Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kansas Belle on track for Baldwin City opening

Ira Schreiber, a member of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train ownership team, climbs down Monday from the first of the business' dining cars to arrive at Midland Railway's Baldwin City yard. The owners hope to have the dinner train operating late this year.

Ira Schreiber, a member of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train ownership team, climbs down Monday from the first of the business' dining cars to arrive at Midland Railway's Baldwin City yard. The owners hope to have the dinner train operating late this year.

November 15, 2012

Monday morning in a rock quarry north of Ottawa, a crane operator gently picked a 75-foot red dining car from the back of a semitrailer to place on two sets of wheel assemblies already on railroad tracks.

The car was pulled later in the day to Midland Railway’s Baldwin City yard, where it will be part of what is now called the Kansas Belle Dinner Train.

The use of the quarry site for the transfer was the latest adjustment the owners of the dinner train made to move their business from Fremont, Neb., to Baldwin City’s Midland Railway. Last week, they found there wasn’t enough room at the Baldwin City yard to transfer the first car, a 65-foot-long baggage car equipped with a generator that powers the dining cars when on the move, from its carriage behind a semitrailer to the railroad tracks.

All went well Monday, and Bob Eveland, manager and co-owner of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train, is hopeful that the remaining inventory of five dining cars and one caboose can be moved by Thanksgiving to Baldwin City and operating on Midland Railway’s 21-mile line in time to salvage some of the holiday season.

“I’d like to be operating at least part of December,” Eveland said. “That’s an important month.”

Eveland started exploring the move to Midland Railway more than a year ago out of concern the Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad, a 15-mile excursion line that had been the dinner train’s home for 24 years, might not be properly maintained with its recent sale.

“It’s taken this long,” he said. “When we started talking, Midland Railway was at a point they felt it would enhance their overall financial operation and provide their customers with more options.

“We needed a place to live. The scenery is good. The railroad is in good shape. The location is good.”

Although the uncertain future of the Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad prompted the move, Eveland also thinks the dinner car business will benefit from moving from a site dependent on the Omaha and Lincoln markets to one that taps into the Kansas City metropolitan area.

“It’s fair to say it’s a superior location,” he said. “At the same time, we’re close enough we think customers we’ve had over the years will find a good reason to come down to Kansas.”

The dinner train was at its peak before the recession; more than 10,000 tickets a year were sold for the experience that included a ride and meal on its four primary dining cars.

Eveland isn’t alone in anticipating tourists will find their way to the dinner train. The Baldwin City Council and the Douglas County Commission have helped bankroll the move because of that potential.

Midland Railway officials are also excited about the prospect of the dinner train adding to the 20,000 visitors it draws annually. The railway will receive payment from the dinner train for the use of its tracks and locomotive, but the Kansas Belle also will showcase a side of railroading history Midland Railway hasn’t been able to offer, said Mike Fox, president of the Midland Railway Historical Association.

“It’s another leg on the stool,” he said. “It will enable people to see scenic parts of Douglas and Franklin counties from a dining car — a part of railroad history that I don’t think is offered anywhere else in Kansas.”

The Midland Railway’s Sunday excursion train schedule would need to be tweaked next spring, but there would be no real conflicts with its existing late morning and afternoon trips on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays with that of the Kansas Belle, Fox said.

Eveland said the plan was for the Kansas Belle to duplicate the dinner train’s Nebraska schedule with Friday and Saturday evening runs and early afternoon Sunday trips. The Friday and Saturday trips will feature five-course meals. Formal attire is encouraged. Sunday outings are more informal, geared for families, with children’s menus available.

“It will be from the low- to mid-$60 range for the evening meal,” Eveland said. “Sundays are a little less.”

Meals on cars offering entertainment will cost more. As in Nebraska, customers will have the option of buying tickets on cars featuring mysteries, melodramas, recreations of World War II USO shows and other musical offerings, Eveland said.

Unlike the Midland Railway, which runs seasonally from April though November, the heated and air-conditioned dinner cars run 12 months a year. Eveland said it wasn’t yet known, though, whether the three-day a week scheduled would be maintained in the coldest, post-holiday months.

The Kansas Belle Dinner Train would hire roughly 15 part-time employees as waiters, bartenders, office clerks and custodians, Eveland said. It will also provide work for the caterer, who prepares the meals for the 70 people who purchase tickets for each trip, he said.

“We’re working on that,” he said. “I’m coming down this week to start getting that in place.”

Comments

Beth Bird 2 years, 1 month ago

$60.00 for dinner - per person?? Absolutely not! I hope you market this well to people who are willing to spend that to eat and come to Baldwin. Good luck....

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hyperinflate 2 years, 1 month ago

Go ahead and mark this prediction by hyperinflate -- they'll be trucking out the rail cars by no later than March 2014 as payment for debts owed.

