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By Jack M. Turner

Photos By John C. Turner

    Amtrak assumed the nation's rail passenger service in May 1971 near the end of this writer's junior year of high school.  Over the course of the following 29 years, I had ridden every mile of the current Amtrak system except for the short segments between Galesburg and Quincy, IL and Detroit and Pontiac, MI.  Likewise I had traveled over every mile operated north of the border by VIA Rail Canada except for the day trip between White River and Sudbury, Ontario.  

    My travels had covered routes no longer part of the Amtrak system such as the Seattle-Denver Pioneer route, the Desert Wind line from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas, the Chicago to Florida route of the Floridian, and several others.  In Canada, the traditional Canadian line between Vancouver and Banff, the Atlantic line from Montreal across northern Maine to St. John and Moncton, and other routes that no longer host passenger trains had been traversed.

    Each missing segment posed its own unique set of challenges if it was to join the collection of rail lines on my personal route map.  After much thought it was decided that the best way to access all of these lines in one journey would be to drive to the various jumping off points.  Thus was designed a trip that in many respects mirrored the route of the erstwhile Floridian which once came within 25 miles of our home before setting out across Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana on its way to Chicago.  Along the way we would visit many former passenger stations that have been preserved in various capacities, experience many interesting tourist attractions with special attention to those that are railroad related, and indulge in our passion for baseball.  

    The first day of travel involved an afternoon departure from home and a three hour drive to Troy, AL where we stayed at the year old Courtyard Marriott hotel which had a refreshing new interior design and a decor inspired by the American southwest.  This reminded us of some favorite rail journeys to Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Phoenix.  A dip in the inviting swimming pool that evening was welcomed after a week of triple digit heat.  Troy is located along the CSX line linking Montgomery and Jacksonville, FL which once hosted the Floridian.  The Pioneer Museum of Alabama is located a couple of miles north of town and features a wood fired locomotive and several buildings reflecting a bygone era in rural Alabama.  Troy is a convenient stop on the itinerary of visitors arriving in Birmingham on Amtrak's Crescent who are en route to the beaches at Panama City or the Florida capital city of Tallahassee.

Pioneer Museum of Alabama

Courtyard Marriott, Troy, AL

Huntsville: The Rocket City

    Day two took us northward through Montgomery where the former Union Station which once served Chicago to Florida , New York to New Orleans, and Cincinnati to New Orleans trains still stands.  At Birmingham we passed over the Crescent route and continued northward to Huntsville.  Before entering the city we stopped for lunch at Greenbrier Restaurant located in a rural area near Madison, a short distance from Norfolk Southern's line linking Memphis and Chattanooga.  The restaurant was built in 1952 and in its early years country music singers would sit atop the building to attract customers.  A variety of country favorites such as barbecue chicken, pulled pork, catfish, and ham were served along with copious amounts of delicious hush puppies.

    Our next stop was the U.S. Space and Rocket Center located at the Marshall Space Flight Center.  Approaching the Rocket Center, one is struck by the enormity of a Saturn V moon rocket standing upright in front of the museum.  This rocket, complete with Apollo capsule and escape rocket, stands 365 feet tall and is a realistic full size replica.  An actual flight ready Saturn V is displayed horizontally inside the building; this rocket was built for one of the moon flights (Apollo 18-20) which were cancelled by Congress before they ever flew.  Other artifacts of the space program are displayed inside the museum including the Apollo 16 capsule, one of the quarentine trailers used to isolate returning Apollo astronauts to ensure no germs hitchhiked back from the moon, and a moon rock.  An interesting story accompanies this trailer as the Space and Rocket Center received a call years ago that it was standing on a farm in south Georgia.  Skeptical officials finally were convinced this was the real deal and the trailer was acquired and eventually restored to its original appearance.  An adjacent building houses Space Camp where students participate in astronaut training and simulated missions.  Outside a full scale replica of the space shuttle reminds visitors of more recent space history.  The center is hopeful of obtaining one of the actual space shuttles which will be retired in 2011 or the prototype shuttle that was used for landing tests two decades ago.

Saturn V rocket at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL

Lunar module at the US Space & Rocket Center

The Apollo 16 capsule

One of the upper stages of a Saturn V moon rocket

    In the evening my wife Christine, son John, and I attended the Huntsville Stars Class AA minor league baseball game vs. the Montgomery Biscuits at Joe Davis Stadium.  Arrangements had been made to welcome TrainWeb to Huntsville and John (TrainWeb photographer for this story), was given the honor of taking the mound and throwing the ceremonial first pitch.  The view from the grandstand at this stadium is appealing as a mountain forms the backdrop behind centerfield.  As is customary at minor league games, various contests and forms of entertainment took place between innings and helped make the evening fun for all in attendance.  A visit with Stars General Manager Buck Rogers produced enjoyable baseball tales including the story of how another team he worked for years ago teamed up with Amtrak to provide a lucky fan with round trip first class train tickets to Montreal complete with tickets to a Montreal Expos game.  The catch was that the winner would have to arrive at the stadium with packed luggage and be ready to be transported from Cape Fear to Fayetteville, NC to board the train shortly after the game.  Then the unthinkable happened: the game went into extra innings, perilously close to train time.  The team's promotions staff had to explain to the umpires that the game needed to be interrupted so the winning entry could be drawn and the winner sent on the way.  The winner as it turned out, decided he would rather see the end of the game and he sold his prize to another attendee at the game who was happy to make the trip.

