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

July 24, 2012

Amtrak and a private train to the Grand Canyon: reports from the road (Summer 2002).

Filed under: — Tom @ 4:57 pm

July 2002. Checking in from Lansdale, PA–a couple of days before the trip:

Hi rail travel buddies–

I hope you’re enjoying your summer. Meg’s away for the weekend so I’m catching up on movies, email and home projects. This weekend marks Meg’s *second to last* monthly trip to the University of Michigan–she finishes in September, and is getting excited.

Hermit's Rest. The Grand Canyon

Hermit’s Rest. The Grand Canyon. Built in the 1930s by the Santa Fe, Railroad, this was one of the last design projects done by Mary Elizabeth Coulter.

On Tuesday morning, Meg and I are heading off for a three-week train trip to the Grand Canyon. Neither one of us has ever been there, so we’re in for surprises no matter what. This will be our first long train trip since 1995, and we’ll be marking Meg’s completion of grad school, as well as our recent anniversary (our 12th).

We’re hitting the road with a group of 18 or so other railfans from the Washington DC chapter of the National Railway Historical Society for an unusual cross-country Amtrak trip. We’re taking two private railroad cars–the group owns one and rented another one that Meg and I will be staying on. Our Amtrak-compatible mobile home is the MKT-403, a business car that was used by the president of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and was sometimes lent to Harry Truman. (We get to sleep in Harry’s bed!)

If you’re worried about us taking advantage of federal taxpayers, don’t. One of Amtrak’s few profitable business is what they call “special movements”–the renting of special trains, and haulage behind scheduled trains. Amtrak makes a few hundred special movements each year and charges $1.75 per mile per car, plus switching and parking fees. Amtrak will easily make several thousand dollars a day from the group by hauling the cars and letting us park overnight in their stations and railraod yards.

We’re both a little concerned that this may be our last big trip on Amtrak as their future is very much up in the air right now. It’s possible that the commercial freight railroads in the western states might find an insurer, and go into the business of running passenger trains (and there have been rumors that Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Union Pacific have both contemplated getting back into the passenger business), but even with the miraculous long shot that both of these railroads decide to take over passenger operations on all of the routes they provide to Amtrak, it would still leave us with a system that connects Chicago to the West Coast only. In other words, no national system.

At this point, Amtrak looks like they’ll be hanging in for at least a year. They’re severely short of superliner equipment, especially superliner diners and sleepers, which causes some late trains. In order to make the most use of what they have, trains that come into Chicago from the West every morning are quickly cleaned and sent out to Washington that evening. Frequently, a car needing service in Chicago results in a train leaving late for the East Coast. At the main Amtrak repair shop in Indianapolis, there’s a row of more than 30 superliners that need heavy repairs, but unfortunately Amtrak hasn’t had the money to fix them. Two weeks ago however, David Gunn, Amtrak’s new president, told the shop manager to hire back a small force of furloughed car repairers, and to worry about the money later.

We hope that congress listens to Gunn and accepts the fact that *all* forms of mass public transportation (especially highways and aviation) loose tons of money and need continual government support, however in the short term, we might wind up being late, missing train connections, and/or visiting cities we hadn’t planned on seeing. Regardless, we’ll probably be very comfortable in the MKT-403, enjoying the camaraderie of Harry Truman’s ghost.

Meg and I will be taking a few different Amtrak trains as we travel through space and time–the Capitol Limited to Chicago, the California Zephyr to San Francisco,and the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles. Once in LA, our cars will be put on a steam excursion train that will run through the desert for two days and take us to Williams, AZ, where we’ll spend four days at the National Railway Historical Society Convention. On the way back, we’ll ride the steam train to LA, and catch the Southwest Chief to Chicago, and then the Capitol back to Washington, DC. While in Arizona, we’re going to rent a car and try to visit some of the old establishments of the Santa Fe Railway.

Thanks to the magic of wireless cell phone modems, you may be getting on-the-road reports from us (I’m much better looking than Charles Kuralt, but hopelessly wooden compared to Bill Bryson). I hope you enjoy riding with us, and that one day you’ll be able to take us along with you on one of your trips.

