Ride Like A President
In the early 1900s, celebrity looked a little different than it does today. Socialites and business tycoons couldn’t use social media or airtime to broadcast their social status. They could, however, afford to travel in style for comfort and social status. And on the rails, that meant riding in a “business car.”
Business cars were constructed as a type of house on wheels that would carry high-ranking railroad officials, or railroad tycoons, along the rail lines. The cars had a practical mission: transporting important men over the line as they performed duties of their jobs, such as attend transportation meetings, entertain freight shippers, hold directors’ meetings, and keep a close watch on the running of the railroad.
But the business cars were more than just practical. In fact, business cars were often the pride of the railroad fleet. The cars included every amenity, such as handcrafted woodwork, rich tapestries, over-stuffed furniture, fine china, cut glass, and much more. As many as a dozen master woodcarvers created and installed inlays and ornate carvings. Riding in a business car advertised the passengers’ high social status. So, every last, luxurious detail was considered.
One such business car can be found at Strasburg Rail Road. Constructed in 1913 by master car builder Harlan & Hollingsworth Company, Reading Car 10 – now known as “The President’s Car” – was used by many Reading Railroad Presidents and dignitaries. It is rumored to have carried President Harry Truman along part of his famous 1948 “whistle stop” re-election tour, though this is just rumor.
When it was built in 1913, construction costs totaled $55,050.92. Another $3,511.08 was spent on equipment, including silver, glass, and linens. For perspective, spending $58,562 in 1913 is like spending $1,512,301.54 today. That’s just for one car! In 2002, Reading Car 10 was upgraded to improve the air conditioning and transforming the sleeping quarters into intimate sitting rooms to allow for greater capacity and special events.
If you ride aboard the President’s Car at Strasburg Rail Road, you’ll quickly understand the hefty price tag. This expertly restored car reflects the opulence of the railroad’s heyday as well as the car’s functional purpose. Within the car are designated areas or rooms designed to meet a railroad tycoon’s every need:
Windows line the first room in the car – the Observation Room – making it easy for riders to view the countryside from the Victorian-style sofa and standalone chair. In the 1900s, railroad bigwigs could monitor the air gauge, barometer, speed indicator, and clock by the car’s entrance to evaluate the operation of the train. There’s even a button that would drop paint to mark areas where the track is too rough. Under one of the desks are valves used to communicate with the engineer the possibility of a stop or start. Be sure to ask the conductor the appropriate protocol for which desk the most important person in the room is allowed to use!
The President’s Car includes two Staterooms. Stateroom D was used by the personal secretary of the president of the railroad, and it includes a desk large enough to accommodate the secretary’s typewriter. Stateroom C was used by the next in command or for guests. Both staterooms could be made ready for sitting or sleeping and included sinks and flushing toilets. Be sure to ask the conductor what was usually tucked away in a locked cabinet in Stateroom C.
Though the rooms have their own commodes, the Toilet Room takes it to another level. This room is fully equipped with a toilet, sink, shower, and a tile floor. Be sure to ask the conductor when plumbing was added to steam train cars.
The Private Room was once the master bedroom, complete with a double bed. This room, now a sitting room, boasts handsome woodworking of solid curly maple with inlay. It comes with an upholstered commode and built-in vanity. Be sure to ask the conductor how important passengers called for service from the crew or steward.
Tantalizing meals were served on the finest china and crystal aboard The President’s Car. Porters were specially chosen for their skill in serving food and drink on a moving train. In addition to the dining table and serving accouterments, the Dining Room includes a desk ready for the President’s use. Be sure to ask the conductor where wealthy passengers secured their valuables.
Crew and Service Area
The President’s Car brings all of the amenities necessary for a long trip, including a kitchen for preparing food, a refrigerator, a stove, and a full crew! In the service area, the crew works to prepare food for the guests, remain on call, and sleep. This area also has the crew lavatory and the car’s electrical control equipment. Be sure to ask the conductor how much ice it takes to keep the refrigerator cold.
The President’s Car gives today’s riders a brief look into how the rich and famous lived – and traveled – in the first half of the 20th century. You can see The President’s Car and all of our other luxurious first-class cars at the Strasburg Rail Road. Climb aboard and join us for a ride, and you can feel like a wealthy passenger of yesteryear as well. Check our Operating Schedule for dates and times when the trains are running, or consult our Events schedule to attend a special event. Looking for something to do this President’s Day weekend? Take a train ride with us Saturday, Feb. 15 – 17th.