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Chris Guenzler, Million Mile Rail Male, April, 2007


Chris Guenzler,  

Million Mile Rail Male


April 25 - May 3, 2007

By Carl Morrison, Carl@TrainWeb.com

Story and all Photos by Carl Morrison,

and where noted, by Bob Williams
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Life's Goals

DSC01619.jpgHow many Life's Goals have you accomplished?  Mine have been pretty mundane by some standards, but I've accomplished a few:  college education, 40-year marriage, two successful adult children, Southern California homeowner, 40-year teaching career,  coast-to-coast -- border-to-border road trip in a 1956 Chevy three years ago, vacations in all 50 states, parts of Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East, plus  train trips in Europe, USA, and Mexico.  As you can tell, I (right) value travel.  It's a Broadening Experience (and I'm not talking about cuisine, but about the education that I've had through travel).

Train Travel has been an interest of mine since childhood, and I've taken the family on some cross-country and Pacific Coast train trips, but only since my latter years of my teaching career, and reitirement have I been involved with web authoring for TrainWeb.com.  (See other stories at:  TrainWeb.org/carl)


PICT2927.jpg"The Amazing" Chris Guenzler (left)

Chris Guenzler and I met through my association with Steve Grande, and Ray Burns when I started writing for TrainWeb.com.  Chris had written many rail travelogues for TrainWeb, which I had read online (trainweb.org/chris), but I had never met him.  One day, when I was in the TrainWeb office turning in a story, when the TrainWeb office was on the 2nd floor of the Fullerton Santa Fe Amtrak Station, Chris quickly came in to drop off a story and I met him.  After seeing the only picture of him on his website, I was surprised at how young he was (compared to me) when I met him, knowing how much train traveling he'd done.

I found, through e-mails and phone conversations, that Chris was a wealth of information, no matter what train I'd ask him about.  He knew the stops by memory and many of the employees by name. 

Knowing that I'm first a photographer then a writer, Chris told me about a Photo Shoot at the Nevada Northern Railway in East Ely, Nevada, in December, 2004, called "Steam in Winter."  He asked if I'd like to go, and he had the driving route decided and the hotel picked out, and the cost in mind.  I thought, "This guy would be fun to travel with because he takes care of the details that I, as head of the household, have always had to worry with on earlier trips with my family!"  Subsequently, I asked Chris if a couple of my railfan friends, Don Roe and Don Drummer, could go along, and he quickly replied, "The more the merrier!"  That turned out to be the Best Photo Shoot I've ever been on, and it was that trip that provided me with the best train photos of my photographic life.  In fact, these photos are the basis of a Photo CD I've produced called, How to Take Better Train Travel Photos, which is for sale at my personal website, MoKnowsPhotos.com.

The fact that Chris has travelled One Million Miles on the Rails of North America alone is enough to warrant the name "The Amazing," but the fact that he is a nice guy along with it, and a great travel companion, is truly amazing.

I think Richard Hamilton of Let's Talk Trains, an Internet Radio Show about Trains, gave Chris that name.  Richard simply refers to Chris by saying, "We have a call from 'The Amazing," and listeners know exactly who has called in to the show. 


A Walking, Talking Route Guide of North America


I like to call Chris, "A Walking, Talking Route Guide of North America," and with good reason.  No matter where we are on a train together, any spot where a track turns off the main, he knows where it goes and what towns are on that route!

The Millionth Mile Trip and Celebration Day Arrives - April 25, 2007

The first official activitiy was a meeting of those friends of Chris who would go with him on the Southwest Chief from Fullerton, CA, to La Plata, MO.  We met at Knowlwood's hamburger restaurant in Fullerton, a 1/2 block from the Fullerton Amtrak Station.  Many attendees were members of the Train Travel Meetup Group that was started by Steve Grande of TrainWeb.com.  Earlier that Wednesday morning there was an informative story about Chris' Million Mile Rail Travel accomplishment on the front page of the Orange County Register (see trainWeb.com for a link to that story).  I accumulated about 15 copies during the day and brought them to the get together for those who had not seen the story nor gotten the paper.

Fullerton Amtrak Station provides extended free parking for up to 14 days.  I went to the station and received a sticker for my back window and parked in the multi-level garage near the station and walked to the restaurant.  I would return later and carry my luggage to the station when it was time to board the train.

Many guests were already at the restaurant by 5 pm.  We had decided to meet at Knowlwoods where you can order your food individually, pay for it, and have it delivered to your table.  We wanted to be sure there was no problem finishing the meal, getting the check paid, and getting to the station to meet the train.  The party officially started at 5 pm with the departure time of 7:20 for the Southwest Chief.  Knowlwoods had set up a section of the restaurant with tables put together so we all sat together with booths around the side of the room. 

