, to be able to ride on the Pacific Parlour Cars, you needed to be in a sleeper – even though we had no intention of actually spending any time outside of the Pacific Parlour Car.

Several of our friends also confirmed they would be booking too, which really sealed the deal on going. When booking, we even decided that if we could hustle, there would be time to ride the Cascades south from Portland to Salem, OR, and catch the Coast Starlight there. This would mean Kandace would get her first ride on a Talgo train and we would have an extra hour of time on the Pacific Parlour Car, too!  Plus, we would be on the train already for the "fresh air stop" at Portland, which would lead to an additional photo-taking opportunity on the platform.

One of our friends, Robert M. from Chicago, was able to get some vacation time off from his job and got on the train in Los Angeles on Friday, February 2. He sent us a text message as he was walking up the ramp in Los Angeles that was quite a shock -- not only was there ONE Pacific Parlour Car on our train -- there were actually going to be TWO! More on this later further down in our trip report... but this was definitely a nice surprise. Given the fact we had rode several times in the past when mechanical problems forced a Superliner Cross Country Cafe car to be substituted for a Pacific Parlour Car, we were more expecting to hear from Robert M. that NO Pacific Parlour Cars were going to be on the last run; but it was the total opposite... we would have two cars.

Our friend, Robert M., got a photo of this final northbound Coast Starlight with a Pacific Parlour Car at San Luis Obispo, CA on Friday, February 2, 2018 before we boarded up the line in Oregon

A screen shot of the consist of the final northbound Coast Starlight with a Pacific Parlour Car -- Note: Double Parlour Cars!

A photo of the final northbound Parlour Car run in Southern Oregon on the morning of Saturday, February 3, 2018 before we got aboard

Fast forward to the next day... Saturday, February 3, 2018. We got up at 3:00am to make the early morning flight out to Denver, Colorado. Using Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points we were able to make the flight situation work, but had to connect – in Denver going west – and then in St. Louis going east. The direct flight options to Portland and back from Seattle cost too many points unfortunately. Everything had to work out perfect too, because we had tight connections all-around between our two flights, light rail, and Talgo and Coast Starlight. Luckily, the weather across the country was pretty tame that weekend (rare for February!) and we were able to pull it off.

After the tight connection in Denver, we arrived at the Portland International Airport around 10:00am and caught the MAX Light Rail between the airport and Portland Union Station. We got a little nervous because there was some construction going on that weekend and not all departures of the MAX Red Line were running. We experience a little delay at the airport station and had to transfer earlier than we planned to the Green MAX Line, but made it work. We made it Portland Union Station by 11:45am... even with the delays. Our Talgo train to Salem didn't board for another 30 minutes so we were good.

A beautiful view of Mount Hood, as seen on our flight between Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon

Authors Robert & Kandace Tabern arrive at Portland International Airport to begin the trip on Saturday, February 3, 2018

Kandace Tabern waits for the MAX Light Rail at Portland International Airport to begin heading towards Portland Union Station

Robert and Kandace enjoy the ride on Portland's Light Rail system between the airport and downtown -- $5 vs. a $50 cab ride!

We arrive at Portland Union Station with plenty of time to spare!

Kandace stands in the main waiting area of Portland Union Station

The arrivals/departure board at Portland Union Station; note our Train #513 only runs on Saturdays and was not up on the board for whatever reason!

Kandace enjoys some coffee in the Portland Union Station Metropolitan Lounge

Robert poses with a "Farewell to the Pacific Parlour Car" sign in the Portland Metropolitan Lounge

Our farewell Pacific Parlour Car sign

Kandace switches into her classic Coast Starlight shirt and holds the Pacific Parlour Car farewell sign

Since Kandace had never ridden on a train with Talgo equipment before, we decided a few days beforehand to book Train #513 on the Cascades between Portland and Salem, OR.  We would have an hour on the Talgo train, be able to get lunch aboard, and have one hour more than we had originally planned on the Pacific Parlour Cars. Upon arriving at the Portland Station, we checked in with the ticket agent, who gave us a $3 coupon each to use in the cafe/bistro car. It had been many years since Robert rode the Cascades, too, and he forgot that you got a coupon instead of a free beverage like you do on Business Class here in the Midwest. We personally prefer the $3 coupons because you can use them forever you want, instead of being forced to use it on a beverage.

