The Chris Guenzler Millionth Mile Celebration
Southwest Chief : April 25 - April 27
The Amazing Chris Guenzler was closing in on a milestone. He was about to mark his one millionth mile of passenger rail travel. This would be accomplished on Amtrak train #4 the Southwest Chief as it crossed the Missouri River Bridge on the BNSF Marceline Subdivision. All this would take place April 25 – 27 2007. Since I am an avid listener to the Lets Talk Trains internet radio show as well as a frequent visitor to the Train Web site, I was pretty much kept up to date on all the preparations for this event.
I remember sitting in my office, a month before all this was to take place, thinking about whether or not I was going to make the trip. After all I didn’t know Chris or anybody from Train Web and I’m sure I would be the “new face” of the group. Something told me that if I didn’t go I would regret it. In other words this was an event I just had to be part of. In the span of 20 mins I had made all the arrangements to be present in La Plata Missouri for the big event. Only thing left was to wait anxiously for the day to arrive.
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner # 583
On April 25, after a short hour & a half drive to San Diego from El Centro Ca, I arrived at the Santa Fe Depot where Amtrak train # 583 the Pacific Surfliner would take me to Fullerton. A dinner had been planned at the Knowlwoods restaurant for the Train Web group before the Southwest Chief’s departure which was scheduled at 7:20PM. At the dinner I would take the opportunity to introduce myself to everyone. When I arrived at the restaurant I was asked if I was going on the trip. After replying “Yes” I was handed a special blue “Million Miles” t-shirt. These shirts had been designed by Tom Anderson, a fellow group member, to commemorate the occasion and they would be given out to the entire party.
At this point I decided to jump in the food line so I could put in my order. After a few minutes I had noticed that Chris Guenzler had also jumped in the line to put in his order. I took this opportunity to introduce myself to Chris. Back at our table we all chatted about various things. The food was pretty good too. Soon after we had all finished eating it was time to slowing start making our way across the parking lot to the Fullerton station platform as the Southwest Chief’s arrival time was growing closer. On my way over I had the opportunity to meet Bob Manning who was a frequent caller to the Lets Talk Trains show. He would be riding with us from Fullerton to Riverside where he would detrain. The Southwest Chief pulled into Fullerton right on time as we all scrambled to locate our cars. I was booked in roomette # 9 in sleeper 32016 which was the Pennsylvania. I immediately found my room and threw everything down. I would organize later. It had been more then 10 years since I had last stepped foot in a Superliner car. With a huge smile on my face, I sat down as we slowly started to pull out of Fullerton.
After finally taking the time to organize my bags I headed over to the lounge car to join the group. With some of the group heading off to dinner I stayed in the car chatting with fellow members there. When we came to Riverside Bob Manning left us for his journey home. We continued on to San Bernardino where I got off to get some fresh air. For the trip through Cajon Pass I spent most of my time in the lounge car. Even though we were traveling in darkness a few group members would call out exactly where we were. What track we were on…etc. I returned to my room to make a few calls then had George, our excellent sleeping car attendant, make up my bed for the night. We continued on through Victorville then to Barstow. The huge BNSF Barstow yard quickly came into view. After a brief station stop we were again on our way. Day 1 was quickly coming to an end and I could not wait to see what the following days had in store for me.
I woke up early the next morning and quickly went downstairs to take a shower. At breakfast I had the French toast which is always good and my usual diet pepsi. While eating we came to a stop at Gallup Nm. Here a large group of boy scouts got on. After breakfast it was back to the lounge car to join the Train Web group. Here I met John Kuderna who was not getting off in La Plata. Instead he was going all the way to Galesburg Ill. John was very knowledgeable about the railroads and I enjoyed our talks in the lounge car. He had an old Santa Fe Timetable with him. I asked him about it and he quickly showed me how to read it and find our location. A few weeks later I would purchase my own set of timetables at Fullerton Railroad Days.
