A pack of Californians is calling Northeast Ohio home.
The four rail cars from the celebrated California Zephyr line arrived at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Rockside Station in Independence on Thursday afternoon after completing a journey from the West Coast through nine states.
They will be part of the scenic railroad’s collection of rail cars that make regular runs through the Cuyahoga National Park and special excursions like the Steam in the Valley that starts this weekend and the popular Polar Express.
The sleek, steel, rail set made a grand entrance to the station pulled by the Nickel Plate Rail Road steam locomotive No. 765 that will be the star of the special weekend excursions between Independence and Akron.
The fully restored cars were recently acquired for $1.5 million from private collectors.
Bobby Jenkins, the railroad’s director of development, said these cars represent the heyday of luxury travel by rail in a bygone era and will be forever preserved here in Ohio.
And the best part, he said, they are not museum pieces but cars that will be used by the nonprofit railroad so passengers will once again get a chance to climb aboard.
“This truly is a treasure,” he said.
The scenic railroad has been around some 45 years and now has 26 miles of track that carried around 214,000 passengers last year.
Craig Kenkel, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said that’s a lot of folks who enjoyed the scenic views of the Valley from the window of a train.
“This is an amazing, amazing achievement,” he said.
But to ensure the railroad is around for generations to come, Joe Mazur, the railroad’s president and CEO, said a $5 million capital campaign — a first for the organization — was launched in 2016.
They are about halfway to their goal, but some of the money was used to acquire the historic rail cars that made runs from San Francisco to Chicago from the 1940s to the 1960s.
The original plan was to acquire two Zephyr cars, but the scenic railroad ended up with four.
Mazur said two of the cars — the Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium — have popular domed observation seating and commercial kitchens that will fill a couple of needs on both regular and special excursions.
The Silver Lariat was built in 1948 by the Budd Co. and has a large dining area and lounge that can seat 42 passengers or 36 at tables. Its bar has a freezer capable of storing 200 pounds of ice. The Vista Dome has glassed in seating for 24 passengers at tables and has an original mural titled “The Pony Express” by artist Mary Louise Lawser that was commissioned when the car was built.
The Silver Solarium was also built in 1948 by the Budd Co. and was one of the six dome/sleeper/observation cars built for the California Zephyr.
The rail car also features dome seating along with three double bedrooms with bathrooms. It has a full commercial kitchen.
The Silver Peak car was built in 1940 by the Budd Co. and was part of the Denver‐Fort Worth “Texas Zephyr.” It was designed to be a segregated passenger car during the Jim Crow era with coach seating that was converted to a baggage car when the laws were found to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The final rail car acquired is the Silver Rapids, built in 1948 by the Budd Co.
It was a sleeper car that has eight one‐person roomettes, each with a small sofa, folding wash basin, a vanity and large mirror, along with a bed that folds out of the wall. There are also six double bedrooms.
Mazur said other funds raised in the campaign will be used for the maintenance and upkeep of the railroad’s engines and other cars.
They are also using funds to create a special interactive museum car for kids to enjoy during the excursions.
“It will be like a traveling museum,” he said.
The new cars are expected to make their public debut as part of the Steam in the Valley runs over the next two weekends. Tickets range from $25 to $100 for coach and deluxe seats.
Departures are from the Rockside Station at 7900 Old Rockside Road in Independence and Akron’s Northside Station at 27 Ridge St. in Akron.
Tickets for the excursions are available at www.cvsr.com/steam-valley-train-rides/
“I’ve never been more excited,” Mazur said.
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3547.