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Highstreet 2 years, 1 month ago

Hi, hyperinflate. I like to wager. For Money. Mainly on NFL games and thoroughbred horses. I like sure things so I'd like to mark your prediction. Would you like to put your money where your keyboard is?

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1776attorney 2 years, 1 month ago

While I am generally not in favor of these type of taxpayer funded financings of private ventures or city-built industrial parks, the city is very minimally exposed here and it's a done deal. I might have been hard to convince to vote for this, but now that it is a fait accompli, let's make it work.

I say let's give these gentlemen some encouragement and support to make this a success for them and everyone in town. I have met the guys involved and they are train enthusiasts and genuinely want to offer all of us a great benefit.

Reading all this sniping and the negative comments in the Signal and LJ World is not a "welcome mat" for the risks they are taking to benefit all of us too.

Their target market is the surrounding populations within 250 miles. That encompasses a very large potential customer base that is comfortable spending $60 for a good meal and trip. And those folks will spend additional dollars in the area and provide employment for our community.

Keep in mind they ran a successful and profitable operation in Nebraska for 24 years. Part of the reason they needed financial assistance coming here was the short time frame they had to make decisions and move the equipment.

Those that complain about the shortness of the current track system should realize that as the system adds equipment and income the track system can grow and improve. Although there would be huge obstacles, a rebuilding of the tracks to Lawrence through the Vinland Valley would be great someday.

I intend to keep an open mind, refrain from criticism and give these guys their opportunity to show us what they got without insulting them upfront.

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solo 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree with 1776. I welcome this new business and the jobs they are bringing to Baldwin. I commend the entrepreneurial spirit and I personally look forward to having a wonderful evening aboard the Kansas Belle ---hopefully this holiday season. YOu are a welcome addition to our community. I also want to thank Mr. Eveland for sprucing up one of the ugliest buildings on the highway (old Cool Cat liquor store). Again, welcome to Baldwin City and I wish you the best of luck! mr. E, please stop reading at this point.

Now.....as a side note to hyper, happypill and all the other naysayers that infest Baldwin city here's a newsflash for you: You folks are not the target market for this business. Nope. If any business in Baldwin had to soley depend on the citizens of BC to make it they would fold. I could list a dozen of them that have folded if you need examples. This dinner train is targeting KC and the JOCO area who have a wealth (pun intended) of folks who are more than willing and able to spend $60 bucks for an evening's entertainment...AND they are willing to drive a bit of distance to do it. Ask Stony Point Hall or Dunn's Landing where the bulk of their business is coming from.....it ain't Baldwin City.You all should be doing cartwheels that we can get some of JOCO bucks into our little berg instead of poo-pooing and idea and a business that is taking a risk and making an effort. Shame on all of you.

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hyperinflate 2 years, 1 month ago

Solo,

It probably comes as quite second nature for you to speak in such idealistic terms, being one of the upper echelon of BC. Not everyone can claim to be an owner of a tractor dealership. So it's fine that you may wish to have a business that caters to the 1%, whether in BC or pulling in from Johnson County or elsewhere. The rest of us, who simply can't pony up for a $60 per plate dinner on any given Friday night, have a rightful say to be skeptical, if not outright in opposition to the City granting our tax dollars to such an endeavor. The amount of money spent on the City coffers on this flight of fancy may be almost pocket change to you, but let's face it, if $15,000 were put even toward signage on the highways to let people know there was a little "berg" out here on 56 highway with a nice university, beautiful small town charm, and neighborhoods that provided walkability to the post office and grocery store it would be a FAR BETTER investment (in my humble, but working-class opinion) than providing you with yet another opportunity to lavish yourself in faux opulence that those of us (who you so readily cast your aspersions upon) will never be able to know.

h

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Nathaniel Johnson 2 years, 1 month ago

I would like to thank everyone for doxing each other and I would encourage you to continue it. Now would someone tell me who hyperinflate is in real life - also Torch for that matter. As for the new business, I can't see how this could be bad for the city. Win or loose, we win. 15K is a trivial expense just for the advertising our community will receive from the opening of this business. I also expect that there is a built in clientele within the community, namely that of Baker student's parents and alumni that might stay and make an evening of their visits here.

Now a stunning achievement would be if Feaster's Rogue Apron would actually succeed. I feel like trying it out but, well.... I'll wait and ask hyperinflate once I have a real name to work with.

Nathaniel A. Johnson (I'm in the phone book) gruyere.emmentaler@gmail.com

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straightforward 2 years, 1 month ago

Mr. johnson: My first dining experience at antonucci's was great and I recommend it. And before anyone makes an assumption, no, I have no vested interest in seeing it succeed, other than the interest we should all have in seeing all of Baldwin's businesses succeed.

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