Archive for the ‘Remembrances’ Category

Rocketing Into Joliet

February 6, 2017
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The Peoria Rocket arrives at Joliet Union Station on June 25, 1977, as a handful of people watch.

There was a time when the Rocket name meant very good service on the Rock Island Railroad. But June 1977 was not one of those times.

It is an early Saturday evening in Joliet, Illinois, as the Peoria Rocket approaches Joliet Union Station.

The Rocket is funded in part by the State of Illinois, but that will not be enough to keep it going much longer.

I had boarded the Rocket in Peoria earlier in the day for a day trip to Chicago. I was appalled by the condition of the train and made a spur-of-the-moment decision to ride Amtrak’s Lone Star to Joliet to pick up the Rocket for my return leg to Peoria.

The ride aboard the Rocket was rough and there had been few passengers on the trip to Chicago earlier in the day. The equipment was worn out.

In retrospect I wished I had better appreciated the experience that I had, though. The Peoria Rocket was one of the last of its kind.

I also wish that I had better photography skills than I had when I made this image. Namely, that I had waited to snap the photograph until the nose of the locomotive was closer.

But I was young and had much to learn. Today this image reminds me of another time that is never going to come back around, but at least I did make the effort to experience it.

A Station Amtrak Never Saw

January 27, 2017

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For a few years in the late 1970s, the State of Illinois helped underwrite the financial losses of a pair of Rock Island Railroad intercity passenger trains.

The Rock had elected not to join Amtrak in 1971 because it figured it was cheaper that way. So it had to keep operating its Chicago-Rock Island and Chicago-Peoria trains.

They received spiffy names, the Quad Cities Rocket and the Peoria Rocket. Actually, there always had been a Peoria Rocket, more than one as a matter of fact.

I rode the Peoria Rocket to and from Chicago in June 1977. The train was as bare bones as the financially struggling Rock Island could make it. It had two coaches and a single E unit.

At the urging of the state, Amtrak agreed to study taking over the Rockets. But that never happened and the last trips of the Rockets occurred in late 1978.

The photograph above was made from aboard the Peoria Rocket during a station stop in Ottawa, Illinois.

It could have been an Amtrak station, but the price of Amtrak taking over the Peoria Rocket was just too high. Ottawa hasn’t seen intercity rail passenger service since.

What the 1971, Coming of Amtrak Meant for Varnish Running on the Main Line of Mid-America

January 13, 2017
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A comparison of timetables shows pre- and early Amtrak service on the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans.

Those familiar with Amtrak’s early history are aware of how on April 30, 1971, dozens of trains began their final runs because they were not included in the new passenger carrier’s initial route network.

Numerous routes lost intercity passenger service, some of them for good.

On routes that kept service, the number of trains often was thinned to no more than one or two roundtrips per day.

One of the little known facts about pre-Amtrak service is that the Illinois Central mainline between Gillman, Illinois, and Du Quoin, Illinois, did not lose a single intercity passenger train between the early 1950s and Amtrak day in 1971.

In part this was due to the strong ridership the ICRR enjoyed on its passenger trains into the 1960s, but other factors came into play as well.

The New York Central used the IC mainline between Chicago and Kankakee, Illinois, for its Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati trains. The IC’s Chicago-St. Louis trains used the mainline between Chicago and Gilman. IC passenger service from St. Louis to the South came onto the mainline at Du Quoin or Carbondale, Illinois.

The IC ended two of its three Chicago-St. Louis roundtrips in the late 1950s and the Chicago-St. Louis Green Diamond was shortened to Chicago-Springfield, Illinois, in the late 1960s.

NYC and Penn Central trimmed service on the Chicago-Cincinnati route in the 1950s and 1960s so that by the coming of Amtrak the only survivor was the James Whitcomb Riley. The last IC train from St. Louis to the South ended in 1970.

Although the IC ended trimmed operation of some trains tween Chicago and the South south of Carbondale in the middle to late 1960s, between Gillman and Du Quoin there was no net reduction in the number of intercity passengers trains for about two decades.

