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Trip Report

Midwest Trip 2002

June 20-27, 2002
Section 2 of 6


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Friday, June 21, 2002 (continued)

In Detroit

RRon drove us down Woodward Avenue towards the downtown area. He parked in a parking lot from which we could walk to accomplish all of our morning's objectives.

First we stopped for breakfast at Leo's Coney Island, a restaurant at Comerica Park, the new stadium for the Detroit Tigers. Both Leo's and a McDonald's around the corner are within the stadium, but they have outside entrances so that they are not limited to being open during ball games only.

We then walked across Woodward Avenue and into Grand Circus Park, a small downtown park around which is a hub that has several downtown streets feeding into it. It was here that we could board the Detroit People Mover.

Detroit People Mover

Detroit People Mover with interesting wrap The Detroit People Mover is Detroit's only resemblance of rapid transit. An elevated, one-way, counter-clockwise loop encircles the downtown area of the city, stopping at key points. The fare is a flat 50 cents, for which one has to purchase tokens from a vending machine. That is an extra step for such a small system; the fare gates should have been built to accommodate coins.

We made one complete circle around the city. Highlights are the run indoors through parts of Cobo Hall and the Joe Louis Arena. There is an excellent view of Windsor, Ontario across the Detroit River, and one can see the truck traffic backed up on the international Ambassador Bridge. Right next to the Renaissance Center (the biggest downtown office complex that is now headquarters to General Motors) is another international crossing, the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

Grand Circus Park as seen from People Mover, with Comerica Park in the background Besides the Renaissance Center, another place I had hung out while in the city twice before was Trappers Alley, an indoor mall/entertainment/dining complex in the city's Greektown. I found out that Trappers Alley has been totally replaced now by the Greektown Casino, one of three gambling meccas throughout the downtown area.

We detrained where we had boarded 15 minutes ago, at Grand Circus Park. We walked a half block south on Washington Boulevard to the northern terminus of the Detroit Trolley.

Detroit Trolley

Detroit Trolley runs in reserved right-of-way on Washington Blvd We had just missed a run, so we had to wait about 15 minutes. The operator first picked us up and took us towards the trolley barn, near which he changed ends and encouraged us to sit up in front with him. He was very friendly and pointed out the sights to us as we moved south on Washington Blvd. He terminated his run early, near Cobo Hall, because construction near the usual terminus at the Renaissance Center had the wires depowered on the Jefferson Avenue leg of the trip. RRon and Rebekah got refreshments in a coffee shop, and then the trolley picked us up, its operator having already changed ends once more.

We were not charged the 50-cent fare in either direction; it appeared that our operator was just happy to have the companionship. The operator took us to the end of the line, and even let us enter the barn to see the other equipment inside. They have one double decker trolley that was under heavy restoration, and two that are enclosed for use in the winter. They also have a collection of brochures and photos from other trolley operations and railroad museums.

Detroit Trolley makes its way along single track next to Washington Blvd Exterior of Detroit Trolley carbarn - note People Mover track to left of building Inside the carbarn another open trolley and a double-decker being rehabilitated

While Detroit is trying to make a comeback and redevelop, there is still a long way to go. A lot of downtown hotels we saw have been boarded up for years, and the streets during the morning "rush hour" had very little traffic, despite this being the auto capital of the world.

Kevin poses on trolley next to our frindly motorman Near Cobo Hall tracks cut diagonally across Washington Blvd

More of Detroit

Having accomplished our goals, RRon drove us around Detroit, showing us some of the other sights one could not see from the People Mover. We got a little closer to the waterfront near the Joe Louis Arena and looked at Windsor across the way. We saw the old Michigan Central depot, which is now unused and in terrible shape. It is sadly just being left to decay. This was once the AMTRAK station, one I used once before on a previous vacation many years ago. We also drove by Tiger Stadium, now unused. Unlike other stadiums that have been replaced, their teams moving to more modern facilities, Tiger Stadium, has (at least for now) been left alone to stand as a monument to its past life. Given the very slow redevelopment of the city, taking the stadium down would most likely yield just an empty lot.

RRon also stopped and ran into a sports memorabilia store next to the old stadium, where he purchased Detroit Red Wings buttons as souvenirs for Michael and me. He explained to us that Detroit has for a long time been considered "Hockey Town", its franchise having won many Stanley Cups. The Red Wings, who play downtown in the Joe Louis Arena, had just won another one a week before our arrival.

Our plans were to stay over that night in Pontiac, in order to get the AMTRAK mileage between Detroit and Pontiac. Train 352 would not be getting to Detroit until 7:35 PM, so we would have most of the day to kill. I had decided at the last minute before we left on vacation that we would visit the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village complex in nearby Dearborn. Then, we could board the same Train 352 from Dearborn instead. To get to the museum, we would take Train 353, one of only a few trains that makes a special stop on the grounds of Greenfield Village. So we would have a 12:07 PM final departure from Detroit, rather than having to kill 7-1/2 more hours there.

