When Colonel John Stevens first concepted constructing an American railroad in 1812, he wrote about how railways and steam carriages would provide an advantage to canals, when it came to transporting freight. The first train to ever be a regular carrier of human passengers was the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, which was completed on Feb. 28, 1827.
What the Colonel likely never imagined was what Sarasota resident Bob Horne has created in Sarasota with train cars — a popular restaurant full of both railroad and circus memorabilia. Within four renovated train cars, Bob’s Train serves delicious American fare with a side of nostalgia.
Horne seemed destined to be tied to both the railroad and the circus at a fairly early age. He spent his honeymoon night with his first wife Kathy inside a train car sitting at the Venice Depot. His new wife’s grandfather was an executive with the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Over the years, Horne served in the U.S. Navy, and had successful careers in a multitude of capacities, from working at the Environmental Protection Agency, in Washington, D.C., to learning the automotive industry in Detroit.
His daughter Melinda Horne says that there is a reason Bob can easily converse with all of his customers.
“I don’t think anyone has brought up anything, ever, that he hasn’t at least dabbled in,” she said. “Even at his age now, he still never sits still.”
That desire to keep busy is why in 2004, when Horne became aware that circus magnate John Ringling’s personal train car, Jomar, was getting ready to be disassembled for scrap metal, he decided to jump in and help. He was able to buy the old car for only $1 — but there was a catch.
“I had to move it off the tracks from where it was sitting,” Horne said. “So I moved it from downtown down the middle of Fruitville Road at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and brought it here, where it sits on the tracks.”
The restoration of Jomar is still an ongoing project, one for which Horne continues to raise money. But in the meantime, he also bought four other railroad cars, New York Central Railroad day coaches. Since one of his many specialties/jobs had included teaching Culinary Arts, Horne decided to open a restaurant in the four 1950s-60s train cars.
Bob’s Train restaurant opened in 2007, but before it did, Horne had to also complete some renovations on his newest purchases.
“At one time, these cars were made into housing for the Ringling Circus,” he said. “One of the things I did was to remove a lot of duct work from the ceilings and put it along the sides of the cars, which gave me vaulted ceilings in my dining cars.”
He now has four cars for his restaurant, which also contains a kitchen, various waitstaff stations and even a private dining room towards the back, for which Horne himself crafted a beautiful eight-top table. He serves what he classifies as “American Eclectic” fare, with salads, sandwiches, burgers, various entrees and homemade desserts.
On Tuesday evenings, Horne and his daughters Melinda and Brittany host a “Gourmet Dinner” in the private dining room.
“We feature nine courses, over about two and a half hours,” he said. “This restaurant tells the story of Sarasota’s history with the circus, but it’s also a fun place for anyone who has an interest in railroad cars.”