Southern Bills: Our Georgia & Tennessee Trip
June 24-29, 2004
Fergy was quite entertaining, quipping about railroading in general and about some of the sights we would be passing. He was nice to warn us that since we were near the front of the train, we would bear the brunt of the train's necessary horns as we departed from Blue Ridge and approached all railroad crossings. He shared some technical knowledge with us as well, letting us know that for each grade crossing, there would be two long blasts of the horn, one short one, and another long one.
We departed at precisely 11:00 AM. Our group was facing the west side of the train. Not much to see here, other than waving to a woman who usually is there to wave back.
As we neared McKaysville close to 12 Noon, the crew gave everyone verbal directions to some eateries and stores in town. They also asked that for the return trip, we should sit on the opposite side of the train from where we were, so that everyone could appreciate the various views. And finally, we were told several times pointedly that our return trip would be leaving McKaysville at 1:30 PM.
Unfortunately though, it had begun to rain halfway through our trip, so we foresaw a wet time during our layover.
Chapter 5.2.1: McKaysville, GA/Copperhill, TN
McKaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN are really one big town with different names on either side of the state line that bisects it. In fact, while in the station, our train was still mostly in Georgia but the engine and the front cars were in Tennessee. The body of water along which we were running, the Toccoa River, also changes its name at the state line to the Ocoee River.
It was raining heavily as we detrained. Nevertheless, we had been continuously reminded that we would be departing at 1:30 PM, so we knew we either had to get wet or starve. We set out in search of a place to eat, knowing we had to be finished and back on the train before that time. We were able to find the Subway restaurant easily (thanks to excellent directions from Bill Purdy), so we had our lunch there.
After eating, we then purchased a few snacks at a convenience store next door to the Subway. It was still raining as we walked back to the train, but not as heavily as before. We did take a picture of Michael and me straddling the state line, which cuts diagonally through the parking lot of an IGA Supermarket. For the remainder of our layover, we decided to reboard the train and chat with the crew in relative dryness.
Our return trip left McKaysville right on time at 1:30, with hopefully everyone aboard. Had anyone missed it, they could catch the same train in just 24 hours. We sat on the opposite side of the train as directed, and saw the scenery on the east side of the train, which included many views of the Toccoa River. The big thrill here is the nets used to catch certain types of fish.
Our crew was quite entertaining, even on the return trip. (On some tourist railroad trips, there is no narration on the return trip since the sights are being passed for the second time.) They would tell jokes to the crowd, and to each other. Thanks to Bill Purdy and the rest of the Blue Ridge Scenic volunteer crew, this was one of the best tourist railroads we have ever ridden. It comes well recommended to anyone who is in the vicinity of Northwestern Georgia, Southeastern Tennessee, or Southwestern North Carolina.
All too soon our trip ended back at the Blue Ridge depot. It was 2:30 PM, time to depart quaint Blue Ridge by car for the more cosmopolitan Atlanta.
Chapter 5.3: Road Trip #3: Blue Ridge, GA to Atlanta, GA
Alan guided the Olds southward back towards Atlanta. We followed the most direct route, which was Georgia 5/515. It was a fast, dualized road, which got even better when it then became I-575 for the final stretch into Marietta. Once in Marietta, we rejoined I-75 for the short run into the Atlanta area. Not long after that, we arrived at Bill's familiar apartment building.
Chapter 5.4: Bill's Apartment, Visit 5
Ah yes, we remembered the old place. It seemed so long ago that we had last been at Bill's humble abode. We left our luggage there once more, and then walked out the front door of the building towards the bus stop, on our way to our last dinner together.
Chapter 5.5: MARTA Bus Route 23, Bill's Apartment to Lenox Square Mall
Considering all the mileage we had covered today from Chattanooga and Blue Ridge, it was strange to once again be aboard a city bus. In fact it was the Monday evening rush hour, and we were headed outbound. We were however able to find seats near the rear of the bus. We rode northward on Peachtree Road as Bill continued in his role as our guide, showing us points of interest we could see from the bus.
