Remembering the Golden Age that Preceded Amtrak

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20th Century Rider

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Amtrak at 50? Time to bring back memories of the Golden Age of Passenger Rail Travel. Collectively there is certainly a lot of railroad knowledge, wisdom, and experience… certainly a lot to share. It would be great to hear of personal accounts and stories. When one considers that the foundation of Amtrak is built upon a hundred years of rail transit development in America, one would want to include the colorful and vivid history of the past.

It is also said that from knowing the past we learn how to move into the future. Nothing can be more true than the challenges we face today… in a very populated world with ecology and pollution and resources challenges needing innovations and solutions.

If you have a few minutes, here are some clips with original footage. Hoping this thread will catch on with the anticipation of sharing some really wonderful accounts.

Let the magnificent Golden Age of the past be an inspiration for the future!

1612138088416.png
 

20th Century Rider

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Watching the end of the Wabash Cannonball as it pulled into the station... was a memory I will never forget. That train had been on my 'to do' list... and it never got done.

In January, 1971, I began graduate studies at Washington University, St. Louis. But when not hitting the books, I found myself at St. Louis Union Station gazing at the magnificent trains going in and out of what was one of the busiest rail stations in the country. But now the once magnificent historic place was neglected and looking very derelict in ’71. Although very sad… those magnificent trains kept arriving and passengers got on and off. No entrance to the platforms unless holding a ticket… so I gazed through the openings.

I made a special point of going down to the station on Friday, April 30th, ‘71… the last day of normal train operations in America… for the very next day on May 1, a national corporation was to take over all passenger operations. Only one train arriving during the time I could spend there. It was the Wabash Cannonball from Detroit… smack on time at 4:35pm. All the passengers got off and I was allowed on the concrete platform to see the beautiful train. Never will I forget the sudden quiet surrounding it... knowing this moment would just fade into history.

It had been my intention to take some rail trips from this once thriving station… and the Wabash Cannonball had been on the top of my list. Loved the song written for it. So it was a big disappointment to it see all come to an end. And now to start wondering about this new passenger corporation.

Believe it or not… the Wabash Cannonball was named after the famous song… and never actually went to the places described. The History News Network of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, gives this account: *

“According to railroad historian Mike Schafer, the Wabash named one of its passenger trains for the song much later, rather than the song being named for the train, the usual case. In the song, the train took on more glamour and more destinations than its flat boring route from Detroit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, Decatur, Illinois, and on to St. Louis. Schafer believes that the popularity of the song helped prompt the public outcry that prevented the Wabash from ending the train; it survived until Amtrak took over passenger service across the U.S. in 1971. Charles Kuralt of CBS-TV went along on that last run, with a version of the song as the soundtrack.

Places the song mentions include the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, an implicit reference to the Gulf of Mexico, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, "the hills of Minnesota," Birmingham, Tennessee, and Alabama. Indeed, one line even claims "You're travelin' through the jungle on the Wabash Cannonball."

*Wabash Cannonball | History News Network
Wabash Arrival at St. Louis.png


Wabash at Union Station.png
 
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That train was one of many that I rode, on routes that would be abandoned, in the final month's leading up to Amtrak. I rode it from St. Louis to Detroit.
There were so many other's, but I didn't have the time or the funds to get in most of them...
 
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The "Golden Age" is quite subjective. Some might say it ended, when automobiles started proliferating with the Ford Model 'T" in the early 20th century...others might say when the airliner's carried more passenger's around the early sixties or so...
But some railroads maintained quality service right up to the end, such as the Santa Fe, and a few others, that were still investing in new rolling stock as late as 1965, and new locomotives even later. Even the much maligned Penn Central introduced Metroliner's and Turbo Trains...
 

MARC Rider

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Since the pre-Amtrak railroad that I mostly rode was the Penn Central, I don't see the pre-Amtrak period as a "golden age." :)
Actually, I should probably take at least some of that back. Aside from a Scout trip riding the Denver Zephyr (CB&Q) in coach, I never took any pre-Amtrak long distance trains. My sister once took one of the secondary (i.e. not the Broadway Limited) PC trains to Chicago due to an air traffic controllers' strike, and she had a real horror story to tell -- really late train, no food service, funky heat, toilets froze up, etc.) My pre-Amtrak riding was on the PC NEC trains between Philly and New York, or Philly and Baltimore. Plus, I would joy ride on the NEC between Philly and Wilmington and Philly and Trenton, and take the Juniata from 30th St to Paoli and then take the SEPTA-funded, PC branded Paoli Local back into the city. Immediately pre-Amtrak, I found the PC NEC service to be adequate -- frequent trains, and they were generally on time, so I could take a joy ride after school and still be home for dinner. My Mom would take the train to visit her family in Baltimore and would sometimes complain about the train stopping somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Wilmington and Baltimore, but I never remembered her being hours late coming home.

As for the experience, it was like riding in a mobile railway museum, with equipment ranging from circa 1920s P-70coaches to cutting edge Metroliner equipment. The P70s had no A/C, overhead ceiling fans, and flipover horsehair seats. There were also long-distance streamliner cars in the consist, no doubt made available from all of the train-offs during the 50s and 60s that had awesome seat pitch and full-width restroom lounges at each end of the car that blocked the noise made when the car doors opened to allow people to pass through. There also more modern lightweight coaches with reclining seats and less seat pitch, designed for corridor service. Some of these had builders plates showing they were built around 1949. A lot of them also noted that the cars are actually owned by this bank or that and were being leased to the railroad. There were also the New Haven coaches and the through trains to Boston that I always though were nicer than the PRR coaches. Those had a smoking lounge at one of of the car, separated by a partition with Art Deco cut class panels. Whenever I was waiting at the platform at 30th St., it was a bit of a game for me to (1) see what kind of coaches were in the consist, and (2) decide which one I wanted to ride.

