Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 3

A view from the dome section of Silver Solarium as the Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad cruises northward along Riverview Road south of Peninsula.

The Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad had many hallmarks of the late, great California Zephyr.

It carried three cars lettered “California Zephyr” along with a dome coach that once operated on the CZ. The latter, the Silver Bronco, today wears CVSR markings and colors.

Like the CZ, the Fall Flyer had sleeping car accommodations and a dining car serving breakfast.

But the similarities ended there. The three-course breakfast was prepared off the train by a caterer.

There was no overnight travel and no porters to make up the beds in the sleeping accommodations.

It was merely a two-hour trip from Rockside Road station to Howe Meadow and return.

Those not purchasing a meal car ticket could buy popcorn, candy bars, beverages and, what a CVSR crewman described as “the best hot dogs in the world” in the concession car.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of Silver Solarium and our travel party also included his brother Steven and Ed’s former J.C. Penney co-worker and railfan Shawn Novak.

The CVSR did its best Amtrak imitation by leaving Rockside Road station nearly 15 minutes late. We still got our two hours of travel time.

For the most part, the trip was like riding the CVSR’s National Park Scenic.

A CVSR trainman provided occasional commentary as the train rolled through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

He also made a pitch to join the CVSR as a volunteer, noting the railroad is currently short 22 trainmen.

It had rained earlier in the day and water droplets clung to the windows of the dome section for most of our trip thereby making photography a challenge.

Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 was sitting outside the shop at Fitzwater Yard along with two Charter Steel cars that it brought to Cleveland last month and will reportedly move when the Berkshire-type locomotive returns to Fort Wayne.

As I expected, there was scant fall foliage to view. The warm summer and relatively warm autumn have delayed the process of leaves transforming into their autumn colors.

The CVSR trainman said the Silver Lariat has a full kitchen and plans are in the works to hire some top chefs from Cleveland to prepare meals for a dinner train operation.

Those dinners will be pricey. The CVSR website indicates that an adult breakfast ticket is $37 per person whereas adult lunch tickets are $40 per person. A child breakfast or lunch ticket is less.

Tickets for the beer and wine trains range from $85 for a seat in the dome section to $65 for a table car.

This is not to be critical of the fares. It is to say the dinner trains won’t be like dining at Bob Evans or Eat ‘n Park.

The CVSR has always described its mission in part as preserving rolling stock from the streamliner era even if it doesn’t use that term very often.

It pays lip service to the heritage and history of this equipment, but most who ride the trains are not interested in railroad history in any depth.

They probably know little to nothing about the original California Zephyr and have no more than  a passing interest in it.

They see the CVSR as providing transportation within the CVNP or presenting a pleasant sightseeing experience.

I don’t know how much repeat business the CVSR gets from the sightseers, but it strikes me as the sort of thing you do once or, maybe, occasionally.

Hence the railroad must continually offer new programming and gimmicks to continue to draw passengers.

It remains to be seen how much longer the new silver cars will retain their current California Zephyr look.

Chances are the interiors will remain the same even if the exteriors might receive CVSR colors.

Then again when the Saint Lucie Sound was overhauled a couple years ago it was stripped of its CVSR colors and those have yet to be reinstated.

It also remains to be seen if the Silver Solarium will operate in the manner that it was designed to operate as the last car on the train and with an unobstructed view of the scenery as the train rolls down the rails.

CVSR operating practice is to have diesel locomotives at each end of a train. That is done for practical and safety reasons.

I can’t imagine the Silver Solarium operating routinely uncovered by a locomotive.

Perhaps it will operate in that manner on special occasions. CVSR was willing to detach the FPA-4 behind the Silver Solarium during the photo runbys of the last NKP 765 excursions on Sept. 30.

Perhaps that was a trial run to determine how easily and efficiently a locomotive can be detached and attached to a train on the road.

What I would not expect is for a train to back up from Akron to Rockside using only the tiny whistle on the rear of the Silver Solarium to warn vehicular traffic at grade crossings.

All of these are matters to play out in the future. For now the Silver Solarium, Silver Lariat and Silver Rapids have that new out of the box feel even if they have been around for several decades and are entering yet another phase of their service lives.

But at least they are still in revenue service rather than sitting static in a museum or, worse, being cut up in a scrap yard.

Looking toward the rest of the train from the dome section of the Silver Solarium. The dome car ahead is the Silver Lariat.

Edward Ribinskas (left) and his brother Steven repose in the lounge section of the Silver Solarium.

An overhead view of the dome section of Silver Solarium as seen from the East Pleasant Valley Road bridge.

For the time being the CVSR’s dome car trio have been operating in tandem.

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