TRAVELS WITH TIM – THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI
Saturday’s Seattle departing EMPIRE BUILDER arrived in Chicago yesterday a mere 2 hours late which is not bad for a trip of nearly two-thousand miles. By the time we pulled into Union Station, most of the sleeping car passengers were saying good-by to Tim and an occasion, “Nice to meet you, Your Excellency.” It seems that if Tim ferreted out that whomever he was talking to was Catholic, then he identified me as his bishop brother. All in all, for both of us, it was a great trip east and as one does on trains, we met a variety of very interesting people. Lunch on the final day was with a couple from Rhode Island who rode the train out to Glacier Park and spend ten days roaming the miles and miles of spectacular scenery. Whereas I tend to travel quietly, prizing my quiet time, Tim on the other hand, used every occasion to share his love for trains and his life experience to any and all who were willing to listen.
I found out that I am referred to as a “foamer.” Worried that it was some kind of comment on saliva or something like that, I was immensely relieved to hear that railroad people refer to rail fans (which is what Tim calls me) as “foamers” since we tend to foam at the mouth at the sight of any train, taking pictures of them, listening to them on the radio transmissions on a scanner, etc. I do have such a scanner and on Sunday afternoon heard the BNSF dispatcher located in Fort Worth, Texas, tell the engineer and conductor of our train which was leaving Shelby, Montana, that there was now a flash flood warning and until he could verify no damage to the tracks, our train for a distance of about ninety miles would be restricted to a speed of 50 mph, instead of 79 mph, giving birth to the first delay of our trip. Pleased to share this information with my brother, I did so just as the Conductor was informing the whole train of the news, bringing a smile to the face of Tim that even “foaming” didn’t give one a leg up on accurate information. Score Tim 1 – Bob 0.
Monday morning brought sunny skies to Minnesota and I awoke to find Tim gone from the room. Dressing quickly, I found him in the dining car keeping three people highly entertained. Soon after leaving Red Wing, the route of the train follows the west bank of the Mississippi to LaCrosse and a straight run to Milwaukee and eventually Chicago. I can tell that the trip is reaching its zenith for Tim with Tuesday night’s departure on the AMTRAK “Cardinal” through three of the five places where we lived as kids with our Mom and Dad. There is more talk from Tim about Dad and about those days as departure approaches and he is enjoying himself immensely. He now talks to me and others about this possibly being his last trip and what a trip it is – down memory lane for sure, but also drawing us closer together. I discovered on the Puget Sound Ferry to leave politics and religion out of the discussion and we would do fine. However, I have to listen, tolerate and forgive various expletives showered upon Republicans about once an hour.
I will conclude these reflections sometime on Wednesday as we complete the major portions of this sentimental journey. We change from train to bus on Wednesday afternoon for a transfer from Charlottesville to Richmond where we board the final leg of the trip, the “Silver Meteor” to Orlando where I shall disembark and Hollywood where Tim lives. We had dinner with friends of mine last night in Chicago which was a special delight as I shall soon be witnessing the marriage of two of them. Today is being spent resting and gathering energy for the train which is widely known as AMTRAK’s orphan or the one train they wish they most could get rid of – the Cardinal. The late Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, reminded AMTRAK every year when it approached Congress for its annual subsidy that unless the Cardinal continued in his state of West Virginia, they would have a powerful enemy instead of a powerful friend. So the Cardinal leaves Chicago every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for Washington and New York and every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from New York bound for Chicago. It has no real dining car, but more about that in tomorrow’s blog entry. It has only one sleeping car with three bedrooms and seven roomettes to sell to the traveling public, three coaches and a single baggage car. Does it lose money? Big time! But tomorrow we will remember Robert Byrd fondly as we relive our youth and zoom through places important to our history like Covington, KY, Montgomery, W.VA., and Clifton Forge, Virginia. Thanks, Senator.