|The Chapel Hill was originally built in 1922 for Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and stock broker and investment banker E.F. Hutton.|
|by Michael L. Grace
Donald Trump’s “Mar-a-Lago” may be the closest proximity you might have to the illustrious society history of Post Cereals Heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post unless you charter her former private railway car.
The Huttons divorced in 1935 and the Hussar became a part of Post’s settlement. She later remarried Joseph E. Davies, a Washington, D.C. attorney and ambassador to the Soviet Union and Belgium. After the Davies left for the Soviet Union in 1937, the Hussar was sold to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
It was then used as a business car in the 1960s for railway executives. With the advent of Amtrak, the car may have been scrapped if it were not for rail aficionado DeWitt Chapple Jr. He bought the car and restored it.
Chapple retained the car’s number, but added the name Chapel Hill after his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. In 1972, he used his newly refurbished private car for a trip to Philadelphia on the rear of Amtrak’s National Limited (formerly a crack streamliner for the Pennsylvania Railroad). Since then he has accumulated over 250,000 miles aboard the Chapel Hill both in the United States and Canada.
|The Chapel Hill (the former Post car) as it appears today.|
|Salon aboard the Chapel Hill.|
|Chapple’s interest in private cars stems from his early school years. He was a guest of Frank Pidcock III on the Georgia Northern’s business car Moultrie, which later became the Gold Coast, the first private car owned by Lucius Beebe.
Beebe was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, to a prominent Boston family. Beebe attended both Harvard University and Yale University. During his tenure at boarding school and university, Beebe was known for his numerous pranks.
The Gold Coast is now an honored showpiece at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
These elegant American railway carriages mostly built by the Pullman Company during the early part of the 20th century personified the comparable exclusivity of today’s personal jet. But these mansions on rail were far more opulent and visible. They were not parked on the far side of an airport but attached to the rear of yesterday’s named trains: the Chief, Detroiter, Commodore Vanderbilt and the Florida Limited.
Mrs. Post didn’t look out at the sky or breathe re-circulated air or dine on something a little better than first class airline food. She slept in private staterooms, dined in privacy and lounged comfortably in opulent observation salons. The cars had rear platforms were these privileged travelers watched America scenery pass them by.
World War II changed all that with the advent of the private airplane. In the 1960s, the number of private cars numbered three. The most famous was the Virginia City owned by Beebe and Clegg. By the time Amtrak took over the U.S. passenger railway system most of the private cars were abandoned and in neglect.
|Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg dining aboard the The Virginia City being served by steward Clarence Watkins.|
|The drawing-obersavation salon of Beebe and Clegg's Virginia City decorated in 1954 by Robert Hanley of Los Angeles.|
|Chapple, along with other private individuals, bought these cars rich with history and have preserved them. There are now over a hundred restored cars in the United States but few are able to maintain the quality of service and transportation found on Mrs. Post’s former car.
The Chapel Hill has the further distinction of being one of three private cars in attendance at the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) first private car convention in Chicago in 1978. DeWitt Chapple was also a founding member of AAPRCO and has served as its president for the maximum allowable term in 2004 and 2005. Chapple has attended all 28 annual AAPRCO conventions since its inception, and the Chapel Hill has attended 25 of 28 AAPRCO conventions.
Over 50 private cars were recently assembled in Los Angeles for their 2008 convention. Many of the cars are available for charter and can be attached to Amtrak trains. Some of the cars have been modernized to the point where you have the feeling they are a private jet than a railway car. Mrs. Post’s former car retains all the charm, style and history of the streamlined era.
|One of the last private cars prior to Amtrak belonged to Kansas City insurance magnet Bruce Dobson. Mr. and Mrs. are seen playing cards attended by their steward. Many of the stewards serving in private cars into the 1970s and 1980s were retired Pullman Car porters and dining car chefs.|
|Clockwise from above: Dining salon aboard the Chapel Hill; Master stateroom on the Chapel Hill; Bedroom on the Chapel Hill for day use. Can be converted to upper and lower Pullman berth.|
|Place setting for dinner on the Chapel Hill.|
|Chapel Hill is totally updated, combining all the necessary comforts of contemporary travel in surroundings capturing the elegance of train travel that ended in the 1950s. There is an observation platform, lounge, dining salon, staterooms, kitchen and crew quarters. A chef and steward meet all your needs. The car can comfortably accommodate six to eight passengers. The charter price runs around $80,000 for a seven to ten day trip. An example itinerary would be from Chicago to Seattle, visiting Yellowstone, then onto San Francisco and return to Chicago via the Colorado River Gorge. Transportation, accommodations and meals are included. There would be layovers in the national parks and cities en-route.
An expert in dealing with the various requirements of travel in the USA and Canada when it comes to private cars, Chapple can tailor an itinerary for a unique and very deluxe tour of the USA. Many celebrities have chartered cars and Bill Gates actually chartered a train for his own sightseeing needs. The late television mega-producer Aaron Spelling wouldn’t fly and traveled by chartered private railway car. If he went to Europe, he sailed on the now retired QE II or the long gone France.
|The Chapel Hill en route.|
|First-class service aboard the fine trains of North America was a given until the late 1950s. The Pullman Company provided private rooms and dining was enhanced by the marvelous reputation of such companies as Fred Harvey aboard Santa Fe’s famous streamliner The Super Chief.
Those streamlined trains of yesteryear are just memories now, but you can still find the service-along with superb cuisine and comfortable appointments aboard private cars.
You may not be Marjorie Merriweather Post but you will travel as she if you charter the Chapel Hill.
|Michael L. Grace is a writer living in San Francisco who chronicles the social history of travel on his website www.cruisingthepast.com.
For more information on private cars and chartering the Chapel Hill contact DeWitt Chapple, Jr., at www.chapelhillrail.com.