California to Alaska by Land, Sea, and Air (part 2 of 3)

After checking in to SGT Preston’s Lodge, I spent a couple of hours walking around the small town of Skagway, taking photos of the beautifully restored old Victorian buildings, many of which form part of the Klondike National Historic Park managed by the National Park Service. (another part of the park is in the Pioneer Square Historic District in Seattle, where the vast majority of gold seekers began their journey north to the gold fields of Alaska and the Yukon)

Main Street in Skagway, Alaska
Old Newspaper Building from 1898

One of the most fascinating historical restorations in Skagway was the “Mascot Saloon”, which was a very realistic re-creation of a typical bar scene from the gold rush days of 1898, complete with lifelike models and sound effects. It could easily “fool” passersby into thinking it was a real-life saloon. However, once inside it was very clear that the men standing at the bar, as well as the bartender, were not real. Throughout the saloon were lots of historical exhibits and old photos, as well as information about the saloon and its place in the colorful history of Skagway.

Inside the Mascot Saloon

Later I visited the White Pass and Yukon Railroad depot to buy a ticket on the excursion train the next morning, but I found the doors were locked. As I walked around to the front of the building, I came upon two men talking, so I asked the older man if he worked for the railroad, to which he replied “I used to run the railroad, but now I’m the mayor of Skagway – is there any way I can help you?” He directed me to the depot entrance and introduced me to a very nice lady at the ticket window, who sold me a ticket for tomorrow’s train. I thought I would be one of a very few passengers on the train, but lo and behold, she said two large cruise ships were due in port tonight and had fully booked one of the trains. Apparently these two cruise ships were the last ones of the season, which explained the preponderance of signs posted around town announcing the closure of most businesses for the season on Thursday!

White Pass & Yukon Railroad Depot

Next door, the National Park Service Visitor Center had a fantastic display of exhibits and information, including a film, about the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush that put Skagway on the map. Over 100,000 people “stampeded” to the Klondike, and amazingly, over 30,000 of them actually made it all the way to Dawson City in the heart of the Yukon Territory.

Klondike National Historical Park Visitor Center
Exhibit of the supplies each gold seeker had to carry to Dawson City

After spending a couple of hours in the Visitor Center learning a great deal of fascinating history, I headed for the infamous “Red Onion Saloon”. (reputed to be Skagway’s favorite watering hole, then and now) However, I found that it didn’t open until 4pm, so I walked down to the dock to take a photo of the Alaska Ferry MV Malaspina as it left port for Sitka and points south to Bellingham. As I approached the dock, the smell of delicious food wafted past me, being prepared in a small restaurant called “Harbor House”. The lovely smells invited me into the restaurant and I discovered a neat little place with only 3 booths and a couple of tables, all of which had a beautiful view of the harbor.

Skagway harbor and MV Malaspina ferry

Josh, the owner, welcomed me and highly recommended the fresh, local Rockfish in a tempura fry, served with a delicious pineapple-mango salsa, black bean chipotle sauce, and basmati rice. It was superb, and a most unexpected surprise for such a small, remote town! The warm, crusty sourdough bread and butter to start with was very tasty and went quite well with the cold pint of Alaskan IPA. As I savored dinner, I watched the MV Malaspina depart from the dock. Meanwhile, a young Italian couple at the next table were having some difficulty understanding Josh’s heavy Brooklyn accent, so I did my best to translate for them! After the fabulous dinner, I walked back to the Red Onion Saloon, and as I approached the historic old structure, a little girl in a bright pink dress said hello and walked in. Once inside, as I looked around the classic old bar, I was struck by the view of a long row of old “bedpans”, of every conceivable size and shape, nailed to the wall on one side of the room. On the opposite wall, above the ornate, old fashioned carved wooden bar, hung the painted portraits of Skagway’s most notorious “Ladies of the Night”! (the upper floor of the old bar was a brothel during the heydays of the gold rush) At first, as I sat down at the long bar, I was only one of three people in the whole place. Then suddenly, a very large group of young people invaded the bar, and soon I found myself surrounded and outnumbered. It was clear that they all knew the bar staff and the bar staff knew them. In no time, there was a lot of beer flowing and food being consumed. Then suddenly, a bell was rung and shots of Jameson Irish whiskey were poured for everyone in the bar, at which point, we were all told to stand up and “salute” our shot! One of the girls climbed on to a bar stool next to me and proceeded to take a photo of the group. I asked her what was the occasion and she replied “it’s the “Skagway Brewing Company” staff party. That explained the sign I had seen earlier on the front door of the brewery announcing it was “Closed for Staff Party”, which I had assumed was being held in the brewery. Ironically, the Red Onion Saloon did not have a single beer from the Skagway Brewing Company on tap. Meanwhile, old 60’s and 70’s tunes played on an old jukebox in the corner. Around 7:30pm, a local band by the name of “The Windy Valley Boys” began to play and soon, the old bar began to fill up with local families and small children. As I looked around the bar, it was hard to imagine what it might be like when two huge cruise ships dock in port tomorrow. The Windy Valley Boys played some great Irish and Cajun music, and it wasn’t long before people began dancing, especially the young kids. One cute little blond boy kept racing around between the tables while his young mother ran after him, trying in vain to catch him. And the whole time he was laughing and having lots of fun. Later in the evening, as the band took a break, I talked with their leader and bought a copy of their one and only CD titled “Alaskagway”. Before I left the saloon that night, I asked the tall blonde bartender what the place was like when cruise ships were in town. She told me that she and all the waitresses dressed up in tight corsets and 1890’s dance hall dresses! Then she showed me a copy of the saloon’s new 2014 calendar with classic “pin-up” photos of her and the waitresses – they were gorgeous girls, but like night and day from their “everyday” look!

Red Onion Saloon
The “Windy Valley Boys”

The next morning I was up early to catch the 8:15am train to White Pass summit, and as I turned the corner on the Broadway, I encountered hoards of people on the street, where the previous day I might have seen only 2 or 3 people! (it was a bit of a shock) Alongside the depot was a long train already filled with cruise ship passengers and ready to depart for Fraser, BC and a transfer by bus to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. A short time later, a smaller train of antique coaches pulled into the station for the 8:15am departure. As we boarded the train , we were greeted by two vivacious young ladies named Erin and Kylie, our tour guides. The journey would take us up to the White Pass summit at over 3,000 feet elevation in a short and steep 20 miles. The first half of the trip followed a narrow valley along the banks of the Skagway River, as the fog and clouds began to lift and the skies cleared. It wasn’t long before the route began the steep climb up the slope of the canyon, which gave us spectacular views of the other train as it climbed up the very steep, rocky mountain on the opposite side of the canyon over 1,000 feet above us. We could see several wooden bridges and trestles “clinging” to the rocky ledges – an amazing sight!

