"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.
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Go-To Man of Private Railroading
Bill 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
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,
the third day, locked in their room crying."
Connie, 3 yrs. with Cincinnati Railway.
Another issue is limited capacity for food and beverage
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:
Bill is changing his menus on the Birch Grove from meat, cheese,
and potatoes, to the fresher, cleaner flavors of vegetables and organic
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
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.
Bill's small galley in The
where he prepares those attractive and delictios
He is looking forward to shopping and making up menus when we
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
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
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