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Million Mile Man: California man continues railroad journey

By Kristin Goosen

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Welcome to Dalton," the engineer called as a group of passengers riding The Laker Express pulled up to the Great Northern Railway depot.

Among the passengers was Chris Guenzler. As of June 3, Guenzler, known as the Million Mile Rail Travel Man and Million Mile Amtrak Rider, has traveled 1,491,413 railroad miles. A few of those were added Friday at the Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen's Association grounds in Dalton. The track is only a half mile long, but there was plenty for Guenzler to take in.

Guenzler said there is something very special about the short track that takes a scenic route around the grounds. "The only other place that has two-foot rails in America is in Maine."

This could be due to the fact that Dalton's little railroad is home to a 1914 French steam locomotive that was built in France. This engine survived two world wars, Milwaukee and a stint in Iowa before finding its home at the LRPTA grounds.

The passenger cars that Guenzler and visitors rode in were handmade and carry about 24 riders at a time.

What brought Guenzler to this stop is a lifelong passion for the railroad that started in his home state of California.

"It started when I was old enough to be in a stroller and my mom would take me to see the trains," Guenzler said.

It was while visiting the trains that Guenzler's mother noticed something might be amiss with her young son. "She began to worry about my hearing. So she got me as close as she could to the trains when the horns went off, and I didn't flinch. That's how she found out her son had no hearing."

This knowledge enabled the family to get Guenzler the medical attention he needed to allow him to hear, and his love for the rails hasn't ceased since.

Guenzler has since ridden trains in all 50 states as well as several other countries. On many of his trips, Barton Jennings can also be found.

Jennings is a professor of supply chain management at Western Illinois University whose teaching interest includes railroad safety, quality and environment and his research interest includes railroad track inspection and safety standards, intermodal freight and railroad crossing research and safety.

He and his wife, Sarah, have traveled all throughout the nation and the world riding the rails and coordinating trips.

He likes to hit "the iffys" as he calls them, or the rails that are in danger of being taken out of commission.

"The challenge is equipment, crews and insurance," he said about putting together events.

Luckily, in Dalton, the little rail was all ready to go, and it's not in danger of going anywhere anytime soon.

This was a special outing for The Laker Express, but everyone is welcome to come check it out during the Thresherman's show held in Dalton annually. This year, it will be September 8-10, and train rides are free with your ticket purchase.