Midwest Trip 2002
June 20-27, 2002
The Choo-Choo Restaurant was not at all crowded, although that may be a different story on weekends. It's a small diner-style place, but you have to sit in the stool area to appreciate the train going by clockwise around the dining area and the kitchen. When your order is ready, the cook stops the train on his end, and puts one order for each person on a car of the train, which then "delivers" your food right to you. The waitress does help by off-loading the plates from the train. Very nice touch, and an interesting train theme.
The restaurant has 1950's motif, however this particular evening they were playing music more towards the 1970's. And strangely, Michael, of 1992 vintage, was singing right along, shocking the manager of the restaurant.
After our dinner, we walked back to the hotel, roughly a mile. On the way we stopped at a Burger King -- NOT for more food but for a milkshake for me and a frozen soda for Michael.
We returned to our hotel, and retired early. I was assured by the front desk that we would have a ride in the morning to the train station, as I would not have looked forward to walking the distance we had just walked with suitcases in tow.
Of the five hotels where we stayed on this trip, we rated the Best Western Des Plaines Inn as the best. Perhaps it was because the place was relatively new, having just been built in 2001. It still had a "new" smell to it. The rooms were roomier than the Days Inn of Grand Rapids, and insect-free. They were definitely cleaner than the Econo Lodge in Battle Creek, and they were much larger than the Motel-6 in Springfield, VA. The Courtyard in Pontiac was a close second place, but it probably lost points because it is not close to any stations or attractions.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Today was the day I would get what I came to Chicago for: the last remaining METRA rail mileage that eluded us when we were here last in April of 2000. The reason for my choosing Des Plaines to stay overnight was that it was along METRA's UP Northwest Line. The only train that goes out the McHenry Branch and then turns back inbound is the first one in the morning. It meant we would have to board this train at 6:29 AM in Des Plaines.
So we were up at 5:30 AM (not too difficult being used to Eastern Time), and checked out at 6:00. Before leaving the room I asked the front desk to call for our ride to the station.
A cab soon pulled up. Rather than their own shuttle, the hotel has an exclusive contract with one taxi company to take their guests. And the guests still pay for the ride. Well just our luck, the driver was in a bad mood. He was probably expecting a trip to the airport. He called his dispatcher and told him that he had picked up a man and his son at the Best Western and was taking them to the train station "four blocks away". Had that been four blocks we would never had met him. It was definitely about one mile, because Bob had clocked it in his car the day before. Foul mood or not, and having to pay for the ride unexpectedly, we had achieved the desired result -- getting to the station in order to catch the first outbound train of the morning.
METRA Train #603, Des Plaines, IL to McHenry, IL
We were let off on the inbound side, so we had to walk over the tracks to the outbound station. I had no tickets for this intermediate trip, and probably should have bought them while we were on the wrong side, but I did not think of it. Just being able to accomplish my goal, I gladly would pay the $2.00 surcharge.
METRA trains run like clockwork, and at 6:28 AM we heard the horn of our train, blowing for the curve into town and the many grade crossings. A lot of reverse commuters got off in Des Plaines, and a few boarded with us. I was impressed how many people were going outbound on this train against the flow.
By Barrington, most had gotten off, leaving just a handful going to McHenry. When we got to Crystal Lake, we switched to the inbound track, and then went off on a connection to turn north towards McHenry. The line here is in pretty good shape, and the train was probably going about 50 mph or so. A bicycle path runs alongside the tracks for most of the distance.
This is the only morning outbound train to McHenry, but since there is no evening McHenry inbound departure, I wondered how anyone could use the station to reverse commute to their jobs. I did see a charter bus waiting for passengers, so perhaps it returns them somewhere else, like Woodstock or Crystal Lake.
When we arrived in McHenry at 7:24 AM, we had a slight problem. The train is longer than the platform. In most places, they will tell you to walk forward to where the train does make the platform. Here, the doors opened anyway. The ballast on the ground was much lower than the platform. I jumped anyhow, got my luggage from the step, and then helped Michael to jump too. I guess the crew assumed everyone knew the procedure here; but they never should have opened the doors with such a huge drop.
But now this was history begin made, and when my 200 pound frame hit the rocks, I had ceremoniously completed my METRA mileage. What a way to do it! I had Michael shoot a photo of me next to the station, to prove I had been there.
A 12-minute layover is scheduled here, and since this is now the last inbound train of the day from McHenry, we could not miss it. We boarded the train at a door that had made the platform, and settled in for our return trip.
METRA Train #632, McHenry, IL to Chicago-Ogilvie Transportation Center, IL
This trip was a quick, not-to-crowded, uneventful run into town. We were an express train now, and made only a few stops, mostly using the center of the three tracks. We got into OTC downtown right on time at 8:51 AM, coming to a stop at Track 4.
Now very hungry, we decided to have a late breakfast at the McDonald's there in OTC. I knew this one would have a shorter line than the one in Union Station. After breakfast, we made the walk back to CUS, once again along the north side platforms. Bob met us in the station. We would be taking a 10:35 train to Deerfield, so we had some spare time. Bob suggested I leave our luggage in lockers in the station since we would be returning later in the day to board our AMTRAK train home. I thought that was a wonderful idea, and did so. I was happy this option was available to me, given the increased security following September 11th. What was new was that I had to show an attendant a ticket that I was an AMTRAK passenger.
Michael and I also walked a block south to the old Post Office building, in an attempt to mail some paper items home to lessen our load, but we found out that the old Post Office is a Post Office no more.
Bob, Michael, and I went to Track 5 of Union Station, just as the METRA Milwaukee District North train was coming in as #2128. As soon as all passengers had detrained, we boarded and headed right for the upper level.