The short trips I took didn't really allow me to sample the food and beverage service. When I was about 10, my parents send me home my myself from Baltimore on a morning train, and I had a breakfast in the dining car. I don't remember much of that, except, of course, I was pretty impressed with myself for being able to travel alone at age 10 and conduct the business transaction of ordering breakfast. If I got anything on the train, it was at the "snack bar coach," a coach that had a few rows of seats removed at one end and a small counter (it might have even been a cart) installed. They sold drinks and cold pre-fab sandwiches and probably candy and chips and such. I would avoid actually riding in the snack bar coach because there was always a long line of people standing in the aisle, which I would find uncomfortable if I were sitting in a seat. I recall that the prices were outrageous -- a 12 oz can of Coke cost 35 cents when you could get the same can at any vending machine on the streets of Philly or New York for 15 cents. The sandwiches didn't seem worth it, I preferred to just ride into Philly and get a decent cheeesesteak.

I never tried riding in the Parlor Car, I thought it was way too expensive. Looking at old timetables, that meant that PHL-NYP in a parlor car seat was about $8.00 one way, whereas a coach seat was about $4.50. I could have probably afforded it occasionally for the experience, but I guess I was indoctrinated to avoid spending too much on frivolities.

I found riding the pre-Amtrak trains fun, but I wouldn't say that they were some kind of transcendent travel experience. (Though I did get a charge out of the stretch in northeast Philly where the tracks parallel I-95, and even back in the GG-1 days we always left those cars in the dust.)
 

WWW

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The Golden Age was well before Amtrak. If things were still so "Golden" the railroads wouldn't have abandoned passenger rail and there wouldn't be a need for Amtrak. The 707, 727, DC-8, and DC-9, dealt the real death blows.
With the introduction of those aircraft it started the GOLDEN AGE of aviation:
2 free checked bags - meals - seat assignment and a "civil" age of behavior conduct of passengers.

Hopefully it will return - both on the rails and in the air !

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear - who is that masked traveler ?
Train travel was something to boast rave about and enjoy in those times.
I was too young and occupied with other means of making a living until September of '65 when my airlines career
got a start. Trains always did have a warm place in my heart - now there are charter private varnish excursions to
remember those days and even that is flawed by the virus.

Seize the moment to grab a trip on the rails - any trip - any track !
Keep alert for those special train trips or those bucket list of trips you have on the back burner !
 
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I got started railfanning, rather late...around 1967 or '68. So I only had a few years to sample the waning private railroad offerings before Amtrak. I was always a fan of all modes of transport, but my family only exposed me to subway, bus, or automobile travel. I didn't even ride any LIRR commuter trains. I got my first 'real' railroad ride in 1966, on the Illinois Central's Train No. 8, The Creole, from Rantoul, IL. to Chicago, while on a weekend pass from Chanute AFB.

I remember the classic depot, with signs admonishing to "do not place grips on benches"... of hearing the melodious chime horn of the E units blowing for the crossing, causing a bunch of us to run outside, only to see the express 'City of Miami', come thundering by. Our train came in about 20 minutes later. I recall the distinctive aroma of the Vapor steam radiators. I grabbed a window seat, and was turned away from it, talking to my seatmate, and asking how soon we would be going, only to see him grin and tell me to turn around and look out the window...we had started so imperceptibly, that I hadn't noticed, and we were now rolling along about 20 mph. I was used to the jerking of subway trains...
The Creole was an all-stops local, and I was amazed how smoothly it rode, and how smoothly the stops and starts were. And how we passed the vehicles on parallel US-45 so fast, it appeared they were going backwards.

I was still a fan of intercity buses, Scenicruiser's, Eagle's, et al, and I got a job with Continental Trailways as a ticket agent, which gave me a free annual pass. I immediately started riding every where on my rest days. A co-worker was a railfan, and talked me into taking a trip on what he termed "the convincer", to see how superior trains were. So we used our passes to get from NYC to Chicago. Then we boarded the combined Burlington-Northern Pacific-Great Northern "Afternoon Twin Cities Zephyr-North Coast Limited-Empire Builder" for the trip to Minneapolis. It was amazing, with several diners, lounges, Vista Domes, Great Dome, sleepers, legrest chair cars....
I was 'convinced'...

Other rides were on the Broadway Limited from NYC to Harrisburg, just to enjoy dinner in the twin-unit diner. We boarded at Penn Station, and on the opposite side of the platform was a LIRR train. It was fun sitting in the diner before even departing, at those tables with the signature Pennsy table lamps, and watching the passing commuters glancing in at us with envy.
As the jovial waiter brought our bread basket and butter, my friend exclaimed that he recalled when the butter pats had PRR Keystones molded into the pat. The veteran waiter broke into a broad grin of delight at that memory, and placed a basket of apples on our table, telling us to take all we wanted...

