Midwest Trip 2002
June 20-27, 2002
The Kalamazoo station is another intermodal affair. One side of the room is for AMTRAK, and the other side for intercity buses. I asked the AMTRAK agent if she could hold our luggage, since we were to be there over three hours going from the train that just arrived to a bus. She complained that I had to ask her for this favor after she had just gotten her lunch, but she let me put our suitcases behind the counter anyhow.
I noticed that there is a McDonald's right across Rose Street from the station. Of course, Michael wanted Burger King, and so did I. From my research I had found out that there was one about 7 blocks west on Michigan Avenue. Yep, the same Michigan Avenue that's in Detroit, Dearborn, Battle Creek, and even Chicago is here in Kalamazoo as well. We had to walk two blocks south on Rose Street first to get to it, and then west. It was again in the 90's, and we purposely walked through, instead of around, some sprinklers that were running next to the sidewalk along Michigan Avenue. We could see the Burger King sign, but it almost appeared as a mirage, as it seemed to move farther away the closer we got to it. We had a nice hearty lunch, and took our refilled sodas to go. It was 12:45 PM when we left, still two more than two hours before our bus.
We walked back east on Michigan, passed Rose Street by one block, and just checked out the pedestrian mall that had been made out of the downtown area. Much of the pedestrian mall had been altered to once again allow vehicular traffic. Being Sunday, almost everything was closed.
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum, which is run by a local community college, has its entrance right on Rose Street. We entered it soon after it had opened at 1:00 PM for the day. It has free admission, but donations are accepted. Michael found it educational, and we both learned a little about central Michigan's history. In fact, with all my earlier worries about how we would fill up our time in Kalamazoo, I ended up having to rush Michael through the second-floor exhibits and we had to get back to the station. As we left, I threw them a two-buck donation.
On the way back, we stopped at that McDonald's, just to get frozen drinks to quench our thirsts. Back at the station at 2:22 PM, we collected our suitcases from the AMTRAK agent, and went to sit on the bus side of the room. Our bus was already here. This is not a dedicated Thruway run, but rather a regular bus run of Indian Trails a company that serves much of Michigan. In fact, this particular bus had come from Chicago, and was headed up to St. Ignace via Grand Rapids. AMTRAK's Thruway status for the bus only applies to the portion north of Kalamazoo.
AMTRAK Thruway motorcoach #8364(23), Kalamazoo, MI to Grand Rapids, MI
I put our luggage onto a designated section of the undercarriage of the bus for Grand Rapids. The bus driver took our AMTRAK tickets, and he asked me if we wanted to go to the bus terminal or the AMTRAK station in Grand Rapids. I told him that we would take the bus terminal, since I figured it would be easier to get a cab there. When we boarded, we found that the Indian Trails coach had comfortable seating, and interesting purple decor.
We departed right on time at 2:40 PM, and soon we were went through the streets of the northern part of Kalamazoo before entering US 131, the main north-south highway. Once on the highway, I fell asleep, and when I awoke we were already entering the Grand Rapids area. The trip was less than an hour. We pulled into the Grand Rapids bus station on Wealthy Street at 3:35 PM. An attendant there removed our luggage from the bus. There was a list of cab companies on the wall, so I called one, and we were picked up within several minutes.
In Grand Rapids
The cab got us to our Days Inn within 5 minutes, and we unloaded all of our bags in our seventh floor room. Our view directly to the north was the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and a few buildings in the northern part of the city. US 131 to the left of the museum ran up to Cadillac as its next major city. Just east of the Days Inn, on the same side of Pearl Street, is the Van Andel Museum Center, also known as the Public Museum of Grand Rapids.
We left the room carrying nothing but our cameras, and since we only had an hour until the 5 PM closing of both museums, we chose the Public Museum over President Ford's place. Sorry Gerry. We had to visit one of these places to validate our being in the city, as we had an early train departure in the morning (or so we thought).
Entering the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, at precisely 4 PM, our admission was waived because they customarily don't charge for the last hour of the day. Michael and I typically move quickly through these places, so we were happy for the treat, our second free museum in a day!
This museum is three stories, and inside there is featured a mock interior of an old train station; one day there was a Grand Rapids Union Station with multiple daily departures to Chicago and other places too. There was also a horse-drawn trolley car. Much of the place was dedicated to Old Grand Rapids, how things looked in the early part of the last century. There are also exhibits of the area's Native Americans, and one dedicated to the city's reputation for making furniture. There's a 1928 carousel, and a small food court (which had closed for the day already) overlooking the Grand River. Michael enjoyed most a who-dun-it display where a murder had been committed behind a diner, and we had to follow three suspects through apprehension and the legal process. Behind one curtain there was even an autopsy being done on the victim; neither of us chose to look back there.
