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Part 3 La Plata, MO to Harrisburg, PA

Part 3 La Plata, MO to Harrisburg, PA

by Dutch Myers


This is Part 3 of a three-part trip from Harrisburg, PA to La Plata, MO and return.

    Due to a large number of photos, the travelogue is in three parts for faster uploading. 

    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.


(Click any picture in this report for a double-sized image, Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

    With festivities of the million-mile man celebration completed in La Plata, Missouri, revelers began the journey back to their homes.  People had come from many points, to help Chris Guenzler mark his milestone of one million passenger rail miles.  Steve Grande, Barbara, Tony, Andy, and the film crew were bound for California on Saturday night's Southwest Chief.  Carl Morrison, Richard Hamilton and Bob Williams stayed in La Plata a couple of extra days.  

    You are cordially invited to jump aboard this travelogue, as eight members of the Train Travel Meetup group headed east on Sunday morning's Southwest Chief of April 29, 2007.  Chris Guenzler, Tom Anderson and Mr. & Mrs. Winston Walker would leave the Chief in Galesburg, IL, to catch the California Zephyr back to the west coast.  Chris Parker, Larry, Anton and I continued to Chicago.  We parted company there as Chris P. and Anton flew back to California, Larry took trains to the Southern Illinois area, and I caught the Capitol Limited to the east coast.  Don't forget to check the extra photos when you have finished reading about our trip.

Tom & Kelly Marshall of the Depot Inn waved from the platform as we departed La Plata on the eastbound Southwest Chief.  We had just finished an enjoyable and exciting weekend of celebrating Chris Guenzler's one million miles of rail travel (see Part 2 In La Plata).  Everyone agreed that the Depot Inn & Suites had been the perfect host and facility for the event. Although we most assuredly would miss the good folks of the wondrous town of La Plata, it felt good to be riding the rails again. 

With our luggage deposited in the overhead of a coach car, our group gathered in the sightseer car, where Chris P. and Anton were already seated (310%20EB%20SWC%20dome%20Chris%20Anton.jpgRight).  We were relaxing and trying to clear our heads from the recent rush of activity of getting our bags packed, arriving at the station on time, saying our goodbyes and climbing aboard the Chief.  A strange look suddenly crossed Chris Guenzler's face.  He peered round at us and said; "Did anyone see Jonathan get on board"?  We looked at one another and shook our heads.  Jonathan, a young man with the group from California, had apparently missed the train.  In a flash, Chris G was on his cell phone to Carl Morrison still at the Depot Inn.  Carl found Jonathan sitting in his room at the Depot Inn and tried to get him to the station in time, but the Chief had left.

This situation exemplified the benefits of being an old hand at travel.  Chris Guenzler, the million-mile man, asked Carl if anyone could drive Jonathan north from La Plata to Ottumwa, IA.  The town is a station stop for the California Zephyr.  Chris G, Tom and the Walkers would be taking that train west from Galesburg, IL, after leaving the Southwest Chief and could pick Jonathan up there.  Tom and Kelly Marshall of the Depot Inn ended up driving Jonathan the distance of eighty miles.  Now that is what is called going the extra distance for your guests and hats off to them.  Someone called Amtrak to make sure Jonathan's roomette was not sold as a no-show in Galesburg.  In the end, Jonathan arrived at Ottumwa in time to meet the train home, and kept his room to boot.  A video played in my head of the old days, when the train roared through a station and the conductor grabbed a mail sack off a hook.  Nah, they wouldn't do that to Jonathan.  Anyway, Chris had put this plan together in minutes, on the spot, without consulting any train schedules or maps.  Was I in the presence of travel guru greatness?  Well, I don't want to give him a big head.  However, allow me to say this - the million-mile man was something to see in action!


     With those plans out of the way - Chris G, Chris P, Larry, Anton, Tom and I headed to the lounge for sodas.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mr. & Mrs. Walker were relaxing in the lower level of the coach car (Above, Left).  Remarking to Chris G. that I hoped to get some good photos heading east, he suggested shooting from the rear door.  I did get one clean shot shortly after leaving La Plata (Above, Right). 

