The Underground Brewery Stories about brewing beer and train traveling from Tom Coughlin

July 24, 2012

A private train cruise around Chicago: A Dover Harbor trip (May 2005).

Filed under: — Tom @ 12:02 pm

We left Lansdale around 10 am on Thursday morning. I dropped Meg and our bags off at the SEPTA Lansdale station, took the car back home, and walked back the station to meet her. The R-5 arrived on time at 30th Street Station. Amtrak train 95 arrived fifteen minutes late and on the wrong platform, which left about a hundred passengers shuffling up and down staircases in order to get to their train. Apparently because  95 was running late and arrived after, and not before, an adjacent Metroliner, the two trains swapped platforms.

Like most late trains, 95 was packed with people. We found seats, though they were not together. It may be strange to say, but I enjoy late trains–it provides an excuse to talk with the people sitting next to you. I get a real kick out of meeting furtive railfans disguised as grandmothers and businessmen, just dying to talk about their favorite Amtrak trips. The fellow sitting next to me was from New York City who was traveling to Washington, DC with his mother, and who had never rode Amtrak before, and was having a great time. He asked all the easy questions that any railfan could have answered. Before long, we were traveling buddies.

As the train stopped at Washington Union Terminal, I called Kevin Tankersley by cell phone to check the location of the car, and wandered up into the station to meet up with the Dover Harbor crew. When I arrived at the car, it was clean and shiny, but unfortunately blocked from the rear of the train by a couple of Amtrak box cars. The passengers greeted each other. The six passengers, Bill Hakkarinen, Mike Martin, Dante Stephensen, and Joe Maloney, along with Meg and me were all old private car traveling companions. Bill remarked that he had researched the situation regarding boxcars on the back of the Capitol, and half the time the train runs without them. Our trip was just having some bad luck.

Ken Brooks, our steward, served us drinks and snacks, which we enjoyed as we chatted in the lounge and watched the Amtrak passengers pass on their way to the coach seats and bedrooms at the front of the train. The trip out of D.C was a slow crawl that included a backup move in Rockville to clear a stalled freight train on a main track. Within minutes, the train was running two hours late. We had another interesting stop on the bridge as we crossed into Harpers Ferry, WV, which gave us a chance to enjoy the railfan-perfect afternoon view from the trestle.

Our dinner of roast pork went splendidly with our sampling of old ales. Joe Maloney is an accomplished home brewer, and Meg and I stowed a few bottles from our beer cellar to share with him and our fellow beer enthusiasts on the trip. As Amtrak positioned a Superliner crew dorm transition car at the rear of their consist, directly in front of the Dover, after dinner, Dante and I decided to take advantage of the ability to pass into the regular train set, and we took a walk up into the Amtrak train to sit in the sightseer lounge and watch the sunset as we rolled toward Sand Patch.

The sightseer lounge was an older one, painted in an ugly brown, but the car was tidy and windows were clean. Dante remarked how sad it is to see the lounge fairly empty. A few minutes later, the Amtrak crew announced over the PA that the evening movie would be starting in the lounge, and about 20 passengers, mostly younger ones, started wandering in. We tried to take in the scenery but after a spell, we decided to back to the Dover. The attendant running the video had turned the sound on the television sets fairly high, and the Amtrak passengers seemed much more interested in the film than the sunset.

That night Meg and I were particularly tired, and we dozed in our chairs in the lounge. We were off to bed before Connellsville. My first night out was sleep-filled, and I didn’t wake up until we were west of Cleveland. Our arrival into Chicago was late, but the partly cloudy day defied the poor weather forecast. The sun was shining, and Meg and I bolted off the Dover while the train was still in the station to do some sightseeing and have dinner.

Before taking off for the day, Dante collected his two antique armchairs that he had checked as baggage, from the Amtrak baggage car. The chairs, which had been on his private car THE SURVIVOR for many years, originally came from the bridge of an old great lakes steamer. He was donating them to a historical group in the Chicago area, and was going to personally drop them off.

Our Friday in Chicago was fast moving and gave us some opportunities to ride the El and pay visits to some local businesses. Our first stop was over to the new CTA headquarters at 567 Lake Street to purchase $5 one-day passes for busses and subways. Thereafter, we stopped at Blommer’s Chocolate for some snacks, and then up to the Chicago Mallet Company in Ravenswood to visit the successor of the J.C. Deagan Company and see the mallet museum. This type of mallet has nothing to do with steam engines, but a lot to do with railroad dining cars. Folks who can remember passenger rail before Amtrak, might recall dining car stewards announcing the dinner sittings in the dining car using a hand-held dinner chime, a four note xylophone that the steward could play a few notes on to get the attention of travelers in the lounge. Deagan supplied virtually all of these instruments, and today many collectors of dining car memorabilia have an old Deagan chime in their collection.