A bit before closing time at 5, we were finished with the museum, and went back to our hotel room to rest. Then we went out again, and found a Burger King on the other side of US 131, an easy walk under the overpass. We had two free museums today, why not two Burger Kings? I was not in the mood to search elsewhere, and did not wish to eat a $14 dinner in the hotel.
On the way to eat, we walked across the street to the outside of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, where I stole Chevy Chase's entire act by having Michael take my picture once standing, and then once having fallen down.
After dinner, it was back once more to our hotel room. It was about 8 PM, but we still had almost two hours of daylight. A combination of the longest days of the year, plus being in the most western part of the eastern time zone, kept the city in light until almost 10 PM. We were still a little sweaty from our trip (plus I still felt dirty from the Battle Creek motel), so we opted to swim in the Days Inn's indoor pool. The pool proved to be a mistake, as there were some obnoxious kids who were splashing everybody (and getting our belongings wet in the process) by continuously jumping hard into the pool.
Just before we left for the pool, I got a call from David Korkhouse, who we were to meet Monday morning for the ride to Chicago. He was in town with his wife, and they took in a minor league ball game earlier in the day. She would drive their vehicle home while he went with us to Chicago on Monday. David called me cell phone to cell phone, since his room telephone was not working. He asked if I wanted to go down to the station to see Train 370, the eastbound PERE MARQUETTE, come in, but I declined, as we wanted to swim and then get some rest. Under normal circumstances, 370 is supposed to arrive in town at 10:16 PM. It turned out the next day that we had made a good choice not to try and meet that train.
Monday, June 24, 2002
The Days Inn was a bit of a disappointment. While the view from our room was spectacular, the insects on the window kind-of ruined it. I don't know what those bugs were, but they had no place in our hotel room. I found more in the bathtub in the morning. When I reported this to the desk upon checkout, they told me I should have told them sooner. I doubt an exterminator would come at a late hour of the night, and I also would not have wanted to change rooms since we were already settled. They offered us a free breakfast (which most hotels offer anyhow) as restitution, but I declined because we had a train to catch. At least when I checked out of this one, my feet were clean!
The plan was simple. David would meet us in the lobby at 7 AM, we would go to the train station, and then he would return to the hotel to get his wife, who would then drop him off at the station and continue home to Indiana.
That plan went smoothly. The rest of the day did not. Having been in town only since 3:30 PM the previous day, it might have been nice to explore a little more. We had not even technically been "downtown", which is east of the Grand River had we continued on Pearl Street beyond the museum. It turned out we could have done that on Monday and still made our train.
By the time David got back to the station, I had found out that our estimated departure time was 10 AM. So much for 7:35 AM! The station, which is unstaffed save for a caretaker, was crowded. The caretaker's only contact with AMTRAK was to use the same 800 phone number that everyone else uses. A lot of people left the station, presumably to get breakfast.
What had happened was that the inbound train, 370 of Sunday 6/23, had been behind a freight train. A person who committed suicide jumped in front of the freight. Neither the freight, nor the passenger train, could move until the neccessary investigations were completed. That, plus a few other problems, put 370(23) into Grand Rapids at about 1:30 AM. Since FRA rules require the crews to get a minimum amount of sleep between runs, the outbound trip of 371(24) had to be delayed.
10 AM came and went, and no train, nor any news about it. A few people gave up, some going to the bus terminal up Wealthy Street to see what they could get. David and I thought about taking the Thruway bus to Kalamazoo, sort of reversing what Michael and I had done before, but 365 would get us in too late, and that train as well was subject to delays.
I called our Chicago area friends, Bob Benton, Doug Heinrichs, and Brad Smith, to let them know we were still in Grand Rapids, and that our planned afternoon trip to Kenosha, WI would have to be cancelled. We decided to play it by ear, as perhaps our train would come soon and possibly make up some time. Not. I knew we were doomed.
AMTRAK Train #371(24), PERE MARQUETTE, Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago-Union Station, IL
Our train finally showed up in the station at 11:26 AM. Since it is due into Chicago at 10:26 AM Central time, this was exactly the time we should have already been in Chicago Union Station. We pulled away from the depot which we had gotten to know a little too well, at 11:33 AM, 3 hours 58 minutes late. This train's consist:
132 P-42 locomotive 54531 Horizon coach 54543 Horizon coach (We sat here) 54538 Horizon coach 43027 Amfleet I café
Even if we were very late, it was still a scenic trip. Just before Holland, we saw the largest windmill in North America. Our 12:15 PM departure from Holland told us that we had not made up any time so far. We were at the mercy of CSX Transportation for most of this trip, until Porter, IN.
