Sioux Chief Traintel (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2016.
(This is a work in progress; research continues.)
In the summer of 1963, Verl Thomson (sometimes misspelled as Verle Thompson) of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, opened what was called the Sioux Chief Traintel, a railroad theme roadside motel that used four retired passenger cars. The four cars were:
- Civic Center (4 Compartments, 2 Drawing Rooms, 4 Double Bedrooms, built in July 1941)
- Hunters Point (4 Compartments, 2 Drawing Rooms, 4 Double Bedrooms; built in June 1941) (name changed from Arcadia)
- Montgomery Street (48-seat Chair Car; built in July 1941)
- Rose Bowl (18 Roomettes; built in December 1937)
A fifth car, Rincon Hill (10 Roomettes, 6 Bedrooms), was added in 1966.
The Sioux Chief Traintel was located on the south side of 12th Street (South Dakota Route 42, former U. S. 16), just west of the I-29 interchange. The site is currently  occupied by the Tower Campground.
Before Sioux Falls
Arcadia -- Built in June 1941 as part of the 7th Train (City of Los Angeles); sold to C&NW on December 31, 1945 and leased back to Pullman for operation, still in COSF service; C&NW participation in UP-SP-C&NW Joint Ownership pool ended in October 1955, and car removed from COSF service; repainted by Pullman to Illinois Central brown and orange November 1957, car assigned to the Panama Limited; leased ended and returned to C&NW on September 6, 1960; retired by C&NW on September 22, 1960.
Civic Center -- Built in July 1941 as part of the 10th Train (City of San Francisco); sold to C&NW on December 31, 1945, leased to Pullman for operation, remained in COSF service; C&NW participation in UP-SP-C&NW Joint Ownership pool ended in October 1955, and car removed from COSF service; repainted by Pullman to two-tone gray in January 1956, car assigned to general Pullman pool; lease ended on June 1, 1960, returned to C&NW; retired by C&NW on July 18, 1960.
Hunters Point -- Built in July 1941 as part of the 10th Train (City of San Francisco); sold to C&NW on December 31, 1945, leased to Pullman for operation, remained in COSF service; C&NW participation in UP-SP-C&NW Joint Ownership pool ended in October 1955, and car removed from COSF service; repainted by Pullman to two-tone gray in May 1956, car assigned to general Pullman pool; repainted to Illinois Central brown and orange in November 1957, car assigned to Panama Limited; lease ended on June 1, 1960, returned to C&NW; retired by C&NW on December 27, 1960; sold to Hyman-Michaels Company.
Montgomery Street -- Built in July 1941 as part of the 10th Train (City of San Francisco); sold to C&NW on December 1, 1948, remained in COSF service; C&NW participation in UP-SP-C&NW Joint Ownership pool ended in October 1955, and car removed from COSF service; renumbered to C&NW 6148; retired by C&NW on February 21, 1958; sold to Purdy Co.
Rose Bowl -- Built in December 1937 as Telegraph Hill (1st) as part of 8th Train (City of San Francisco); changed to Rose Bowl (2nd) in July 1941 as part of 9th Train (City of Los Angeles); sold to C&NW on December 31, 1945, leased to Pullman for operation, remained in COLA service; C&NW participation in UP-SP-C&NW Joint Ownership pool ended in October 1955, and car removed from COLA service; repainted by Pullman to C&NW colors in March 1957, car assigned to general Pullman pool; lease ended on March 21, 1959, returned to C&NW; retired by C&NW on May 15, 1960; sold to Hyman-Michaels Company.
Rincon Hill -- Built in July 1941 as part of the 10th Train (City of San Francisco); sold to SP on December 31, 1945 and leased back to Pullman for operation; renumbered to SP 9201 on June 6, 1950, Rincon Hill name removed; lease ended on May 31, 1966, returned to SP and retired on the same day.
Sioux Chief Traintel
The four railroad cars were purchased from a salvage dealer who had purchased them from Chicago & North Western Railway. The four cars were:
- Civic Center
- Hunters Point (name changed from Arcadia)
- Montgomery Street
- Rose Bowl
"Arcadia (a City of Los Angeles car) was substituted for the Hunters Point (a City of San Francisco car) when the cars were sold to Verl Thomson. The Hunters Point was reported as having caught fire before delivery, and the nameplates, etc. of Hunters Point were applied to Arcadia, since the Arcadia was not a true COSF car." (Vern Bruce, email dated May 22, 2014)
(There seems to be some confusion as to which car was renamed. Did Hunters Point become Arcadia, or did Arcadia become Hunters Point. The two cars are identical, so only an examination of lettering under each car's paint will truly resolve the confusion.)
