Gadsby’s Tavern – C&O Railway Heritage Center – Clifton Forge, Virginia – 2011
You leave the Pennsylvania Station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham an' eggs in Carolina*

I never ate in the dining car of a train during the heyday of passenger train travel. I regret that. But I can imagine sitting in the dining car with a salesman going to the next city; a mother and a small boy; a family going on vacation; a soldier returning home. The passengers may be lonely or bored, excited to be going someplace new, or just happy to be going home.

I imagine sitting at a table in the diner with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. surrounded by other travelers. People come and go and the world slips by the window. I'll be home in the morning. 

In 1932, the C&O inaugurated the George Washington as its flagship passenger train with service between Newport News, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio. Three dining cars built in 1922 were refurbished for the George Washington. Gadsby's Tavern is the only car that survived. The C&O Historical Society owns the car and has restored it to its original 1932 appearance.
For a moment as I stood in the door of this old dining car, I could imagine what it might be like to eat dinner here with the sound of the rails beneath my feet. I almost expected a porter to come through the door on the other end of the car. But I was all alone and the car was still and silent, a ghost of railroading's past.

Edd Fuller, Editor - Text and photographs Copyright 2017

 *Chattanooga Choo Choo - Mack Gordon/HarryWarren

8 thoughts on “Editor’s Notebook

  1. Wonderful remembrance of the experience of the dining car. What I liked was being seated by the car host at random and sharing a table a total stranger and getting to know them. On my first trip home from college on Amtrak’s former “National Limited”, one of my table mates turned out to be the wife of (then) Major League ballplayer Toby Harrah. She was pleased that I knew who he was and we talked baseball and travel over dinner. She didn’t like flying, so train travel was a better option.

    Each meal on the train brought a different dining companion and their stories.

    1. Thanks Stu. I think about those days of train travel every time I have to fly. The things we have given up in the name of progress.

  2. Edd, great story. I was lucky enough to enjoy many diner dinners “back in the day”, One stands out. In fall of 1969, rode the D&H train to Montreal from GCT. After a weekend in Montreal, I had $3.00 left, and while my rail fare was “gratis” thanks to my NY NH & H RR employee pass, I needed a lunch. Went to the diner, had my meal, and when time to pay arrived, offered a personal check (for $3.80) to the waiter, who declined to accept it. At the next station stop, a couple of minutes ahead of time, I ran into the station and asked the D&H ticket clerk to cash my check. After looking at me and my railroad pass and union card, he agreed. Waiter was happy, I was happy, the check was good, and when I finally arrived home, I had $0.13 in my pocket.

    1. Bob, I remember cutting it close many a time “back in the day.” Actually, in 1969, that 13 cents would still get you a Coke or a cup of coffee.

  3. We still have that wonderful experience of service for royalty on our Canadian on VIA rail that travel from coast to coast.

  4. On top-tier Limiteds like the George Washington in the heyday of passenger train travel, the tablecloths would not have been plastic, but spotless pressed linen, with fresh-cut flowers in glass vases next to the windows, and formal place settings of fine china and heavy silverware. The food was of the highest quality and expertly prepared, served by a wait staff hand-picked for their skill and demeanor, and gifted in the art of “invisible attentiveness.” The Dining Car was like the formal dining room of a five-star hotel. (On at least one railroad, gentlemen would not be seated for dinner without coat and tie.) Not only the Dining Car but the entire train was suffused with an atmosphere of decorum and elegant repose. Passengers were not “accommodated,” but rather were treated as honored and important guests. It was a level of service almost incomprehensible today.

    1. Norm, thanks for the interesting comment. I think it is safe to say that no other form of over-land travel reached the level of refinement achieved by train travel during its best years.

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