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.
Our SECOND article focused 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. This, our third and final TrainWeb.com 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?
When Amtrak announced that in
January 2018 that the Pacific Parlour Cars would be retired in a few
weeks, we dug deep through our photo archives from previous trips to
see if we, in fact, had ridden on all five of the active ex-Santa Fe
Hi-Level lounge cars. And -- we had! This might be an easy feat
if you're from the California or the Pacific Northwest -- but not so
easy for a couple who calls the Chicago-area home.
Here is a photo from each car:
Pacific Parlour Car #39970 - "Columbia Valley" (Former Amtrak #9970 and Santa Fe #575)
Pacific Parlour Car #39972 - "Napa Valley" (Former Amtrak #9972 and Santa Fe #577)
Pacific Parlour Car #39973 - "Santa Lucia Highlands" (Former Amtrak #9973 and Santa Fe #578)
Pacific Parlour Car #39974 - "Sonoma Valley" (Former Amtrak #9974 and Santa Fe #579)
Pacific Parlour Car #39975 - "Willamette Valley" (Former Amtrak #9975 and Santa Fe #580)
If you closely followed the
above captions -- you may have noticed something is missing. There is
no Pacific Parlour Car #39971 (former Amtrak #9971 and Santa Fe #576).
So what gives? Well, yes, here comes the brief history lesson part. The
Santa Fe built a total six Hi-Level lounge cars during the mid-1950's
and ran them in service on the historic El Capitan between Chicago and Los Angeles (and eventually on the combined El Capitan/Southwest Chief). When Amtrak took over in 1971, it continued to operate the Hi-Level lounge cars on the same route, just on the re-named Southwest Limited and Southwest Chief. It
wasn't until enough Superliner Sightseer Lounges could be built in the
mid-1980's that Amtrak was able to move these cars off the Southwest Chief
and on to other less scenic routes. The Sightseer Lounges were the
"new" cars at the time with the bigger windows, and Amtrak wanted these
cars on the Chief. The Hi-Level lounges continued to operate through the early 1990's as "See-Level Lounges" on other routes like the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.
Their apparent demise wasn't even considered until the second order of
Superliner cars (often called "Superliner II's") were finished.
(For a more detailed history, including many photos, please refer to the first article in this series.)
The ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level lounges looked like they might be either sold
off or scrapped by early 1994. But, in stepped Amtrak Executive Brian
Rosenwald. He knew the meaning of "Superior Service" and hatched a plan
to save these historic cars. During the mid-to-late 1990's, all six of
the cars were designated as Pacific Parlour Cars. They would serve as
an exclusive first class lounge for passengers on the Coast Starlight between
Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle. Only
five of the six cars though went through an extensive refurbishment
where the 1980's lounge interior was replaced with dark wood paneling,
eight purple recliners, bench style seating with cocktail tables,
booths, and a non-enclosed bar. Amtrak figured only five of the six
cars needed this new interior refurbishment -- as, given the Coast Starlight's
schedule -- only four cars would be in-use "on the rails" at any given
time. This allowed for one refurbished spare and one
unrefurbished spare to be kept in the car roster. Amtrak chose #39971
as the car it would not refurbish because it was reportedly in the
worst shape. Since parts of the ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level lounge cars were
hard to come by and had to be specifically manufactured, the long-term
idea was to keep #39971 as a "parts car", that parts could be taken
from over the years to place on the five refurbished cars.
A few years later, by around 2000 and for whatever reasons, Amtrak
decided to sell off the unrefurbished Pacific Parlour Car... as it was
rarely being used. Some reports have said the money raised from the
sale of this car partially went towards the costs of refurbishing the
other five cars, too. This would be mark the first time in 44 years the
ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level Lounges would not be together as part of the same
After sitting around Amtrak's Beech Grove yards for a few years,
the Hi-Level Lounge #39971 was purchased by David Hoffman in 2003.
David was a successful Wisconsin State Highway contractor who was
always interested in private rail cars. In 1992, David purchased Northern Sky and Northern Dreams; today he continues to operates these cars through Northern Sky Rail Charters.