One of the nice benefits of having a travel pass in those days, was a lot of 'reciprocity' unofficially, by other, even competing carrier's. So we got free rides also on Greyhound. Especially in the Northeast Corridor, but not so much outside of it. Even the Penn Central and LIRR would 'cross-honor' depending on the conductor, and vice versa. When I went from ticket agent to Asst. Dispatcher, I was responsible for supervising the loading of certain gates at The Port Authority Bus Terminal. I had the discretion to 'put on' passenger's, complimentary if appropriate. We gave comp rides to other transport workers, and law enforcement officers (driver's loved the security of having "a badge" on board). We had one PC locomotive engineer who rode to Exit 4 NJTP Park and Ride, with us regularly. When I learned of his occupation, I started giving him comp rides, and then the driver's got to recognize him, and do likewise, even when I wasn't there. Unlike Conductor's, he wore no uniform, but did have his PC pass. After he learned I was a railfan, he offered me a cab ride up to Albany.

So, I met him at the head end of his train in Grand Central Terminal. He ran the P-Motor as far as Croton-Harmon. He arranged for me to continue aboard the E-8 from there up to Albany. The 'E' rode like a Cadillac compared to the 'P'. This was my first of many cab rides I scored over the next few decades, working for railroads at that time.

I could probably write a book of my memories, but just don't have the ambition...so would like to read more of what other's experienced...:)
 

PaTrainFan

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Pittsburgh, Pa.
I was a child in Ohio during the 60s, so that was not the "Golden Years" with a lot of PRR/Penn Central riding which doesn't evoke fond recollections. But my fondest memory was the "California Zephyr." Also great experiences on the Burlington's "Denver Zephyr," Great Northern's "Western Star," the CN's "Super Continental" and CP's "The Canadian." Wish I could have ridden he "Super Chief" in its heyday, not to mention the "Broadway Limited" and "20th Centry Limited."
 

20th Century Rider

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True to form there are many interpretations of 'The Golden Age of Rail Travel in America.' Some say it ended when WWII began and had to be shifted to troop transport. Others say it ended after WWII and the construction of the interstate system; and yet others say that it ended in the 50's as it lost out to automobile travel.

Some of it was really upscale, and some was quite crude... a very mixed bag with much variety.

Yet auto travel brought many innovations to rail as it struggled to survive at a time of shifting preference to the car. The glamour of the time was captured in the amazing promotional pictures... which have become iconic art in themselves.

Iconic Rail Art.png
 

Dakota 400

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In comparison to certain aspects of rail travel in 2021, the 1950's and 1960's were my "Golden Age of Rail Travel". NYC's Ohio State Limited, PRR's The Ohioan and The Buckeye, C&NW's Dakota 400, Twin Cities 400, and Rochester and Black Hills Special, C&O's The George Washington and The Sportsman: all provided memorable travel journeys. While not the Super Chief, Broadway Limited, Empire Builder, City of Los Angeles, or the 20th Century Limited, etc., those trains were my "deluxe" trains at that time.

Pullman Porters, Dining Car Stewards and Waiters, station personnel, Conductors and Trainmen: all were unfailingly polite, welcoming, and helpful. Dining Car meals that were delicious, elegantly served, with enticing menus that were attractive just to view. Prices in the Dining Car and the Lounge Cars were reasonable for the quality received. (If I recall correctly, 10 cents for a can of Ginger Ale, as an example.)

Amtrak's record is spotty in many categories and has surely experienced "highs and lows" in its years of existence. If one enjoys traveling by train, it is "the only game in town" for LD travel. One can hope for a return to better days for Amtrak.
 

OlympianHiawatha

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To me, some of the most interesting consists existed during the transition years between heavyweight and streamline when you would see a mix of both on a train, often second tier or lower service. Without doing any research, I wonder if any heavyweights (likely bags) survived into Amtrak?
 

WWW

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Fond recollection of the event of February 23 1961 -
Swore an oath to the Constitution of the USA signing up for 3 years US Army.
Left Minneapolis out of the Milwaukee Depot on the Rock Island RR for Kansas City connecting to the UP for Junction City Kansas
(Note MSP had 3 depots at that time the Milwaukee and Great Northern in Minneapolis and the Union Depot in St.Paul)
Sunny daylight departure arriving in Kansas City at dusk.
Rock Island was a full service RR and we were given vouchers to use for the meal service - forget the limitations on what
was written - We were given Carte Blanche everything except the alcohol.
Table cloth dining and anything from the menu
About a 4 hour layover connecting to the UP to Junction City KS.
USO gave us a welcoming time not forgotten in Kansas City awaiting the connection.
A sort of red-eye trip leaving Kansas City to Junction City.
Arrival at Junction City in the wee hours and got introduced to my new father mother sister brother aka Training Sergeant !
With about 4 hours rest reveille sounded and 8 weeks of all kinds of fun began.
At Fort Riley Kansas often could hear the whistle blow of the UP traffic in the distance.
AWOL beckoning but not in the cards - - -

Next train trip in Germany from Bremerhaven to Pirmasens (about 40 clicks south of Kaiserslautern - think Ramstein AFB).
Many RR trips in Germany moving ordinance here and there (classified at that time)
After almost 3 years of that the final RR trip to Bremerhaven and rotation back to the CONUS.

Railway passion kicked in big time with being President of the local airline activities committee.
Frequent trips from MSP to Duluth for a harbor tour - visit to the Glensheen (murder) mansion.

And now being a Lifetime Member of the Friends of the 261 any trip chartering our equipment here and there to meet
the needs of our clients. Prior to the covid virus often you could see the Milwaukee Cedar Rapids and Superdome cars
ferrying to Chicago for charter use - and what a thrill to ride these just like the days of old.
We have many excursions planned later this year all depending on overcoming the virus.
Most of these trips are simply a daylight excursion out to a point of return and back - no sleeper overnight stuff.
Used to have weekend overnight excursions to Duluth MN but PCT and other issues have dampened these events.
The 261 has a former Milwaukee Road steam locomotive - you guessed it the 261 - oh what a powerhouse to take a
trip on her. Recently acquired another former Milwaukee locomotive an EMD 32A - to make possible those impossible
one-way trips. Check out the website at 261.com.

