Due to a large number of photos, the travelogue is
in three parts for
PART 1 takes us from Harrisburg, PA, through Pittsburgh and Chicago, to La Plata, MO.
PART 2 shares the celebration story of one million passenger rail miles attained by
Chris Guenzler at the Depot Inn, La Plata, MO.
PART 3 completes the trip from La Plata to Harrisburg via a partially different route.
The background of this trip started on the
west coast. Although people would
be coming from all directions, most were traveling from California. Chris Guenzler is an active member of
the Train Travel Meetup Group in Fullerton. It
is comprised of people interested in train travel.
Many members have connections to
TrainWeb.com, which I understand is the largest railroad site in the
world. As you know, the
travelogue you are reading is on TrainWeb.com. I
had joined the Fullerton TT Meetup group in 2005, when
traveling from Harrisburg to California and return by Amtrak. If interested, you can find that
travelogue on TrainWeb.com at http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/dutchmyers/. During the 2005 trip, I met members of
the group at a monthly meeting in Fullerton. I
was so impressed by these people, that I wanted to get to
know them better. The La Plata
weekend promised to be the perfect opportunity as we celebrated Chris's
At the end of the trip, I reflected that my initial insights had been correct. Every member of this group was of genuine quality. If you live in Southern California, the Fullerton Meetup group is highly recommended. Here is a link http://travel.meetup.com/309/?gj=sj2.
The westbound Southwest Chief arrived right on
schedule in La Plata, Missouri, at 8:06 PM on April 26, 2007. I had traveled by train from Harrisburg,
PA, through Pittsburgh and Chicago to board the Chief (see Part I). La Plata would host the festivities
planned to celebrate Chris Guenzler's achievement of one million miles
passenger rail travel.
The owners of La Plata's Depot Inn are Tom and Kelly Marshall. Tom's dad drove the hotel van to meet the SW Chief, providing a ride the short distance back. Many apologies for the failure to get his name. However, what a great first impression he gives the Depot Inn with his friendly conversation (Above). He handed me a discount card with the advice, if I hurried, I could just make it to the Red Rooster restaurant before they closed. After registering and dropping my luggage in my room, I took a brisk walk across the parking lot to the Red Rooster (Below). Although there is a bank between the two, the Red Rooster and the Depot Inn compliment each other well, since both proved to be top notch establishments. The food was delicious and the waitresses professional. It was now time to head back to the Depot Inn to get a better look at my room (Below).
Red Rooster Restaurant
Red Rooster Restaurant
clean, yet homey with a large comfortable
bed. Anyone not liking this room
would have to be daft. It had a
large screen TV and a roomy shower with plenty of hot water. Now take note that this was only a
regular room and not one of the suites.
Allow me to take space here and tell you about the Depot Inn.
This ground level hotel (I'm not even
going to say motel, because it is so much more), was most impressive (Above). There is a
playground in the back and
picturesque grounds surrounding. I
highly recommend it to anyone visiting La Plata, MO.
If you are anywhere near La Plata, go out of your way to
stay here -- you will not regret it.
A hard-working staff is supervised by Manager Maria Snodgrass,
an efficient job they do.
Everything was spotlessly clean, inside the hotel and out. It is themed after an 1800s Railroad
Depot with railroad antiques and related items abounding.
They even have an old handcar on a
track out front. There are four
themed luxury suites -- Pullman with mahogany sleigh bed,
bed, Western with huge leather covered sleigh bed and the Sportsman's
theme. The rooms include many
amenities such as wireless Internet, hair dryer, refrigerator, 27" TV,
comfortable rocker recliner, and more.
There is a heated indoor pool (Below,
Left) and a lobby filled
with railroad objects and books (Below,
Even the hallways are loaded with railroad memorabilia (Above). I cannot say
enough good things about the Depot Inn and the
folks who make it work. Next to
the Depot Inn is a storage facility for TrainParty.com.
