Travel back in time on Business Car 300

“Ever since I could walk or talk, it’s been trains,” said Alec Graham, taking a bite of his cheesecake as the railroad car gently swayed back and forth.

Graham is part of a team of volunteers that have spent endless hours of the last few years working with the Norfolk and Western Business Car 300 Preservation Society Inc. to restore the Business Car 300.

On April 9 and April 15, in partnership with the Indiana Northeastern Railroad and the Little River Railroad, the car took its first trips in over 30 years. It traveled from Coldwater to Hillsdale and back.

For Bryan Lalevee, president of the society, the restoration meant a lot of personal sacrifices, but he explained that he couldn’t have made it to the end goal without a whole team of people.

“The right people at the right time just kept showing up,” he said. “It was a lot of great people that came out to help us get this car done.”

Lalevee was 12 when he accidentally attended a private railcar conference, where his obsession with trains took off. That obsession led to a career as a locomotive engineer and, eventually, the discovery of Business Car 300.

The car was built in 1917 by the Pullman Company and served as the personal railroad car for the presidents of the Norfolk and Western Railway from 1917 to 1982.

After going through a series of private owners, the car then sat in a warehouse for 29 years. It took three years of negotiations before the car was received as a donation in 2019.

The next several years were spent restoring the car to its original beauty.

“The whole renovation process has gone surprisingly smoothly,” said Lalevee, “It’s just been a lot of long hours.”

It was unique features like the dining table and couch, both 1950’s originals to the car that were not only designed specifically for it, but were even assembled in it, that kept drawing people back to the project.

“The history and mystique of the car are really what drew me in,” Graham said.

Every detail of the car had to be perfect for the car's passengers, from the 59 lightbulbs casting a warm fluorescent glow on the ceiling, to the retro phone and original call switches.

As the guests entered the car, they were greeted by quiet music playing in the background and the newly-polished wood of the lounge. They then had the whole trip to explore the rest of the car, including bedroom suites, multiple bathrooms and a dining room.

The car even included a commercial kitchen, which the car’s staff used to prepare the passengers’ choice of snacks, drinks and a dessert.

On the three-and-a-half-hour train ride, everyone was treated to a scenic view of Michigan countryside, while lively conversations sprung up among passengers.

Eric and Jennifer Richardson heard about the trip from a friend and traveled from Indiana to ride one of the inaugural trips of Business Car 300.

“My favorite part has been getting to see the view of Michigan that you really can’t get from just driving on the road,” Eric Richardson said.

Jennifer Richardson jumped in and said that she also was impressed with the overall mood the staff had worked to set, which gave such a full experience to all the train’s passengers.

“The restored car is so wonderful,” she said.

As the trip drew to a close, all the passengers took a second to congratulate Lalevee on the success of the entire project and ask what the society’s plans are for the car moving forward.

“In May we are just planning to do exterior work and the regular maintenance work for the car,” Lalevee said.

While plans are still up in the air, he hopes to soon begin planning and announcing a summer series of trips, which would take the car on tours of Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana.

Glenn Gould, vice president of the society, said the society wants to give every passenger of Business Car 300 a first-class experience.

In Graham’s opinion, seconded by many other passengers, it had more than succeeded in that.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find another train car in service like this anywhere,” he said.

The rew of Business Car 300.
The rew of Business Car 300.
Passengers Eric and Jennifer Richardson enjoy the view from the car's lounge.
Passengers Eric and Jennifer Richardson enjoy the view from the car's lounge.

This article originally appeared on Hillsdale Daily News: News