Taking a Mega-Amtrak Trip
In the next four issues of the Gondola Gazette (CPH newsletter), I am going to try to give a good reporting on the Mega-Amtrak trip Patty and I have just completed. We were given the opportunity to travel to the Operation Lifesaver Symposium in Jacksonville, FL. On July 15 through 19th. Our trip covered four Amtrak long distance trains, The Cardinal, Silver Meteor, Sunset Limited and the City of New Orleans. We made a huge circle and traveled 3,221 miles. We could have traveled taking only two trains but decided that you live only once. This was our chance and we took it.
Part 1: Traveling to Washington via Amtrak's Cardinal
10:10 AM: Patty and I boarded the nine coaches Cardinal that was surprisingly on time. The train had a lounge, diner, sleeper and dorm car plus baggage, the rest being coaches. Twenty people boarded in Huntington to a very full car that already had 51 teenage Lutheran missionaries coming to Charleston to do some work in Southern WV for the week. There interest at this time was in mountain biking and white water rafting which was their activity for this week. Alan told us the train was sold out. Alan did not weigh our bag. Later on the Sunset when we added another bag to our through baggage we found out that we were 48.5 lbs and the limit was fifty. For each pound over 50 it is $5.
A crew change is done in Huntington; we gained a familiar to CPH. Our engineer was Tim Hensley who had a new dispatcher from Florida on board to familiarize himself with the route. (Lets pray that he knows that passenger trains have the right of way over freights, something that I found someone in the powers that be needs to learn.) Bob Peters was our conductor. He seems at little uneasy at his job and rather rushed. Our host in the car was fantastic and had a great sense of humor. She also knew how to keep the car clean, and this was a task with 51 teenagers who were very active. (For those who worked with me on New River Trains to make a comment like that from me is high praise indeed.)
After we were seated, the car host came around putting up the little tickets designating where we were headed, we were free to get up and walk through the train. Patty and I headed to the club car. I was in the mood for gin rummy. Patty and I played with a lady and her oldest son. She was originally from East Lynn, WV. They were headed to Charlottesville and then were busing to Richmond. In Charlottesville, we spotted a grown man throwing rocks at the train as it went by, the lady across from us literally ducked as the rocks hit her window. Here Tim Hensley and the crew detrain for the return trip westbound. A new crew gets on board.
Patty and I told people on the car about the areas we were traveling. There were no CPH narrators on board this day. We did not do it for the whole train. We did this until we got to Clifton Forge VA.
Charleston: Around 20 people got on. We let one person off in Montgomery. The posting over his seat said unscheduled stop. (Flag Stop) Picked up two in Hinton, several in Prince and some in White Sulpfur and no one detrained in these towns. Ten people detrained in Clifton Forge. We also saw the West Bound Cardinal waiting to enter the station as we left the station. The time was now 4PM.
Dinner in the diner. The menus are now standard on every Amtrak train. This would come to haunt me later as after two days it sort of limits one's choices. Patty had a $7 hamburger with chips, soup and drink. I had the Chicken L' Orange with green beans almandine and baby carrots. Our dinner mates were a black couple heading home from a trip in Sacramento, California. They had traveled over by the California Zephyr. On the way to California, they had traveled out by the Capitol Limited to Chicago and wanted the change. They also expressed their pleasure at the Cardinal staff's courtesy. They had expressed it was one of the best for courtesy they had encountered. Our conversation concerned our roles as fraternity and sorority people while in college. He had married his wife from his sister sorority and was a retired government worker, she a retired professor at Georgetown University. (Fantastic people can make the most unpleasant dinners pleasant.) The conversation was humorous and enlightening to me. I was lucky this day as the couple at our table were traveling in 1st Class and could not eat dessert for some reason. (1st class on Amtrak includes your meals and an occasional snack) They wanted to know if I wouldn't care to have their desserts. (I am not a fan of cheesecake, but I am a fan of dessert, in general. Dobbs Food Service-- the Amtrak food contractor-- makes a pretty good dessert.) In my twelve years of marriage, Patty has instructed me well that I should never turn down cheesecake. Patty, by the way did have diet Pepsi with her food. (I say this as Walt Cavender will understand the connotation for this comment.)