Tom Coughlin


To Mike Martin–Ticket Agent, Washington,  DC Chapter NRHS.

Meg and I sort of headed in the other direction in terms of packing light–I sent 53 pounds of stuff to Jim Lilly in a cardboard box to have him put it on the car. Some of the stuff will be disposed of en-route, and won’t come home. Other stuff will be packed into a box that we’ll mail from Chicago on the way back. One of the nice things about traveling by RR
car is you don’t have to travel light.

The box is for some non-luggage, low value kind of stuff. Meg is bringing two folding camp chairs suitable for platform riding. Meg really enjoys platform riding, and I believe she spent some time anticipating the experience, and planning accessories that may enhance her enjoyment of sitting out back. I hope we have some friendly conductors and car hosts
who will indulge us. Time was when you could ride the platform anywhere on Amtrak, but that’s all in the past unfortunately.

I needed to pack a few books to read for school, and a couple of books that I thought would be of interest to our party. There’s a bunch of videotapes, 6 changes of clothes for me, an ugly old tripod and some other stuff. Meg is planning on doing laundry in Flagstaff, AZ, the night we arrive in Williams. We’ll get a rental car the following morning and return to Williams for the convention.

We really want to drive around the state and see some of the old Fred Harvey establishments and some of the sights. As much as we enjoy tourist lines, four days is a pretty short visit. We’re thinking about going to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and La Posada in Winslow. La Posada was the last hotel that Mary Coulter designed for the ATSF/Harvey resort operation, and it recently reopened after being closed for 40 years. A lot depends on what the weather.

Meg was planning on staying overnight one night at the Phoenician Hotel (she had some free stay coupons), but decided instead to use them to stay in Emeryville, CA. We decided sort of at the last minute not to stay in Oakland. There’s a hotel right next to the train station with free parking, and a Hertz office with cars right there. For the connection with the Coast Starlight we’ll either ride coach down to Oakland, or get a cab ride
from the hotel.

Beside the Cal. State Railway Museum (one of the best RR museums in the US), there is a trolley museum with more than 50 cars, and a railway museum inside a navy base with more than 30 former SP cars. The Transbay Terminal will probably be history before long–Caltrans wants to tunnel north from the current station and build a new underground station on the site of the current terminal (this ambitious project also involves electrifying the former SP commuter line between San Francisco and Gilroy, CA). Meg may not want to go railfanning with me in SF. It’s all depending right now on
whether or not we connect with our friends.


To Bill Hakk (fellow passenger, and fellow DCNRHS member).

Nothing like getting a rr car ready for a trip. Many years ago, Meg and I were shaking down the Imperial Sands, and Meg noticed that the air conditioner was blowing a little dusty. I took down a couple of ceiling panels and it looked very dusty, so about a week prior to pulling out, Meg and I took all the ceiling panels down and did a last minute major
cleaning of the ductwork. (On a prior trip, the car had gone through the Moffat Tunnel, immediately following another train, on a day when the tunnel fans hadn’t been working, and had gotten severely dusted. Apparently the Moffat Tunnel has a bad reputation for this.) I really miss doing mechanical work on cars. I even miss the days in February when I
sat outside for hours drilled out rusty bolts.

Last I heard, the Dover Harbor mechanical crew was planning on putting a refrigeration unit in the ice bunker. You wouldn’t happen to know if this upgrade was done?

Meg and I feel very bad for Martin being the sole mechanical officer on such a long trip. Martin takes operating the car very seriously, and tends not to sleep a whole lot when doing a trip. I hope he takes some time off along the way. I’m going to offer to help him if he needs any assistance at any point. The Dover Harbor is one of the best-maintained PVs on Amtrak, and has excellent personality and lots of good luck, so Meg and I
aren’t too concerned about the car.

Meg and I visited the MKT-403 about seven years ago at an AARPCO convention, and it was highly memorable. The car has a distinctive oak interior, and at that time the owners were using real RR china in the cupboard. The owners were very kind to us, and they obviously were very fastidious about the car. The 403 has six-wheel outside swing hanger
trucks, so we’re in for a really soft swaying ride, just like a Packard Clipper going down the parkway at 45. The car also has beds that hold two people, which is especially nice for me as I mostly get the upper bunk. (The trick Meg and I do when staying on the DH is to get rid of the ladder. I don’t need it to get into the bunk, and it winds up taking up a lot of room.)