The fifth car, Rincon Hill, was added in 1966, to the east of the first car in the row of cars. It was painted to match the other four cars, but only on the side that was visible to the public. "The 10-6 Rincon Hill was delivered later and was placed behind the line of the first four cars. It was not on rails and had the trucks removed also. It had a plywood walkway connecting it to the main line of cars. I believe it was intended for overflow needs during peak times." (Vern Bruce, email dated May 22, 2014)
The following comes from a letter from Verl Thomson to the editor of Trains magazine, May 1965, page 52:
I am the owner and operator of the Sioux Chief Traintel of which you show a photograph on page 12 of January TRAINS.
The train-hotel opened in the mid-summer of 1963 with three Pullman cars and a coach. The Pullmans are Hunters Point, Civic Center, and Rose Bowl. The first two are 10-compartment cars and the latter is an 18-roomette car which is used for large groups. The cars are of the streamlined series built about 1940 by Pullman for the Union Pacific's City series and were pulled on the City of Los Angeles before going to the Illinois Central's Panama Limited. They were repainted for the Panama in IC colors. I bought them from Chicago & North Western through a broker in 1962.
The Pullmans required very little renovation; they were in excellent condition. We repainted the exteriors in Illinois Central colors: dark brown with a broad orange stripe and small yellow stripes. We recarpeted most of the hallways and rooms to make them like new. A polishing and cleaning job was all that was further needed.
Each car has a Waukesha 32-volt electric generator; all are operative, with one always going to keep the batteries up on the train line. Blowers, fans, and relays all are still on the 32-volt original system. The lights have been changed over to 120-volt commercial power. Taped train sounds play throughout the Traintel, adding to the atmosphere.
One end of the converted coach is a lounge in which patrons may watch TV, have free coffee, or read. The other end is the business-office check-in.
Since the traintel is a tourist attraction and facility, it is open from May 1 to October 31.
The following comes from the Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, October 3, 1963:
[photo caption] A-L-L-L-L ABOARD FOR NOWHERE -- The auto at left will have a long wait before this train pulls out of Sioux Falls, S.D. the three 65-ton ex-pullmans serve as a 62-passenger "train-tel, or motel out of a train. Although it doesn't move, the motel is complete with recorded music of traditional train sounds, the better to soothe (?) nostalgic patrons to sleep. George Wells, on step, is the porter on the train to nowhere.
The following comes from the February 1965 issue of Railroad magazine:
Every evening passengers climb aboard the train that does not move an inch, to relax in its lounge listening to its "clickety-clack," and then spend the night in Pullmans or a roomette. The following morning they detrain in the exact spot where they boarded.
This odd train, known as the Sioux Chief Traintel, is an innovation in motel service. Located just off Interstate 29, near Sioux Falls, S.D., it is owned by Verl Thompson who was inspired by the idea when he saw a used train lot in Chicago.
Realizing that most youngsters had never been on a train, much less slept in one, he decided to offer overnight accommodations in the Sioux Falls "depot." Realistic moving train sounds are by means of a tape recorder.
Two Pullmans and one roomette car offer 38 sleeping rooms with 44 berths. Individual compartments have the usual upper and lower berths, private washrooms, and air-conditioned comfort.
Passengers staying overnight on the Sioux Chief, reports the Christian Science Monitor, include tourists from across the nation en route to or from Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills.
The following comes from The Milwaukee Road magazine, September-October 1965, page 19:
A four car train that serves as a motel is a prime tourist attraction at Sioux Falls, S. D. Resting on rails beside a main highway, it draws small conventions, sales meetings, family parties, and pheasant hunters in season.
The owner, Verl Thomson, got the idea while traveling with his family. Their car was in an accident, and they completed the trip by train. "The kids," he says, "had a ball."
The train-motel consists of three Pullman cars and a lounge-office unit. The cars are air conditioned and have 20 compartments accommodating 62 beds in all. Rates range from $5 for a single to a 5-bed drawing room at $12.85. It is staffed by a maid, who keeps the quarters tidy, and a manager who doubles as the conductor.
Part of its appeal, particularly for youngsters, is a simulated train ride. Promptly at three o'clock, the manager puts on his conductor's cap and plugs in a realistic tape recording of the sounds of a train moving over a mountain range. Piped throughout the train, it has made more than one guest cling to the handrails under the impression the train was actually roaring down the track.
The cars, when purchased by Thompson, were on a spur a few miles from their present site. Moving them across a heavily traveled highway was insured by Lloyds of London, and a house moving company worked for three months to get them in place.
The "traintel" is in its fourth season, which starts May 1 and closes Nov. 1. An adjacent tourist park helps attract business, since many youngsters, seeing it from the tents and trailers, are intrigued by the idea of taking a "ride". The result is that the whole family spends a night sleeping aboard. All of the features are authentic, with one exception -- it is probably the only train in existence equipped with a coin telephone.
[photo caption] Sign with room rotes invites tourists to "sleep tonight on the world's first train motel".
