Jef Bennett , Tour Leader, is one AOE
staffperson with whom I was most impressed. Perhaps it is because
I got to know Jef the best of any employee, but he seems to be enjoying
his job. He accompanied the guests on all the off-train tours in
Savannah, Charleston, Williamsburg, and Monticello. He also lead
the Orientation before we were taken to the train, and lead an
informative session about other tours by AOE. He is always
smiling and accommodating. When other local tour guides are
giving their information on the busses, Jef is always offering water
and snacks. I dubbed him, "Snackman." Jef is very open to
questions such as, "Where are you from? How did you get this
job? What did you do before working for AOE?" Some folks
may not want to give this information, but Jef answered each question
with a smile and honesty.
Jef was the first (and last) employee we saw on this "Land
Cruise." He led the Orientation at the River Inn Hotel where all
passengers attended before we were taken to the train. There he
mentioned that one guest had been on 13 AOE trips! Prof. Ann
Dupont would provide three lectures on the train. He had past
guests repeat, in relation to the size of the rooms, "My cabin is
compact, but comfortable." He said the AOE was a 'vintage train'
restored to 40s and 50s. All buttons on the panel work except the
one marked, "Porter." Instead there is a phone in the room and we
should just dial zero and the Passenger Service Office would find our
porter for us. The PSO also has stamps, and can cash traveler's
checks. We could register a credit card for souvenirs and staff
tips at the end of the trip. Vestibule windows can be opened and
used for photography (unlike Amtrak), and for smoking. All water
is potable and bottled water will be provided daily in the room and on
Other comments by Kitty, were that when the train is moving, be
careful. Use one hand for the train and one hand for yourself,
especially between cars, and be aware of the moving plates between
cars. If you return to the train after it is closed for the
night, go to the dome car's lower level windows and knock.
Someone is always in the Passenger Service Office there and will let
you in. (On the first morning in Charleston, I took an early
morning walk to photograph the train in the ideal setting, and had to
use this procedure to get back into the train.) The order of
running on railroads in America is:
First, freight; Second, Amtrak; and Third, AOE; so we may sit on a
siding now and then, or leave later than planned.
Megan, Lead Guide on this trip, gave her comments next. She
said our first meal on the
train would be this evening. Meals are all open seating any time
dinner is served. There are 88 seats in the two dining cars,
which are adjacent in the center of the train, and only 70 guests on
board, so no problem finding a seat when you want to eat.
There is a large route guide in the cabin with our stops and highlights
on the cities we pass. There are commentaries on the passing
sights, except during piano time in the club car. There is a
consist list at the end of each day's itinerary. She explained
that the difference between a tourist and a hitch hiker is about
5 minutes, so don't be late returning to the train. She also gave
us the Lead Tour Director's cell phone number in case there was a
problem. We were urged to wear our name badge all the time for
security and meal service off the train while on tours.
Gratuities are handled off the train by AOE. Onboard it is
suggested that we tip $15 per person per day. This goes into a
kitty for all the staff except AOE Tour Leaders, which we should tip
This first day there will be a champagne reception in both the
(mid-train) Seattle Club Car (with piano) and the (end-of-train) New
York Club Car. They were doing a photo shoot for a new brochure,
so we all signed a model release. The brochure would reflect a
new name for the AOE, and/or a new owner.
AOE has five-course dinners. The train is 1/4 mile long.
"Stable" (not moving) the first night here in Savannah.
Newspapers are provided in the club car each day that we are stable.
We had two Genesis engines, PD42DCs #145 and 198, made in Sept. and
Oct. 2001 respectively. Between the engines and the guest cars were
four cars for the crew: Los Angeles, for supplies; Yellowstone
Park and Tallahassee for crew quarters; Monterey, crew diner.
A second employee who I was impressed
with was our Porter, Gregg. He attended to our every need plus
providing services above and beyond the call of duty. For
instance, we had the smallest room and could find no place to store our
empty suitcases, even though we had brought the suggested size.
We discovered that under the sofa in our room there were drawers rather
than a place to store our suitcases. Gregg, sensing our dilemma,
offered to take our empty bags to an usused cabin and store them
there. This made our room much more enjoyable. Gregg even
took our off-train purchases and put them in the empty bags.
Upon our return from the day excursions, porters were always assigned
to meet us at the vestibules. It was always like returning home
when we saw Gregg's smiling face. After all guests were back on
board, he would come to our cabin and ask if we needed anything.
We asked for soft drinks the first time and he remembered our order and
each time we returned from a day of touring, there would be our drinks
with a glass of ice on white linen on our table! Sue
discovered that she had left her hair dryer at home. Gregg had said
over and over, "Do you need anything?" So we thought, "Why
not." Sure enough, Gregg found us a brand new hair dryer!
He was well versed in the traditional duties of a porter as well, such
as preparing our room for sleep, making up the room while we were at
breakfast, holding the door as we passed from car to car, and
having a pleasant greeting if we met him in other cars on the
train. He was, as were other employees, knowledgeable and
about the areas in which the train parked, such as local drug stores,
internet access, and attractions.
I suggest that you wear long sleeves
since the public cars seem to always be cool. The work staff does
not notice the coolness because they are warm from working so
hard. Take a jacket on excursions. In Savannah we were in
an open trolley bus and sped out of town to Bonaventure Cemetery,
returing at 5:30, and it was very windy and cool at freeway speeds in
the open vehicle.
In your rail car, while moving, if you hear a lot of rail noise at
night: close the sink drain and be sure the shower door is closed.