Although we passed by one side of the mall on Peachtree Road, we remained aboard the bus as it made a right turn and proceeded down Lenox Road and finally into the Lenox MARTA station. We then walked across the street and across a parking lot to the mall.
Chapter 5.6: Dinner at Lenox Square Mall
Monday's dinner was at yet another mall food court, this time at the sprawling Lenox Square Mall in the Buckhead section of the city. Although the company is headquartered in the Atlanta area (Hapeville, GA to be exact), we had not yet had Chick-Fil-A chicken. Michael and I finally got some of that hometown cooking. Alan chose to eat lightly, since as a First Class passenger he would be entitled to dinner aboard the train.
After obligatory rest room breaks, we soon walked back to the Lenox station and caught the next 23 bus. To do this we actually purchased tokens and entered the fare paid area of the station through a faregate. It was tempting to go downstairs and take one last ride on the rails, but we really didn't have the time. Instead, we remained at street level for the bus platforms.
Chapter 5.7: MARTA Bus Route 23, Lenox Square Mall to Bill's Apartment
Our bus took us back south along Peachtree Road. It got very crowded when it stopped at the MARTA Buckhead station, where a lot of people were transferring from a train to this bus. This is one station where the bus does not go into the paid area of the train station, so they needed paper transfers. Most of them got off before we did, as there are several late night establishments along the street.
Chapter 5.8: Bill's Apartment, Visit 6
Our sixth and final visit to Bill Haithcoat's apartment was to pick up all of our luggage in advance of our trip home. Bill then drove us to the Amtrak station, where we said our good-byes to him before he left us to attend to other matters he could not get to during our visit.
Chapter 5.9: Atlanta's Amtrak Station
At the station we found our that our train was roughly 35 minutes down as it approached Atlanta. Our boarding procedure was a fiasco, since there was no direction from anyone about where to stand and when to board. Departing passengers began to queue up in the station long before the train was due. In a station as small as this one, this only caused pedestrian gridlock when the arriving passengers needed to get through the station. In addition, on two occasions after the train arrived from New Orleans but before we were supposed to board, some passengers started walking down the stairs toward the train before a terse public address announcement told them to return to the station.
Once we were allowed to descend to track level, Alan went his way to the sleeper while Michael and I were sent to the back of the train once more, where there was a coach with plenty of empty seats. Boarding was further complicated by a torrential downpour. The crew member who was boarding passengers at the coaches did her job of assigning seats as if it was not raining. Although there was a canopy over us, it was of little help with all that rain.
How bad was that rain? A woman who occupied the sleeper across from Alan's was talking on her cell phone to her daughter, who had just dropped her off at the Atlanta station. When the daughter returned to her car, it was surrounded by water and she could not get to it. Her car was parked in the same lot that Bill had parked in when he dropped us off there. It was a good thing that Bill had left us when he did, or he could have been affected by the same flood.
Chapter 5.10: Amtrak Train #20, the CRESCENT; Atlanta, GA to Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA
We departed from Atlanta at 8:36 PM, exactly half an hour late. Things would get worse for us before they got better. About 20 minutes into our trip at Norcross, we came upon a stop signal. We sat there for about seven minutes before getting permission to proceed past the stop signal. We had to move at a slow speed until about 9:20.
I was glad that Michael and I had opted for dinner off the train. Upon our departure, part of the conductor's speech was that there would be an announcement when the lounge car and diner would be reopening (they had been open before arrival into Atlanta). However, either those announcements never came, or our speakers were not working because neither of us recalls hearing any such announcements.
We arrived at Gainesville at 9:53 PM for a quick, two-minute stop. Shortly after that, the crew turned out the lights. This was our signal to begin getting ready to go to sleep.
I had not yet gotten our train's full consist, but I knew I would be taking a walk in Washington the next morning.
Michael and I slept very well, missing the rest of Georgia, all of the Carolinas, and part of Virginia.