Yes, the IC tried to do away with some of those trains, but met resistance and could not win regulatory approval to end any of them.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak did what the IC had been unable to do. It cut the number of Chicago-New Orleans trains from two to one and the number of Chicago-Carbondale trains from three to one.

Also ending was the every-other-day City of Miami, but Amtrak’s launched a daily Chicago-Florida train that used the IC as far south as Kankakee. The James Whitcomb Riley also continued under Amtrak auspices.

This comparison of the last public timetable issued by the IC with the first timetable of trains operated by the IC under contract for Amtrak shows how much things changed virtually overnight. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Dining on Amtrak Then and Now

December 26, 2016

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It can be interesting to compare Amtrak timetables, dining car menus and marketing materials across time. Shown above is a comparison of a bar menu from 1971 and a similar offering from 2015.

Aside from the prices having changed, another obvious difference is that in the early years of Amtrak the food and beverage service was still provided by the contract railroads and some of them did little more than take their existing materials and place the Amtrak logo on it.

That is the case with the 1971 bar menu, which looks much as it did when the Milwaukee Road ran its own trains.

Other than the Amtrak logo you might think that you were traveling in the late 1960s with trains being advertised that no longer ran in 1971 when this menu was offered aboard Amtrak.

Although the beverage offerings in 1971 are similar to those of 2015, there are some notable exceptions. Tobacco products are not longer sold on Amtrak and I’m not sure if they also sell decks of playing cards.

Coco Cola has been replaced with Pepsi products and what cost 30 cents in 1971 now costs $2.25. But look at the difference in price between a premium beer in 1971 (80 cents) and a regional craft beer in 2015 ($7).

(click on the image to enlarge it)

 

The National Limited Takes a Detour

December 19, 2016
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The westbound National Limited arrives in the station at Mattoon, Ilinois, in May 1977 on a detour move. The train is using the former New York Central route to St. Louis due to track work on its regular route over the former Pennsylvania Railroad route via Effingham, Illinois.

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The National Limited handled mail from New York to Los Angeles that was interchanged to the Southwest Limited in Kansas City. Note that the former NYC passenger platform is still in place at right nine years after the last NYC passenger train here was discontinued.

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The Amtrak conductor and two other crew members wait in the vestibule of a coach as the eastbound National Limited arrives in Mattoon, Illinois, in May 1977 on a detour move.

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The eastbound National Limited departs from Mattoon, Illinois, on former New York Central rails. It will regain its regular route in Terre Haute, Indiana. A portion of the former NYC passenger station is visible at right.

It was not unusual for Amtrak’s National Limited to detour between Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis.

The scheduled route was via the former Pennsylvania Railroad via Effingham, Illlinois, but the Penn Central dispatcher had the option of running the train over the ex-New York Central route through Mattoon, Illinois.

After Conrail took over Penn Central in 1976, it began rebuilding the ex-Pennsy route used by Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

In late April 1977, the National Limited was rescheduled to operate during the afternoon hours between St. Louis and Effingham. That also coincided with the track gang hours.

So, for a good part of May 1977, Nos. 30 and 31 detoured via the ex-NYC route, making the Effingham stop at the former NYC passenger platform in Mattoon

The last NYC passenger train through Mattoon had been discontinued in March 1968, but the platform was still in place on the south side of the tracks.

I was a young reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I gave myself an assignment one afternoon to cover the detour of the National Limited.

I went down to the tracks, interviewed waiting passengers, and made photographs of both trains using Kodak Tri-X film.

Much has changed since that May 1977 day. The National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, and in March 1982, Conrail abandoned the former NYC tracks through Mattoon. The rails were picked up a year later.

The former NYC station has since been razed. The platforms remained in place for several years after the tracks were pulled up, but were eventually taken out in the early 2000s to make way for a parking lot for the YMCA.

Amtrak Marketing in 1971 and Today

December 16, 2016

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Amtrak’s marketing was pretty simple during its first year of operation. Shown above on the left is a page from the Nov. 14, 1971, timetable.

The full-page advertisement features an Amtrak passenger representative holding an oversize model of a passenger car standing in the middle of a railroad track with the slogan of the time, “We’re Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again.”

