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Chapter 0: Introduction
This trip was conceived in the fall of 2003. We had an invitation during an OTOL Sunday Chat session from Bill Purdy to visit the tourist railroad near his home in Blue Ridge, GA on which he volunteers as a crew member. At the same time, Alan Burden wanted to repay a visit that Bill Haithcoat (from Atlanta) had made to New York City during the summer of 2003, a visit that was marred by the blackout. Alan also had never ridden Atlanta's MARTA heavy rail system.
Michael and I already ridden all of MARTA, but there were some other attractions in the area we wanted to see, like the Southeastern Railway Museum and the tourist train that runs around the base of Stone Mountain east of Atlanta.
In addition, high on my list of things to do was to ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway in Chattanooga. We could combine that with a visit to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the Chattanooga Choo Choo attraction to make a side trip to that city worthwhile.
So overall, we had plenty of rail-related activities to fill up several days. We originally thought about doing it in November, during the week that Michael has some days off from school for New Jersey's annual teachers convention. But then we realized a few things: (a) We would not have enough time in a four-day weekend to cover all we wanted to cover, (b) Bill Purdy would most likely be at his winter home in Florida by then, and (c) the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad would not be operating on a daily basis by then. Instead, we decided to do this in June of 2004, once Michael was out of school for the summer.
Come the spring of 2004, Alan and I began our time-honored tradition of researching hotels for the best rates. We learned quickly that the most desirable and affordable locations in downtown Atlanta were already not available. There were several conventions, parades, and rallies scheduled for the same week as our visit. For a while we had reservations at a hotel in Alpharetta, well to the north of the city. Until a week before our trip, that is where we figured we would be staying (with Bill Haithcoat driving us to and from the hotel). Then Alan discovered that a Hilton Hotel near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport lowered its rates and had some rooms available for a reasonable (but not lower) price. Its convenience to the airport and closer proximity to the MARTA system caused us to change our reservations to this hotel.
We also reserved (as did Bill) rooms at a Hampton Inn in Chattanooga that was near Lookout Mountain.
As for getting around, we would need a car since many of the attractions we wished to visit in the Atlanta area were well beyond the reach of MARTA. In addition, there was the question of getting between Atlanta and Chattanooga, and being able to get to Blue Ridge as well. At first, we were going to rent a car. Then Bill offered to have us use his car during our stay. Bill would pick us up upon our arrival in town, drive us to attractions around Atlanta, and to Chattanooga. Since he was less familiar with the other portions of our itinerary, he would let one or both of us drive his car between Chattanooga and Blue Ridge and from Blue Ridge back to Atlanta.
Alan and I made our reservations on the CRESCENT. Alan went by sleeper between New York and Atlanta, while Michael and I went in coach, between Philadelphia and Atlanta. On this trip Michael rode for free as I used one of the companion tickets we had earned from an Acela Express/Amtrak Guest Rewards program in 2003. I picked up our tickets in Philadelphia in April 2004 upon our arrival back from our Florida trip.
Mindful of our impending Toronto Fest trip in July just two weeks after our return, we strove to keep things low-key and not spend extravagantly. Still, we planned a few non-rail things tentatively into our itinerary, such as visits to World of Coca Cola and the CNN Studio Tour. Those attractions would only be possible if we arrived in town on the CRESCENT on time on Friday morning, since our rail activities would take precedence.
Bill pre-purchased for us some weekend passes that are valid for use all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Although we would not be around Atlanta on Sunday, they would save us the hassle of bringing dollar bills and quarters and purchasing fares each time we entered the system.
Chapter 1: Thursday, June 24, 2004
For Michael and me, our trip began as it so often does. We drove to Cherry Hill, NJ for our usual free and unlimited parking, and then took a NJ TRANSIT train into Philadelphia.
Alan boarded the CRESCENT in New York and settled into his compartment. He would meet us on the train after we boarded in Philadelphia.
Chapter 1.1: NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line: Train #4614; Cherry Hill, NJ to Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA
We caught the 1:27 PM NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line trip into Philadelphia. It was running a few minutes late, but since we had plenty of time to kill in Philadelphia before our 4:40 Amtrak departure, that was not an issue for us. However, we in fact arrived right on time into 30th Street Station anyhow due to timetable padding.
