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Step back in time with vintage dining

The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum offers an authentic experience

Engineer Rick Burchett loosens oil plugs, allowing oil to drop and lubricate the track. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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It's a short 30-minute drive south to Chehalis for a different type of date night.

The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum offers dinner trains and murder mystery dinner trains on the 100-year-old Cowlitz, Chehalis & Cascade No. 15 (CC&C #15), a Baldwin-built 2-8-2 "Mikado" type steam locomotive. It is one of only a few steam-powered railroads in Washington state.  The dinner trains are an 18-mile roundtrip on track owned by the Port of Chehalis.

"The dinner trains are very popular, and the murder mystery trains sold out," said Wanda Thompson. "We have added one more and plan to add a few more dates.  Just keep checking the website for more dates."

Interest is growing about the steam train.  

"Last month, Blippi (a popular children's show on YouTube) visited and filmed the train for an episode," she added.

Thompson is one of the many volunteers who work as part of the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Association. It is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the logging and railroading heritage of Lewis County in specific, and southwest Washington state in general, in the form of a railroad and a historic, living museum. It was founded in 1986 by locals who wanted to restore the CC&C#15, a 1916 logging locomotive sitting in a local park.

It took two years of hard work to restore the engine.  In 1989, train operations began, and at more than 100 years old, the CC&C#15 is chugging along the tracks again.

The volunteers really go the extra mile so that people can enjoy the train.

"On the dinner train, we use linen tablecloths. It's that little extra touch that people really appreciate. Everyone seems to enjoy it, and that makes all the hard work worth it," Thompson said.

The Ruth Dinner Train departs promptly at 5 p.m. Diners are seated in a refurbished 1920s dining railcar. White linen tablecloths, full china and an attentive wait staff add an air of refinement to the experience.

Ruth, the turnaround for the return journey, is itself a bit of a mystery. Legend has it that the train used to stop and pick up a woman named Ruth at the turnaround point. She was always alone when she met the train. On the return trip, she would just walk off into the woods when dropped off. Nobody on the train knew where she lived.

Picture yourself in the middle of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Board the Murder Mystery Dinner Train and start thinking about "Who dun' it?" while enjoying your meal. Clues and entertainment are dispensed as the train rolls to Ruth.

Both trips include a four-course meal with your choice of chicken cordon bleu, salmon or prime rib, as well as train ride tickets. The Ruth Dinner Train is $50, and the Murder Mystery Train is $60.

Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum, schedule varies, 1101 Southwest Sylvenus St., Chehalis, 360.748.9593,

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