From the turn of the 20th century, to the 1970s, Deagan was the leading maker of these chimes. The company traces its roots back to John Calhoun Deagan, who built a successful business making glockenspiels, marimbas and xylophones for marching bands, orchestras and churches. Deagan was an acoustical engineer also led the worldwide movement toward standardization of concert pitch (A=440 hertz) for all musical instruments, and his company manufactured tuning forks and other devices to make it possible for instrument tuners to achieve this standard.

In the 1980s, Deagan went out of business, and the repair and maintenance aspects of the business were taking over by the chief technician, Gilberto Serra who continues in business restoring old Deagan instruments. Working out of a cramped shop on the second floor of the old Deagan building, he maintains a small, museum, jammed full of dozens of Deagan’s instruments-vibraphones, xylophones, gongs, tubular bells, chimes, and a strange assortment of electro-mechanical instruments that appeared to have been designed by Dr. Seuss. While not a railfan, Gilberto was delighted to hear that the Dover Harbor used an period-appropriate Deagan chime to announce dinner, and was kind enough to provide from his old stock of original mallets, a wooden-handled dinner chime mallet for use on the car.

After our Deagan visit, Meg and I made another offbeat stop at Penzey’s Spices in Oak Park, and then rode the El up to Bucktown in search of dinner. As we traveled, we realized that it was a perfect night for pulled pork barbeque. Taking the advice of a native BBQ enthusiast we met along the way, we rode the CTA up to Evanston to visit Hecky’s for some take out. After Hecky’s, we rode back to the yard and met up with the Dover again on the south side of the Roosevelt Road Bridge. By this time, the Amtrak crew had assembled the train set for the excursion and all the private cars were together. That evening, we enjoyed BBQ on the car, and afterward wandered outside to take night photos of the train. The evening rain had cleared the smog, and the Chicago skyline lit up in the sky north of the yard. In the yellow glow of the sodium vapor lights, we read off the names of the cars on the special-PA 120, Warrior Ridge, Little Juanita Rapids, Sierra Hotel, Puget Sound, Pointe St. Charles, Dover Harbor, Caritas, Skykomish River, and Montana. Once again, we were dead from walking around all day, and along with being excited of the trip, we fell off to sleep quickly.

The following morning, I was up before 7, and went out to walk the train in the early sunlight and snap some pictures in the golden twilight when the sun is low enough in the sky to capture truck details, and still dim enough that the glow of the lights in the bedrooms and lounges registers on film. Another beautiful railfan-pleasing day to defy a gloomy forecast. Joe Maloney was out of bed before me, and had started the coffeepot. As 7 o’clock approached, the lounge filled with passengers, and the car was pulled into the station. Departing, we ran up one of the river tracks and dwelled on the north side of the station while the day passengers and guests boarded. After boarding we pulled forward onto the CNW line, and made the right turn at Western Avenue to head up to Waukegan on the Amtrak line. At Waukegan, two EJ&E engines were added to the front of the consist.

Saturday’s excursion consisted of riding the entire length of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway from its northern end in Waukegan to the southernmost point in Gary. The EJ&E is principally a bridge line and two-thirds of its traffic consist of cars being transferred between the dozen or so railroads that serve the Chicago area. The well-maintained mainline forms a semicircle around Chicago, which threads through well manicured suburbs west of town. South of Joliet, the line passes old freight yards, blue-collar suburbs and the aging downtowns of towns with fortunes that were tied to those of the steel industry. At the very end, the line crosses Hohmans Avenue, an area of Hammond, IN that served as the setting for Jean Shepherd’s stories about his childhood in the 1930s (stories that he helped adapt into the movie “A Christmas Story”–but they’re much better as short stories). Shepard described Hohmans as a world of  “belching furnaces, roaring Bessemer Converters, fragrant Petroleum distillation plants, and freight yards”, and folks with  “social lives made up of bowling halls, union halls and beer halls.” These days, the steel plants are mostly idle and rusting, but the rail yards are full and an endless litany of long doublestack trains sped by on the NS mainline.