Meg is trying to figure out what the appropriate tip would be for the chef. We’re going to have 7 dinners, 6 lunches, 2 full breakfasts, and 2 continental breakfasts. Can you offer any advice?

Meg has been tracking arrival and departure times for the CZ, SW Chief, Coast Starlight, and Capitol Ltd. for the last few weeks. Capitol has been running hours late most of the time since the derailment, but the other trains are doing fine. We’re mentally prepared for spending an unplanned overnight in Chicago should we miss our connection.

We’re a little concerned about is how well/badly the special will be operated (Lets see– we have a large steam engine, a busy railroad, a pile of borrowed railroad cars, and a bunch of folks who’ve never done this before. I hope this works out for them.) The Canyon Rails folks have put the entire DCNRHS party on the MKT-403 for the trip out and back, and
we’re going to have the car owners traveling with us too. I hope we’re allowed to sit on the platform, because the car has a smallish lounge.

Tonight, we’re washing clothes with Tide Rapid Action Tabs to see if they’re any good. (We’ll be doing some laundry along the way, and these suckers are really compact–they look like Alka-seltzers for your washing machine.)

Have fun getting ready.


Greetings from Denver

Greetings from Denver (or very nearly). We’re on the California Zephyr today about thirty minutes out of town right now, running about two hours and thirty minutes late. Today the CZ has three heavyweight cars in the center (Intrepid, Dover Harbor, and MKT-403, and a long string of MHCs at the tail. We’re still in the flatlands, but the gray pastel outlines of the Rockies can be seen from the windows. Later today, we’ll be going
through them.

Our trip so far:

Riding down to Washington, DC on Amtrak Tuesday, two Acelas and one Metroliner were canceled heading south, and the three return trips were also canceled. We were fortunate to take an early train in the morning, or we would have missed our connection for the trip. On Tuesday while in Washington DC, the group discovered that Amtrak could not arrange same day transfer for us from the Cap to the CZ, so we needed to spend an extra day
in Chicago. No problem though, we have a slack day in Oakland, so we’ll make the steam train OK.

I woke up on Wednesday morning as we passed Toledo, we admired the slowly evolving Private Car park that is starting to shape up at the station. Catherine Boothe, Eaton, Chapel Hill, Duchess Lynn, and another car are stationed there undergoing work.

The Capitol was three hours late getting into Chicago Wednesday. Amtrak cut off the PVs and the MHCs on the wye and left us there for about 45 minutes. As we pulled into Chicago, the rainy weather cleared, and the sun was out for the almost two days we were there. Meg and I took a river cruise, visited some old railway stations before, heading back to the yard for the night.

A Clark Johnson explorer trip was breaking up and heading home so we saw PVs Cimaron River, Pine Tree State and Caritas in the station, all heading off in different directions. That night as we settled down to sleep in the coach yard,  we saw the Intrepid coming in (not sure what train they were on). Lots of PVs to be seen today.

Fellow Passenger Bill Hakkarinen had arranged for us passenger to visit the skybox meeting room of the 20th Century Railroad Club, which overlooks the engine shop at Union Station and provides a spectacular northerly view of the Amtrak yards and the city skyline. Meg and I went up after an early breakfast and enjoyed watching Metra’s rush hour trains. After rush hour, we went over to the Art Institute and had lunch in the loop.

We left Chicago mostly on time yesterday, but lost some time due to a dragging brake shoe setting off a hotbox detector in Nebraska last night. At the same time, a hobo boarded the vestibule of the Dover Harbor, but vacated promptly at the request of the crew.

The MKT-403 is a really enjoyable car. Meg and I are having a great time riding on it. Passengers are an especially lively bunch, lots of women on this trip. (The Phoebe Snow Club has been meeting regularly in the lounge.) The crew is doing a wonderful job and the food is pretty good too.