We were now 2 hours late. The trackage from Clifton Forge to Manassas is horrible, we were put in sidings many times to let freights pass and were given slow orders seemingly all the way to Manassas. The track in places was actually jointed rail. The train swayed with 10 degree rolls at times, walking through the train became an art that no one wanted to try. I spent this time reading to a 3-year old girl from Dr. Seuss' Hop on Pop. This girl had memorized the book and anytime I added a rhyme or comment that was not part of the book she was quick to point it out.
I had noticed at Staunton, Virginia that the depot had a huge grill attached to it. Several Western Maryland cars were alongside along with a boxcar and caboose. They filled in between the rail equipment to make a beautiful restaurant. Alongside the depot is the signal house dated at 1886. A lady who got on in Charleston, WV, complained that the snack bar was out of the same items that is was out of when she came to Charleston. (By the way, Amtrak does not discourage you bringing on food or drinks; they do ask that if you bring them on that you not bring your own foodstuffs to the diner or lounge.) We had made up a little time here between Staunton and Culpepper, but lost it upon entering NS trackage because of work on the line or a track slow down.
From Manassas to Alexandria we traveled at the 79mph limit but still came into Washington two hours late. We had plenty of time to make our connection to the Silver Meteor. Our godson who lives in Bowie, Maryland came and stayed with us until our train was called. We did find out that the northbound Silver Meteor to NYC was held so that people from the Cardinal could make the connection. There is a movement to re-extend the Cardinal to New York's Penn Station.
Part 2: Traveling the Silver Meteor from Washington D.C. to Jacksonville, FL
First of all, Patty and I could not sit together as the train was packed. We finally were able to do this in Richmond. Patty sat beside a lady who boarded in Charleston, WV and was taking her grandchildren to Orlando. I sat beside a lady who worked for the City of Philadelphia who was going to Savannah Ga. We left according to schedule at 10:59 PM. This night was sleep-in-coach night which never bothered me because sleeping on a train to me is like a child trying to sleep Christmas Eve. I am always afraid I'll miss something along the way. Most of the time I simply doze off and come back around when the train stops, or fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.
The snack car was still open and would be open until 12 midnight. The first town I remember was Richmond; here it was crowded with several persons who had taken the James River Bus Lines earlier in the day from Charlottesville after detraining the Cardinal. (Maybe they already knew about the tracks.) Later that evening we sailed through Petersburg and I do remember stopping in Rocky Mount, NC, because a mother woke her child who left the train screaming.
I must have fallen asleep here as we passed Wilson, Selma-Smithfield, Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greenboro, High Point and Salisbury. I woke up in Kannapolis to see a purple and white station which I attributed to Atlantic Coast Line Heritage. Everyone was quiet and asleep. Sitting up looking out the window and inside the car, I got a feeling that I was observing something from the twilight zone. I can tell you, some people do sound funny when they snore. And looking at the real skinny people it is hard to imagine that they have that much noise inside themselves to snore so loudly. By the way, I have traveled every form of earth transportation except the Space Shuttle and I can honestly say, no travelers are as courteous as those on a train. I say this as I observe several New Yorkers help a lady getting on in Burlington, NC, put her baggage in the overhead compartment. (I realize this comment is a stereotype. Surely there are one or two friendly New Yorkers left up there. The problem, I have been told from reliable sources is in finding them.)
Charleston, SC, was an uneventful stop but most people were awake by now and breakfast was in full swing in the diner and it was 8:00 AM. Patty and I ventured toward the dining car for breakfast but were discourage by the line waiting, we chose to wait until Jacksonville.
