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A ride on the Vista Canyon

A 1947 Pullman observation car.

February 16 -19, 2006

Being a member of the Arizona Railway Museum has some fun perks. One of which is that you have the opportunity to ride the rails in style, on a private rail car. The museum, and some of its members, have a few cars that are Amtrak certified. Meaning they can be added to the back of an Amtrak train and be transported to any number of Amtrak served cities that offer facilities to support private rail cars.

My trip was on the Vista Canyon. The Vista Canyon was built in 1947 by the Pullman Company for the Santa Fe Railroad. Originally the car had one double bedroom; four drawing rooms and a round end observation lounge. The car was one of four built for the “Super Chief”, the extra fare streamline train serving Chicago, Los Angeles and points between. In 1956 the round end was modified to allow use of the car in mid train service. Private owners added a small buffet kitchen and shower in 1994. The car was donated to the Arizona Railway Museum by Fred & Dale Springer on March 31, 2001.


The Vista Canyon.

Enter the car and you see the kitchen.

Another view of the kitchen. Notice the shower in back.

The hallway looking from the lounge.

Our room. Sleeps 3. The seat folds down for a bed and there is an upper berth above it.

The other side of the room reveals a seat. Behind my wife Fran is a Murphy bed.

A view of the bathroom.

Yes it's as small as it looks.

My parents John, Betty and Fran enjoy the lounge.

The Vista Canyon had been transported to San Antonio late last year for its 10 year inspection. This is required to be pulled by Amtrak. While at Harold Schroder's Trans Texas Rail shop, the Vista Canyon had its trucks pulled out, serviced and inspected by an Amtrak inspector.
Hal's shop could make for some very interesting modeling. As you can see in the pictures below, Hal's shop provides all kinds of services. They do maintenance on Union Pacific Engines, freight rolling stock as well as repair and restoration of private cars. His shop also serves as a long term parking facility for privately owned cards. They also have a turn table to get you car facing the correct way when attached to Amtrak. Nothing worse than having an observation deck that faces the Amtrak cars. The shop is listed as a historical site in San Antonio. It was originally an engine service facility for the Southern Pacific.


Hal uses a retired Amtrak engine for yard switching.

An old Pullman with an observation deck being restored.

The Martin W. Clement a private car is stored here.

An old Alaska railroad coach.

The other side shows it's in big need of some TLC.

A caboose freshly painted.

The inside ready for restoration..

Our sister car the Vista Valley being restored.

This car too being totally restored.

A UP engine gets a new turbo charger.

The observation car Good Cheer in need of a lot of TLC.

The turn table. Used to get cars like the Canyon in the right way to travel at the end of a train.

An unusual car to say the least. A Hi-Cube reefer.

An interesting vehicle to move a car with. Note the knuckle coupler in the rear.

A wide shop of engines being serviced..

A shot of the yard as we leave to get spotted at the Amtrak station..

The next day we spent visiting San Antonio. San Antonio is very receptive to private rail cars. There is a track right next to the station that has power and water service so you do not have to run the cars generator while staying there. Being right next to the main line also leads to some good rail fanning. The Yellow line trolley makes a stop only a couple hundred yards from the depot. This makes it very easy to get to downtown and the River Walk. Amtrak built a smaller station next to the original. Some investors bought the old station calling it Sunset Station which hosts a Mexican restaurant and hall that can be rented with plenty of outdoor patio space for public special events. The Alamo Dome is right next to it so I can only imagine it's a hopping place for big events held there. It was a plus that they left many of the original features. The inside is spectacular and they left the original stained glass windows. Really gives the place a special charm. While touring the city I noticed many of the buildings where right out of a DPM kit. Check the pictures below.
One thing I learn on this trip is how many people have their own railroad cars. This is something we modelers might want to look at to be a bit original. I know in my new layout design I will have something like it. I bring this up because we were parked next to the Warren K. Henry a vista dome and the Evelyn Henry a sleeper car. Click on either car name to check out the web site. These cars are gorgeous!


The new San Antonio Amtrak station..

The original train station. Notice the stain glass?

This picture does not do justice to the grandeur of the station.

