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Rolling back the decades

The interior of the vintage Pullman car looks as if it came straight from a 1940s film — heavily paneled walls, scarlet drapes swagged over the windows and a dining table that easily seats 12.

Unlike a train parked on a movie back lot, this elegant car, owned by R.J. Corman Railroad Group, is fully operational.

One recent morning, the old train car, pulled by a bright red locomotive, glided out of Corman's rail yard in downtown Lexington with a party of employees aboard, laughing and chatting.

This was the maiden trip for the Pullman after its top-to-bottom renovation. Destination: Bagdad, 53 track miles away in Shelby County.

The Pullman will serve as owner Rick Corman's personal car, where he can wine, dine and woo railroad clients. Today, though, guests include the nine Corman employees who refurbished the car, working on it part-time for a year.

"We want to see how it works," Corman said as the train chugged along.

As the Central Kentucky countryside slid past, Corman seemed pleased with the results: "What do you think? Is this great or what?"

Corman, who clearly loves trains and train travel, bought the 1911 Pullman car from the Detroit & Mackinac Railway, where it had been parked for 20 years in the Steam Institute Museum near Flint, Mich.

The roof had a bad spot, "But other than that, it was in good shape," project manager Eric West said.

The Pullman Palace Car Co., founded by George Pullman, manufactured railroad cars from the mid-1800s through the early decades of the 20th century. Pullman developed the sleeping car, which carried his name.

Originally, the car Corman bought had been laid out with a sitting room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. In Lexington, the interior was gutted and the space reconfigured for a sitting area, a bar, a dining area, a bathroom and a kitchen.

A full-scale replica was built from Styrofoam.

Kitchen designer Jim Hanson of Columbus was brought in.

"We showed him the car," Corman said, "and told him to design us the most modern kitchen, where our chef could make the most fabulous meals for clients — so they will do more railroad business."

Corman suggested changes to the Styrofoam model.

"When it was exactly like he wanted, and we got a budget, it was time to go," West said.

The company declined to specify the cost of the renovation. Corman said the bill to rechrome the exterior handrails on the back platform was $6,000.

Chef Eric Robertson said he feels completely at home in the kitchen, which has a six-burner range, full-size oven, refrigerator and freezer, steamer for cooking lobster and shrimp, commercial-grade dishwasher and 1,200-watt microwave. On this particular trip, Robertson made a turkey dinner with green beans, mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberries.

R.J. Corman Railroad Group owns two rail lines in Kentucky and seven short lines, operating principally in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, and My Old Kentucky Dinner Train out of Bardstown. It also owns a construction and derailment service.

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