    However, later shots revealed ever-increasing dirt specks accumulating on the window (
Below).  In the sightseer lounge car, the six of us talked of many things - the activities that had taken place in La Plata, the likable people there, the great accommodations at the Depot Inn, the routes each were taking home, and funny or disastrous travel stories.  Just generally shooting the breeze, as travelers often do, which is one of the marvelous aspects of train travel.


    Sitting next to Tom Anderson (the designer of those clever million-mile man T-shirts), I decided to jump up and take a couple of photos of these fantastic traveling companions (Below, Left and Right).  Back at the Red Rooster Restaurant in La Plata, Carl Morrison, Larry and I had discussed methods of photographing moving trains. 


    Here on the Chief, Larry, Chris P and I continued on the topic of travel photography and cameras (Above, Left).  However, area scenes drifting by the window provided little fodder for photo making.  Somewhere along the way, we crossed the Des Moines River (Above, Right) and passed an Iowa farm (Below, Left).  It was a relaxing time though, and Chris Guenzler (Below, Right) kept us chuckling with humorous stories.


     We arrived at the first station stop, Fort Madison (Keokuk) at 11:11 AM, the only stop in Iowa (Below).


     Chris P (Below, Left) and Larry (Below, Right) stepped off the train for a "look-see".  Fort Madison, named for President Madison, has the distinction of being the oldest American military garrison on the Mississippi River dating back to 1808.  Rebuilt in 1983, the fort has re-enactors and welcomes visitors (Below, Center). 


    A few photos were snapped from the rear of the train as we were leaving town (Below), including a hi-rail truck traveling in the opposite direction (Below, Right).  The Sheaffer Pen Company makes its home here.   Its large building can be seen to the left of the train just before heading east across the mighty Mississippi (Below, Center). 


    The bridge is a double decker with automobiles above and trains below.   At 525 feet long, it is the largest swing span bridge in the world (Below).



     Before we knew it, at just after noontime, the Chief arrived at Galesburg, Illinois (Below) where alas, half of our party would depart.  Galesburg has a railroad history spanning from the CB&Q to today's BNSF and one of the largest railroad yards in the US.  There are several museums and a railroad festival in June.  I descended the train steps to grab a photo of Chris G, Tom and Mr. & Mrs. Walker on the platform as they departed. 


    I snapped a photo of Chris and Tom by themselves (Below, Left) and one of them with the Walkers (Below, Right) It was a bit sad to see them leave the Chief, but I knew they were excited to begin the next part of their journey -- westbound on the California Zephyr (see Chris Guenzler's travelogue).  We said our goodbyes, and then I quickly re-boarded the Chief.  Glancing through the window as we were pulling out of the station, there was Tom standing with Chris.  Chris was doing his usual thing -- taking photos of trains (Below, Center).


    At this point, our Southwest Chief party was down to four -- Chris P, Larry, Anton and I.  We stayed in the sightseer lounge car and talked in earnest of what each of us would do once we hit Chicago.  Less than an hour after leaving the "Zephyr team" in Galesburg, we came into Princeton, IL (Below, Left) within some 100 miles of Chicago.  I remembered Princeton on the way to La Plata, and from my 2005 trip to California as well.  Along the railroad tracks just east of the station, is a little restaurant, appropriately named -- The Coffee Cup.  It is one of those quaint places that stir the imagination.  It must be a combination of the name and the old-fashioned sign.  I picture it as a local meeting place, with a sassy but friendly waitress who knows her business.  One can almost hear her shouting to the cook; "hey Burt, order up a ham and cheese on rye, and drag it through the garden (with lettuce and tomato)."  What a great place to try for breakfast.  The problem would be getting off the train for the night, finding transportation to a motel, and then re-board the next day's SW Chief.  Would it be worth the extra time and expense for a cup of coffee and some eggs?  The restaurant appears to have been in business quite a while, so they must be doing something right.  These were the thoughts as we pulled out of the station (Below, Right), and crept up on the rear of the Coffee Cup Restaurant (Below).  Then the sign came into view (Below). 