We had about 30 minutes to kill in the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland.  This allowed us the time to take some photos with the "Pacific Parlour Car Farewell" signs that we had printed up. When we arrived, the Metropolitan Lounge attendant was busy boarding some other passengers on a northbound Cascades train. Very few people actually seemed to be waiting for our southbound train. Most of the remaining people in the lounge were waiting for either the northbound Coast Starlight or eastbound Empire Builder. We also watched the wyed Empire Builder come back into the station. It’s funny, living in Illinois where we can see the Empire Builder every day, you forgot how short the Portland section of the train is beyond Spokane, Washington, where it splits in two.

Business Class passengers on the Cascades are given a $3.00 voucher for food in the bistro car

We were led out to the train by the Metropolitan Lounge attendant around 12:30pm. We thought that was cutting it pretty close for the 12:45pm departure, until we realized there were just a few dozen people on the train – and there was only one other person in the entire business class section! The conductors explained that Train #513 only runs on Saturdays and is really more of a positioning move than anything to get the equipment down to Eugene to run it back northbound later in the day.

We were excited to learn that we would be riding on one of the new Talgo sets that was built in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We are sure you know the whole saga involving the Talgos and Wisconsin -- but in case you don’t -- two new Talgo train sets were ordered in 2009 to be built for the Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee --- and an extension from Milwaukee to Madison. The contracts were signed between Talgo and the previous governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle. When Wisconsin’s current governor (Scott Walker) got elected in November 2010, he refused to accept delivery of the trains. They were absolutely beautiful – in fact – we got a chance to tour them in Milwaukee before they were taken down to Beech Grove, Indiana where they have remained in long-term unused storage. Besides the two Wisconsin sets, the states of Oregon and Washington also ordered two sets – these were built in Wisconsin too and are actually in use on the Cascades. We could tell by the interesting-looking cab car (that many people have called "ugly") that we got one of the new Milwaukee-built Talgo train sets. The conductor and Talgo mechanic who was riding aboard also confirmed that we were on the new Talgo sets built in Wisconsin.

Two sets of Talgo Cascades equipment were on the platform at Portland -- the new set of equipment made in Milwaukee (left) and an older set (right)

Kandace poses for a picture with the cab of the Milwaukee, WI-made train we would be riding from Portland, OR to Salem, OR

Getting ready to board southbound Cascades Train #513 between Portland and Salem, OR

Kandace poses in our Business Class car on southbound Cascades Train #513

Kandace in the Bistro Car on the Cascades

Kandace sits in the cafe car waiting for her lunch to be prepared

Robert and Kandace take one final picture aboard the Cascades

Anyway, we settled in and almost immediately upon leaving Portland, went to the bistro car for lunch. The different choices offered than the traditional Amtrak cafe food was a nice change. Kandace got a sandwich and Robert ended up trying the mac and cheese. Both were good! One of the things that we really like about the Talgos is the big windows -- which really put the Amfleet and Horizon coaches to shame. One of the other nice things is the small amount of people per car. If were traveling with a small group you could almost have a car to your own. If there is a screaming baby or something in one of the cars, you can easily move to another car. There was just a very quiet and pleasant atmosphere on the Talgos and the Cascades Service!  We wondered to ourselves if all of the runs had that few people on it – but we weren’t complaining.  By the time we finished up our meals, we had about 20 minutes left to head back to our seats in Business Class before we rolled into Salem. The conductor was very friendly and said he was with Amtrak awhile. He previously worked at the Sacramento, California crew base and even knew some mutual friends who worked for the railroad.

We arrived into Salem almost right on-time and headed into the station to check things out. We had passed through Salem countless times on the Coast Starlight, but had never gotten off there. Our connection time in Salem would have normally been just a mere 25 minutes, but we learned from the station agent, the northbound Coast Starlight lost about 30 minutes since leaving Eugene. This gave us about 50 minutes of waiting time -- which was fine. We noted about 10 passengers were waiting to get on the train. In addition, there were maybe five or six rail fans who came out to photograph the occasion, but would not be riding. Around 2:20pm we could hear the whistle of the northbound Coast Starlight in the distance. The moment really hit us – in a just a few minutes the last northbound trip with a Pacific Parlour Car would be rolling through town. Robert went down the south end of the platform to get video of the train coming in with the two Pacific Parlours #39970 and #39972 in the consist; Kandace stayed with the luggage farther north on the platform. We purposely booked a roomette in Car #1430, which was situated right ahead of the Pacific Parlour Cars. We learned this trick after several trips -- booking in car #1430 meant the shortest walk to the Pacific Parlours. Like we mentioned earlier, even though we planned to spend every minute possible in the Parlour Cars, we had to book a roomette in order to have access to the car.  Kind of a waste, but those were the rules and part of what made these cars so special (no coach passengers allowed!).