Our Arrival into Albuquerque
The Chief in Albuquerque
I returned to my room to relax a bit and take in all the passing scenery. Our arrival into Albuquerque was slowing coming up and we would all take this opportunity to get out and do various things. This is also a servicing stop for the Chief. At Albuquerque I decided to stay by the train and just snap photos. Some of the group joined me in photo taking. Others went over to the nearby Coldstone Creamery for Ice Cream. At the station platform I spoke a bit with Carl Morrison of Trainweb. I joked around with him, telling him that as I take pictures, I will try to remember all of his excellent photo tips from a past episode of Lets Talk Trains that he was a guest of.
New Mexico Rail Runner
Shortly after 12:30 PM a southbound New Mexico Rail Runner train came into view. It was making its daily run to Belen Nm. This would be an excellent photo opportunity since the train would be stopped at the station platform for a few minutes. About 12:40 Pm the Southwest Chief was about ready to depart. After a quick horn blast we all jumped back on to continue our trip east. In the next few hours we would be crossing Raton Pass in New Mexico then entering Colorado. This has always been my favorite part of the Southwest Chief route.
The Lizard House : New Mexico
I spent most of the trip through Raton Pass in my roomette. Sometime after entering Colorado I went off to have dinner. I ordered the baked chicken which was ok. I then ordered the chocolate cake for dessert which was excellent. Off to our right I noticed I-25 as we continued along through Colorado. We would soon come to our next station stop of Trinidad. After Trinidad we all spent time in the lounge car. In Colorado we had one more stop at La Junta. Here we would be allowed to get off and stretch our legs. I believe this is also a crew change point for Amtrak. I got off and decided to check out the station. I also went out front to the street to have a look around. On my way back to the train I ran into George and asked him if he could make up my bed when he had a chance. I was getting pretty tired and I decided once we left that I would just read in my room until I fell asleep. As we continued east another day was quickly coming to a close. The next day would be BIG. If all went according to plan Chris Guenzler would get his millionth mile.
When I awoke the next morning the train was stopped in Kansas City Mo. I so wanted to get off here to have a look around. After looking at my watch I noticed that was not going to happen. I went down to take a shower then back up to breakfast. French Toast was sounding pretty good right about now. Half way though my meal we started to pull out of Kansas City. As far as I know we were still on schedule. After breakfast I returned to my room as the suburbs of Kansas City passed by outside my window.
At this point Chris had walked by to inform me that the entire group would be meeting in the lounge downstairs in the Transition Sleeper. This is where we would all be the moment the Chief crosses the Missouri River Bridge. Here Chris Guenzler would get his millionth mile. When I made it downstairs most of the group had already gathered, most with cameras in hand. Anton, a fellow Train Web member had set up his Laptop complete with GPS tracking. The Missouri River Bridge was just east of Sibley, Missouri. Steve from Train Web had arranged for a camera crew to come along to document everything. They had set up all their equipment right next to Chris. Chris was now sitting on the left side of the train at one of the tables in the lounge. At this point we were maybe 10-15 mins away from the bridge. The anticipation was starting to grow. As I got my camera ready Chris asked if I would take pictures with his camera. I said “sure”. Steve’s wife, Barbara had passed out train whistles to all in the group. We would be able to make a great ruckus with these as soon as the moment was upon us. Then as we all stood waiting Chris announced that the bridge had come into view. The train would soon enter single track as we crossed over the Missouri River. As we neared the middle of the bridge Chris was getting ready to put on his specially made million mile hockey jersey. Then it happened. At 8:26 Am CT Amtrak train # 4 the Southwest Chief had reached the spot where Chris would get then pass his million mile mark. As he struggled to get his jersey on, we all took pictures and made quite a racket with the train whistles. Afterwards he just sat there for a moment, taking it all in w/ Coke in hand. The pictures continued as we rolled east across Missouri to our final destination of La Plata.