Our next stop, Yemassee, SC, was also uneventful inside the train, on the outside was something entirely different. Several homemade billboards complaining of the judicial system in that area were up facing the highway and the railroad tracks. These attracted everyone's attention. It seems that a huge miscarriage of justice happened to one of the county's citizens. The real criminal had been caught after the original convicted one had spent 10 years in prison. Instead of the county saying I'm sorry or the newspaper printing a retraction for all the so-called slander on this man's family at the time of said crime, the county, the state and local press, have decided to ignore the situation altogether, and have in essence brought a man home without an explanation to the community or his family as to how they are going to get on with their lives. Meanwhile, the town of Yemassee as well as the man and his family have retaliated against the county and its political system. These billboards have telephone numbers, not only of the judge, the newspaper, the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney, but every juror who set in on the trial. They are demanding some type of correction and are encouraging the people who are upset with this situation to call each and every person involved. They even listed the case numbers so that people would know how to direct their call. The folks who boarded here were from both Yemassee as well as the surrounding counties and wanted justice. They explained to everyone in our car that they have had good write-ups from the press outside the county and in Columbia, but at home their own county is acting like nothing out of the ordinary happened. I spoke with a group of six and if those six are any indication of the anger of the community, the county of Yemassee is in for some big trouble. Bravo to the people for taking up such a noble cause.
I took a much needed nap here and missed several towns I had always heard about rail-wise. I was angry to miss Savannah, GA, as I wanted to see some of the antebellum homes I had seen in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Everyone said you could see some of the homes, but only near the old station, not today's Amtrak station.
The stop in Jessup GA, was busy and several people detrained and 10 boarded. People were already getting the jitters about getting off in Jacksonville which was the next stop. We got into Jacksonville at 1:18PM which was 18 minutes late but if this were the Cardinal it would be considered on time. I really admired the crew here as they put forth a great effort to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Many of them seemed to enjoy the work they did and knew of its importance. I did not hear anyone express any of the concern about Amtrak's future, which I fully expected and would have understood.
The station/depot here is interesting, as it is an multi-facetted transportation center much like Ashland Kentucky, but much busier. There are four trains each way that stop in Jacksonville with Greyhound and the taxi companies having a part of the station and the city bus line also is on hand. There is always a great deal of the good noise (that being the noise associated with traveling.) Palm trees greet you as you step off the train as does a good dose of humidity. Patty and I called the Adams Mark Hotel for their shuttle. I found out later that our first driver was a good con man. He was able to get $20. for a 15 dollar fare and a $5. tip. That did not happen when we left.
Part 3: Riding into the Sunset on the Sunset Limited
After spending Sunday through Wednesday in conference and roving around Jacksonville the time came on Thursday for us to say goodbye to this very humid city. The Sunset Limited runs toward Los Angeles on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and from Los Angeles to Orlando on Wednesday's, Saturday's and Mondays. By the way, our New River Train has something in common with Jacksonville. The River that flows there is the St. John's which like the New River flows from South to North not North to South as all other rivers in the U.S. do.
July 18 when leaving Jacksonville for New Orleans we arrived at the Station at 2:00 PM to enable us to check some luggage through. (An important note: Always take one spare suitcase with you on any trip. You will fill it up for the trip home.) We were scheduled to leave at 5:35.
This day the Silver Meteor #97 Southbound was three hours late as a diner had to be taken out of service and an new one added in NYC. The #98 Silver Meteor northbound was scheduled to leave at 4:12 but actually left at 5:32 due to a leak in the air line of diner Trasclent. They repaired it at the Jacksonville depot. Other trains that serve Jacksonville were the Silver Star and Palmetto.
Our train arrived 5 minutes from Orlando. Our train had 11 Superliners and a two baggage cars and 11 Amtrak fast freight cars. On the way out of Jacksonville we saw where the CSX business train is stored when not in use. Patty and I had chosen to have dinner around this time. I had Chicken L'Orange with green beans almandine, baby carrots and dessert. We finished dinner by the time we arrived in Madison Florida. On this train light blues music was played in the diner. (I thoroughly enjoyed this.) After dinner I went to the Lounge Car to view Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I had not seen this yet and it was a good treat. At 10:00 PM that evening we came through the capitol of Florida, Tallahassee. Here we were asked to set our clocks back 1 hour, Did you know that in the U.S. we have eight time zones? I had never thought about it although I have been in 42 of the 50 states. Also, here we set a man off who had a bit much to drink and who managed to fall down the stairs of one of the Superliners and break his leg. That will entail a stay in the hospital an extra day in town if he chooses to go on toward New Orleans as this is not a daily train. General lighting throughout the Superliners was cut off and I had to resort to individual seat lighting. (Something that comes to mind here: At home this time of year it gets daylight around 5:30 AM. I noticed in Jacksonville and on board that it doesn't get daylight until well after 6:00 AM. If the same thing holds in winter, that would put it getting daylight around sometime after 7AM. How depressing.)
