You might be surprised…
By Megan Breen
Imagine owning and restoring a vintage railcar that rides the American rail system today. Eight years ago, Arlene Post and her husband purchased the Railcar Montana and became members of a small group of private railcar owners. “I now know everything from what an electric Multiple Unit is, to the challenges of biological treatment toilets, to the best adhesive to affix veneer to a curved wall,” Arlene laughs. So how did a woman with a background in public service manage to get the Railcar Montana, a virtual B&B on Amtrak rails, up and running? “I feel as if my entire life has been preparation for the Montana experience,” she says.
There are approximately one hundred private railcars for charter operating in the United States. Arlene and her husband purchased the Montana in the Midwest, and as they traveled to her new home base at the Garden Track at the Union Station in Los Angeles, dreamed of the day when the train car would be shipshape again and ready to provide luxurious accommodations for rail travelers.
And luxurious it is. Recall the seduction scene from Hitchcock’s 1957 classic film North by Northwest. Cary Grant works his magic on Eva Marie Saint in a passenger compartment on the 20th Century Limited out of Grand Central Terminal in New York. It’s romantic. It’s sexy. It’s the stuff dreams are made on. With the kind of affection ordinarily reserved for the most cherished and esteemed of family members, Arlene near gushes over the eighty-six-foot-long, sixty-nine ton Railcar Montana. “She was custom built by the Milwaukee Road shops in 1946, and began as a tap lounge for the post-war introduction of the Olympian Hiawatha. In the mid-1950s (as tap lounges were retired from regular assignment), the Montana was converted to a business car with a spacious lounge and overnight accommodations,” she states. Following a full mechanical overhaul, the Montana is fast approaching the completion of the internal restoration, with birch and mahogany woodwork, art-deco detailing, and warm lighting that would favor even the likes of Cary Grant.
Arlene laughs about having a handful of titles on the Montana, depending upon what has to be done on any given day. She enjoys particularly the title ‘Railcar Lackey’. “I’ve done everything from helping to design the Master Suite to laying carpet and sorting screws.” The title ‘Tool Girl’, which, despite its sexist turn, is probably her favorite. A previous marriage to a man whose idea of fun was hours upon end in hardware stores taught Post to become something of an expert on even the most obscure tool, as well as develop an uncanny ability to distinguish among every type of screw available. Yet another example, Arlene explains, of every past life experience leading to her present.Arlene recently realized the thrill of her life by bringing her own railcar from Los Angeles to New York’s Grand Central Terminal Centennial Celebration Parade of Trains in May of 2013. She may be a petite sixty-five-year-old with a shock of white hair and a smile that charms even the most reluctant, but pay that no mind. “It would have been easier to get to Carnegie Hall,” she says. Why was such a thrill? Arlene first fell in love with New York’s Grand Central Terminal as a child and spent her formative years on East 8th Street in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Waxing poetic at times, she speaks of growing up in New York where her Flatbush Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighborhood defined forever her sense of community. She remembers traveling on the subway into The City to attend the New York City Ballet with her father, marching with her mother in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and from the sidewalk in front of the Kingsway Theater in 1960, cheering for the vibrant presidential candidate John F. Kennedy as his motorcade passed. But it is New York City’s Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue that Arlene spies through the keyhole of her New York memories. She recalls standing on a platform at Grand Central as a child and being overwhelmed by the immensity of the trains, and yet lured by the interior warmth radiating from the windows. She recalls Eastman Kodak’s Colorama, an enormous three-panel photograph high above the concourse on the east balcony, the October night sky replicated on the concourse ceiling.
With a BA in Modern American Literature and a minor in Mass Media from State University of New York at Albany, Arlene has spent the lion’s share of her career in communications and strategic planning. Her résumé is impressive for a railcar lackey-tool girl. She has served as Director of Communications for New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; Director of Communications for Oregon Department of Transportation; and Director of Resource Conservation and Public Outreach for Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas, California. Although her passion, Arlene admits the challenges of Montana’s renovation and restoration are daunting at times. Planning the master suite renovation to include a full-size Murphy bed, sofa, dresser, and enclosed commode with sink—all within a space the size of an average home bathroom got to her usually optimistic attitude. Even though, she still states she is grateful for the journey. “We finished it. And the result is breathtaking,” Arlene says proudly. “It rivals anything Cary and Eva could imagine for their romantic journey.”
The Railcar Montana is available for charter. www.railcarmontana.com