Politicking across the Midwest/ Build Back Better Express

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Seaboard92

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Day 0: Departing for the Unknown

Normally my reports include a section about the planning of a trip but this is one of those rare last minute trips that was completely unplanned. On Sunday 9/27 I learned that Vice President Joe Biden was operating a Whistle Stop Campaign Train across Ohio and Pennsylvania. However they posted absolutely zero information about the train as far as route and schedule.

So I had a decision to make do I travel to the train to chase it or do I stay home because the details are sketchy at best. I am someone who believes when a historical moment could be occurring that I should always show up. And the fact that I’ve read multiple books about the Whistle Stop Campaign style to be called a minor scholar on the subject. Couple that with the infrequent operation of them seeing the last was Obama in 2008 from Harrisburg to Philly, and before that Senator Kerry across Raton Pass.

So being a scholar that loves that style of campaigning, a decent train chaser, and the scarcity of these events I decided I would head up to see it. However with Covid rearing her ugly head still I don’t feel comfortable flying. So naturally I took the train.

So after going for my nightly exercise walk with my mother who is still recovering from a stroke a few years ago I started my after dark drive to the Amtrak Station in Florence. The station is actually very close to my alma mater of Francis Marion University to whom I commuted to for two years everyday on these roads. I grabbed SC 34 out of Camden to head towards Bishopville because fun fact I refuse to drive on interstates.

I used to make this drive so many times I thought I had it memorized still but in a drizzle and at night I took the turn before the road I Normally use. Generally I take Lucknow Road which is diverging at the hill in Antioch. And I thought where the car turning ahead of me was my turn. Which it wasn’t but I quickly found my way. And I was on my way again. I regretted not having better wipers because I had trouble seeing out my windshield.

I passed at least three haunted houses before turning back on 34 just west of Bishopville avoiding downtown. Then continued on into the fields past the swamp paralleling the ex Seaboard Airline Sumter Branch. Which was rebuilt in the 90s for New York City Trash. I made it to Florence in fairly good time. I stopped by Target on the way to grab two new memory cards.

Then I went over to the station and checked my hastily packed suitcase to Cleveland. The Florence station didn’t even have a Cleveland option so the agent had to hand write the tag. After the bag was checked in I went to the picnic table I used to spend time at when I was a child before a train. I then broke into my new memory cards and I literally mean broke in because they are hard to get into.

After fighting with it for an hour I eventually got into both and put them in both of my cameras. One is my new D5600 with a wide angle 18-55 mm lens on it. And the other is an older D3500 a friend was retiring with a 55-300 mm lens. I figured for this trip I could use both to capture both angles without switching lenses.

I saw that the south bound auto train was stopped just north/East of town on single track and I was hoping it wasn’t a trespasser strike but it wouldn’t have bothered me as I could have slept longer had it been one.

My train arrived into Florence 34 minutes late and the train received 8 passengers in total which is really light. In pre covid days the train used to get 15-30 passengers nightly. Boarding passengers appeared to be an afterthought as they were ready to depart before one of the conductors wondered why everyone was still in the station. Shortly after that I walked to the vestibule of the 9812 car and took a room in 9811. Shortly afterward my attendant Leo came by to introduce himself and make the bed down.

He also asked if I wanted a drink and went to the diner to fetch me a drink and came back with both brownies and blondies. Then him and I talked for a few minutes and we discussed Amtrak and private cars. I showed him pictures of the one I’m working on now, and we talked about our past lives before the rail industry. He is a former United Airlines flight attendant from the recently closed domicile at Frankfurt am Main.

He retired with 25 years at United and continued to work for Amtrak but he would like to go back to Germany again of which I can’t blame him. I would rather live there anyway. Even if my investments ground me to the states I would still try to find a way to live in Germany. He went back to the diner and brought me more brownies and blondies to get me to Cleveland and back which was so sweet.

I texted my mother to ask what to tip him because I didn’t know because he was by far the best attendant I’ve ever had. And he was being furloughed due to tri weekly in less than a month. After he returned we talked till Fayetteville before both retiring for the night. I didn’t get a lot of sleep because my sleep cycle has changed lately and I had trouble getting shut eye.

I know I was awake in Rocky Mount, Weldon, and north of Richmond.
 

Seaboard92

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Day 1: Connecting in DC

After trying to sleep without success from Richmond north I decided I might as well just wake up and get ready to get off. As a kid I always loved traveling across northern Virginia at twilight in the morning. It didn’t disappoint either as it was nice again. Leo brought my flexible breakfast to my room which for me is just the cereal and juice because I don’t like the rest. Chocolate chip muffins would be an improvement and not hard to do.

I chatted with Leo for a bit before getting off in DC. Naturally I walked up to watch the locomotive change from diesel to electric. And once the electric was in place I went into the head house. Purchased a MARC ticket to Baltimore Camden Station. I have always wanted to ride the Washington Branch after reading about the building of the B&O as a child. I finally managed it.

I took the 7:40 AM northbound which left from Track No. 15. It was an uneventful ride north with some freight interference. We had more interference on this short run than the Silver Meteor had. I made a new friend for a few hours on the train Dave who was transferring to Penn Station to take a Northeast Regional north to Trenton from the Camden line but didn’t know how to get there.

So I volunteered to guide him on the MTA Link. We bought our tickets and talked the whole time. He was from San Antonio and we talked about train travel and the private rail industry. Naturally that’s my favorite topic. They had fare inspection in the same place as the last time I had been on board it. Due to covid the station connection wasn’t running so we stepped off at Mount Royal and walked the rest of the way.

Malcolm was traveling home to DC on an Acela on his way to quickly change bags and get ready to depart with me later in the afternoon. I didn’t want to lug my briefcase with me so he came to the door of his Acela car and I handed him my briefcase before I got a MARC Penn Line train south. Despite him leaving eight minutes before me he arrived a full 40 minutes ahead of my commuter run. After arriving into Union Station I walked to Capitol Hill to take some photos.