Around Lake City, we saw a gentleman with a large train that he rode through his garden. Looked great. All flat land though.
11:25 PM: Stopped in Chipley, FL, where a beautifully restored station that has what appears to be two stations connected by a covered area where picnic tables are set out. There is a caboose on a panel of track here but it is too dark to make out its origin. Suspect Seaboard or Atlantic Coast Line. This is not the Amtrak station though, Amtrak occupies what appears to be a sharecroppers shack with one room and cheap light bulbs that make the inside look rather dull.
I must have fallen asleep here as the next thing I remember was 5:00 AM waking up to see the Mobile, Alabama Dock Yards. There is a beautiful twin span bridge that is made exactly like our 31st Street bridge but twice as long and the cables are not to the end of the bridge like ours. Before you come to the station the tracks go under the dock office building. I noticed at the Alabama State Docks that Burlington Northern Santa Fe had a small engine facility here.
Biloxi 6:30: Not a view we would see in these parts. The Casinos were still lighted up and a new thing got my attention. Graves with tin roofs on them. Sleep for me comes very hard on trains, thank God, as I would miss so much.
At 6:50 we come to Gulfport MS. Beautiful restored depot with L shaped tracks on each side. There is a diamond where the tracks cross at a corner of the station. Gulfport looked much beater than Biloxi to me. Massive building construction going on in both places. But Biloxi had more run down dwellings.
Crossed over part of the Gulf of Mexico to Bay of St. Louis Mississippi via the Gulf Coast Harbor Railroad Bridge. Stopped here at 7:10. Cutest station here. It is obviously a flag stop like South Shore, KY, but all wood and freshly painted in a soft gray and white. The station has a definite French look to it. While crossing the middle of the bay Patty and I saw an alligator. Patty saw another one who had captured a crane and was having his breakfast. We arrived in New Orleans and had to drop off a couple of the Amtrak mail and express cars in Amtrak's yard and added four others before we detrained. We got to the station at 9:AM, 20 minutes early. Will leave for Chicago at 1:15. The folks at Amtrak let us put our carry-on luggage inside the crew room because the Amtrak station in New Orleans is also an intermodal station and Greyhound refuses to use the lockers for fear of someone placing explosives in them.
Part 4: Spending Time in New Orleans
Normally when I write concerning railroads I would not include spending time in the cities I pass through, there is always an exception to every rule and New Orleans has a great exception. New Orleans has the oldest streetcar line in the world. That being the St. Charles line. Patty and myself, and three other Operation Lifesaver persons all had layovers for other trains as the Sunset does not leave New Orleans until 12:15. The three others with us were from Colorado and Arizona. Our Arizona person had to be back to the station earlier than us. We had until 2:55.
One of our OL people was a retired State Highway Patrol officer from Colorado who had spent some time in New Orleans and asked if we wanted to ride the streetcar lines. I didn't want to pass up this chance. Our first line was the St. Charles line. This area reminded me of Huntington's South Side near 10th and 11th Streets in Ritter Park with the trees in the middle of the lane and the houses close together and lots of stucco. We boarded the St. Charles Route at Lee Circle (a huge statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee looks toward the Amtrak station which is a distance of three blocks.) All streetcars on the St. Charles line are open window cars. Thank God for the trees that shade the tracks as the humidity was up and the heat index was 115 degrees.