Talk about the metalic ages of the railroad - I have seen quite a bit and thankful to have had the limited opportunity
to enjoy it - looking forward to even more !
Next big event is the ACE (autumn colors express) in Huntington WV late October '21
Bucket list: Winnipeg to Churchill - Rocky Mountaineer - Indian Express from Sydney to Perth - and return to do the
Denali trip on the Alaska RR from Anchorage to Fairbanks (cruise ship included) !
 

20th Century Rider

Conductor
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Messages
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Location
Oregon Coast
Fond recollection of the event of February 23 1961 -
Swore an oath to the Constitution of the USA signing up for 3 years US Army.
Left Minneapolis out of the Milwaukee Depot on the Rock Island RR for Kansas City connecting to the UP for Junction City Kansas
(Note MSP had 3 depots at that time the Milwaukee and Great Northern in Minneapolis and the Union Depot in St.Paul)
Sunny daylight departure arriving in Kansas City at dusk.
Rock Island was a full service RR and we were given vouchers to use for the meal service - forget the limitations on what
was written - We were given Carte Blanche everything except the alcohol.
Table cloth dining and anything from the menu
About a 4 hour layover connecting to the UP to Junction City KS.
USO gave us a welcoming time not forgotten in Kansas City awaiting the connection.
A sort of red-eye trip leaving Kansas City to Junction City.
Arrival at Junction City in the wee hours and got introduced to my new father mother sister brother aka Training Sergeant !
With about 4 hours rest reveille sounded and 8 weeks of all kinds of fun began.
At Fort Riley Kansas often could hear the whistle blow of the UP traffic in the distance.
AWOL beckoning but not in the cards - - -

Next train trip in Germany from Bremerhaven to Pirmasens (about 40 clicks south of Kaiserslautern - think Ramstein AFB).
Many RR trips in Germany moving ordinance here and there (classified at that time)
After almost 3 years of that the final RR trip to Bremerhaven and rotation back to the CONUS.

Railway passion kicked in big time with being President of the local airline activities committee.
Frequent trips from MSP to Duluth for a harbor tour - visit to the Glensheen (murder) mansion.

And now being a Lifetime Member of the Friends of the 261 any trip chartering our equipment here and there to meet
the needs of our clients. Prior to the covid virus often you could see the Milwaukee Cedar Rapids and Superdome cars
ferrying to Chicago for charter use - and what a thrill to ride these just like the days of old.
We have many excursions planned later this year all depending on overcoming the virus.
Most of these trips are simply a daylight excursion out to a point of return and back - no sleeper overnight stuff.
Used to have weekend overnight excursions to Duluth MN but PCT and other issues have dampened these events.
The 261 has a former Milwaukee Road steam locomotive - you guessed it the 261 - oh what a powerhouse to take a
trip on her. Recently acquired another former Milwaukee locomotive an EMD 32A - to make possible those impossible
one-way trips. Check out the website at 261.com.

Talk about the metalic ages of the railroad - I have seen quite a bit and thankful to have had the limited opportunity
to enjoy it - looking forward to even more !
Next big event is the ACE (autumn colors express) in Huntington WV late October '21
Bucket list: Winnipeg to Churchill - Rocky Mountaineer - Indian Express from Sydney to Perth - and return to do the
Denali trip on the Alaska RR from Anchorage to Fairbanks (cruise ship included) !
Great post... and recalling the din of the Milwaukee Road Station as I traversed there many times when leaving Milwaukee for college up in Northern Wisconsin!
5_of_Roger_Puta_Playing_With_Light_(26945322444).jpg
 
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
9,735
Location
x
Fond recollection of the event of February 23 1961 -
Swore an oath to the Constitution of the USA signing up for 3 years US Army.
Left Minneapolis out of the Milwaukee Depot on the Rock Island RR for Kansas City connecting to the UP for Junction City Kansas
(Note MSP had 3 depots at that time the Milwaukee and Great Northern in Minneapolis and the Union Depot in St.Paul)
Sunny daylight departure arriving in Kansas City at dusk.
Rock Island was a full service RR and we were given vouchers to use for the meal service - forget the limitations on what
was written - We were given Carte Blanche everything except the alcohol.
Table cloth dining and anything from the menu
About a 4 hour layover connecting to the UP to Junction City KS.
USO gave us a welcoming time not forgotten in Kansas City awaiting the connection.
A sort of red-eye trip leaving Kansas City to Junction City.
Arrival at Junction City in the wee hours and got introduced to my new father mother sister brother aka Training Sergeant !
With about 4 hours rest reveille sounded and 8 weeks of all kinds of fun began.
At Fort Riley Kansas often could hear the whistle blow of the UP traffic in the distance.
AWOL beckoning but not in the cards - - -

Next train trip in Germany from Bremerhaven to Pirmasens (about 40 clicks south of Kaiserslautern - think Ramstein AFB).
Many RR trips in Germany moving ordinance here and there (classified at that time)
After almost 3 years of that the final RR trip to Bremerhaven and rotation back to the CONUS.

Railway passion kicked in big time with being President of the local airline activities committee.
Frequent trips from MSP to Duluth for a harbor tour - visit to the Glensheen (murder) mansion.

