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Rails to Riverboats

Amtrak and River Explorer

Memphis, TN to New Orleans via the Amtrak City of New Orleans train

 and returning to Memphis via the river barge River Explorer.

Trip Report #1 - Memphis to New Orleans.

Until this trip, I only had the lyrics of this historic train song as an image of the trip.  Now we finally had a chance to experience the train "City of New Oleans," firsthand.

The City of New Orleans
    by Steve Goodman

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.


Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

©1970, 1971 EMI U Catalogue, Inc and Turnpike Tom Music (ASCAP)

From the City of New Orleans ROUTE GUIDE provided in the sleeper room (ask the Car Attendant if you do not have one), we learned:

The City of New Orleans is successor of two famous Illinois Central Railroad trains:  a daytime run knows as the City of New Orleans and an overnight train called the Panama Limited.  Amtrak originally retained the Panama Limited name for its overnight train.  After Arlo Guthrie recorded the famous folk ballad, the City of New Orleans, (lyrics above) the song called so much attention to the route that Amtrak switched the name!  It is fitting indeed, that music determines the name of this route because it is along this route that "Blues" grew up.  Some folks say the music came from a plantation in Mississippi and journeyed northwest on the train.  Others contend that it was born in Memphis and later carried in other directions.

Amtrak's service from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico explores some of this country's most unique and historic regions.  The City of New Orleans carries passengers between Chicago and New Orleans, crossing the Illinois central farmlands.  In addition, the western corner of Kentucky, the forests of Tennessee and Mississippi and the famous bayous of Louisiana are passed by along the way.

Memphis, Tennessee, 520 miles down the Mississippi River by rail from Chicago or, 406 miles north by rail from New Orleans, is a musical town from which to start a Sentimental Journey.  Even though we 'sprang' into action, by walking out of the Springhill Suites on Main Street in Memphis,  at 6:30 pm, we still had time for an enjoyable evening of blues and barbeque on Beale Street.  Immediately out the door of the Springhill Suites is the $1 Main Street Trolley which can drop you at Beale Street, or many other stops.  It is only one block east of the trolley stop on Beale until the neon, food and music begins, just past Elvis Presley Plaza.  Our favorite restaurant, with an authentic trumpet player in a black derby hat beconing us to cross the street, was King's Palace.   Once inside, our group of six ordered a couple of 'King's Feasts for Two" (BBQ ribs, pulled pork, jumbolai, potatoes, and cole slaw) and individual pasta and shrimp dishes.  After dinner, walk the other two blocks of Beale Street and be drawn into one of the many clubs for free music of Memphis.  Even though this was mid-week, talented (and loud) bands played and could be heard from the pedestrian street outside at no charge.


Known as the "Birthplace of the Blues," Memphis is also the home of the "King."  It was here that Elvis Presley built Graceland, the fabulous mansion in which he lived and ultimately came to rest.

Memphis also holds the distinction of being the "City of CHurches" and the "Hardwood Center of the World."  Named after the first capital of ancient Egypt, Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee and one of the world's largest mule-trading markets.  Memphis is also the birthplace of "Piggly Wiggly" Supermarkets--the nation's first self-service grocery stores.  Memphis's Central Station, constructed in 1914, has been beautifully restored, and a vintage trolley car line once again stops at the station's front door.  Shortly, you'll cross the Tennessee/Mississippi state line.

(Double-click any photo for a double-sized copy, click BACK in your brower to return to this page.)




Entering Beale St. from the west.

The King's Palace for a King's Feast


King's Palace Cafe's trumpet player appropriately
played "Isn't She Lovely" for our companions.

Artwork and live blues accompany your dinner.

The King's Feast was $27 for two and a
tasty bargain at that.



Not handicapped accessible, the trolleys have hand rails and the operators have patience.


Historic Photo in the Memphis Amtrak Station.


Historic Artwork in the Memphis Amtrak Station.

Memphis, TN, Amtrak Station.



I like to see this in train stations.
The word intermodal comes to mind.

A 2-year old Mardi Gras poster in the
Memphis Station.  The City of New
Orleans takes folks from Memphis
to New Orleans.

The City of New Orleans arrives in Memphis
nearly 3 hours late, and we happily
board for our daytrip to New Oleans.

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