Maybe it’s the feeling of a time past. Maybe it’s the romantic notion of riding the rails. Whatever it is, everyone seems to love trains. Travel Alliance Partners (TAP) knows travelers don’t have to be rabid rail fans to enjoy the clacking wheels, the swaying cars and the scenery sliding by. TAP itineraries offer plenty of ways for travelers to get all aboard.
Railroad Engineer Experience
Even the most fanatic rail fans don’t usually put “operate a locomotive” on their bucket lists because many don’t even know it’s an option. But it is at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely, Nevada.
“There really is no other place you can do this,” said Lee Dahl, owner of Leisure West Tours and Cruises, which brings tour groups to the museum for the Be an Engineer program. “Some trains allow people to ride in the cab, but there is nobody else that will actually let you have your hands on the throttle and on the brake and ring the bell and blow the whistle; with this program, you get to do all that.”
And it’s not just five minutes in the seat. The in-depth program gives each participant nearly an hour in both a steam locomotive and a diesel locomotive. Participants spend the first evening learning the rules of the railroad during a two-hour class, and they must pass an open-book exam to operate the engines.
Guests start off on the diesel engine, which isn’t as “temperamental” as the steam locomotive. The diesel is more straightforward and less overwhelming than the century-old, coal-fired steam locomotive, Dahl said. Over the course of two days, each person gets to drive each locomotive for about 15 miles. Guests also get to operate a two-person speeder car, as well as the “hand-pump cars you used to see in the old cartoons,” Dahl said.
“When people get done, they’re just ecstatic,” he said. “They’re just beside themselves.”
The Nevada Northern Railway, including the engines, buildings and rolling stock, is a National Historic Landmark. The railroad was built in 1905 to reach the copper mines about 140 miles north of Ely. But when the mines shut down in 1978, so did the railroad.
“They just locked the doors; they figured they would reopen when the mine reopened,” Dahl said. “They left all the tools, equipment, paperwork — everything. People even had their time cards in there.”
The trip includes tours through the rail yard, the engine room and the machine shop, which are “almost completely intact,” he said.
Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train
North Woodstock, New Hampshire
Nothing smacks of a “Mad Men”-era experience quite like dining on a train. There are only a handful of dinner trains left in the United States, so a trip on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, is a treat.
Fancy-Free Holidays has been taking groups on the train for about 10 years, said Jack Hintz, vice president of operations. The train includes dining cars, most of which date to the 1950s, although it also has a 1924 restored Pullman car.
Passengers’ favorite car is often the Granite Eagle, an unusual passenger car with a second level in the dining car’s domed top. The car, which was built in the mid-1950s for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, was restored in 1996 and added to the dinner train.
On board, groups are seated at tables of four for a four-course dinner that’s served as the train winds through the woods, crosses the river and passes local landmarks. The menu typically features appetizers such as pate, smoked salmon croustades and herbal mushroom turnovers and entrees such as chicken cordon bleu, pesto scallops and pinot-noir-glazed tenderloin pork.
“It’s an excellent meal,” Hintz said. “My passengers always give it a top rating.”
During the two-hour trip, the train stays on one track. It’s about an hour to the end of the line, and then the train comes back the same way. Rolls are served right as the train departs, and the main course usually arrives right as the train begins to make its way back.
The rails run through the woods alongside the Pemigewasset River and cross over the river on two trestle bridges. Diners will also see a covered bridge and the Jack O’Lantern Golf Course pass by their windows during the trip.