And now being a Lifetime Member of the Friends of the 261 any trip chartering our equipment here and there to meet
the needs of our clients. Prior to the covid virus often you could see the Milwaukee Cedar Rapids and Superdome cars
ferrying to Chicago for charter use - and what a thrill to ride these just like the days of old.
We have many excursions planned later this year all depending on overcoming the virus.
Most of these trips are simply a daylight excursion out to a point of return and back - no sleeper overnight stuff.
Used to have weekend overnight excursions to Duluth MN but PCT and other issues have dampened these events.
The 261 has a former Milwaukee Road steam locomotive - you guessed it the 261 - oh what a powerhouse to take a
trip on her. Recently acquired another former Milwaukee locomotive an EMD 32A - to make possible those impossible
one-way trips. Check out the website at 261.com.

Talk about the metalic ages of the railroad - I have seen quite a bit and thankful to have had the limited opportunity
to enjoy it - looking forward to even more !
Next big event is the ACE (autumn colors express) in Huntington WV late October '21
Bucket list: Winnipeg to Churchill - Rocky Mountaineer - Indian Express from Sydney to Perth - and return to do the
Denali trip on the Alaska RR from Anchorage to Fairbanks (cruise ship included) !
Great story, thanks for posting....and thanks, for your service...:)
 

Steve4031

Engineer
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 27, 2002
Messages
6,282
Location
Chicago
I was born in 1966. I barely remember the golden age of railroading. I do remember a trip from Chillicothe, IL to Oklahoma City on what was probably the Texas Chief. I remember seeing the warbonnet paint scheme and then riding in the observation car as we crossed the Mississippi River. On the return I remember eating dinner in the dining car, but not much else. I must have been 4 or 5. My parents took us on this trip because they believed that overnight trains were on the way out.

In 1974, we took a family trip from Galesburg, IL to Oakland on the San Francisco Zephyr. I remember many details from this trip. This was the trip that caused me to become a railfan. This was my first ride in a dome car. That first night I was transfixed watching the signals turn from green to red as we raced across Iowa. The next morning we woke up in eastern Colorado with The Rockies in the distance. This was my first time seeing mountains. In Denver, my father got off to buy a newspaper. This was in the middle of the Watergate scandal and he was determined to keep up with the news.

Then the porter closed the trap, and the door. I thought Dad was getting left and started to cry. The porter explained that we were only switching to add cars to the train. He let my sister and I look out the open dutch door. I quickly forgot about Dad, and was enthralled with watching the train snake through the switches and hearing the wheels clatter through the switches. My sister and I had a spitting contest to see who could spit the farthest. I remember smelling the creasote baking on the ties. We moved forward and backwards 3 or 4 times, so we must have been removing and adding cars. Eventually, we rolled back into the station and Dad was calmly standing on the platform with his paper.

To save money, we had packed sandwiches. We walked through the train to the dome car that we had ridden in the night before. We discovered a full length dome car. This was a whole new world for me. We sat up in the dome car. I happily anticipated going west through the Rockies. Then the train jolted and we started rolling backwards. I assumed we would stop. We did not. We rolled backwards all the way to Cheyenne. The Rockies were sitting oh so close, but we were not getting any closer to them. In Cheyenne, the engines switched ends and we started moving forward.

I was not impressed with Sherman Hill. I did not learn about Sherman Hill until reading about it years later. But that day in 1974 I was expecting to get closer to the mountains and we did not. As we rolled across the plateaus of Wyoming, my father spotted a Tornado in the distance. The train rolled along in a business as usual manner, so the storm must have been far away. We saw antelope. My sister and I had a pillow fight in the bedroom. Not sure what Dad and Mom were doing but we beat the hell out of each other with those pillows. I remember Dinner in the dining car and rolling through a tunnel as some passengers sang happy birthday to a family member. That evening, as we got ready for bed, I remember rolling through (I learned years later) Echo Canyon.

The next morning we had breakfast as we crossed the Nevada desert. I saw my first cactus. Then we left Reno and began the ascent of the Sierra Nevada. This was my introduction to mountain railroading, and this is still one of my favorite sections to travel over. After we departed Colfax, I convinced my father to walk with me to the back of the train to find the railfan window. I intuitively new that it might be possible to look at the tracks from the last car of the train. The brakeman was back there with the door open. He let me stand and watch from a safe distance as we rolled down the section where the wb and eb tracks had different alignments. This experience ensured that I was not a die hard railfan.

We rode cable cars in San Francisco. We missed the Coast Starlight in Oakland because the cab driver could not find the station. Thus riding the train to Bakersfield and taking the bus to LA and then catching a train to Fullerton so we could take a cab to a hotel near Disney Land. We returned to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal to catch the Southwest Limited to Albuquerque. We boarded the train and discovered that different sleeping cars had been substituted for the car we were booked in. We did not have connecting bedrooms as planned. There were no bedrooms at all. My dad gave the conductor the business. The best that could be done was for roomettes. I listened to the entire argument as I looked out the railfan window. Of course I thought the idea of having my own room was fabulous. My sister, who was three years older than me and never missed a chance to tell me that I was immature, was not so happy. She started to cry. I told her she was immature if she could not ride by herself in a roomette. This earned me a scolding from both parents. Eventually we were all settled into our roomettes. I was tooked in. The lights were turn off, and the window shade was put down. As soon as I was not supervised, the window shade went up and I spent hours looking out the window.

