McCloud River Railroad : Passenger Operations

Shasta Sunset Dinner Train

The Shasta Sunset Dinner Train operated for thirteen and a half years and became a centerpiece of McCloud's efforts to transition from a sawmill town to an upper scale tourist destination. Several bed and breakfast operations oepened around the same time, most notably the old McCloud Hotel across the street from the depot. The dinner train launched in June 1996 using two former Illinois Central heavyweight passenger cars that had been renovated for the service in the McCloud shops. The new operation got a huge boost almost immediately when Malcolm Glover, a McCloud native who had become a popular reporter in San Francisco, penned a glowing review of the dinner train in one of the city's papers. The railroad almost immediately purchased three more cars, two more former Illinois Central heavyweights and a former Milwaukee Road coach; the heavyweights allowed the dinner train to expand from one to four cars within a year, and the railroad installed a generator to provide house power, a small gift shop, and a lounge area in the former Milwaukee car. In 1998 the railroad bought another three former Illinois Central heavyweight coaches, one of which the road converted into a depot for the dinner train while the shops rebuilt the other two into state of the art dancing cars.

The dinner train operated Saturday nights throughout the year, with a dancing car used during the winter months and an open air flat during the summers. Operations expanded to Thursday and Friday nights through the summers, with the Thursday runs usually featuring some sort of a theme such as a melodrama or western music. The dinner train would also run special trains throughout the year for events such as Valentines Day, Mother's Day, July 4th, and a New Year's Eve Party Train. In the first years the train would alternate between the lines east and west of McCloud, but by the early 2000s declining track conditions east of town limited operations to the Mt. Shasta line.

The dinner train almost completely supported the continued operations of the McCloud Railway after most freight operations ceased in 2006. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, especially as the effects of the Great Recession became more pronounced. Ridership, which had hovered at or above 15,000 people per year, plummeted to only 8,000 people in 2008, and by the middle months of 2009 the railroad projected only 6,500 people would show up that year. The company announced the dinner train would cease operations after the New Years Eve party train, but a spike in demand from those wanting one last ride prompted the railroad to add several more trips, and the final dinner train operated on Saturday, 16 January 2010.

Riding the Dinner Train: A photo essay by Peter and Karen Ely

2004 New Years Eve Train Photos by Roger Titus

The front and back of early dinner train tickets.

Tickets in the later years had route information; this covered the trip west from McCloud.

The back of tickets for the line east of McCloud.

The 2001 Mother's Day special behind the #38 posed on the Big Canyon Fill. Roger Titus photo.

Sunset from McIntosh Vista in August 1997. Sean Zwagerman photo.

A short train in late winter around 2001. Roger Titus photo.

The dinner train backing through Pierce. Jeff Moore photo.

The steam locomotives, especially the #18, would occassionally pull a dinner train on weekends they were otherwise steamed up for a special excursion. Roger Titus photo.

The dinner train departing McCloud in May 2004. George Landrock photo.

A dinner train in a heavy snowfall in December 2001 required a plow, seen here at Signal Butte. Roger Titus photo.

A dinner train passing two derailed chip cars in September 2002, not long before the train stopped operating east of McCloud. Roger Titus photo.

An Easter special at Big Canyon on 19 April 2003. Roger Titus photo.

The dinner train preparing for departure in May 2007. Jeff Moore photo.

The dinner train in the tail track at Signal Butte in May 2007. Jeff Moore photo.

A special charter run of the dinner train at Wagon Camp Road crossing in June 2008. Jeff Moore photo.

The old generator in the former Milwaukee Road coach failed near the end of operations, and for the last several months a leased generator placed on the open air flatcar provided the house power. Lee A. Christopher photograph.