Open Platform Observation Cars

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  • Member since
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Open Platform Observation Cars
Posted by Redwards on Sunday, July 04, 2010 8:52 AM

When I was growing up I loved poring over Lucius Beebe's books with their pictures of the heavyweight observation cars complete with a few chairs and an awning to keep platform occupants in shade.  I yearned to ride the heavyweight Century up the Hudson while sipping a coke on the rear platform and watching the rails recede.  Today, I suspect the reality of riding the platform in the steam era might not have been quite so glamorous with the inevitable shower of cinders and ballast dust.

Anybody here have a chance to ride the platform?  Enjoyable or no?     


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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 04, 2010 2:29 PM

Most of my open-platform observation car riding was as a guest (paying my share of the expenses) of Richard Horstmann in car 353 (genrally I was in a lower birth in a companion heavyweight Privately owned sleeper, but sometimes I shared a room in the 353.)   These included a one-way Grand Central to Boston trip, Penn Station to Hyannis and back, Seattle to New York Penn via Salt Lake City and Chicago, NY Penn to Bay Head Junction and back, Penn Station to Pittsburgh and back (my first trip on 353), Grand Central to Montreal and back on the back of Amtrak's Adorondak, NYPenn to Williamsburgh and back (twice I think) and to the Greenbriar Hotel and back.   All were terrific trips.   None were behind steam, so there was no problem of soot on the back platform, and yes drinks were served, until the unfortunate Penn Station event of an inebriate couple on top of another owner's private car under catenary, and after that Dick ordered that only soft drinks could be had on the open back platform.  This car is now owned by the Park Service and is well maintained at Steamtown and is available for charter, and it is Amtrak compatible.   One interurban regularly ran open platform cars after WWII, and that was the Waterloo Ceder Falls and NOrthern.   I spent a day with Bill Watson and Ray DeGroot in the summer on 1952 riding Waterloo-Ceder Rapids and back and Waterloo-Waverly and back.  No drinks were served but it was wonderful day.  Steam experiences were with the Chcicago Railroad Club and Maurie KLeibolt's Chief Illini, mostly behind Burlington 4-8-4 O-5 5632.  Drinks were served.  Pure pleasure and one could use the shower in the car to remove the soot before going to sleep.   MY first trip with Maurie to Colorado and back, Russ Jackson was with me, were both assigned roomettes in a leased New Haven sleeper, but we were able to use the Chief's facilities.  And on the last trip with Maurie, in 1962, I was in the Nomad from Durango to Silverton and back and in the Wiliiam Jackson Palmer to Farmington and back, with Rudy Morgefrau cooking a terrific steak dinner on the galley stove and youngsters flying kites off the back platform on the entrance to Durango.   All the narrow gauge riding was beind steam and we loved it.   The then Branford Trolley Museum, now the Shore Line Trolley Museum, chartered Levine's PRR 120 to and from an ARM Chicago Convention,  I think we used the Broadway both ways.   On many of these trips, I thought the pleasure was over too soon, even thought the climax was often racing up the Northeast Corridor at 100mph, as shown on 353's lounge speedometer, while riding the back platform.   There is truly nothing better other than riding in the engineer's cab itself, and that is also a wonderful experience. Which is better is debatable.

Richard Horstmann always provided his guests with the ultimate in service.  His Maitre de was a retired Pullman man, who had many years of experience as barman, porter, porter in charge, and chef.   For both serving their guests was a labor of love.   I am very pleased that 353 is be well-taken care-of.

I was also a part owner of Mountain View, and had some fine trips even without an open back platform.  Some railroads used "Solarium Lounge" cars on the rear of their trains without open platforms but with large windows at the ends and at the rear portion of both sides. 

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Posted by Redwards on Monday, July 05, 2010 7:44 AM

Thanks for that Dave.  Sounds like you had some wonderful experiences on private cars in addition to all of your travels on the great trains.  I'm quite envious!


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Posted by M636C on Monday, July 05, 2010 9:21 AM

In September 1977, I rode Amtrak's "Empire Builder" from Seattle to Chicago. I had a roomette in a standard 10+6 sleeper, and the train had the then usual full length dome as the lounge car.

Clearly this isn't going to come close to Dave's experience, but the trailing car was a dome sleeper. It was ex GN or NP and had a buffet compartment under the dome, replacing some sleeping compartments in the original design. However, this was Amtrak, so the buffet was shut. However, the vestibule on this car was trailing and with the upper dutch doors open and only a chain across the diaphragm opening, much of the atmosphere of an open platform was present.

Those who can might recall that in 1977, Amtrak was returning their SDP40Fs to EMD for rebuild into F40PH units which were more suitable for passenger service. Anyway, my "Empire Builder" had four SDP40Fs, two being returned to Chicago for rebuild.

They were all operating, and this was quite a fast trip. I timed a number of mile posts standing on the rear vestibule and we were generally making 80 MPH as far as I could tell, I guess this was really 79 MPH since there was no in cab signalling.

The train was steam heated (all that the SDP40F could provide) so as well as the expected road dust, there was mist of condensed water that helped the dust to stick to you.

