Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 1

The Fall Flyer with the Silver Solarium on the north end arrives in the station at Rockside Road.

Three-fifths of the CVSR’s Silver fleet is visible in this image made at Jaite. Shown (right to left) are Silver Bronco, Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium.

Sleeper Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut this month on the Fall Flyer. Passengers could book rooms, but only traveled for two hours and not overnight.

An air of mystery surrounds the world of private railroad cars. The phrase “private varnish” conjures images of opulent surroundings; gourmet dining on fine china; and all of the trappings of wealth, power and authority.

Traveling in a private car is far from the experience of a journey in an Amtrak Amfleet coach.

I was expecting to get a glimpse into that world as I boarded dome-observation car Silver Solarium on Saturday at the Rockside Road station of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of the Silver Solarium, which this month is operating on CVSR Fall Flyer.

I wasn’t expecting so much to travel like a king as I was seeking to see how kings traveled at one time.

Of course Silver Solarium wasn’t built to transport royalty. It began life in 1948 on the assembly line at Budd, which built it as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy No. 377.

The Q assigned the car to the fabled California Zephyr, where it was one of six dome-observation-sleepers used on the CZ.

The three railroads that hosted the CZ, the CB&Q, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Western Pacific, described it as “the most talked about train in America.”

It traversed the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, offering some of the best scenery in the West.

In short, it personified the best that the streamliner era had to offer along with such other headliners as Santa Fe’s Super Chief, Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles, Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited, and Great Northern’s Empire Builder.

Today the mere mention of those trains prompts a longing for a paradise lost.

The CZ also was known for its Zephyrettes, the young women who provided a variety of tasks ranging from welcoming passengers to providing first aid to serving as a liaison between passengers and crew members.

The CZ began its final trips on March 20, 1970, but the story of the Silver Solarium didn’t end there.

Until the coming of Amtrak in 1971, the successor of the Q, the Burlington Northern, operated a tri-weekly “California Service” that involved making a transfer at Ogden, Utah, to the City of San Francisco, which Southern Pacific operated between Ogden and Oakland, California.

The Silver Solarium joined the Amtrak fleet as No. 9252 where it operated until April 1978. Amtrak retired the car in October 1981 and sold it more than four years later.

After its retirement by Amtrak, the Silver Solarium transitioned to the private varnish world, most recently in the fleet of Rail Journeys West where it joined fellow CZ alumni Silver Lariat (a dome coach) and sleeper Silver Rapids in charter service on the back of scheduled Amtrak trains.

That often found the trio on the Amtrak version of the California Zephyr, which uses the route of the original CZ between Chicago and Salt Lake City.

For four months in 2002 the Silver Solarium brought up the rear of an American Orient Express train.

Rail Journeys West decided recently to sell its CZ class and the CVSR was a willing buyer.

The three cars along with baggage car Silver Peak made their final trips on Amtrak to Chicago where Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 picked them up to transport them to Cleveland and the CVSR.

Silver Solarium and Silver Lariat debuted on the CVSR last month in the consist of excursion trains pulled by NKP 765.

Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut on Oct. 6 in the consist of the Fall Flyer. Silver Peak has yet to operate in CVSR revenue service.

There was a lot of history to ponder as I boarded the Fall Flyer at Rockside Road station for trip that would be part nostalgia, part exploration of another world, and part consideration of the state of contemporary train travel.

Next: Inside the Silver Solarium

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