We travel up St. Charles until we get to Carrolton Street where we get off and walk a half a block to the car barn and ask if someone would care to give us a tour of the car barn. Joseph Menashy who is the acting superintendent of the rail section of the Regional Transportation Authority was more than happy to be of assistance. It was obvious that he enjoyed his job as he covered the work going on in minute detail. His office is in the original car barn dating from 1835, when the St. Charles Line was called the Carrollton line of the New Orleans and Carrollton railroad. This line was operated by steam engine, horse and mule power to electrification in 1893. Once inside there is very little suggesting that the building is old. All the equipment to repair and build streetcars is modern and up to date. A new painting area and wheel shaving area were installed within the past three years. The craftsmen at the Carrollton Barn are some of the nation's foremost experts in streetcar preservation and maintenance. Because these streetcars are over 70 years old, parts have to be fabricated from scratch. Brake systems had to be re-engineered to meet stricter modern safety standards, and the cars were renovated almost completely from top to bottom before going out on the line. All cars return to the barn daily and are inspected and fixed if a problem occurs. One thing of interest: When a collision happens, and Joseph assures us they do, the only time a streetcar is damaged is when one streetcar hits another. Streetcars can do major damage to both cars and trucks. This included a collision between a streetcar and a garbage truck, the garbage truck was totally destroyed.
We paid $3. for tickets that entitled us to transfer between the three streetcars lines and the bus system. We calculated that we could take 32 rides daily. This was great as the tourists and the town folk use the line as well as folks who attended the Universities because it is economical. Inside the car barn were several of the older green cars used on the St. Charles Line and some of the Red Ladies that are used on the Riverfront line and the newly built red-orange cars that are being built for Canal street. One of the original 1921 St. Charles cars was remodeled as a sanding car. The sanding car is used because of the many leaves that fall onto the line which can stop the streetcars until they are removed. The St. Charles line is 13 miles long. The cars on this line are called Perley Thomas cars. The cars are medal and dark green with mahogany seats exposed lights and brass fittings these all are from a day when plastic seats and aluminum rails were not a thought to mankind.
After a tour of the car barn and maintenance facilities we board the St. Charles Line to go to the Riverfront Line. Our buddy going to Arizona got off at Lee circle so that he could catch the Sunset home. We went a few blocks further and got off going to try to catch the Canal street line which is now partially open. The first car built for this line was number 2001 which was on its way to the other side of the street. The 2001 was numbered for the year the line was opened, even thought it is only partially open and will take awhile longer. We tried to get a bus to get up to the other end of Canal with hopes of walking a block or two to Riverfront. In the car barn we saw numbers 2002 through 6 in various stages of build.
We then walked up Bourbon Street (which looks as if it needs a good cleaning) and purchased some souvenirs were purchased. Patty and the lady from Colorado were about to kill our host as Canal street had cut its trees to put in the streetcar line and the sun was beaming down and no restroom or drink stops were planned. The great thing about the Canal and Riverfront lines and the new cars being built is that they will have a 12-ton air-conditioning unit on top. After they are built the cars will weigh 48,000 pounds. Many of the parts for the new cars are being crafted in the New Orleans area and the people working in the area are gaining a skill that I feel will be in demand in other parts of the country when people take the time to see how popular these cars are in New Orleans.
When we made it to the Riverfront line we were in time to see a train from the New Orleans Public Belt come through right beside the streetcar line. We got on and rode the streetcar for three blocks and began the Death march back to the St. Charles line and on to Amtrak as our time in New Orleans was drawing to a close. The Riverfront line is the first new streetcar line in New Orleans since 1926, the Riverfront Line began operations on August 14, 1988. The original plan was to develop the Public Belt Corridor from the French Market to the Warehouse district, over a distance of about mile and a half. A combination of federal, local, and private funding contributed to the opening of the single track line. It became obvious that the single-track line was going to be insufficient to accommodate the demand placed on the line by locals and tourists alike. Additional funding was obtained, and a the line was expanded to a two-track route and additional streetcars were placed in service on August 31, 1990.
The future holds ambitious plans for the Riverfront line. The line will be expanded down-river to the Bywater neighborhood, and uptown to the Audubon Zoo.
The Red Ladies -- Streetcars on the Riverfront Line
There are two types of streetcars (in New Orleans, they're always streetcars, never "trolleys") on the New Orleans line. There are three 1923-vintage Perley Thomas streetcars as the same type in use on the St. Charles line. In fact, they were part of the New Orleans transit system prior to 1964, when the last remaining streetcar line (other than the St. Charles line, which remained in operation), Canal St., discontinued operation. The surplus streetcars were sold or donated to museums around the country. When the Riverfront line was in the planning stages, an effort was made to re-acquire the Perley Thomas cars, and two were found. A third was acquired in 1989 by the RTA and added to the Riverfront fleet.
