The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 174

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© July 19, 2011   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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The Story of the Feather River
on Union Pacific's steam excursion train "You Route the Steam"

  
Business car Feather River sits in a freight yard in St. Louis.  The car is coupled to the rear of the Union Pacific's steam excursion train "You Route the Steam".
In the photo from left to right; contest winner Jim O'Connor, his son Mike O'Connor.  Standing track side are Eileen Kenney and Jim Coker (both from the UP). 
Photo by Lynn O'Connor 

 Written  by Jim O'Connor


When my son, Mike, and I learned that we would be traveling on the "Feather River" business car on our Union Pacific's Steam Excursion trip, we didn't have a clear picture in our minds of what the car would be like. A quick Google search didn't turn up much useful information, so we didn't know what to expect exactly.

The "Business Car" also went by the name "Private Car" or "Palace Car" and was not used in standard revenue service.  A rich industrialist would use his custom built private car in much the same way a corporate CEO would use a "Lear jet" today.  A statement of status and fine luxury, the private car would allow the industrialist  to avoid the general population. To get to his destination, the 19th century tycoon would have his car tied to the rear of a regularly scheduled passenger train or charter a "special" train.  A railroad business car was used by railroad executives in much the same way. Entertaining business clients and politicians was another use of the finely appointed car by railroad "brass hats". What better way to show off your railroad than from the rear platform, sipping rare spirits or feasting on fine cuisine in the dining room of the car served by your private staff?

Like many business cars that survive today, Feather River started life an an ordinary railroad car. In 1956 it was built as the five bedroom lounge car "Boise".  Then in 1963, it was converted to business car No. 114 "El Rio De Las Plumas" (Feather River in English) named after a rustic hotel along the famous "Feather River Route".

See the Wall Street Video shot aboard the Feather River.

Feather River Business Car was built by Pullman Standard as a five bedroom "Lounge Car" and later converted. In the photo, contest winner Skip Waters stands on Feather River's platform in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Behind him is the "Shawnee Mission Parkway bridge" and the mighty Mississippi River. Photo by Jim O'Connor

The Feather River is a platform car with a "back porch" made famous in the old news reels as presidential hopefuls gave "whistle stop" speeches at every town along the line.  Feather River features a stainless steel kitchen, a crew room for two (chef and steward), 3 guest bedrooms (2 share a lavatory and shower, the other has a private lavatory and shower), a dining room that seats eight, and an observation room that  seats eight.

My impression of Feather River is "functional" not ornate. The business cars from the 19th century that I've seen in museums had tons of rich paneling and carved wood, stained glass, polished brass and crystal fixtures.  This car had none of that.  Feather River was very "business" like in every way.  It was clearly a product of the 1960s with an updated, subdued, color scheme.

Our room was very simple with a twin bed, dresser, overhead storage cabinets, a clock, and a shared lavatory with the room next door.  

The lack of space did not present a problem for my son and I since the Union Pacific provided hotel accommodations each evening of our trip. The train stopped for the night anyway and the necessary staff to see to our needs overnight was not available on this train.


Our room was small and rather plain in contrast with the rest of Feather River which was very comfortable.

 
Watch the Youtube video

Almost everything about the Feather River was special.  In the living room there was a hidden satellite TV and DVD player located in a wooden cabinet (above left).  At the push of a button, the TV would rise out of the cabinet.  My son Mike tried it once but it looked like satellite reception was not available while we rolled down the rails.  There are call buttons located in each bedroom, the observation room and the dining room that control a buzzer in the kitchen to alert the staff (not present on this trip) of required assistance.  Another unique item was a speedometer.  In the photo (right) you can see the digital speed indicator.  It seems we were stopped at the time of the photo.  We spent many more hours stopped than moving.  That was fine with me.  It gave us an opportunity to meet many of the folks that came out to see us at the various stops.  Stops on the first day of our leg of the trip included Dupo, Prairie Du Roucher, Chester, Gorham, Wolf Lake and Ware (all in Illinois).  We finished up the day across the Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where we stayed overnight.


The dining room seats 8 and features a lovely "Side Board" for dinner service and storage of the car's china and silver.


Like any compact railroad kitchen, this one is stainless steel.  It contains a few modern features such as a coffee maker, microwave and side by side refrigerator/freezer.


The door leading to the Feather River. This car is "Private".  Ordinary invited guests on our trip could only glimpse the car from the outside.

See more photos of the Feather River Car.  Click Here.


I've got to tell you how grateful Mike and I are that the Union Pacific decided to run such a fantastic contest (see earlier article) and a HUGE thanks goes out to those of you that voted for us to take this wonderful trip.  More articles are in the works.

     
 

 

Did you read the other article covering this trip? 
"My Brother's the Conductor, I'm Just the Brakeman"

You may also want to read our Trip Blog from the "Little Rock Express".

or read the article from the Wall Street Journal.

Written  Jim O'Connor
photos by Lynn, Mike, and Jim O'Connor

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