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La Plata MO from Harrisburg PA

La Plata, MO from Harrisburg PA -- Part I

By Dutch Myers



Amtrak from Harrisburg, PA, through Pittsburgh and Chicago, to La Plata Missouri.

(Click any photo in this report to get a double-sized copy,  Click BACK to return to this report)

    Part I - The jumping-off date of the trip - or should it be jumping-on? - was Wednesday, April 25, 2007. The plan was to arrive in La Plata Thursday evening. I would then be on hand Friday morning, when the eastbound Southwest Chief delivered rail rock star Chris Guenzler and his "entourage" for a triumphant arrival. Chris would mark his one millionth mile of passenger rail travel on the SW Chief as he approached La Plata, MO from the west. Celebratory festivities, including Amtrak and government official guests, were planned for Friday and Saturday at the Depot Inn in La Plata.

    My train, the Pennsylvanian, was scheduled to leave Harrisburg station at 2:40 PM. It would make its way to Pittsburgh, PA, where one changes trains for the Capitol Limited (CAP) to Chicago, then the Southwest Chief to La Plata, MO. This trip revealed a vast upgrading for the Pennsylvanian over the "shake, rattle & filth" ride in 2005 when traveling to California. What an improvement! A tip of the hat to Amtrak and the crew (008%20Crew%20Gail%20Kevin%20Joe.jpgRight - Conductor Gail, Attendant Kevin and Trainman Joe), as this train ride was clean, pleasant and smooth, with good adherence to the schedule.

    The Capitol Limited however, was hours late getting into Chicago on its overnight westbound run. That was not a problem for me, since the SW Chief was not scheduled to depart Chicago until 3:15 PM. I'm sure there were other travelers not as fortunate with their connections.

    The trip began in the fine, old passenger station at 4th & Chestnut in Harrisburg. A bus terminal connects at the lower level. The travel center appears to be in good maintenance. The station stays open late but baggage check is probably not provided. The Pennsylvanian, which originated in New York and then turned west at Philadelphia, arrived and departed Harrisburg right on time. Entering one of the coaches, a window seat on the right side appeared to be a good location to photograph passing scenes. Unfortunately, the train was swept by rain the whole trip, which dotted the windows with water spots. The dark, overcast skies also bestowed dull colors to the photos. However, elated to be making the trip, I did not allow Mother Nature's wrath to dampen the spirits.

    As the train edged west out of Amtrak's Harrisburg Station, many of the area attractions for visitors came to mind. The Harrisburg area is recommended for touring if one has the opportunity to spend some time. Although it is the capital of Pennsylvania, it is a city smaller than most capitals. They take their railroading history seriously in Pennsylvania, even offering a vanity automobile plate depicting the PRR Broadway Limited steam locomotive. It is from the 1928 Teller painting When the Broadway Meets the Dawn along the Juniata River, and is an eye catcher. Harrisburg is rich in history going back 8,000 years to Native Americans, through 1704 when the Harris Ferry started the city. Harrisburg has a Civil War museum, art museum, AA baseball team, center for arts and sciences, and area history sites in all directions including Gettysburg. Not too many miles away are the tourist steam train rides in Strasburg and the M&H in Middletown. Strasburg has the famous Red Caboose Motel where one can sleep in a comfortably refurbished cabin car. There are plenty of hotels, motels and restaurants available.

    The Pennsylvanian continued to creep slowly westward as it picked its way through Norfolk Southern's GI-8 freight yards



past an old blue storage coach, fuel pad and Trailvan facilities. After an eastbound NS freight had cleared the track (Left),005%20wait%20NS5643.jpg our train crossed the Susquehanna River over the famous Rockville Bridge (Right). 006%20HAR%20Rockville%20Br.jpgThis bridge, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, has an interesting history. When the PRR completed it in 1902, it was the longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world at 3,820 feet, with forty-eight - 70 foot spans.