We had about a 50 minute layover here -- at the Salem, Oregon Amtrak Station -- between Trains #513 and #14

Robert and Kandace on our layover at Salem, Oregon

It's always good to match, right?  Inside the Salem, Oregon Amtrak Station

The northbound Coast Starlight #14 finally arrives at the Salem, Oregon Amtrak Station with its TWO Pacific Parlour Cars

We were greeted by our sleeping car attendant as the train rolled in; a couple was actually getting off our sleeping car in Salem. We let them get off, we got on, and placed our overnight bag in our room… and of course… headed straight for the Parlour Car. Or, should we say – the FIRST Parlour Car. Already on board was our friend Robert M., who had rode the entire northbound trip beginning in Los Angeles the previous morning. He flew in on Thursday night from Chicago to do the trip with us. Also in the first Parlour Car was my friend Rick, who had come in from the Twin Cities area to ride this special trip. We had worked with Rick several times when volunteering on excursions for the Friends of the 261 steam engine. All eight of the big purple comfy chairs were taken in the first Parlour Car – so we decided to head into the second Parlour Car where there was a little more room. We grabbed three chairs there and Robert M. soon joined us to catch up on things.

Author Kandace Tabern, decked out in a classic Coast Starlight t-shirt and hat, enjoys the big purple comfy chairs in the Pacific Parlour Car one last time

A sign advertising the sale of Pacific Parlour Car "Farewell Merchandise" was available on-line only

Enjoying a cocktail right after boarding the Pacific Parlour Car

Our souvenir glass that we bought with our afternoon cocktail

We had just about one hour aboard the Coast Starlight before we would be back in Portland. One of the most scenic spots between Salem and Portland is Oregon City, Oregon, and “the end” of the Oregon Trail. Thousands of pioneers set out for a "better life" in the west using this trail in the 1840's; it began way "back east" in Independence, Missouri. On the right side of the train (if you are going north) is a museum to mark the end of the trail – keep your eyes out and you can see several large-scale wagons. Several of the passengers in the Pacific Parlour Car were interested in history so Robert did a quick five minute history lesson/narration about the Oregon Trail. On the left side was the beautiful waterfall on the river. Of course, everyone remembered the popular 1980's computer game, "Oregon Trail". Who didn't die of diphtheria or a snake bit -- and who didn't enjoy hunting for food?  Everyone had a good chuckle over this. Just like the 1980's computer Oregon Trail game, the Pacific Parlour would be a distant memory too someday.

This marks the end point of the historic Oregon Trail between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon

We were soon back at Portland Union Station, where we had started about two-and-a-half hours earlier. Most everyone who were riding the Pacific Parlour Cars got off during the “fresh air” stop in Portland to get some last pictures.  Not only is Portland the last point where you can get off the northbound Coast Starlight for photos (or a smoke if you prefer), in less than an hour it would be getting dark unfortunately. Due to the early sunset times in February we would not actually be able to see the running through Tacoma on the "old route", post the accident of Train #501 a few months before. Besides having more time on the Parlour Cars, part of the reason we decided to get on in Salem vs. Portland was to have the time to get photos of ourselves with the Parlour Cars. Salem is a quick stop so we knew we would not really have the time there. And by the time we got to Seattle it would be too dark to get any daylight photos. Portland was really the one and only opportunity for us. We maybe could have gotten photos if we got on in Portland, however often times the conductors don’t board the new northbound passengers in Portland until the last minute. Maybe this was because not a lot of people ride the Coast Starlight to Seattle, opting for perhaps the more on-time Talgo trains? This was the case again with our train. In fact, our friend Anthony R., who was boarding in Portland, barely made it out in time after hearing the first boarding call. He came all the way from Atlanta to ride! There wasn’t much dwell time in Portland because the conductors were trying to make up the 20-30 minutes that we were down at that point. We were still able to snap a few decent photos (see below!)