My experiences on this trip led to me constantly bugging my dad for more. We rode all over the country on a rail pass in 1978. And in 1979, the tradition of summer Amtrak trips started. I would ride with my dad (who was traveling on business) in one direction, and then ride back to Chicago by myself. I did this on the Broadway Limited and the Lone Star. Also the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited. In high school I started taking summer trips by myself.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
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In 1956, a few years before I was born, my family moved from Millburn NJ to Scranton PA. Even then, Joe Biden's hometown was struggling, the hub of a coal-mining region that had gone into steep decline.

Although it was only 135 miles from New York City, it is difficult to imagine now just how insular Scranton was in those days before the interstate highways. Even in the '70s, after the highways came through, we used to joke about living "behind the anthracite curtain," as it seemed there were so many people there who never ventured beyond the coal towns that lined the Lackawanna and Susquehanna valleys.

In the '50s, for those who did travel to the world beyond, the trains of the Lackawanna Railroad were the way to go. And my older brother, whose heart was already in metro New York and who never adjusted to Scranton, discovered those trains. So every couple of months for most of the next decade, beginning when he was about 7, my mother would put him onto the eastbound Phoebe Snow at Scranton on Friday afternoon after school, and he'd ride to Brick Church station in New Jersey, where my grandparents would pick him up in time for dinner. On Saturday they'd plan a day trip to New York. On Sunday, he'd board the Phoebe just before 11 and be back in Scranton about 1:30. From those trips, a lifetime of train enthusiasm was born -- for him and later for me.

Although I was too young to ride along with my brother on most of those trips, my earliest memory of train travel is from one Christmas, I think it was 1964, when my mother and I joined him for the ride to NJ and back. By this time the Lackawanna had merged with the Erie, and the Phoebe had been converted to an overnight run originating in Chicago, rather than a day run from Buffalo. The eastbound was hours late coming from Chicago. I remember sitting for a long time in the waiting room at Scranton, with the light fixtures lining the tops of those high-backed benches -- so tall that I couldn't see over them even if I stood on the bench, which I was repeatedly asked not to do. Eventually we boarded a train that originated in Scranton after dark and took us eastward, and I remember my brother being put out that it wasn't the real Phoebe, which still hadn't shown up.

On the return trip, though, we rode the Phoebe, and my brother knew the route by heart -- the high line across western NJ, then snaking through the Delaware Water Gap, up into the Poconos and down the Roaring Brook gorge into Scranton. I remember staring out the window and the sensation of passing freight cars at speed and the spray of new-fallen snow that the train kicked up as it raced through the countryside.

In a couple of years, the Phoebe Snow was gone, though the Erie Lackawanna still had another train, the Lake Cities, that my brother and grandparents rode occasionally through the late '60s till it too was gone.
 
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I was born in 1966. I barely remember the golden age of railroading. I do remember a trip from Chillicothe, IL to Oklahoma City on what was probably the Texas Chief. I remember seeing the warbonnet paint scheme and then riding in the observation car as we crossed the Mississippi River. On the return I remember eating dinner in the dining car, but not much else. I must have been 4 or 5. My parents took us on this trip because they believed that overnight trains were on the way out.

In 1974, we took a family trip from Galesburg, IL to Oakland on the San Francisco Zephyr. I remember many details from this trip. This was the trip that caused me to become a railfan. This was my first ride in a dome car. That first night I was transfixed watching the signals turn from green to red as we raced across Iowa. The next morning we woke up in eastern Colorado with The Rockies in the distance. This was my first time seeing mountains. In Denver, my father got off to buy a newspaper. This was in the middle of the Watergate scandal and he was determined to keep up with the news.

Then the porter closed the trap, and the door. I thought Dad was getting left and started to cry. The porter explained that we were only switching to add cars to the train. He let my sister and I look out the open dutch door. I quickly forgot about Dad, and was enthralled with watching the train snake through the switches and hearing the wheels clatter through the switches. My sister and I had a spitting contest to see who could spit the farthest. I remember smelling the creasote baking on the ties. We moved forward and backwards 3 or 4 times, so we must have been removing and adding cars. Eventually, we rolled back into the station and Dad was calmly standing on the platform with his paper.

To save money, we had packed sandwiches. We walked through the train to the dome car that we had ridden in the night before. We discovered a full length dome car. This was a whole new world for me. We sat up in the dome car. I happily anticipated going west through the Rockies. Then the train jolted and we started rolling backwards. I assumed we would stop. We did not. We rolled backwards all the way to Cheyenne. The Rockies were sitting oh so close, but we were not getting any closer to them. In Cheyenne, the engines switched ends and we started moving forward.

I was not impressed with Sherman Hill. I did not learn about Sherman Hill until reading about it years later. But that day in 1974 I was expecting to get closer to the mountains and we did not. As we rolled across the plateaus of Wyoming, my father spotted a Tornado in the distance. The train rolled along in a business as usual manner, so the storm must have been far away. We saw antelope. My sister and I had a pillow fight in the bedroom. Not sure what Dad and Mom were doing but we beat the hell out of each other with those pillows. I remember Dinner in the dining car and rolling through a tunnel as some passengers sang happy birthday to a family member. That evening, as we got ready for bed, I remember rolling through (I learned years later) Echo Canyon.

The next morning we had breakfast as we crossed the Nevada desert. I saw my first cactus. Then we left Reno and began the ascent of the Sierra Nevada. This was my introduction to mountain railroading, and this is still one of my favorite sections to travel over. After we departed Colfax, I convinced my father to walk with me to the back of the train to find the railfan window. I intuitively new that it might be possible to look at the tracks from the last car of the train. The brakeman was back there with the door open. He let me stand and watch from a safe distance as we rolled down the section where the wb and eb tracks had different alignments. This experience ensured that I was not a die hard railfan.