Steve and Barbara Grande started destributing commemorative tee shirts.  Blue shirts for those going on the train with Chris, white for those attending the party and unable to go on the train.  Tom Anderson, a member of the Train Travel Meetup group had prepared the shirts and created the original verse on the back.  On the front was an excellent graphic of the Southwest Chief with Chris' favorite saying:

Every Trip is An Adventure!

Also on the front were the words, "One million miles and counting."   On the back was the timely saying: 

One ticket to La Plata on Amtrak - $133

Meals onboard the train - $59

Two nights at the Depot Inn and Suites - $178

Riding your 1,000,000th mile on the Southwest Chief - PRICELESS

Following the saying was a map of North America showing the many routes Chris had travelled.  Under the map were the words, "The millionth mile - April 27, 2007.

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That's Chris' signature on my shirt front.
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Back of the shirts.


The Pre-Departure Party


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My present to Chris was a photo from the Ely, NV, Nevada Northern Railway 'Steam in Winter' photo shoot Chris and I attended together in 2004.  I also gave him a 'golden spike' commemorating his millionth mile.


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L to R.  Chris' Mom, Carole Walker [ Owner, Bella Vista Travel, (562) 594-6771 or (714) 952-2719], and Chris as he was introducing attendees to his Mom.
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Bob Manning from Palm Springs, Steve Grande, Richard Elgenson
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Harry and Jonathan Ortiz

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Andy Smith taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.

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Charles Varners, center with tie.
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Dan, Pat, Mr. Seewright


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"Mrs. Winston" with Nancy Guenzler

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Tom, Chris, and Winston

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Tony from Mexacali


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Chris Guenzler (left), and Chris Parker.
Barbara Zepinko (right).
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Richard Hamilton of Let's Talk Trains (left).

The film crew, that went the whole trip making a mini-documentary about Chris, interviews Ken Ruben (right and below), …
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… as we await the arrival of the Southwest Chief.
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Ross and Seawright.
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The Southwest Chief arrives for the long-awaited Million-Miles Trip to La Plata, with Fullerton regulars meeting #4 as it starts it's daily trip to Chicago.
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The 'Blue Shirt Crew' scatters to their respective cars and rooms.

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Pat and other Train Travel Meetup Group members not making the trip, bid us Goodbye.

Chris (right) saddles up his camera and prepares to board.
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Once we were settled in our rooms, our car attendants and the Dining Car Steward reminded us that the diner was open for dinner through San Bernardino.  Those of us who had not eaten at Knowlwoods during the pre-departure party, got settled in our rooms then went to the diner.  If the diner was full, we put in our names and went to the next car, Lounge, and waited for our name to be called.

I dined with Richard Hamilton, of Let's Talk Trains, and John Dibos (below), from Peru.  This was John's first long train ride in the United States and he was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago, then on to Syracuse, NY.  Other "Blue Shirts" were at the adjoining table, so John was subjected to train talk the entire dinner.  In chatting with John, we  learned that he is writing three short stories and an essay on a train ride he took in South America!

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Tom Anderson, who made the Million-Mile shirts, made Chris some special Anaheim Ducks shirts, and personalized tee shirts.

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Some of us then walked the train to the back where we could see the sunset before Corona.
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The next day, Thursday, was spent on the train where we took meals together, met in our rooms or in the lounge car for conversation.  Above, Steve Grande, founder of TrainWeb.com


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Andy Smith was in room 10, across the hall, and he had constant Internet connectivity through his cell phone connection on his iBook.
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I worked on picture editing and story writing on my Mac iBook across the hall in Rm. 9.
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Albuquerque, New Mexico

After the night's sleep, and breakfast on the train, about noon we arrived in Albuquerque (above).
This is a crew change stop, so we had some time to stretch our legs.  Some went to the ice cream store nearby, others stayed on the platform and took pictures.  There were people here to meet Chris as well.

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"S" curve east of Lamy, NM


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Cafe Car Attendant.
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New Mexico Sunset from the Lounge Car.
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Andy Smith in the renovated sightseeing/lounge car after dark.

Kansas City, Missouri


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We traveled through New Mexico, then Kansas during the night, arriving in Kansas City early in the morning.
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An airplane fuselage went by on a flatcar.
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We were criss-crossing the country as Chris had done millions of times!
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The crew knew about Chris' accomplishment that was to take place on this train, so they allowed our group to meet in the "Transition Car/Crew Car's Lounge (below right), from Kansas City to the bridge where Chris' Millionth Mile would be reached.