Hard to get a good shot. But here is the stained glass window on the south side of Sunset Station.

The north side stained glass window at night. A very pretty site.

The Vista Canyon parked next to the Warren K. Henry and Evelyn Henry.

You can see the power hook up for the cars as well as the water stations. The cars a coupled so only 1 power station is needed.

Ever wonder how they clean the windows on a vista dome car?

With a very clever ladder attachment..

A freight passes the Vista Canyon very close while going to the station.

Last nights east bound Sunset Limited left a couple of cars for the next days west bound train to use.

Next 4 pictures are buildings right out of the DPM catalog.

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Saturday morning we departed San Antonio on train number 2 the west bound Sunset Limited. Sleeping on the car was surprisingly comfortable and quite considering the main line was only a few feet away and with road crossings 1/8 mile away constant train whistles. We never did hear many trains as we slept. The Vista Canyon sported the original Pullman wool blankets found the car while in service on the 'Super Chief'.
One of the things I found out early is you need to get your train legs. Being on an older car and at the back end of the train can be like the back end of a roller coaster. Learning how to pour drinks and drinking them at times was a challenge. You learned to keep an eye on your drink. Once you got the hang of it, you had a nice ride. Only a few sites to see. This part of Texas flat and other than some towns and antelope, not much to see. That does not mean no fun. For me I spent much of my time in the cars open vestibule top door looking out and waving to surprised motorists. This is something you cannot do on a modern Amtrak car. There is no outside or windows that open. If you're lucky enough to ride a observation car with a platform you can sit outside and take in the sights.


On thing of interest you do pass is the Pecos river.

The river is very hidden and then is suddenly appears.

You can barely make out where it is.

Crossing a tressle.

A look at the tressle in the previous picture.

The train station at Sanderson Texas..

A bay side caboose parked next to the station.

Why a picture of a coil car? Notice the cover can only be used on certain cars.

An engine from the Mexican railroad Ferromex providing power. I saw several on this trip between San Antonio and El Paso.

The train station at Alpine Texas.

The train station at Alpine Texas.

The train station at Alpine Texas.

Some antelope grazing along the tracks. Our train slowed as I saw where some were hit.

An eastbound freight gets ready to pass by.

The Amtrak train we were riding with. Taken as we where coming in to El Paso.

By late afternoon we arrived at El Paso and had a 45 minute layover. Good thing because now dinner could be started. I give a lot of credit to the chefs on any train. Cooking without spilling on a moving train is pure art. The El Paso train station was impressive too. Very large with an old west feel. Nice enough that a wedding party was inside having their portrait pictures taken inside. Here was another surprise. The number of people asking about our car. I spoke to 1 gentlemen parked at the station 20 minutes after he asked me, "Is that a Pullman? I haven't seen one of those in years." Some of the Amtrak passengers and 3 of the crew were treated to a tour of the car. Although we did not travel Amtrak, the crew we met were very friendly. They were nice enough to show us one of the sleepers. We left El Paso and had a fabulous meal cooked up the some of the ladies we rode with. First class all the way. Our trip ended in Tucson as there is no Amtrak to Phoenix and you cannot have an occupied passenger car on a freight train.
Another new thing I noticed were the primer gray painted engines. Found out these are remote controlled engines. You put a diesel engine with them, fire it up and a crew member on the ground operates the engines by remote control using the same type of controls a radio controlled air plane uses.


The train station at El Paso Texas.

Bart Barton our host checks for the source of a squeak that developed during the trip. Yes he fixed it.

An old SW1500 still in use.

A new use of old engines. Run by remote control.

Put a diesel engine in between, use a joystick and run your train.

A close up of the number board. These engines only have tractive motors in them.

Well that was the trip. If you ever get the chance to ride in a private car or by Amtrak I recommend you do. A very relaxing way to travel. And yes, while expensive there are owners who charter their cars. Check out this web site for more information on private railcars. The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Inc.

Some videos to see. Not the best and going at 70MPH cannot avoid the wind noise.


A west bound freight in San Antonio. Notice the drive who runs the gate at the beginning.

Got there just in time to get the east bound Sunset Limited passing by.

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