HOUSTON – Judge Roy Hofheinz's custom railroad car and the locomotive that pulls it are cool memories from the Astrodome and AstroWorld days in Houston.
For more than 40 years, the rail car, called "Astrodoma," and the locomotive that once pulled it around Astroworld have sat in an unmarked warehouse in the city of South Houston.
The rail car has changed ownership a couple of times, but it never left its location. The warehouse was built around the giant treasure in 1976.
Robert Harper inherited the rail car from his father, who bought it from the Hofheinz estate in the early '90s.
"It has viewing platforms in the front and back. As he traveled as his office, he could get out show people, like the old presidents. (He) got out and talked to the crowds behind the car," Harper said. "I decided it's time to find a new owner."
When Hofheinz was creating the Astrodome and AstroWorld in the 1960s, he made it public knowledge that he wanted the park to feature a railroad with authentic railroad cars.
To help design the cars, Hofheinz selected Harper Goff, a renowned designer.
According to “The Grand Huckster,” a biography of Hofheinz authored by Edgar W. Ray and published in 1980 by the Memphis State University Press, Hofheinz and Goff came together to turn the idea into reality.
“When he inspected samples of things for trains, the judge would look at me real hard and say, ‘It is the best of the lot, isn’t it? I want the best,’” Goff said.
Hofheinz was specific with the details he wanted.
“I want a personal VIP-type car like a San Francisco trolley car, only I want it fixed up with a bar. That’ll be kind of a sales car when I am taking people around in order to sell them convention space in the Astrodome, or the hotels that I intend to build. We won’t have to ride with the crowd, but can go across in a private car,” Hofheinz told Goff.
Goff designed a custom railroad car with a glass dome. His plans called for it to be supported by marble-like columns that were to be created out of wood by a Californian, but Hofheinz vetoed that idea and insisted they be made from real marble.
Hofheinz's rail car was built to his specifications. He entertained many guests on the rail car over the course of the following decade.
In 1976, Hofheinz decided to store the rail car at a South Houston warehouse.
In the early 1990s, the father of the owner of the warehouse bought the railroad car and the locomotive from the estate of Hofheinz's widow.
The rail car has sat in the warehouse ever since it was stored there in 1976.
In the last 42 years, few eyes have seen it since it was hidden by a wall.
There is not yet an asking price, but Harper has an idea of what it was once worth.
"Don't know in today's market what it is. I know when it came in he either had it insured for half a million or $1 million," Harper said.