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Part 1

"Rails to Sails"

Riding The Cincinnati Railway Company's Private Railcars to the AAPRCO Convention

Traveling from Chicago, Illinois, to San Pedro, California,  September 16 - 19, 2008.


Chef Bill


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The Go-To Man of Private Railroading

IMG_5418.jpgBill Hoeffer of Convington, KY, is more than a Chef.  I'd call him more than a Train Master as well.  But wait, he also operates a small Hotel on wheels,  including Guest Relations and Property Management.  Whatever the title, Bill is the go-to man when AAPRCO members in the same consist of private cars have a question related to any of these many areas of expertise.  In fact, there are only 4 or 5 in the country who do this expansive work.

For instance, on this trip a car lost  the air that operates the toilets.  He pulled out his black book of phone numbers of people who know this type of thing and with the help of another car owner, were able to trouble shoot it as we were traveling and by the time we had a 10-minute stop, they "Got Out and Got Under" and fixed the problem.

Bill works with Cincinnati Railway full time and free-lances on other AAPRCO trips when he does not have a trip with them.  He started as Chef with Brian and CRW on a weekend trip.  He followed with other weekend trips and finally took the job full time.

Bill has 34 years experience and has been with Cincinnati Railway since 2001.     He is certified through American Culinary Federation (ACF) whose home office is in Orlando, FL.  Of course, the railroad experience has come through working with other Chefs in AAPRCO who have similar duties that Bill now has.

Railcar Management Issues

"Organization is the greatest skill needed for this job.  For instance, if you are stopping in a dry town, don't plan on buying alcoholic beverages, you must already have that from a previous town."

Finding servers/cleaners who can serve 16-plus people per trip plus maintain rooms and public areas and work from 5 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. is not an easy task.  Too many who apply for the job think of it as a vacation.  In fact, because of its seasonal nature, one needs to have a full-time job to maintain the essentials of food, clothing, and housing, and just do this as work during your time off from your full-time job.  Many times, Bill says, he finds a new employee, "After the third day, locked in their room crying."

Connie, 3 yrs. with Cincinnati Railway.

Another issue is limited capacity for food and beverage storage.  That is why, when you call Chef Bill in a lay-over city, or city where the cars are being transferred from one Amtrak Line to another, Bill will be out shopping for the next segment of the trip.

Even with the limited storage and fresh food purchases, enough must be on hand for the times when car owners invite dinner guests for an evening meal. Or, when the train is delayed so much that an additional meal must be added that was not in the itinerary.

With that said, look at samples of the meals we had in The Observatory, all made in the very small galley kitchen:

Just like a fine B & B, Chef Bill puts out delicious surprises at mid-afternoon.  This appeared in Truckee, CA.
Lamb Shank dinner.

Bill is changing his menus on the Birch Grove from meat, cheese, and potatoes, to the fresher, cleaner flavors of vegetables and organic products.

He prides himself in improving and refreshing his skills and areas of expertise.  For instance, the Cincinnati Railway is having an increased number of  Italian and Japanese clients, so he has taken courses in those areas including sushi.

When Bill was interviewed for a magazine article, and asked what he liked about working for the Cincinnati Railway Company, in addition to saying he worked for great people and a great company, he added that he liked being able to go fly fishing in the Rio Grande in the morning, and trout fishing in the Colorado river on the same day.

IMG_5470.jpg  IMG_5471.jpg

Bill's small galley in The Observatory where he prepares those attractive and delictios meals.

He is looking forward to shopping and making up menus when we arrive in California.  I asked if he had any seafood on the menu, and he said, "Oh yes, Fresh Snapper or Groper with Lobster Sauce." He will also include lots of vegetables, pears, etc.

I noticed that he was, in some cases, preparing different things for different guests, so I asked how he knew this.  He said communication between him and guests provide the food alergies they might have, etc.  For instance, one evening we were to have lamb, and one guest didn't like lamb, so he was quietly preparing chicken for that guest.  Since repeat business is a big part of the clientel of each Private Car, he knows about specific guests from previous trips.

Another job that Chef Bill has is security on the train and safety of the guests.  For instance, in Oakland where we were stable for the night between the California Zephyr and the Coast Starlight, in the morning I saw Bill reboard our car saying, "Some guests from one of the other private cars was out 'stretching their legs' and he politely told them, you cannot get off your car here. "  Then he added that one guest getting off the car in a yard like this could get all the private cars in the consist in trouble.

I asked about graffiti, he said they have a solvent that, if caught within 6 hrs, cleans it right off.

Usually, at the first meal on a trip, there is a Safety Meeting.  On this particular trip, except for me, all guests are past riders, so the meeting at our first meal was simply a "Welcome Aboard" by Owner Brian.


Chef Bill (right) during a rare moment of sightseeing in the dome, talking with The Observatory owner, Tom McOwen.

Sample table setting in The Observatory during Car Party Night in San Pedro, CA.
Guests enjoying drinks in The Observatory during Car Party Night in San Pedro, CA.

[ Next:  AAPRCO Welcome Reception ]

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