TrainWeb photographer John Turner throws out the ceremonial first pitch at the Huntsville Stars game on "TrainWeb Night"

The author and photographer pose with Huntsville's catcher before the game

The Huntsville Stars battle the Montgomery Biscuits in Class AA minor league baseball

    There are many hotels in the Huntsville area but we found the Huntsville Marriott to be the perfect place to stay as it stands adjacent to the US Space and Rocket Center and is a short drive from other local attractions including the baseball stadium.  In addition to being next to the space facilities, the Marriott has the advantage of nicely landscaped grounds, an attractive lobby, spacious swimming pool area, and easy access to interstate highways.

The Huntsville Marriott stands adjacent to the US Space & Rocket Center.  Note the Saturn V rocket behind the hotel.

    Our Huntsville visit continued the next morning with an excellent breakfast at Rolo's Cafe located on Airport Road not far from the baseball stadium.  This restaurant is decorated with all types of railroad photographs, posters, and metal railroad herald signs and a model train runs on a winding track above diners' heads.  Owner Rolo Weaver explained that when he decided to open a restaurant the idea of a railroad theme came to him and, before long, friends and customers began providing many of the photos and prints displayed today.  

    Following breakfast we visited the Huntsville Historic Depot, an impressively preserved railway depot dating to 1860 that hosted Southern Railway passenger trains as recently as 1967 when the Tennessean called at 8:18pm westbound en route to Memphis and 4:59am eastbound on its way to Chattanooga and New York. Inside the depot animatronics worthy of Disney World portray the story of the station agent, telegrapher, and engineer.  The waiting rooms look ready for the next train and upstairs the story of the station's use in housing soldiers during the Civil War is told.  The Railway Express Building next door now contains a gift shop and a railroad themed children's play area.  Outside an operating trolley takes youth groups for short rides around the grounds while preserved railroad equipment tells children about the purpose of various train cars.  The depot is part of the Early Works Museum Complex which includes the Alabama Constitution Village, an old railroad roundhouse, and a building housing rare vintage automobiles and fire trucks.  The complex stands next to the Norfolk Southern Memphis-Chattanooga line and a westbound stack train passed as we completed our visit.

A steam engine at the preserved Huntsville depot

Rail equipment at the Huntsville depot includes a trolley, Southern Railway coach, and wooden box car

Inside the Huntsville depot

Antique vehicles inside a building at the Early Works complex
A Norfolk Southern freight train en route to Memphis breezes past the Huntsville depot

   Soon we made a brief stop at Southerland Station Toy Store to examine the model trains and children's railroad toys (i.e., Thomas The Tank Engine) sold at this converted skating rink then headed a few miles northeast to the North Alabama Railroad Museum.  Though our visit was outside of normal operating hours, with advance notice, we were able to look at the old rail cars that are used on the museum train rides as well as others in various stages of restoration.  As we prepared to continue our travels, we reflected on the immense amount of history that resides in Huntsville and noted surprise at the large amount of railroad related things there are to do in "Rocket City".

North Alabama Railroad Museum

North Alabama Railroad Museu
Riding Nashville's Music City Star

    Along the way to Nashville we paid a visit to Stones River National Battlefield near Murfreesboro, TN which was the site of an intense Civil War battle in January 1863.  The CSX line (former Louisville & Nashville) linking Nashville with Chattanooga passes within plain sight of the battlefield, providing an opportunity to photograph the old and the new.  Through the 1960s L&N's Georgian traveled this line on its way from St. Louis to Atlanta.

Stones River Battlefield

    By early afternoon we reached our next destination, Nashville, for a two night stay.  Our home for these two nights was the Sheraton Music City Hotel, a fantastic property located on spacious, well manicured grounds atop a hill east of downtown.  Our room was huge and offered a nice view of the central courtyard area and swimming pool.  The Sheraton is perfectly located for visiting attractions in and around Nashville and is an easy drive from one of the Music City Star's commuter train stops.  In the evening we headed for the Nashville Sounds' AAA ballpark for a doubleheader against the Memphis Redbirds.  Unfortunately a major rain storm left the field unplayable so our stay at the park was short.  This is a great place to attend a game on a summer visit to Nashville.  With free time on our hands, we paid a visit to the elegant former L&N station which today is a Wyndham Hotel.  The old arrival/departure board has been preserved behind the hotel's front desk and the inviting decor makes it easy to imagine a waiting room full of passengers bound for points northward to Cincinnati and south to Chattanooga, Birmingham, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Florida.  Amtrak's Floridian stopped at this station until that train's demise in 1979.

Music City Sheraton

Music City Sheraton

The guitar shaped scoreboard at Nashville's minor league ballpark fits the Music City setting

Nashville's former L&N station

The arrival/departure board in the old Nashville station

An ornate clock in the old station
The Nashville L&N station waiting room

    The morning of June 18, 2010 dawned warm and sunny as we headed to the Music City Star platform in Donelson, a five minute drive from the Sheraton.  An eastbound train pulled in at 7:53am and the conductor made sure westbound passengers did not mistakenly board.  Our westbound train rolled in at 8:02am in push mode with F40 122 on the rear.  A bilevel cab control coach was in the lead followed by a bilevel gallery coach and the F40 engine.  Both coaches were originally operated by Chicago & Northwestern and Chicago's Metra commuter service.  This particular train originated at Mt. Juliet; it is important to carefully consult schedules before planning a ride on the Music City Star as currently service only operates on weekdays with limited reverse flow service to the end point.  