    Much to the delight of automobile travelers (yeah right), we stopped on the crossing to tie up traffic (Below).  If you look closely at that last photo, there are many cars parked in the Coffee Cup lot.  There must be something good cooking!



     Twenty minutes and miles later, the first glimpse of Mendota came into view (Above, Left).  Amtrak shares the station with the Union Depot Railroad Museum (free admission) (Above, Right).   A nice town with plenty of old time railroad equipment in view (Below).   They celebrate Railroad Crossing Days in June. 




    Heading east out of town is a prairie barn and diminutive church.  The Breaking the Prairie barn building is an agricultural museum (Below, Left) with a little Country Chapel (Below, Right) behind it.  Wild Bill Hickok was born near here (there should be no need to explain who he was) before he headed west to become a lawman.  The Hume-Carnegie museum has a display on him and other area histories.  A little further down the track was a working BNSF locomotive (Below, Center).


     Less than an hour later, the SW Chief rolled into Naperville and then the suburbs of Chicago.  Naperville has a 19th Century Village, with costumed re-enactors that would be interesting to visit.  We were getting close to our destination, with each of us preparing mentally for our Chicago plans.  For some reason, we did not physically get up to check our bags for departure.  Perhaps we were trying to stretch these last minutes.  All except Anton that is, who went below to ready his luggage.  Suddenly, we were approaching Chicago and Union Station (Below) with the conductor announcing our arrival.  All conversation abruptly came to a halt.  Chris P rushed off to find Anton with Larry and me sprinting to the coach car to grab our luggage.  Once off the train, Chris, Larry and Anton found each other on the platform.   However, I never had the chance to say a proper goodbye, thinking they would come inside the station.  At the end of the platform is an archway, through which passengers and crewmembers pass.  I stopped there and pulled my camera from the bag.  I wanted to get a photo of the three strolling through the archway with the rest of the crowd.  I waited and waited, however, they never materialized.  I later learned in an email from Larry, that they had walked the other way to get some train photos.  That should tell you that "those guys" are the professional train traveling fans, and I am the amateur.


     It was only about three hours until the Capitol Limited would head eastbound.  If you read Part I (see Part I -- Harrisburg to La Plata), you will remember that I made one of my better decisions by taking a roomette on the westbound CAP.  This time, a poor decision on the eastbound run won out.  To make matters worse, I had made the same miscalculation back in 2005 when returning from California.  Yes I know, some people never learn.

I took my Capitol Limited/Pennsylvanian tickets to the counter and asked the fateful question -- "are there any roomettes available on the CAP to Washington?"  If the answer had been no, I would have stuck with my original plan of switching to the Pennsylvanian at Pittsburgh for Harrisburg and been OK.  However, the woman's answer was; "yes, we have two roomettes left", and I promptly exchanged my tickets for a roomette on the CAP to Washington, DC.  There was a nagging hunch that this was a foolish move for which I would pay the consequences later -- and that suspicion proved to be true.

Actually, this would have been a good decision if the CAP had not been overly late getting into Washington.  Arrival at home would not have been much longer than if I had taken the Pennsylvanian.  I like riding trains, and my thinking had been the same as in 2005.  The roomette to Washington would be more comfortable than riding overnight to Pittsburgh in a coach seat, get off the CAP at the early hour of 5:30 AM, and then depart for Harrisburg on the Pennsylvanian at 7:20 AM.  Why not stay on the CAP in a roomette, have a leisurely wake up and spend the day relaxing?  It should have been that way.  Instead, I was dashing for trains in Washington, only to miss another in Philadelphia.  The CAP delay snowballed into missing those good connecting trains north to Philadelphia, and then west to Harrisburg.    I later told myself; "well, with all the fun I'd had riding the rails this week, something was needed to complain about."    