We rode cable cars in San Francisco. We missed the Coast Starlight in Oakland because the cab driver could not find the station. Thus riding the train to Bakersfield and taking the bus to LA and then catching a train to Fullerton so we could take a cab to a hotel near Disney Land. We returned to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal to catch the Southwest Limited to Albuquerque. We boarded the train and discovered that different sleeping cars had been substituted for the car we were booked in. We did not have connecting bedrooms as planned. There were no bedrooms at all. My dad gave the conductor the business. The best that could be done was for roomettes. I listened to the entire argument as I looked out the railfan window. Of course I thought the idea of having my own room was fabulous. My sister, who was three years older than me and never missed a chance to tell me that I was immature, was not so happy. She started to cry. I told her she was immature if she could not ride by herself in a roomette. This earned me a scolding from both parents. Eventually we were all settled into our roomettes. I was tooked in. The lights were turn off, and the window shade was put down. As soon as I was not supervised, the window shade went up and I spent hours looking out the window.

My experiences on this trip led to me constantly bugging my dad for more. We rode all over the country on a rail pass in 1978. And in 1979, the tradition of summer Amtrak trips started. I would ride with my dad (who was traveling on business) in one direction, and then ride back to Chicago by myself. I did this on the Broadway Limited and the Lone Star. Also the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited. In high school I started taking summer trips by myself.
Another great story, thanks for posting!
IIRC, you rode during the era that the SP would not allow standard height dome cars on their train, due to tight clearances. They only allowed their low clearance, "three quarter length" dome lounge, So at Denver, the standard domes coming from Chicago were cut out, and the ex-SP dome lounge was added.
 
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In 1956, a few years before I was born, my family moved from Millburn NJ to Scranton PA. Even then, Joe Biden's hometown was struggling, the hub of a coal-mining region that had gone into steep decline.

Although it was only 135 miles from New York City, it is difficult to imagine now just how insular Scranton was in those days before the interstate highways. Even in the '70s, after the highways came through, we used to joke about living "behind the anthracite curtain," as it seemed there were so many people there who never ventured beyond the coal towns that lined the Lackawanna and Susquehanna valleys.

In the '50s, for those who did travel to the world beyond, the trains of the Lackawanna Railroad were the way to go. And my older brother, whose heart was already in metro New York and who never adjusted to Scranton, discovered those trains. So every couple of months for most of the next decade, beginning when he was about 7, my mother would put him onto the eastbound Phoebe Snow at Scranton on Friday afternoon after school, and he'd ride to Brick Church station in New Jersey, where my grandparents would pick him up in time for dinner. On Saturday they'd plan a day trip to New York. On Sunday, he'd board the Phoebe just before 11 and be back in Scranton about 1:30. From those trips, a lifetime of train enthusiasm was born -- for him and later for me.

Although I was too young to ride along with my brother on most of those trips, my earliest memory of train travel is from one Christmas, I think it was 1964, when my mother and I joined him for the ride to NJ and back. By this time the Lackawanna had merged with the Erie, and the Phoebe had been converted to an overnight run originating in Chicago, rather than a day run from Buffalo. The eastbound was hours late coming from Chicago. I remember sitting for a long time in the waiting room at Scranton, with the light fixtures lining the tops of those high-backed benches -- so tall that I couldn't see over them even if I stood on the bench, which I was repeatedly asked not to do. Eventually we boarded a train that originated in Scranton after dark and took us eastward, and I remember my brother being put out that it wasn't the real Phoebe, which still hadn't shown up.

On the return trip, though, we rode the Phoebe, and my brother knew the route by heart -- the high line across western NJ, then through the Delaware Water Gap, up into the Poconos and down the Roaring Brook gorge into Scranton. I remember staring out the window and the sensation of passing freight cars at speed and the spray of new-fallen snow that the train kicked up as it raced through the countryside.

In a couple of years, the Phoebe was gone, though the Erie Lackawanna still had another train, the Lake Cities, that my brother and grandparents rode occasionally through the late '60s till it too was gone.
Very much enjoyed your story, too. Thanks for posting!
The E-L Lake Cities was another one of the trains I managed to get in pre Amtrak, although it ended the year before...
 

fdaley

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Very much enjoyed your story, too. Thanks for posting!
The E-L Lake Cities was another one of the trains I managed to get in pre Amtrak, although it ended the year before...
Thanks. I never got to see the Lake Cities, which came through Scranton at hours when kids weren't supposed to be awake. I just remember that when my brother or grandparents were taking it, I'd wake up and find them gone, because one of my parents would have taken them down to the station at 5 a.m.

I do recall that at Christmastime of 1969, which was pretty near the end for EL trains, my brother was home from his freshman year at college, and there'd been a major snowstorm that left most of the city streets clogged with snow. But he walked across town to visit his best pal from high school, and he was all excited because, walking home late at night in the snow, he'd seen a very long passenger train, 10-15 cars, stopped at the Scranton station. We never did figure out if that was the Lake Cities, with its consist perhaps swollen by holiday traffic, or if it was some sort of charter. I know the EL at that point was pretty receptive to group travel and excursions, and in '67 or '68 my brother had booked his high school class on a trip to NYC using an extra car added to the Lake Cities.
 
