A Ride in Railroading’s Past
I’m just old enough to remember passenger trains before Amtrak. During the mid to late 1960’s, we would occasionally go over to West Quincy to watch a couple Burlington passenger trains arrive and depart on Sunday afternoons. One was headed to Chicago, the other to Kansas City. I was impressed by the size and the noise and fascinated by that rotating Mars headlight. The platform at Galesburg on September 23rd brought back memories although there were never this many people on the platform at West Quincy..
Our trip ran more or less on time. We stopped for a brief photo opportunity at the current Quincy Amtrak station. From there, it was over to West Quincy to turn the train on the wye just north of US 24. While we were waiting, it became our turn to head back to the dining car for lunch. The dining car is very different from what you find on current Amtrak trains. Cooking is done on wood or charcoal fired stoves. No microwaves, no electric stoves or ovens. The volunteer cooks are cautioned against wearing jeans with rivets in certain locations. The radiant heat causes those rivets in the jeans to get very hot.
Lunch was a very good beef stew prepared on board and we were enjoying that as we crossed the Mississippi on the way back to Galesburg. Here’s the view out the dining car window…
The locomotive was built by Electro Motive Division of General Motors in early 1940 and was originally geared to run up to 117 miles per hour. It was in service until 1968 when it was retired and donated to the Illinois Rail Museum. The IRM has done an outstanding job of restoring and maintaining the engine. This is the locomotive you see in the movie A League of Their Own. Some of the scenes were shot in the passenger cars we rode.
The excursion to Quincy ran at the limit of 79 miles per hour where allowed although I did see a couple 83 mile per hour readings on an unofficial speedometer visible from our seat. Same speed as Amtrak does in those areas. It was also a bit unnerving to go through Macomb around 60 or 70 miles per hour. I also saw photographers out at almost every grade crossing along the route and groups of people along the tracks in most of the small towns along the line.
After getting back to Galesburg, it was time to get in position for a little more photography..
Sunday’s trip brought back a lot of fun memories. My first train trips were to Macomb on the C.B.&Q. in the late 60’s and early ‘70’s prior to the coming of Amtrak. I remember getting on those trains and immediately heading to the dome car, hoping one of the prime front seats was available. Dad rode the train with my sister and me. Mom drove to Macomb to meet us on these trips. It always seemed like the car trip back to Quincy took much longer than the train trip. I’ve been a railroad buff--AKA railfan ever since.
This isn’t the first time the Nebraska Zephyr came through Quincy. The train came through in December of 1993. Getting a look at the Zephyr on that trip took patience. And warm clothing. My original plan was to take pictures up by LaPrairie as the train headed north on a cold, dreary Sunday. I waited and waited. No train. Pretty soon, suitable light for photography was gone. When I got home, I found out that mechanical problems had forced a week’s delay. I got my pictures—some good ones on Kodachrome slide film—on really cold, clear, snowy afternoon.
You can get a good close look at the Nebraska Zephyr at the Illinois Rail Museum at Union Illinois. Information on museum activities is on line at www.irm.org.
Thanks to the IRM for running the excursion and giving those of us old enough to remember an afternoon full of old memories and those too young to remember a sense of how good rail travel used to be.