I wanted to send some photos to my friend Viktoria who has never been to DC. But I couldn’t get nearly as close as you could in times past. I don’t know what the reasoning for that is. I remember when you could all but stand on the steps and that was maybe a year ago. After that I walked along the house side and the reflecting pond of the Capitol onto the National Mall. The sky had some nice texture for my photos which I appreciated.

I walked to 12th Street on the mall before turning northward to G street. When I had trouble sleeping I googled the best fried chicken in DC an one of those places was in that area. So I figured I would check out Astro Doughnuts which has chicken. It is an odd mix but my gosh was the chicken good. I can’t recommend it enough. It was amazing. After that brief pause for lunch I walked over to the White House to photograph it for Viktoria.

I joked I had found our house but she said no way am I allowed to run for office. Which to be honest does bother me because I really want to run here in the next two years for elected office. And it is something I am very serious about pursuing. However I will now have to reevaluate what matters to me more a thankless office, that will cost a lot of money to obtain, or the best woman I’ve ever met in my life.

So it’s going to be something to think about and do soul searching on for the next year or so. Then I looped around the Washington Monument before heading to my favorite railfaning spot in the district. On L’Enfant plaza what used to be 10th street there is a lovely bridge over the mainline with a view of the Capitol dome.

So I waited there an hour for Northeast Regional No. 95 to depart south out of the city. I got an amazing photo and then started my walk towards Union Station to grab Train No. 29 the Capitol Limited. I thought about detouring to my favorite gelato place in the district but didn’t think I had the time to go there and still get the train. So I avoided that. I could have taken the Metro but I prefer to not take WAMTA when I can. As when you have a time crunch you can count on it to be inefficient.

So instead I went down to the food court to grab a frosty from Wendy’s one of three places open down there. The other two being Chick Fil A and Johnny Rockets. I know you aren’t allowed to eat outside food in the Club Acela (I guess soon to be metropolitan lounge) so I stood outside the door and ate my Frosty. When I saw a red cap go into the lounge I figured it was probably time for No. 29 the Capitol Limited to be boarding.

Turns out I was right and I went straight out to Track No. 15 for the second time in one day to get on the Capitol Limited. I still had half a frosty left over so I ate it as I walked down the platform. I took a photo of our single engine before getting on our Superliner. Then I went to the restroom in the next car and when I came back Malcolm had arrived. We caught up for a bit before the train departed exactly on time. We enjoyed some of the scenery leaving on the Metropolitan Branch and we reminisced about our memories along this line.

From RPA at Silver Spring, to my inauguration trip in 2012 at Gaithersburg, to this year railfaning at Point of Rocks, Brunswick, and Harpers Ferry.

I taught Malcolm how to play Train Dispatcher 3.5 on my laptop in our Roomette. Figuring the best way for him to understand how trains run late is by putting him in the seat of the man who controls them the dispatcher. I loaded up a moderately hard level the Seaboard Airline Mainline between Richmond and Raleigh in 1952.

What makes that territory difficult is the fact shear volume of trains using a single track line. Sidings Vary in length as do the trains so one must keep an eye on block and train lengths. One mistake and you’ve now delayed the Silver Meteor an hour. It is a tough layout but one that is doable if you monitor it closely.

I gave him one significantly easier than what I had been playing the day prior Union Station Rail Corridor in Toronto. Now that’s a difficult territory. What makes that one difficult is keeping the Union-Pearson Express on schedule so the delays don’t cascade. Plus crossing GO transit trains out in front of it. The VIA services are easy enough to dispatch.

After teaching him the ropes of the game it was time for dinner which apparently is now in the diner. It’s still the same old crap Mr. Gardner forced on LD passengers but nice to eat in the diner. I had the beef which again wasn’t really enough for me to eat because I literally only eat the beef and the dessert. And there isn’t a lot of beef in it. The diner really filled up by the time we left it with every table being occupied and no social distancing in order. So naturally we got out of there as fast we could.

After that we looked at my past vacation photos seeing my computer was out it made sense to. Which was enjoyable and helped pass the time to Cumberland our first stretch stop. Only the coaches stop on the platform but going west the parallel street if you have time allows one to get a locomotive picture. As it was raining I made it very quick. Upon departure from Cumberland I took a shower downstairs and then went to bed. As I didn’t have a lot of sleep the night before I felt it was needed for a safe train chase that I slept.
 

Seaboard92

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98 at WAS.jpg
The Silver Meteor Train No. 98 at Washington, DC

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The Silver Meteor Train No. 98 at Washington

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The view from the Carrolton Viaduct at Relay, MD

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MARC Camden Line at Baltimore, MD Camden Station

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Baltimore Penn Station

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Acela No. 2109 at Baltimore
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Amtrak No. 130 Phase II at Ivy City Yard

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The US Capitol Building as the leaves start to change.

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Another view of the Capitol Building

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The Smithsonian Castle on the Mall.
 

Seaboard92

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Joined
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Messages
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Location
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White House .jpg
The piece of property that the campaign train was running for to win.

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Pennsylvania Avenue

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Amtrak No. 95 bound for Norfolk under the Capitol.

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Amtrak No. 95 running under the Capitol Dome.

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The Capitol Limited No. 29 at Washington, DC

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Such a nice town

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West Virginia/Maryland State line over the Potomac

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The Capitol Limited at Cumberland, MD

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The Capitol Limited at Cleveland, OH

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The westbound Lakeshore Limited at Cleveland
 

Seaboard92

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Day 2: Amateur Hour at the Railroad

I must have stirred around Pittsburgh as Malcolm said we were there. But I was too slow to enjoy the stretch stop. I then went back to sleep or attempted to sleep for another two hours. I woke up and we were crawling following a NS freight west in the Cleveland suburbs. We arrived an hour late at 3:51 AM which I was perfectly ok with. The more sleep one could get the better in my opinion.

