American Association of Private Rail Car Owners Convention recalls railroad past

American Association of Private Rail Car Owners Convention recalls railroad past

September 29th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Borden McGahee sits in her recently renovated private railcar outside of the Chattanooga Choo Choo Friday. The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners is hosting its 2012 annual convention at the hotel.

Photo by Alyson Wright /Times Free Press.

Tom Coughlin ran a cloth over the finely polished, old wood trim inside the vintage rail car parked outside the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel on Friday.

Owned by a retired Navy captain, a former Coca-Cola executive and a businessman, the restored 1950 sleeper car is one of only 150 of its kind, he said.

"I was going to be a passenger," he said about the trip that took him from Washington, D.C., to Chattanooga, but it turned out that he could work his way as a steward.

The rail car along with 28 other similarly preserved, history-laden iron maidens are hitched up at the Choo Choo. That's where the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners Convention is meeting through this weekend.

The group met with their rail cars in Washington last weekend and formed a train, then spent three days traveling through Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee on tracks few passengers travel anymore.

The association is made up of railroad enthusiasts who've invested thousands of dollars in buying and restorating their rail cars, which date back to 1911.

"The vast majority are people who love railroads," said Borden McGahee, a car owner and the group's incoming executive director. "They take a car and bring it back to life again."

The owners lease the cars to businesses and individual clients during the year.

Diane Elliott, the group's executive director, said the lease cost depends on how long someone is staying in the car and where it's going.

But, she said, the price tag could reach as high as $6,500 a day with an all-inclusive slate of services.

McGahee said if a car is leased by four couples, they can split the cost and make it more affordable.

"It's kind of like a rolling bed and breakfast," she said. "It's something you don't do every day."

Terry Coats, who is associated with the Tennessee Central Railroad Museum, said the car he's riding is owned by a Nashville doctor.

Called the "Hollywood Beach," it was built by Pullman Standard in 1956 and ran from New York to Miami. It was one of three ordered for the so-called Silver Meteor service. Coats said the other two were called the "Palm Beach" and the "Miami Beach."

McGahee said each train has a history attached to it.

She said next year they'll will meet in Napa Valley, Calif. The group will travel on the West Coast from Seattle or Tacoma, Wash., to Napa.

"We alternate west and east," she said about the convention.