Nostalgia Rides the Rails-
Written by John L. Focht ©
FUNK'S GROVE, Ill.--As Amtrak's "Lincoln Service" train speeds along the Illinois prarie at 67 mph, it shows off a special car coupled to the rear---the Hollywood Beach, a restored private railcar, which is taking a group of 15 guests southbound to St. Louis.
It is a restored classic railcar originally used by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad to carry passengers on their "Silver Meteor" New York-to-Florida trains in the 1950s and 1960s. It's an unusual combination of half lounge and half Pullman sleeping car, one of only three such cars, built in 1957.
The car is a labor of love for its owner, Keith White, 68, of Naperville. Ill. White is a retired Illinois Central/Canadian National rail traffic controller who started his career in Memphis, Tenn., then went on to Chicago.
"I really need to have this," White said the first time he saw the car. "So, it took a little bit of foolishness," he laughs.
It takes a lot of time and money to restore such a car, White says. He bought the car in 2016 for an amount he doesn't specify. He has spent about $500,000 to upgrade and renovate it. And now there are storage fees, insurance costs, annual inspections, Amtrak's charges to pull the car. ($3.67 per mile).
"It's definitely not for the faint of pocket book!" White says.
White has completely refurbished the Hollywood Beach, essentially bringing it back to its original look and feel. The large solarium lounge, with its large windows all around and on top, gives riders a full panaoramic view as we cross the Mississippi River on the MacArthur Bridge.
The car has five complete private bedrooms, with individual bathrooms, for overnight guests. It sleeps 10. The Pullman-style rooms provide a comfortable couch during the day and have beds that pull down from the wall for sleeping. Everything has been immaculately and expensively restored--- even the little "boxes" where first-class bedroom guests in the 50s could put their shoes before going to bed, to have them returned and shined by morning.
White has added a full kitchen and even a shower to the Hollywood Beach.
He runs trips on the car about four times a year, making arrangements to hook onto Amtrak on their routes. The Hollywood Beach just completed roundtrips from Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Carbondale. White and several couples spent the night in the bedrooms while the car was parked at Chicago Union Station.
Guest fares pay the expenses and make White a little money, but the Hollywood Beach isn't about making money. It's more about White sharing the experience. Likewise, it's not all about getting to a destination--it's about enjoying the journey.
The affable White and his wife Maggie serve as the crew. It has a homespun flavor. "It's like visiting Keith's cottage," said one of the guests, while sipping a beer. Keith cooks bacon and eggs for breakfast and serves all the meals. They put out bowls of Goldfish crackers and Tootsie Rolls. He is a conductor, cook, waiter, maid and attendant all in one.
At the end of this trip, the car returns to St. Louis and is switched into its home, the tracks next to St. Louis Union Station.
White, sweating, wearing an Illinois Central hardhat and yellow vest, says, "It's a lot of work. It's taxing. But I love it."
Written by John L. Focht ©
Owner of Railcom, Germantown, Tennessee
For more Information about future trips contact Keith White at
Keith’s Rail Way LLC