Chapter 6: Tuesday, June 29, 2004
With both Bills left behind in Georgia (and very few bills left in my wallet), Tuesday dawned for the rest of us aboard the northbound CRESCENT. For those of us still traveling, we would make our way home today.
Chapter 6.1: Amtrak Train #20, the CRESCENT; Atlanta, GA to Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA (continued)
We awoke somewhere in southern Virginia. I had no idea where we were until we came into Charlottesville at 7:44 AM. With our late departure from Atlanta and the delays just north of there, we had not lost much more time. When we departed from Charlottesville after a crew change, we were 47 minutes late.
Michael decided that he did not want a full breakfast from the dining car. Instead, I got him a bagel with cream cheese from the cafe car, which he consumed at his seat. I meanwhile met Alan in the dining car for breakfast. Service and food were satisfactory, as they had been for our breakfast on the way down.
Back at our respective accommodations, we watched the landscape pass us by as we continued through Virginia. We remained about 47 minutes late at Culpeper and Manassas. However at Alexandria it appeared that we had gained some of our time back. This is because from Alexandria to New York the times are padded, as passengers are restricted from boarding this train at these stations.
Arrival into Washington, DC's Union Station (Track 26) was at 10:07 AM, which was just 17 minutes off the advertised. I detrained there to catch up on the consist and perhaps record the number of our replacement electric engine. On the platform I met Alan, who had also gotten off the train to do the same thing. We exchanged our notes from our respective sections of the train. Here is the consist of Train 20(28):
# (Alan was here)12 P-42 locomotive NOL-WAS ** 20 P-42 locomotive NOL-WAS ** 1759 Baggage 2518 Dorm 62032 Viewliner sleeper "River View" 62016 Viewliner sleeper "Lake View" # 8527 Heritage Diner 28024 Amfleet II Lounge "Philadelphia Club" 25074 Amfleet II coach 25099 Amfleet II coach 54535 Horizon coach 25001 Amfleet II coach * 71261 Box car (NOL-PHL)
* (Michael & I were here)
** In WAS, both P-42's were removed, and AEM-7 locomotive 914 was added to run WAS-NYP. The boxcar remained on the train up to Philadelphia.
We departed from Washington at 10:28 AM and had a good, quick run up the Northeast Corridor, exploiting that schedule padding. When we got to Baltimore at 11:03 AM, we were exactly on time. Things only got better. We arrived in Wilmington at 11:50 AM, five minutes early. However, we lost some time in the station there since there was a lot of luggage to remove from the baggage car.
After Wilmington, Alan came back from the sleepers to say good-bye to us, since we would be detraining in about 20 minutes. Right after he left us, our train passed the Florida-bound Supertrain, an elongated SILVER STAR that was running with both its equipment and that of the SILVER METEOR during a 2-1/2 month trackwork project in the Carolinas and Florida.
At Philadelphia, Michael and I officially arrived at 12:16 PM, two minutes early. After a 768-mile trip that was as much as 47 minutes late, we surely could not complain about that!
Alan reports that the CRESCENT sat in Philadelphia for 12 minutes, during which time the head end power was turned off in order to remove the boxcar from the rear of the train. The train then continued up to New York City, where it arrived at exactly 2 PM, also two minutes early.
Michael and I had lunch at 30th Street Station, as we had about 1-1/2 hours to wait for our NJ TRANSIT train to Cherry Hill.
Chapter 6.2: NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line: Train #4615; Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA to Cherry Hill, NJ
Another mundane trip on a NJ TRANSIT commuter train, which so often has been the last of several days of rail travel. We left Philadelphia at 1:47 PM, and arrived at Cherry Hill at 2:12 PM.
We then drove home, arriving a little before 3:30 PM. Mission accomplished!
Chapter 7: Conclusion
Overall, it was a great trip, one worth waiting for. We all went to places to which we had not been before, and got to ride new trackage at the various tourist railroads we visited. We got to do everything we had planned.
A very special thanks to Bill Haithcoat and his 1986 Olds 98. The car was clean and dependable, and got us everywhere we needed to go by car. We could not have done all we did without either of their southern hospitality!