March 1, 2005 > The El Fleda
The El Fleda
by Philip Holmes assisted by B.J. Bunting
John Bunting traveled a lot in connection with his oil business and wanted his own private rail car. He ordered his private car, the El Fleda, from the Pullman Company in Chicago. It was built to his specifications with many personal innovations and delivered to him at Chicago on August 28, 1901 at a cost of $40,000.
A large exterior observation platform led to the luxurious interior of the El Fleda. The interior observation lounge was finished in quarter-sawed oak and trimmed with silken tapestry. Next to the observation lounge was a private stateroom containing two upper and lower berths. This stateroom was finished in "tiger wood" and had a marble washbasin. Just forward of this stateroom was the private Owner's Quarters. This compartment was finished in bird's eye maple and "tiger wood" with silken tapestry. The washbasin was made of onyx, and a mahogany dressing table shared space with a large brass bed.
Next forward was the general living room. It was a combination library, dining, lounge and observation room that, at night, could add an additional four berths. This room was finished in quarter-sawed oak, similar to the observation lounge at the rear of the car. Just forward of the general living room were two full sections with upper and lower berths. These sections were finished in Santiago mahogany. Forward, through the partition, was a full size bathroom.
The kitchen, pantry and crew quarters were located at the head end of the car. The kitchen and pantry were two separate sections with an inter-connecting pass through. The Baker Heater, used for heating the car, was located next to the kitchen. A refrigerator and built in wine racks were located on one side of the vestibule at the end of the car.
John A. Bunting was on board every trip the car took except when the El Fleda was leased to other parties. Having been a trainman himself, he knew the dangers of railroading and was very careful to follow all phases of a trip. There are numerous references in the log to staying up late at night and even through to the early hours of dawn when unusual circumstances occurred such as flooded tracks, other sections of the train following too closely behind, train wrecks on the right-of-way ahead and malfunctioning of the El Fleda itself.
When the weather was cold, steam lines from the locomotive served to heat the train when it was en route. In the El Fleda, this was augmented with a Baker Heater that was coal fired (standard equipment on many private cars) and took care of heating the car when it was not attached to a train. There are references in the log to the malfunctioning of the heater and, in very cold weather, it was not unusual to experience freezing of the train's steam lines and the car's water lines.
From time to time, trouble developed in the car. On one trip, the entire battery sets had to be replaced by the Gould Battery Company, who supplied the original batteries. They also had trouble with the wiring. Electricity for the car was provided by a generator driven by the wheels of the car. This charged the battery set when the car was running which was designed to deliver electricity to lights and fans even when the car was standing at a station. Other defects were remedied in the Pullman Company shops and the car was sent to them for repairs several times.
The El Fleda was used as the last car on all trains in travel. While traveling in Flagstaff, Arizona, the passenger train became snowbound and the Bunting family fed the train passengers in the El Fleda for three days. Even with its repair problems, the El Fleda was considered one of the finest Pullman cars of its time.
When the El Fleda was not in use, it was parked at Niles or Newark. Bill Jones, the Bunting cook and porter, looked after it.
The Buntings made 12 trips to the East Coast and five to Los Angeles. Other trips were made to California cities and Vancouver. They leased the El Fleda to private parties for trips to the East Coast, Mexico and other places. The car was leased to James L. Flood and his party for a trip to Mexico in 1910. A Mexican national railroad switch engine ran over a switch that was in the wrong position and crashed into the side of the El Fleda. This ended the trip and John Bunting soon sold the El Fleda to the Colorado and Wyoming railroad for use by the company president. It is now a diner in Peoria, Illinois.