Despite the fact that some railroads — the Santa Fe being a notable example — still provided very good service, the public perception in the early 1970s was colored by reports about travel on trains offered by Penn Central and other railroads that were described as dirty and unpleasant. If you read the text of the advertisement above, you will find in talking point No. 2 that Amtrak was pledging to operate cleaner trains.

In the early 1970s, travel by train was in decline and Amtrak claimed to be seeking to reverse that.

Contrast that approach to that taken in the advertisement published in the last system timetable that Amtrak printed early in 2016.

In the second decade of the 21st century Amtrak perceives its primary competitor to be the private automobile. It now sees itself as having long since “arrived” and n ow living an urbane existence. Its advertisements are slicker looking and more stylized.

It was an increasing reliance on private automobile travel that led to the decline of intercity train travel that Amtrak was assuring the public that it was seeking to address back in 1971.

More than four decades later, Amtrak is still battling the convenience of the private automobile. The ways that Amtrak fights that battle has changed, but not the battle itself. (click on the image to enlarge it).

One Day at High Noon in Springfield, Illinois

December 15, 2016
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The technical quality of this image isn’t great but it is one of the few photographs that I have of an SDP40F taken trackside leading a train.

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Looking south from the fireman’s side of Amtrak SPD40F No. 613 in Springfield, Illinois.

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The control stand of an Amtrak SDP40F.

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Engineer Dean Elliot awaits a highball to depart Springfield, Illinois, with Amtrak train No. 21 in June 1977.

It is almost high noon in June 1977 in Springfield, Illinois. I’m standing near the Illinois Central Gulf tracks (former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) tracks awaiting the arrival of Amtrak’s westbound Inter-American from Chicago to Laredo, Texas.

I don’t recall if No. 21 was late or on time, but even if the former, it was not excessively tardy.

Leading No. 21 was SDP40F No. 613. I made a single photograph of it sitting in the station with its train.

The image isn’t that good, a product of harsh light, improper exposure and the fact that I scanned it from a color negative that is almost 40 years old.

I wanted to photograph the Inter-American because it still ran with SDP40F locomotives and those have always been a favorite of mine.

The engineer of the train spotted me and waved. On impulse I asked him if I could come up into the cab.

He said “yes” and up I went and got the other three images  you see with this post.

I would later learn that the engineer was Dean Elliot and that he is now deceased. He was a railroader’s railroader and I can only imagine the stories he would have had to tell about life on the road.

But there was no time for that. I only had enough time to grab a few shots before the conductor gave No. 21 a highball to leave Springfield. I thanked the crew and climbed down.

And off they went to St. Louis where a Missouri Pacific crew would take over to pilot the Inter-American on its continuing journey to Laredo.

Today, Nos. 21 and 22 are named the Texas Eagle and operate between Chicago and San Antonio.

Amtrak First Day Timetables

December 6, 2016

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One of the many forgotten footnotes from Amtrak’s early years is how on May 1, 1971, many of Amtrak’s contract railroads published timetables just as they had done for decades.

But what was different is that these folders had notices on the cover that the trains shown were being operated under contract for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, which is Amtrak’s formal name.

I have in my collection 10 timetables issued by the following contract railroads on May 1, 1971: Burlington Northern; Illinois Central; Penn Central; Chesapeake & Ohio; Seaboard Coast Line; Southern Pacific; Union Pacific; Louisville & Nashville; and Richmond, Frederickburg & Potomac.

I do not have a first day timetable published by the Santa Fe, although I do have schedules/travel guides published by the AT&SF for Amtrak trains that the Santa Fe operated. Likewise, I do not have a first day timetable published by Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, although I have one dated Sept. 27, 1971.

I’ve never seen an Amtrak timetable published by Missouri Pacific even though MoPac handled the St. Louis-Kansas City leg of a New York-Kansas City train.

Some railroads that joined Amtrak did not host any trains and had no need to publish a timetable. These included the Baltimore & Ohio, Chicago & North Western, Central of Georgia, Delaware & Hudson, Grand Trunk Western, Norfolk & Western, and Northwestern Pacific.

The railroad-published Amtrak timetables generally used the same design and style as those published by those roads in the immediate years before Amtrak. But some were bare bones products that did little more than show timetables and were printed on newsprint.