    The Pennsylvanian turned northward as soon as it crossed, and hugged close to the river while we passed Marysville. Nearby, there is a large freight-shifting yard at Enola, PA. Enola Yard has classification tower operators, refueling facilities, locomotive repair shop, and a supply storehouse for the Norfolk Southern Railroad, formerly Conrail and PRR. When visiting Harrisburg, one can rent a car, drive across the route 81 bridge and see the large Enola Yard. Railroad tycoons have been trying to toss Enola for many years. Nonetheless, the big shots must have realized that it is a real hub for cars moving in all directions, since yard improvements have been made. Just north of here, past Duncannon, PA we part ways with the Susquehanna to branch generally northwestward along the narrower Juniata River. Within the hour, we would pass by Newport, Vandyke, Tuscarora, Port Royal, Mifflin, Denholm, Lewistown Jct. with a stop at Lewistown
    The Juniata had been on our right side, but after Lewistown, we turned westward and crossed the river near Ryde, PA, placing the river on the left side. Continuing toward Huntingdon, a re-crossing put the Juniata on the opposite side, again near Kistler, and yet again near Birdville. An hour and forty-two minutes after leaving Harrisburg, we pulled into Huntingdon



With a population of about 7,000, Huntingdon is the county seat with a county fair in August. Nearby Raystown Lake is a popular recreational area. Twenty-six minutes later, after following parallel to the Birmingham Pike, we came to the northernmost point of this Pennsylvania trip at Tyrone, PA (Below). The approach brought rock walls close to the train, reminiscent of those seen on the Southwest Chief in Apache Canyon, N.M. Tyrone has built an attractive station with two old CR and PRR cabooses in a small railroad park nearby. The town continues to be a desirable train watching location for both passenger and freight trains.


    Heading southwestward through a tunnel we passed Tipton, Bellwood and then into Altoona (Below,left) near Hollidaysburg at 5:06 PM. As happened on my 2005 trip, the view at Altoona Curve was blocked by freight traffic on the adjacent inside track. Located in the Allegheny Mountains, Altoona is famous the world over as a railroad town - or at least it was. The railroad works have declined greatly over the years from its peak of 17,000 workers. Altoona had once built and repaired locomotives and freight cars at an unbelievable rate.

014%20Altoona%20PA.jpg 015%20Summerhill%20PA.jpg

 The Pennsylvanian continued through Summerhill
(Above right) and Johnstown (Below). This is the site of the famous Johnstown Flood of 1889 where 2200 people perished and Clara Barton took the American Red Cross's first relief effort. They have a Flood museum and a folk fest in late Fall. 


Latrobe (below) came next, and the signs make it appear that the station shares the building with Di Salvo's Restaurant. We stopped at Greensburg (below, right) at 6:52 PM and then completed the Pennsylvanian trip in Pittsburgh at 8:05 PM - right on time! Three rivers meet here at the home of the Pirates baseball and the Steelers football teams - the Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio.

Latrobe (above),  Greensburg (right).

    We seemed to breeze through many miles from Central to Western Pennsylvania, but in actuality, it took about five and a half hours. We had just traveled through more history than there is space here to reveal it all. Pennsylvania was one of the original colonies, and most of her villages, towns and cities overflow with stories to tell.




    Pittsburgh Station (Above) now occupies only the lower section of its former exulted status. It has a comfortable waiting room with television, clean restrooms, vending machines, baggage check and a friendly and helpful ticket counter staff. There are menus to order food delivery as well. I met a couple on their way to Chicago to catch the Empire Builder for Spokane and Seattle to take a cruise to Alaska. Another couple was going to catch the Southwest Chief to Arizona. It is my understanding that the upper part of the station was converted into condominiums. It is a very beautiful building as shown in the photos. There is a layover here of about four hours to wait for the arrival of the Capitol Limited on its journey from Washington, DC to Chicago. Additionally, the CAP was running late that night. Not a problem as I had plans to find a particular sandwich shop for dinner.


