Quirky US-French mu­seum to of­fer night on Ori­ent Ex­press

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Visi­tors to a quirky rail mu­seum in France's Bur­gundy re­gion, the brain­child of US en­tre­pre­neur Gre­gory Mar­shall, will have a new op­por­tu­nity to spend a night on the leg­endary Ori­ent Ex­press. Two car­riages and a lo­co­mo­tive from the line cre­ated in 1883 to carry the well-heeled from Paris to Con­stantino­ple, as Is­tan­bul was then called, are the jewel of Mar­shall's grow­ing col­lec­tion of steam trains for a ho­tel-cum-mu­seum he hopes to open next year.

The Ori­ent Ex­press stopped serv­ing Is­tan­bul in 1977 when the ser­vice was short­ened and the fa­bled train made its last jour­ney in De­cem­ber 2009. Dat­ing from 1948, Mar­shall's Ori­ent Ex­press car­riages in­clude a lux­u­ri­ous restau­rant car­which fea­tures a cylin­der phono­graph among its pe­riod high­lights-where guests will dine. Mar­shall's "dream train" project is cen­tred on a dis­used rail­way sta­tion nes­tled among cen­tury-old oaks and as­pens in the vil­lage of Dracy-Saint-Loup, pop­u­la­tion 600.

Once he brings the long-de­serted sta­tion, built in 1882, back to life, "it'll be great for kids," said the white-haired Mar­shall, who looks far younger than his 71 years. "I've loved trains since I was a child," said Mar­shall, a for­mer US Marine who re­mem­bers the first toy train set his fa­ther gave him when he was five or six years old. "Al­most ev­ery­body of my age, older, or a lit­tle bit younger, has mem­o­ries of steam lo­co­mo­tives," Mar­shall said.

"But in reg­u­lar mu­se­ums there's no par­tic­i­pa­tion, peo­ple can't get on (the trains), and re­ally en­joy them, have an ad­ven­ture." The last lo­co­mo­tive to ar­rive at the site was a Cock­er­ill from Bel­gium, tak­ing its place be­side a huge steam en­gine dat­ing from 1916. Mar­shall's French man­ager, Gre­gory Godessart, says guests can­not ex­pect to en­joy all the mod­ern com­forts, but just "to have fun spend­ing the night in the Ori­ent Ex­press." So far one of the wagons is prac­ti­cally ready to take pay­ing guests, with Mar­shall aim­ing for a spring 2018 open­ing.

For his own sleep­ing com­fort, Mar­shall plans a "dou­ble-decker" car­riage that will be his main res­i­dence at the Dracy-Sain­tLoup sta­tion, which lies on a now de­funct line that me­an­ders through Bur­gundy's Mor­van high­lands and has not seen a pas­sen­ger since 2011. Mar­shall, who made a fortune from some telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions patents, bought the di­lap­i­dated build­ing from the French state rail­way com­pany SNCF in Septem­ber 2016. He knows his "dream train" project is go­ing to bust the 200,000 euro ($230,000) bud­get he set. But he doesn't mind.

Her­itage

For­merly ac­tive with Amer­i­can her­itage groups, Mar­shall hopes his sta­tion and its his­toric rolling stock will earn a his­toric clas­si­fi­ca­tion in France. Mar­shall is not only about steam trains. An avid pi­lot, he owns a Piper Lance six-seater, which is parked at the air­port in the nearby Bur­gundy cap­i­tal Di­jon. Be­fore mov­ing to France in 2003, he lived in Bos­ton and Hawaii, as well as Cal­i­for­nia where he was in the cel­e­brated Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol.

"Very in­ter­est­ing, very fun, when you're young, you chase bad guys and ar­rest them, it's an ad­ven­ture," said Mar­shall, who was di­vorced, re­mar­ried and is now a widower. "I'm not happy if I do the same thing for too long," he said. Mar­shall has a col­lec­tion of Citroen's em­blem­atic Deux Che­vaux (2CV) cars, in­clud­ing one that he has adapted to look like a World War II-era US army ve­hi­cle. One day he hopes to ship over to France the last home of the pi­o­neer­ing avi­a­tor Charles Lind­bergh, who in 1927 flew non­stop from New York to Paris, which he dis­man­tled sev­eral years ago in or­der to pre­serve it.

Dracy-Saint-Loup res­i­dents are en­thused by Mar­shall's project. Godessart said "a lit­tle old lady, 95 years old, who used to take the train with her grand­mother" vis­ited the site. While the "dream train" project slowly takes shape, weeds con­tinue to con­sume the old tracks and the rick­ety sta­tion plat­form sags in places. "There's still a lot of work to do," Mar­shall said. — AFP

Amer­i­can Gre­gory Mar­shall (right) and Gre­gory Godessart (left) pull a 1910 steam lo­co­mo­tive at the old rail­way sta­tion in Dracy-Saint-Loup, cen­tral France.

Amer­i­can Gre­gory Mar­shall, 71-years-old, poses in his French made 2 CV (Citroen) au­to­mo­bile mod­i­fied to look like an Amer­i­can army ve­hi­cle at the old rail­way sta­tion in Dracy-Saint-Loup, cen­tral France. — AFP pho­tos

Amer­i­can Gre­gory Mar­shall poses on a 1910 steam lo­co­mo­tive.

Amer­i­can Gre­gory Mar­shall (right) and Gre­gory Godessart (left) look at the tracks at the old rail­way sta­tion in Dracy-Saint-Loup.

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