A ride on the 'Federal'
By Mark J. Redmond
One of the side benefits of being a member of the Arizona Railway Museum is knowing people who own private railroad cars. Occasionally you get the chance to ride in one and that is exactly what happened here. Dave Luca and Janet Dittmer were going to be dead heading their car, The Federal, to Kansas City, MO for the summer. They invited me and my wife to join and I just could not turn down the chance.
Now this is not my first trip on a private car. I rode the 'Vista Canyon' in February 2006 but that was just a short 1 day trip on the Sunset Limited. This trip would be a 3 day trip on both the Sunset Limited and Southwest Chief.
First and foremost one of the most unique things about the 'Federal' is that it is the oldest car Amtrak will pull. There are older cars in service but none of them that meet the strict certifications required for Amtrak to pull it.
The 'Federal' was put into service February 3, 1911and sister car the 'National' was put into service January 24, 1911. The cars were built by the Pullman Company to Plan 2492, lot number 3812. Plan 2492 had 2 drawing rooms, 2 roomettes, a small lounge in the rear of the car, a separate dinning room, a small area for the staff and a kitchen. Both cars were for charter service only and had one of the vestibule doors removed and an ice box put in it's place. Another interesting feature of the car is that there are doors to all of the rooms inside the room itself. Thus, if you had a large family you could go from room to room without exiting to the main corridor.
The cars were based out of St. Louis MO. Neither started their working lives belonging to any railroad but were owned by the Pullman Company. Sadly the 'National' was scrapped in 1954.
The 'Federal' carried its share of famous people. It was used to carry President Taft and President Wilson during their times in office. The 'Federal' also was home to Adlai Stevenson during his bid to win the presidency over Dwight D. Eisenhower. Adlai used the car for his whistle stop campaigning.
In the early 30' the car was upgraded. The car was electrified, smooth siding from simulated wood was done and he car had 4 two ton ice bunkers hung under the car to provide cool air.
In the 1930's, Pullman was forced to sell it's cars and the 'Federal' was sold to the DL&W, Lackawanna, on January 4, 1934 and was renamed 'Pocono'. The name only lasted 13 months when on February 23, 1934, the car was renamed 'Anthracite' and renumbered to the number 2.
The 'Federal' was rebuilt in July and August 1950. The dinning room cabinets were relocated to double the shower.general restromom area size and drop ceilings were installed in the observation room, dinning room, hallway and all bedrooms. The car was then renumbered to 98. Based out of Scranton PA, it was used for the VP of Operations for the Lackawanna.
In 1960 the car was sold into private ownership. After years of neglect the car was sold to it's current owners Dave Luca and Janet Dittmer in March 1992.
After 10 years of hard work the 'Federal' achieved it's Amtrak certification. Since then, work has continued to be done to restore the car to as close to original as possible.
The floor plan has not changed since it was built. The car has 1 main bathroom with shower. All rooms have a sink and the 2 drawing rooms have their own toilets. The icebox was removed and a refrigerator installed. The kitchen is up to date with a mircowave and the car offers standard air conditioning. The drop ceilings were removed to give back the high ceiling features that were part of the car when built.
Here are some pictures of the 'Federal'
Our trip starts from the Port of Tucson. The Port of Tucson is a 264 acre industrial park in the southeast part of Tucson. They have their own tracks and locomotives. They also provide storage for private railroad cars.
On this leg of the trip we were connected to the 'Diablo Canyon' private railroad car. The 'Diablo Canyon was built in 1937 as a coach. Sold to private owners, it was converted to a lounge car and is now the oldest Budd built Amtrak certified car.
The 'Federal' and 'Diablo Canyon' would hook up to the Sunset Limited train number 2 at the Port of Tucson and travel to Los Angeles. The 'Diablo Canyon would then go to San Diego.
After a good nights sleep I awoke just before getting to Palm Springs. The 2 interesting things I noted about Palm Springs was 1, the wind power farm is much larger than you see from I-10 and 2, the Palm Springs station if you want to call it that, is nothing more than a covered ramada.
After a few more stops to unload passengers we entered Los Angeles. You can get a view of Chavez Ravine the home of Dodger Stadium and 'The Garden'. The Garden is home to private railroad cars. It has a capacity to hold 12 cars in a secure area.
At this point of our trip we arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles were we would spend the next day and a half there before we hooked up to the Southwest Chief. The 'Federal' was inspected, as all trains are at the end of the trip, and stored near the maintenance facility. This offered us a rare view of where Amtrak cares for the cars.
It also must be pointed out that ALL of the Amtrak staff was wonderful. Very friendly and accommodating. One of the maintenance supervisors was kind enough to take me on a tour of some of the cars on the Southwest Chief. I cannot say enough about how well the Amtrak staff, from car crew to engineers to maintenance staff treated us. Many were treated to tours of the 'Federal'.
These next several shots are of Union Station in Los Angeles
Now we take leave of Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief.
A bit south of Albuquerque we leave the trans-continental line and say good-bye to seeing much in the way of freight traffic. Albuquerque is a crew changing stop so we got about an hour or so to walk around the station which is also used by Greyhound. Managed to get a few pictures of the Railrunner trains. The track going north out of Albuquerque is now owned by the state of New Mexico and I hear there are plans to extend the Railrunner train system. One of the sad notes on all this is there are a number of towns along the way with large amount of trackage and yards that no longer get used because there is little freight on the line. The good news is Amtrak never has to yield to any priority freight trains so it can stay on schedule.
.La Junta CO. was our last crew change stop before the end of our journey. The Albuquerque engineers and a train attendant got the chance to tour the 'Federal'. The engineers commented they thought our car was a heavy-weight based on the fact they had to give the engines a bit more power going up the hills. They really liked the car and the fact they were offered a tour.
This stop also meant we left any 'good' track and weather behind us. The track from here to Kansas City was only rated for 79 MPH and we found out why that night. The storms did slow us a bit. There were flash flood warnings in Garden City KS but they were lifted by the time we got there as were the storms. Or so we thought.
As we were going along it was very apparent that the trackage in Kansas really needed some help. It was very rough and the bed my wife and I had, had some really good springs. There were a few times we actually got AIR. Yep, bounced up off the bed. Did not get too much sleep but it was kind of fun. We also ran into the thunderstorms we thought we would miss. Because of the train noise we did not hear much in the way of thunder but there was a lot of lightning and the rain was really coming down as you could hear it hitting the car.
Well, this ends our train trip but not my story.
One of the coolest sites has yet to be seen. Kansas City’s Union Station.
Kansas City decided to keep Union Station nice and turned it into a destination. It has a Harvey House restaurant and several venues to keep everyone visiting. They have a science center, a dinosaur exhibit along with a model train display area and the KC Rail Experience. I wish I had more time to check it all out. The people running the model train displays were very friendly and gave us a special tour of the KC Rail Experience. They have as set up where you walk in certain places and an automated speaker tells you about the scene. They also have a mock up of a BNSF engine were you can sit in the engineers cab and see what it was like to be an engineer. All of the switches work but only a few have sound or do anything. I hope they can get the funds to improve it. It is a nice display. It was a very nice set up and I hope they get the volunteers to continue to grow it. Should you ever get in the Kansas City area I would recommend you stop by and check it out.