Still, it was exciting watching Montana disappear away from you at 80 MPH and I was probably there for an hour or so, since it was a fine, warm day.

However, the view from the air conditioned dome beckoned, and since this was a sleeping car, only four or five first class passengers were there and the atmosphere was more appealing than the crowded main lounge car, where people were smoking.

One passenger had a radio tuned to a local country music station, and I could sit there watching the procession of grain elevators and their small towns pass by. Often you could see a grain elevator ahead before the one behind dropped from view.

It was the end of the post war streamliner era and the cars were showing their age. But they were clean and the bright upholstery looked modern, and the food in the diner was good if simple and not too expensive.

I'd ride that train again tomorrow if I could. I should try the current Superliner version...

But I'd expect that heavyweight end platforms would share the problems of dust and condensing steam heat (that Dave wouldn't have had on his Amtrak era private cars). On a fine, warm day, I'd do it but I'd spend more time in the observation room ahead of the actual platform.


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Posted by rji2 on Monday, July 05, 2010 5:36 PM

 I've never rode on an open platform observation car, but I have many times ridden the rear vestibule of a coach or sleeper, and no one mentioned one of the less aesthetic features of such travel.  A speeding train creates a vacuum behind it, which is filled by the dust and condensed steam (which someone did mention) and when someone flushed the toilet back in the days when waste was dumped directly onto the roadbed, you'd know when that happened if you were riding on the open vestibule.

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Posted by garr on Tuesday, July 06, 2010 12:18 AM

 Being born in 1962, I never had a chance to ride the heavyweight passenger trains of the past(unless you count the heavyweight coach on the Georgia RR Macon mixed) or the railroad owned streamliners for that matter(ditto the Georgia RR super mixed).

However I did ride a large number of the Southern Railway steam trips with Lookout Mountain, the excursion version of the open platform observation car, bringing up the rear. With all the side windows removed, I don't know how accurate a representation of the glory days' experience of riding an open platform it was, but there were cinder issues. More an annoyance than a total distraction, sort of like ants at a picnic.



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Posted by passengerfan on Tuesday, July 06, 2010 6:14 AM

For my 12th birthday my dad asked me what I wanted, I surprised him by saying I wanted to ride the Cascadian from Seattle to Spokane and return on overnight sleeper from Spokane to Seattle on the Empire Builder.

I was lucky they substituded a heavyweight cafe observation for the trains regulsr car that saturday and it had an open platform. It was April but I didn't care I was dressed warmly and the crew figured if some kid wants to freeze riding outside OK with them. The only time they made me come in was when the train went through the Cascade tunnel. I arrived in Spokane only 1/2 frozen and was meant by a GN station agent who baby sat me for dinner and put me on the waiting sleeper at 9;00 PM. I don't even remember the sleeper being coupled to the EB or anything else as I was fast asleep until the porter woke me saying Seattle 15 minutes. I dressed and left the train at King St. looking half asleep and dad was waiting. I could never convince him it was the best birthday present I ever had.

Al - in - Stockton  

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Posted by bigduke76 on Thursday, July 08, 2010 3:17 AM

 i've only ridden one open-platform observation car in regular service, on the Rock Island from Des Moines to Chicago, and as i was only 13 yrs old Mom only  let me out on the platform briefly.  however i've ridden several more on fan trips, some steam-powered (oil burners, thank goodness).  i hold the possibly unique experience of having ridden the entire Western Pacific mainline, Oakland Mole to Salt Lake City, on the open platform of an open platform observation car!  (not all on one trip, and with rest-room breaks, and one train had three open platform obs', two running backward.)  the "baddest" was on the Espee, where the excursion train wasn't turned, only the locomotive, and on the return leg from Sacramento to Oakland mole, 2-8-0 #2728 was coupled to the observation platform!  it was a long heavyweight train and that 45 year old Consolidation really had to struggle to get up to 60 MPH after each station stop - but it did, with me on the platform facing forward right behind the tender!  -big duke/arturo

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Posted by Nebraskafan on Thursday, July 08, 2010 3:26 PM

 I rode a couple of "private varnish" open platforms in the 1960s and found the experience quite enjoyable, although on the first trip I remember feeling some light mist. A fellow passenger urged me to keep my mouth closed as he said someone had just flushed a toilet in a car ahead. He was serious too! The best trip was on Bill Kratville's Cornhusker Club to Ogden, Utah, in 1969 for the Golden Spike Centennial, especially the long day west across Nebraska on the rear of UP No. 5. I can see the dangers though from dust, dirt, sudden stops, etc. After all, they would chase passengers inside from vestibules if the top of the Dutch door was open. I wonder in later years if they kept passengers off the open platform. I recall reading someone's experience riding the Wabash, which had the last open platforms in regular service, toward the end. The brakeman let him ride outside only at slow speeds.