An eastbound Music City Star arrives at Donelson

The eastbound departs Donelson
    The eight mile ride from Donelson to Riverfront (downtown Nashville) consumed only 10 minutes and allowed 13 minutes to inspect the tidy new station built to serve the train and connecting downtown circulator busses.  The Riverfront station is located across the Cumberland River from the Tennessee Titan's football stadium and special trains operate on game days.  To reach the stadium, passengers climb stairs to an adjacent bridge to cross the river.  

Riverfront station in downtown Nashville

The Music City Star pauses between runs at Riverfront

Waiting to depart for Lebanon

    Our eastbound train departed at 8:25am and soon passed a small rail yard used to service the Music City Star.  A mix of old Amtrak, New York Central, and other railroads' passenger cars were briefly visible in a corner of the yard; our informative conductor "Trey" told us that a small railway museum is located here.  The 32 mile eastbound trip passed through mostly rural areas with four intermediate stops before reaching Lebanon at 9:10am.  Overall the Nashville & Eastern Railway (former Tennessee Central) tracks rode smoothly as they passed through forests and along a few farms.  As soon as passengers had detrained, the Music City Star disappeared to the east where it would wait for the afternoon reverse flow run back to Nashville.

The author's train arrives in Lebanon (photo by Christine Turner)

The Music City Star deadheads to its holding track between runs
    Since there would be no return train, Christine drove out to Lebanon to pick us up for our next stop at The Hermitage.  This 1,120 acre estate contains the antebellum mansion of President Andrew Jackson (the 7th U.S. president) and is one of the South's "must see" homes.  Admission to the property allows unlimited time to stroll the grounds, visit the well designed museum, and tour the house, gardens, and adjoining slave quarters.  Wayside signals of a rail line were barely visible behind the estate and a passing freight train could be heard at one point when we were out of sight of the railroad.

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home

    Our driving tour next took us downtown where we visited The Parthenon, a full sized replica of The Parthenon in Athens, Greece.  The Nashville replica was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.  After the exposition, other buildings were demolished but the city wisely preserved The Parthenon for future visitors to enjoy.  A 42 foot tall statue of the goddess Athena was built between 1982 and 1990 inside The Parthenon.  Other works of art are housed in a gallery in the basement.  Next we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, a fabulous museum containing scores of costumes worn by country music superstars as well as various pieces of memorabilia.  Elvis Presley's limousine and a golden piano owned by The King are centerpieces of the collection.  During the evening we returned downtown to historic Ryman Auditorium to attend the Grand Ole Opry.  The Opry is the longest running radio program and attendees get to watch the emcee perform live commercials in between musical acts.  The show we attended ran approximately two hours and featured 12 performers highlighted by the Charlie Daniels Band.  This is another Nashville "must see" even for non-country music fans as the Opry is a classic designed to be family friendly.  The Grand Ole Opry normally is housed at its theater at Opryland on the city's northeast side, however, spring floods required temporary relocation to the Ryman Auditorium, a cozy National Historic Landmark built in 1892.

The Parthenon, Nashville, TN

Entertainers' costumes displayed at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Elvis Presley's white limo at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Chuck Meade performs at the Grand Ole Opry

Charlie Daniels headlines the Grand Ole Opry attended by the author's family.

    Nashville is within an easy drive from Amtrak stops in Atlanta, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Birmingham.  Numerous other area sightseeing favorites include Belle Meade Plantation, Carnton Plantation, riverboat cruises on the Cumberland River, the Nashville Zoo, RCA Studio B, and many other sights.

Riverboat cruises on the Cumberland River are a favorite Nashville activity

St. Louis: Baseball and Railroads
    Approaching St. Louis we made a brief stop at Cahokia Mounds, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas north of Mexico.  These Native American mounds were constructed in the ancient community of Cahokia which dates to the 700-1400AD period.  At its peak, Cahokia was home to 10,000 to 20,000 residents.  The mounds can today be accessed off two interstate highways near Collinsville, IL.  Earlier we had lunch at 17th Street Bar and Grill in Murphysboro, IL, just 7 miles west of the Amtrak station in Carbondale.  This restaurant is ranked one of America's Top Ten barbecue restaurants by the Travel Channel and is known for its delicious dry rub baby back ribs and pulled pork.