The skyline of Portland, Oregon comes back into view - as seen from the Pacific Parlour Car

The final northbound Coast Starlight with Pacific Parlour Cars rolls into Portland Union Station on Saturday, February 3, 2018

Kandace Tabern poses for a photo with the DOUBLE Pacific Parlour Cars - #39970 and #39972 at Portland Union Station

Robert & Kandace Tabern, decked out in Coast Starlight gear, post for a Pacific Parlour Car photo on the platform of Portland Union Station

A very rare sight indeed -- Robert & Kandace Tabern pose for a photo with DOUBLE Pacific Parlour Cars at Portland Union Station

Our friend Rick from the Twin Cities area joins in the photo session at Portland Union Station

The Pacific Parlour Car attendants noticed on the manifest that four passengers were getting on in Portland (including our friends Anthony R. and Charlie) and decided to delay the final northbound wine tasting until they got aboard. Usually the wine tasting was done around 2:30pm or so (just after Salem), but it took place around 4:00pm this afternoon so the four passengers who got on in Portland could join... which was great. 

In honor of the “last run”, the wine tasting was free for all sleeping car passengers on both days of the final northbound and the final southbound. For those of you who remember, the wine tasting (including tasty artisan cheese!) was originally free to all sleeping car passengers on the Coast Starlight. About four or five years ago, some members of the U.S. Congress began to complain that passengers were getting “free wine and cheese” on a government-sponsored train… basically implying the government was buying people free wine and cheese on Amtrak. This is far from the truth because the wine tasting was factored into the sleeping car fares. Anyway, Amtrak caved for awhile and totally eliminated the signature wine tasting in the Pacific Parlours! It was brought back a few months later – but passengers had to pay for the tasting and go in the lounge car and buy a cheese tray. We believe it was $5.00 and then raised to $7.50 for the tasting. On this particular run, the wine was free, but we still had to make the trek to the Superliner Sightseer lounge car to buy the cheese tray. We were discussing it aboard, and one of our favorite cheeses on the Parlour Cars over the years was offered back in 2009 and 2010 and was called purple moon (here's a link in case you want to try some!). The cheese trays on the Coast Starlight are the same sold elsewhere on the Amtrak system -- so nothing too exotic beyond your cheddar and gouda. The two of us -- and our friends Anthony and Robert M. -- did one final toast to the Pacific Parlour Cars. Two reds and one white wine were offered. The attendants were very nice and did a tasting in BOTH Pacific Parlour Cars -- something that had probably never happened before up until this point since you were lucky to normally get one car on the train.

Enjoying the big purple comfy chairs along with our friends Anthony and Robert M. as we cross from Oregon into Washington State

Our Pacific Parlour Car attendant C.J. gets the final northbound wine tasting ready

Robert and the Coast Starlight teddy bear he won in 2009 make a final appearance behind the Pacific Parlour Car bar area at wine tasting time

Kandace also takes her turn at "bar tending" on the final run

The Coast Starlight actually had its own wine table back in the mid-1990's when the Pacific Parlour Car launched!
Thanks to the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata, MO for preserving this piece of history.

Enjoying the final northbound Pacific Parlour Car wine tasting as we leave Vancouver, Washington

Darren pours the final glass of wine on the final northbound Pacific Parlour Car, as Kandace and Robert M. look on

Our friend Robert M., again who had been on the train since Los Angeles, mentioned that in typical Amtrak fashion, the crew on the train was not expecting a second Parlour Car to be in the consist. Not only did this catch us and Robert M. as a surprise, so it did the crew, too! They also did not realize that all of the sleeping car passengers had been given a letter in their rooms noting the special final trip and announcing that each day’s wine tastings were free. Nonetheless, they adapted, and were great about it. Some of the other crew members aboard mentioned that some of their co-workers at the Amtrak Yard in Los Angeles (who apparently did not appreciate the historic nature of the trip) were not too happy about two Pacific Parlour Cars being added to the train for the final run at the last minute. Apparently when it was mentioned that a large crowd might be expected for the final Parlour Car run… and four sleepers would be run… one of the yard workers didn’t get why a Pacific Parlour and extra Superliner Sightseer Lounge vs. two Pacific Parlour Cars couldn’t be added.  Ugh!  In the end, we were very glad TWO Pacific Parlour Cars were added so that we didn’t really have to compete for seats in the purple comfy chairs that we have really grown to love and appreciate. Also according to Robert M., initially, the second Pacific Parlour Car was just supposed to be overflow seating, but once they realized how many passengers were interested, they wound up offering meals and wine tasting in both cars. They ran out of wine glasses because they were unprepared for a free tasting, not realizing how many would participate, so they had to use regular water glasses on the first day and plastic cups on the second day.

