IPH Dome Car
IPH Dome CarOf all the cars in the Premier Rails collection, the one type that gets the most attention are our dome cars. These “bubble top” cars offer a 360 degree view unrivaled by anything else, with the possible exception of our open cars. Plus, since the dome views are from an elevated seat, they are definitely a great way to view the passing scene. An extra added bonus is that they offer comfortable seats and climate controlled comfort. The most common name for this class of cars is “Vista Dome” although many railroads added their own spin, such as Stratodome, Superdome, Bigdome, etc. The legend says that the concept behind them started when Ralph Budd, the President of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, decided that he wanted passengers on his railroad to enjoy a view as good as that of the engineer. He conferred with Edward G Budd (no relation), the President of The Budd Company, and they came up with what are now known as vista dome cars. 237 vista dome cars were ordered by 16 North American railroads between 1945 and 1958, and we have 19 in the Premier Rails collection. In keeping with the times they were built, they tend to have an “Art Deco” feel. They can be broken down into 2 broad categories, “full domes” and “short domes”. There is also an intermediate category known as a “three quarter dome.” Let’s discuss the full domes first. These have the classic curved glass windows running almost the full length of the car, usually with windows looking forward and back from the ends of the car, unlike some newer domelike cars such as Highlevels, Superliners and Ultradomes. Full domes offer more people the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views that a vista dome car offers, as thy seat 65 to 75 people, instead of the 20-24 people in a short dome. Therefore, unlike some car types where we have some held for future restoration and awaiting a call to service, all 10 of our full domes are operational and in service. Four of them have been certified to operate on Amtrak trains, and these are kept busy in excursion service, whether behind steam locomotives, on the Reno Fun Train, or the famed New River Train. Towards the end of the year they are sent to several of the Premier Rails collection of railroads where they serve in Santa’s service on The Polar Express. Because of their wide use, and because we have the largest collection of them they have become Premier Rail’s signature cars. Short domes usually have a dome section that extends about a third of the length of the car, and it is usually offset a bit, so it is not in the middle of the car lengthwise. Unlike full domes which have a stairwell at each end, short domes have a stair only at one end. The close proximity of the fore and aft end windows make this a viewing area that is nothing short of spectacular. Down below, there may be coach seating, tables of four, a lounge area, restrooms or even bedrooms. They have been built with stainless steel, regular (Corten) steel and aluminum. They can have flat glass or curved in the dome area. They became immensely popular when introduced and remain so today, a romantic symbol of the ultimate in passenger rail transportation.
We have the largest, most varied and interesting collection of passenger rail cars in the country. We own or lease over 200 passenger cars, spanning over 75 years from the oldest to the newest car. We also have over 30 vintage locomotives including steam, diesel switchers, road switchers and of course, the iconic “cab units”. Of course, not all of our equipment is completely restored and running. A significant portion of our collection is “in reserve” awaiting refurbishment and a return to active service when it is needed. We have some one-of-a-kind cars, and others that are wonderfully representative of bygone eras such as the “heavyweights” or “streamliners”. If all of our cars and locomotives were put together, it would be almost 3 1/2 miles long! Of course, that would also involve getting them all into one place… With equipment in Santa Cruz California on the Pacific Coast and Hyannis Massachusetts on the Atlantic (with a few gaps in between, of course), assembling that train would be a Herculean task.
It will be far easier to describe our equipment collection in the weeks to come. We will cover dome cars, observation cars, describe the Art Deco influence that impacted the styling of our cars from the 40s and 50s (which make up the bulk of our passenger car and heritage locomotive fleet). We will try to give a feeling for what was going on when the cars were built, as well as the incredibly varied careers that they followed before being acquired for the Premier Rails collection. Many people ride our train to see the incredible scenery, enjoy the ambience, savor the cuisine, and appreciate the personal service, but they sometimes forget that every time they step onto a Premier Rails Collection car, they are stepping into a time machine. While building (or in our case re-building) a time machine is a huge and expensive effort, when the train pulls out and you are transported into the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or whatever era the car came from, it can be…the coolest thing in the world!