I'm not sure how, but Train Party has
connections to TrainWeb.com. Newly
headquartered in La Plata, they provide party supplies with a train
customers. Here is a link if you
are interested - http://trainparty.com/. I took a photo of the building (Below) next to the Depot Inn,
and did you notice the bird's nest in the letter R (Below)? Yes,
apparently they are friendly to feathered friends too.
Up early next morning, I headed over to
the Red Rooster Restaurant for breakfast (Above).
Friendly service and delicious food, what more could one ask? Then it was back to catch the Depot
Inn's new 24-passenger bus, heading down to meet the 9:57 AM eastbound
Southwest Chief containing Chris Guenzler and his "entourage".
Expecting a handful of people, it was amazing to find a large crowd (Above), which continued to grow right up to the train's arrival. In addition, present were two attractive television newswomen complete with TV cameras (Below), a local TV reporter and radio man, government and Amtrak officials, and well-wishers of all kinds along with the arrival of the high school band.
This was turning into quite the event. Although La Plata was the main celebration, Chris had already had a nice send off in Fullerton. Another celebration ensued on board the SW Chief, as it crossed the Missouri River Bridge east of Sibley where Chris Guenzler officially reached his one millionth mile at MP 425.5 of the BNSF Marceline Subdivision.
As we waited for the arrival of the SW
Chief, BNSF locomotive 7611 pulled a Trailvan freight past the station (Above). Not
far behind it though, we could hear the SWC blowing its
horn on approach to La Plata. Then
suddenly it came into view (Below) in its silver, red and blue glory.
You have heard it said that a buzz of
excitement can travel through a crowd, and at that point, it was
in La Plata. On Friday, April 27,
2007, the engine of the Southwest Chief pulled the huge gleaming
sleeping cars right up to the front of the La Plata station. Everyone expected Chris to be the first
one off, but he was on the following car.
Other train travel members hopped off (Below) along with a special filming crew.
Then the train edged forward to bring
up the next car. The door opened
and the step was put in place on the platform. Chris
Guenzler strode off the Southwest Chief into a din of
cheers, backed up by La Plata's high school percussion band (Below)!
must have felt as if he was walking on air, as he had just achieved the
of "rail rock star"! And just like
Mick Jagger (OK, I'm an old geezer), he worked the crowd into frenzy as
raised his arms in a victory sign to display his new million-mile man
front and back (Below).
He then picked up his bag and began to walk; only to stop and take a photo of a scene he could barely believe (Below).
The media and filming crew captured the
exciting event (Below).
After being greeted by officials, friends and well-wishers (Below, Left), Chris was ushered into the Depot Inn passenger bus (Below, Right) for a breather and transport to Lookout Point.
The heavens were smiling sunshine, whereas previous days had been nothing but torrential rains. Despite the tumultuous welcoming, the surprises were not yet over for Chris. A caravan of autos, golf carts and TV vans followed the bus to the lookout. The lookout has been a favorite spot for train watchers to snatch photos of passing freight and passenger units. The Train Party Warehouse (Above, Left) and La Plata station (Above, Right) can be seen from this overlook, which sits across the tracks from a former Wabash bridge (Below, Left). Thanks to the efforts of many good people, a gazebo had recently been built on the location. A beautiful place to relax and have shelter from rain and sun.
Once guests had gathered in front of the gazebo and the TV cameras set up (Above, Right), the ceremonies began. First on the agenda was Chris's big surprise, the naming of the lookout point in his honor. He was placed in front of the gazebo so that he could see the unveiling of the sign. You will notice in the following series of photos, Chris watched as a line was pulled, causing a cloth to fall away and slowly reveal the message beneath Welcome to the Chris Guenzler Millionth Mile Lookout Point (Below).
Many speeches and awards honored Mr. Guenzler. Forgive me if all the names are not right, however there was Missouri Senator Bill Stouffer, Tom and Kelly Marshall and Maria Snodgrass of Depot Inn, Marc Magliara of Amtrak, Representative Tom Shively, La Plata City Planner Larry Herron, and fellow rider Andy Smith (Below).
