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Twentieth Century Limited rail car brings touch of Hollywood to Falls

It was almost as big a star as Cary Grant.

We're talking about the sleek train in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest," where Grant seduces Eva Marie Saint in a luxurious car.

Part of that well-known train -- the Twentieth Century Limited -- rolled into the Niagara Frontier this past weekend for a New York Central System Historical Society Convention, chugging from New York City's Penn Station to the Amtrak station in Niagara Falls.

"Without trains, where would we be?" Scott Clauss asked rhetorically. Clauss, 27, is vice president of Star Trak, directing charter operations in New Jersey for the two-toned gray rail car that on the back sports the Twentieth Century slogan: "Railroads helped build America."

Clauss, who has been a railroad buff since age 5, when his dad also worked on train restoration, attended the two-day convention in Grand Island, which attracted well over 100 rail enthusiasts.

Longtime railroad man Rodney Kantorski of Clarence one-upped him Sunday by exclaiming, "I've been a train buff since I was 2 years old!

"To see this Twentieth Century Limited car restored to mint condition gives me an eerie feeling. It's pretty amazing," said Kantorski, 48, a CSX Transportation engineer.

Some Buffalonians will remember the Twentieth Century at the Buffalo Central Terminal. This train stopped in Buffalo while transporting actors and actresses from New York to Chicago.

Immortalized in an early play, then in Howard Hawks' "Twentieth Century," with plenty of train action from Hollywood stars John Barrymore and Carole Lombard involving conductors, porters and brakemen, the Twentieth Century also was seen in "The Sting."

Kantorski tells of the history of the rail car that dropped him off in the Falls, formally dubbed "Hickory Creek," built by Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing Co.

In the late 1960s, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus bought the car. It was acquired by the nonprofit United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey in 1991 and restored with the help of a federal grant.

Long associated with romance, the Twentieth Century seems to cast a spell, which Barrymore at the time summed up by saying:

"I've never done anything I like as well."

e-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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