Camera Crew Taping the Days Events
After the celebration downstairs was complete we all decided to return upstairs, after all our arrival into La Plata was only about an hour away. I went back to my room for the last hour. I also took the time to ready my things. I had heard rumblings aboard the train that there would be quite a crowd waiting for us in La Plata. At about 10:00Am the Southwest Chief pulled into La Plata Mo. I was way up front and would be one of the first people off. Since the platform is not very big the train usually makes 2 stops, one for the sleeping cars and the other for the coach cars. When I got off I could not believe the size of the crowd. There were people of all ages gathered around the La Plata depot. There was even a marching band playing. Since Chris was going to exit the train from the rear, we all stood off to the side as the Chief started to once again move. Once stopped Chris stepped out of the train and on to the platform. The ovation and roar that followed was really a sight to see. Like one of those things, where you just had to be there. People continued to take pictures as Chris continued his walk up towards the station. I stood in back on a bench just watching all this unfold. When I got down I noticed Ray from Trainweb in the crowd. I immediately introduced my self. I think he said something like..”you’re the guy from Mexico..”… I laughed and said. “Yes, that’s me…”
The crowd at La Plata
The Man of The Hour
As the celebration continued we all made our way to the new Depot Inn shuttle bus that was waiting to transport us to the hotel. As I walked over to the shuttle bus I recognized Tom Marshall who is one of the owners of the Depot Inn & Suites. We all threw our bags in and made our way unto the bus for the short ride to the hotel.
Well as it turns out we were not yet heading to the Hotel. There was more in store for Chris. We drove right by the Hotel and down the back of the Red Rooster Restaurant to a dirt road that was formally the old Wabash Rail Line. The road lead us to the new observation deck that was constructed to look out onto the BNSF main line. As we pulled up to the end of the road we all noticed that another crowd had gathered here. The folks at TrainWeb & the Depot Inn decided to pick today to dedicate the new Look Out point. Chris as it turns out would play a big part in the unveiling.
It was now time to unveil the name of the new Look Out Point. Chris was instructed to stand right in front where a covered sign on top of the deck stood. A second later the covering went flying off. The name up top read: "The Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point." The first thing I thought was..”wow, they named it after the guy..” I think he might have thought the same thing. We all stood and continued taking pictures. Of course the next thing you need is for someone to write a song about you. Well that’s exactly what happened. "The Ballad of Chris Guenzler” was played over the adjacent loudspeaker. This was a catchy little number that was written by Tom Marshall’s brother Kenny. After all this Chris was called back up to the deck where there was to be some speeches and a few presentations. After a few speeches from local officials as well as one from Marc Magliari of Amtrak, a few Train Web members presented Chris with a variety of plaques. All very cool I thought. Then it was time for the man of the hour to speak. Chris took the time to talk about his first Amtrak trip also taking the opportunity to thank everyone for being part of his big day.
The Observation Deck
"The Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point"
BNSF Eastbound w/ the Train Web Building in the Background
With that we were all about ready to jump back in the shuttle for the short trip to the Depot Inn. A lot had happened since we arrived in La Plata and at this point it was going to feel real good to check in to my room and just relax for the rest of the day. Arriving back at the Depot Inn we all made our way into the lobby where we were all quickly checked into our rooms. The Depot Inn & Suites really is a sight to see. On my way down the hallway I could not help but notice all the Railroad memorabilia that adorned the walls. They had all sorts of items. Everything from lanterns to old uniforms. Plates of china, old train photos, maps. You name it, they had it. I know I was going to spend at least an hour walking up and down the hallway.
The Depot Inn & Suites
After leaving all my belongings in my room I proceeded to the back of the Depot Inn where a BBQ was well under way. Here we all were able to just hang out and talk about the days events. Hot Dogs were on the grill and a special cake for Chris was on the table for all to see. The weather could not have been better. I guess it had been raining a few days before we arrived. After the BBQ I went back to my room to play with the DVD player. The room itself was very spacious and very clean. The bed was so darn comfortable. After 2 days of sleeping on Amtrak, I knew for a fact I would have a tough time getting up the following day. After relaxing in the room for a bit it was time to check out the indoor pool. There was no one in there so I pretty much had it all to myself.