[photo caption] Motel manager, wearing his conductor's cap, plugs in the sound effects system.
[photo caption] South Dakota tourists get this view of the train motel as they approach it on the highway.
The following comes from messages posted to the Railway Preservation News forum, dated August 2 and 7, 1999:
"I happened to be in the Sioux Falls mechanical foreman's office while he was whining to a superior that he couldn't find any thing in the interchange rules that would enable him to kill the movement of the cars on their own wheels. He was that kind of guy. This would have been in the early 90's? I "think" one of the cars went west to the Portland area. I do recall that the cars went to different destinations. I was visiting earlier today with a fellow who remembers the third car coming in some years after the first two were parked. The site was not on rail, the cars had to be trucked in and out." (Alex Huff)
"There were five cars, all of which ended up on the west coast. I believe they were all brokered by noted passenger car book publisher Dave Randall. The ex-CNW Rose Bowl (18 roomettes) and the ex-CNW Arcadia (4-4-2) ended up at Travel Town in Los Angeles. The ex-CNW Civic Center (4-4-2) and the ex-CNW Montgomery Street (coach) are at the Golden Gate RR Museum in SF. The Civic Center is privately owned. The ex-SP Rincon Hill (10-5) is owned by Doyle McCormack and is used as a crew car for the 4449. It's been renamed the Clackamas River. These cars were all built in 1940 & 1941 by Pullman Standard for service on UP streamliners. To the credit of the owner of the TrainTel, these cars were left in virtually mint original condition, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of passenger cars in private ownership." (Jon Clark)
The Sioux Chief Traintel remained in business until 1975, and the cars were removed in May 1990. (Forgotten Sioux Falls, by Eric Renshaw, 2012, Arcadia Publishing Co., pages 19, 20)
A message from Alan Hegler in August 2006 to the Yahoo Groups Passenger Car List reported, "W.D. Randall bought Rose Bowl and Arcadia & Civic Center ca 1990. I saw them July 1992, in the East St. Louis yard."
Ken Atwood wrote on May 18, 2014:
I remember these well. I always wanted to spend a night or two in one of them, but I never got the chance. I was lucky enough to be around when they put them on house dollies and moved them to the DM&E spur to get them to the BNSF mainline in order to transport them to their respective buyers.
I was living in Garretson at the time the cars were in the consist going to Willmar, MN to be put into other trains going in different directions. There was a fellow riding on one of the coaches as security. He said that he liked being along to keep an eye on things, but it was going to be a HOT ride. It was summertime, and none of the coaches had power connected to run air conditioning. (Ken Atwood, comment to story in Argus Leader [Sioux Falls, South Dakota] story about the Sioux Falls Traintel, May 17, 2014)
After Sioux Falls
Civic Center -- Civic Center was purchased by Vernon Bruce and moved in 1992 to the San Francisco Bay area; displayed at the Golden Gate Railroad Museum until the car was moved for display at the former SP depot in Milbrae, California, as part of the Milbrae Train Museum, which opened in October 2004.
Hunters Point/Arcadia -- Hunters Point/Arcadia was moved in 1992 to Travel Town in Griffith Park Los Angeles, California.
Rose Bowl -- Rose Bowl (ex Telegraph Hill) was moved in 1992 to Travel Town in Griffith Park Los Angeles, California.
Hunters Point/Arcadia and Rose Bowl were moved to Travel Town in 1992 as part of an exchange with Railways of Hawaii, a subsidiary of Kyle Railways, to acquire Oahu Railway & Land Co. narrow gauge 4-6-0 No. 85, and Oahu Sugar Co. 0-6-2T No. 5 for use on a tourist railroad being established on Maui. The new operation was known as the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad, "The Sugar Cane Train." According to an article in Trains magazine, February 1994, page 73, "Kyle traded Travel Town a pair of streamlined passenger cars acquired from an equipment dealer, plus an operable Baldwin RS12 diesel, No. 56 from California Western, also a Kyle property."
Montgomery Street -- Montgomery Street was moved in 1992 to the San Francisco Bay area and displayed at the Golden Gate Railroad Museum until the museum moved to Niles Canyon in 2007; Montgomery Street was sold by the museum group to Cort Hammond and was to be moved to a planned railroad museum in Yreka, California; car was removed from the Hunters Point Navy yard property and stored near the Caroll Avenue interchange with SP; reported as scrapped on site by a local welding shop.
Rincon Hill -- Rincon Hill was moved in 1992 to Portland, Oregon; to Friends of 4449 in Portland, Oregon; renamed to "Clackamas River" and currently  out of service.
Sioux Chief Traintel at The Pullman Shops (includes photos of the cars being moved from Sioux Falls)
Travel Town Passenger Cars (scroll to the bottom)
Milbrae Train Museum (scroll to the bottom for photos of Civic Center)