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Ride on luxury rail car offers trip back in time

TEXAS SKETCHES

I recently took a very pleasant trip aboard a luxury railroad car, the Vista Canyon, which was built in 1947 for the famed Santa Fe Super Chief to California. The Vista Canyon has five bedroom suites and a lounge section.

My wife and I were guests of owners Fred and Dale Springer, and if you want to know what it is like to feel pampered, try sitting at one of the Vista Canyon's tables by candlelight, leaving some large city at dusk and having before you a fine meal. Mrs. Springer, who is a superb cook, even offered printed Fred Harvey menus for each meal. In addition to Dale and Fred, a retired Mobil executive, we had aboard George and Sue Werner of Houston (George is a railroad historian of phenomenal scope) and genial Jim Bistline, retired general counsel of the Southern Railroad and vice president of steam operations. Ray Rylander, a former Katy conductor, was aboard to handle train operations.

Mr. Springer chases railroads all over Europe, Africa and South America, and there are no U.S. lines he's unfamiliar with. My only distinction was that I had ridden the cabs of the steam locomotives that once ran on the Abilene & Southern, the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific, and the Hamlin & Northern.

(On the return trip, at Fort Worth, we picked up several members of the Central Texas chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and it is pleasing how many are zealous despite being too young to have known the golden age of rail travel.)

The Vista Canyon was behind Amtrak's Texas Eagle, which runs from San Antonio to St. Louis. Judy and I boarded at Temple for the trip north. The Springers' car is berthed at San Antonio, as are several other Texas private cars. The trip from Temple to Fort Worth is over the Santa Fe/Burlington Northern line. It breaks your heart to see how many fine depots are boarded up and deserted. Union Station in Dallas is unusual - still in use and in good shape.

Railroads are bulging with freight. In fact. the national rail system is stretched to handle the load. Amtrak trains frequently "go in the hole" (sit on a siding) while long unit and container trains pass. This means Amtrak trains are almost bound to be late. The Texas Eagle carried a large number of passengers, and most were going somewhere, not just vacationing or taking sentimental journeys. Amtrak offers a valuable alternative to air and highway travel. Will it survive so that Texans can rediscover rail travel?

A.C. Greene is an author and Texas historian who lives in Salado.



The Dallas Morning News
A.C. Greene