When the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s locomotive No. 765 pulls out this weekend for its inaugural excursions of the 2015 season, the restored steam engine will have an esteemed traveling companion.
The locomotive will be pulling the Dover Harbor, a luxury Pullman lounge/dining/sleeping car built in 1923, refurbished and rechristened in 1934 and brought back to the splendor of earlier times by the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
Wayne York, passenger car coordinator for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, said the car once was favored by moguls and mobsters, politicians and patricians. But today it’s a nearly vanished species.
"There’s only two cars like it in existence in the United States, and this is the only one in service that comes complete with a white-coated staff," he said, calling the traveling experience "completely unique."
"This (car) is like being in a time capsule inside a time machine," said Kelly Lynch, Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society communications director.
According to the car’s conservators, the heyday of the Dover Harbor came during the 1930s and 1940s, when it ran between New York and Chicago as part of the famed westbound Lake Shore Limited and eastbound Commodore Vanderbilt.
Restoration started in 1979, after the car fell into private hands in 1967. When the Dover Harbor was built in Chicago in 1923, it was a heavyweight combination-use car, with a 24-seat lounge/library, a barbershop and baggage space.
Then called the Maple Shade, the car ran as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited and Spirit of St. Louis until 1934, when the car was one of six sent to be rebuilt. That’s when it took on its present configuration with a tiny, all-stainless-steel buffet kitchen, a lounge, dining area and six double sleeping rooms.
Air conditioning, new to railroad cars at the time, was installed, as was a shower, and the car was painted in the classic Pullman colors of green and gold. The Dover Harbor remained active until 1965, when it was part of the Montrealer line.
The No. 765 first pulled the car two years ago on excursions around the famed Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania, York said. Local railroad history buffs on the trip couldn’t get enough.
"We’ve been wanting and wanting to get it out here (to Fort Wayne) ever since, so our local folks can see it," he said.
The Dover Harbor will make two trips to Lafayette and back this weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Both excursions are sold out.
But local residents can get a good look at the car before the train leaves from tracks near Nelson Road and the Maplecrest Road extension bridge at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The train is scheduled to return around 6 p.m.
The Dover Harbor will spend much of the rest of this summer with No. 765, built in 1944 for the Nickel Plate railroad and on display for years in Fort Wayne’s Lawton Park until restoration began in 1974.
The 765’s next trips are in Ohio, from Youngstown to Ashtabula, on July 25 and 26; and in New York, from Buffalo to Corning, on Aug. 1 and 2. Trips in Pennsylvania, from Bethlehem to Pittston with a stop in Jim Thorpe, on Aug. 22 and 23 precede a static display and excursions at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton during Labor Day weekend.
Tickets for riding in the Dover Harbor are at the upper end of No. 765’s excursion prices, or about $400 per person for this weekend’s trips, Lynch said. An entry-level ticket for adults is $119. Seating in more luxurious coaches costs more; seats in a domed observation car go for $349.
Still, people from around the world have previously signed up to ride the train. The Fort Wayne-to-Lafayette excursion in 2013, the first steam-driven passenger departure from the Summit City in 20 years, sold out in less than two hours, Lynch recalled.
To York, the experience on the Pullman car is worth the money. The car has overstuffed chairs and sofas, wooden, white-tablecloth dining tables and not a speck of plastic throughout, he said.
Its 24 passengers will enjoy hors d’oeuvres and brunch-style sweet treats during the trip. The train stops for an off-board lunch in Lafayette.
"We try to deliver an authentic 1930s-’40s luxury passenger train experience," York said.
National Railroad Historical Society volunteer board member Kevin Tankersley said the Dover Harbor is usually parked in a yard in Jessup, Maryland. The car is in demand for private rolling gatherings as part of contemporary Amtrak trains, said Tankersley, Dover Harbor’s charter agent and manager.
"But, we do like to take it out and show it off" with other historical equipment, he said.
"We like people to see what it was like to travel first class in the 1930s."