My start in the world of Private Railcars


So today as I take a few moments before heading out the door to be off for Seattle, it seems a good time to share the tale of how I got into all of this.

Genetically, actually.

One of my great grandfathers, after working for eight years as a vaquero on the back of a horse a various ranches in central Nevada’s Pine Valley, took a ride late one night in the cab of a steam locomotive. That was enough to convince him to take up railroading as a career. So it was that he began as a locomotive fireman over the original Central Pacific route on December 1, 1900. He was not the only one in his family to become a railroader. He even married into another family of railroaders. Eventually he became a locomotive engineer and rose to number one in seniority on the Salt Lake Division, running the famed City of San Francisco.

None of his sons followed him into the life of railroading. My father might have, as he rode with his grandfather aboard several of the Southern Pacific’s giant cab-forward steam locomotives between Sparks and Carlin. But he went elsewhere, even taking trips in the Merchant Marine to the Orient as an able bodied seaman.

No, it was up to me to take up railroading. And I started at the age of three years old. Took my first ride in the cab of a classic diesel locomotive around the Sparks yard, with both my dad and his grandfather. And yes, I was hooked.

I dabbled in model trains as a boy, with Lionel courtesy of my mother’s father. In 1970, I got my first railroad book. And the subject, Nevada’s famed Virginia & Truckee as authored by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. Beebe and Clegg owned two private railcars. The first was a wooden business car called the “Gold Coast”. It is part of the collection of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The second? The “Virginia City”, a classic Pullman steel heavyweight car. It still survives as a private railcar with owner Wade Pellizer. And tonight, it joins the Burrard and Two Rivers heading for Seattle on the rear of Amtrak’s Coat Starlight.

I got my practical exposure to railroading as a volunteer at the Western Railway Museum. Steam, diesel and electric locomotives. You name a job and I did it. Locomotive engineer and fireman. Conductor, too. But what got me closer to private railcars was working aboard the vintage Pullman cars carried on the museum’s Prairie trains. Providing first class service to passengers was work but also fun.



Heading north along the former Sacramento Northern with the Wildflower train. Pullman cars on the rear.

Things changed at Rio Vista and those opportunities went away. But there was a good group of people I worked with on those trains and it seemed a waste not to use their talents. Hence, Private Car Service was born. Our first trip, was aboard the Burrard, from Emeryville to Sparks, for a group from Pixar. They were the Story Crew for the Toy Story 2 film. A good time was had by all. And it was the first of many great adventures, for passengers and crew alike!


The Toy “Story” 2 Crew in the snow at Sparks.

Since that first trip, it’s been interesting. We’ve done trips with as many as four cars and 125 people aboard – or as few as five passengers on one car for a very memorable birthday. Even performed a wedding on the train between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Now, this trip to Seattle beckons… Be sure to follow along as we head off for the AAPRCO special. It promises to be a grand time.




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