Cedar Rapids plays host to namesake 1940s rail car this summer

'Cedar Rapids' will offer luxurious rides for rail enthusiasts

Built in the shops of the Milwaukee Road, the “Cedar Rapids” features a unique Skytop end, providing passengers a unique
Built in the shops of the Milwaukee Road, the “Cedar Rapids” features a unique Skytop end, providing passengers a unique view of the country as they head down the railroad. (image courtesy National Railway Historical Society)

Cedar Rapids is coming to Cedar Rapids this summer, and local residents can go along for the rides.

"It was named for this town," said Bart Jennings, chairman of the National Railway Historical Society's 2012 national convention. "And we'll be the first ones to bring it to this town."

Jennings was in Cedar Rapids - the city, not the classic railroad car - Thursday to do some advance convention planning and to announce the NRHS will begin selling tickets to the general public next week for trips aboard seven excursion trains planned that week.

"It's part of our effort to include the public" in  the June 18-24 event, said Jennings, of Avon, Ill.

Founded in 1935, the NRHS is the largest American railroad history and preservation group. Jennings expects about 600 members will converge on the city in June for seminars, workshops, tours, and those train rides.

Jennings said convention organizers have assembled a nine-car train of vintage - mostly late-1940s era - passenger cars, including Cedar Rapids. It's one of 10 "Skytop" lounge-observation cars built in 1948 for the Milwaukee Road's crack "Hiawatha" trains that ran between Chicago, the Twin Cities, and Seattle.

Although the Milwaukee Road also served Eastern Iowa - the pavilion in Marion's City Park is the shell of its depot - the striking, art moderne-style Cedar Rapids never did. Jennings said Cedar Rapids, now owned by a Minneapolis rail history group, will bring up the rear of most of the excursions during convention week.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday at the NRHS web site. Coach fares range from $79 to $169, with club-lounge and premium seats available at additional charge.

Jennings said about 100 unsold seats remain aboard each train, which include steam-powered runs on the Iowa Interstate from Iowa City to Newton and Rock Island, diesel-powered runs on the Iowa Northern from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo and Manly, and a Cedar Rapids-Iowa City run on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (CRANDIC).

The convention opens June 17 with a special train from Chicago to Cedar Rapids over the Union Pacific, with a return trip a week later. Jennings said a local travel agency is organizing a chartered bus to Chicago June 16 to allow local residents to ride the train back home.

NRHS President Greg Molloy said Cedar Rapids' rail heritage, and the cooperation of its three hometown railroads - the Iowa Interstate, Iowa Northern, and CRANDIC - were key factors in the group's decision to hold its convention here.

"We look for a venue each year where people can really experience a different aspect of the railroad industry," said Molloy, of Cincinnati.  "You have three local railroads we're working with who are regional carriers. You've got railroads that are much more closely tied with the community than many."

Although the special trains will draw crowds trackside, the only way to get aboard will be with a ticket for one of the excursions."(The train) will be hidden in the railroad yards for servicing" when not actually operating, Jennings said. "This is a busy railroad town, and quite frankly we can't leave it sitting around."

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