After a late lunch in the station's food court, we went to the Club Acela, using two of my Amtrak Guest Rewards Select membership coupons.
Chapter 1.2: Club Acela in 30th Street Station
When we were admitted to the Club Acela, I knew we had about two hours until the scheduled departure of the CRESCENT. However, the attendant was quick to point out that we could have a long wait. The same train 24 hours earlier was four hours late leaving New York, a startling fact I already knew. We both hoped that would not be the case today.
Michael and I went all the way to the back of the lounge near the television. This location put us closest to the elevator that would take us down to our train. Last time we were in this lounge in April, Michael had changed the channel from the traditional CNN to Nickelodeon, so he could watch cartoons. This time, they had put the television controls out of reach up on a shelf, so that we were forced to watch the news. Maybe some businessmen complained that they had to see Sponge Bob Square Pants when they expected stock market quotes or the weather.
Once the CRESCENT was scheduled to have left New York, I began calling Julie the Amtrak robot to check on the train's progress. In addition, Alan, who was aboard the train, sent me text messages as well. So I was well aware that the train had left New York on time today when the Club Acela attendant was nice enough to come down and give me the same information.
At about 4:20 PM, twenty minutes before our train's scheduled departure, an announcement was made that our train was in the station and would soon be ready for boarding. Michael and I were the only ones in the lounge headed for this train, and we had no checked baggage; therefore there was no Redcap to operate the elevator for us. The lounge attendant turned a key and then told us to press the proper button so the elevator would bring us to the platform. Once on the platform we had to walk back to the rear of the train, where Atlanta-bound coach passengers were being seated in the last of the CRESCENT's four coaches.
Chapter 1.3: Amtrak Train #19, the CRESCENT; Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA to Atlanta, GA
Once seated, I contacted Alan up in the sleepers. I let him know which coach we were in, and he soon walked back to meet us.
I noticed that there was just one attendant for the four coaches. I thought that was odd, since he would have to pay attention to so many passengers throughout his trip to New Orleans. Nevertheless, we were given our pillows very soon after we boarded.
Shortly after we left Wilmington, Alan called me on my cell phone to let me know that they were beginning to seat people in the diner. (We wanted to eat dinner before the train would lose power during the engine change in Washington, so we opted for the earliest possible seating.)
We headed to the dining car, and were seated promptly. Unfortunately, it took almost 20 minutes for our orders to be taken, and then almost another half hour for our food to come. The food at least was decent. We left the dining car exactly 1-1/2 hours after we had arrived.
Meanwhile, our run down the corridor went quickly since it was broken up by our dinnertime. Although we had left Philadelphia on time, we had lost about six minutes by the time we arrived in Washington. One highlight of the trip was in Maryland when we passed a MARC commuter train on our right and an oncoming Amtrak train on our left.
During the layover time in Washington, DC, I detrained to get our consist. I got everything except for the two diesel engines, since they were being put on under the station where those not employed by Amtrak are not allowed to walk. I later got that information from Alan, and from my scanner. I got the number of the electric engine that was removed when it was run light past us on its way north to Ivy City Yard.
Here is the consist of Train 19(24):
934 AEM-7 locomotive NYP-WAS **
62045 Viewliner sleeper "Tower View"
62021 Viewliner sleeper "Colonial View" #
8558 Heritage Diner
28013 Amfleet II lounge "Boston Club"
25007 Amfleet II coach
25077 Amfleet II coach
25123 Amfleet II coach
25055 Amfleet II coach *
71256 Box car (WAS-NOL)
# (Alan was here)
* (Michael & I were here)
** In Washington, AEM-7 934 was removed, replaced with P-42 locomotives 69 & 20, WAS-NOL
A coach attendant named Joy joined our train in Washington. She made an announcement that she had just boarded and that she usually is assigned to either the lounge car or the diner. She was courteous and attentive to the two coaches under her care. My feeling is that she was a replacement for a second attendant that should have boarded with the other one in New York.
We lost a little bit of time in Alexandria due to the boarding of a passenger in a wheelchair, and that passenger's need to check baggage. We were seven minutes down out of that station, and we stayed about that late at the rest of our stops through Virginia.
Meanwhile, at exactly 10 PM, Joy turned off the lights in our coach. We were 18 minutes past Charlottesville at that time, running about ten minutes late. Michael and I took our cue and prepared to go to sleep. After we got ready, we fell asleep rather quickly. I did awaken briefly at our Lynchburg stop, but fell back asleep once we had departed.
