TRAVELOGUE - PENNSYLVANIA TO LA PLATA, MO & RETURN Continued
– PART 3
Parts 2 & 3 of the travelogue took place in the La Plata, Missouri
area. Join me in this - PART 3 - for several visits to the train Lookout
as well as La Plata’s Amtrak Station, with a stop at Santa Fe Lake to watch
a string of passing locomotives. Additionally, road trips took me to
Marceline, Laclede, and Atlanta Missouri. Part 4 takes me home to
PART 3 – IN THE LA PLATA AREA
On the afternoon of the second day in La Plata, the snow was cleared to
the Chris Guenzler Millionth Mile Lookout Point. Prior to that, I
had been limited to taking photos of the Lookout from afar (meaning Owensby
Street and the Train Party bulding).
Chris Guenzler Millionth Mile Lookout Point
I also turned my attention to La Plata’s Amtrak Station
sitting just off the Owensby Street crossing. It had been well plowed
of snow, providing easy access around the building. Although the following
photo was taken later in the week, I placed it here to draw attention to
the structures on the left and behind the depot.
La Plata MO Depot area
This is one of those scenes that would drive me to wonder what was beyond
the station – that is - if I had just passed through on the Southwest Chief,
and didn’t know already. I’m always attracted to “beyond the rail”
possibilities. So - for those folks who get scarcely a peek at that
area in one of the Internet webcams or merely a frontal view in station photos
– here’s an unglamorous but interesting 360 degree quickie tour around the
depot. We start directly across the snowy field in front of the station,
on the corner of W. Benton and N. Church.
Corner – W Benton & N Church
Front of AMTRAK station
Buildings to left of station
A block to our right we meet Owensby Street, and then
a left turn for another block takes us across the tracks to behind the depot.
Posted signs indentify those buildings as belonging to a company named Crop
Production Services. The farm equipment is a tipoff that CPS is involved
in farming. In fact, this is only one of numerous locations throughout
the USA and Canada. They provide farmers with precision strategies
and products such as crop protection, fertilizer, and seed plus vegetation
management and landscape products.
Rear of AMTRAK station
Coming around the back of the station on the way out,
I was barely able to capture a blur of motion as a high-speed freight was
Union Pacific Locomotives
Crossbucks, gates & blinking lights
La Plata has an abundance of railroad history dating
back to 1867 when the Northern Missouri Railroad arrived. It was followed
twenty years later by the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe when it connected
Kansas City to Chicago. La Plata itself dates to around 1827, eventually
building a stage station, inn, blacksmith and even Pony Express service twenty
miles south to the route following present day Route 36. The ATSF
ran its Super Chief “Train of the Stars” through La Plata with many famous
people aboard such as Jimmy Cagney, Gary Cooper, Pearl Bailey, Humphrey Bogart,
Lauren Bacall, Liz Taylor, Martin & Lewis, Lucy & Desi, and Presidents
Truman and Eisenhower to name a few. Even the “Harvey Girl” herself,
Judy Garland rode the Super Chief.
Next morning at the front desk of the La Plata Inn,
I met fellow guests Jerry and Kathy Staab. I learned that, without
transportation, they had trudged through the snow to the Lookout.
Now you have to understand that since I had arrived, temperatures had hovered
between just below zero up to a balmy 28 with wind gusts blowing snow at
25 mph. They explained that they had read about the Depot Inn and
the Chris Guenzler Lookout on Trainweb.com. With only a couple of days
to spare for the trip, they were not about to let snow, bitter cold and winds
keep them from train watching. Immediately impressed, I invited the
rugged pioneers to drive with me to La Plata station for the 9:57 AM arrival
of the eastbound Southwest Chief. We arrived in time to see the descendent
of the Super Chief “chugging in” with two special cars on the rear end.
The Staabs & Bob Cox
The two large and shiny Federal Railroad Administration
cars were impressive as they rolled past.
Thoroughly enjoying the Southwest Chief experience,
Jerry and Kathy were then taken on a tour of the depot’s interior by Station
Caretaker Bob Cox.
Without a motor vehicle, Kathy and Jerry had not seen
La Plata. Therefore I drove them around the town for a free “fifty-cent”
tour. Back at the Depot Inn, Jerry and Kathy retired to their room for
a rest. I decided to make my planned road trip to Marceline and Laclede,
Missouri – two towns made famous as the boyhood homes of two famous men.
Although of slightly different times, it’s an amazing thing that men of such
renown grew up in towns only 17 miles apart – Walt Disney in Marceline and
General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing in Laclede.
Taking Route 63 (Pearl Harbor Memorial Hwy) south for
19 miles to Macon, then west on Route 36 for 25 miles, I turned off for Marceline.
West on Route 36
This way to Marceline
It was only three miles south on MO-5 into Marceline.
In the park square was a steam locomotive and caboose.
The AT&SF 2546 is a Class 2535 2-8-0 built in 1911. I believe it
has been in Marceline since 1955.
Loco in park
Opposite the park was the Post Office with two plaques
commemorating Walt Disney.