The trip Saturday was over way too quickly-literally. The train ran the line at track speed, which amounted to a good clip on the smooth rail of the EJ&E. We were in Kirk Yard by 3:00, and made it back to Union Station in time for Joe, Meg and me to go off to church for Saturday night mass. Afterward, the three of us walked back to the yard the long way down to Roosevelt Road along the west side of the Chicago river, and made it back in time for a steak dinner on the car in the yard. Kevin Tankersley used the old Pullman grill to great advantage that night.  After dinner, passengers from the special were out in force taking photos of the train set as it sat in the yard, and generally mingling and socializing.

That night, Meg and I met up with our old PV friend John Suscheck, and toured his new car. We met John 13 years ago when he worked as a steward on the very first PV trip we took. It’s nice to see someone who has fancied private cars for so many years achieve their long-range ambition and get to operate a first rate car. John’s car is a beauty-a 7 duplex roomette, 6 bedroom, one compartment sleeper named Skykomish River, originally built for the Empire Builder. John had good luck in acquiring his new pride and joy–he purchased it directly from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad when the railroad downsized their business train operation, and it had been meticulously maintained and painted. One unusual feature of the car is it’s brand new stainless steel fluting. Originally the car was smooth-sided and painted in the Great Northern Railroad’s Pullman green and Omaha Orange color scheme of the Mid Century Builder. In an effort to make the former GN car look more like the Budd-built former CB&Q cars that made up most of their fleet, the BNSF had the flutes custom made by Bombardier using the original Pullman dies. Prior to installation of the flutes, the mild steel side sheets were shot with metallic silver paint. The end result is unique and handsome.

At the end of the day, Meg and I could hardly stay awake, and we went off to bed fairly early (not sure if it was central time, or all the walking around we were doing).  Sunday was in many ways a repeat of Saturday, We pulled into the south side of the station in the morning, and picked up the day riding passenger, and then out again on the Metra (BNSF) line to for a few hours of rare mileage touring, this time on the Illinois Harbor Belt Railroad and the Belt Railway of Chicago. Mike Martin and Bill Hakkarinen were seldom away from the vestibule all day. Occasionally Bill would come back into the lounge in when he needed more rolls of film-you could tell he was a happy railfan.

As we returned early and wanted to make the most of our time in Chicago, Meg and I decided to skip Kevin’s lasagna dinner, and continue our Chicago El explorations. We walked into the loop district, and then up Michigan Avenue to the visitor center by the water tower in order to get day passes for the El (day passes are not available at subway stations, unfortunately). Passes in hand, we rode the el up to Andersonville to visit a favorite restaurant, but unfortunately, they opened late on Sundays. Without much disappointment, we rode back into the loop and had dinner downtown. Finally we rode a CTA bus back to Roosevelt Road and walked back to the train. The passengers who stuck around for the lasagna raved about it. We could only take their word about it, as there were no leftovers.

Monday was Memorial Day, and except for our departure home in the evening, we had most of the day free to sightsee Chicago. Meg and I took the morning walking tour of historic downtown skyscrapers put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and in the afternoon we rode up to Wrigleyville for some sightseeing and lunch in an Italian restaurant. The El day passes are good for 24 hours, so we were carefully scheduled our return trip to the Dover early enough in the afternoon and were able to continue using the previous day’s passes. A quick call to Kevin to confirm that the Dover hadn’t been pulled into the station early, so we rode to Roosevelt Road on the subway, and quickly sprinted over the bridge and down the spiral staircase. We made it with only a few minutes to spare, before the Dover and the Capitol were pushed into the station for passenger boarding. Happily, we were on the rear of the train with a clear view out the back. Mike Martin’s specially-designed railfanning stools were at the ready by the vestibule door.

At a point between South Bend and Elkhart, darkness overcame the vestibule riders and the railfan part of the day was pretty much over. Once again, another great dinner from Kevin. We were all sound asleep fairly quickly. I was the first up Tuesday morning, and it was my turn to turn the coffeepot on. I had slept through Pittsburgh, but we were still miles short of Connellsville. The trip through Sand Patch was very slow, and as we passed the yard, Pat Clark pointed out the reason why-there had been a collision between a boxcar full of cases of Coors Light and a hopper of corn and there were broken beer bottles and spilled corn all over one area of the yard.

One seldom frets a late train when traveling on a private car, actually you look forward to it. Unfortunately, the Capitol started making up time, and by the time we were within the limits of the Washington DC commuter train district, the train was respectably close to schedule. A quick handshake with Bernie Gallagher of the Dover Harbor mechanical department, and Meg and I were off to catch our Amtrak connection back to Philadelphia. In Philly, we checked our bags at the station as we often do, and enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite downtown restaurants before retreating to the suburbs on the R-5. We rode home on a rush hour local and made it back to the house by sunset.

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