Midwest Trip 2002
June 20-27, 2002
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.
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.
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.
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?
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