Tom Marshall's brother Ken had written a special song with its title being something to the effect of The Ballad of Chris Guenzler - Million Mile Man. Played over the speaker system, the crowd marveled in how very professional it was. Ken has a real talent.
After the speeches had been made and the
plaques awarded, it was time for the million-mile man himself to utter
words. Now stop and think, this
person is not a famous politician or orator. He
is a man who achieved a dream of traveling one million
miles on passenger trains. Such
people often have to fight shyness.
When facing a crowd and asked to make a speech, many people
and can hardly put two words together.
But not Chris Guenzler! He
wowed the audience with humorous stories of his first train trip,
his recovery from alcoholism and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for
honors bestowed upon him this day (Below). He
truly WAS -a rail rock star.
It was still not yet time for relaxing
though. Chris was wired up by the
TV, radio and newspaper interviews (Below), some of which we
watched later on TV.
I'm sure Chris heaved a sigh of relief
as this was a time for fun, food and friends. There
was a cake in his honor (Above, Left) and
Tom Marshall's dad was running train
the kids, both young and old (Above,
presented a T-shirt to several others and me (Below).
Carl Morrison (Below, Left),
Richard Hamilton (Below, Right), and Dutch Myers, author
(Below, Center) were
on hand to help Chris with those giant hot dogs. Kids
came up to get Chris to autograph their shirts. "Hey
mister, is this guy a movie star
or something"? Special T-shirts
had been made for the million-mile occasion.
front, the filming crew was
interviewing Tom Marshall (Below, left). The Bar-B-Q
was a perfect stress-free
time to complete a morning of exciting events. Leave
it to the Depot Inn folks to get it just right.
Yours truly, (Above, right) had a chance to relax as well, in the confortable recliner in the Depot Inn & Suites lobby.
That evening we enjoyed a train travel slide show by Chris. It covered many of the rides that comprised his million miles of rail travel. That man has been around, and it was amazing that he could remember so many facts of places visited over the years. At news time, we went into the lobby where all crowded around the giant TV. Sure enough, there on the news, was Chris and the million-mile celebration. It made an appropriate end to a good day.
Saturday morning, everyone was "up and about" doing his or her own thing. Well, most were up anyway. One or two groups rented cars and went train spotting. I opted to take the Depot Inn passenger bus for the tour of Amish country. Coming from Pennsylvania Amish country, I was curious to see the differences here. The Missouri Amish buildings seemed closer to original pioneer style. As we boarded the bus, Winston Walker was making good use of one of the Inn's rockers (Below, Left). It was one of the rare times he was without Mrs. Walker. Up to that point, I only knew his first name and not his wife's at all, and thus called his wife "Mrs. Winston", which gave her a chuckle.
Marshall drove the bus around Amish country as we passed by an old gas
(Above), other area
and stopped at an Amish country store (Below).
It was time to get back to the Depot Inn,
as we did not want to miss Richard Hamilton interviewing Chris Guenzler
radio talk show Let's Talk Trains.
It was being broadcast live from the hotel (Below).
many of us ended up at the Red Rooster for a light dinner (Below, Left). Each
ordered something different with Chris Parker opting for a little ice
cream (Below, Right) that sure looked good.
Sunday morning at the Red Rooster, I ran
into Tom Anderson and Chris Guenzler (Above). After
breakfast, they were kind enough to invite me to ride on their golf
(provided free by the Depot Inn) out to Chris Guenzler's Lookout Point.
These shots (Above), give you a good
the pleasantly serene lane to the overlook. Once
there, with all the pressure off, Chris humorously laid
claim to his Lookout (Below, First Row) and seemed able to achieve real relaxation (Below, Second Row).
But alas, the sad time for us to leave La
Plata had arrived. Back at the
Depot Inn, we had our bags packed and ready. Tom
Marshall drove us to the train station to await the 9:57
AM arrival of the eastbound Southwest Chief. Tom
posed for a photo with me (Below, Left), and a couple with Chris (Below).
We gathered for a group shot at the station front (Below).
to get a few more photos, I snapped a quick one of the side of the
station (Below, Left.) and the back (Below, Right).
END Part 2