METRA Train #2113, Chicago-Union Station, IL to Deerfield, IL
We departed Chicago precisely at 10:35 AM. Bob pointed out where AMTRAK is doing construction on the tracks at the northern throat of the station. We had an on-time, uneventful trip up to Deerfield. We got into town at 11:25 AM. Doug Heinrichs was on the platform to greet us.
Doug, Bob, Michael, and I walked a long block through a parking lot until we came to a restaurant called the Cherry Pit (scroll down to Cherry Pit for description). It is a fun place, with wacky waiters who were very good with the kids. Doug and Bob treated us to the lunch.
After we ate, Bob had to leave for other obligations, so he turned official responsibility of us over to Doug. Doug would be driving us to the Illinois Railway Museum.
It was a longer drive than I expected it to be. We got there in about 1-1/2 hours, after driving through suburbia and rural areas. Ironically, on the way we passed through Crystal Lake, and saw the McHenry branch (at a grade crossing) over which we had travelled earlier today. We also then passed underneath the UP mainline, over which METRA trains run to Harvard. We arrived at the museum, which is surrounded by farmland, about 1:40 PM.
Illinois Railway Museum
The Illinois Railway Museum has quite an impressive collection of equipment. They have many train "barns" that are open to the public, where much of it is kept in static display. Almost all of the various passenger coaches, interurban cars, rapid transit cars, and engines are not in good enough shape to be boarded, but at least most of them are preserved from the elements.
One barn featured rapid transit cars that were awaiting some restoration. And in place of a Barn 5 was a yard where diesel locomotives are stored outside. Another area of the property had some large diesel and steam locomotives that had to be stored outdoors due to lack of space, and they showed the wear and tear of harsh weather.
Barn 9, dedicated to steam and electric locomotives, featured a GG-1. Burlington Northern's "Nebraska Zephyr" was supposed to be in there as well, but she was borrowed for an annual event at Galesburg Railroad Days.
There is also a replica "L" station and platform, as would be found in downtown Chicago, but it was not in use. A tourist trolley car was the only operating piece of equipment this day, and they were using the old train depot on the north side of the property for all boardings. Just east of the depot, two parked rail cars serve as a gift shop and a book store.
The museum also has a collection and a road for trolley buses, but neither was open to the public the day we were there.
After touring all of the barns, we were in time for the 3 PM trolley excursion. The trolley first makes a loop around the entire property, and the commentary fills in any facts one might have missed by exploring on foot. Once the circle is almost complete, the trolley then goes onto the IRM's own mainline track, which runs on a right-of-way next to a UP (former C&NW) freight line. Our trip had two motormen, one who took us around the property and the other who operated the mainline part of the excursion. We got up to a hefty speed, as we went east what seemed to be about 5 miles, until we ran out of track. Doug and I both questioned to each other why the operator did not blow his horn until he as almost in an active road crossing.
At the east end, the operator switched ends, and after allowing some of the kids on board (including Michael) to sound the horn, we went west. During our trip west, a UP freight passed us on their track, and everyone waved at the crew, who waved back and sounded their horn.
We passed the museum property, and went about 1/2 mile further, when disaster struck. Somehow we went into an area where there was no power, and died. The first motorman walked on the tracks back to the museum, and something was done to restore our power. We lost about 15 minutes, and Doug was getting nervous about our making our train at Deerfield and consequently our AMTRAK trip that evening. Just before we were going to walk back, the power was back, the operator switched ends once more, and we were on our way back to the museum.
It was now 4 PM, so that completed our visit, and we made our way back to Doug's car for the 90-minute drive back to Deerfield. Doug skillfully drove around avoiding traffic delays, and got us to the Deerfield METRA station by 5:30 PM, 20 minutes before an inbound train would be originating there.
METRA Train #2148, Deerfield, IL to Chicago-Union Station, IL
While on the platform, we saw a few outbound METRA trains stop on the opposite side, and proceed. On the closer track an AMTRAK train passed by, Train 339(25) headed for Milwaukee. It runs against the flow here to pass the METRA locals. One METRA train (#2131) ended its run on the outbound track, and then went beyond the station and reversed over a switch onto the inbound track. This would be our train.
Another quick run into town, again right on time. We arrived at CUS on Track 7 at 6:42 PM.
I figured our AMTRAK train would be boarding in about an hour. We had time to do something I could not leave Chicago without doing: dinner at Connie's Pizza. After dinner, I retrieved our luggage from the locker, and we went to the overcrowded waiting room, which as usual was in a state of bedlam.
The 7:00 hour is when many trains are scheduled to depart from Chicago. Add in a few delayed departures, a very hot waiting room, a short staff, and you have an uncomfortable situation. Train 30(25), the eastbound CAPITOL LIMITED, was marked as "Delayed, servicing train". I assume this equipment came in late as Train 4(23), the SOUTHWEST CHIEF. It and 6(23), the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, had been delayed daily this week because of heat restrictions. Anyhow, 30 should have gone out at 7:00. Train 48/448(25), the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, was scheduled for 7:45 PM, but there was no word at all about this train, and it definitely had not even started boarding when we left.
Passengers for Train 59(25), the southbound CITY OF NEW ORLEANS due out at 8 PM, were told to go to the north side of the station. No doubt this was the equipment off Train 8/28/808, the eastbound EMPIRE BUILDER.
The station personnel appeared to be short-handed. They seemed to be able to only board one train at a time. They were working on Train 30, and I could see nobody was even acknowledging the other departure, Train 50/850(25), for which we were waiting.
Once general boarding of 30 had been completed, the station crew luckily turned to our train next. They made a general call for Trains 50 and 850, the CARDINAL and KENTUCKY CARDINAL. Passengers for Louisville, and all Indiana points were put in the KENTUCKY CARDINAL coach, which was the last car of the train.Continued in next section