"ALL ABOARD,” I shout in my best train conductor’s voice, as my husband and I scramble up a few metal stairs and step into the Hamilton, a century-old, lovingly restored Pullman train car parked in the sleepy village of Lamy, 20 minutes south of Santa Fe.
We stash our bags in the Observatory, the elegant front room, and begin to poke around, pushing buttons that once summoned porters, discovering hidden pullout beds in the handsome dining room, and dialing a rotary telephone in the main bedroom, where presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt reportedly stayed on his 1932 whistle-stop campaign tour.
The tufted red velvet and gold damask fabric that adorns the ceiling in the common rooms soundproofs the car from the racket of the running trains at the nearby Lamy depot. The original crimson leather sofa in the Observatory folds down into a twin bed. Large windows that once looked out on passing scenery now overlook Lamy’s little park, where El Ortiz, a boutique Harvey House, used to stand. Built in 1910, the Spanish Mission–style hotel was demolished in 1943.
The Hamilton is heaven for train buffs. Even those who are not railroad aficionados will marvel at this extraordinary tribute to yesteryear. From the fascinating gadgets and gizmos to the precise restoration of the three bedrooms, three tiny baths with showers, and a streamlined stainless-steel kitchen with original working appliances, this is one of the coolest places you’ll ever stay.
“It was just a beat-up old train car when we bought it,” says Cindy Peck, who spotted the Hamilton when she and her husband were fixing up a house across the street. “Our daughter, Lily Rose, who’s a ballet dancer, had been on tour with Phantom of the Opera, so every few weeks she moved into an Airbnb. We knew from having stayed in Airbnbs that some were very special.”
After researching Pullman train cars and talking with railroad enthusiasts, the Pecks went to work restoring the Hamilton’s former glory and elegance. “We really didn’t change anything,” Peck says. “We just made it better. We painted, we put up new wallpaper, but that velvet ceiling was there, that couch was there. We just made it more comfortable.”
Guests travel from across the country to stay in this authentic train car near Lamy’s historic depot, now a stop for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which rolls in twice daily on its run between Los Angeles and Chicago. People can bring supplies to make their own meals in the kitchen, or grill on the patio attached to the front of the train, a great spot for stargazing. Dining and take-out options are available at a few restaurants in nearby Eldorado.
Built in 1923 to carry passengers between New York and Chicago, the Hamilton was repurposed as a luxury car for railroad executives in the 1940s. Eventually, the train car passed through the hands of several private owners throughout the country before traveling to Lamy, where it idled for 30 years as a private train car before it began taking on guests once again.
As we walk down the narrow, carpeted hallway to our berth, it’s easy to imagine that the Hamilton is swaying in motion—speeding down the track, whistle blowing, full steam ahead, with the world whizzing by outside the long row of windows. We reach our berth and toss in our bags, happy wanderers on an otherwise empty train car that brings bygone days back to life.
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WHILE YOU’RE THERE
The Galisteo Basin Preserve, with 43 miles of winding trails through sandy arroyos and expansive savannah grasslands, is a paradise for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.
Drive the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway (NM 14) to the historic mining town of Madrid for eclectic shops, galleries, and the legendary Mine Shaft Tavern & Cantina.
For more train history, head an hour northeast to Las Vegas, New Mexico. At the impressively restored Castañeda Hotel, take a trackside seat and savor an iconic green chile cheeseburger while conjuring up the heyday of America’s railroad.