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Chris return after stretching his legs in K.C.  The "Blue Crew" assembled in the 10 Car, Crew Car Lounge.
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Someone had a laptop with accompanying GPS so we could watch the progress toward the millionth mile.


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Winston stood by with camera's in hand, as did the rest of us.

The Millionth Mile Moment: 

8:04 a.m. (CDT) April 27, 2007,

N 39 10.801' W094 10.755'

Mid-span on the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe RR bridge over the Missouri River.


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Chris prepared his Anaheim Ducks shirt, that he put on at the magic moment.
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With his trusty Coca Cola at hand, Chris gives a verbal countdown for us as we approached the millionth mile on the Missouri River Santa Fe Railroad bridge.
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I looked out to photograph the view from the millionth mile mark, the Missouri River from the span half-way across.

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The shadow of our train on the bridge.

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The front of our historic train.  These two pictures (above and r.) in themselves are historic, being taken from the Southwest Chief Transition Crew Car.

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The overall Kansas scene, a sunny morning in April.

As with other historic moments, we had a train meet with a BNSF freight on the double track (right).

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Carole Walker, Owner, Bella Vista Travel, a member of our Train Travel Meetup Group back home, had asked me to have Chris call her when he reached his million-mile goal.  I don't think she realized it would be at 6 a.m. her time, but she answered the call on my cell phone and I handed it to Chris (left), as the film crew making a mini-documentay on Chris filmed on.

Carole is a knowledgeable Train Travel Agent who has ridden most Amtrak Routes herself, and can make rail reservations for you at:

(562) 594-6771 or,
(714) 952-2719.
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Typical of friendly Chris, he met Rudy from Woodbury, MN, above, on the trip and invited him to join the celebration, and gave him a shirt.



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Next stop, La Plata, Missouri!

Million Mile Man's Arrival in La Plata, Missouri

Finally the arrival of the Million Mile Rail Male's entrorage took place.  As you can see in the following pictures, La Plata, TrainWeb, TrainParty, and the Depot Inn & Suites went all out for Chris' milestone.  Since the Southwest Chief has to make two spots at La Plata, we talked Chris into getting off from the second/coach stop giving us time to unload our stuff and get ready to photograph him getting off, with all the local film crews and reporters.  Of course they didn't know this so they were a bit confused which one was Chris!


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Chris acknowledges the film crew that came along with him on the SW Chief, Jason and Mike, with Richard Hamilton recording the proceedings and the Conductor trying to get his train out of town!
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The La Plata High School percussion section drummed him into town, as film crews from local news agencies did their thing.  Coverage was on two local channels that night.  Go to TrainWeb.com for links to the videos.
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There were many in attendance from La Plata!
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Finally, after a very loud, "All Aboard," the Southwest Chief headed on to Chicago, perhaps happy to get rid of those 15 smelly blue shirts!

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Once we were out of the shadow of the Southwest Chief, we realized we had arrived on a perfect Missouri day, and interviews continued as the Depot Inn loaded guests and luggage and headed for the Observation platform.
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Chris moved up to the front door of the station for more interviews.

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Local KUMO, Channel 8, reporter, Julie Mercer, had to do the work of three people...interviewer, camera person, sound person (right).
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The Depot Inn & Suites brand new van pulled out for the short trip to the observation platform.
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Some of us elected to walk to the observation platform since it was such a beautiful day.
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This platform, provided by TrainParty.com and the Depot Inn and Suites, is an excellent place to meet neighbors and new friends and watch BNSF and Amtrak trains on the double-track below.
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TrainParty.com has their world headquarters just across the track from the La Plata Amtrak Station and the Observation Platform.  This a shot of the shipping door on the back of the building.
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The Depot Inn van arrives at the Observation Platform and the guests disembark for the festivities.

Right, Chris, for the first time, sees that the Observation Platform has been named in his honor.
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As always, many freights pass any time you are at the Depot Inn/TrainParty.com platform.
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Chris' arrival at the observation platform named for his accomplishment.
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View from the Observation Platform west, back to the La Plata Amtrak Station.

An Amtrak Official, Marc Magliari, right, read a personal letter from the President of Amtrak,  Alex Kummant, congratulating him on reaching his million mile goal, and on his long sobriety.
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Ray Burns of TrainParty.com, watched the proceedings, having known Chris for years.
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Maria Snodgrass, Manager, Depot Inn & Suites, made a nice presentation to Chris of a mirror/placque.