Cahokia Mounds

Passing the Gateway Arch entering St. Louis
    After driving through St. Louis we made a visit to the Museum of Transportation, located in suburban Kirkwood.  This sprawling facility houses an amazing collection of railroad equipment as well as a number of antique automobiles and a smaller collection of aircraft and nautical equipment.  Trains are king here and there are some very notable pieces.  The locomotive collection includes steam engines from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe; Canadian National; Chesapeake & Ohio; Chicago & Northwestern; Frisco; Illinois Central; Missouri-Kansas-Texas; Missouri Pacific; New York Central; Nickel Plate; Norfolk & Western; Pennsylvania; Reading; Southern Pacific; Union Pacific; Wabash; and dozens of smaller roads.  Standing high among  these are SP 4460, a sister of famed 4-8-4 # 4449 and UP Big Boy # 4006.  The diesel collection is highlighted by a Burlington E8, Burlington Zephyr # 9908 "Silver Charger", General Motors FTA demonstrator # 103, a Milwaukee Road bipolar electric engine, a Pennsylvania/Amtrak GG1, Rock Island's Aerotrain, and UP Centennial 6944 with units from Baltimore & Ohio, Erie Lackawanna, and Wabash also on display.  The extensive passenger car collection contains everything from PCC and trolley cars to observation cars from the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and Missouri Pacific.  A dining car used on CB&Q's California Zephyr, a CB&Q sleeper painted in Northern Pacific colors for use on the North Coast Limited, and several heavyweight office cars are other notable equipment that can be viewed.  The Museum of Transportation is along the Amtrak route followed by the Missouri River Runners, however, the Kirkwood station is about three miles to the east.

Burlington Zephyr at St. Louis Museum of Transportation

A Philadelphia PCC car

C&O Steam engine

GM FT demo unit

A North Coast Limited sleeper

Frisco 1522 steam engine

SP 4460, sister to the famous 4449

Missouri Pacific observation car

Rock Island Aerotrain

    St. Louis Union Station is perhaps the most beautiful surviving train station in America and is well worth a visit.  The station opened September 1, 1894 and within 20 years it hosted over 300 trains per day.  A scheduled passenger train left the historic station for the last time on October 31, 1978 as Amtrak train # 22 departed for Chicago.  After Amtrak moved to a tiny "temporary" station a couple blocks away, the building found a second life as a hotel, shopping, and entertainment complex.  Marriott operates the hotel and the former station waiting room today houses the hotel front desk, restaurants, and conference facilities.  Our hotel room was located in a wing of the hotel attached to the back of the former station building while the shopping mall and parking lot occupy the area where passenger trains once loaded.  The massive train shed that once covered 32 tracks still stands, providing cover to the parking lot and open air gathering spots.  Across the street from the station entrance, the massive "Meeting of the Waters" fountain graced by figurines of mythological characters provides a fabulous foreground for photographs of Union Station and its grand clock tower.  

The grand hall at St. Louis Union Station

The Meeting of the Waters fountain stands in front of the Marriott at St. Louis Union Station
    After checking in at the Union Station Marriott it was time to head to new Busch Stadium to watch the St. Louis Cardinals tackle the Oakland A's.  The best way to reach Busch Stadium is to ride the St. Louis Metrolink light rail line which stops right behind Union Station.  Metrolink connects western suburbs and the airport to the city and extends across the Mississippi River via the Eads Bridge to suburbs in western Illinois.  Our Metrolink train deposited us within a few steps of the stadium and in less than five minutes we were in our seats joining 43,000 passionate fans in rooting on the Cardinals.  This stadium is a grand place to watch a ballgame with good sightlines, comfortable seating, and a view of the Gateway Arch behind centerfield.

Preparing to catch Metrolink for the ride from Union Station to Busch Stadium

Busch Stadium as seen from outside the Metrolink stop

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Oakland A's

John stands in front of the Gateway Arch during a Cardinals game

The Cardinals defeat the A's

An evening view from our seats at Busch Stadium
Going To Kansas City: The Missouri River Runner

    Sunday July 19 came bright and early as John and I made an easy three block walk to the new Gateway Transportation Center for Amtrak's morning Missouri River Runner to Kansas City.  This station serves Amtrak, Greyhound, Metrolink light rail trains, and other bus lines and is conveniently located between the Union Station Marriott and Busch Stadium.  The new station is bright and modern and trains are accessed via escalators that take passengers above track level then down to a platform between the tracks.  There is a small airport feel to this arrangement that gives it a contemporary appearance.  Just west we could see the tiny modular station that Amtrak used after vacating magnificent Union Station in the 1970s.

    Train # 311 was boarding when we arrived a half hour early and we found a pair of single seats in the business class car located right behind the locomotive.  Departure came on-time at 8:30am and within 15 minutes the urban landscape was replaced by lush golf courses and lovely suburban homes as we entered Kirkwood.  A large crowd boarded there and it was evident that the three car train would be a sellout this day; we were glad to be in the spacious business class.  Just west of Kirkwood we breezed past the Museum of Transportation which we had enjoyed visiting the prior day.  Our next stop, Washington, was right beside the Missouri River and the first signs of river flooding were evident.  As we made our way west, we would see more of the same with downed tree trunks floating downriver.  Fortunately none of this would impact the railroad.  Passengers the prior evening had not been so fortunate as violent storms knocked trees onto the railway right-of-way delaying trains for up to three hours.