Our friend Nigel was running late because he went back to get a step ladder so he was passing Ann Arbor on his way to rendezvous with us. Shortly after the Capitol Limited departed I photographed the Lake Shore Limited No. 49/449 going west. What is odd is while waiting I could hear a rooster calling. Who has a rooster in downtown Cleveland, Ohio?

That train arrived and departed then it was time to sit and wait in the warmth of the station because like an idiot I didn’t factor in the weather for my choice of clothing. About four AM the campaign liaison showed up and was really unimpressive with his slick back hair, and million dollar smile. He told us we had till six to be off the property or whenever 48/448 left before they would run everyone out. But the way in which he said it you could tell he thought that we were just utter scum.

So naturally I took a disliking to him fairly rapidly because of that because just because you use public transit doesn’t mean you are scum. I’ve always thought when you are dealing with potential voters you need to at least act and appear as if you care about them. He wouldn’t let some girl my age charge her phone before being thrown into pre dawn Cleveland so I told her go charge in the restroom and I’ll make sure she leaves before secret service Locks the place up.

Then I talked with Nigel about the differences between ISH and OSH trucks on a railcar and why I prefer OSH. I think the campaign staffer was really rather confused overhearing a conversation about very minute details of railcar wheel assembly’s. I’m honestly surprised the one secret service agent who overheard that call didn’t ask why I know so much about railcar construction.

After awhile it was clear the Nigel was going to be later than 48/448 which would necessitate us having to leave. So I walked out to photograph 48/448 arrive and I found the platform completely overrun by staffers item. To the point that no arriving passengers could walk past the stuff without stepping onto the track on the other side of the platform from their train. My friend cliff when I told him this later laughed because I did a Bavarian Fire Drill. I looked at a staffer and basically told them move their **** that passengers need to be able to walk down the platform.

And apparently in the absence of a true leader a random person barking orders somehow gets people to follow those orders. None the less before passengers reached the spot there was a path in the junk cleared for them. This is the second strike in why I call this amateur hour at the railroad. Common sense tells you passengers on a regularly scheduled train should always come above crew needs. After the lake shore got out we grabbed a lift to a 24/7 diner in south Cleveland to wait for Nigel.

It didn’t honestly take Nigel that long to reach us once we sat at a table. Everyone but me had a breakfast entre but I know how train chases get where there is no food option available aside from whatever snacks one brings. So I had a full on chicken tender dinner knowing it would be the last meal for several hours. And I limited my drink consumption also knowing it would be the last restroom for a significant amount of time. But we caught up and relaxed at breakfast before settling into our spot at Garfield Heights to wait two hours for the train.

Both Malcolm and Nigel slept while I stayed awake listening to music because I figured the way secret service is a car sitting on a side street near the track would probably warrant a visit. They needed the rest as they are the drivers so me not driving naturally stayed awake. The nearby property owner walked by when checking the mail and asked what we were doing. I told him and he was surprised there was no news about the train at all.

That’s one of my pet peeves again leading me to the amateur hour branding. If it is properly marketed you get a large audience out to see the train. While that makes it hard to chase it it is good for the candidate. To be exposed to the largest amount of people. I love and study campaign trains for all candidates and they attract thousands in every town but with poor marketing you can’t. It’s about meeting the people and the best social distance way to meet and interact is with you standing on a train rolling by a town.

I was surprised to see the pilot train running ahead of the campaign special was a loaded ethanol train. Historically when these trains run they have a train that runs ahead to ensure that no one has sabotaged the track ahead of the candidate. Again the amateur hour branding comes out because imagine if someone had tampered with the track detailing a hundred car oil train could level a small town ala Graniteville, SC. And in our current toxic political climate this was a really dumb call.

The secret service ordered the local police to evict us from our spot with two minutes to spare before the train which was a real annoying pain. Especially because they police watched us photograph and wave to the oil train ahead of the candidate. I can’t fault them for doing their job I just wish we would have had more notice to move so we could reevaluate and plan a plan B. We were unable to find another spot before the train and went ahead and started trying to race ahead of the train to another one of our spots.

But with the imperfect chase roads that was an impossible task. And adding the next mistake in my opinion the train was running track speed instead of a reduced speed. Any event where you are expecting a large crowd of attendees and something like a whistle stop campaign train qualifies as that you shouldn’t be going track speed in the interest of safety. Take for instance Norfolk Southern doesn’t run steam engines above 40 MPH because they attract large crowds. The slower you are the safer it is for the spectators who aren’t used to rail operations.

The second thing going slower adds to this type of train is it’s more time for a candidate to interact with the populace. There are plenty of videos on YouTube of President Clinton, and Bush Senior using a microphone on the rear car to talk to people as they slowly roll by. That’s a smart thing because even if you don’t stop in a place like Hudson, Ohio the people there feel like you care about them. It’s about reaching hearts and minds and the train can do that.

Something that VP Biden alluded to and anyone who has ridden Amtrak can attest. The railways unite our country they are the tie that binds us. A slower speed helps you meet the country and should have been adhered to.

As we were moving out of the Cleveland sprawl we decided we had zero chance of beating it to Alliance we decided to target the small town of Sebring, Ohio population 4,420 where we used the restroom at a service station then took up our vantage next to the street by a large farmers field. In that field was a red barn, and an oil well. Which in my opinion captures the essence of the Midwest in one photo. We were all worried the secret service would bump us away from this location too so we popped the hood and when the helicopter came by ten minutes in advance we looked like we broke down.
 

Seaboard92

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Then the train came and all three of us with our DSLRs started clicking. Nigel focused on the 55-300 lens, I focused on wide angles, and Malcolm a bit of both worlds. We got some amazing shots in this field before we put the hood back down, loaded the step ladder and jumped in to try and beat the train to Beaver Falls, PA to get it crossing the Beaver River.

