The Sunset Dinner Train and McCloud River Inn
By Brandi Barnett
Sunset in McCloudFebruary 2007
By Gary VanDeWalker
Cradled against the forested slopes of a volcano is the nostalgic lumber town of McCloud. A 10-mile drive east from Interstate 5 and along old Highway 89 reveals a company-built mill town. The century-old buildings evoke memories of a robust lumber industry, founded in the sawmill operation of a visionary, Friday George. Now, 114 years later, the small community, one hour north of Redding, is drawing visitors into the arms of its past.
McCloud is a quiet town, hosting an old-fashioned candy store, a log cabin church, and white washed homes of forgotten mill workers. The mountain town whispers for travelers to explore its hidden treasures. Two gems are the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train and the McCloud River Inn. Together, they lure the wayfarer to a perfect weekend getaway.
Boarding every weekend, the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train guests enter the 1916 “Pullman Green” and gold heavyweight cars, refitted in 1995 with exquisite mahogany and brass interiors. They see tables set in ivory linen, with china and silver place settings, complementing the warm and inviting atmosphere. Named after the North State counties—the Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen and Trinity—cars provide each passenger with an evening of food, music, and on special trips, dancing. An attentive staff escorts them inside, as the 6 p.m. departure is the beginning of an inspiring journey through the forests on the lower slopes of the 14,162 foot Mount Shasta. Railroad president and owner, Jeff Forbis, is a fourth generation railroader, who grew up in West Fir, OR, in rooms above the train depot. His children are all involved in railroading, bringing five generations of experience to the Dinner Train.
The three-hour train ride follows the route of the historic McCloud railway, along the southern side of the mountain, going over tracks first laid in 1897 by the McCloud River Lumber Company, who bought George’s operation in 1896. The rails guide diners past panoramic scenes of the area as they wind up the grade and experience a “switch back” backing the train toward the city of Mount Shasta and then returning the train back to McCloud. As darkness falls, high-powered exterior lights flood the surrounding forest, giving everyone an enchanted view of the pines. In the winter, the snow glistens as the train meanders through the alpine vista. In the warmer seasons, an open air car replaces the dance car. Passengers gather outside to view the landscape and take in the fresh scents of pine, fir, and cedar.
Served from the on board kitchens of the Shasta and Lassen cars is a four-course dinner, from a rotating menu, including executive chef Edward Hines’ signature entrée: Black Butte Beef Wellington. This selection is a choice filet mignon, topped with mushroom paté and wrapped in a puff pastry, presented with a merlot-demi glace reduction and finished with a béarnaise sauce. Each passenger’s fare includes all four courses, as well as coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Guests may also purchase wine from an ample list, complementing their meal.
Thursday evening theme nights bring passengers over the tracks as they enjoy the Murder Mystery evenings and Wine Tasting trains. Often sold-out New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day holiday trains are full of celebrants looking for a unique holiday experience. In the finest of railroad dining tradition, couples find themselves seated with other couples, adding to their experience. Those wishing for a more intimate trip opt for a private table through a special Romance Package for an additional fare of $60. Some trips include private parties, providing a once-in-a-lifetime memory for a birthday or anniversary. The train hosts about 10 weddings a year.
Passengers dress as one would for any fine restaurant. Tickets are $89.95 per person.Wine Tasting and the Mystery Dinner Trains are $99.95 per person. The train tickets include the three hour ride, dinner, coffee, tea, and soft drinks.Wine, sales tax, and gratuity are not included. Advanced reservations and payment by credit card are required. Guests can reschedule up to 48 hours before departure. The train is accessible for wheelchairs. For reservations and information, call 1-800-733-2141 or visit www.shastasunset.com.
Upon disembarking the Dinner Train, consider making McCloud an overnight stay. A short three-minute walk from the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train Depot, the McCloud River Inn rests on five acres of lawns and forest. At the former headquarters of the McCloud River Lumber Company, innkeepers Ron and Marina Mort greet their guests into the attractive bed and breakfast inn. Visitors are ushered into McCloud’s past, amid nostalgic railroad photos and antique furnishings. The giant butter cream house was once the home of McCloud’s first bank and the telephone switchboard for the community. The Morts have lovingly restored this once busy city building into a tranquil refuge for their guests.
This nationally registered historic inn provides five different accommodations. Each set of rooms includes a private bath, with oversized showers. Two of the five rooms have extra beds, easily accommodating families. Each room is unique, with hardwood floors, Belgian rugs, an antique armoire, Queen Anne chairs, and a claw foot bathtub. For those looking for romance, Room 4 is a perfect choice. A cherry wood four-poster queen bed graces the room, along with plush carpeting, a cozy sitting area with a private bath with a luxurious two-person whirlpool tub.
Wake up to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and breakfast service in the parlor from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. The food is placed under a unique band saw canopy, lending to the mill town atmosphere. Fresh fruit, along with orange juice, freshly baked pastries and breads, make up a wonderful morning meal. The house specialty is fried frittatas, an excellent Greek dish of eggs, cheddar and feta cheeses, spinach, olives and seasoned with basil prepared in a piecrust. A variety of hot beverages are available as the guests enjoy each other’s company. For those on a romantic getaway, ask for breakfast in the room. Afterwards, in the warmer months, take a favorite book and enjoy the morning sun and the large deck.
When making a reservation, add a massage. The massage therapist will come to the inn and set up a table in the room, ensuring privacy. During the Peak Seasons, rooms range from $106 to $175, off-season, $96 to $165. During the winter months, a 25 percent discount offers snowboarders and skiers lower rates on Sunday through Thursday nights. A romance package is available, including a bottle of chilled wine in the room. Special winter rates also apply from October through May, with one night’s stay free with a five night booking, excluding holidays. Check into the room anytime after 3 p.m. Checkout time is at 11 a.m. Be aware of the procrastinator’s secret. Call within 24 hours of arrival to make a reservation and, if there are rooms available, there is a discount.Make reservations by phoning 800-261-7831 or online at www.riverinn.com.
McCloud is a town of changes, moving from George’s sawmill to the heyday of the lumber industry, and now a quiet mountain community. The city continually reinvents itself, without losing its beauty or heritage.The Shasta Sunset Dinner Train and the McCloud River Inn hold onto the past for those in the present. Friday George would be pleased.