The Missouri River Runner at St. Louis

Kirkwood, MO station
    A pair of Union Pacific freights rolled by just west of Washington then we kicked it into gear for a smooth run to Jefferson City where the state capitol building was plainly visible.  Our eastbound counterpart glided past at River Jct., the junction of the UP Jefferson City and Sedalia subdivisions.  As we continued west, signs of UP predecessor Missouri Pacific still adorned the sides of some depots along the way, most notably Sedalia.  By 2:07pm we called at Independence, home of Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States.  The number of rail lines converging, crossing, and diverging increased at a rapid pace as we closed in on Kansas City and by 2:27pm the Missouri River Runner pulled to a halt at stately Kansas City Union Station.  It was a thrill to finally see the interior of this gorgeous station which opened in 1914.  At its peak during World War II, up to 300 trains per day called at this station.  In 1985 Amtrak moved into a small temporary type station beneath a highway overpass near Union Station and remained until 2002 when it moved back into Union Station.  The interior of Kansas City Union Station is spacious with high ornate ceilings, hanging light fixtures, and bright skylights above its exits.  With only the Southwest Chief and the Missouri River Runners today serving this station, one must imagine the hustle and bustle that once filled this edifice but somehow that isn't very hard to do.  Pleasant dining, a gift shop, and other businesses today make this a destination unto itself and a major model train display fills a couple of rooms at the end of the waiting hall.  The entrances to the stairways that once led to the station's 18 tracks still remain and the facade for one ramp bears the name of two trains that served this terminal, the Flying Crow and the Katy Flyer.  The station exterior exudes the elegance of big city terminals befitting Chicago, New York, or any number of other big cities at the height of the passenger train era and a large fountain lends a cool touch to the street side of the building.

Washington, MO station

Washington, MO

Jefferson City, MO

The state capitol at Jefferson City

The eastbound Missouri River Runner as seen from our westbound train along the Missouri River

A Missouri Pacific herald atop the depot at Sedalia

The station at Lee's Summit

The Missouri River Runner at Kansas City

Kanas City Union Station waiting room

The ornate ceiling at Kansas City Union Station

Train names are displayed at this entrance to former ramps to the tracks

The impressive model railroad at Union Station

Kansas City Union Station

Back Home In Omaha
    The original plan was to return to St. Louis that evening on the train, however, this was changed a week before we left home when our favorite college baseball team, the Florida State Seminoles, earned a return trip to the College World Series in Omaha.  Christine offered to drive from St. Louis to Kansas City and I-70 allowed her to depart just after our train left St. Louis, stop for breakfast and gasoline, yet beat us to Kansas City by about 20 minutes.  This permitted her to dine in the station restaurant which received good marks from her while John and I made due with Amcafe cuisine.  With help from our GPS unit we were on the interstate just west of the train station, headed toward Omaha.

    Somewhere north of St. Joseph we encountered an incredible storm that started with frequent flashes of lightning ahead and a menacing squall line to our west.  Knowing this was "Tornado Alley", we kept our eyes peeled for rotating clouds and were thankful none appeared.  Soon, though, hard rains turned to hail and the crosswinds, unimpeded by trees or vegetation buffeted our minivan.  Recalling scenes from the movie "Twister", I gripped the wheel tightly and drove very slowly on the shoulder of the road as did all other traffic in the vicinity.  Before long we exited the fierce weather and completed an uneventful trip to the mecca of collegiate baseball.
   Our home for the next two nights would be the Embassy Suites hotel in the trendy Old Market area of downtown Omaha.  Our suite was comfortable and spacious and overlooked Union Pacific's Harriman Dispatching Center.  The old UP and CB&Q stations were partially visible in the background and we were glad to be on the railroad side of the hotel.  Aside from the hotel's excellent lodging and food, another major convenience was the courtesy shuttle van that took guests to Rosenblatt Stadium thus preventing parking issues.  The van also offers transportation to and from the Amtrak station, the popular Henry Dorley Zoo, and other area attractions.

The UP dispatching center as seen from our suite at Embassy Suites in Omaha

The Embassy Suites Hotel in Omaha's Old Market district is convenient to area sights including the Amtrak station
    The same storm that gave us grief while on the highway had delayed the day's baseball action which thus allowed us the opportunity to attend the Oklahoma vs. South Carolina game that afternoon and evening.  Three games would have to be played on Monday so we spent the entire day at Rosenblatt, not a bad trade-off given that this was the venerable stadium's last year hosting the College World Series.  A new downtown stadium is under construction and will host the CWS beginning in 2011.  After watching Clemson take on Arizona State, we enjoyed watching our Florida State team dismantle arch rival Florida for the 4th time this season then watched a thriller between UCLA and TCU.  For John and Christine it was a dream come true to attend the CWS while it brought back fond memories to me as I last attended 30 years ago.  Back then the CWS was popular but hadn't grown to the mega event it is today as over 20,000 fans attend most games with baseball fans coming from all over the country to enjoy a few days of good baseball.  Indeed the College World Series is as close to the game depicted in the movie "Field of Dreams" as one can find.  I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys the sport.

Posing with The Road To Omaha statue at Rosenblatt Stadium

Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha, NE

All-American Tyler Holt leads the Florida State Seminoles to a victory at the 2010 College World Series

A Florida State home run

Mike McGee touches home plate after his homer for FSU

Rosenblatt Stadium with the Henry Dorley Zoo dome in the background.  Beyond the zoo, bluffs standing in Iowa can be seen.