A copy of the letter put in everyone's sleeping car rooms commemorating the last trip

Let the record show that the final Pacific Parlour Car attendants were named C.J. and Darren. The latter, we gathered, was supposed to be the LSA in the Superliner dining car, but wound up becoming the second Parlour Car LSA (with someone else in the diner serving as LSA), though we don't know if we have that 100% accurate or not. They would be on both the final northbound run, as well as the final southbound run since they were based in Los Angeles. There was enough demand of people wanting to eat and have the wine tasting in the Parlour Cars to warrant staffing both.

We would say the majority of passengers riding, at least in the segment between Salem, Oregon and Seattle, were riding because of the Parlour Cars. Many passengers came to say their goodbyes on the trip (a few on our northbound planned to head right back southbound the next day; we probably would have done that too if it fit in with our work schedule). Some folks, both passengers and crew, did become a bit emotional when discussing the end of Pacific Parlour Car service, which is understandable given that some of the younger passengers on the train basically grew up with the cars, and some of the crew spent most (or all) of their careers working on or around the Parlour cars. A special treat was when our friend Rick brought brochures and a ticket receipt from the Santa Fe El Capitan in 1969, which was the last time he had ridden in one of those cars. Another person who we had met aboard the car was a younger journalism student. We are not sure what organization he was with, but he ended up talking to crew and passengers and taking lots of photos and video to document the final northbound run.

The farewell letter left in each sleeper room pointed out that these particular cars spent more time in service as the Pacific Parlour Car (23 years) than they did with the Santa Fe (15 years). If you are interested in learning more about the history of these cars, we did a separate article that can be accessed HERE.

We, and our group of close friends (Robert M. and Anthony), ended up with the unintended distinction of being the LAST table served a meal on a northbound Pacific Parlour Car run. In our past experience of riding, the Parlour Car attendants will take reservations for lunch and dinner in the Parlour beginning that morning. Definitely wanting to eat in the Parlour Car for dinner (since that was the only meal we would be aboard the train!), we asked Robert M. to secure us reservations for the Parlour. Typically there is not enough seating for everyone to have dinner in the Parlour Car, and once reservations are full, you are forced to eat in the standard Superliner dining car. C.J. and Darren mentioned that they would make sure everyone who wanted to eat in the Parlour Car would be able to eat in them -- even if they had to serve meals in both cars. So, no reservations were taken until around 4:30pm. When the attendant walked through the train, we asked for the latest time possible since we had a late lunch on the Cascades. We were given the 6:10pm seating time. Soon after making our reservation -- we realized by asking for the last seating -- we would be part of history -- with getting served the last northbound meal ever in a Pacific Parlour. Our seating with two pasta dinners and two lamb shank dinners was the last meal that came out!  The Pacific Parlour Car history books should note that  Kandace was technically the last one to get served her dinner. We had a nice conversation amongst the four of us – and with several other members of the “Amtrak Unlimited” forum who sat across from us, including another friend Charlie, who was from the local area.

We, along with friends Charlie, Anthony, and Robert M. got to be part of the final seating on the final northbound Parlour Car run!

Kandace and Robert M. share in on a conversation at dinner time

The beautiful etched glass with the 1995-era Coast Starlight logo added to the ambiance of the dining area of the Pacific Parlour Car

There it is!  The final reservation slip for dinner on a northbound Pacific Parlour Car run!   :(

The meal choices on the final run were pasta and green beans OR lamb shank, mashed potatoes and green beans

We prepare to "chow down" with our friends Robert M. and Anthony

Our desserts marked the final food items served ever on a northbound Pacific Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight

Overall, one couldn't have asked for a better Coast Starlight trip, with excellent crews and an on-time arrival into Seattle (though the train was a bit late at some of the Northern California stops before we had gotten on).  Many people were griping about the relative suddenness of their elimination and lack of time to prepare for a proper send-off. Others lamented not so much the elimination of that specific equipment, but more the fact that there will no longer be a dedicated sleeper lounge on the train.