Chapter 2: Friday, June 25, 2004
Friday would be a busy day for us. We would be meeting Bill Haithcoat at the Atlanta Amtrak station, riding the entire MARTA heavy rail system, and doing some non-rail sightseeing before going to our hotel for the night. But first, we had to get there...
Chapter 2.1: Amtrak Train #19, the CRESCENT; Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA to Atlanta, GA (continued)
The next thing I knew we were at our long overnight stop in Charlotte, NC. Apparently the schedule is padded into Charlotte, and we had arrived well ahead of the advertised 3:00 AM arrival time. I remained awake until shortly after we departed from Charlotte, on time at 3:25. On our right as we rolled southward out of the station, I saw the consist of the CAROLINIAN laying over for the night. During the daytime, the PIEDMONT uses this same track to rest between its runs.
We awoke for good around 7 AM. I contacted Alan and we all met for breakfast in the dining car. We were already in the state of Georgia, having just passed Toccoa and running a little behind schedule.
When we made our stop in Gainesville, that was our checkpoint for Alan to call Bill Haithcoat so he could meet us at the Atlanta station. However, just past the station, we had to stop to let a northbound freight train pass before we could proceed south on the mainline.
Well, despite this delay, we still arrived into Atlanta six minutes early at 8:47 AM. Michael and I took the elevator up to the station, and then looked for Bill, who we had never met before. He found us by my description, and then Alan came up from the train and joined us.
We went across the street to where Bill had parked, and had our first meeting with Bill's car, a gray 1986 Oldsmobile 98. When I first saw the push pins and thumbtacks in the car's ceiling, I thought that they were there for show; I did not realize that their function was to hold the ceiling to the car's roof. A couple of these push pins fell into my lap during our initial trip in the car.
Bill drove us six blocks to his apartment, where we made our first of six stops there over the course of the long weekend.
Chapter 2.2: Bill's Apartment, Visit 1
Bill led us up a freight elevator and through a maze of hallways to his apartment. Once inside, he showed us his vast railroad memorabilia collection, which dominates the entire apartment. Chances are, in his cache of books and photos he could find you the answer to any question you may have about railroad heritage. His humble abode also represented our storage place for the weekend. I left both of our two suitcases there, since we would not need anything until later that night. Alan was able to drop off things he would not be needing while out touring the MARTA system and other Atlanta attractions, such as his laptop computer.
Bill also gave us the weekend passes he had pre-purchased for us, and we paid him back. Then we headed out to hit MARTA. Our day would include two necessary bus rides to get to and from the rail system.
Chapter 2.3: MARTA Bus Route 23, Bill's Apartment to Arts Center
MARTA's 23 bus line runs along Peachtree Road. It's the same one that an Amtrak footnote in their timetable tells people they can take from the Amtrak station to access the rail line. This bus connects with the rail line in both directions: to the south at Arts Center, and to the north at the Lenox station.
A bus came right away and took us south towards the Arts Center station. After a quick five-minute ride, we had arrived at the final destination of this bus route.
Atlanta is one of only a few cities I have encountered within the United States and Canada that has buses enter the paid area of the city's heavy rail system, allowing seamless transfers without leaving the system. Another city is Toronto, so Alan, Michael and I experienced both of them within a month's time. (In Toronto's case, streetcars are part of that mix as well.)
After getting off the bus, we simply headed down a series of escalators to the station's island platform to begin our exploration of MARTA's heavy rail lines.
Chapter 2.4: MARTA North-South Line, Arts Center to North Springs
MARTA's North-South Line is really two lines in one. All trains heading south go to the airport. Trains heading north alternate between two branches: The North Line to North Springs, and the Northeast Line to Doraville. The two branches diverge just beyond the Lindbergh station.
So it did not matter which branch we rode first; we would simply take the next northbound train, ride it to its terminus, and then return to Lindbergh to do the second branch. The first northbound train that came was headed for North Springs, so off we went.
After we left Lindbergh, we veered off to the right. This track runs right into the median of a toll road called Georgia 400, and continues either on the median or parallel to the highway for the rest of its run. Right after we joined GA 400, we passed under the other line to Doraville. Most of this line is outdoors, so we could see all of its passenger generators, including shopping malls, medical centers, and plenty of other industries. For quite a while the line ended at Dunwoody, but within the past several years it was extended beyond there to North Springs. There are some tunnel portions on this newest section, including one where passengers can see advertising in the wall of the tunnel as the train passes.