From left to right, Kevin & Michael Korell, Rebekkah & RRon Achtenberg So after driving around the city, RRon dropped us back off at the AMTRAK station in the New Center area, where he had met us 4-1/2 hours ago. It was about 11 AM. We thanked RRon and Rebekah for joining us on the rails, for breakfast, and for the grand tour, and they went home.

Michael and I walked across the street to a White Castle, where we had lunch. It's not the greatest neighborhood, despite the name New Center. The people working in the restaurant were actually worse at getting everyone's orders correct than in most White Castles, where I have come to expect problems. One "customer" appeared to be a working woman of the oldest profession, plying her trade indoors in the air conditioned restaurant instead of outside on a street corner in the heat. She did tell Michael he had nice eyes.

Back to the AMTRAK station, we awaited our train. The station is functional, but a bit small and noisy. There appeared to be two groups of young children and their chaperones that I assumed were going to the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village complex, but I later found out they were headed for Ann Arbor. An announcement about our train's status was not audible because of the noise level. What they had said was that the train was running 20 minutes late.

Train #353(21), LAKE CITIES, Detroit, MI to Greenfield Village, MI

We were allowed upstairs to the platform level a few minutes before the train arrived. Michael and I took the elevator, since it was there and available and we had the luggage. The train pulled into the station at 12:30 PM, 23 minutes late. It would get even later as they had to board the groups of children in the front two coaches. Adding to that, I informed the assistant conductor that we were going to Greenfield Village, since it is essentially a flag stop. She spoke on her radio to the conductor, who was up in front boarding the children. We were told to board the coach with the kids groups since only one car would station at our stop.

The conductor informed us once seated that we might have to move up still another car. He told us that since they were already late, stopping at the normal Greenfield Village platform (which sits on the north side of the tracks, or on the right going westbound) would put the train in the middle of a block, and they would have slow orders until the next signal. Stopping on the mainline, one track over, would allow them to detrain us on the left (or south) side, and we could cross over a set of tracks to the village.

30 P-42 locomotive 54011 Horizon coach 54554 Horizon coach (We sat here) 54575 Horizon coach 54550 Horizon coach 53001 Horizon food service 27 P-42 locomotive (trailing)

Meanwhile, I called the attraction from the train, just to let them know we were coming. Now I was told there would be no shuttle, the exact opposite of what I was told the day before. However, the village's steam train stops near the train station, so we could take that around to the front gate.

Special entrance to Greenfield Village from Amtrak platform What a panic we had caused! Besides the train having to make a stop (which is clearly listed on the timetable) at Greenfield Village, they had to stop freight traffic also for us. Where the train stopped, there was a wooden crossover which crossed an adjacent freight track, and then Greenfield Village's own track. The freight's engine had stopped just inches from this crossover allowing us to cross. A Greenfield Village employee greeted us and escorted us over the other tracks and through a chained gate into the attraction. We were now, essentially in Greenfield Village without having paid for it. Had we not been walking around with our luggage and other bags, we could have enjoyed everything for free. But honesty and the need to unload the weight for a few hours prevailed. Since we wanted to visit both the Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum attractions, and a discounted pass for both was not on sale at the village's restored train station, I was instead sold two $3 tickets good all day for the steam train. It would get us around to near the main gate, where we could both unload our luggage and get the two-park tickets. So we lucked out. Would we rather ride in somebody's van when an open-air steam-hauled train was able to perform the same function?

Greenfield Village

After getting to ride just 1/3 of the steam train's route (and unfortunately we would never get back to ride the rest of it), we detrained at the station nearest the front gate. Here we went through the exit, then I purchased our combination tickets for both Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. We were able to store our luggage with the information booth attendant, and then we headed back into Greenfield Village. Online guides had said that each attraction can fill up a day, and by this time it was 1 PM, so we had only 4 hours to do both. We visited a few restored houses and saw what Henry Ford's boyhood home looked like. We also walked over (or through) a covered bridge.

Then the weather changed for the worse. We could ill afford to lose any time here, however mother nature prevailed. The sky darkened, thunder and lightning came quickly, and the rains began. We were stranded under the small roof of a food stand for about 20 precious minutes. (I could think of much worse places to get stuck! :) ) When the storm finally let up, we walked back through the village over a different path, but decided it was time to spend the rest of our time at the indoor museum.

Henry Ford Museum

We walked out of Greenfield Village, and over to the adjacent Henry Ford Museum, where we were admitted through a replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall with the wristbands we had already purchased. This place is huge, larger than one might imagine. It is a monument to inventions, and they were inventions of every kind. I could see how visitors might be advised to plan for a full day here, and the attractions to see are endless.

The railroad exhibit is along one end of the building, so it is easy to find among the other transportation exhibits. You can't miss the old steam and diesel engines.

There are plenty of hand-on exhibits which keep kids like Michael occupied and interested. If we had the time, we also would have visited the museum's IMAX Theater.

A lot in both Greenfield Village and the museum is dedicated to another pioneer, Thomas Edison, a good friend and mentor of Henry Ford. Edison, of course, had a lab in Menlo Park, NJ (not far from Metropark) and another facility in West Orange, NJ. Edison and Ford also shared an estate in Fort Myers, FL in their retirement years.

Continued in next section

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