Route of the railroad up to White Pass
Climbing up the mountain

And hundreds of feet below us were the rails on which we had just come up earlier. As our train rounded the steep mountain, heading north again, we had spectacular views down the valley, all the way to ocean – the huge cruise ships looked like tiny white “boxes” on the edge of town! Soon the train approached the first tunnel, and then past an enormous, old wooden trestle bridge, long since abandoned and replaced with a steel girder bridge.

Old wooden trestle bridge from 1898

As we neared the summit of White Pass, the landscape abruptly changed from alpine forest into tundra, with low brush scattered among the rocky ground and alpine lakes. As I looked to the side of the rails I could see the remaining traces of the original and infamous “Trail of 98”, where thousands of “stampeders” spent weeks hauling heavy loads of supplies up the steep trail to White Pass. From there they had another 50 miles to go to the shores of Lake Bennett where they needed to build a boat or raft for the 300 mile journey down the Yukon River to the gold fields of Dawson City. As I gazed at the unforgiving, desolate, and remote landscape, I could not imagine how those stampeders had managed to even reach the summit in the dead of winter when the depth of snow could be over 20 feet, let alone survive the hazardous trip down the mighty Yukon River where dangerous rapids awaited them. The trek from Skagway to Dawson City, a distance of 450 miles, would have been a serious challenge for experienced explorers, let alone young office clerks and salesmen who left everything in 1898 to strike it rich in the Yukon! Even today, with our modern outdoor gear and technology, it still remains a challenge.

Nearing the summit of White Pass

As the train crossed the Canadian border, there was a replica of a Northwest Mounted Police checkpoint where every stampeder had to show he had supplies for a year before being allowed to proceed. (it could take 15 – 20 trips up the 3,000 foot steep trail from Skagway to White Pass summit in order to transport the thousands of pounds of supplies required by the mounties) As the locomotives unhooked and moved to the rear of the train for the return journey to Skagway, there was an announcement by Kylie that this was Erin’s last trip of her first season, and as tradition goes, she would take the “plunge” into the freezing waters of Summit Lake on the edge of the tracks. Most of us were a bit skeptical, thinking it must be a “stunt” for the tourists. But then, as we all were poised with our cameras, she stepped off the train, with the conductor, and approached the water’s edge. And to our amazement, she dove into the icy lake! The whole train applauded and cheered as she quickly climbed back on shore. Then Kylie came on the PA system and announced that today was also her last day for her first season, so she would be taking the “plunge” in the afternoon! (we all wished her good luck)

Replica of Northwest Mounted Police station on the Canadian border

As our train slowly made its way back to Skagway, descending the steep slopes, we could see the other train on the opposite side of the narrow valley, over a thousand feet below us – a spectacular sight. Back in Skagway, I walked over to a small outdoor café for a delicious lunch of fresh halibut and chips while sitting under brilliant, sunny skies. An elderly couple seated nearby struck up an interesting conversation about the experience on board their cruise ship versus my trip on the Alaska Ferry. Later in the afternoon I hiked along the old railroad line to the historic “Gold Rush Cemetery” on the north edge of town, and along the way I discovered an old, rusting steam locomotive sitting on a short spur – weeds growing up through the big drive wheels. As I walked up to it I could almost hear the history of the old iron horse echoing softly through the surrounding forest. I could only imagine its glory days as a part of the 1898 gold rush. Nearby was another silent resting place of gold rush history and some of the colorful characters who left their mark on Skagway.

Old steam locomotive
Graves in the Gold Rush Cemetery

A short trail weaved its way among the old graves to Lower Reid Falls, named in honor of Frank Reid who shot and killed the notorious gang leader “Soapy Smith”. Soapy was killed outright, but unfortunately, Frank died 12 agonizing days later from a gunshot in the groin. As I looked at Frank’s headstone, I recalled that earlier in the day, aboard the train, the way Kylie had put it, Frank lost his golden nuggets! The falls were gorgeous, dropping over 300 feet in a very steep, narrow, rocky gorge. As I left the cemetery, I saw a small grave that marked the site of a baby who was born on July 21, 1899 and died July 22, 1899. I couldn’t help feeling rather sad at that moment, even though it happened over 100 years ago. Just then, a large group of tourists arrived in a classic old antique National Park Service tour bus. On my way back to town I spotted the remains of another old steam locomotive, but there was an unusual aspect about it. Of the six large drive wheels, the two in the middle were smooth, without the usual “flange” to keep the wheels on the rails. Not far away was the “Gold Rush Brewery”, which unfortunately was closed for the season, but I had an opportunity to take photos of an old gold dredge that was left at the last place where the gold had finally run out many decades ago. In a way, it marked the spot like that of a headstone on a grave. Eventually I reached downtown and stopped at the Skagway Brewing Company for a cold pint of their “Chilkoot Trail IPA”. At first there was only a handful of people in the bar, but soon the cruise ships invaded the place, and among the crowd were a significant number of Aussies who added a lot fun and cheer! Later in the evening, I walked down to the cruise ship dock and took photos of the two enormous ships as the alpenglow of the sunset reflected beautifully on the rugged mountains rising thousands of feet above them. (“Zuiderdam” of the Holland-America Line and “Sapphire Princess” of Princess Cruise Lines) As I looked north up Main Street, a steady stream of people were headed toward the ships, as they would soon be departing for Glacier Bay. And soon the town would be deserted once again!