Once at North Springs, we detrained briefly while our operator changed ends.
Chapter 2.5: MARTA North-South Line, North Springs to Lindbergh
At North Springs we reboarded our train for our southbound ride on the North Line. We went as far as Lindbergh, where we would change trains to head north on the Northeast Line.
Chapter 2.6: MARTA Northeast-South Line, Lindbergh to Doraville
We approached the same junction as before, only this time we took the left track. This put us on a flyover, which passed over GA 400 with the line to North Springs already in its median. The Northeast Line remains parallel to the Norfolk Southern main line, although at some point it crosses over to the other side.
The most popular stop on this line is Lenox, the station for the Lenox Square Mall (which we would visit by bus later on in our adventures). The rest of the stops are primarily park & ride facilities in the Northeastern suburbs.
Soon we arrived at the Doraville terminus. We did the same thing there as we did in North Springs, changing cars and awaiting the operator to switch to the opposite end.
Chapter 2.7: MARTA Northeast-South Line, Doraville to Peachtree Center
We rode back south from Doraville, retracing our previously-traveled trackage beyond Lindbergh to Arts Center. Then we continued two more stops to Peachtree Center, which was our designated lunch stop.
Chapter 2.8: Lunch at The Mall at Peachtree Center
We arrived at the food court in The Mall at Peachtree Center just about lunchtime, so the place was full of people on their lunch breaks. We also happened to be there at a good time, because a very heavy thunderstorm hit while we were consuming our food. We could see the water hitting the skylights above us as we ate. As soon as we were done and had taken rest room breaks, we headed once more for MARTA.
Chapter 2.9: MARTA North-South Line, Peachtree Center to Five Points
We had decided that we would spend our day in Atlanta enjoying some of its attractions since we had plenty of time thanks to our early arrival in town. Since we would be staying near the airport that evening, it made little sense to travel on the southern portion of the North-South Line since we would be riding it anyhow later on. So we just took the North-South Line one stop to the center of MARTA's rail system, Five Points.
Five Points is the geographical and cultural heart of Atlanta, and it's also where MARTA's two major lines come together. One can transfer for free between the two lines, which cross at a right angle on different levels of the station. It's a Superstation of sorts, as both the North-South and East-West Lines have two side platforms and an island platform as well. (The station is similar to Boston's Park Street station on the MBTA Red Line.) The doors on all trains on both lines open on both sides, so that passengers can choose the best route to either transfer to the other line or exit up to the street or into Underground Atlanta.
Chapter 2.10: MARTA Proctor Creek Line, Five Points to Bankhead
My "fest blood" was pumping, and I suggested that we stand on the East-West Line's center platform, so that we could minimize our wait time by taking the first train that would come in either direction. But we let Bill be our guide, so we ended up on the westbound side platform. This platform actually gives access to two lines: The regular East-West Line towards Hamilton E. Holmes, and trains that run on a short branch line called the Proctor Creek Line to a single station in Bankhead.
The Bankhead trains are easily recognizable by their shorter length. They usually turn downtown, at the King Memorial station east of Five Points. It was a Bankhead train that came first in the westbound direction, so we got on that one.
The train was a little crowded, as the two-car train was not meant to handle the crowds headed for the events at the Omni. After we left the first station (Omni/Dome/GWCC/CNN Center), the crowds died down substantially. After we stopped at Ashby, the last common station on the East-West and Proctor Creek Lines, our train was almost empty.
Right after Ashby, we veered to the right. We were now on the short branch to Bankhead. Before we knew it we had come out of the tunnel, and we entered the Bankhead station.
We detrained here, but only briefly since this train would be heading inbound once its operator changed ends. We then reboarded for a very short trip in the other direction.
Chapter 2.11: MARTA Proctor Creek Line, Bankhead to Ashby
We had to go just one stop back to Ashby in order to access the main East-West Line. Ashby is set up like Boston MBTA's Porter Square, Washington WMATA's Rosslyn station, and a few in New York City, with the platforms for different directions on separate levels. So we had to go up a short escalator to get from the eastbound to the westbound platform.
