Classic dining experience rolls through

Published 8:56 am Monday, August 11, 2008

White linen tablecloths and lush green countryside surround passengers of the William Penn car as it rolls through Shelby County on its luxurious excursions.

“The real vision was to let people experience what it was like to travel by train back in the golden days of railroads,” said part owner, George Williams. “Our interest was to relive and reinvent memories of those days.”

The Heart of Dixie Railroad, located in Calera, offers one-hour excursions every Saturday from April to November. But Williams and others wanted to improve upon the experience by adding fine dining to the itinerary.

To do that he and his wife Marcy purchased the car with partners Mark and Helen Greve, Steve and Bobbie Whiting and Charlene Nieman and sent it to St. Louis to be restored to the grandeur of a dining car of the 1950s.

“It was presented to my wife first and she just fell in love with the idea,” said Steve Whiting. “It’s just unique. You get down the track and all you see is the forest and then you get to enjoy a dining service that strives to be as elegant as it would have been back then.”

Five Star Catering of Birmingham provides the meals for each excursion. This weekend’s menu includes mouthwatering items like chicken and sundried tomato phyllos, assorted stuffed mushrooms and smoked salmon cheesecake with crackers.

“It’s not an easy feet to cater food into a train car,” Whiting said. “There’s some art to making it happen and that’s part of the experience.”

Williams agreed. He said guests would start off in the Kayenta train where they can relax, enjoy the scenery and mingle. Then, after making its way down the track a little, the car will stop so that everyone can move into the William Penn for dinner. Once inside they will find white linen draped tables and crewmembers dressed in traditional railroad attire.

“A lot of our clients No. 1 have never been on a train or No. 2 haven’t experienced anything like this,” Williams said. “The older passengers start talking about their memories and its pretty neat to hear those stories … it really takes people back in time.”

The Aug. 16 event is in conjunction with Ozan Winery, which is holding wine trains through September that begin at the winery. The Aug. 16 event calls for the train to board at 5:45 p.m. at the Heart of Dixie Railroad, with it departing around 6 p.m.

The William Penn also hosts two excursions for Valentine’s Day as well as events on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other special occasions. All dining events on the William Penn do require reservations. To make a reservation, call 903-2680.

For more information on the William Penn, visit For more information about Ozan Winery’s events, visit