September 16, 2014

Train ride treats diners to the past

Bruce Eveland, center, owns the Kansas Dinner Belle train. He acts as conductor and host of the dinner rides.  Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Bruce Eveland, center, owns the Kansas Dinner Belle train. He acts as conductor and host of the dinner rides. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
The Kansas Dinner Belle isn’t just a meal. It’s a time warp that transports diners back in time on a 1940s train adventure.
The dinner train ran for several years in Fremont, Neb., before relocating to Baldwin City, Kan. The dinner train opened for business in January 2013.
The train’s owner, Bruce Eveland, serves as conductor during weekend dinner runs. Dressed as a train host or concierge, Eveland said he hopes the train will take people back to the elegant 1940s.
“More people road the trains in 1944, than in any other year,” he said.
Diners board the train for a three or five course meal at the Midland Railway Station. Eveland, dressed as conductor, checks their dinner reservations rather than taking a ticket. The four-car train begins its 11-mile-per hour amble to a station just five blocks from Ottawa.
Eveland, who operated the train in Nebraska, said he’d long considered moving the rail-dining experience to Baldwin City, but Kansas law prohibited the sale of alcohol in rolling restaurants. With a law change in 2012, the restaurant on the rails was free to move from Nebraska to Kansas.
The move itself took some work. Unable to move the train by well, train track, Eveland moved his four rail cars on the back of trucks.
Baldwin City already boasted a Midland Railway, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the memory of train travel.
Through a partnership with the organization, Eveland said the Kansas Dinner Belle Train leases the Midland rail line and locomotive engineers for its for-profit enterprise.
The dining experience aboard the Kansas Dinner Belle Train is a leisurely meal. The round-trip train ride takes more than three hours, during which riders are treated to a  meal.
TerriLois Gregory, marketing manager, said it’s a delicate dinner service as wait staff and caterers traverse moving locomotive.
“It’s a ballet,” she said. “It’s pretty packed with these narrow aisles.”
The train makes two trips per week, serving a more romantic five-course meal on Saturday evenings and a more casual, three course meal on Sunday afternoons. It runs year round.
Diners also have the option of viewing a show while on board. Actors from Theatre Lawrence present USO Shows, murder mysteries and melodramas during the trip.
Although diners who don’t decide to check-out an onboard show have plenty to see just outside their window.
Eveland said he’d like to add a Friday night run as well as fresh themes to the line-up. Already, the dinner train hosts a high tea once each quarter and special dinners for Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Eveland would like to add wine tasting and other seasonal events to the schedule.
When the dinner train arrives at its final destination, diners do not disembark. Instead, the locomotion decouples and reattaches to take the train cars back to Baldwin City.
“We’re not going from town to town,” Eveland said. “This is to show people what traveling on rail or rail dining was like 60 to 70 years ago. If you travel Amtrak today, and go back to the diner, it’s not quite the experience it once was.”
In addition to regularly scheduled runs, the train is available for private parties, weddings and sales dinners.
For more information about the Kansas Dinner Belle train, visit www.KansasBelle.com.

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