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Posted by KCSfan on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:50 PM

In 1942 (or maybe '43) I rode the Southland together with my aunt from Tampa to Gary, IN in an open section Pullman (she had the lower berth and I got the upper). Somewhere between Atlanta and Knoxville we rode in the observation car for several hours. After much pleading on my part she agreed to let me ride the open platform with her but only briefly because it was mid-winter and pretty chilly out there. I remember it being windy and we got an occasional waft of smoke but no soot or cinders as the double headed locomtives were many cars ahead of us. I would have liked to have ridden the open platform longer but it was too cold for her and since I was only 10 years old she insisted I return to the inside of the car with her.


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Posted by Bob-Fryml on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:37 PM


Anybody here have a chance to ride the platform?  Enjoyable or no?     


July 24, 2010, the annual "Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days Special" ran with UPP 103 "Cheyenne," an open platform observation, bringing up the markers.  Although some years the Union Pacific Railroad has used that car to entertain its own guests, it appears that this year it was open to the general public, but specifically to holders of first class tickets.

In mid July, just a couple of weeks ago, all three sections of the Silverton Mixed carried open-platform bar cars on the rear end.  "Lucious Lucius" would have approved of the tariff restrictions placed on that equipment:  the cars were off-limits to passengers under the age of 21.  Inspecting track and watching the spectacular Colorado scenery roll by with a well-iced glass of Jack Daniels at hand was an unforgettable experience! 

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, August 01, 2010 8:08 AM

Thus recreating the experience I had on the Nomad in 1962.  Only it was Vodka Collinses for me instead of Jack Daniels.

But even as a teenager I had the experience of open-platform rear-end riding, and possibly Chicago area fans were able to enjoy the pleasure even longer.  IN 1945, after Bar Mitzvah, by parents decided (mostly Mom, I think, possibly with the influence of my two much-older sisters) that my social skills needed to include formal dancing.  I didn't object too much since it involved more subway or elevated or streetcar riding.   I would dutifully board a southbound BB Sixth Avenue local after leaving Columbia Grammer prep and get off at 42n and 6th and walk over to Madison to the Arthur Murray dance studio.  I quickly learned that one very pleasant way home was to walk to just west of 5th Avenue on 42nd and wait for the inspector there to short-turn a Broadway-42nd Street huffliner (double-end home-built 1936-1937 Peter Witt lightweight car) and I could not only board and find a seat for the northbound run to 86th and Broadway, but even sit in the rear motorman's seat looking backwards, since the car reversal move had be accomplished as quicly as possible to avoid delay to other streetcars on the eastbound 42nd St trackm thus no time to fold the seat against the wall to the left of the contoller, and I could enjoy a streetcar solarium ride through the Broadway auto dealer neighborhood, Columbus Circle, etc.   But sometimes I had to wait a long time before Dad and Mom returned from Dad's downtown medical office.  So one day I walked over to Third Avenue, to put the time to good use doing some elevated fan-tripping.  And low and behold on the upper level of the 42nd Street "hump station"  (northbound and southbound platforms for the center express track over the respective northbound and southbound local tracks) coming into the station was the seven-car train of "gate cars", which I had thought were only in use in emergencies.   I discovered one could board via the rear platform (unlocked to save time in boarding) and no one would disturb me in riding it all the way up to 204th Street and Webster Avenue, with the fast trip non-stop from 42nd to 106th, including the site and wiff of the Rupert brewery, banging across the specialwork to the 99th Street shops, upper level of the 2nd Avenue Harlem River drawerbridge, and another fast ride up the center track from 149th to Tremont Avenue.  At 204th I had a choice.   I could spend another nickle, by walking from that elevated station to the 205th and Brainbridge terminal Bronx station of the "D" (still the same to day) and get back to 86th and Central Park West at a reasonable time via subway, or go all the way to Gun Hill Road where there two possiblities for a no addtional fare elevated reverse in direction, ending up at Broadway and 86th Street, but possibly face parents' wrath for worrying them and returning late. 

One day I really pushed my luck too far.   I planned a day exploring Brooklyn streetcars, but then a return by riding a PCC on the McDonald-Vanderbilt or Smith-Coney Island Avenue line all the way from Coney Island to Park Row, City Hall in Manhattan.   At the elevated station, I would pass up the composites and wait for one of the two regularly used gate-car trains.  This went according to plan.  But just north of Chathan Square the towerman must have seen me on the back platform, becuase at 42nd Street, a transit policeman came to the rear platform and commanded "Get inside kid!"  Which I did.

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Posted by Sunnyland on Thursday, August 12, 2010 5:05 PM

 I never had the opportunity to ride in a private open end car, But I did get to ride one on the Napa Valley Wine Train a few years ago.  Part of the time we were at the rear of the train and when we headed back, the engine was right behind the platform.  A little diesel smoke didn't drive me inside.

We also had a train that ran for a few years out of St. Louis renovated Union Station. It was owned by Rail Cruise America and always pulled an observation car.  I'd spend as much time as I could standing outside. But this train was sold to KCS and the equipment is now used on the business train.  

Sometimes I've been in the last car on Amtrak and stand by the rear door and watch the landscape flying by.  

I'm glad I had the opportunity to ride on some observation cars, even if they weren't private, the experience was the same just without the fancy amenities. 




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