Cruise ships in Skagway port
Fishing boats in Skagway harbor

As the sun slowly set and stars began to appear, I looked for a place to have dinner. Suddenly I spotted a tiny restaurant by the name “The Curry Bowl”, on a small side street. As I entered the little place, I quickly realized that I was the only customer. The restaurant had a limited menu, but my favorite Indian dish was on it – Chicken Tikka Masala! As I enjoyed the spicy food, several Bollywood musicals played on the TV in the corner. A short time later, an elderly Indian couple came in, and immediately the owner and his wife greeted them as old friends. Then they all began a lively conversation in Hindi. (that’s when I knew this was an authentic Indian restaurant – the last thing I had expected to find in Skagway, Alaska!) By the time I finished dinner, night had fallen and the streets were virtually deserted. I walked over to the Skagway Brewing Company once more, and it was packed with locals celebrating the end of the tourist season. Luckily there was one empty seat at the bar, and the bartender recognized me from the previous night. He suggested that I try the specialty of the house, a cold pint of “Spruce Tip Blonde Ale”. It definitely had a most unusual taste – that of spruce, fir, and pine trees! It was an interesting tasting experience, but I preferred the Chilkoot Trail IPA. As the evening progressed, it became a wild celebration, with several rounds for the whole bar. I managed to make my exit before midnight and walked back to SGT Preston’s Lodge, along the dark, silent streets, as a light rain began to fall.

Early the next morning, under wet, cloudy skies, I walked over to the Avis Car Rental office and picked up a new Ford Explorer that would take me to Anchorage. But before leaving Skagway, I drove to the nearby Dyea National Historical Site and the start of the famous Chilkoot Trail. The town of Dyea sprang up almost overnight at the start of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, when it became a port for unloading supplies being shipped from Seattle and San Francisco. It was also a point of departure for prospectors seeking their fortune in the gold fields of Alaska and the Yukon. Dyea was the nearest port to the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail, an old native route over the mountains to the interior, that rapidly became a major route for gold seekers on their 500 mile journey. The Chilkoot Trail rises steeply over 3000 feet to Chilkoot Pass and the Canadian border. In the winter of 1898, men spent weeks hauling heavy loads on their backs up and over the pass to a staging area on the shore of Lake Bennett. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police required each man to have a minimum of 2000 pounds (1 ton) of supplies at the border before they were allowed to proceed to the lake. The most famous image of the Klondike Gold Rush remains a photograph of the Chilkoot Trail where hundreds of men with heavy packs on their back, were lined up, one behind the other on the steep snow covered slope up to the pass. (the image also became imprinted on the Alaska state license plate for many years)

Stampeders climbing the trail up to Chilkoot Pass – winter 1898

By the summer of 1899, the trail was eclipsed by the opening of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway, a much shorter and more efficient route. Today the Chilkoot Trail is a popular hiking adventure during the summer months, and a fascinating historical journey back in time.

From the old townsite of Dyea, I began the long drive up the steep Klondike Highway to White Pass summit, on my way to Whitehorse. Along the way were spectacular views of Skagway far below, and upon reaching the summit, the views of the rugged Coast Mountains in British Columbia were equally spectacular. Then it was on to the Canadian border crossing and into the Yukon Territory. (stay tuned for part 3)

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Across Canada by Train – Vancouver to Halifax

In May of 1981, while I was studying for my PHD in Satellite Image Analysis at the University of British Columbia, I bought a 30 day VIA rail pass. Then I boarded Train #2, the Canadian Pacific “Canadien” bound for Toronto, a journey of 2 nights and 3 days.

Boarding the train in Vancouver
Boarding the train in Vancouver

The route took me into the heart of the Canadian Rockies over Rogers Pass and Kicking Horse Pass through several amazing tunnels that were engineered to overcome the steep mountain terrain. The tunnel through Rogers Pass was over 5 miles long and to get over Kicking Horse Pass required two tunnels, one of which was a 360 degree turn and the other in the shape of a giant figure 8! Throughout the trip through the Rockies, our onboard tour guide named Billy, who had traveled this route twice a week for over 5 years, knew every rock and tree along the tracks – and he let everyone know it too, dozens of times!

Fraser River Canyon
Fraser River Canyon
Snowsheds in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia
Avalanches and snowsheds in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia

That evening as the train approached Banff it began to snow, so that by the time we stopped at the beautiful, rustic station, there were several inches of snow on the ground.

Canadian Rockies near Rogers Pass
Canadian Rockies near Rogers Pass
Approaching Banff, Alberta
Approaching Banff, Alberta
Banff
Banff

As the train left Banff, I retired to my sleeper for a most restful night as the train rolled on into the gathering darkness across the vast prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The perfectly flat landscape was illuminated under a full moon and in stark contrast to the rugged mountains of British Columbia.

Leaving the Rockies and entering the prairies
Leaving the Rockies and entering the prairies

 

The prairies of Saskatchewan
The prairies of Saskatchewan

The next morning, I awoke with the sun and as I looked out the window I had to wonder if the train had moved at all during the night, since the flat landscape of the prairie remained virtually the same as when I had fallen asleep! But indeed we had travelled several hundred miles and were approaching Manitoba where we were scheduled to stopover in Winnipeg to change crews and service the train. Meanwhile, as I sat down to a hearty breakfast in the dining car, we passed huge expanses of wheat fields and long stretches of perfectly straight track. Only occasionally did we pass any signs of civilization, usually in the form of tall, massive grain elevators, appearing as the “citadels” of the prairie.

Grain elevators in Saskatchewan
Grain elevators in Saskatchewan

As we arrived in Winnipeg the weather changed suddenly, becoming very windy and cold as I took a long walk around downtown, past the provincial Parliament buildings and the lovely park alongside the Assiniboine River. Back at the old railroad station I grabbed a hamburger in the cafeteria before the train departed. The cafeteria was an old musty, dingy place that looked like an old institution for the mentally ill, and indeed, most of the customers looked like patients! Once back on the train we continued our journey east to the province of Ontario.

Arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg
Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg

Most of the day was spent travelling through dense forests and past many small lakes, all amidst heavy snow. The route took us along the rocky shore of Lake Superior, past Thunder Bay and Lake Huron.

Sunset across Lake Superior
Sunset across Lake Superior
Lake Huron
Lake Huron

Later in the afternoon I joined a small group of Aussies who were going to a French language immersion program in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. We enjoyed a game of cards in the lounge car before dinner in the dining car, where the Chief Steward was having a fun time as a comedian calling out the numbers in a game of bingo. Meanwhile I savored a delicious plate of fresh local Whitefish. Later that evening I joined the Aussies and an elderly grandmother from Calgary for a beer in the lounge car before retiring for the night. I was awoken briefly about 2am as the train shuffled in Sudbury to split for destinations of Toronto and Montreal. The next morning during breakfast in the dining car we were told that granny from Calgary woke up to find herself on the wrong half of the train! Apparently she had switched compartments with another man without telling the porter or conductor. So they had awakened the man at 2am thinking he was going to Montreal, but when he said no, they left it at that. Later in the day we arrived in Toronto, and although we were 2 hours late I had just enough time to cross the platform and board the train to Windsor, otherwise I would have had to wait another 4 hours.