Depot Inn and Suites

1245 North Brown Street
LaPlata, MO  63549

888-814-3669
www.DepotInnAndSuites.com

hosted all the guests from California who traveled with Chris on the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Fullerton, California, April 25 - 27.

Check out this brand new railroad-themed hotel for your vacation.  The hotel is in Northeast Missouri with many historical towns near enough for 1/2-day or full-day excursions from the Inn.

Soon they will have a Rail Resort that you'll want to stay at with your family for a fun-filled vacation.

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Tom Marshall, standing, Owner of the Depot Inn and Suites, and son watch the proceedings from the observation platform.

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The momento given to Chris by Maria Snodgrass of the Depot Inn & Suites.
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State politicians were on hand to congratulate Chris as well.
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Kelly Marshall, above left, watches the presentations.

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Chris gets time to thank his friends and guests for the honors.  He related a story of his first train trip, in 1980 to Pocatello, ID, with a return through Las Vegas on the Desert Wind where they had issues with a hot sleeper car...hmmm, much like this trip home for me!

La Plata's Mayor, Larry Herrin, read a City Proclamation (left).

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After the festivities, it was hard leaving the Observation Platform since so many freights pass by below.  Andy Smith (right) watches a westbound BNSF container freight.
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Julie Mercer, KOMU TV reporter

PICT2982.jpgAfter the presentations, the reporters interviewed Chris, both for KOMU TV, left, and radio, above.

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Sally checked in all 15 of the California guests, remembering my name from 4 months earlier!
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We had a barbeque on the back patio of the Depot Inn, and could swim in their indoor pool if we liked.


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Young Marshall and his friend had seen all the presentations, so they wanted to make something for Chris, so here's their Patio Presentation.
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"Dutch" came to the celebration from Pennsylvania Dutch territory.  Chris presented him with a shirt.  Dutch is retired from Norfolk Southern.

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A gentleman brought a pickup full of RR artifacts to the Depot Inn.  We were all in the lobby at the time and dashed out to see what bargains we could find.
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See that brown suitcase at the far end, that's now mine!  It has Palmer House, Chicago, stickers on it from a 1939 Transportation Conference.  Some came home by air, can you get a coal shovel on an airplane these days?!



Photographer, Bob Williams, Joins the Party

I had a photo assignment in La Plata the following Sunday through Tuesday, so my photo partner joined Saturday night.  He came into La Plata on the westbound Southwest Chief #3 Saturday night scheduled for 8:06 pm.  Chris was showing a video history of his Million Miles at the Depot Inn, but I had seen the show in Santa Ana, so I went instead to the Amtrak Station to pick up Bob.

Harold took me to the Depot, as he does any Depot Inn guests who need to be picked up or delivered to the Amtrak Station.  I enjoyed talking with Harold, Tom Marshall's Dad, about future plans for the Rail Resort they will be building.

While waiting for #3, I experimented with my tripod for some night shots:

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My photo-partner Bob, who quickly assimilated into the group near the end of Chris' slide show, and on Saturday.
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Bob and I Take Some Night Shots at the La Plata Amtrak Station

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Before the Southwest Chief arrives. (Both cross-arms and signals show)
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The Southwest Chief arrives.
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Amtrak Superliner cars with new Amtrak logo.
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Amtrak cars with a different Amtrak logo.

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Train 3 and Bob at La Plata.
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Train 3, Bob, Amtrak Conductor, Amish gentleman.
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Saturday, the Fun Continues

Richard Hamilton did his Let's Talk Trains Show from the lobby of the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata on Saturday.  The rest of the group hung around for a while until we realized he would need no help since Chris was the only guest.  Richard, like the multi-tasker he is, had the listeners e-mail him rather than the regular call ins, and they spent the 3 hr. show talking and answering e-mail questions.  I look forward to listening to the archive when I get back home.

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Richard on the microphone, Chris standing by, Mike on the video microphone, Jason runing the video camera for the mini-documentary.

Tom Anderson, right, was in the lobby to see the radio show being produced.
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Chris, left, and Richard Hamilton on the Let's Talk Trains Show.
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Anthony

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Anton and Andy watching the radio production.

Jonathan, right, needed some sleep after riding in coach from California.
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"Trains on Panes" artwork, above, available in the lobby of the Depot Inn and Suites or call 660-627-4042 for prices.

Andy Smith and Chris Parker take a car full each to Amish Country

Andy Smith and Chris Parker had the foresight to set up rental cars to use from the Depot Inn & Suites while they were in town.  They were kind enough to ask us other free-loaders to go along on a Saturday afternoon jaunt into Amish Country west of town.  We had done this in December with Chris Parker and had gotten some award-winning photographs, so we were all anxious to go again.


