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What was waiting for me in La Plata!

by Chris Guenzler

C.M. Carl caught me stepping off of the Southwest Chief into a world that they had kept me in the dark about. I don't like surprises but this one time I was ready for anything!

I was in a state of shock when I saw not only all of the people here but a whole drum band getting ready to play. The musicians were from the La Plata R-11 High School Band Percussion Ensemble.

D. I decided to give the people a look at the Million Rail Mile Jersey so I outstretched my arms then did a 180 turn holding it a for second to the cheers of the crowd. As I turned back around, the band started playing a song which I thought I knew.

C.M. The drummers playing their song for me.

C.M. The view of the crowd.

It was indeed, "Fire" as I walked around for second for a peak. Someone yelled for me to turn around again so I did. The train didn't move as I think the conductor did not want to disturb the welcome plus there were people way to close to the train at this point. Safety comes first always on the railroad! People came up to me to congratulate me as the band played on. Once the band had finished the Southwest Chief was ready to leave La Plata.

A goodbye from a wonderful train crew member just before the Southwest Chief highballed from La Plata.

I was sad to see that train leave La Plata full of all the good memories I had on it. Now what!

C.M. What a beautiful spring day for a celebration of a Million Rail Miles. I still did not believe I really did this after all it took to get here. Kelly, of the Depot Inn and Suites came to get me and asked if I was surprised. "Blown away," I said, "I never expected anything like this!" We made our way along the platform in front of the building.

C.M. Carl catches me walking to the Depot Inn Bus.

C.M. The Television Crews were busy as was the radio crew. I was being filmed by KTVO of Kirksville, KOMU of Columbia and by Jonathon Marshall {Tom's Marshall nephew} plus recorded by radio stations KWIX, KRES of Moberly. Also here was the home press, the local La Plata newspaper.

T.E. Here I am walking with Kelly in front of the depot. I was taken though the crowd to a brand new 24 passenger bus. I never so glad to see a bus before. I needed a few moments of peace and quiet to take the whole experience in. What I just lived through was incredible! I did not say a word to anyone as the boarded the bus or did they as I think that they were all in shock as well as me! We left the Amtrak parking lot and Tom Marshall asked me if I had been surprised. I said "Blown away!" He said "It is not over yet!" We drove to usual way to the Depot Inn and Suites but kept going turning into the Red Rooster parking lot but kept going turning onto the former Wabash Railroad grade that lead us to the new Lookout Point the Depot Inn just built so their guests could have a spot to watch trains safely in town. The bus pulled up and I was told to be the last one off of the bus. I noticed the Lookout Point was decorated up in red, white and blue with some balloons added in good taste. I had read that it was to be dedicated today so it looked all ready.

I stepped off the bus to more cheering and made my way into it. I set my backpack down and met Marc Magliara of Amtrak. I thanked Marc for setting up that great Beech Grove Shop Tour for me two weeks ago. It was now time to start the dedication of this Lookout Point. I was asked to go stand out in front.

C.M. Tom Marshall welcomed everyone to this occasion and said it was now time to name this Lookout Point. The sign on top was covered and Barbara pulled the string and the sign was exposed.

T.E. I was in shock at what I read. The sign read "The Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point." I could not believe what I saw, said "Excuse me!" and ran to get my camera. I took the next picture still stunned!

I could not believe that anyone would have ever named something after me. Tom told me stay right there as they had another surprise for me. I could not believe what I looking at. What was next!

I stood there looking at that sign and over the loud speaker it was announced "The Ballad of Chris Guenzler Million Mile Man" which was played. I was floored. First a place named after me and now someone wrote a song about me! The song was written and preformed by Kenny Marshall of Kansas City who is Tom's brother.

C.M. I was asked to come up by the microphone, and Larry Herron, City Manager of La Plata, read a proclamation before he handed me a plaque. He had to stop when a BNSF westbound freight train disrupted the ceremony. I grabbed the camera and ran for a picture of the BNSF freight.

Here is a picture of that rude BNSF train which then stopped. That was the first picture I ever took from the Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point. People laughed when I did that but I figured if I did not take that picture someone would asked me what stopped the preceedings.

L.B. Larry Herron, City Manager of La Plata, finished up reading the proclamation before he handed me a plaque.

C.M. Next Marc Magliara of Amtrak Chicago read a letter from Amtrak President Alex Kummant then presented me with a plaque of the same letter. I was now getting good at the celebrity business.

C.M. Maria Snodgrass of the Depot Inn and Suites then presented me with a glass etching of the "Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point".

I held up everything they gave me so the crowd could get a better view of them.

Here is a view of the crowd watching me.

C.M. It was now my turn to speak to the assembled group. If you would have told me that I was going to speak to a large group when I was a kid, I would have said no way. Speaking terrified me. You see when I was born I had no hearing. Tubes were put in my years when I was two and I mumbled for years. After all the hours of speech I had in school I can manage to speak ok but normally I feel very uncomfortable talking to groups. Today though I don't know what it was but I had no fear. I thanked everyone for coming and then told about that first Amtrak trip to much laughter. I felt very good about myself when I got done. Next Missouri Representative Tom Shively addressed the crowd.

C.M. Missouri Senator Bill Stouffer, our Keynote Speaker, spoke to the audience. Next fellow train rider Andy Smith presented me with a plaque. I had one more thing to say to the group. I thanked Tom Anderson for the T-shirts, Million Rail Mile Jersey and sweatshirt which he had designed. With that the ceremonies were over.

The video crew for Trainweb was always close by my side throughout this trip. They did an excellent job of being here but not to close.

D. I next did a joint television interview with both KOMU and KTVO station. One reporter would ask one question then the other one would take her turn. I really enjoyed this experience.

C.M. I then did a radio interview for radio stations KWIZ/KRES. With the press taken care of I needed to relax a little in the "Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point".

D. Me resting at the Lookout Point.

That was until a pair of BNSF freights passed our location within ten minutes. After the train show we were taken to the Depot Inn and Suites.

C.M. I checked in getting my usual Pullman Suite, stored my luggage before I went to the Barbeque on the patio. Scenes from the BBQ.

I then decided to see what they had to eat. They had giant hot dogs and chips plus soda.

They also had this Million Rail Mile Cake.

C.M. Carl caught me eating a hot dog.

D. Carl enjoying the BBQ.

D. Richard enjoying the BBQ.

C.M. I had signed T-shirts for the kids so they went and made cards for me. I love small town America!

C.M. I presented Dutch from Pennsylvania with a T-shirt. After a good lunch, I decided to go into the Pullman Suite to photograph all that I had received today.

The plaque from Andy Smith.

The "Chris Guenzler Million Miles Lookout Point Etching".

The La Plata Proclamation.

Amtrak President Kummant Plaque. I looked out my window and saw somebody unloading a truck of railroad memorabilia.

C.M. I picked up a Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad Company employee timetable. I went back into the Pullman Suite used the sauna tub before I watched Jethro Tull "Living in the Past" on my wide in wall TV. After that I watched some Monty Python Flying Circus. episodes.

C.M. Later we had a small dinner gathering at the Red Rooster. At about 7:40 PM I showed my Million Miles of Train Riding Slide Show which lasted until 10 PM. We all went into the lobby to watch me on the local ABC station. We then watch the NBC local Station on a computer. After such a busy and important day in my life I returned to the Pullman Suite and called it a night.

Special Thanks to the photographers who let me use their photos: C.M. = Carl Morrison, D = Dutch, T.E. Tony Escarega and L.B. = Larry Boerio

Click here for the next two days of this trip!