Chapter 2.12: MARTA East-West Line, Ashby to Hamilton E. Holmes
We had to wait a while for the next westbound train to Hamilton E. Holmes. The first one to come was another Proctor Creek Line train going where we had just come from. It was followed by a much longer mainline East-West Line train headed to the western end of the line. We then had a quick trip to the western terminus at Hamilton E. Holmes station, stopping at just one intermediate station, West Lake.
When we got to this terminus station, our train remained on the right-side track. This station (which used to be called Hightower) has side platforms. It clearly was not built as an endpoint station. That, and the fact that this end-of-the-line is by far the shortest distance from Five Points (with the exception of Bankhead), is proof that MARTA will someday soon extend service further west from here.
Since there was a train waiting on the other platform, we had to walk downstairs and back upstairs on the other side to board the next eastbound train.
Chapter 2.13: MARTA East-West Line, Hamilton E. Holmes to Indian Creek
We rode this train for the entire length of its run, from the west end to the east end of the line. We passed through downtown Atlanta once more on the way. At Indian Creek, a station with an island platform, we once again changed trains so we could head west back to downtown Atlanta.
Chapter 2.14: MARTA East-West Line, Indian Creek to Dome/GWCC/Phipps Arena/CNN Center
We retraced our travels once more, riding west into downtown Atlanta. We passed Five Points and got off one stop later at the station called Dome/GWCC/Phipps Arena/CNN Center. Did they really have to name the station after all those attractions? Calling it simply one of those names would have been sufficient enough.
Our destination was the CNN Center, where we would take the studio tour, visit the park across the street, and then take a walk to see the rail-related downtown sights.
Chapter 2.15: CNN Center/CNN Studio Tour
Here began the first non-rail portion of our trip. We were now sightseers. Of all the times I had been to Atlanta, I had never visited the CNN Center. I had lists of the food establishments available in other downtown malls, but never realized that CNN Center has just as large a food court as the others, if not bigger. But we weren't here to eat!
We took the CNN Studio Tour, which began with an eight-story escalator ride up to the top of the building's atrium. We saw all of the studios where live news broadcasts were going on, including CNN, CNN Headline News, and CNN International. We also saw some behind-the-scenes demonstrations, such as how the weather reports are done, and learned that CNN monitors the newscasts of most other cable news stations to make sure they are not being scooped on a story. Of course our eight-story escalator ride up was followed by eight separate walks down stairways. Our last walk brought us into a room where we were thanked for taking the tour by a videotaped broadcast of Ted Turner. Then we were let right out into the gift shop (surprise, surprise!) and told the tour was over.
After hitting the rest rooms, we headed outside and across the street to Centennial Olympic Park.
Chapter 2.16: Centennial Olympic Park
Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park was built around the time the Summer Games were held in the city in 1996. Unfortunately it became infamous as the location of the bomb that went off during the Games, killing two people. The highlight of the park is the Fountain of Rings, a series of dancing fountains in the shape of the five Olympic rings, that entices people to run through them. They are very welcome on a hot day. This day qualified, but we had plenty of walking around to do, so the lack of both time and extra clothes kept us away from the water.
One of the points of interest for us to see in the park was the William Haithcoat brick. Bill had purchased a brick around the time the Olympics were held in Atlanta, and like so many other Atlantans his name was engraved on it. Bill himself had trouble finding it, but after walking almost completely around half the park, we all did find it near one of the main entrances to the park. That means that thousands of people on a daily basis step on Bill on their way into and out of the park!
Chapter 2.17: Our walk through railroad history
Bill had planned our visit well. His goal was not only to give us some Atlanta railroad history, but also to prepare us for our visit to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth the next day.
After leaving the park, we walked back across the street and through CNN Center once more. Bill then took us out on some street overpasses that span what is left of the railroad tracks that once served this city in abundance. Sadly, there is one east-west line remaining downtown; the rest of what used to be tracks is now parking lots. He showed us the locations of two different downtown stations, and told us which trains stopped in each station. Interestingly, there were two trains that actually arrived at one station and departed from the other!
Once the educational part of our day was over, we then walked towards Underground Atlanta for more leisure activities. We walked through Underground Atlanta and out the other side into a plaza. This plaza is surrounded by Underground Atlanta, as well as a surviving station for the Georgia Railroad, and the World of Coca Cola. We walked across the plaza to the latter attraction, which after our long walk in the heat and humidity was like an oasis in the desert.
