Remembering the Parlour Cars.
About 30 years ago, I had been to a high school reunion in Connecticut and had stopped to visit my brother who lives near Galesburg, Illinois. I booked the California Zephyr from Galesburg to Davis, California, where I spent the night and caught the southbound Coast Starlight from there down to L.A. the next day, about a 14-hour trip.
The southbound Coast Starlight arrived spot on time. I boarded, tossed my bag into my roomette and headed for the dining car and breakfast. And that’s when I discovered the Parlour* Car because it was positioned between my sleeper and the dining car. I confess I was stunned. It was beautiful. It was plush. It was right out of the Golden Age of Train Travel. And apparently it was mine for the day!
The car was roughly divided in thirds. Closest to me as I entered from my sleeper were eight overstuffed swiveling arm chairs, ideal for viewing the constantly changing scenery.
Next, in about the middle of the car, was a section with plush seating along each side of the car with several mini-tables upon which small plates of canapés would fit quite nicely. And, in fact, this was where wine tastings were held around the middle of the afternoon.
In the forward section of the parlour car were six booths where sleeping car passengers could opt for lighter lunches and dinners than were on the dining car menu.
“Lunch today is a chicken Caesar salad,” said William, the Amtrak attendant in charge of the Parlour Car. He was polishing glasses and placing them neatly at one end of a gleaming mahogany bar.
“May I fix you a drink?” he asked. “A Bloody Mary perhaps?”
Indeed you could, sir!
Oh, I almost forgot: on the lower level was a theater that accommodated probably 25 people. Movies suitable for family viewing were shown here.
And that was how my love affair with Amtrak’s parlour cars began. I don’t recall how often I have made the Chicago-Davis-Los Angeles connection, but it must have been a dozen times over the years.
The trip was delight every time. Sitting in comfortable chairs in elegant surroundings, conversing with other passengers, wine tastings in the afternoons, ever-changing landscapes as the train passed through an incredible variety of landscapes.
And then, what we all knew would be inevitable actually occurred. With all the marketing acumen one could expect from a former president of American Airlines, Richard Anderson pronounced the Pacific Parlour Cars too expensive to maintain, removed them from service and sold them to a man in Texas. When last seen, these magnificent rail cars were sitting on a siding somewhere in Texas.
When last heard from, Richard Anderson had been removed from his position at Amtrak by the Amtrak board of directors. The right move, but too late to save the Pacific Parlour Cars.
* A deliberate misspelling to give the cars a little extra class.