Sesquicentennial committee hopes to bring railroad dining car to Johnson City for 150th anniversary

Zach Vance • Sep 11, 2018 at 6:59 PM

The Sesquicentennial History and Railroad Committee is looking into the logistics of bringing a railroad dining car to Johnson City as one way to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary in 2019. 

The panel met Tuesday to discuss the idea of leasing The Moultrie WATX 400 lightweight dining car from the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, based in Jonesborough.

The committee hopes to get the dining car to Johnson City for an unspecified period of time and sell tickets for nightly dinners, with proceeds going to the local railroad society. 

“They’ve had (dinners aboard the dining car) before down at Jonesborough. I took my kids on the one coming here, and we’ve gone to the ones in Jonesborough, and it’s just fun for the family,” History and Railroad Committee Chairman Chuck Mohler said. 

Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said the city would need to contact Norfolk Southern Railroad about ferrying the dining car from Jonesborough to Johnson City and back.

According to Mike Tilley, president of the Watagua Valley Railroad Historical Society, the freight charge for moving the dining car seven miles from Johnson City to Jonesborough is $2,001. In total, the cost for getting the car to Johnson City could be as much as $4,002. 

Once a specific date is set for getting the dining car to Johnson City, Stahl said he plans to file a formal request from the city to Norfolk Southern officials to see if the freight charge could either be reduced or waived altogether. 

Mohler also had another idea.

Tilley said the dining car will be leased to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina, through May 9. Since the car would have to come through Johnson City on its way back to Jonesborough, Mohler said the committee could look into having the car dropped off en route, therefore only having to pay for a one-way trip back to Jonesborough. 

“They’ll be talking to see when that car is coming back here. So if it’s coming back here and we could get it that weekend, if that’s available, then hopefully at least some of that cost would be negated,” Mohler said.

According to the Watauga Valley Railroad Society’s website, The Moultrie is one of 10 dining cars produced by Pullman-Standard in 1950. The 36-seat Moultrie was originally owned by Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and operated on New York to Miami trains until 1971. 

With the formation of Amtrak, the diner continued Florida service until 1981 when Amtrak sold the car to a short-line dinner train operation in Virginia. In 1989, the Watauga Valley chapter purchased the car and completely upgraded the mechanical system to Amtrak standards and fully renovated the interior. 

“The dining area has been refurbished in an elegant manner while keeping dependability, quality, and comfort as key objectives. Convenience of modern day food preparation and service was also kept in mind during the restoration project. The climate control heating and air conditioning system maintains a comfortable environment inside the car,” the Watauga Valley Railroad Society’s website states. 

“Dining in the Moultrie is a unique experience enhanced by the matched china, crystal, silverware and table linen supplied with the diner. The kitchen is fully equipped with all the necessary cooking utensils, pots, and pans for complete dinner preparation for groups several times larger than the seating capacity of the diner.”



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