Approaching Toronto
Approaching Toronto
CN Tower in Toronto
CN Tower in Toronto

Over the next few days I stayed with my cousins in Windsor, Ontario while I attended a Remote Sensing conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Every day I boarded a bus to Ann Arbor and a daily crossing of the international border in Detroit. One day my cousins Lorraine and Barry met me for dinner at the new Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. The center was an impressive complex of four tall dark glass towers rising from the river’s edge, shining brilliantly in the glow of an evening sun, like gleaming pinnacles above the inner city. In the middle of the complex was an even higher central tower housing the world’s tallest hotel. Within the Renaissance Center were a myriad of shops, cafes, lounges, and many entertainment attractions set among a beautiful urban forest of trees, flowers and an array of tropical plants. There were many quiet corners with luxurious sofas, chairs and tables, often on several levels overlooking the huge atrium – truly a beautiful place in the very heart of the city. As we sat in the rooftop restaurant we enjoyed a fabulous dinner along with spectacular views of the city at night.

View of downtown Detroit from top of Renaissance Center
View of downtown Detroit from top of Renaissance Center

Unfortunately, Barry had forgotten where he had parked in the huge complex and of course, I was of no help. So we wandered around the massive parking structure for half an hour before he spotted the grey van. (at least he had remembered what level he had parked on, thank goodness, given the 8 levels of parking)

One morning, as I rode the bus to Ann Arbor, we passed a huge Goodyear company sign along the freeway that showed the 1981 car production, the number of which increased every 2 – 3 seconds. On the return trip that day we passed many automotive plants, including the Ford world headquarters in Dearborn, as well as the Uniroyal Tire Company with its monster 50 foot high tire outside. Nearby was the Libby-Owens glass company with a huge billboard that read “Buy an American car and Keep America Rolling”. As we approached Detroit there were hundreds of rail cars stacked with new automobiles heading for all parts of the country. One evening, after the conference, I stopped for a drink at the “Inner Circle” bar in the Renaissance Center. The bar was surrounded by a moat and slowly rotated, affording beautiful views of the atrium. A group of conference attendees were seated behind me, all of them commenting on the ladies that strolled by. Suddenly there were some loud noises which sounded like “farts” coming from one of the guys in the group. Turned out to be the result of his soft vinyl chair rubbing against the retaining wall as the bar slowly moved by! The rest of the group gave him some grief about it for the rest of the evening. The view of the sunset from the top of the hotel tower was exceptionally beautiful as it reflected in the waters of the St Claire River.

The following morning, I bid farewell to my cousins and boarded the train to London, Ontario to visit with my aunt, and then on to Toronto to catch the train to Montreal. Since the Montreal train was overbooked in coach class a kind old conductor upgraded me to First class where I enjoyed complimentary snacks, beverages, and a lot more space around my seat for the five hour trip. Arriving in Montreal I had over 2 hours before the departure of the overnight train to Halifax, Nova Scotia so I spent the time walking around Mt Royal Park, the McGill University campus, and the old downtown district.

Streets of old Montreal
Streets of old Montreal
Old Montreal
Old Montreal
View of Montreal from Mont Royal park
View of Montreal from Mont Royal Park

By then it was time to board the “Atlantique” train bound for Halifax by way of a route through the state of Maine. Shortly after departure from the beautiful Victorian era railway station in Montreal, I made my way to the dining car and enjoyed a delicious dinner of fresh grilled halibut and potatoes au gratin, along with a cold glass of Molson beer. Soon afterwards the train crossed the international border into Maine, but the border formalities were minimal, just involving a US Immigration officer and the conductor taking a head count. (The same thing took place as the train left Maine the next morning and entered New Brunswick. I don’t know what would happen if the counts didn’t jive, although it would be very dangerous for anyone to leave the train since it doesn’t stop anywhere in Maine, or even slow down for that matter.) It wasn’t very easy getting any sleep in my seat that night as a group of high school students were up most of the time and constantly running up and down the aisle. But eventually the sun rose and the train arrived in Halifax. After a hearty breakfast on the train I headed for the historic old Carleton Hotel on the waterfront. Along the way I passed through beautiful old neighborhoods with many fine restored old Victorian homes, one of which was the residence of the Austrian Consulate near Point Pleasant Park.

Historic church in Halifax
Historic church in Halifax
Halifax Harbor
Halifax Harbor

Later I spent some time walking along the beautiful trails hugging the rocky shoreline of Halifax harbor, where a few old shore gun emplacements remained from a distant past. Further on the trail I saw the huge container shipping docks that handled well over 175,000 containers each year. Returning to the hotel the weather had become very cold and windy, so a hot bath before sitting down to dinner in the hotel restaurant called the “News Room” was very welcome indeed. The restaurant was decorated with lots of green plants and a huge skylight than spanned the entire length. For dinner I ordered a whole lobster boiled and split down the middle, and along with corn on the cob and Cole slaw it was perfect.

The Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The next day I walked up to “The Citadel”, an historic old fortress protecting the Halifax harbor, from which the views were spectacular. As I walked along the shore I spotted a gorgeous sailing schooner named the Bluenose II leaving the harbor under full sail. Further on I came to “The Historic Properties”, also known as Old Halifax. It was a beautiful collection of old restored stone buildings that dated back to the late 1700’s.

Historic properties - Halifiax
Historic properties – Halifiax

Later on, as I walked back into the center of town, I came upon the scene of an accident where a charter bus had lost its brakes, careened downhill, and took out 3 tall steel lamposts and a traffic signal before coming to a stop. (no one appeared to have been injured) Just beyond downtown was St Paul’s cemetery where I saw some very old tombstones dating back to 1760, with the most recent being 1867! Most of the gravestones were blackened from age – the inscriptions being almost beyond reading from the effects of 150 years of weathering. Nearby was an old storefront that had been turned into a trendy new restaurant called “Lawrence of Oregano” – its name inscribed in a gorgeous stained glass window. Soon it was time to check out of the hotel and head for the train station to carry on with my journey across Canada. It just happened to be the same time as the “noon gun” at the Citadel was fired every day, so it was my send off from Halifax. The train proceeded north to the small town of Sydney on Cape Breton Island through a landscape of soft rounded hills and small farms with deep green fields. Scattered along the way were many small lakes tucked away in the forest, and as we slowly passed through this pastoral countryside, small herds of cows, sheep, and the occasional draft horse grazed on the lush green pastures. The scene reminded me very much of Shropshire in England.

Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island

Then I noticed a middle-aged, overweight couple sitting across the aisle, munching on a large bag of “Munchies”. Meanwhile, the woman was reading the “Star” tabloid, and a large headline on the front page read “Did junk food cause the attack on Reagan?” A few hours later after changing trains in Sydney I was on my way to Amherst, Nova Scotia where I would catch the bus and ferry to Prince Edward Island. I spent an hour walking around the small village of Amherst before boarding the bus that would take us to the ferry. The bus driver was a very cheerful chap who enjoyed “bantering” with the elderly East Indian woman sitting up front, as he was careening around curves, freewheeling downhill, and overtaking everyone on the road. Meanwhile, the lady was “gripping” her armrest for dear life! The bus also had a CB radio and our driver seemed to know all the truckers on the road. So as we rolled through the lovely countryside toward Charlottetown, there was a lot of CB talk going on. At one point a very sexy, husky female voice came on the radio with the handle of Midnight Magic! Needless to say, she really stirred up the airwaves and received a lot of attention. Along the route the bus driver seemed to know everyone and constantly honked the horn to say hello. I came to discover later that the island is a very friendly but tight knit community – quite conservative and traditional. It’s said that an “Islander” is someone who was born on PEI and everyone else is just a resident. (I was always aware of being an outsider here, but in no way unwelcome)

As we approached Charlottetown, the provincial capital, our bus driver pointed out a famous landmark, “The House of Seven Kitchens”. (a restaurant owned by Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen and their five children) Another “landmark” on our route was “Andy’s Dummy Farm”, where all manner of dummies were scattered around Andy MacDonald’s front yard. As the story goes, Andy drives an old Buick station wagon around town with a bunch of dummies sitting in the back seat! Finally, we arrived in Charlottetown and I checked into the historic Dundee Arms hotel across the street from a lovely park. The following morning, as I enjoyed a traditional English breakfast in the old Victorian dining room, I read the byline on the front page of the Guardian Newspaper – “covers Prince Edward Island like the dew”. Downtown was a very old, historical district of red brick and wood frame buildings which were beautifully restored.

Old graveyard in Charlottetown, Prince Edward island
Old graveyard in Charlottetown, Prince Edward island

The streets were lined with large shade trees and many of the houses sat just a few feet from the street, reminiscent of old European cities. At the foot of the waterfront was Victoria Park with gorgeous views of the harbor and some old coastal fortifications dating from the early 1800’s. On the edge of the park sat an old Georgian style mansion known as Government House, the residence of the island’s Governor.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Governor's Mansion in Charlottetown
Government House, Charlottetown

Nearby were two large Norman Cathedrals and a very old cemetery dating from the late 1700’s. In the distance, across the harbor, was a large terminal for the Canadian National Marine Ferry that travels to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Later in the evening, after strolling around the town, I found a fascinating place for dinner. It was “Pat’s Rose and Grey Café”, formerly an old drugstore with exceptionally high stamped tin ceilings, dark wood paneling, an old marble soda fountain, and an entire wall of drawers and glass door cabinets made from solid mahogany. In addition, there were many antique lamps, old wooden tables, and overstuffed chairs. It was not only beautiful, but it had a very comfortable feeling about it, like being invited back into the 19th century.

CN Ferry from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia
CN Ferry from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia

Early the next morning I boarded the CN ferry for Nova Scotia and the small village of Amherst once again where I would catch the train to Quebec City. The route of the train through northern New Brunswick and southern Quebec reminded me a bit of Alaska, with large expanses Birch and Spruce forest intermingled with marshland and bogs.

Northern New Brunswick
Northern New Brunswick

At one point, the train suddenly stopped somewhere between O’Brien and White River to pick up a couple and their fishing gear beside the tracks, just like the Alaska railroad does. Upon arriving in Quebec City, I had five hours to see a few of the many historic sites before the departure of the train to Montreal. On the approach to the city we had a spectacular view of the historic “Chateau le Frontenac Hotel” standing tall on the high bluff overlooking the St Lawrence River. It’s the classic view that defines Quebec City and it was particularly stunning in the early morning light.

Chateau le Frontenac, Quebec City
Chateau le Frontenac, Quebec City

After a cup of French coffee in the hotel, I walked over to the ramparts of the old Citadel, the original fortress protecting the city and guarding the entrance to the river. There I also found the historic “Plains of Abraham”, a large open field where a crucial battle was fought between the English and the French in 1759 that resulted in domination of Canada by the English and the establishment of present day Quebec Province. As I walked around the old city for the next couple of hours, it reminded me very much of Paris and was a real immersion in the French culture. Along the narrow cobble stone streets were many small shops, cafes, and art galleries that were bustling with people shopping and enjoying their morning coffee and croissants.

Streets of old Quebec City
Streets of old Quebec City
The Ramparts, Quebec City
The Ramparts, Quebec City

Later, on my back to St Foy station to board the train for Montreal, I passed the statues of Champlain, who founded Quebec City in 1624, and Jacques Cartier who lead the first French exploration of North America.

Statue of Jacques Cartier, Quebec City
Statue of Jacques Cartier, Quebec City

 

The train to Montreal turned out to be just one railcar that had to accommodate a large group of school children in addition to the regular complement of passengers! At first the children were quiet, but soon the excitement of their school outing became infectious throughout the car. Fortunately, they departed an hour later at Pont Rouge and waved to us as the train pulled out of the station. (I don’t think I could have taken their “excitement” for the full 4 hour journey to Montreal!)

School outing to Pont Royal
School outing to Pont Rouge

Having a few hours in Montreal before the departure of the train to Vancouver, I hopped on the Metro to Place Bonaventure and St Laurent to see some of the historical sites around “Vieux Carre” – the old city. The Basilique Notre Dame is one of the most splendid churches in North America and dates back to 1829.

Basilique de Notre Dame, Montreal
Basilique Notre Dame, Montreal

It was lovely walking down the narrow streets of the old city as artists displayed their works for the many tourists arriving by bus. Alas it was time to head back to the train station, a large, beautiful complex of shops and restaurants – very spacious and bright, much in contrast to some of the train stations I had seen.