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Our contingent:  (L. to R.) Jonathan Ortiz, Anton Lazzaro, Chris Parker, Bob Williams, Andy Smith.
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It's hard to realize how big a double-track signal tower is until you stand near one.
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 Hwy. 156 West of town, above, has many buggys on Saturdays, which are days the Amish go to the store to shop.

Side roads south of Hwy. 156 are where you will find Amish farm houses along the gravel roads (right).
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I noticed several Ads on the bulletin board in the Amish Variety Store, such as ponies for sale for $500 each.  A 2-bdrm house for sale that had to be moved, for $2,500.  An ad providing services of transportation to the Amish for 40 to 50 cents per mile.

I enjoyed talking with a couple of Amish gentlemen, Mats Valen and Jake Berkholder.  Many Amish can be seen each day either boarding or detraining the Southwest Chief.  Since there is no ticket agent at the depot, they have to buy their ticket on board.

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The Amish Store on Hwy. 156 serves both English and Amish.  This is a good place to photograph horses and buggys, but please do not photograph the faces of the Amish.
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Cat in the warm sun at the Amish Store, above.

Local apples for sale at the Amish Store, right.
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A contented Holstein milk cow on an Amish farm.

Red Rooster Restaurant, La Plata, Missouri

Only two doors down from the Depot Inn & Suites, in easy walking distance, is the Red Rooster Restaurant which opens at 7 a.m.  We took three breakfasts there, a few lunches, and three dinners.  Harold will even bring you here in the Inn's trackless train, or you can use a golf cart from the Inn.

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Chris "Million Mile Man" Guenzler, (right) the celebrity of the week in LaPlata, enjoys another meal at the Red Rooster.
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The Eastbound Contingent Departs for Galesburg, or Chicago on #4.

Using the brand new coach from the Depot Inn, driven by owner, Tom Marshall, the majority of the party head for the Depot.

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In the Depot Inn lobby, Chris shows another placque he had received.


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Tom Marshall, Depot Inn & Suites owner (left), says Goodbye as Chris thanks him for a great weekend in La Plata.
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Photo Credit:  Bob Williams, (Left to Right) Carl, Dutch, Chris, Richard, Chris P., Tom, Winston & Mrs., Larry, and Anton.

Bob Williams took a group shot of us at the Depot, awaiting the eastbound Southwest Chief.  Missing in this photo is Jonathan...but that's another story for another day.

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This station is staffed by volunteers, no tickets are sold here.  They have ample schedules available for many long-distance trains.
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The renovated La Plata Amtrak Depot lobby.
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The group steps back as a car carrier speeds through the depot.

It was about this time that Chris Parker said, "Where's Jonathan?!"

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Photo Credit:  Bob Williams

Chris and others board the eastbound Southwest Chief (#4).

TrainParty.com Tour of their La Plata world headquarters

Ray Burns and Shivam are proud managers of their new warehouse and offices in La Plata.  They gladly took us on a tour of their new facilities.

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TrainWeb.com/TrainParty.com building is in close proximity to the Observation Tower.  The picture at the right shows the spur into TrainParty, and the Observation Platform on the rise across the double-tracked BNSF Mainline.
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Observation Platform from Trainparty's shipping door (left).

TrainParty office, above.

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A small portion of the warehouse.
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The TrainParty.com warehouse.


The New Observation Platform Gets Local Visitors

In a spare moment, on a Sunday morning, Bob and I went to the Observation Platform just to see if it was receiving visits by the locals.  Sure enough, all the time we were there, there were locals watching trains and 'neighboring.'  I see this as a social gathering place, like a park bench, for local folks of all ages.  Thanks to the Depot Inn and TrainWeb for providing this to the community.

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The Depot Inn provides carts for hotel guests, or you can drive your own car out to the Observation Point.
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Comfortable chairs are provided.
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Depot Inn & Suites cart for guests to use to come to this point.  The Red roofed TrainParty.com Headquarters.
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John and Blanche Meeks
John was an Apprentice Telegraph Operator at the La Plata Station 1947-48

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The Observation Platform is built on the former Wabash Line's bridge approach over the Santa Fe Line.  Looking across the Santa Fe Line today, you can see the other bridge abutment (right).
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Steven Warren, Holts Summit, Missouri
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Steven was video taping the passing trains.  He knows of many other good train-watching sites in the eastern USA.

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Diane and Randy Rogers had heard Tom Marshall talking about the Lookout Point in a Kirksville Rotary Meeting.
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Come on Down to the Lookout Point!

behind the Red Rooster Restaurant, there are always trains to watch, day or night!