Billowing black smoke exploding from the smokestack of 1938 Steam Locomotive #3751, pulling 24 vintage railcars, was an instantaneous indication that the adventure had begun. If we didn’t hustle, the adventure would be lost. Where, oh where, was that “Fallbrook Wye?”
The train rumbled down the track, parallel to our car on Interstate 5, and as it slowed we exited the freeway near Camp Pendleton’s main gate Monday, September 22. The train was stopping for water and to pick up invited guests from Camp Pendleton at the Fallbrook Junction.
This historic train run was sponsored by the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners and had originated in Cincinnati.
Time was short and the military police questioned our authority to be there, because there is no station there now.
Why is a piece of rail line on a Marine Corps base named for Fallbrook? At one point in the line’s history, the line ended in Fallbrook, so it was named for the terminus. Even though the line suffered several setbacks, including being washed out, the junction, or “wye,” still retains the name.
Running on the gravel-lined tracks, we secured the attention of a conductor who assisted us aboard and directed us to our assigned car, where we were the personal guests of DeWitt Chappel, in the parlor of the grand “Chapel Hill” business railcar. Restored to its glorious 1922 condition, the train décor included deep mahogany wood, original brass hardware and vintage railroad china.
We dined privately with our host, Brian Collins, and his wife in “The Observatory” dome car. He told us their desire to keep railroading’s heyday of the 1940s and 1950s alive.
Collins noted that only about 120 vintage railcars in the United States were certified and permitted to travel on Amtrak rails. He said the average cost of restoring and meeting the structural and safety specifications required by Amtrak averaged $500,000 per railcar.
The train included Pullman, observation, club car, dome coach, sleeper and business cars. They contained an abundance of beautiful woodwork and period furniture.
Several Pullman kitchens were manned by staff members preparing sumptuous meals. Many staff members were dressed in period clothing to enhance the train’s 1940s and 1950s ambiance.
Among the 24 vintage railcars we toured was one called “Virginia City.” This Pullman car was built in 1928 for the Overland Limited.
Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg purchased the car in 1954 and created a one-of-a-kind Venetian Renaissance interior complete with crystal chandeliers and a marble fireplace. The current owner, Wade Pellizzer from Redwood City, has restored the interior to the original circa 1955 opulence.
The round trip to Old Town San Diego and back included a four-hour layover in Old Town and provided passengers with a unique experience that many rail lovers refer to as the “romance of the rails.”
For my wife and I, we will never forget our time machine escape made possible at the time portal known as the “Fallbrook Wye.”
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