Eastern Ohio is actual relatively pretty with rolling fields and because there is no interstate we literally had two lane backroads. But no traffic to slow us down. I didn’t take many photos of the beautiful scenery because I was too focused on navigating to Beaver Falls. We arrived in Beaver Falls just as the train did and we tried to catch up to him. Had it not been for a ton of red lights which we mostly caught red we would have caught up to the train. At my best guess the closest we were was a half mile behind.

But with low road speed limits and frequent traffic lights that were red we just couldn’t keep up. So we moved to our next location the Audi Dealership just East of the Pittsburgh Station. They have a lovely garage which overlooks the right of way with the Pittsburgh skyline. I went into the dealership and asked permission to use their garage as a location. It was the first they had heard of it so they were very thankful for being told about it. And they had no trouble letting us use their garage.

On our way upstairs we bumped into fellow private car owner Kevin owner of the Berlin (Ex American Orient Express Sleeper) and we chatted with him for a few minutes as we waited for the train. We covered a lot of ground about PVs, politics, and the like. As the helicopters started flying overhead we started pretending that we were shopping for cars. Then it was time for the train to depart and we all photographed it under the skyline.

As the train passed by we could see Dr. Jill Biden wave to us which made Nigel’s day. Something so small like that can matter so much which is my Segway for the next reason it was amateur hour. There was no office car on the end just a theater car. People want to see their candidate especially if they’ve driven several hours or taken time off work to see the train. It adds to the personal level of the train and it was sorely missed. I honestly don’t know how they left out an office car as it’s just obvious it helps build a connection.

After we left the Audi Dealership we started running ahead to Latrobe, PA. We skipped the Greensburg stop because we knew we couldn’t get ahead of him by there. It was an easy quick trip East and we setup by the Pennsylvania Railroad Stone arch viaduct over the Loyalhanna Creek. While we were waiting three intermodal trains passed by and eventually our train arrived. We talked to a resident in the street who came out to see the train pass which was a very interesting conversation.

Something I’ve always been interested in is what is it like living in a swing state in a swing town because I would argue my town votes 90 percent one way so it’s something I’m not used to. Naturally she had no problem telling us what it’s like. To be honest just like any small town just like mine. After talking to her we jumped across to the other side of town to watch the train leave.

On the way to the other side of town we saw the VP Motorcade coming back from an off train campaign stop. Then we found a nice spot by a large ballast pile. I climbed on top of a dumpster to photograph an intermodal train passing the Biden train in the station then for the actual biden train I was on top of the ballast mountain. I waited till the last minute to get on the mountain because I still worry about secret service being overly reactive.

After the train got by we decided to wait for the Pennsylvanian No. 43 which was delayed by the Biden train twenty minutes because of only one platform at Latrobe. That could have been handled better to to make sure there would be no conflict with scheduled movements. As that could especially annoy a voter if they are delayed.

After that we went to a nice restaurant for dinner where I had a burger which was decent. Nothing overly great to write home about but enjoyable. And the three of us just enjoyed chatting and shooting the breeze. Malcolm and I had previously planned to return from Toledo, Ohio on the Lake Shore Limited No. 448 to Boston so that Nigel wouldn’t have a long after dark drive alone. Malcolm drove to the halfway point while Nigel and I slept.
 

Seaboard92

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The Norfolk Southern loaded oil train that preceded the Build Back Better Express

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A farmer in his field meeting the Build Back Better Express with a sign

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The Build Back Better Express at Sebring, OH. MK Photo

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The Build Back Better Express at Sebring, OH in a Farmers Field complete with oil well.

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Ain't that America. Nothing more American than a passenger train running at track speed, a red barn, and an oil derrick. So many levels to this picture.

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The full train at Sebring, Ohio just east of Alliance on the Broadway Limited route.

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Ohio Road Trip

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Beaver Pennsylvania
 

Seaboard92

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PGH-NT-1.jpg
The Build Back Better Express departing Pittsburgh, PA. NT Photo @PereMarquette810

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The Build Back Better Express under the Pittsburgh skyline

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The Build Back Better Express departing Pittsburgh, PA on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline

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Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden on the American View. If you note the wheels on the Amfleet ahead of them are brand new.

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The Build Back Better Express being met by adoring fans at Pittsburgh's Audi Dealership

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A Onion Dome in Latrobe, PA

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One of many freights running ahead of the special at Latrobe

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The Build Back Better Express crossing a stone arch bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad in Latrobe, PA

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Norfolk Southern passing the Build Back Better Express at Latrobe. Taken on top of a dumpster.

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A moving Pan photo of the Build Back Better Express taken from on top of a ballast mound.
 

Seaboard92

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Day 3: The Lake Shore Limited

Nigel and I woke up for our turn to drive somewhere around Akron and the whole way into Toledo we talked about the rail nodes in the USA for instance Minneapolis the gateway to the Pacific Northwest, St. Louis the gateway to Texas, Chicago the gateway to anywhere, etc.... and the historic railroads and their trains. After what didn’t seam like a longtime we arrived at the Toledo, OH Central Terminal. What I’ve always found so cool about this station is how abandoned large swaths of it are.

We parked near two stub tracks that were completely overgrown in grass. Then you have the five platforms but only two of her have track for a total of three tracks in the entire station. Coupled with the massive infrastructure they had for the volume of trains they had its impressive. With the ramps descending from an overhead concourse into nothingness. It’s really cool. I would love to spend time during daylight exploring the abandoned areas.

After an hour and a half of exploring the station and taking photos of the exterior it was time to depart as our train No. 48/448 arrived into the station. I was already settled by the time the train departed for points East because it arrived 17 minutes early for its 20 minute stop. I put my bags up in the business class luggage rack with permission of our attendant so we would have space in our room.

