Painting and poster by J. Craig Thorpe, used by permission.
My experience to meet the 75th
Anniversary Empire Builder train from Chicago to Seattle started on
June 10, 2004 with a red-eye flight from LAX to Chicago Midway airport,
followed by a CTA Orange Line trip to
downtown. It was wet in Chicago as it had rained hard
overnight. At the edge of the airport, I observed a freight train
trundling by on the outside
of the Orange Line. On the way, the red brick
buildings combined with overcast skies made for an interesting
mood. A railroad track paralleled the CTA a lot of the way.
At Canal Street I could see lift bridges and sailboat masts! I
exited the CTA at Quincy Station, asked the agent which way to Union
Station and walked the 5 short blocks there crossing the Chicago
River. While searching for the Amtrak area, a Metra train had
arrived and I waited one minute for passengers to exit the train and
head out to work. Arriving at Union Station at about 6:15 am gave
chance to photograph the large waiting room with few people in
it. During the morning I wondered around Union Station taking the
opportunity to see the Metra
I found a closed Amtrak counter,
which was to open at 7:00
am. By 7:15 am there was a constant line of 10-15 people.
At first, I
thought I needed the checked baggage window, and waited until 7:30
am. The baggage agent told me to go to the Metropolitan Lounge
was a first class passenger on the Empire Builder train. After I
stashed my wheeled Pullman and asked the nice agent Judy where to have
breakfast at a place other than the fast food available in the newer
On the way down Jackson Street to Lou
restaurant I noticed the old Union Station building was beautiful on
its exterior and had planters on it and also two clocks at each corner
which stated Elgin time. Lou Mitchell restaurant was crowded with
people. I noticed some large groups of people enjoying breakfast
together. I ordered an omelet which was a very large portion
which I could not finish. Unfortunately, they allow smoking in
restaurants here….yeech! At an adjacent table, I noticed a couple
of whom the man had a golf shirt which had an Amtrak logo on it,
talking shop with his wife. Lou Mitchell restaurant is the
official begin and end of the famous U.S. Route 66. According to
my Chicago contacts, many European people who visit the United States
come to this restaurant for their Route 66 kickoff. It was so
fitting that Judy sent me there!
At around 11:30 am, a room close to
the Amtrak Passenger Services
office was opened and set up for the send off reception for the 75th
anniversary Empire Builder train. Mr. David Gunn, president of
Amtrak was to be
at the party and ride the train from Chicago to Whitefish,
Montana. He would have liked to ride to Seattle, but a prior
Amtrak commitment made this impossible.
At the reception, I met
representatives of Canadian Pacific Railway whom host the Empire
Chicago to St.. Paul Minnesota.
Also at the reception was Craig
a nationally known transportation artist who was commissioned by
Charles Mott to
the 75th Empire Builder anniversary
poster. Both Mr. Thorpe and Mr. Mott are involved in WashARP, the
Washington Association of Rail Passengers in Washington state.
The Amtrak conductor with Mr. Thorpe had just gotten off
work and then joined the Empire Builder to Milwaukee!
Many other Amtrak managers were there ranging from the
Chicago union station manager to the government affairs manager.
Mr. Gunn arrived here with his assistant June Tarpley. Mr. Gunn
available to meet and chat with anyone who cared to talk to him, so I
I believe Mr. Thorpe brought this
display shown below which was placed in the lower level of the Ocean
View Great Dome car
during the trip. There was more than one cake! Everyone
enjoyed this delicious cake.
Jeff Snowden and Stan Jackson were very helpful to me before the
reception. Thank You!
At 1:30 pm, Ray Lang, of Amtrak
boarding passes to the invited guests and led us to the 13 car train
would not fit at the platform. The original idea
was to board us through the Beech Grove business car, but instead, we
boarded through a crew dorm transition car near the rear end of the
consist. The Empire Builder train usually is set up with the
Seattle section at
the front of the train after the baggage car and crew sleeper.
The Portland section is usually the last part of the train followed by
a few express freight cars. The 75th Anniversary Empire Builder
train was set up with the Portland section after the baggage car and
the Seattle section at the rear followed by the crew sleeper, the
ex-Great Northern Railway Ocean
View Great Dome car and the Beech Grove car. Including
the two Genesis locomotives, the train had 62 axles. It would
stay in this configuration until Spokane, Washington where the train is
split into two sections; the other section continuing to Portland,
Oregon becoming Amtrak train number 27.