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.