It all started with Tom Rader working as a marketing guy for Holland America
Cruiselines. He was looking for a way to expand tourism in Alaska so that he
could promote cruise ships to go there. He thought of the idea that cruise-like
train service to Denali would help that. He bought some ex-Metra/ex-SP commuter
cars, along with a few ex-Milwaukee full length domes, to operate those on the
back of the Alaska Railroad's train.
Tom Rader started "Alaska Tour Operators" as a cruise operation in 1982.
The name was change to "Tour Alaska" in 1983 and its own private cars were added
onto the Alaska Railroad. In 1986, Princess acquired "Tour Alaska" and
repainted the cars using the current paint scheme. Pictured below is the
"Tour Alaska" paint scheme.
Photo 1 (top) - Tom Rinehart took this photo.
Photos 2-6 - Jeff DeBrock, took these photos at the old Navel Blimp hanger
outside of Seattle in the mid 1980s. The Blimp Hanger is where Princess
had old SP BI-level commuter cars rebuilt into there present coaches.
Robert Krol adds, "Princess sent [these domes] down to California when the current
cars came online and called the service California Sun Express. I don't
know where those four cars went when the service was discontinued, but it lost
a lot of money in California."
Contributed by an anonymous source [7/1/05]: "Two of the original "Tour
Alaska" cars are in Colorado Railcar Manufacturing's back lot, and there
are a few more in Pasco, WA"
Added 10/16/17 by Tom Rader:
For the 1984 season I purchased the entire fleet of 25 cars that had been retired by Caltrans. I believe we repaired and painted nine at my company Tillamook Railcar in Tillamook, OR and delivered them to Alaska in 1984. They were owned and operated by my company Alaska Cruise Train LLC. We provided Whittier/Anchorage transfers for the Cunard Princess in 1983.
In November 1986 I sold my tour company, Tour Alaska LLC, to the parent company of Princess Cruises, P&O SN Co.
As I recall I sold Alaska Cruise Train to Princess Tours after the 1987 Alaska season but it could have been earlier.
The exact history of the cars after that is not clear in my mind. John Crews might be your best source for that one.
The underframes and/or trucks that we used to make the early Ultra Domes came from the remaining inventory of the Caltrans cars that I had in Denver and not from the Alaska Cruise Train cars.
Hope this helps your history.