BOSTON — Was it the embers from John Bull? The little English steam engine that pulled the first horseless train from Bordentown to Amboy, N.J., in 1832 not only ignited ladies' dresses and nearby haystacks but perhaps fired a romance for rail travel as well.
"Private car. Ring Doorbell for Admittance." You may have seen this sign at trackside or on the rear of a passenger train. Some now have private cars ranging from relatively modern back to those of the 1910s and '20s.
You, too, can get on board. Members of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners Inc. have private cars available strictly for business, for fun, or for both.
Generally speaking, private cars can go wherever Amtrak goes on most American main lines. But schedules and certain physical arrangements have to be arranged beforehand.
"The train rides so many of us have enjoyed can't be had anymore," says Frederick Seibold, editorial director of Private Varnish, AAPRCO's magazine. "They are experiences we stumbled onto in the coincidental timing of our lifetimes...."
The purpose of chartering trains is to "whet some new interest" for private railroading, says Mr. Seibold. It also helps meet expensive maintenance costs while preserving the classic trains.
Private cars can carry from as few as six passengers to as many as 60, and can be chartered for a single day, a weekend, or longer. They have some setbacks too. Private cars can only be put on and taken off Amtrack trains at certain points.
The owners' Charter Referral Directory is a good way to find out about them. It lists the cars, where they can be chartered, and how they can be obtained from AAPRCO. Here's a sample:
The Pine Tree State car based in Charlotte, N.C., has a capacity of 30 by day and can sleep 10 at night in five double bedrooms.
The Survivor, once owned by the Woolworth family, was built in 1926, and is reputed to be a favorite car of Barbara Hutton and Cary Grant. It has a master bedroom, and a marble bathtub, among other conveniences.
"The great sales trainer and motivator Elmer Wheeler said, 'Sell the sizzle, not the steak!' " says Seibold. "Our sizzle, I think, is the romance and excitement of the train ride, the thrill of traveling by rail."
That's how a few people choose to travel - hooking up classic Pullman-era restored cars to regular Amtrak trains and chugging along.
* For more information contact:
106 North Carolina Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
Web site: www.execpc.com/~aaprco