Taking inspiration from cruise ships and classing touring trains, David
outfitted a 1955 dome observation car and a '50s sleeper into a pair of
matching companion cars. About 15 years ago, David planned to expand
his fleet of cars when he purchased #39971 along with four other former
Santa Fe Hi-Levels (two transition cars and two coach cars) from
Amtrak. We spoke to David from his winter home in Arizona for this
article in mid-February 2018. He mentioned that shortly after his
purchase, his cars and many of the other Hi-Levels bought by other
private car owners were taken by a freight train from Beech Grove,
Indiana to the yard at Gateway Rail (formerly Illinois Transit
Assembly) in Madison, Illinois (just outside of Saint Louis). That is
where #39971 has remained every since. You many notice that while the
car number has remained the same from its Amtrak days, its reporting
marks became "PPCX", which belongs to the American Association of
Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO). Sadly, funds and time just were
not in the cards to allow for the refurbishment of David's new Hi-Level
collection. He mentioned that there has been a lot of interest in the
Hi-Level lounge, including some offers to purchase it -- however, he
says it's not for sale by itself -- a potential buyer would have to
purchase all five Hi-Levels that he bought in the initial purchase from
Amtrak in 2003. David also mentioned to us that one of the challenges
with #39971 is the fact it has no bedrooms and no bathrooms; this means
potential extensive renovations would be needed if it were to run by
itself in private long-distance rail car service.
For the record, David said that he most definitely did NOT purchase the
five Amtrak Pacific Parlour Cars and has absolutely no intentions to do
so. He also says he has not heard yet, who, if anyone, has purchased
them. So, no hopes all six cars will be back under the same owner... at
least for now!
Gateway Rail has an affiliation with American Rail Excursions. Luckily
for us, American Rail Excursions is one of the private rail partners
for the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation's Rail Rangers
program; our Interpretive Guides volunteer their time to present
on board educational programs on AME's private rail excursions.
Being the Executive Director and Chicago Coordinator of the APRHF Rail
Rangers we were given exclusive access to both the interiors and
exteriors of the Hi-Level private rail cars that are parked at Gateway
Rail, including former Hi-Level Lounge/Pacific Parlour Car #39971.
Along for this special meeting/tour was APRHF President Bob Cox, APRHF
Treasurer Amy Cox, and their daughter Karri Cox. With that said,
Gateway Rail is a business NOT a railroad museum and absolutely DOES
NOT offer tours to the public, groups, or individuals. We were
granted this extremely rare access to their cars because we volunteer
our time doing narration on their private rail excursions. Please enjoy
this report and photos, but do not call or contact Gateway Rail
and ask for permission to see their equipment; only pre-qualified
buyers of private rail equipment are usually ever allowed onto the
Finally, if you do wish to re-post any of these photos, we require you to contact us for permission at firstname.lastname@example.org, credit "Robert & Kandace Tabern". and provide a link to www.MidwestRails.com with each photo that you use.
Upon our arrival, our guide, Roger Veerberen brought us right to the
ex-Hi Level lounge car/Pacific Parlour #39971 that we want to see for
this article we were doing about the retirement of the Pacific Parlours.
Here is our collection of photos of exterior of this car:
The reporting marks have been changed to "PPCX 39971", but the car still is in Amtrak colors, including the Pacific Parlour logo
Author Robert Tabern stands in front of the "sold off" Pacific Parlour Car #39971 in Madison, Illinois
The Pacific Parlour Car logo is still on the car, just quite dirty and faded
Amtrak wording is spray painted over in black and part of the seal around the window is coming off
Time has not been friendly to the "missing" Pacific Parlour Car
Author & Executive Director of the APRHF Rail Rangers Robert Tabern stands outside the car on a brisk winter day
APRHF President Bob Cox does the honors of unlocking the door on Car #39971
Let's move to our collection of photos of the interior on the upper level of ex-Pacific Parlour Car #39971:
This is the end of the Pacific Parlour Cars where booths and the dark-wood bar have been installed in the refurbished cars
Another view of the interior of Car
#39971 - the far end by the door would be where the purple swivel
chairs would have been placed
The area where the single tables are on the left side is where the buffet rack was installed on the refurbished Pacific Parlours
This is the area where the eight purple swivel chairs would have been placed if the car was refurbished
A photograph of another book case on the car; again this area was replaced with the purple swivel recliners
Note the book case against the stairs where purple swivel chairs would have gone
The orange-colored storage area is where the bar would have been built had this car been refurbished
Another shot of the enclosed bar area that would have replaced by the wooden bar in the refurbished cars;
note the "Christmas lights" - this is left over from many attendants who would put these up in the car from time-to-time.
