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Restored rail car takes passengers through scenic Rocky Mountains

Published August 15, 2013 2:09 pm

Travel • Sleeper's glass dome allows passengers to get a panoramic view.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before automobiles and airplanes, trains were the most efficient mode of transportation.

Over Labor Day weekend, a select group of Utahns will have a chance to step back to that time, traveling aboard a 1948 domed rail car on a round-trip excursion from Salt Lake City to Denver.

The Moonlight Dome features a glass dome on the upper level, creating a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountain scenery. Utah train enthusiasts and members of the Promontory Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society purchased the car five years ago with $350,000 that the chapter made by selling another rail car.

The Utah group is working with members of the society's Intermountain Chapter in Denver to restore the train to its original glory. Parts have been purchased through donations and grants, and most of the restoration work has been done through volunteers, said Gerry Lemmons, a spokesman for the Utah chapter. The car has made two previous trips to Denver in the past four years as well as several charter trips throughout the U.S.

"It's kind of a romantic trip," Lemmons said. "It's a wonderful throwback to the Golden Age of rail travel."

Going back in time can be costly: A round-trip ticket on the historic train is $550 per person. The money helps pay for the continued preservation of the car.

Lemmons said the rail car will be hooked to the rear of Amtrak's California Zephyr and will travel at speeds up to 110 mph along the line once part of the Rio Grande Railroad's "Mainline Through the Rockies."

The line is considered one of the most scenic places in the U.S., with passengers enjoying scenery that is not viewable by car. Specifically, guests will travel through Glenwood Canyon, which was the inspiration for the engineering and creation of rail cars with a dome.

The land is "untouched, so the only way you can see it is by rail," said Mark Hansen, a chapter member who was aboard one of the previous trips. "It's something you'd just never forget."

Hansen estimates there are only about a dozen domed rail cars left in the U.S. "These cars are falling by the wayside," he said.

That's a depressing thought for chapter member Les Tippie. "It's part of the history of our country," he said.

For the Labor Day trip, the Moonlight Dome will depart Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 30, at 3:30 a.m. and arrives in Denver at 6:30 p.m. Meals and beverages are included on board, but passengers must arrange for hotel accommodations while in Denver.

The train makes its return trip on Tuesday, Sept. 3, leaving at 8 a.m. and arriving in Salt Lake City by 11:30 p.m.

The train can hold 29 passengers, but only 20 will be allowed on the Labor Day trip so passengers can "get up and walk around," Lemmons said. "We wanted people to have room on board."

For those who can't make the trip, the Promontory chapter offers tours of the stationary car by appointment. The dome also is available to rent for meetings or parties.

And the chapter is always looking for new members who can help with restoration, Tippie said. "We need young people that are able to crawl around under the car for mechanical stuff."

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Sentimental journey

Step back in time and travel on the Moonlight Dome, a restored 1948 rail car. The trip, from Salt Lake City to Denver, is sponsored by the Promontory Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

When • Departs from Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 30, at 3:30 a.m. Arrives in Denver at 6:30 p.m. Train leaves Denver Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 8 a.m. and returns to Salt Lake City around 11:30 p.m.

Fare • $550 per person round trip; includes meals and light snacks while on the train. Price does not include a hotel room while in Denver.

Reservations • Contact Gerry Lemmons 303-909-6832 or email moonlightdometrip@comcast.net.