I thought about waking up for the Cleveland stretch stop and decided against it figuring I needed sleep more. I woke up somewhere around Erie as we were passing export locomotives which I was unable To photograph. Then we paralleled a Norfolk Southern freight on the nearby Nickel Plate Road a bit of the way towards Buffalo. I’ve always thought this would be the perfect place to do a steam race with one on the former NKP and one on the former NYC mainlines. But that will never happen but a guy can dream.

After we diverged and went our separate way from the NKP I went to a window on the north side to look at Buffalo Central Terminal. Ever since middle school when I discovered Buffalo Central Terminal I have been fascinated by it. I would love to spend a day just wandering it’s abandoned halls from the head house to the railroad offices in the tower. For drama class in 2010 I wrote a script about passengers and station employees snowed in at the terminal at Christmas time.

After that I took advantage of the smoke stop at Buffalo to take a photo of the locomotive. I always thought Buffalo was a short platform but it fit the entire consist. After we departed Buffalo on time Malcolm and I walked to the diner for our breakfast. He left before me and got there after me. Business class was fairly full departing Buffalo for points before Albany.

The coaches were also very full all four coaches. Eventually I ordered my measly cereal and took a seat. We met a grandfather and grandson who got on in Buffalo to go to Utica in a sleeper. Just so his grandson could experience a Viewliner. The kid was very enthusiastic about trains and asked a lot of questions. I was happy to answer to the best of my ability what I knew.

Then after breakfast in the Raleigh we returned to our car and edited our photos from the campaign train for trains magazine. And discussed our favorite photos. I took advantage of our 20 minute stop in Syracuse to get more locomotive photos. Our attendant stopped by for our dinner order so they would load it onto the train at Albany.

Malcolm and I talked more about photography and what is left on the network to ride. We told our friend Brian who lives in Boston we were inbound so we could make plans to visit him. I went to the north side of the train to look at the Adirondack scenic equipment in Utica. They have a former NYC diner from the Amtrak auction and an UP dome coach on the near track. After we departed Utica we walked back to the diner again to have lunch.

We had an enjoyable ride along the Mohawk River while eating our lunch on board the Raleigh. I had the meat because it’s the only option I like on the entire menu. It really stinks when you are stuck with one option on these long trips. No interesting company this time in the diner. We left the diner at Schenectady and we’re back in the room for the rapid 20 minute ride at 100 miles an hour into Albany. Again I used the hallway side to look at the Webb Rail private cars stored here.

They now have two Northern Pacific dome cars in Lowry Green which is amazing looking. I took advantage of the long 45 minute stop to walk the platform and stretch my legs. I took some interesting photos of the splitting process. Then I talked on the platform to the conductor who confirmed my assumptions that the corridor trains were empty mostly and the long distance trains were mostly full. Then I started talking to a Havard professor who was taking a circle trip of the USA to judge the American psyche in the most contested election season we’ve ever had.

He was such an interesting person to talk to. He had many well thought out theories of what’s going on in our political life. He also told me what I should do in an eventual congressional campaign if and when I ever decide to run. How many of you are surprised to hear I have political aspirations?

We talked to him most of the way to Pittsfield, MA before he went back to his room to take a nap. To be honest my favorite part of train travel is meeting people you wouldn’t normally meet. The ride in the Berkshires was amazingly beautiful with the leaves almost in full peak. We had our dinner delivered to us around 5:30 as we were pulling into Springfield. No passengers got on or off the sleeper/business class.

We ate the same meals we have eaten on every other contemporary meal train because Malcolm is a vegetarian, and I’m finicky. There are no good options for either of us. Despite the crappy food we enjoyed sunset in the Berkshires and were running fairly close to on time. We got stopped for a freight just west of Worcester which delayed us 12 minutes. Malcolm took a shower on board before getting off while I packed our room up and prepared to get off.

Once the train arrived in Boston at 8:09 just nine minutes late we walked forward took photos of our three locomotives alongside a commuter train. We had a short wait for our friend Brian to meet us which I used by walking up and down platforms photographing MBTA equipment. We got lucky to see Brian as a family emergency dictated that he leave town but he missed his flight. So we went to a bar nearby and sat for about two hours on the street catching up.

I tend to visit with Brian once a year and I wish I had more time with him. He’s just one of those people who can always bring a smile to ones face. Even on this visit with such a tragic undertone in the coming days still his normal cheery self. After a long chat we eventually went to our hotel that is literally built above North Station. A very cool room very European. The bed literally took up half the space.
 

Seaboard92

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Messages
4,391
Location
South Carolina
TOL Station.jpg
Toledo Central Terminal

TOL Station Platform.jpg
The platform area in Toledo Union Station

48 TOL.jpg
The Lakeshore Limited at Toledo

BUF Central.jpg
Buffalo Central Terminal

48 BUF.jpg
The Lakeshore Limited at Buffalo-Depew Station

WNY.jpg
Western New York fields

48 SYR.jpg
The Lakeshore Limited at Syracuse

Adirondack Dome.jpg
The Adirondack Scenic's new Dome Car

NYC Alco UCA.jpg
A New York Central Alco at Utica

Adirondack F Unit.jpg
Adirondack Scenic's F unit that looks like its stored.
 

Seaboard92

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Messages
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South Carolina
Mohawk River .jpg
The Mohawk River

Falls Rome .jpg
A dam on the Mohawk River

Babbling Brook .jpg
The New York Central Babbling Brook now owned by John Webb III

Pacific Union .jpg
The Pacific Union built for the Union Pacific.

NP 549.jpg
The Northern Pacific No. 549 dome coach. Now a Dome/Lounge/Coach

NP 313.jpg
Northern Pacific No. 313 Dome Sleeper.

Empire Service .jpg
Empire Service at Albany

Splitting .jpg
Splitting the train at Albany. I like this shot it has a lot going on in it.

