by | Sep 1, 2010 | Community, Features

Story by Bill Pollard

In August 2010, one of the newer additions to the Russellville Railroad Historic District celebrated its 80th birthday. It’s not one of the many historic structures, but rather the “green” passenger car located near Stoby’s Depot & Restaurant. This car now serves as the unique headquarters for ABOUT The River Valley Magazine, and was recently featured in Remember the Rock, a national magazine which specializes in the history of railroading’s golden era.
This car was built by the fabled Pullman Car & Manufacturing Company and delivered in August 1930, one of only six such cars purchased by the Rock Island Railroad. In that era, travel meant trains, and a variety of accommodations were offered to passengers, ranging from utilitarian coach seats to sleeping cars with individual staterooms. Parlor car service was provided on premier trains, offering first class accommodations for daytime travel.

Russellville’s “green” passenger car began its service as Rock Island parlor car number 3505, operating between Chicago and Peoria, Illinois. This service was heavily patronized by businessmen traveling back and forth to Chicago; somewhat comparable to those who today choose to pay extra for first class airline seating.
For frequent train riders, the most popular seats in parlor 3505 were the 24 revolving seats in the main area of the car, each providing extra comfort and much more space than comparable coach seating. The car also included a drawing room, a private stateroom seating six people, and equipped with a table which could be used for a business meeting or, more frequently, a poker game among some of the regular riders.

At the time that car 3505 was built, air- conditioning was a rarity on passenger trains, but in 1935, Rock Island’s fleet of parlor cars was air-conditioned in response to growing public demand for more comfort while traveling. This car continued to operate between Chicago and Peoria until 1937, when the Rock Island Railroad inaugurated the Peoria Rocket, a new diesel powered, streamlined train. The Rocket’s arrival allowed several of the 3500 series parlor cars to be shifted to a longer route, operating between Chicago and Des Moines.

Of greater interest to Arkansans, two of the 3500 series parlor cars were assigned in 1937 to the Hot Springs Limited, the Rock Island Railroad’s premier train operating between Memphis, Little Rock andHotSprings.TheHotSpringsLimited made close connections at Memphis Grand Central Station with Illinois Central trains to and from Chicago, and the route became a favorite of Chicago underworld figures traveling between Chicago and the vacation spot of Hot Springs National Park.

By the late 1940s, older “heavyweight” passenger cars were gradually being replaced by newer streamlined cars. At the same time, passenger train service was being consolidated as government subsidized highways replaced passenger trains as the public’s favored mode of travel. The Hot Springs Limited was discontinued in January 1949, and along with it, the last full parlor car route on the Rock Island.
Like most railroads, the Rock Island was very frugal in reusing surplus equipment, and the 3500 series parlor cars were no exception. Parlor car 3505 was converted to instruction car 1815 in 1951. As an instruction car, this car traveled the Rock Island system as a mobile classroom, with a rules examiner lecturing railroad employees on the book of rules and operating trains in a safe manner.

In 1966, instruction car 1815 was sent to the Rock Island’s large shop complex at Silvis, Illinois, for another conversion. This time, the car was remodeled for work train service, being renumbered as Maintenance of Way car 95047 in the process. In work train service, this car was used as the food car on a wreck train – a train which was kept ready to go, with a crew to clear derailments when they occurred.
The unusual journey of this car continued as it was moved to the railroad’s Biddle shops in south Little Rock in 1979. By this time, the Rock Island was under the control of a bankruptcy judge, and in early 1980, the railroad was ordered to be liquidated. Rock Island freight train service in Arkansas ended with the passage of the last Rock Island train through Ola late in the evening of March 29, 1980. Several bankruptcy auctions were held at points along the Rock Island, and Russellville businessman John Harris subsequently purchased this car in an October 1981 auction held at Biddle. Harris purchased a total of four passenger cars at the auction, reselling one and moving the other three to Russellville.

Two of these passenger cars served as various restaurants before becoming part of Stoby’s Depot and Restaurant about 1984. The third car, the original parlor car 3505, underwent a careful interior restoration, and now serves as the headquarters of ABOUT the River Valley Magazine. The history of this car is tied to both the Rock Island Railroad and to Arkansas’ colorful history of Hot Springs. Because of this, the car is quite significant from a historical perspective, and has become a point of interest for those who enjoy history or heritage tourism.

Of the original six Pullman built parlor cars acquired by the Rock Island, only the 3505 has survived to the present day.
Additional information on this car, or on the other cars used by Stoby’s Restaurant, can be found in Remember the Rock magazine, Volume 6 number 1, 2010, www.


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