Even the menu is still in place on
this car from its days in service as a lounge car on Amtrak, perhaps as
a back-up Pacific Parlour on the Starlight?
Amtrak's numbering of #39971 is still on the sliding door of the car
Author and APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator is excited to check out this piece of Santa Fe and Amtrak history
APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox also enjoys exploring the old Pacific Parlour Car and getting some photos
The walkway that one would normally pass through on the refurbished Pacific Parlour Cars to head into the Superliner dining car
Authors and Rail Rangers Managers Robert and Kandace Tabern stand together inside Pacific Parlour #39971
How about the downstairs? Let's take a look -- this is where the real Santa Fe comes out!
Amtrak 1980's orange and brown abounds as we walk down the stairs to the lower level of the ex-Amtrak #39971
The door and window are secured to prevent trespassers from gaining access to the car
We were absolutely stunned to find remnants of the Santa Fe still on the lower level of the car!
Yes, the original glass from the Santa
Fe has managed to stay in-tact -- they were removed on the refurbished
Pacific Parlour Cars
A view of the downstairs bar area -- this was turned into the movie theater on the refurbished Pacific Parlours
We couldn't leave the downstairs without taking one more shot of the historic Santa Fe glass still there! We love it!!
Now that we have seen what the
un-refurbished Pacific Parlour #39971 looks like -- how about some
side-by-side comparison shots between this car and its refurbished
siblings so you can REALLY see the differences in the nice improvements
Brian Rosenwald's team did when these cars went into service on the Coast Starlight? Here are five "before and after" shots we came up with for you:
We also found some other ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level "gems" at Gateway Rail we thought we would share with you:
on property were several former Santa Fe Hi-Level dining cars; like the
lounges -- only six were made! According to records that we found, it
was purchased from Amtrak by Phil Sheridan & IFE Leasing. In about
1985-86, when enough Superliner Dining Cars were built, the Hi-Level
diners were re-made into a half diner/ half lounge and served on the
Desert Wind. In the summer months, they ran between Los Angeles and
Denver on The Desert Wind. They also were used on the San Joaquin's at
about the same time. Later, they were on the Capitol Corridor
trains when the California Cars were first delivered because the 8800
diners were about a year behind the coaches & cab cars. They
disappeared when the California lounge cars were delivered and the
Desert Wind was discontinued.
Inside one of the former Amtrak & Santa Fe Hi-Level dining cars
Part of the conversion done to make the Hi-Level Dining Car into a combined diner/lounge
Author Robert Tabern inside one of the converted dining/lounge Hi-Level cars
Another view of the converted lounge area
Looking back at the counter from one of the lounge seats in the converted Hi-Level lounge/diner
Exterior of another Hi-Level ex-Santa
Fe and ex-Amtrak Dining Car #39980. Our records show this was owned by
Phil Sheridan and Les Kasten.
An ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level Coach/Dorm Car and many other Hi-Levels parked at Gateway Rail
Even some of the damaged/derailed ex-Santa Fe and Amtrak Hi-Level equipment is out here!
Stepping back in time -- the interior of numerous Hi-Level coaches are decorated with 1980's Amtrak seats and curtains
Our gracious guide to the Santa Fe Hi-Levels was Roger Verbeeren of Gateway Rail and American Rail Excursions.
It is an honor for the APRHF Rail Rangers to provide on board educational programs on many of Roger's private rail trip.
So, what's going to happen to all of these Hi-Level cars currently
being stored at Gateway Rail? That remains a big "To Be Determined"
right now! There has been some buzz in recent years that a company
called Corridor Capital,
based in Chicago, may be interested in purchasing many, if not all, of
the Hi-Levels. Some plans propose completely gutting the interiors, but
keeping the car shells, and making modern passenger rail cars out of
them. This probably wouldn't bode well for the original glass in the
bottom level of #39971 or the aging "Pacific Parlour Car" sign on the
exterior, but it would give the ex-Santa Fe cars a new life. Corridor
Capital appears to be aggressively targeting states, such as Indiana in
the past, to get contracts to refurbish these cars -- but there have
been no major moves reported as of the release of this article.
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, www.MidwestRails.com. We also
feature the guidebooks written by Eva Hoffman for various Amtrak
railroad lines in the west and east.