     However, all that was to happen the next day and I was still blissfully unaware of what was to come.  At this juncture, with some extra time to spend, it was possible to wander around Chicago's Union Station looking in the shops.  I marveled at the number of fast food restaurants within the building.  Heading back to the Metropolitan Lounge, I decided to get into one of their comfortable chairs to read and wait for my train.  As explained in the Part I travelogue, the lounge is a pleasant place for first class ticket holders to relax, have a light snack, and check baggage.  Departure time seemed to come quickly and, collecting my luggage from the attendant, it was time to head for the eastbound Capitol Limited.   On the same track and just west of the Capitol Limited, were several special Charter Club cars (Below).  Just like a little kid in front of a candy store, I cupped my face to the window to peer inside the lounge car.  In fact, there was a whole row of "us little kids" lined up at the window.  The procession of travelers suddenly stopped to board the first sleeper (Below, Right); I did not realize at first that it was not mine. 




    Wheeling two bags behind me, sleeper number 3001 (Above) was next and I climbed aboard.  There were many opportunities for photos of Amtrak equipment around Chicago Union Station (Below).







     The CAP departed on time at 7:05 PM. Stowing my gear in the roomette, I sat by the window to record fleeting scenes Amtrak facility at twenty-frist street (Below, Left) and the retreating Chicago skyline (Below, Right).

Amtrak facility at Twenty First Street
Chicago skyline
Trailvan units

Trailvan containers

Norfolk Southern locos
NS yard building
patrolling railroad police
Chicago Transit Authority line

Trailvan packer

UP locomotive


     The CAP was rolling along nicely as I moved to the sightseer lounge.  When we crossed into Indiana, a long automobile bridge appeared on the right (Above, Left).  An Indiana power plant with CSX cars could be seen way off to our left (Above, Right), and then another interesting restaurant named Phil Smidt's was on our right at the first major crossing in Indiana (Below, Left).  Interesting, but the Coffee Cup Restaurant in Princeton still won my thoughts.  Then stopping to consider, the only restaurant I had actually been in that day was the wonderful Red Rooster way back in La Plata, MO.  It was difficult to believe that so many miles had been traveled since breakfast.  Nonetheless, it was now time for my reservation in the dining car.  During dinner, an Amtrak station with a sign reading Hammond - Whiting, Indiana came up on our left (Below, Right). 


    Although in Indiana, Hammond is considered a metropolitan area of Chicago.   I was looking off to our left again as the sky was darkening to see a strange horizon.  If you look carefully at the photo (Above, Center), one of the Great Lakes can be seen low on the horizon, which is probably Lake Erie. With dinner over, the tiredness of a very long day made itself felt as I headed back to the roomette.  After some reading, I asked Jamal, the sleeper attendant, to make up the bed and I hit the hay a bit early.  Awakening sometime in the wee hours, a peek around my window curtain revealed tall buildings in Cleveland, Ohio (Below).

397%20Cleveland%20bldg%20night.jpg 398%20Cleveland%20at%20night.jpg

     Several hours after passing Alliance and on the approach to Pittsburgh (Above), I was out of bed and learning that we were running over an hour and half late.  Instead of the scheduled 5:30 AM arrival, it was looking closer to 7 AM or a little later.  You will remember that the Pennsylvanian leaves there at 7:20 AM.  It was all too apparent that the CAP was going to do what it did on the 2005 trip -- cause missed train connections in Washington and Philadelphia for a late arrival home.  Was it possible for me to quickly get dressed and pack, in time to get off and catch the Pennsylvanian?  Do they hold the Pennsylvanian for a late Capitol Limited?  Does a passenger get a partial refund when he "jumps ship" half-way to destination?  These questions became mute, because there was not sufficient time to gather my belongings anyway.  A glance through the window revealed that we were pulling into Pittsburgh (Below). 


    We passed the station, then stopped and backed onto a platform track.  I had to settle for a step off the train, two quick photos of the CAP (Below, Left and Right) and one of my sleeper number 3001 (Below, Center).


