Jimmy Magahern | Sep 3, 2013, 9:29 a.m.
“At the end, you get to see the Grand Canyon,” Moore says.
Even that experience is often outdone by the transportation, where passengers choose from five classes of service, ranging from the railway’s lovingly rebuilt (and green electricity-powered) Pullman cars in coach to a restored Northern Pacific Railways’ “Vista Dome” glass-ceilinged observation car in first class.
“The train itself is the star,” says Moore. “Trains are the romance of the West. Growing up, we watched them in the movies, read about them in the stories of Louis L’Amour, and learned about their importance in the settling of the West.”
These days, Moore doesn’t play marshal every day along the railway. He has other actors in his charge roaming the boxcars when he needs time to run the city, or his Williams theme park, Wild West Junction.
But every so often, when he hears that whistle blow, Moore will hop a ride onboard the train that circles his community like a treasured Lionel scale model wrapped around a Christmas tree, delivering 225,000 passengers every year to its life-sustaining tourist economy, particularly during its hugely popular Polar Express holiday runs.
“I don’t know if it’s the scenery or the sound of the rails, or the delight at seeing another person, whether a senior citizen or a kid, get excited over being on a train,” he says. “But I can just go through the train trip and get reinvigorated. It never gets stale.”
When JoAnn LaRussa booked a ride onboard the Amtrak train from Arizona to Texas last year to attend her grandson’s wedding, she wasn’t choosing rail travel for its romantic Western flavor or old Americana appeal.
“Well, it was cheaper,” she says, with a laugh.
LaRussa, a New York City transplant whose previous association with trains came mostly from riding the Manhattan subways in her youth (“I did that every day of the week, for years—spent many a day on the choo-choos of New York City!”) choose rail travel for the same reason a record number of travelers, particularly those over 50, are turning to trains. Like many experienced travelers, LaRussa has simply grown sick and tired of the airlines.
“I do love flying, I love to travel,” she stresses. “But flying commercially has gotten to be a real drag nowadays. Because of the lack of space and all the extra fees and the TSA pat-downs and everything. So when I heard my grandson was getting married, I decided to take the train.”
What LaRussa discovered was a kind of anti-airline, where everything travelers have come to despise about air travel has yet to be invented. For starters, it was a breeze getting through security.
“There wasn’t any!” LaRussa says. “I carried my bags on. I had a large suitcase on wheels and was allowed to just bring it with me.”
Then there was her seating arrangement, which LaRussa describes first setting eyes on with an almost cinematic sense of awe.
“When I got on the train, I saw I had two wide seats to myself, so I was able to spread out. There was plenty of legroom—foot rests, even!—and I was able to leave my luggage right in front of me. The food was good, but you could also bring anything you wanted on there, food or drink. There was a couple that brought some fried chicken on!”