    My son had visited Pittsburgh the previous month and said; "you have to get one of the monster sandwiches from a Primanti Brother's!" (Above) Doing a little computer research before leaving home, I was armed with the addresses of three Primanti locations when jumping into a cab at the station. Off we went to the closest Primanti's and the joke was on me as he pulled up in front. It was well within walking distance of the station at about four blocks. Boy, what a tourist I was! The huge sandwiches became famous because of depression era workers who needed a hot meal, but had neither the time nor utensils needed. Thus the Primanti sandwich was born, when the proprietor threw together meat, French fried potatoes, coleslaw and tomato between two massive slabs of Italian bread. These days you can get onions, peppers or just about anything else. Do not think about trying this if you are on a diet. The waitress/cook had a friendly smile as she explained the benefits of the Primanti sandwich. When I looked at my plate I had to admit to her; "I hate to be a wimp, but I'll need a knife and fork to handle this behemoth!" She gave that knowing smile as she chuckled and handed over the utensils. Well I will tell you, it was a "let fly" wrestling match with the sandwich winning, as part of it was left behind on the plate. It is a huge sandwich! I was surprised but grateful as I lumbered out of Primanti's, to find the taxi driver had returned to pick me up. He also had that knowing smile. After a meal like that, one's thoughts naturally turn to curling up for a nice lie-down (as the British put it so well).

    Returning to the station, these thoughts continued and prompted me to make one of the better decisions of the trip. A check of the inbound train showed it was running almost an hour late. That allowed an opportunity to ask at the counter if there were any roomettes still available, and there were. Additionally, due to there being unsold roomettes, a discount was available. The original idea had been to sleep overnight in a seat to Chicago, but a nice soft bed was looking very good as midnight approached. Having the comfort of a room ended up being a doubly good decision. Due to the extra late arrival into Chicago, it was a refuge of relaxation, and there would be plenty of time before the Southwest Chief connection. All there was to do aboard the Capitol Ltd, was to sit back and take it easy in my own roomette. I had a bottle of water to sip, a book to read and a camera for photos of this daylight approach to the windy city. Yes sir, now that is the way to travel by train!  



    Once aboard the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh, Sleeper 2901 (Above) was assigned. The sleeping car attendant, Mr. Jones, was a busy worker. After a long day of travel, I was finally able to hit the hay at 1:30 AM. The wheels turned as we traveled through Alliance, OH (Canton), Cleveland, Elyria (Lorain), Sandusky and Toledo. However, the wheels did not turn all the time as we stopped and waited for freight trains to clear ahead of us. I awoke at 5:30 AM and could not go back to sleep. After dressing, I took out my player and listened to a Louis L'Amour western and music CDs - Glenn Miller, Boston Pops, Carrie Underwood, and Jimmy Buffet. Not all of us can handle the music that Chris Guenzler prefers - yikes!


    A later walk through the sleepers (Above) brought me to the dining car (Below, Left). At the breakfast table, I was seated with a very nice couple named Tom and Ann (Below, Right). They were traveling from Virginia to Portland and then to Sacramento to visit relatives.


    We admired the well-set table with flowers (Above, Left
) and were surprised by a military train (Above, Right) as it passed along our train's left side. My breakfast choice was a western omelet with small link sausages, shredded potatoes, croissant, orange juice and coffee. No complaints, it was an excellent meal.
Elkhart, Indiana

    Then we burst into Indiana with stops at Waterloo (Ft. Wayne) and Elkhart (Above). The Indiana sites came quickly as we passed through railroad yards (Below).






    Yet those freight train hold-ups ahead of us continued to add delay. The South Bend, IN station was surprisingly small (Below) as the home of the famous Notre Dame football team and university.


    Although we were behind schedule due to freight train delays, it did not seem long before railroad sites east of Chicago came into view (Below).



    Passing over a major highway (Above) and past a huge church (Above), it became obvious we were in Chicago, Home of the White Sox (Below).

