Published: January 11, 2023
By: Adam Burns
In terms of railroads, Missouri was a unique place. From St. Louis, one had the ability to board first-class trains in all directions for direct service to Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington/Baltimore, and all major cities in Texas.
If one was a train enthusiast in the immediate post-World War II era they were treated to an eclectic display of trains and company colors calling at St. Louis Union Station; names like the Texas Eagle, Colorado Eagle, National Limited, Penn Texas, City of New Orleans (connection), Abraham Lincoln, Ann Rutledge, Texas Special, Spirit of St. Louis, Southwestern Limited, and many more.
Most of these trains served meals which rivaled the very best restaurants found in the largest cities across the country. Today, Missouri is home to a handful of heritage railroads that attempt to recreate this experience by providing high quality dinners within restored rail cars from the mid-20th century.
The information below highlights these locations. Perhaps the best known is the popular Branson Scenic Railway in the vacation town of Branson that attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. Both inside, and out, the railroad is a first-class affair!
The Belton, Grandview and Kansas City Railroad (BG&KC) does not feature full service meals aboard their trains. However, they do offer "Ice Cream Specials" a few times during the summer season where visitors can enjoy a bowl of ice cream during their trip.
The history of the BG&KC can be traced back to the Smoky Hill Railway & Historical Society that was formed in 1964. The organization formed the railroad, and moved to its current location, during the first half of the 1990s.
The heritage line utilizes about 5 miles of the former St. Louis-San Francisco Railway's ("Frisco") High Line, one of two corridors the company operated between Springfield, Missouri and Kansas City.
The BG&KC maintains what remains of this route from East Cambridge Road (just south of Belton) to Arnold Avenue (just north of Belton). The remainder of line north of that point is still intact to Grandview and still in operation for freight service.
While the organization owns Okmulgee Northern 2-8-0 #5, Frisco 2-10-0 #1632, a little Plymouth industrial switcher, excursions are pulled behind a former Chesapeake & Ohio GP9 that currently carries #102 and painted in faded blue, white, and yellow colors. The locomotive was built as C&O #6142 in 1956.
The popular Branson Scenic Railway features a 40-mile round trip on their excursion, which includes a dinner train option during the operating season from April through October. The dinner trains run on Saturdays and depart at 5 p.m. Your meal is four courses, enjoyed amid candlelight.
The heritage railroad operates on tracks owned by freight carrier Missouri & Northern Arkansas between Galena and Self, Missouri.
Depending on which line the railroad takes round-trips are usually 40 miles in length and last nearly two hours. While you might not think so, because the railroad operates through Missouri's Ozark mountains the line passes through and over several tunnels and bridges.
Overall the railroad is quite scenic and well worth the trip through a region sometimes forgotten for its beauty and ruggedness due to its location in the Midwest.
The Branson Scenic's fabulous equipment also lends to its popularity. Trains are typically pulled by a streamlined F9PH locomotive, #89, that was originally built as Baltimore & Ohio F7A #369 in 1951 (also used is a GP30, #99, that was built as Baltimore & Ohio #6973 in 1963).
In addition, their cars are some of the best available; all but one date to the immediate postwar period and all were constructed during the streamlined era. Most were built by the Budd Company and operated as part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's "Zephyr" fleet. Three are dome cars, offering visitors maximum viewing of the Ozark Mountains.
The St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern (StLIM&S) offers a 6-mile round-trip excursion through the rolling, open countryside of southeastern Missouri. They offer several specials throughout the year, some of which include dining and/or food such as the Chocolate Express, Murder Mystery Dinner Train, and the Chuck Wagon Dinner Train on select evenings.
The StLIM&S name harkens back to an actual railroad of the same name that was originally formed in the 1870s. It later became part of the Missouri Pacific system. The heritage railroad maintains about 3 miles of the former MP's Jackson Branch, running from Jackson to just north of Gordonville for a 6-mile round trip.
Their season begins in each April and through November. Trains depart from a replica depot in Jackson and are led by a restored Pennsylvania Railroad E8A, #5898-A, that has been repainted in original PRR colors. The streamlined locomotive was originally completed in March, 1951.