When Barack Obama honored the railroad whistle-stop tradition enroute to his inauguration, he chose the George 300, with its open platform on the rear, which has hosted George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. But you needn't be a chief executive to merit its style, which offers an observation lounge, dining and sleeping rooms for six or eight passengers, as well as a steward and chef, who travel on board to provide meals and hotel-style services. Owner J.H. Heard charters the classic car to mere citizens with only two stipulations: guests be willing to "relive history" and "not be in a hurry."
Private car owners regularly charter trips to the general public on a single or double occupancy basis. The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners' (aaprco.com) Web site displays cars available for charter: sleepers, diners, coaches and lounge cars.
Georgia 300 is a "heavyweight" (prized by rail enthusiasts for smooth riding qualities) built by Pullman in 1930, during railroading's golden age. The glossy blue car has been renovated several times over the years, even the roof to its original clerestory silhouette. The fare: generally $3,500-$6,500 per day, all-inclusive. "Expensive but a bargain," opines Heard. (904-261-6413.) Another such car is The Chapel Hill, commissioned by socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, in 1922, as a wedding present to herself and her husband, financier E.F. Hutton, with all the luxury that such a union would indicate.
Today, guests may sleep in their adjoining bedrooms and dine on Chapel Hill's vintage railroad china. Of course, there's an observation lounge and open rear platform. But all is not old school—within the car's original mahogany interior woodwork a flat screen TV and DVD players remain "discreetly hidden."
Chapel Hill travels around the U.S., but often burnishes the rails (with half a dozen guests) between its Cincinnati base and the nation's capital via New River Gorge and Northern Virginia horse country. Guests may even use the car as their hotel while it's parked at the restored Washington Union Station. (Chapelhillrail.com)
The Pacific Sands (pictured) is a vestige of the railroad/airlines showdown of the 1950s. It was restored by Pullman Adventures on the West Coast, out of Los Angeles. (pullmanadventures.com)
Owners with access to more than one car can couple several together to insure the proper ratio of sleeping and dining accommodations. PVs (as private cars are called in rail parlance) are usually attached to regular Amtrak runs, but special trains do sometimes come together. AAPRCO's site lists many streamlined cars, built after World War II, for the Pennsylvania, Santa Fe and other famous roads.