    There was quite a bit of railroad equipment to spot approaching the station, such as a UP locomotive (Below) and Amtrak equipment and facilities (Below).





    It was the end of an enjoyable train ride as the Capitol Limited pulled into Chicago Union Station on Thursday, April 26, 2007 - some three and a half hours late. It was fortunate in that, for me, the extra time spent on this train meant relaxing and reading in the roomette, instead of waiting in the station for the departure of the Southwest Chief.

    I had my two bags ready to "de-train", with the smaller one perched atop the one with wheels. On the platform, there were a good number of passengers vying for space on the first class shuttle for themselves and their luggage. I opted to wheel my bags the short walk to the Metropolitan Lounge.

    When traveling by first class, the lounge is an oasis to check your bags and relax with complimentary coffee, soft drinks and snacks (Below).


    It also saves locker fees for luggage which, as of this writing, was $9 per day for a small locker and $12 for large. After the bags were stored in the Metro lounge, I headed into Union Station to make some photos of the architecture (Below).





    There was a wedding photo-shoot taking place at the level above me, so I grabbed a quick shot of the happy couple posing for their photographer (Above, Right).  Just outside the lounge areas, were the tracks for arriving and departing Amtrak trains (Below).
    A Chicago sandwich shop found on the Internet looked interesting. Like Primanti's in Pittsburgh, Potbelly Sandwich Works is a chain in the Chicago area. Potbelly started in 1977 by a couple who owned an antique shop and simply wanted to feed their customers. Soon, hungry people were lining up who could not care less about antiques, and Potbelly was off to a roaring start. Bright sunshine flashed as I climbed the steps out of the station. There was time to take a few quick photos (Below),

  including a police boat (Above) as I walked across the canal bridge (Below, Left) and saw the Potbelly Sandwich Works (Below).

A constant lunch line moved quickly. While standing in line, a fellow came along and took orders. He then handed them to the food preparers, and by the time the customer arrived at the counter, lunch was ready. The workers were very efficient and the food was good. It was getting close to departure time for the Southwest Chief, and thus I headed back, taking a photo of an outside part of Union Station on the way (Below).  After tipping the luggage attendant and joining fellow travelers, we headed for the westbound Southwest Chief. All aboard!

    The next part of the journey to La Plata, Missouri was five short hours. Therefore, a regular coach seat (comfortable and roomy) worked well. I relaxed with one of the mystery books for which I had recently found a fondness. I did not bother taking very many photos since the return trip would go through the same areas during daylight. By the way, if you are a reader who likes Murder Mysteries, I can recommend two authors. Georges Simenon was a prolific writer. He wrote over 100 works on Inspector Maigret, Chief of French police detectives from the 1930s through early 1970s. Successful movies and a BBC TV show were based on this character. The other author is M.C. Beaton, aka Marion Chesney, who currently writes murder mysteries in a lighter manner through two characters. Her Hamish Macbeth character, which became another BBC TV show, is a constable in northern Scotland. Agatha Raison, a middle-aged woman who is a cross between Miss Marple and a pit bull, is an amateur detective in England's Cotswolds area.

    The late lunch at Chicago's Potbelly Sandwich Works made dinner on the diner unnecessary. The Southwest Chief left the boundaries of the big city and suburbs to charge across Illinois, Iowa and into Missouri. There will be more on individual towns with photos in Part 3 on the return trip. Part 2 takes place in La Plata with many photos of the Million Rail-Mile Man festivities. People traveled from all directions to help Chris Guenzler celebrate his one millionth mile achievement of passenger rail travel. My train arrived at La Plata right on schedule at 8:06 PM. A very pleasant gentleman met the train to provide a ride to the Depot Inn, where I checked into my room. He was Depot Inn owner Tom Marshall's father. The hotel/motel was a spotlessly clean, not too large - not too small facility. In fact, it came close to perfect. Be sure to see the photos and read about it in Part II - Million Mile celebration in La Plata, MO.

END Part 1

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