Some railroads published a timetable on May 1 and that was it. But other railroads, IC and PC being notable examples, continued to publish their own Amtrak timetables well into 1972.

Shown above is a portion of my collection of first day Amtrak timetables. These railroad published timetables might be found at railroad flea markets and shows oriented toward timetable collecting, but I’ve seen few of them at general railroad collectible shows.

The railroads probably did not publish that many of these timetables and most of those printed have long since been discarded.

Nonetheless, these folders are among the most prizes pieces in my collection of Amtrak memorabilia. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

 

One Saturday Morning in Dayton

September 11, 2016

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This photograph reminds me of a lot of things, most of which are gone. It is an early Saturday morning in Dayton Union Station.

I am waiting for the westbound National Limited, which I will ride to Kirkwood, Missouri. This is my one and only visit to DUS, but it would not be my last trip on Amtrak train No. 31.

The guy in the blue jacket had much in common with me. He worked as a reporter for Dayton radio station whereas I was a newspaper reporter at the time in Mattoon, Illinois.

Like me, he was riding the train just to be riding the train. My journey had begun at Effingham, Illinois, the night before and I had spent the night in the Dayton station.

I don’t remember his name, but he was getting off in St. Louis and would ride No. 30 back to Dayton. Like myself he was young and just starting his career so he didn’t have a lot of money for train travel.

Back in those days I would study Amtrak timetables to see  how far I could travel in one direction before getting off and taking a train back to where I started.

That was why I stepped off trains in the middle of the night in such places as Omaha, Nebraska; and Emporia, Kansas, on “overnight” trips. I could travel overnight without having to stay in a motel and pay that expense.

It has been more than 35 years since you could ride to Dayton on Amtrak. The city’s only Amtrak train, the National Limited, was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979.

Dayton Union Station has since been razed. I don’t know if my friend for the day is still a broadcast journalist or even still in journalism. Likewise, I don’t know if the young Amtrak agent in the red jacket behind the counter is still with the company.

The scene is a snapshot of Amtrak in the late 1970s. There are promotions for services and equipment that didn’t serve Dayton and never did. DUS like so many urban union depots was much larger than what Amtrak needed.

Amfleet equipment made an appearance here in the final year of Nos. 30 and 31, but by then the National Limited was living on short time.

In a way this was a magical time in Amtrak history. It was a transition period between the passenger train era of the past, reminders of which were still around, and the modern era that Amtrak was about to become with Amfleet and Superliners, and small modular stations in cities with just two trains a day.

Maybe some people recognized back in 1977 that that transition was underway, but I didn’t. I was just happy to get out when I could to ride a train, any train.

My appreciation and understanding of the context of those times would come much later.

View From the Cab in Springfield

August 31, 2016

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It was already warm as I waited in late morning on a Sunday in June 1977 for the arrival of the westbound Inter-American in Springfield, Illinois. No. 21 was still being pulled by SDP40F locomotives photographing that was my primary objective.

I don’t recall if the train was late or on time. It arrived behind a single locomotive and stopped. After getting an external photo that didn’t turn out all that well, I asked the engineer if I could come up to photograph inside the cab.

He was an older gentlemen who probably ranked high on the seniority list. At the time, he was an Illinois Central Gulf employee but would have begun his career with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio or maybe even the Chicago & Alton.

This is one of three images that I made inside the cab. The view is looking southward toward St. Louis from the fireman’s side.

That is the East Adams Street crossing directly ahead. Beyond that is East Monroe Street and then the tracks cross over East Capitol Avenue on a bridge.

Much has changed since this image was made 39 years ago. The ex-GM&O tracks are now owned by Union Pacific and there is just one track now through downtown Springfield.

The Inter-American is now the Texas Eagle and no longer operates south of San Antonio to Neuvo Laredo, Texas, as it did in 1977.

The SDP40F motive power was replaced with F40PH locomotives and Amfleet equipment about two months after my visit.

Officials want to remove these tracks and reroute Amtrak to another path that has far fewer grade crossings.

Like so many other photographs made many years ago, this one is full of reminders of how things have changed as well as how they haven’t.