Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sheldon Cooper’s Train Day in LA

My reenactment of Sheldon Cooper's Train Day from The Big Bang Theory

There I was watching The Big Bang Theory (Series 4 Episode 6) when Howard asks Raj if he has any special plans with his sister, Priya, while she is town for one day.

To which Sheldon answers: I always tell people, if you have only one day in Los Angeles, make it a train day. The fun starts with brunch at Carney’s in Studio City, a hot dog stand in a converted railroad dining car. Next stop, Travel Town, an outdoor museum featuring 43 railroad engines, cars and other rolling stock from the 1880s to the 1930s. Finally, we’re off to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for dinner at, that’s right, the Hollywood Carney’s, a hot dog stand in a different converted railroad dining car.

Here's the clip, sorry, I could only find it with sub titles

I picked a sleepy day between Christmas and New Years which I knew would allow me to drive all over Los Angeles without too much of a headache.

I mapped out our attack on the menu. I would start with a Carney’s Dog topped with chili, mustard, tomato, and onions as well as a New Yorker featuring sauerkraut and mustard at the first location. Then at the Hollywood Carney’s I'd try a classic cheese burger with chili cheese fries.

First Stop: Carney's in Studio City

Per the itinerary, our day started at the Carney’s in Studio City and took a surprising, but lovely, turn. As I entered the dining car and I started to take photos, a man in a Carney’s shirt began chatting with me. He asked if this was my first time at Carney’s and if I ever watched The Big Bang Theory, to which I enthusiastically replied “Yes and yes! I’m doing Sheldon Cooper’s Train Day and I’m going to blog about it!” Turns out the man was Bill Wolfe, son of the original founder, John Wolfe, who, along with his brother, owns Carney’s today. I sat and talked for a bit and I learned all about the trains, and the two locations and, perhaps most importantly, the food!

Bill Wolfe, son of original founder John Wolfe, co owns Carney's with his brother

John Wolfe’s background was in broadcasting and he lead the first ever Rock n’ Roll station in Los Angeles, KSWB, which is a news station today. But he wanted to do something different and could cook a mean hamburger and hot dog so he and wife decided to open a stand.  He wanted to use a train car, instead of a traditional storefront, for a couple of reasons. First, in case he lost his lease on the Sunset Strip he could always pick and leave, and second, he thought it would be just plain fun and a great way to attract customers.

In 1975 came the first train. It was a Union Pacific Heavyweight Challenger that was built in the 1920’s and remodeled in the 40’s.  Initially half of the car was a kitchen and the other half was a dining area, which only allowed for about 5 tables. So three years later they added a half car in the back to house the kitchen. The second car was Louisville National Daylight car built in the 1950’s. They purchased it at an auction from Amtrak.  Getting the cars to their locations was quite an endeavor.  Bill recalled that his dad paid the truck driver $300 to deliver the car at 7:00 am so as not to disturb traffic. Unfortunately, the street remained shut down for about 3 hours!

Here's what that looked like!

I was also curious about where the name Carney’s came from.  John originally wanted to call it Casey’s, after Casey Jones the famous train engineer. But the name was already taken so he combined “Casey’s” and “cars” to form "Carney’s."

As we spoke, he showed me some mock ups he himself had created of billboards they were planning to put up as his sons worked the cash register and took out the trash. It was a true family restaurant and it was apparent that Bill was seriously enthusiastic about his business. I have never heard anyone talk about beef and hot dogs with such joy and passion.

Bill and his son working the cash register

One bit of trivia I found particularly interesting was that they had no idea they would be featured on The Big Bang Theory! Bill found out from Mayim Bialik (aka Amy Farrah Fowler) of all people. She happened to stop by the Studio City location and told him all about it. Today folks come in all the time and say that they heard about it on the Big Bang Theory.

However, I don’t think anyone has attempted, and documented, Train Day until now! So let’s continue.

After chatting with Bill, I sat down to eat our two dogs. And yes, they are really are delicious! The chili was a soft consistency, not too chunky, which I prefer. And the accompanying tomato, cheese, mustard, and onions complemented the chili perfectly. A bit messy to eat but if that bothers you, perhaps you shouldn’t be eating chili dogs.

Classic Carney's Dog and The New Yorker

The New Yorker was tasty too. A bit less filling and easier to eat.  The blend of sauerkraut and mustard was perfect on the dog. Between these two dogs, the New Yorker was my favorite.

Second Stop: Travel Town!

It was now time to hit Travel Town!

It is located just down the freeway from Studio City near the Los Angeles Zoo and admission has been free since it opened in 1947. The museum is located outside and features dozens of different kinds of locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, passenger cars, and more. Some are roped off but many are accessible so kids (and adults!) can climb all over all them and play with knobs and levers.

Alllll aboard!

The grounds were scattered with groups having birthday parties and barbeques and, of course, a tiny train took passengers for a joyful ride along the perimeter. For $2.75 you got to ride around not once, but twice. And if you are lucky enough to sit near the front, the conductor comes around with the microphone and lets you yell “All aboard!”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I made one additional stop before heading to the Hollywood Carney’s. Right around the corner from Travel Town is Golden Road Brewery. A young brewery specializing in IPAs, owned by the youngest female brewer in the world, and won’t distribute anywhere further then a tank of gas can drive. But more on them another time!)

Last Stop: Carney's in Hollywood, CA!

After a quick tasting at Golden Road I pressed on and drove deep into the heart of Hollywood. For the first time that day, I hit some major traffic in front of the Hollywood Bowl, but it let up and soon I arrived at the original Carney’s location in Hollywood. 

Carney's first location on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood

Per my plan, I ordered a cheese burger and chili cheese fries. The chili was just as good here and super easy to eat over a pile of crispy fries. The burger really, truly was delicious. It was nothing extravagant and didn’t feature truffle oil or grilled onions. It was basic, simple, and delicious. It’s easy to fancy up a burger with intense flavors but it’s far more difficult to make a good burger with basic ingredients. And  I think the key is using fresh, delicious ingredients, which Bill made very clear to me that they only use the best ingredients around.

Cheese burger and chili cheese fries

I got back in the car with two Carney’s sodas in my cup holders, a full tummy, and memories of one of the most fun days I’ve spent in LA!  So next time you’re in LA, make it a Train Day! Unless you hate fun.  

Thanks Sheldon Cooper.

Want to learn more about LA? Check out My 5 Favorite Things About Los Angeles (and 5 Least Favorite)!


  1. I love it! Both the day and the fact you actually went out and recreated it.

  2. Thanks! It was tough job....eating hot dogs and chili, playing on trains...but someone has got to do it =)

  3. thank for your sharing and posts.

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