WMA.jpg
Western Massachusetts
 

Seaboard92

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South Carolina
Day 4: The Acela and Pan Am

Something a few of you know about me is I also really love airlines, specifically Pan American World Airways. With Pan American World Railways on the selling block I’ve been wanting to come up to Boston to photograph it. So with 7 hours before a southbound Acela I got up at 6 AM and took the first Fitchburg Line MBTA train west to Waschutts departing as early as we departed there wasn’t much daylight till just East of Ayer.

Brian told me I should try Ayer as it’s the best place to catch Pan Am in the area. As all of you know I’m also a milage collector so I decided to go all the way to the end of the line. At the end of the line I saw one Pan Am freight with a blue nose CSX patch unit leading. On the way back to Ayer we passed another freight going westbound but again without the globe on it.

I got off in Ayer which felt more like Huntington, WV than I was expecting in Massachusetts. A lot of people walking around that appeared to be high on opioids. I positioned myself by the tower to photograph trains coming into Ayer. The first train by was a MBTA train led by a F40. I spotted a small FRA violation on a spur and pointed it out to a signal maintainer walking by who took care of it promptly.

A poor looking woman who could barely walk cane over to ask me which track for the westbound and I told her and she went back over there slowly. A good thing the train wasn’t coming as she wouldn’t have made it out of the way. Then the westbound T came by. The next thing by was a Pan Am auto train again without the globe.

Then my T arrived back to return me to Boston on time. However we had a very slow ride back to the city. We managed to lose 45 minutes due to track work and congestion on the way into the city. We pulled into North Station next to the Downeaster which I photographed our F40 next to it’s P42 which made a nice picture of the past and future in terms of the 1990s. It’s amazing these old units are still out on the road.

After that I took the Green Line to the Red Line to South Station. My green line train was completely devoid of passengers. Once I arrived at South Station I grabbed something at McDonalds and ate on the platform before walking around various platforms photographing trains. Even though with Malcolm I have access to the lounge I love seeing locomotive types we don’t have where I live. I did poke into the lounge to see it however. Definitely an interesting space.

I was only in the lounge for five minutes before boarding the Acela to Washington. The trip to Back Bay was not long. But after Back Bay the only word I can say is WOW. The acceleration was rapid and we quickly got to speed overtaking Subways on the way out of town. A quick stop in Providence and I could add another state to my list. After that we really started flying at 150 mph which isn’t really that fast. I’ve gone faster in Germany before. But to do it here is a nice thing.

I will also say the NEC North is in decent shape and smooth. We soon were running alongside the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound. The NEC North is definitely the scenic part of the route. Malcolm and I talked about our business we are starting. We arrived in New Haven 6 minutes early and had time for a stretch stop on the platform before entering Metro North territory. I was surprised by two catenary outages as we coasted along without power.

It was a smooth ride and they gave us a clean run. Then we were gaining elevation and crossing over Queens and Hells Gate. It was really cool to see the New York skyline as we were crossing over the bridge but I think NY has an ugly skyline. I had just gotten off a business call when we got to the approach of the bridge. Then we had a nine minute stop in New York which again was great for locomotive pictures. We made a quick stop at Newark and ran express all the way to Philadelphia.

I was talking to my friend Patrick on a business call as we passed some heritage equipment and turboliners. Naturally I got the photos of it and identified the coach as an EX Pennsylvania Railroad Congressional car. The sun started setting as we were crossing the rivers in Maryland. All too soon it was time to get off the train at Union Station in DC exactly ontime. We wanted to grab the bus direct to malcolms apartment so we rushed out of the station and missed it. So we took the Red Line one stop to my old stop.

Then we walked to his apartment and dropped our bags. We had reservations at Cafe Berlin at nine so we were catching the next bus but it didn’t show up. And we thought we were going to miss our reservation and we called to hear they were closed. So we made up a back up plan and started heading to the Tune Inn which was the same bus stop as Cafe Berlin. Turns out they were open so we went to our original plan and sat outside in the garden.

After a nice dinner we decided to walk back to his apartment via my old DC apartment when I lived in DC. So a quick walk by old haunts comparing how much had changed since I had been there and we were back at his place. I happily went to sleep after awhile.
 

Seaboard92

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MBTA BON.jpg
MBTA Fitchburg Line at Boston North Station

MBTA WAS.jpg
MBTA at the end of the line in Waschussets

PAN AM Blue.jpg
Pan American World Railways ex CSX

MBTA Ayer-1.jpg
MBTA at Ayer, MA

MBTA Ayer-2.jpg
An outbound train passing Ayer tower

MBTA Ayer-3.jpg
An outbound MBTA passing Ayer tower

Pan Am Ayer.jpg
Pan American World Railways auto rack train

Downeaster BON.jpg
The Downeaster at Boston North Station

Downeaster BON NPCU.jpg
The Downeaster at Boston North Station

Boston Skyline.jpg
The Boston skyline at South Station
 

Seaboard92

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2167 BOS.jpg
Acela No. 2167 at Boston South Station

Acela F40.jpg
A F40PH next to Acela No. 2167

Long Island Sound.jpg
I believe this is the Long Island Sound that or the Atlantic

Shore Line.jpg
The New Haven Shore Line

Lowlands.jpg
Lowlands of Connecticut

2167 NHV.jpg
Acela No. 2167 at New Haven

Stamford.jpg
Stanford, CT downtown

NYC Skyline.jpg
New York, NY from Hell's Gate Bridge

NYC Skyline-2.jpg
I love this entrance into New York

2167 NYP.jpg
Acela No. 2167 at New York Penn
 

Seaboard92

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South Carolina
Day 5: A day coach south

I awoke up around eight AM and slowly got ready for the final train of this trip. After getting ready we left his apartment at nine to watch the Palmetto pull in with the Wisconsin Private car on the rear bound for Sam Shortline. I asked if I could ride and my boss denied it so I stayed in coach. After watching it from the Noma platform it was time to head over to Union Station. I went over to Chick Fil A and got two chicken biscuits to eat knowing I wouldn’t want to have cafe food before going straight to my track and the awaiting train.