Chapter 2.18: World of Coca Cola
Michael and I had been to the World of Coca Cola twice in our lives already, and I had told Michael not to expect us to go there a third time. But the "When in Rome" philosophy prevailed, as did our thirsts. We got a discounted admission by showing the receipts from our previous CNN Studio Tour. We made pretty short work of the displays, however we did sit down to watch one short movie presentation. Then it was on to the main course, so to speak, the soda room. Here we sampled all of the various Coke products. I was mindful of the fact that we would be having dinner soon and would most likely be drinking yet another soda, and that I did not need an overdose of caffeine since I have trouble falling asleep at night. So we reached our limit and left the World of Coca Cola, after of course having to exit through its gift shop.
Chapter 2.19: Dinner at Underground Atlanta
Now close to dinnertime, the four of us walked back across the plaza and entered Underground Atlanta once more. We went to its massive food court, and Michael and I tried the free samples of chicken that each restaurant was throwing at us. We actually did not fall for the ruse, despite the fact that each sample was better than the one before it. Michael had something from Dairy Queen, and I got 3 slices of pizza from a restaurant that has a rare contract with Pepsi. Aside from the soda machine in Atlanta's Amtrak station, this is one of the few places in the city that one can find a Pepsi.
Chapter 2.20: MARTA North-South Line, Five Points to Arts Center
It was now time to head back to Bill's apartment. We walked through Underground Atlanta, then through a connecting passageway to the Five Points MARTA station. We took the next northbound train three stops to Arts Center. It was crowded, like any urban mass transit would be at rush hour, so we had to stand for this short trip.
At Arts Center we went up to the street level to take the 23 bus. We boarded a 23 bus that was already sitting in the station, but after we sat on that bus for about two minutes, a MARTA employee told us that another bus behind us would be departing first, so everyone jumped up and ran to the other bus.
Chapter 2.21: MARTA Bus Route 23, Arts Center to Bill's Apartment
Another slightly crowded ride, as we took the bus for a five-minute trip up Peachtree Road to the stop near Bill's apartment building.
Chapter 2.22: Bill's Apartment, Visit 2
We were here to retrieve what luggage we would need for that night. I left my Chattanooga suitcase there, since it would not be needed until Saturday afternoon. Alan retrieved his personal belongings, and then we were off once more.
Back in the Olds, Bill drove us to the Lindbergh station. Although he is closer to Arts Center, the Lindbergh station has ample parking, including a curbside where he could safely stop and drop us off. When we got to the station, the sky got very dark, and it began to rain.
We said good-bye to Bill for the day, and we arranged that he would pick us up the following morning at the same location. It was pouring before our train came, but luckily we were safely under the canopy.
Chapter 2.23: MARTA North-South Line, Lindbergh to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
This was one of only two trips on MARTA without Bill. Alan, Michael, and I headed for the airport, in order to access our hotel near there. We had ridden this part of the line earlier in the day, but everything south of Five Points would be new to Alan.
The southern portion of the line runs primarily on the surfaces, although there are a couple of short tunnels. The line is also elevated as it approaches the airport and crosses over I-85.
Luckily, it had stopped raining by the time we got to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. After we got off the train and left the MARTA system, we quickly found the lot where hotel vans take on their passengers. We located the one for our Hilton, and boarded it along with several other people.
Once at the hotel, we checked in and called it a day.
Chapter 2.25: Conclusion of a long day
Since we all had arrived that morning by train and had done a lot of walking and MARTA riding, we did not feel like exploring around the hotel. Michael and I just relaxed in our room and eventually went to sleep.
Chapter 3: Saturday, June 26, 2004
Saturday promised to be a busy day. On our agenda today was just one more ride on MARTA's rail line to meet up with Bill, visits to Stone Mountain Park and the Southeastern Railway Museum (both just outside of the city), and our first long car trip.
Chapter 3.1: Hotel shuttle to Airport
Although we had express checkout, I had some small matter to clear up with the front desk. Because of that, we unfortunately just missed a shuttle departure, and had to wait for the next one. It appeared that they were either short a driver or a van, as we waited quite a while. We ended up departing from the hotel a little later than we had planned.