The other type of car operating on the Riverfront line is the Melbourne W-2 streetcar. This model was originally operated by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The Melbourne cars were originally constructed in the mid-1920s, making them from the same period in streetcar development as their mates on the line. The Melbourne cars have wide center doors, making them easier to adapt to handicapped use than the Perley Thomas cars. Our car on the riverfront was a Melbourne car.
Part 5: Riding on the City of New Orleans
Getting into Amtrak and getting our carry-on ready. Patty is still huffed about the death march that brought us back to Amtrak. She says to me, I don't care what it costs, I want a sleeper to Chicago. I am tired and I know that I can sleep. She proceeds over to the ticket counter and hands the ticket over. The agent looks at her and says, you mean you haven't used your sleeper at all. It seems we had a sleeper from Jacksonville to New Orleans and didn't know it. My friend with Amtrak had arranged this for us and decided to spring it on us for a surprise. She came back with a smile on her face and said that I needed to drop my friend a line as we were in the sleeper and it wasn't costing us a thing.
The train left right on the money. We had been told that trackage on this route was going to be the roughest tracks that we would encounter on any Amtrak route. This was one of the biggest fibs of the trip. We had some of the best tracks of the trip. A lot of the trackage is single track just like the Cardinal. The biggest difference between the two different lines (one was CSX and the other CNIC) that I saw was in the quickness in train movement. This was due to speedy dispatching. All trains moved over and let us through, we also had to take the siding because the train coming was much longer than ours, we did this without fanfare and with very little total stopping was necessary.
Dinner in the Diner was the same as the night before for me except the chicken was noticeably burnt. Patty was so mad because she had ordered a well done steak only to get one that was very red and rare. She wondered why they just didn't run the animal through the diner and let her bite it on the rump because she felt that the animal probably wasn't dead even when it was on her plate. She ate the baked potato and baby carrots and Green beans with apple tart a la mode.
Just prior to dinner on the diner the movie Snow Dogs by Disney was on in the lounge car. Later they were going to play the movie A Beautiful Mind. I missed the first part due to dinner so I decided not to watch the rest.
Cities in Mississippi where there was enough light to see during the day were Greenwood, Yazoo City, while passing through Yazoo City I thought of the movie Ode to Billy Joe as his family was from this city, Jackson which is undergoing some major urban renewal around the tracks, with lots of buildings either slated to be torn down or in various stages of destruction. Hazelhurst and McComb, MS. Just outside of McComb there is a small town made up to look like a frontier town with boot shops, harness shops, and a buggy factory to name a few. When we stopped in McComb I kept thinking that Bubba from the television show 'In the Heat of the Night" would be coming around the corner. For those who have never watched this, Amtrak is coming right in the center of town as the show comes on the air. That is how it is done in McComb.
You meet lots of great people on the train our dining couple this evening were a Jewish couple who were coming back home after spending a week on the California coast and decided to try Amtrak. They had taken the Sunset Limited from West to East and didn't recommend it because the beautiful dessert in Arizona was crossed at night. Others had made similar statements saying that if you had to travel the Sunset, travel east to west that way you get to see some of the country. The gentleman was a boss at an Indiana steel mill and his wife a travel agent.
Patty had gone back to our sleeper- anyone with a fear of closed on places would not like this. I liked it but preferred to be out where the people were instead of being hidden away from the action. You could not hear what people thought or the conversations people were having sitting back here. Later that night Patty was going to be brave and try the upper bunk. This was fine with me as I like to look out and see stations and towns. She lasted up there 10 minutes coming down complaining that it was hot and that even with the safety straps on she felt that she was going to fall. I did sleep a little that night but kept getting up and looking out when the train stopped.