VIA Train Station, Montreal
VIA Train Station, Montreal

As the train pulled out of the station I headed for the lounge car while the porter was preparing our sleeping car for the night. In the lounge car I sat next to an elderly Australian couple in the corner who chatted about their experiences aboard the train. When the waiter came by to take their order, he said “Madame, this is a bar car and I’m not allowed to serve anyone under age”! She chuckled, as she was at least 50 years on the far side of the age limit.

Sunset over Lake Huron
Sunset over Lake Huron

After a night of rolling through the forests of southern Ontario and along the shore of Lake Huron, we stopped in the small mining town of Sudbury the next morning as the train crew completed the switching of cars added from Toronto for the trip west to Winnipeg. As I sat in the early morning sunshine on an old wooden bench beside the station, the soft, haunting strains of a guitar reached my ear. As I looked around I saw a young man picking away, oblivious to the din of noise around him. I was struck by the plaintive quality of his music, and although I couldn’t make out the words he mouthed, somehow I knew they were very personal and yet universal at the same time. At that moment, the great Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot appeared in my mind, for I thought that this time and place would surely inspire one of his songs – perhaps “Waiting in the Sun in Sudbury” Back aboard the train we rumbled along the rocky shore of Lake Superior as the sun began its flight toward the western horizon. The lake seemed to stretch far beyond the southern horizon and hundreds of small emerald green islands dotted the shore. As I enjoyed dinner in the dining car we were treated to a gorgeous sunset of a thousand shades of orange and red, casting long, brilliant streams of golden light across the surface of the lake.

Lake Superior sunset
Lake Superior sunset

It was such a beautiful sight as the train rolled on into the night for its rendezvous with the prairies the next morning.

Around mid-day we arrived in Winnipeg amid a heavy thunderstorm, which was in stark contrast to the dry, dusty landscape just 2 weeks earlier on our eastbound journey. As we made our way across the perfectly flat terrain, a steady rain soaked the earth and followed us well into Saskatchewan. That evening, in the dining car, I was seated with an elderly couple from Edmonton who spoke not a word all through dinner, and an old native man who had just one tooth and really thick black rimmed eyeglasses which seemed to be of no use to him as he couldn’t read the menu! So I ended up reading it to him, item by item, including the prices. They were not my most charming dinner companions, but one can’t necessarily choose who you get seated with in the dining car. At least I did enjoy the delicious plate of fresh Northern Pike grilled in a thyme and rosemary sauce. Along with an ice cold Kokanee beer the dinner was superb. As my luck would have it, I got seated with my dinner companions again for breakfast the next morning, and as our train rolled into Alberta, the snow-capped Canadian Rockies slowly rose on the western horizon. Later in the day I began hearing a rumor flying around among the passengers that we would be stopping in Calgary due to a massive derailment in the mountains near Revelstoke, BC. So I took advantage of the time in Calgary and walked around the downtown, visiting the Calgary Tower for an absolutely spectacular view of the snow covered Rockies shining in the brilliant morning sunshine.

View of Calgary
View of Calgary

On the way back to the train station I followed a lovely path along the Bow River that extended all the way from downtown to the very edge of the city. Being Sunday morning it was a very quiet and peaceful walk. Back at the train station we were loaded on to seven buses that would take us over the mountains to Kamloops, British Columbia where we would again board a train for the final leg of the journey to Vancouver. Ironically, as I was boarding one of the Greyhound buses, it had a sign for New York City! I had to wonder if it had actually travelled all the way to Calgary? Our bus trip through the Canadian Rockies was under brilliant skies which highlighted the rugged snow covered peaks in a stunning show of nature. Along the way we were fortunate to see lots of wildlife, including elk, deer, and bear, as well as beautiful expanses of magnificent Spruce and Fir forest. We stopped at the summit of Kicking Horse Pass to view the famous “Spiral Tunnel” that our train had passed through two weeks earlier. It was truly a very unique railroad engineering feat in the world.

Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia
Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia
Spiral Tunnel at Kicking Horse Pass
Spiral Tunnel at Kicking Horse Pass

Later we made a stop for lunch at the Glacier Park Lodge atop the summit of Rogers Pass, where large areas of last winter’s snow remained on the ground. Surrounding the lodge were several huge avalanches from the past winter. Leaving Rogers Pass we had spectacular views of Kicking Horse Canyon as we made our way toward Revelstoke. At last we arrived in Kamloops as evening fell upon us, and there was a train waiting to take us to Vancouver.

The waiting train
The waiting train

Before the train departed Kamloops, I stood on the open platform between two cars and watched a huge 100 car freight train thunder past on the adjacent track. It was both humbling and yet thrilling, to experience the rush of wind and shaking of the earth from the massive train passing less than 3 feet from me at 60 mph – what a rush! As our train pulled out of Kamloops that night, I settled into my sleeper and listened to the soft rhythm of the rails that easily lulled me to sleep.

Early the next morning I arrived back in Vancouver, along with a notebook full of wonderful memories and scores of photos that would stay with me forever. Canada is a fascinating country with its own history and unique culture, despite often being considered just a northern extension of the US. Living in Canada for three years allowed me to appreciate its uniqueness!

On a final note: from May 6, 1981 to May 25th, I travelled a total of 8743 miles across Canada on the Canadian Railways, and enjoyed every minute of the journey!

Me on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City
Me on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City

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Riding the Rails aboard a Vintage Private Train

My journey started at the end of September this year with a flight to Chicago to meet up with Doug, the owner of the “Pacific Sands”, a vintage Pullman Sleeper that was built in 1952 for the famous Union Pacific train “Overland Limited” which travelled between Chicago and Los Angeles. Luckily the taxi driver knew how to get to the Amtrak rail yard near Union Station. At sunrise the next morning the special train consisting of 31 private railcars departed Chicago bound for Cincinnati by way of Ft Wayne, Indiana. The route was planned to travel over tracks that had not seen a passenger train since the 1950’s. (this is what’s known to railroad buffs as “rare mileage”) Our first leg of the journey to Ft Wayne was on the former “Nickel Plate Road”, otherwise known as the New York, Chicago & St Louis Railroad and now part of the Norfolk Southern system. Leaving Chicago we passed through the old blue collar neighborhoods and crumbling industrial areas of the southside and northwestern Indiana before rolling into the beautiful expanse of farmland of northern Indiana.