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Night Ranger

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My earliest recollection of a train trip, and it has dimmed with age, was in the early 50s. I was maybe 6 at the time when we rode the train from Chattanooga to Cinncinnati. I don't remember much of the trip except spending a lot of time in my grandmother's lap and being fascinated by the gravity toilet when I flushed it. Later, we made trips on both the Dixie Flyer and Southern Crescent but those were near the tail end of the post war Golden Age that preceded Amtrak.

I grew up with stories of WWII troop trains as every male in my family served and everyone of them rode troop trains, even my navigator namesake uncle. Those stories convinced me that I hadn't missed a thing not riding on one.
 
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. I know the EL at that point was pretty receptive to group travel and excursions, and in '67 or '68 my brother had booked his high school class on a trip to NYC using an extra car added to the Lake Cities.
That brings back memories of the Penn Central era, when I worked for Continental Trailways...
We had a pretty good business of taking HS kids on charters from various places to Chicago, where they then boarded the CB&Q for a trip to Colorado.
This was all arranged by the Burlington's group sales department. The reason was twofold...they didn't care much for the erratic service rendered by the PC, and the 'Q' still had close working relation's with Continental Trailways, since they had owned a very large portion of its predecessor lines until 1946.

At the other end of the 'Q', they also turned over large numbers of Scouts at Denver to us for transport to the Philmont, NM Scout Ranch each summer.
The Santa Fe did too, although only for the short hop from Raton...
 

Ziv

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My first trip on a passenger train was probably around 1972 or 1973, right at the end of the Golden Age of Railroads in America. It was technically an Amtrak train but it still felt like a Great Northern train. My Dad and I were taking a trip from our home in Glasgow Montana to Seattle to see my Uncle Bobby. I remember the awe I felt seeing the smartly uniformed conductor welcoming us aboard like he knew my Dad or something. Looking back, my Dad was involved with UTU activity for Great Northern (he was a GN freight brakeman at the time) so even if they didn't know each other they probably recognized each other. I am not sure if it was this trip or something I had seen earlier, but I remember an engineer climbing up 6 or 7 ladder rungs to get into the locomotive, it was like a harbor pilot climbing up the side of a sailing ship. Then the conductor called "All Aboard!", picked up the step and stepped aboard the train and we gently set out through my home town.
We went to our bedroom and it was like a palatial suite to me, albeit in miniature. The porter came by and introduced himself and it was a jolt to see a black person since we only had one black family in my home town. After he left my Dad said I was to call him Mister "Smith" (I have forgotten his name over the years) and NOT to call him boy. He was pretty adamant about it which kind of confused me but in retrospect I think black porters were new to the UTU at that time and some of the membership was not too happy about it. I don't think my Dad was a shop steward yet but he was probably getting grief from some of his friends about it. But Mr. Smith stopped by a little later with coffee for my Dad and a soda for me which was the height of luxury for a 10 year old kid. That porter was outstanding, every time I got a bit bored, he would pop by with a treat, or a heads up regarding a particularly scenic spot coming up or an invitation to see some part of the train I hadn't spotted yet.
So my Dad and I settled in to the room and we named every spot going by that we knew from driving or hunting as we passed by Hinsdale, Saco, Malta, Chinook and Havre. He pointed out where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid blew up a railcar back in 1899 trying to get into the mail car safe.
We got to the Browning bridge before sunset and we saw a bit of Glacier Park but I don't remember more than a few minutes of sunlight before the park disappeared in the darkness as the sun set. I do remember sitting in the front of the dome car and watching the trees roll by and spotting one slightly startled moose look up at the locomotive and slowly trot off into the woods. The snow sheds seemed pretty cool too.
We went to have dinner in the dining car and my Dad had the steak and I had fish, probably halibut or flounder, and it was OUTSTANDING! When we got back to the sleeping car the beds were turned down and that service seemed pretty cool. I think my Dad left his good boots outside the door and they were freshly polished when we woke up. I was not entirely happy about that because that was one of my chores at home, I got 25 cents every time I polished those boots and a quarter went a lot further back then! I remember falling asleep listening to clicketyclack of the rails and hearing the whistle sounding way off at the front of the train.
I woke up at Spokane but fell asleep again pretty quickly and when I woke I was dumbstruck by the verdant greenery of Washington state. Northern Montana is semi-arid so Washington looked like a rain forest to me.
When the train pulled into Seattle, it was like a scene from a movie for me, with the porter wishing us a good day, my Dad shaking his hand and giving him a tip, (how and how much a gentleman tips was one of the subjects he taught us boys) the crowds of people stepping down to the platform, the huge train depot with the brick tower and the conductor calling out to my Dad by name and my Dad calling out his farewell. Seeing my Aunt, Uncle and cousins again was kind of anticlimactic after all that. LOL!
The only thing that sticks in my mind after that is the smell of the sea as we pulled up to a fishing boat on Puget Sound the next day. That smell has stuck with me all my life. Not even the fishing trip made as much of an impression on me as the smell itself.
A year or two later my father was injured pretty badly and spent nearly a year working as a passenger train conductor on the Empire Builder until he could go back to his work as a freight train brakeman and later as a freight conductor for GN. We were all pretty impressed the first couple times he wore the uniform. I am not sure if a switch like that would be allowed today.
Great memories!
On edit: The locomotive I remember may have been an EMD F7 and the photos I am finding now make that climb up a little less amazing than I remember, but still pretty impressive.
 
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frequentflyer

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Interesting the similarities between the EMD E and F units to the Siemens units today. EMD or GM understood aerodynamics, The E unts could debut today and still look the part in the 21st century.
 
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