We spent about 15 minutes after the train’s arrival into Seattle taking pictures of the cars out of the platform and documenting the end of the final northbound run. About ten people were doing the same. In fact, finally all of the crew got off the train and a security guard came out to give us a “okay, that’s enough” look.

The final arrival of a Pacific Parlour Car into Seattle, Washington on Saturday, February 3, 2018

Saying goodbye to the Pacific Parlour Car upon our arrival at Seattle, Washington

We parted ways with our friends and headed down to the Seattle Airport on the light rail station. We overnighted at our usual hotel at Sea-Tac (the Clarion) and flew home the following day.

In the end, we are glad we spent our weekend doing this trip. Again, it was very last minute and would have been costly if we weren't using points for the flights and the train, but there would have been a lot of regrets if we didn't get to ride on these cars one last time. Many of our friends got a good laugh that we would fly two-thirds of the way across the country just to ride on a historic 1950’s observation car for about five hours. We guess if you aren’t into trains, maybe spending more time flying than riding the Pacific Parlour Car was silly… but it’s fun to be able to be apart of history… and to actually say “goodbye” to these cars that we had enjoyed for so many years. 

On the flight home – we didn’t know what we were more sad about. The fact that unless someone buys these cars and puts a lot of money into them, we will probably never ride on these pieces of Santa Fe history again… or the fact that the quality of Amtrak and passenger rail in the United States had dropped so low that (perhaps?) the last real bastion of premium service on a regularly scheduled passenger train is gone.

A few weeks after our trip, word came down that the Pacific Parlour Cars would be riding their ex-Santa Fe “home rails” one last time to dead-head (without passengers) to Chicago, and then down to Amtrak’s shops in Beech Grove, Indiana. The original plan called for all four cars to be put on the back end of Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Chief in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 15, 2018. Some mechanical problems with one of the cars delayed this move at the last minute. After whatever repairs were needed, two cars were put on the back of the Southwest Chief that left Los Angeles on Saturday, February 17, 2018, and two more were put on the back of the Southwest Chief that left Los Angeles on Sunday, February 18, 2018.  The trains rolled through La Plata, Missouri (the headquarters city of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation) on Monday, February 19 and Tuesday, February 20. Our organization's president got some photos despite the foggy and rainy weather.

Two Pacific Parlour Cars head dead-head on the rear of the Southwest Chief through La Plata, Missouri on Monday, February 19, 2018
(Courtesy: Bob Cox)

Another view of two Pacific Parlour Cars passing through La Plata, Missouri on February 19, 2018; note the APRHF's Lookout Point Park Cabin on the right
(Courtesy: Bob Cox)

Fellow rail fan Coby Potischman was lucky enough to get photographs (outside and inside!) the Pacific Parlour Cars on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 when they were down in the yard south of Chicago Union Station. From Coby's photos, everything on the interior appears to be in-tact on the cars, including the chairs, bar, and Coast Starlight etched glass. The future of the cars remain unknown at the time of this article... rumor has it they will be taken down to Beech Grove, Indiana to be either sold off or possibly even scrapped.

The Pacific Parlour cars in the Amtrak Yard in Chicago, Illinois on Wednesday, February 21, 2018
(Courtesy: Coby Potischman)

Pacific Parlour Car #39970 "Columbia Valley" at Amtrak's Chicago Yards on February 21, 2018
(Courtesy: Coby Potischman)

The next stop for these cars will be Beech Grove, Indiana -- and from there --- sold? or scrapped? Only the future tells.
(Courtesy: Coby Potischman)

Goodbye, old friends!  May we ride you again someday!

In a few weeks, we will have another TrainWeb article that will focus on the sold-off Pacific Parlour Car, #39971!  Stay tuned!

If you enjoyed our writing, we would also encourage you to check out the 11 "Outside the Rails" railroad route guidebooks that we published for the various Amtrak passenger rail routes through the Upper Midwest. They are available on our website, We also feature the guidebooks written by Eva Hoffman for various Amtrak railroad lines in the west and east!


LINKS FOR THIS REPORT |  Advisory on Parlour Car Removal (Jan. 2018) |  TrainWeb Photo Tour of Parlour Cars

Trip Advisor Forum on Pacific Parlour CarsTravels with Jim Loomis Article on Pacific Parlour Cars


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