Farmlands in northern Indiana
Farmlands in northern Indiana

Passing through the small towns we were always the center of attraction and the focus of everyone’s camera! (the young kids were especially excited to see our train)

South of Ft Wayne we followed the former Pennsylvania Railroad tracks to Muncie where we crossed over to the Indiana & Ohio Railroad that took us into downtown Cincinnati and an old railroad spur on the shore of the mighty Ohio River.

Parked for the night in Cincinnati
Parked for the night in Cincinnati
The next morning in Cincinnati
The next morning in Cincinnati

Here our train was parked for the next two days. (our train was pulled by two Amtrak locomotives, but since we were travelling off the regular Amtrak routes we had a “pilot” engineer from Norfolk Southern to provide guidance to the Amtrak engineers) Besides sleeping aboard the train we also had all of our meals on board, prepared by Allan, a private gourmet chef in the executive business car attached to our sleeper. (Meals ranged from fresh Trout Almondine and braised Brussel sprouts with Applewood smoked bacon to Korean short ribs and garlic mashed potatoes. In addition there was an open bar the entire trip!)

With travelling companions in the Kansas Business Car
With travelling companions in the Kansas Business Car

While in Cincinnati we had a guided tour of the Union Terminal, probably the most beautifully preserved example of Art Deco design in the country. Cincinnati Union Terminal

Cincinnati Union Station
Cincinnati Union Terminal
Inside Union Terminal
Inside Union Terminal
Ceramic Murals inside Union Terminal
Ceramic Murals inside Union Terminal
Cincinnati "Dinner Train"
Cincinnati “Dinner Train”

After the tour I walked through downtown and along the riverfront back to the train. Along the way I passed the historic John A. Roebling suspension bridge across the Ohio River built in 1866 and still in operation today. Roebling Suspension Bridge  At the time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet. (Roebling is most famous as the engineer who invented wire rope and as the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is also still in use today.) John A. Roebling bio

Roebling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River
Roebling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River

The following morning was once again a departure at sunrise bound for Louisville by way of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the weather had changed overnight from clear skies to heavy overcast and light rain, the route on the former Southern Railway crossed over the Kentucky River on the historic “High Bridge”, a cantilevered design built in 1877 for the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to connect Lexington and Danville, then the capitol of Kentucky. At 305 feet high and 1,125 feet in length it was the tallest railroad bridge in the world until the early 20th century. High Bridge

High Bridge over the Kentucky River
High Bridge over the Kentucky River

Despite the low clouds and fog in the deep gorge below, it was a spectacular view as our train crossed over the bridge. That evening we pulled into the Norfolk Southern rail yard in Louisville where our train was scheduled to park for the next two days. It was not the most scenic spot in Louisville and lucky for us Norfolk Southern management made a last minute decision to relocate us to an old railroad spur on the river next to the McAlpine locks and dam where we had great views of the river and lights of downtown Louisville.

Parked in Louisville beside the Ohio River
Parked in Louisville beside the Ohio River

Before darkness fell I walked over to the locks to take photos of the towboats and barges negotiating the locks that allow river traffic to navigate around the “Falls of the Ohio”. McAlpine Locks & Dam

Barge moving into McAlpine Locks
Barge moving into McAlpine Locks

Some of the largest towboats had 15 barges that required all of their 12,000hp engine’s power to go upriver. Back on the train we were once again treated to a fabulous gourmet dinner by Allan as we watched the barges moving up and down the river less than 100 yards from our window.

The next morning we enjoyed a fantastic tour of the Hillerich & Bradsby Baseball Bat Factory that has been making the legendary “Louisville Slugger” since 1884 and remains the official bat of Major League Baseball today. Louisville Slugger Bats

Hillerich & Bradsby Bat factory
Hillerich & Bradsby Bat factory

Where it used to take over 2 hours to make a bat by hand from the oak or maple wood core, new computer guided lathes make a bat in less than 30 seconds! However, many of the major league players still have their bats custom made by hand. Following the tour of the bat factory we had lunch at Churchill Downs that was a sumptuous buffet of all the favorite southern foods of Kentucky, accompanied by Mint Juleps! The tour of the race track and Kentucky Derby museum was fascinating, but what was really amazing was the fact that last year over 175,000 people attended the Derby, which was 3 times more than attended the Super Bowl! Another amazing bit of trivia was about the scale of betting at the race track where over $100 million is wagered every year, and all in cash only! Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs Racetrack
Churchill Downs Racetrack

After the tour of Churchill Downs I walked through historic old town Louisville and took a peek inside the famous “Brown Hotel” with its extravagant original Victorian décor.

Lobby of the Brown Hotel
Lobby of the Brown Hotel

Then I came to the new “4th Street Live” development downtown where there were lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. Just beyond was the historic riverfront where the original sternwheel steamboat “Belle of Louisville” is moored. She was built in 1914 for the West Memphis Packet Company and served as a freight and passenger boat on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before being purchased later by the City of Louisville as a boat for river cruises. It still operates almost year round in that capacity. Belle of Louisville

Belle of Louisville
Belle of Louisville

As evening fell I walked back to the train along the “Ohio River Walk” and watched the huge barges slowing moving up the river. The next morning we had an early 6:00am departure for the next leg of our journey through the scenic forests and farmlands of southern Indiana and southern Illinois to St Louis where the annual convention of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) was held. Our route to St Louis followed the tracks of the former Southern Railway, as well as portions of the old Wabash Railroad. Everywhere we passed the harvesting of corn and soybeans by monster combines, and in some places it was such a bumper crop that the grain was being stored outside in huge mountains beside the tall silos that were already full! As we approached St Louis and crossed the mighty Mississippi River, the skyline of the city came into view with the famous “Gateway Arch” shining in the late afternoon sun.

Crossing the Mississippi River north of St Louis
Crossing the Mississippi River north of St Louis
Downtown St Louis and Gateway Arch
Downtown St Louis and Gateway Arch

Slowly our train made its way into the historic Union Station, once the largest and busiest railroad station in the world during the 1930’s and 40’s. During WWII hundreds of thousands of soldiers passed through the station on their way to the East Coast for deployment to Europe. St Louis Union Station  The station opened in 1895 with 42 tracks and at its height served 22 railroads and 100,000 passengers a day. Today it has only 4 tracks and 2 platforms remaining which are used for charter rail companies and special trains like ours.