Greetings from Williams, AZ

Lots have miles have passed since my last trip report from Denver last Friday. Since then, we completed our trip to the west coast behind Amtrak’s California Zephyr, traveled between Oakland and Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight, and rode behind Locomotive 3751, a mountain-type 4-8-4 originally owned by the Santa Fe Railray. It’s been an incredible trip.

Through the exercise of incredible personal charm on the part of John Marshall, the owner of the MKT-403, and some good luck, the folks at Amtrak smiled at us and positioned the two cars at the rear of the California Zephyr for the trip between Denver and Emeryville, California. This afforded our party a day and a half of incredible rear platform
riding that included Glenwood Canyon, Colorado and Donner Pass in California. Meg (a dedicated and fully-committed rear platform sitter) was completely dusty after spending most of the trip on the back of the train, but she cleaned up OK.

On Saturday night, the train arrived very late into Emeryville, and the passengers took limousines to a hotel in Oakland, on Jack London Square. We had a very short night’s sleep before arising at 6:30 to have breakfast before catching our next train, the Coast Starlight. The cars both spent the night in the Amtrak shop getting minor repairs tended to, and were ready to put on the train by morning.

The Coast Starlight, which runs overnight from Seattle to Oakland, was delayed slightly due to a lift bridge about an hour north of the station, and having the two cars added to the rear contributed slightly to the delay. Once aboard the car, we enjoyed our coffees and danishes and several of our party headed immediately to the rear platform. Meg and I spent most of the morning in the lounge contemplating the expansive farms
in the flatlands of the San Joaquin Valley. As the day wore on, we saw more of the coast, and the terrain became hillier. Meg sat out on the back porch for about four hours in the afternoon, and took in the small towns and the picturesque stations built many years ago by the Southern Pacific. In a sense the Dover Harbor was on some home turf. The routes that the Dover Harbor plied in the 1930s and 1940s have been lost to time, however the SP used Pullman-owned Buffet Lounge cars on this route on their train “The Sunset”, so it is possible that at one time or other many years ago the Dover Harbor had run on this track with a load of first-class passengers heading toward Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT).

Once again, we arrived late. We landed in Los Angeles Union Station around midnight, with only a few hours to spare to have the cars added to the Grand Canyon steam special. Rick Wright, president of the Railroadiana Collectors Association, Incorporated (RCAI), met Meg and me at the station. Meg and Rick both serve on the board of this association of
railroad artifact collectors, and Rick kindly volunteered to do the shopping run with us for car provisions, as it turned out, he was a really good person to call on as he works in law enforcement for Los Angeles County, and through a professional association with the local commuter rail agency, he was familiar both with the station and nearby grocery
stores that stay open late on Sunday nights.

Out of Williams:

We arrived in Williams too late Tuesday to catch the Greyhound bus to Flagstaff, so Meg and I had to settle for a lift from Smitty’s Taxi, which we shared with a couple of car owners who had to go home early. After a restful night at the Embassy Suites hotel in Flagstaff, we walked a few blocks downtown to the Amtrak Station to pickup a rental car.

It’s not widely known, but Hertz Car Rentals has been a marketing partner with Amtrak for many years, and frequently has rental agents, even at the smaller stations. Most of the time, Hertz will provide free transportation to the airport for car pickup, and frequently, they have arrangements in place so you can drop off your car when the Amtrak train is passing through, regardless of whether or not the Hertz agent is there (which is a good feature in many locations where the train passes through town in the middle of the night, as it does in Flagstaff). This time, Hertz had a car waiting for us, and we were off immediately to La Posada, in Winslow, about an hour east of Flagstaff.

La Posada is one of the most unusual railroad shrines we visited. It is one part art gallery, one part hotel, and one part railroad living history museum. Opened 1930, La Posada was the last and most elaborate of the Mary Colter designed Harvey House hotel/restaurants built for Santa Fe Railway. Conveniently situated next to an important Santa Fe division point, La Posada was a favorite local restaurant for hundreds of railroad employees who lived in town and worked at the railroad offices. With two wings of rooms, a banquet hall, and several bars and restaurants, it was the principal meeting place and watering hole for this railroad company town of a few thousand people. After WWII, as passenger traffic died, the freight side of the business boomed, and the Santa Fe Railroad started converting sections of this increasingly disused hotel into freight offices. By 1960, the ponderous gardens, bustling lobby and restaurants had given way to parking lots, offices, and a dispatching center.

