The Rhonda Lee
Built by the Budd Company in 1956 as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy #4735, this stainless steel Vista-Dome coach ran between Chicago and Denver on a daily basis until 1980, the latter 9 years under Amtrak ownership. Originally named Silver Buckle, the car was part of the last two complete conventional train sets to be ordered in the pre-Amtrak era and traveled over 4.5 million miles.
With standard coach seating for 50, and 24 seats in the Dome, the Silver Buckle provided fast and comfortable service for many of Amtrak’s budget-minded patrons until the bi-level Superliners arrived. Officially retired in 1981, the car spent time in storage in Oakland, CA, and Beech Grove, IN, before being auctioned off to a railcar shop in 1993.
In 1997, Heidi and John Caestecker purchased the car in the Midwest and moved it to Fullerton, CA, with the intent of restoring it to operating condition as a luxurious Dome-Diner-Lounge car. Dining capacity was six tables of four upstairs and an additional 24 seats on the long end of the lower level. Cocktail lounge seating of up to 10 people was featured in the short end, with kitchen and restrooms under the dome.
After twelve years of restoration, the Silver Splendor began its new life as a rolling piece of history in October of 2009. For nine years, she traveled thousands of miles in service under LARail.com.
In November of 2018, the car was purchased by Profile Mountain Holdings Corp., d/b/a Conway Scenic Railroad, for service here beginning in June of 2019. She was renamed the Rhonda Lee in honor of the wife of President & General Manager, Dave Swirk.
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