Heber Valley to Bring ‘California Zephyr’ Dome Home to the Rockies

On Thursday, the Utah tourist railroad took possession of the former CB&Q “Silver Scene.” Photo Courtesy of Heber Valley Railroad. 

Heber Valley to Bring ‘California Zephyr’ Dome Home to the Rockies

By Justin Franz

HEBER CITY, Utah — An historic dome car that once ran across the west on one of the region’s most famous passenger trains is coming back to the Rocky Mountains. On Thursday, Utah’s Heber Valley Railroad took possession of the “Silver Scene,” a dome coach built in 1947 for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. 

Heber Valley Chief Mechanical Officer Mike Manwiller said the acquisition is a bit of a homecoming for the car, which spent years running on the California Zephyr, a Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., passenger train jointly operated by the CB&Q, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific. 

“For the first time in a long time, a California Zephyr dome will be regularly operating in its home territory,” Manwiller told Railfan & Railroad. “We’ll be running it only 20 miles from where it once operated.”

The Heber Valley operates on a former Rio Grande branch in the Wasatch Mountains southeast of Salt Lake City that once connected Heber City with Provo. 

The “Silver Scene” will be Heber Valley’s first dome car. Manwiller said the railroad has long wanted a dome car and that the former D&RGW branch, which runs through a lush valley surrounded by mountains, is perfect for one. He added that while it isn’t quite Glenwood Canyon — the scenic Colorado canyon that the Rio Grande main line passes through — the Heber Valley’s own Provo Canyon is a good stand-in. 

The dome is currently in St. Louis, where it will receive new flooring, new glass and an all-new interior. The car was last used on the Montana Daylight, a tour train that ran on Montana Rail Link in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Once the car is refurbished it will be moved west to Utah by rail and then trucked to Heber City (the branch is cut off from the rest of the rail network). Manwiller said he is optimistic that the car will arrive in Heber City by the end of the year. 

“We have contractors ready to work on it and so when it gets here, it’ll be ready to be put into service immediately,” he said. 

Manwiller said the arrival of the dome is just one of the exciting things happening at Utah’s only tourist railway. The railroad is embarking on a major painting program this year, so its fleet of heavy-weight coaches will soon have a uniform look. Some of the railroad’s locomotives will also soon be wearing paint schemes that align with the region’s historic carriers. 

Over the last few years, the Heber Valley has acquired a sizeable fleet of passenger cars and Manwiller said it’s necessary to handle the railroad’s growing ridership. In 2022, the railroad hauled a record-breaking 130,000 passengers.

“It’s a really exciting time here at the Heber Valley,” he said. 

For more information, visit hebervalleyrr.org

This article was posted on: February 17, 2023