The author and family enjoy the action as Florida State defeats Florida at the College World Series

The Carl Sandburg: Riding A Missing Amtrak Segment

    The weather was perfect as we departed Omaha on Tuesday June 22 and retraced our route to St. Joseph.  The absence of the stormy weather that ushered us along this route a couple days earlier allowed a clear view of the parallel BNSF railway line that was crowded with empty coal trains.  Most of these were parked to await clear tracks westward.  After driving across Missouri, we arrived in Hannibal for a look at the home of Mark Twain and other bits of Americana that fill this area.  After crossing the Mississippi River, the drive to Quincy, IL was very brief and we easily located the Amtrak station where John and I would board the Carl Sandburg for a short ride to Galesburg.  

    Amtrak train # 382, the Carl Sandburg pulled in a half hour before departure time following an eastbound BNSF freight.  Our train consisted of P42 locomotive # 153, three Horizon fleet coaches, and a Horizon business class car and ridership was moderate on this weekday afternoon.  The route between Quincy and Galesburg passes many cornfields, a couple of windmills, and several small towns.  Back in the late 1960s this line was operated by the Burlington (CB&Q) and was served by the Kansas City Zephyr and the American Royal Zephyr which both ran between Chicago and Kansas City.  At that time the trains stopped across the river at West Quincy, MO, junction with the Minneapolis to St. Louis route of a joint CB&Q/Rock Island train.

The Carl Sandburg arrives in Quincy, IL

Before departure time at Quincy

The unstaffed Quincy station hosts two trains per day in each direction

John is the first passenger to claim a seat on our train

   The train seemed to fly as it traveled over typically smooth BNSF tracks.  My wife had set out ahead of the train and we never caught sight of her as the road route to Galesburg tended to take a stair step path in which it headed north for 7 or 8 miles, then east for 5 or 6 miles, then north again, and so on.  The railway was laid out in a fairly straight line.  A nice brick station served our one intermediate stop, Macomb, whose streets were lined with trees.  This seemed appropriate as Amtrak Chairman of the Board Thomas Carper is mayor of Macomb.  On the outskirts of Galesburg we passed the BNSF Galesburg Classification headquarters, a large yard that sorts freight cars on the various lines branching out in all directions.  

Macomb, IL station

Evidence of recent rains at a farm seen from the train
   Our arrival in Galesburg was on-time at 6:55pm, giving us time to examine the attractive Amtrak station which we had previously only seen from trackside.  The less direct highway had actually taken longer between Quincy and Galesburg as my wife arrived about 10 minutes behind the train.  This provided time to look at the nice assortment of railroad equipment preserved by local rail enthusiasts adjacent to the Galesburg depot.  A word of caution to railroad mileage collectors planning to ride this route: Originating in Galesburg offers the convenience of a connecting point to the Amtrak system.  In fact, the Carl Sandburg and sister train, the Illinois Zephyr, originate in Chicago.  However, the unstaffed Quincy station is in a fairly isolated area and offers no amenities whatsoever (no food, no restrooms, no air conditioning, etc.).  Either a 5 1/2 hour layover or an overnight stopover of under 8 hours are required in Quincy.  Chain hotels are available a few miles from the station.  Driving to Quincy and making a roundtrip to Galesburg, on the other hand, leaves a manageable layover of about two hours at a pleasant staffed station where frequent passing freight trains can be observed.

The Carl Sandburg at Galesburg

A smoky departure from Galesburg by the Carl Sandburg

CB&Q 4-6-4 # 3006 displayed at Galesburg

The author celebrates riding his next to last missing Amtrak route

Heading To South Bend

    Our overnight at Bettendorf, IA, part of the Quad Cities, was a bit out of the way but home of another well maintained Courtyard by Marriott.  We were deep in the heart of old Rock Island territory and found this an easy drive from Galesburg and convenient for the day's planned drive to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL.  A massive overnight thunderstorm extended into the morning making it prudent to delay our departure by an hour.  This allowed us to get behind the storm but nixed the museum visit due to time constraints.  Instead we headed due east to South Bend, IN which was our planned destination for this night.

Courtyard Marriott, Bettendorf, IA

    The College Football Hall of Fame was our first stop and the grand facility did not disappoint.  Highlights of the Hall include trophies, memorabilia, and helmets from the participating teams from each BCS game; a tribute to the national champions from each division; historic artifacts dating back to the start of collegiate football; and an amazing array of other items that make up the color and pageantry of college football.  It should be noted that the Hall has plans to move to Atlanta in the near future so interested parties should check online before visiting.

Footballs from the early years of collegiate football

Tribute to 2009-10 college football award winners at the College Football Hall of Fame
    Our other major sightseeing destination in South Bend was the Notre Dame university campus.  This campus was laid out in an attractive fashion and we were interested in passing the football stadium and baseball field during our drive through campus.  The evening was spent at the South Bend Marriott, a modern highrise in the heart of the city, across the street from the College Football Hall of Fame, the South Bend Chocolate Factory, and the St. Joseph River.  The Notre Dame campus is a short drive from the Marriott Hotel and it is less than 10 minutes from the South Shore Line railway station and even closer to the Amtrak station.  During the evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Sean O'Casey's Irish Pub, located beside the hotel.

College Football Hall of Fame and the South Bend Marriott

A Ride on the South Shore Line

    On multiple railway trips to Chicago we have wanted to include a ride on the South Shore Line to South Bend.  Unfortunately, the length of the trip and the schedule made it difficult to easily make that fit.  This trip would be different as the day's itinerary made a South Bend to Chicago roundtrip possible.  