     Back on the train and once again moving, it was time for breakfast.  Sometimes, when a plan starts to fall apart it can get worse.  I ordered from the wrong menu apparently.  You know, the menu with the food from hell's kitchen. Called a Bob Evans special, it consisted of runny, too spicy scrambled eggs, with French toast that was made of cardboard and hard to cut.  It was hardly a meal to remember.  Therefore, I took a photo of the one across the table -- the breakfast I should have ordered407%20CAP%20breakfast.jpg (Left).  No, I never send food back to the cook.  I picture the look of rage on a cook's face when food is returned for a new meal.  He sneaks out to peek at the offending person, then slowly smiles as he rubs his hands together and cackles a laugh.  There would be no breakfast today.

Back at the roomette, Jamal had changed the roomette from bed to day travel seating.  He was another good Amtrak worker and thus, the only complaints were a bad meal and being behind schedule.  Oh well, such are the vagaries of travel.  I decided to relax in my room, photographing the beauties of the world passing by the window.  Pulling out my CD player, much time was enjoyed listening to Kenny G, Edie Brickell, Ocean City Pops, Celtic Woman, DooWop and Rock & Roll by Harrisburg's Pentagon Band, and several CDs made by Renaissance Faire performers Steve Sinnicks (guitar & vocals), The Tartan Terrors, Coyote Run, and Charlie Zahm (Irish & Scottish vocals).  It made me chuckle when I wondered what would happen if Chris Guenzler and I had gotten our CDs exchanged during travel.



     Rolling through the McKeesport, PA area, a roller coaster could be seen (Above, Left), a dam (Above, Right) and several bridges (Below). 


    The countryside of Pennsylvania became even more beautiful, as the Monongahela River near Elizabeth flowed along our right side (Below). 



    Connellsville with a rail yard came into view next (Below).

Connellsville rail yard

Connellsville rail yard

Connellsville tower
CSX locomotive

    Back along the river (Above, Center), we moved on to the Confluence, PA area (Below). 



    Entering the first of four tunnels (Below, Left), we emerged into dazzling mountain scenery (Below, Right).

First of four tunnels


Unused pole insulators still exist here and there

Somewhere in those striking mountains, we began following another scenic river, the Youghiogheny (don't dare ask how to pronounce it). 

    We passed a signal and piece of Amtrak equipment (Below) near Pinkerton (Below). 


Amtrak equipment
Near Pinkerton

    As the train approached Myersdale, travelers saw windmills along the ridges before passing on to Hyndman (Below).



     Our first stop in Maryland was at Cumberland (Below).   After that stop, it was at least an hour and a half before we came into Martinsburg, WV, which is near Hagerstown, MD. 

Cumberland Station
Cumberland Station

    The train spent ten to fifteen minutes here, and many of us went out for some fresh air (
Below).  The conductor and I assisted a blind couple getting off temporarily to walk their dogs.  They were very friendly people and moved so easily, one would never know that they had vision impairment.
From Cumberland Station
Martinsburg, WV

Martinsburg, WV
Martinsburg, WV

    There are some pretty towns in West Virginia (Below) and especially Harper's Ferry (Below) where plenty of Civil War history exists. 

West Virginia

West Virginia

Harper's Ferry






    We left Harper's Ferry through a tunnel (
Above, Right), which was when the camera was put back in the bag.  We were running about two hours late.  Therefore, I wanted everything packed away and ready for the rush once we hit Washington, DC.

According to the schedule, there might be time to run to the counter, buy a ticket, and get on the next train to Philadelphia, PA.  Otherwise, it would be a longer wait for connections.  It was a close thing, but unbelievably, the CAP experienced no further delays.  The Philadelphia train did not break down as happened in 2005.  This allowed me to catch a late, but at least not the last, train from Philly
(Below) to Harrisburg . 


    Still, I arrived home about six hours later than expected.  Yet, reminiscing over the last few days, it had been well worth it.  I had a fabulous time riding the rails, re-acquainting with the folks from the Fullerton Meetup, TrainWeb and TrainParty groups, helped to celebrate the million-mile man milestone, and stayed at the outstanding Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, MO.  Measured by any standard, it had been a spectacular trip!

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