American Orient Express - National Parks of the West

The American Orient Express was the brainchild of Florida entrepreneur, William F. Spann. He started in 1989 with four vintage rail coaches that had been rebuilt by hand under assistance from the operators of Europe's famed Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express. The idea was to hook the luxury coaches to an Amtrak train as a high-end way to travel across America. The initial run in 1991 went from Chicago to New York via New River Gorge.

The business was later sold and resold until Henry Hillman Jr., founder of Avia, acquired it with a view to showcasing National Parks by train. Several itineraries were developed, one of the most popular being the National Parks of the West. Passengers were taken as close as possible to Sequoia & King's Canyon, Yosemite, Great Basin, Rocky Mountain, and others, with motor coaches used to transport them into the parks proper.

Accommodations were nothing short of first class, from Pullman sleeper cars and passenger cars with mahogany and brass fittings to two separate dining cars serving meals on tables set with china, silver, crystal, and linen. At its height, the American Orient Express featured 15 classic rail cars, most of them purchased from museums, private collections, and railroad yards and restored at a cost of $14 million. The company ceased operations in 2008, but the rolling stock is scheduled to resume its travels across America, beginning in May of 2011, under the management of American Railway Explorer.

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