Classic train cars make KC stop: ‘It’s like a cruise on land’

Think you’ve seen America?

Have you seen it from a 1948 “vista dome” observation car? Through mountains, forests and deserts, over bridges and along rivers?

“That’s when you find how big and beautiful this country is,” said Renee Schluter, who was serving as attendant on the Sierra Hotel, a vintage lounge and dormitory car that arrived Thursday from Chicago to Kansas City’s Union Station.

Go up the stairs with polished rails. Windows all around, plush swivel seats, blue carpet, fine wood paneling, chef-prepared dining, drinks ...

Oh, sorry, you can’t go in; it’s a private car. But you can see it along with seven others this weekend parked on the tracks behind Union Station. The special train came to town for a gathering of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.

Some of the others: Northern Sky, Vista Canyon and Promontory Point. The vintage cars date from the 1920s to the 1950s and include round end observation, business and sleeper cars.

Michael Tritt, Union Station’s director of operations, is glad to have them.

“They are part of railroad history and they’re sitting here at Union Station,” he said inside the Sierra Hotel. “When people come into our Grand Hall the first time they go ‘Wow!’ They would probably do the same thing when they walked in here.”

Oh, sorry again. You can’t come in. But you can charter one for a summer vacation that costs a little more than a Chrysler van — probably $3,000 to $5,000 a day. But for that you get accommodations, meals and alcohol.

“It’s like a cruise on land,” said Stephan Gerhardt, who’s in charge of the association meeting this weekend.

Or you could buy one for $350,000 to $900,000 or so. Gerhardt figures there are about 75 owners in the country.

Most have had some success in business.

“This is not a cheap hobby,” Gerhardt said.

Hook them to an Amtrak train and off you go.

“This is one of 11 like it in the country,” said Jim Donnelly, part owner of the Sierra Hotel, which has four bedrooms, a bar and kitchen.

What would you take for it, Jim?

“Not for sale,” he said, smiling. “We’re having too much fun with it.”

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182