I took a seat in the second of three coaches in one of the few decent windows still available. This car was incredibly full for traffic to be so far reduced. Now the car ahead was vacant and the lone coach attendant didn’t want people going in there at all. When I boarded there was a women mopping all of the restrooms which is new to me I’ve never seen that done before on Amtrak.

I enjoyed my breakfast after the conductor scanned my ticket and then I started talking to everyone near me. The person across the aisle was bound for Wilson and the person ahead of me was bound for Florence like me. We talked about the various places you could order delivery in the Amtrak system.

One day one of my goals is to list out all of the places one can order takeout or delivery to Trainside. Especially if Amtrak doesn’t intend on fixing the dining situation. If they do it wouldn’t be needed unless you wanted variety. After that Yolanda ahead of me we started talking about film. She is an off broadway director and an aspiring film maker. And we talked the entire way from Washington to Florence.

Normally I would take photos of all the passing rail equipment and other things along the route but I was so involved in a good conversation that I neglected all of those. Yolanda was traveling to check on her mother after doctors misdiagnosed something.

We talked about the film she wants to make in the Pacific Northwest and how private railcars could help her make her film cheaper. Naturally I had to plug my field. We also talked about the film I’m writing “the Great Siberian Roadtrip” and how to film it. We also discussed just about anything. It is amazing how on a train you can open up to complete strangers But not on a plane.

Honestly I don’t have a lot to write about on this leg because the entire time was spent talking about films and theaters. And showing off sets we’ve built for productions and it was so enjoyable. I love talking to people with a passion for something. I look forward to seeing Yolanda’s movies in the future. I know she will go far.

All too soon it was time to get off in Florence and I walked up to the engine before walking by the yard office on the way to my car. Then I got in my car and found a spot in decent light to photograph the train departing for points south. After it passed me by fifteen minutes later I started the long drive home. My maps app was having trouble so I got lost on my way to my house. Normally I would comment about my drive to a degree but I honestly couldn’t duplicate it.

I tried to replicate my favorite backroad route back from my university but I ended up messing up a turn in Oats, SC and took some new backroads to me. I still went thru Bishopville as planned and took my usual bypass road by all of the haunted houses. Then I eventually got on SC 34 near Camden and finished my drive shortly thereafter.
 

Seaboard92

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Wisconsin WAS.jpg
The Wisconsin on the rear of the Palmetto at Washington, DC. The Beatles played their first American concert in the building behind it.

89 WAS.jpg
The Palmetto at Washington Union

89 RVR.jpg
The Palmetto at Richmond Staples Mill

Wisconsin RVR.jpg
The Wisconsin at Richmond Staples Mill

Crew Change FLO.jpg
The crew change at Florence

89 FLO.jpg
The Palmetto departing Florence

Wisconsin FLO .jpg
The Wisconsin heading to Savannah, GA
 

Seaboard92

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In retrospect

In retrospect I really enjoyed this trip. It was just what the doctor ordered for me. Time with three good friends making incredible memories. Bumping into other friends in Pittsburgh was great too. While it definitely won’t go down in the list of my greatest chases as it won’t come close to chasing Amtrak across the Carolinas, or chasing N&W 611 over the eastern continental divide it will be remembered. I am glad I went. I also feel I could have ran it far better than the planners who operated the trip but I don’t know the full picture either.

It is always easy to say you can do better when you aren’t the man in the arena. That being said I hope next time I am the man in the arena. Getting to see Brian in Boston was definitely fun. And galavanting around Ohio and Pennsylvania with Nigel was amazing. I can’t wait to see everyone again.
 

Seaboard92

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I also want to do a political analysis of this trip to see if it did any good. So please bear with me and some more academic figurings for a few minutes.

Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)
2016
Hillary: 398,271 65 Percent
Trump: 184,211 35 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 488,865 66 Percent
Trump: 237,052 32 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +90,594
Trump: +52,841

Conclusions on Cuyahoga County. Turnout went up an estimated 143,435 which is 24 Percent.

Summit County (Hudson, OH also Akron)
2016
Hillary: 134,256 52 Percent
Trump: 112,026 43 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 164,061 53 Percent
Trump: 135,231 44 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +29,805
Trump: +23,205

Conclusions on Summit County. Turnout went up 53,010 or 17 Percent.

Portage County (Ravena)

2016
Hillary: 32,397 42 Percent
Trump: 39,971 52 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 34,935 43 Percent
Trump: 45,034 55 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +2,538
Trump: +5,063

Conclusions on Portage County. Turnout went up 7,601 or 10 Percent

Stark County (Alliance also Canton)

2016
Hillary: 68,146 39 Percent
Trump: 98,388 56 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 82,466 40 Percent
Trump: 120,399 58 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +14,320
Trump: +37,933

Conclusions on Stark County. Turnout went up 52,253 or 31 Percent

Mahoning County (Sebring, OH also Youngstown, OH)

2016
Hillary: 57,381 49 Percent
Trump: 53,616 46 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 56,346 48 Percent
Trump: 58,601 50 Percent

Difference
Democrat: -1,035
Trump: 4,985

Conclusions on Mahoning County. Turnout went up 3,950 or 3 percent. I feel this number would have went up had they routed via Youngstown. Maybe enough to get a slight majority and not to lose ground.

Columbiana County

2016
Hillary: 12,432 27 Percent
Trump: 31,676 68 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 13,183 26 Percent
Trump: 35,121 71 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +751
Trump: +3,445

Conclusions on Columbiana County. Turnout went up 4,196 or 9 Percent. Honestly no idea what happened here. A stop in Salem might have helped the Democratic number but it wouldn't have changed things.