When we got back to the airport, we were dropped off in a different place than where we had caught the van the previous evening. We found our way through one of the airport's baggage claim areas and eventually found the MARTA station.
Chapter 3.2: MARTA North-South Line, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Lindbergh
This turned out to be our very last ride on MARTA's rapid transit system. Our weekend passes were still valid, so it did not cost us anything more for this trip.
We were further delayed when our train stopped between stations a couple of times. When we got to the Lindbergh station, Bill was just arriving as well. We all got into his Oldsmobile for the trip back to his apartment.
Chapter 3.3: Bill's Apartment, Visit 3
Once again Bill's home became our storage locker, as we left our suitcases there. We had to carry only minimal belongings with us as we would be returning there in the afternoon before our drive to Chattanooga.
Back in the car once more, we set out for Stone Mountain Park. Bill drove a little bit north to access the Perimeter Highway, I-285, which is Atlanta's beltway. We then took it clockwise to the eastern side of the city. We ran into some heavy traffic just as we entered I-285. That delayed us some more, and made us nervous since we had a scheduled train to catch at the park. Luckily we got through the jam and continued on our way with only a minimal delay.
We then took Georgia 78 eastbound towards the park. We moved well on this highway, and soon we were headed for the parking lot closest to the park entrance.
Chapter 3.4: Georgia's Stone Mountain Park
Stone Mountain Park is a typical theme park, with many attractions. We were only interested in one of them, the train ride around the mountain. We were able to purchase tickets for the train only, instead of more expensive tickets good all day on all of the attractions.
We got to the park with about 15 minutes to spare. That was enough time for a short rest room break. We also went into a food service place, where some of us got snacks (since due to the traffic jam we had not had time to stop for breakfast on the way).
Chapter 3.4.1: Stone Mountain Railroad
Then we got on line for the train. On this particular day, the train was using amusement park equipment. Bill said that sometimes they bring out more conventional railroad cars for this trip. In fact there have been excursion trains run from Atlanta to the park, which circle the mountain and then return to the city.
The Stone Mountain Railroad runs clockwise about five miles around the mountain. About 1/4 way around, we stopped for a short Western-style show, again typical of most theme parks. About 2/3 way through the trip, the train makes one intermediate station stop near where there is a walk-up trail to the top of the mountain. Then it completes the circle returning to the station where we boarded.
It was an enjoyable trip, although not what I had expected it to be, after having wanted to ride it for several years.
We were hungry for lunch after our train ride, and had penciled into our plans that we would eat at Stone Mountain Park before taking our next car ride to the Southeastern Railway Museum. However again typical of amusement parks, the food was limited and quite expensive. We decided we could do better by leaving the park and stopping along the way.
Chapter 3.4.2: Lunch at KFC
We had not driven long from Stone Mountain before we came upon an exit off GA 78 whose sign showed that a KFC restaurant was nearby. We all agreed this would be a suitable lunch, so we made a stop there. The place was at the junction of two roads, one of which was parallel to a railroad line. While it would be fitting if a freight train passed by while we were eating, CSX did not oblige us. While we were not sure, most likely this was the former New Georgia RR that runs between downtown Atlanta and Stone Mountain Park.
After our bellies were full, we headed back to GA 78, and then went counter-clockwise on I-285 towards where we had gotten on earlier. We then went north on I-85 several miles. We then went west on Pleasant Hill Road past some suburban shopping malls, and eventually went north on US 23 to Duluth and the Southeastern Railway Museum.
Chapter 3.5: Southeastern Railway Museum
Bill had prepared us well for our visit to the Southeastern Railway Museum. Inside we saw some maps of downtown Atlanta that, together with our walking tour the previous day, provided us with a clear picture of how things used to be in the city. We also saw plenty of equipment both inside and outside the museum. One strange piece of their collection is a car that was once used on the shuttle "train" between the airport terminals at Hartsfield International. I was shocked to see that it had rubber tires rather than steel wheels.
We also had a pleasant surprise. There is a short train that operates within the museum grounds. We thought that it would run for just a short distance, however it switched to another track and took us to a far corner of the museum property that we had not visited on foot. We got to ride while standing in the vestibule at the end of the train talking to the crew. Michael and I also rode in one direction on the upper seats in the train's caboose.
