In the days before most North American passenger rail operations were government subsidized, where an onboard meal usually means prepackaged food on plastic trays, the railroads took great pride in the dining services that they offered to their patrons. Equivalent to a five-star restaurant, they delivered freshly cooked food amid a lavishly decorated environment, with exceptional service provided by members of the staff highly trained for their positions. It was seen not only as good customer service but also as a way to advertise the best of their operations. While these services have pretty much vanished from the larger railroads today, the NHRR continues on in attempting to recreate this important part of the past. From First Class ticket options on most Traditional Excursions to wine tastings, lunch and dinner trains, and private charters, fine rail dining is most certainly still alive in Bucks County.
In order to provide this service, the NHRR relies on a fleet of dining cars restored to reflect higher fare operation from the first half of the twentieth century.
The oldest of the three dining cars currently in service on the NHRR, No. 1430 was constructed in 1914 by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Harlan & Hollingsworth Division of Wilmington, DE. Originally built as a PBh class coach for the Reading Company’s Philadelphia area commuter services, it was part of the same order for seventy-five cars as NHRR coach No. 1424. Like the other members of the PBh class, it came with a double-deck “Clerestory” style roof, later rebuilt with the rounded “Turtleback” style, and decorative mahogany woodwork on the walls.
Serving its original owner into the 1960s, it was one of the last fifteen of its class that the Reading retired. Acquired by the NHRR founders from a St. Clair, PA storage line, it became part of the original fleet used when operations began on the New Hope Branch in the summer of 1966.
In the early 1970s, No. 1430’s time as a regular coach would come to an end when the interior of the car was converted in-house to resemble an early twentieth-century parlor car for use in charter and special event services. During the conversion, much of the original mahogany woodwork was kept, ensuring a classy, old-fashioned atmosphere.
The late 1980s saw the interior of the car refurbished once more, this time to its present dining car configuration. Over the years, further improvements were accomplished, including the addition of a modern climate control system to ensure comfort for passengers paying the higher fare at all times of the year.
Only added to the train for private events during its early days as an extra fare car, No. 1430 nowadays can be found riding the rails of most excursions operated by the NHRR as one of the main First Class experiences.
The only passenger car currently in service on the NHRR with a double-deck “Clerestory” style roof, No. 4907 was constructed by Canadian Car & Foundry in 1919 for the Canadian Northern Railway. Originally numbered as No. 2877, it was built as a colonist sleeper car, to convey persons arriving from other nations between eastern Canadian seaports and the largely unsettled western regions of the country. This ultimately led to the establishment of many towns and settlements still in existence in the modern era.
In addition to regular padded bench seats for daytime riding, the interior also contained wooden bunks attached near the ceiling that could be pulled down at night for sleeping accommodations. There was also a small kitchen area at one end of the car for travelers to prepare light meals while en route.
Acquired by the Canadian National Railway in 1923, following its absorption of the Canadian Northern, the interior accommodations for sleeping and meal prep were removed from the car in the years following the onset of the 1930’s Great Depression. With only the coach seats, it was reassigned to commuter operations around the cities of Montreal and Toronto. Renumbered twice during its second assignment, first to No. 5242, and finally, to its present No. 4907, the car moved passengers between their home communities and the big cities where they worked until the latter decades of the twentieth century.
Retired in the 1990s, No. 4907 made its way south, first to a shortline railroad located in western New Jersey, and then in 1999 across the Delaware River to the NHRR. From the time of its arrival until 2019, it was used largely for extra passenger capacity during special events, as well as for birthday parties and other private charters.
During the summer of 2019, the car entered the shop for conversion into a dining car, emerging just in time to be placed into service during the busy Christmas season.
No. 800301-The Crater Lake
The youngest of the NHRR dining car fleet, and the only one of the three originally intended for First Class service, the Crater Lake was constructed by American Car & Foundry in 1949 for the Union Pacific Railroad. Originally numbered as No. 5004, this car was assigned to the long-distance trains City of Los Angeles and City of Portland, operating between Chicago and the respective western cities that the trains took their names from.
As-built, the interior of the car was split into two sections, a café seating twenty-four and a lounge area seating twenty-nine. The lounge area seating was reduced in 1959 to sixteen seats with the addition of a lunch counter seating eight passengers. After this change, the car was reassigned from the City of Los Angeles to the City of Denver run, while keeping the assignment between Chicago and Portland, OR.
In 1971, following the inclusion of Union Pacific passenger service in Amtrak, the car was sold to the Alaska Railroad, where it operated for sixteen years on portions of the line’s four hundred seventy mile route through the Alaskan wilderness between Fairbanks and Seward.
The year 1987 would see the car return to the United States mainland, and enter into the world of privately operated luxury rail service around the country. Renumbered to No. 800301, and given the name Zurich, it traveled many scenic rail routes, including some once operated upon when in the employ of original owner Union Pacific. Some of the company names it operated under between 1987 and 2008 included American European Express, American Orient Express, and GrandLuxe Rail Journeys.
In 1991, Zurich became a television star when it was made to vanish as part of an illusion broadcast by famous magician David Copperfield. The event was filmed within a blimp hanger located in Tillamook, OR.
After GrandLuxe Rail Journeys ended service in 2008, Zurich became part of the fleet of similar excursion company American Railway Explorer. The new owner renamed the car to its current moniker of Crater Lake, after a body of water in southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. After a short stint there, followed by some time in the fleet of another private operator beginning in 2011, the car was acquired by NHRR in 2014 and entered revenue service in Bucks County during 2017.