In the 1990s however, an interesting reversal of fortune took place. La Posada was taken over by private owners who have been working for years to restore the hotel back to its pre-office-building condition. The original Harvey restaurant had been gutted by the Santa Fe, but the new owners have established the “Turquoise Room”, a lunch and dinner restaurant. The bar once again is in business, and a portion of the hotel is already restored in an eclectic bohemian style with many original artworks on display.

After a lunch visit, and a walk around the grounds to examine the remains of the garden we came back to Williams by way of WalMart. We had to make an important stop to replace Meg’s folding railroad car platform sitting folding chair which had been damaged.

On Thursday morning, the railway historical convention sponsored a presentation by a group of Harvey Girls, women who worked for the Fred Harvey Company serving as waitresses, tour guides, and hostesses. This presentation was of particular interest to Meg, who has been interested in Fred Harvey history and memorabilia for several years. The Harvey Girls copiously illustrated their presentation with a collection of artifacts, and afterwards, Meg had the opportunity to examine their collection and exchange information on some of the china they were using.

Our train is parked next to the Canyon at the historic ATSF Grand Canyon Railway Depot.

Later on in the day, we drove up to the Grand Canyon, where we walked around the south rim for a few hours. We had lunch in El Tovar, and drove east about 22 miles so we could watch the sunset from the Watchtower. We had a hazy day due to forest fires, but the sunset over the Colorado river was truly beautiful. I can’t recall ever shooting so much film in one location.

On Friday, we went to Sedona via the Oak Creek Canyon drive. Sedona is in the center of red rock country  and is famous for the pointed rocky mountainous crags that jut out of the ground around the city, and the new-age folks who like to spend time there. We also visited Jerome, a turn-of-the-century copper mining boom town, that nowadays is home to two mining museums, an artist’s colony, and a wonderful historic main street. Main street is on top of a steep mountain, and the stores sometimes settle suddenly due to geologic faults and undermining. In the evening, we visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. and saw some stars through the telescope that discovered Pluto.

On Saturday, we went back to Sedona, and discovered that many of the county roads that appear on the AAA maps of Arizona are hardly roads at all, and certainly not suited for mid-size Hertz cars. After visiting Sedona, we drove back to Flagstaff, returned the rental car, and took the greyhound back to Williams for our final night of the visit and dinner with a couple of our trip friends. After dinner, we stood outside the Williams depot and watched the Grand Canyon Railway crew run a set of three steam engines back and forth on the station tracks as they set up the train for the return trip-an amazing sight.

The train took off for Parker promptly on Sunday morning. We ran west out of the station to Ash Forks on a line used only by freight trains, and made a left and headed south to Matthie over Hell’s Canyon and across Skull Valley (they have great names for towns in Arizona). Tonight we’re laying over at an Indian casino on the Arizona-California border. And we’ll be off to Los Angeles tomorrow.

Four days isn’t really enough time to see everything we wanted to see, but we enjoyed everything we saw, and look forward to returning.

End of the trail:

The night in Parker at the Indian casino hotel was restful. Surprisingly few passengers made it to the casino floor. Most had dinner in the private dining room and went straight to bed. Meg and I walked the grounds outside the casino for about an hour, and wandered up and down a marina on the Colorado River. It was a dark sticky night, and a handful of passengers were out getting some exercise.

The following morning, we rode by bus back to the train in downtown Parker, less than two miles away, and left promptly by rail. As it was the last day of the steam segment trip, the mood on the train was somewhat somber-it had been a spectacular few days at the Grand Canyon, and it was ending too soon. We continued to enjoy the rare mileage aspects of this part of the trip; this line hadn’t seen regular passenger service since
the 1950s.

Earl the Barber will not give you a shave.

