Baldwin City, Kansas
The goal of the USO, created in 1941, is to boost morale and entertain America’s military personnel. The goal of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train is a nostalgic trip back to that era, on a 22-mile round-trip train ride aboard restored vintage railcars, listening to swing and Big Band music. With a weekend schedule that offers three- and five-course meals, bar service and live entertainment, the scenic railway provides bus tour planners with an exceptional outing for their passengers.
Ticket options include dinner only or dinner and entertainment, which includes murder mysteries, melodramas or special musical shows. For motorcoach groups interested in a truly immersive experience, the World War II USO Show is the perfect choice. Actors from the Theatre Lawrence troupe, dressed in period attire, perform comedy skits and songs from the 1940s.
The scenic railway originally operated in Fremont, Nebraska, from 1988 until 2012, when it was moved to Baldwin City. “After 24 years, track conditions required us to shut down in late fall of 2012, and we reopened in Baldwin City in late January 2013,” explains Bruce Eveland, president and manager. “The concept for the USO show dates back to 1990. We thought of it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War II, which was observed from 1991 to 1995. We expected it to run its course by 1995, but we schedule more of them now than ever.”
The train departs from the 1906 Baldwin City Depot, restored to its original glory, with a ticket window, restrooms and spacious waiting area. Tour passengers listen to Big Band music and watch a slide show of historic trains as they wait to board one of four restored dining cars from the 1940s and 1950s. The Maple Creek, a 1942 Canadian National Railways car, seats 56 and is most often used as the main theater and entertainment car. Two other Canadian National cars, the 1947 Rose Creek and the 1955 Fontanelle, along with a 1947 Pullman called the Marais des Cygnes River, round out the train’s four dining cars. All have been lovingly restored with décor kept as historically accurate as possible, and together, the cars provide a seating capacity of more than 175.
For the World War II USO show, the main performance/dining car is set up to resemble a USO show, with decorations extending into a second “canteen” car, which is outfitted with WWII memorabilia, uniforms, original advertising, vintage newspapers and more. Food is catered by the 23rd Street Brewery, and the train has two gallies and two cash bars. Menu selections, which are pre-ordered, always include four main course options: red meat; fish/seafood; fowl; and vegetarian. The three-course option comes with salad, entrée and dessert, and the five-course option includes appetizer and soup. Coffee or tea is included.
Group rates are available for parties of 16 or more, and weekly dates may be arranged, depending on actor availability for shows. Buses drop off at the front door of the depot and park for free in the ample lot, and escort and driver are comped. Train cars are climate-controlled and partially handicap-accessible, although space may limit the number of wheelchairs. Some wheelchairs are available for use. The train is equipped with restrooms, but they are not handicap-accessible.
As the number of WWII veterans diminishes, Eveland believes the USO dinner train helps to keep their memories alive, as well as foster pride in our current military. “I’m gratified to see more young people attending the USO show,” he says. “Of course, it appeals to an older crowd, but younger groups are joining in. We get veterans from Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and we attract a lot of recent and currently active military. We make a special point to recognize all veterans and active duty personnel onboard.”
For more information on scheduling your group’s outing on the Kansas Belle WWII USO
Show Dinner Train, visit online at kansasbelle.com/charters-and-group-rates, phone (785) 594-8505, (800) 942-7245[RAIL] or email firstname.lastname@example.org.