St Louis Union Station
St Louis Union Station
1935 Photo of Union Station
1935 photo of Union Station

Rather than spend the next couple of nights on the train I checked into the new DoubleTree Hotel located inside the old station. It’s a beautiful restoration of the original Union Station Terminal Hotel that has preserved the elegant décor and atmosphere when it was the height of luxury for passengers traveling by train. Luckily the old station was not demolished after the dramatic decline of passenger rail travel in the late 1950’s.

The old "train shed" now redeveloped
The old “train shed” now redeveloped
The Grand Hall in Union Station
The Grand Hall in Union Station
Classic design from late 1800's
Classic design from late 1800’s

Now the old “trainshed” where 42 tracks were once located has been redeveloped as a center of upscale shops, restaurants and bars. Inside the main terminal building the gorgeous Art Deco features have been very well preserved, and a vibrant, modern enhancement has been added in the form of a beautiful and spectacular laser light show that performs every hour. Over the next 3 days we attended some interesting conference sessions, especially the one titled “Ask Amtrak” where the car owners got the opportunity to “bitch” about their complaints with Amtrak and the “host” freight railroads. But perhaps the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of the conference were the tours to the National Museum of Transportation with its large collection of vintage steam and diesel locomotives and the Barriger Railroad Library at the University of Missouri where we saw the largest collection of rare railroad books, as well as a beautiful special display of original paintings and drawings by John James Audubon.

World's largest steam locomotive ("Big Boy")
World’s largest steam locomotive (“Big Boy”)
World's largest diesel locomotive
World’s largest diesel locomotive
Audubon special display - University of Missouri Library
Audubon special display – University of Missouri Library

That evening was also a very special event, the “Car Party” where we were able to visit all of the private cars, each of which had either food or a bar available. Many of the cars are very historic and luxurious, some of them dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (A couple of the cars have a history of being used by president’s McKinley, Roosevelt, and Truman) It was a nice time to socialize with the other riders and the owners of the cars.

Vintage Baltimore & Ohio Railroad lounge car
Vintage Baltimore & Ohio Railroad lounge car
Former Wabash Railroad executive dining car
Former Wabash Railroad executive dining car
Former Northern Pacific Railroad dome car
Former Northern Pacific Railroad dome car

During our time in St Louis I took the opportunity to walk down to the historic old County Courthouse to see a fascinating exhibit about the history of St Louis in the 19th century. Of special significance was the history of the trial conducted in the 1830’s in which a slave sued his master for freedom. Two blocks from the old Courthouse is the spectacular “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial”, better known as the “Gateway Arch”. Gateway Arch

Old County Courthouse and Gateway Arch
Old County Courthouse and Gateway Arch
View of Gateway Arch from Citywalk Park
View of Gateway Arch from Citywalk Park

This year is the 50th anniversary of its construction and it remains the world’s tallest arch. The National Park Service was in the process of preparing a celebration to honor its unique construction and the symbol of the great westward expansion of the United States that it represents. It has also become the symbol of St Louis that is easily recognized around the world. From the Arch I walked north along the riverfront to “LaClede’s Landing” where St Louis was born. As I walked through the old cobble stone streets and among the lovely old red brick buildings dating from the 1800’s, it was like walking back in time.

Laclede's Landing and Morgan Street Brewery
Laclede’s Landing and Morgan Street Brewery

I stopped at the Morgan Street Brewery for a pint of the local beer and a bowl of soup before taking the Metro train to Forest Park, site of the 1904 World’s Exposition that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase1904 World’s Fair  Here I discovered the Museum of Missouri History and two incredible special exhibits.

Museum of Missouri History
Museum of Missouri History

The first was all about coffee and its history in St Louis, and to my great surprise, I learned that in the early 20th century the city was the leading consumer of coffee, with dozens of coffee houses all over town. The exhibit included many displays of classic old advertising and antique coffee paraphernalia. The second special exhibit detailed life in St Louis in 1875 and included hundreds of fascinating and surprising facts that made the experience of walking through the exhibit feel like walking into the past!

Special Exhibit of life in St Louis in 1875
Special Exhibit of life in St Louis in 1875
Display from the 1904 St Louis World's fair
Display from the 1904 St Louis World’s fair

Leaving the museum I walked through the park taking photos of the beautiful landscaped gardens and impressive old mansions lining the street across from the park.

Stroll through Forest Park
Stroll through Forest Park

Later that evening was the Gala Dinner Party held in the Grand Hall in Union Station. The food was superb, especially the Apple Cinnamon Cheesecake for dessert. After dinner we were treated to a special laser light show with many images depicting the history of the station and St Louis.

Gala Dinner in the Grand Hall - Union Station
Gala Dinner in the Grand Hall – Union Station

Early the next morning I checked out of the hotel and boarded the train where I joined my fellow travelling companions in the Kansas Business Car for a delicious breakfast of homemade waffles, smoked ham, and fresh fruit. Leaving St Louis our route took us north following the west side of the Mississippi River on the tracks of the former Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, the old “Burlington Route”, which is now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe system (BNSF). The views of the verdant fields and the river were beautiful. Soon we passed through historic Hannibal, Missouri and the monument to its native son, Mark Twain. Mark Twain Boyhood Home We crossed the river at Quincy, Illinois and rolled on through vast expanses of corn and soybean fields at 80 mph on to the historic railroad town of Galesburg. As our train slowly made its way through the town we were greeted by dozens of people waving and taking photos. At the same time I spotted a very traditional Amish family standing on the platform patiently waiting for the regularly scheduled Amtrak train to Chicago.

Passing through Galesburg, Illinois
Passing through Galesburg, Illinois

As we got closer to Chicago several Metra commuter trains passed by us with their passengers headed to homes in the western suburbs at the end of the work day.

Chicago Metra commuter train
Chicago Metra commuter train

Upon arriving at Union Station chef Allan served us with a delicious shrimp cocktail before dinner. It was a great ending to a very unique and amazing trip through the heart of the Midwest. Next year the convention will be held in Spokane, Washington and the special train will be assembled in Denver for a very scenic trip over tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, as well as the former Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railroads. It should be another fantastic journey and one that I plan to do.

Meanwhile I took a taxi to O’Hare airport to board my return flight to LA, carrying with me a journal packed with travel notes, many photos in my camera, and a lot of stories to share with friends and family.

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