While on the train that day, I got a haircut from Earl the railroad barber in the barbershop aboard Overland Trail, a former Overland Limited lounge-barbershop car. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, you could get a haircut and a shave while riding between Chicago and San Francisco at 80 miles and hour, and the barber doubled as a baggage handler when the train arrived at the station. Today, Earl and the barbershop are a regular fixture on excursion trains in California. Earl doesn’t like to do shaves, as track conditions aren’t what they used to be, but his haircuts are pretty good, despite the rocking of the train. He even turns the seat, so you can look at the window while he’s cutting.

We arrived in Los Angeles a little too late to do any sightseeing, so we went to bed early so we’d be rested for a free day in town the following day. We had a restful night in the Amtrak yard, and didn’t get moved or bumped much.

Meg and Rick at the station in LA.

The following day, Meg and I had a date with our friend Rick Wright to ride out to his home and see his collection of railroad memorabilia. We woke up early, not knowing where we were parked, and had to walk about a mile to get to the Amtrak shop. Good fortune smiled on us-we were offered a ride by an Amtrak manager who was heading back to the passenger station, and gave us a ride right up to the Metrolink commuter train that took us to San Bernardino. Rick met us at the station. After visiting his home and memorabilia collection, we all went out to Riverside to have lunch at a trackside restaurant in the old UP station where we could eat and watch the Santa Fe freight trains go by (six trains per meal).

Later on in the day, the three of us went into Los Angeles so I could drop off seven rolls of film at A&I labs (one of the last remaining independent Kodachrome labs in America), and then to the Farmers Market on Fairfax for some shopping. We had a great visit with Rick who is a wonderful host, and hope that we can return his favor sometime soon.

The perfectly preserved Fred Harvey Coffee Shop at LAUPT.

We got back to the train station with about an hour and a half to spare, so we meandered around the historic building and inspected the ticket windows and Fred Harvey coffee shop, perfectly preserved time capsules, and unused for many years but  mostly intact. One of the new attractions at the station is an electronic display consisting of vertical strips of LEDs of various colors, operated by a computer that displays pictures of trains, famous inventors and celebrities rapidly passing from side to side. (This is really hard to explain, but fascinating to watch-at first you don’t see the pictures, but after you stare at the array for about a minute, you can start to see that the patterns of lights become pictures if you scan your eyes from side to side while viewing the light display.)
It’s interesting that they put this display at the top of an escalator.

That evening, we were off again, this time as part of the consist of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. The Chief carries lots of freight at its rear, in the form of Road Railers (specially designed truck trailers that can run on rails using add-on wheels), and materials handling cars, Amtrak’s specially designed high-speed boxcars for passenger trains. After the
train was all put together, there was more freight than passenger cars, and our two cars were in the middle of the consist. In years past, private car operators were pretty much assured that their cars would operate at the rear of Amtrak trains, where they could enjoy great views from the back platforms of the car. Lately however, time-sensitive cargo goes
rearmost in order to facilitate fast addition and removal from the train at intermediate stops. For the rest of the trip, we rode with boxcars to our rear.

Most of us went to bed right away, so we would awake around Flagstaff and start our sightseeing day at a point on the line where we left off. (We had seen the preceding miles in daylight several days before on the inbound special.) Zooming toward Colorado at speeds of 80 and 90 miles per hour, we sped past many historic Harvey hotels and Santa Fe stations, A short stop in Albuquerque provided an opportunity to get off the train, visit some Indian jewelry dealers and see the site where the Alvarado and the Harvey Indian building used to be. (For the last hundred years, trains have stopped briefly in Albuquerque to give tourists a chance to buy Indian jewelry. Back in the old days, the Harvey Company ran the Indian market, nowadays; it operates more like a flea market.

By evening, we were moving into the Rockies. Sudden heavy rains caused the Burlington Northern Santa Fe dispatchers to issue slow orders to our train. We rode slowly through the Raton tunnel into Colorado, the highest point on the line, and overnight we lumbered slowly up the great mountains, over flooded bridges and culverts. We made it to Kansas City by late morning the next morning, and were greeted by Bart Barton, a railroadiana collector and private car owner from Arizona who was in Kansas City having a railroad car serviced at a nearby passenger car shop. After a very brief stop, we were off again.