Early morning on the City of New Orleans, I woke up to see para sailing and hot air balloons over the Illinois farm lard as we were leaving Champaign. I remembered to write down that our stop in Memphis was long and that there was lots of CNIC equipment and BNSF equipment around. We were told that we had two stops before Chicago, Kankakee and Homewood. Kankakee had a beautiful older Illinois Central station whose clock still worked. Later that day at Chicago's Navy Pier I would go to a Stained Glass Museum that had lots of the stained glass from the upper middle class homes that predominated this area. Lots of German and Irish settlers made up this community. Our stops in Homewood seemed a waste to me as it is on the Chicago transit line. People got off but no one boarded. Maybe they figured this was a great way not to have to go to downtown Chicago just to get on a train or cab and come back. We arrived in Chicago on time and went in to put up our luggage so that we could discover the town. A locker costs $2 an hour here. We found out too late that Amtrak has a room here where passengers can stow their luggage if they are catching a later train. (By the way, I learned that the City of New Orleans once arriving in Chicago is cleaned and used as the Empire Builder later that night.)
Part 6: In Chicago--- Waiting to take our final train--The Cardinal--home
During the day, Patty and I decided to get a bus and go to what was billed as a new attraction called Navy Pier. Great Place. We spent about 3 hours there and got back in time to catch the Cardinal at 8:00 PM that evening. We got to the station around 5:00 PM and had to pay 6 dollars for our locker. We enjoyed being in the station and watching the trains come and go plus Patty helped a child out with some sunburn cream and we met a beautiful lady who was heading back to Jackson on the evening City of New Orleans.
Waiting for our Call to the Cardinal we heard lots of other trains being called. The one train I was so glad was not ours which was not on-time this evening was The Capitol Limited. The folks riding The Capitol Limited were called three times, each time at different gates only to be told that their train was going to be delayed and that they could sit down again. A lady then came through and got the first class, the disabled and the elderly and led them through the station and walked out and around to get them on the train. It seemed that they did not have enough staff to run the train this evening. They started loading ten minutes before we did which was one hour late for them.
We left the station in Chicago aboard the Cardinal at 8:00 PM. Five minutes late. The Capitol Limited had just left the station. We boarded at the same time as train #48. and on the same tracks. It would have made better sense not to do this as the conductors of each train had to keep telling passengers which train was which.
We boarded and the diner had closed for the evening and the club car was only opened until midnight. I remember our stops at Lafayette and again at Indianapolis where the 850, The Kentucky Cardinal, was taken off our consist as well as all the mail and express cars and anything that was heading to Beech Grove to sit on the dead-line was taken off as well. An elderly lady got on here and was going to Charleston so they put her in our car. I helped her put her luggage up in the overhead so that she would not hit sleeping people while trying to lift it. We had at least 20 cars coming out of Chicago and left Indianapolis with 8. One baggage and a diner, club car and a 10-6 sleeper and the rest coaches. We had also picked up our crew that was to take us into Huntington.
I slept until we got to Cincinnati in the early morning. Someone had said that we were two hours behind. The Conductor did not seem to mind very much as he had just had a call from the dispatcher in Jacksonville (we were on CSX tracks) to highball it as far as we could. Our conductor did not need to be told twice. We came across the Ohio River to the Kentucky side through Newport, Cambellsville and many more. It was daylight now and the first call to the diner was made. Patty and I had taken slots at this call so we were there as we sailed through Augusta KY (home of the late Rosemary Clooney- I had just learned the past week that her second child Marie was a God Child to Billie Holiday and that God Bless the Child was written for her.)
After Augusta we came to Maysville and stopped as about 5 people got off and three boarded. When we got back to our coach we could see that everyone was stirring and getting excited as Ashland and Huntington were now close. We literally went top speed for Amtrak on this line all the way. I remember going through Vanceburg watching an elderly lady unlock a church door that was track-side. We did not stop at South Shore as there was no one getting on or off and South Shore is a flag station. We were still going strong through Wurtland, Raceland and did not have to stop in Russell anymore as watering is done in Indianapolis. We made it into Ashland. Eight people got off and six got on. I had asked a young man to help the older woman I had helped earlier to see that she got off safe in Charleston.
We arrived in Huntington which was the end of the line for us. We were on time and had to make a double stop so that baggage and first class could get off and then us. In a way it was like the New River Trains as we do double stops on them as well.
I personally am glad we were able to take these trips. The routing was scheduled because we wanted to ride on all the trains that were the first slated to be cut. That being the Cardinal, the Sunset Limited and the City of New Orleans. It made us make a circular route but put us through 14 states and covered 3,221 miles. Would we do it all again? You bet!