The rest of the day was spent out at the Lookout Point where I would meet up with fellow Train Web members. We all stood out there taking pictures and just lounging around. Later that evening we would meet up at the Red Rooster for a group dinner. This place serves excellent food and I think we were all pretty happy with what we ordered. That night Chris was to show his “million miles” slide show. After making a few calls back home, I headed over to Depot Inn conference room where the slide show would take place. I proceeded first to the Depot Inn lobby where I was to kidnap a trio of chocolate chip cookies. The slide show lasted 3 hours if I remember correctly. To tell you the truth the time really flew by. It was great to see all the places Chris had been in all his years of train travel. There was even a slide of Mexicali Mx (where I live) in there. That was cool to see. After this we all went back into the lobby to watch the local news reports on all the days’ events. I then wandered back to my room where I would retire for the evening. It had been a long fun filled day and there would be one more in store for me tomorrow.
The following day my plan was to get up early and join the group that was heading out to Marceline Mo. This is Walt Disney’s home town and I really wanted to see it. Well of course when I awoke the Marceline group had already left so after meeting everyone else in the Depot Inn Lobby, Tom Marshall was to take us out on the shuttle bus for a local tour of the Amish Country. For the next few hours we toured the neighboring countryside. There was lots to see as the Amish have quite a number of farms in the area. We even stopped at the Amish Country Store. I made sure to pick up a few small items to take back to my family. As we continued back we drove straight through town. Tom & his wife Kelley were excellent tour guides. They made sure to point out all the interesting little tid bits about their town. We passed one rather cool looking house that had been abandoned. It looked like it had been there for some time. I also noticed a number of cats lounging out in the front grass. What a perfect way to spend the day - if you’re a cat.
The House of Cats
Amish Cat Lounging in front of the Country Store
Back at the Depot Inn, Richard Hamilton was getting everything ready to broadcast his internet radio show, Lets Talk Trains. Of course his guest would be Chris Guenzler. About this time most people had scattered to do various things. I would take this time to once again visit the indoor pool. After an hour or so I decided to return to my room. I would then take a walk to the near by highway bridge that was over looking the BNSF main. After awhile I noticed Chris walking from the hotel over to join me. We talked for a min and then decided to head over to the look out point to be with the people that had gathered there. After getting no train action on the bridge, we finally heard the horn blasts of an approaching BNSF east bound freight. We all readied our cameras to capture it as it went by.
BNSF Eastbound Double Stack
A few of us gathered at the Red Rooster for one more dinner. My day would come to an end with me boarding that night’s westbound Southwest Chief. I would be making the quick 2 hour ride to Kansas City where I would fly out the following day back to San Diego. Back at the Depot Inn all the people that where heading back home on that nights train were starting to gather in the lobby. Tom Marshall would once again drive our group down to the station to board our train west. The rest of the group would come down to see us off. From here various people who came from different parts of the country would all venture out in different directions. Chris along with a few Train Web members would be heading to Galesburg Ill where they would board the westbound California Zephyr to Sacramento. They would then continue home on the San Joaquins. As I stood there on the platform I had mentioned to Chris that I wish I could have continued the trip with them. Alas it was time for me to return home. As our train was running a bit behind schedule I took this opportunity to say good bye to everyone and to thank Steve and everyone at Train Web for making this all possible. This was one trip I’m glad I did not pass up. Not only did I have an amazing time. I was able to meet some really great people along the way. # 3 finally pulled in and since I was in coach I was pretty much the last one on. After one last goodbye to everyone I hopped aboard for the 2 hour ride to Kansas City.
About to board Amtrak Train #3 to Kansas City Mo.
Photo by Dutch Myers
Return To Main Page