Bart meets the train in Kansas City

The train was operating about two-and-a-half hours late, and our itinerary was once again uncertain. We needed to arrive into Chicago reasonably on-time to make a connection from the Southwest Chief to the Capitol Limited, our train from Chicago to Washington D.C., and there was a general feeling of doubt that we would make our same-day connection. We were traveling on Thursday before the Labor Day, three-day weekend, so most passengers were deep-down hoping that we’d miss the connection and get to stay out for an extra day in Chicago. Greg, the chef felt that we’d probably make it, and proceeded to prepare the roast duck that we’d have for dinner should we make the connection.

As fate would have it, most of us got our wish-we missed the connection by about 10 minutes, and spent an extra day in Chicago. That night, Meg and I had a late dinner of Chicago-style stuffed pizza at a small Italian sidewalk cafe a couple of blocks away from DePaul University. Chicago was particularly beautiful that night-lots of folks wandering around, and the sidewalk cafes were busy. We rode the El back to the Quincy stop, and
walked back to the station, and spent the night on the MKT-403. The car was out in the yard at the inspection pit when we finally got back to it around 10:30 pm.

The following day, we paired up with our traveling companions Russ and Nikki Rawson, and took the el to Oak Park to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibits, and made it back in time to board the Dover Harbor and MKT-403 at the bumper posts in Union Station. That evening we marked our last night sleeping on the train by staying up late until Toledo with Russ and Nikki, and sitting in lounge of the MKT-403 with the lights out. Jim Lilly, our dedicated and trusty crewmember joined us for our impromptu midnight service. We sang along with Arlo Guthrie to the words of Steve Goodman’s “The City of New Orleans”, one of the best railroad songs in the English language-a sad ode to the passing of passenger train travel.

Meg and I woke a little late Saturday morning. We missed Pittsburgh, but slowly drank our coffees as the Capitol lumbered through Connellsville. The passengers were getting pretty sad and wispy at this point of the trip-we had all been together for almost three weeks, and it was all going to be over in a couple of hours.

Our trip had been the rail adventure of a lifetime, a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to ride behind steam for four days, ride aboard the MKT-403, a car that seldom takes in passengers, and to be on the road for 19 days and ride on the backs of some spectacular trains. This was the third time that Meg and I had traveled cross-country, but by far it was the most enjoyable. Our fellow passengers were the main reason that the trip was so pleasurable. Traveling by train is an adventure. It is full of surprises, and frequently a few disappointments are thrown in. Generally, what you expect to happen is not what happens (Amtrak throws lots of curveballs to the folks on passenger cars). Through the surprises and railroad glitches our intrepid group continued to work together and help each other, and enjoyed the unpleasant moments with the same vigor and enthusiasm as the
ecstatically wonderful moments.

Greg, our chef, had his hands full with missed Amtrak connections and late trains, but somehow always had something wonderful cooking in the galley, despite lost opportunities to go shopping due to late trains, or having our stopover days moved around at the last minute by missed connections. Through Greg’s efficiency and creativity, the service crew was consistently more available to serve the requirements of the passengers
and the mechanical officers. Our compliments to the chef!

Meg and I waited ten years to ride on the MKT-403, and were not disappointed. The car is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, and thanks to six-wheel outside-swing-hanger trucks, it rides like a dream. John Marshall, the owner of the car, rode with us and kept all the systems running at optimal. He stayed up many nights supervising Amtrak’s handling of the car and making sure that the car was serviced and that we had water, heat and air conditioning. If you ever have a chance to ride on this car-do it!

And finally a big tip of the hat to the volunteers who maintain and operate the Dover Harbor. Congratulations on the successful completion of the longest trip every run by the Washington DC Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. We can only imagine the months of work that were spent getting the car ready for this trip, and all of the planning and logistics that go into a trip of this magnitude. Our sincerest thanks.

That night in Washington DC, Meg and I, and Russ and Nikki Rawson spent the night at hotels before heading back to our respective homes. We got together for dinner at the Dubliner and reflected together on our experiences. It was an incredible adventure-probably not to be topped, but we’re thinking about another trip for next summer, certainly someplace different-maybe Canada. There are still a few more routes across the
Rockies left to explore.

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