At Benton Harbor, we passed by a former station at 1:29 PM, whose functions were later combined with that of nearby St. Joseph. Just before the St. Joseph station, we got our first glimpse of Lake Michigan. Beyond St. Joseph, our last glimpse of Lake Michigan, at least on this portion of the route. We passed some vineyards, which I thought were odd for this area which has Lake Effect snows in the winter.
In New Buffalo, MI, we passed on a bridge over the track that carries Chicago-Detroit trains. Our train would be taking a slightly more roundabout route to Porter, IN, where all the lines come together. Two minutes later, we stopped at the New Buffalo station. The current station is a mere bus shelter. The older, larger station was moved onto a branch track and now has other functions. An old roundhouse on the site is now a Gold's Gym.
2:13 PM Eastern/1:13 PM Central: After being in Michigan all weekend (since early Friday morning), we were encountering our first state line. We now entered David's home state of Indiana. We also were entering territory that does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so their Eastern Time is equivalent to Central Daylight Time. Five minutes later, we passed on a bridge over the Hoosier State's only surviving interurban line (operated as a commuter railroad now), the South Shore Line. We also crossed over another rail line, a former Nickel Plate RR line.
At 1:34 PM (Central Time from here forward) we were approaching the east end of the interlocking at Porter, IN. We then had to make a two minute stop before getting a medium approach signal. As we came into the big rail intersection, the Chicago-Detroit line was on our right, and the NS Chicago-Cleveland mainline was on our left. We were at this point leaving CSX and entering Norfolk Southern.
We crossed underneath the South Shore Line at 1:48 PM, and then started some slow running once more. The SSL began running parallel to the NS tracks. Since our afternoon Wisconsin activities were now a wash, David began thinking that he would return home to South Bend via the South Shore Line, rather than dealing with the intercity trains, which almost certainly would be delayed. Almost on queue at 1:57 PM, an eastbound South Shore Line train passed by.
I called Bob Benton once more, to let him know we were further delayed, and that we would not be able to get to Kenosha on this trip. He proposed an alternate plan, where he would meet us at either the Deerfield or Highland Park METRA stations, and drive us to our hotel in Des Plaines. I said I would call him again once we were aboard one of those trains.
Around 2:10, our line was joined by the CSX line that hosts the THREE RIVERS.
At 2:15 PM, we passed by Train 352(24), the eastbound LAKE CITIES for Pontiac. It looked like that hard-luck train was already delayed in Indiana. We also were passing by Indiana's casino complexes, which consisted of large hotels on land, and river boats with the actual casinos out in the lake.
We slowed down yet again, approaching the Hammond-Whiting station. Our train is not scheduled to stop there, but were had paused there long enough for one of our crew members to have a face-to-face conversation with the ticket agent, who was standing outside. I noticed that there is yet another casino called the Horseshoe that is within walking distance of the Hammond-Whiting station. I'd never noticed it before.
A minute later, we had crossed into the state of Illinois, and were now in southeastern Chicago. We were next to the Chicago Skyway.
We passed over the Canadian National/Illinois Central tracks (also METRA Electric) at 2:42 PM. Four minutes later, we crossed the METRA Rock Island line at a diamond.
Finally, the siege was over. We arrived in Chicago Union Station (CUS), on Track 22, a little before 3 PM. We were about 4-1/2 hours late.
Upon arrival we said goodbye to David Korkhouse, who would remain in downtown Chicago for a little while and then take the South Shore Line to South Bend.
I decided we would take the METRA train to Highland Park, since this is on the UP North Line, the same one we would have ridden to Kenosha. We would be going to Deerfield, according to our plans, on Tuesday. And to get to Des Plaines, where our hotel was, we would have to walk to the Ogilvie Transportation Center (OTC) anyhow.
We took the regular railfan route between CUS and OTC, walking along the North Side tracks. Once in OTC, I visited a cash machine, and then purchased a few sets of METRA tickets we would be needing. We then set out for our train, which would be departing from Track 13.
METRA Train #327, Chicago-Ogilvie Transportation Center, IL to Highland Park, IL
True to form, our first METRA train departed OTC exactly on time at 3:35 PM. This local, ultimately bound for Waukegan, was not too crowded, being a bit before the evening rush. I called Bob Benton to let him know we were on the train to Highland Park. I also called Brad Smith to inform him that Kenosha was definitely off. He said if it was not too hot he might try to join us the next day (Tuesday) at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Our ride lasted 49 minutes, and we alighted at 4:24 PM in the city of Highland Park. With the luck we'd had today, it was fitting that the parking lot by the outbound track was closed for construction, so Bob was forced to park on the other side of the tracks. We had a little more walking and dragging our luggage than originally planned.Continued in next section