    The South Bend station is actually a platform directly next to South Bend Regional Airport.  The drive from the hotel took just a few minutes (the Marriott does also offer a courtesy shuttle) and paid parking was available a few steps from the train.  It was rather incongruous seeing a commuter train station right beside an airport but, in reality, this was the perfect place.  South Shore train # 12 was boarding when we arrived and it departed right on time at 6:32am.  The electric line initially heads east from the airport for about a mile then turns south paralleling Bendix Road until a point near the Norfolk Southern main line used by Amtrak where it makes a sharp westerly turn.  Our progress was very slow for about one-half hour due to red signals mandating operation at restricted speed.  A major storm the prior night had caused a great deal of trouble in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.  We were happy that our train was operating as Amtrak's Michigan lines, just to our north, were impacted greatly.

Westbound South Shore train # 12 at the South Bend Airport station

    As soon as the South Shore tracks leave the South Bend area, the scenery becomes quite rural with heavy forests, farms, and an occasional lake visible from the window.  As we slipped into the central time zone and departed Hudson Lake at 6:09am (13 minutes late), the dispatcher advised that another train would depart the Michigan City shops and operate ahead of us on our regular schedule.  Five minutes later we gained green signals and resumed normal operating speed.  The Carroll Avenue stop in Michigan City came at 6:30am and the crew announced that we would operate on the schedule of the next scheduled train.  Six extra cars were added to the rear of our train and we held until the usual 6:46am departure time of train # 112.  Indeed our train was now designated train
# 112 as the train that left ahead of us had assumed the designation of # 12.  The stop at Carroll Avenue is most interesting as it is right in the middle of the South Shore shops and yards where several coaches, freight engines, and miscellaneous equipment is visible.

Additional cars prepare to couple onto the rear of our South Shore train at Michigan City, IN

South Shore Line freight engine
    Departing Michigan City the route becomes very interesting with street running for several blocks. The 11th Avenue stop in Michigan City is in the midst of the street running section giving one the sensation of riding a bus through town.  The next stop, Beverly Shores, had a neat little station featuring an art deco destination sign.  For the rest of the trip the train would average only about 6 minutes between station stops.  The South Shore passes above then parallels the Norfolk Southern/Amtrak route near Portage/Ogden Dunes. A westbound NS stack train blew past at 7:20am during our station stop in that community.  By now train # 112 was near seating capacity as rush hour was in effect.  On either side of Gary we passed above other rail lines as rail routes began to congregate on the outskirts of Chicago.  After departing Hammond at 7:50am we entered Illinois and 15 minutes later climbed a slight grade to join the Illinois Central mainline which now is operated by Canadian National.  After four more stops, we arrived at the South Shore/Metra Electric Millennium Station, located along Randolph Street on the east side of downtown Chicago, at 8:34am.

Beverly Shores station

Passing above the Norfolk Southern/Amtrak line
    The late arrival left little time before our return train which departed at 8:45am thus we only had time to circle around waiting trains to board train # 7 three tracks away.  Business was surprisingly good on this reverse flow train and we were glad to find a pair of seats in the cab control car.  Between Hyde Park and Kensington, Amtrak's northbound City of New Orleans breezed past.  The front of the cab car allowed interesting views of a couple of sharp curves near Hammond that appear suited for a narrow gauge railroad.  The Hammond station appeared to be attractive and quite modern.  Another westbound NS freight passed on the adjacent line at Portage/Ogden Dunes and a couple miles later we met a westbound South Shore freight train.  Our stop at Carroll Avenue in Michigan City was much quicker this trip and the signal issues that plagued the westbound journey had been resolved.  Arrival in South Bend came at 12:17pm and within a few minutes we were on the road again heading for Traverse City, MI.

Passing a Metra electric train on the CN (ex-Illinois Central)

Municipal building at Gary, IN

Street running in Michigan City

Street running in Michigan City

Approaching the station at South Bend Airport

Approaching the station at South Bend Airport

South Shore train # 7 at South Bend

The control tower at South Bend Airport is visible to th right of the train

    When planning a trip over the entire South Shore Line, it is important to consider that not all trains operate as far east as South Bend.  In fact, the majority run only between Chicago and Michigan City since that segment generates the heaviest ridership and the location of the shops is a convenient terminus for shorter runs.  Trains do operate on weekends and holidays on a less frequent schedule.  It also is worth repeating that the South Bend stop is now located at the South Bend Airport, several miles from downtown and the Amtrak station served by the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.  Rental cars are available at the airport and the Marriott offers courtesy transportation for guests.

Michigan's Gems: Traverse City and Mackinac Island

    Our afternoon drive from South Bend took us through Holland, MI where we took a look at the multi-modal station serving Amtrak and regional busses.  Our route took us around Grand Rapids, through Cadillac, and on to charming Traverse City.  This community is located on Grand Traverse Bay which empties into Lake Michigan.  The waterfront is a popular summer gathering place for sailing, swimming, kite flying, and picnicking.  A waterfront miniature railway was busy transporting visitors around a loop and stores in this northern Michigan cherry capital attracted tourists inside.  An operational railway line still serves Traverse City; this line was served six times per week by a Chesapeake & Ohio coach train from Grand Rapids through the mid-1960s.  