Beaver County

2016
Hillary: 32,531 39 Percent
Trump: 48,167 57 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 37,389 40 Percent
Trump: 53,886 58 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +4,858
Trump: +5,719

Conclusions on Beaver County. Turnout went up 10,577 or 13 Percent. The train didn't stop here and I didn't see any fuss near the track in this area either. As if things were business as usual.

Allegheny County (Pittsburgh)

2016
Hillary: 367,617 56 Percent
Trump: 259,480 39 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 421,390 58 Percent
Trump: 284,896 39 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +53,773
Trump: +25,416

Conclusions on Allegheny County. Turnout went up 79,189 or 12 Percent.

Westmoreland County (Latrobe)

2016
Hillary: 59,699 33 Percent
Trump: 116,522 64 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 70,738 35 Percent
Trump: 128,304 63 Percent

Difference
Democrat: +11,039
Trump: +11,782

Conclusions on Westmoreland County. Turnout went up 22,821 or 12 Percent. There were two stops in this county for the train. But I don't think it accomplished anything.

Cambria County (Johnstown)

2016
Hillary: 18,867 30 Percent
Trump: 42,250 66 Percent

2020 (Estimates full results not out. Will use the same ratio vote split as of 11/6/2020 1724 EST)
Biden: 12,164 30 Percent
Trump: 47,885 68 percent

Difference
Democrat: -6,703
Trump: +5,635

Conclusions on Cambria County. Turnout went down 1,068 or 1 percent. This is odd as this is the only county that I've looked at so far that has gone down instead of going up.

Now my conclusions on the Build Back Better Express part of this math. Is that this route the train didn't really have an effect at all. I think it was a poor route choice because they missed the populations they needed to hit like Youngstown.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Messages
23,658
Location
Austin Texas
Day 0: Departing for the Unknown

Normally my reports include a section about the planning of a trip but this is one of those rare last minute trips that was completely unplanned. On Sunday 9/27 I learned that Vice President Joe Biden was operating a Whistle Stop Campaign Train across Ohio and Pennsylvania. However they posted absolutely zero information about the train as far as route and schedule.

So I had a decision to make do I travel to the train to chase it or do I stay home because the details are sketchy at best. I am someone who believes when a historical moment could be occurring that I should always show up. And the fact that I’ve read multiple books about the Whistle Stop Campaign style to be called a minor scholar on the subject. Couple that with the infrequent operation of them seeing the last was Obama in 2008 from Harrisburg to Philly, and before that Senator Kerry across Raton Pass.

So being a scholar that loves that style of campaigning, a decent train chaser, and the scarcity of these events I decided I would head up to see it. However with Covid rearing her ugly head still I don’t feel comfortable flying. So naturally I took the train.

So after going for my nightly exercise walk with my mother who is still recovering from a stroke a few years ago I started my after dark drive to the Amtrak Station in Florence. The station is actually very close to my alma mater of Francis Marion University to whom I commuted to for two years everyday on these roads. I grabbed SC 34 out of Camden to head towards Bishopville because fun fact I refuse to drive on interstates.

I used to make this drive so many times I thought I had it memorized still but in a drizzle and at night I took the turn before the road I Normally use. Generally I take Lucknow Road which is diverging at the hill in Antioch. And I thought where the car turning ahead of me was my turn. Which it wasn’t but I quickly found my way. And I was on my way again. I regretted not having better wipers because I had trouble seeing out my windshield.

I passed at least three haunted houses before turning back on 34 just west of Bishopville avoiding downtown. Then continued on into the fields past the swamp paralleling the ex Seaboard Airline Sumter Branch. Which was rebuilt in the 90s for New York City Trash. I made it to Florence in fairly good time. I stopped by Target on the way to grab two new memory cards.

Then I went over to the station and checked my hastily packed suitcase to Cleveland. The Florence station didn’t even have a Cleveland option so the agent had to hand write the tag. After the bag was checked in I went to the picnic table I used to spend time at when I was a child before a train. I then broke into my new memory cards and I literally mean broke in because they are hard to get into.

After fighting with it for an hour I eventually got into both and put them in both of my cameras. One is my new D5600 with a wide angle 18-55 mm lens on it. And the other is an older D3500 a friend was retiring with a 55-300 mm lens. I figured for this trip I could use both to capture both angles without switching lenses.

I saw that the south bound auto train was stopped just north/East of town on single track and I was hoping it wasn’t a trespasser strike but it wouldn’t have bothered me as I could have slept longer had it been one.

My train arrived into Florence 34 minutes late and the train received 8 passengers in total which is really light. In pre covid days the train used to get 15-30 passengers nightly. Boarding passengers appeared to be an afterthought as they were ready to depart before one of the conductors wondered why everyone was still in the station. Shortly after that I walked to the vestibule of the 9812 car and took a room in 9811. Shortly afterward my attendant Leo came by to introduce himself and make the bed down.

He also asked if I wanted a drink and went to the diner to fetch me a drink and came back with both brownies and blondies. Then him and I talked for a few minutes and we discussed Amtrak and private cars. I showed him pictures of the one I’m working on now, and we talked about our past lives before the rail industry. He is a former United Airlines flight attendant from the recently closed domicile at Frankfurt am Main.

He retired with 25 years at United and continued to work for Amtrak but he would like to go back to Germany again of which I can’t blame him. I would rather live there anyway. Even if my investments ground me to the states I would still try to find a way to live in Germany. He went back to the diner and brought me more brownies and blondies to get me to Cleveland and back which was so sweet.

I texted my mother to ask what to tip him because I didn’t know because he was by far the best attendant I’ve ever had. And he was being furloughed due to tri weekly in less than a month. After he returned we talked till Fayetteville before both retiring for the night. I didn’t get a lot of sleep because my sleep cycle has changed lately and I had trouble getting shut eye.

I know I was awake in Rocky Mount, Weldon, and north of Richmond.
Leo is the Best SCA in Amtrak!!!
 
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