The museum is located right next to the Norfolk Southern mainline; in fact we were treated to the passing of a couple of freight trains while we were there. (If you know where to look, it can be spotted from the CRESCENT on the west side of the tracks.) One must also cross the NS tracks at a grade crossing to enter or exit the museum.
We came away from our museum visit happy we had made this a stop on our itinerary. It comes highly recommended if you are into such museums and are curious about the history of passenger railroading in this part of the country.
We then headed back towards Bill's apartment building once more. We had some heavy traffic on Pleasant Hill Road passing through the shopping center area before we got onto the freeway. Once headed south on I-85, we made good time back to our destination.
Chapter 3.6: Bill's Apartment, Visit 4
For the fourth time (but the last for a couple of days) we negotiated the maze of hallways leading to and from Bill's apartment. Once there, I took our Chattanooga suitcase and left the Atlanta one there. Bill was now leaving on vacation as well, so he and Alan took what they needed for the Chattanooga segment of our adventure.
Chapter 3.7: Road Trip #1: Atlanta, GA to Chattanooga, TN
Our first of three long road trips began at Bill's apartment building in Atlanta as the four of us headed out of town for the Chattanooga and Blue Ridge portions of our trip. Our first destination was Chattanooga, with a then-unknown dinner stop along the way. We estimated about two hours of driving time, in addition to the stop for dinner. We felt comfortable with Bill at the wheel of his car, since he has made this trip many times before.
It was during this trip that we unexpectedly had our first brush with the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad. In Marietta, I-75 passes under a railroad overpass that is marked with the name of that railroad. Although their excursion runs from Blue Ridge, GA to the north, they own trackage almost all the way down to Atlanta.
Chapter 3.7.1 Dinner at Krystal
After we passed Marietta, Bill suggested that we stop for dinner at a Krystal. We agreed, since I was familiar with the chain. This particular one is located in Ringgold, GA at an exit off I-75 very near the Tennessee border. That put it about an hour away, which would be right at dinnertime.
For those who haven't heard of Krystal, it is a hamburger place very similar to White Castle, featuring small square burgers that most people buy in bulk. The chain is located in a part of the country that its competitor isn't: the Southeast. I was quite pleased with Bill's selection, since Michael and I have enjoyed Krystal burgers in Florida when we make our annual trip there in April.
Chapter 3.8: Conclusion of another long day
After our Krystal break, we boarded the Haithcoatmobile one more time for another twenty minutes of driving. Not long after we returned to I-75, we came to the Tennessee State Line. We also entered the Chattanooga area at this point. We turned west onto I-24, which brought us into the heart of the city. We continued to our hotel, a Hampton Inn that was reasonably-priced and convenient for our needs.
Once assigned our rooms, we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet the following morning over continental breakfast served in the hotel's lobby. Michael and I had thoughts of taking an evening swim, but those thoughts were dashed by two things: First, we found the pool being used by a lot of younger kids who were horsing around. Secondly, it was discovered that our bathing suits were safely in our other suitcase in Bill's apartment in Atlanta.
So we did the next best thing and turned in, finding it easy to sleep after our long day riding two excursion trains, visiting one theme park and one railroad museum, and experiencing everything from a traffic jam on Atlanta's beltway to fast, open road along I-75 between the two metropolitan areas.
Chapter 4: Sunday, June 27, 2004
Sunday was our day in Chattanooga. While the weather was not great, we still managed to experience a full day of activities, both related and unrelated to trains.
We met in the lobby of our hotel, and after our complimentary continental breakfast, we left for our first stop of the day, Lookout Mountain and its Incline Railway. We drove about one mile to a neighborhood of the city called St. Elmo, and parked there in the Incline Railway's lot.
Chapter 4.1: Lookout Mountain
We found out that Lookout Mountain is actually an 84-mile ridge that extends well into Georgia and Alabama. In fact, fifty of the 84 miles are in Alabama, extending as far southwest as Gadsden. Georgia (where its highest point is located) has 31 miles of it, leaving only three miles in Tennessee. The three major Lookout Mountain attractions are all in the Chattanooga/Northwest Georgia area. The area we would be visiting at the top of the Incline is at the very northern point of the ridge.
Chapter 4.1.1: Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
We railfans did not come to see Rock City or visit Ruby Falls. We came to ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. Many inclines around the country boast some type of superlative; this one says they are the steepest, and rightly so.