Holland, MI station

Holland, MI

Miniature railway in the park at Traverse City

Marina on Grand Traverse Bay

A beach and hill along Grand Traverse Bay at Traverse City, MI

     Across town the minor league baseball team, the Traverse City Beach Bums, drew inspiration for their name from the many beaches located along the bay.  A night at this ballpark was a highlight to us as the comfortable seating, artificial turf field, and fun atmosphere provided a relaxing night at the stadium.  Many golf courses dot the area, providing another popular summertime activity and ski resorts on both sides of Traverse City cater to winter visitors.

Traverse City Beach Bums games are a fun way to spend an evening

Minor league baseball at Traverse City

Minor league baseball at Traverse City

Minor league baseball at Traverse City

Beach Bums mascots encourage the crowd

    The Courtyard by Marriott was the perfect lodging choice as the hotel has recently been redecorated in a pleasing summery style.  Our room had a tranquil view of woods and a small stream on the back side of the hotel which made for a most restful night.  The hotel's location is a short drive to restaurants and shopping as well as within five minutes of the stadium in one direction and the waterfront in the other.  An inviting indoor pool provides guests an oasis from busy travel days and its Courtyard Cafe serves breakfast every day.  

The charming Courtyard Marriott in Traverse City

   The following day we drove along the eastern shore of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan through the tourist rich communities stretching from Traverse City to Charlevoix and Petoskey.  Though the C&O line continued to Petoskey, the passenger train terminated in Traverse City according to the 1964 Official Guide of the Railways.  There are still signs of the railroad throughout this region and a former Pennsylvania Railroad line remains in service between Grand Rapids and Petoskey.  Occasional excursion trains are operated by the Bluewater Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, on that line.  In fact, one is scheduled for Labor Day weekend 2010.

    The state of Michigan, excluding the Upper Peninsula, resembles a first baseman's mitt with the thumb above Detroit and Port Huron.  As such, our arrival in Mackinaw City represented reaching the top of the mitt.  This city is a key point as it stands at the foot of the massive Straits of Mackinac Bridge that soars above the straits linking Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.  Michigan's Upper Peninsula lies on the opposite side of the bridge with Canada less than an hour beyond.  Mackinaw City is also one of two cities from which passenger ferries depart for Mackinac Island.  

    We secured our car in the parking lot for Star Line ferries and unloaded our overnight luggage which Star Line porters checked aboard the vessel.  Five minutes later we were skimming cross the strait aboard Star Line's ferry "Cadillac".  The seven mile trip took about 20 minutes and deposited us at the company's dock in the heart of Mackinac Island's business district.  A bellman from the Lake View Hotel delivered our luggage across the street to our hotel room and within a few minutes we were ready for some sightseeing.  The Lake View opened in 1858 and remains one of the resort island's favorite lodging establishments.  This hotel has spacious rooms, an indoor pool, restaurant which serves complimentary continental breakfast, and a large lobby and front porch that are ideal for relaxing.

Straits of Mackinac Bridge

Lighthouses and a jetty at Mackinac Island

Star Line ferry service linking Mackinaw City with Mackinac Island

Star Line ferry service linking Mackinaw City with Mackinac Island

Star Line ferry service linking Mackinaw City with Mackinac Island

Aboard the Star Line ferry at Mackinac Island

Lake View Hotel, built in 1858, is an excellent lodging choice on Mackinac Island

    Motorized vehicles are not permitted on Mackinac Island thus the best way to see the island is by horse drawn carriage.  Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers frequent narrated tours of the island that last approximately two hours.  The carriages depart from the main street and pass many historic homes and buildings in town then climb uphill past the renowned Grand Hotel which was featured in the movie "Somewhere in Time" starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.  The carriage takes riders into Mackinac Island State Park through deep forests to an overlook high above the sparkling waters where a limestone arch  provides a window-like vista.  Along the way, views of Fort Mackinac appear at various points. During a stopover at the midpoint of the tour, visitors can enjoy a huge enclosed butterfly habitat before transferring to another carriage for the next part of the tour.  The carriage tour provided a relaxing change of pace from all of the highway travel of the prior 11 days and gave us an excellent overview of Mackinac Island.  

Mackinac Island Carriage Tour

Limestone Arch in Mackinac Island State Park

Mackinac Island Carriage Tour

Grand Hotel
  Amtrak Thruway bus service links both Traverse City and Mackinaw City with the national Amtrak rail system via Kalamazoo.  This makes it possible to take the train from Chicago or Detroit to Kalamazoo then a same day Thruway bus to either northern Michigan city.  In fact, it is possible to travel overnight by train from Washington or New York to Toledo, OH then ride a Thruway bus to Detroit, connect to the train to Kalamazoo, then catch the bus to northern Michigan.  Another easy alternative is to rent a car at South Bend and drive northward.  From Mackinaw City the passenger ferry transports passengers to Mackinac Island.

    In Part 2 we continue northward into Ontario where we will ride the last VIA Rail Canada route that we had not ridden and we will ride two other notable rail lines we had previously missed.  Back in the U.S. we will complete our Amtrak route map and visit several more interesting sights.

Next:  Part 2

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