PO Stamp plaque
PO Stamp plaque
US Post Office
Driving by the old Santa Fe depot that houses the Disney
museum, it was clear that this was not tourist season. Several local
facilities are named after Walt Disney who returned with family members several
times. Thanks to a town that is grateful to Walt, Marceline holds
a ToonFest in September that attracts many gifted artists.
Like La Plata, Marceline has railroad connections as
well. In fact, one of the legends of the origin of Marceline’s naming
is an ATSF director’s wife’s name of Marcelina. During the building
of the Kansas City to Chicago line, the first town lot sold in 1888 was at
the division point later called Marceline. Walt Disney’s family moved
to Marceline in 1906 when he was about five years old and stayed four years.
However, those short years spent in Marceline had a profound effect on Walt’s
young mind. When he built Main Street USA in his Disneyland and Disney
World, it was based on his memories of the turn-of-the-20th-Century Main
Street of Marceline. Trains influenced the young Walt Disney when he
watched them as a young boy. Notice that one of the first things one
sees upon entering Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom is an early day train station
Once again on westbound Route 36, it was only another
17 miles to the turnoff for MO-5 north into Laclede. Laclede was named
after an old Missouri pioneer named Laclede Liqueste. Nearby is 3500
acre Pershing State Park where prairies and wetlands can be enjoyed.
I’m a bit of a history nut and knew about General Pershing before setting
out for this little town. Laclede was the birthplace and boyhood home
of future General John J. Pershing. General Pershing is significant
because he reached the very top of his profession in WWI, and holds the distinction
of being the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime, to the highest
rank in the United States Army – General of the Armies. I believe
that is equivalent to a five star general, although he only wore four stars.
I expected to find just a cabin or home where he lived.
It was quite surprising to drive into a regular compound of buildings with
a statue and wall of honor with the names of veterans at the front.
Missouri State Historic Site
As I was stepping out of the vehicle, a man who appeared
to be a park ranger approached. I feared he was going to tell me that
the Pershing home was closed due to the weather. Instead, he greeted
me warmly with an invitation into the Welcome Center.
Pershing parking lot
Pershing Welcome Center
The friendly gentleman was Administrator Denzil Heaney
of the Missouri Division of State Parks. He talked with enthusiasm
about this State Historic Site that had opened in 1957. There is a short
movie available to learn more of General Pershing. We then walked next
door to the boyhood home of John J. Pershing.
Pershing Home front street
Pershing Home side street
Front walk into Pershing Home
Mr. Heaney provided an interesting and thorough tour
of the interior of the home. Many original furnishings disappeared
long ago, however, they’ve done a nice job obtaining numerous antique items
as much as the budget allowed. Notice in one of the below photos that
historians are four layers deep on the wallpaper attempting to peel back
to the original.
We walked down the front sidewalk to the Prairie Mound
School where Pershing was a teacher as a young man.
The school, reassembled here from its nearby location,
is now an excellent museum of Pershing memorabilia.
As a boy, he attended a school for students who were
considered gifted. Upon graduation, at about the age of eighteen,
became a teacher of African American students. That experience gave
him special racial insights when he later commanded a unit of Buffalo Soldiers
in the 10th Cavalry in 1895. One of the 10th’s earlier duties had
been to guard workers of the Kansas and Pacific Railroad in Indian Territory.
A railroad always slips in somewhere doesn’t it? After his teaching
stint, Pershing went to Kirksville normal school (now Truman State University
just up the road from La Plata). He then went on to graduate from West
Pershing took part in many historic events including
fighting in American Indian campaigns as a cavalry officer, received the
Silver Star fighting at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American
Revolution, the search for Pancho Villa into Mexico after his attack on a
New Mexico town, and of course WWI when he was promoted to full General commanding
the American Expeditionary Forces.
I thanked Mr. Heaney for a wonderful tour. At the end of the driveway,
a right turn took my car past the Post Office and town park.
As a side note on railroad connections - after WWI,
America named many things in honor of General Pershing including parks, streets,
an army tank and missile plus much more. However, let me point to the
CB&Q naming its ninth Zephyr passenger streamliner the General Pershing
Zephyr. Built in 1939, it differed from its predecessors in that it
was not articulated (cars connected by couplers rather than shared trucks).
The last I read was that its locomotive, the #9908 Silver Charger, was at
the Museum of Transportation in greater St. Louis.
Coming out of Laclede, I stopped a short distance down
Rt 5 to take photos of an old Burlington Northern overpass.
BN support sign
Burlington Northern sign
Four sections, each weighing 97,000 pounds, were removed
in 2008 to clear the center span of the overhead bridge. I have no
way of knowing if this was part of the original Hannibal & St. Joseph
Railroad line. However, the line did run through many towns between
Hannibal and St. Joseph, including Laclede. The plans for that railroad
were started in the Hannibal office of Mark Twain’s father before construction
began in 1851. Interestingly, the experiment for the first post-office-on-wheels
cars were carried out between Hannibal and St. Joseph in 1862. The
CB&Q took early ownership, then the Burlington Northern and BNSF.
Driving back to La Plata, the realization came that
one could tour both Marceline and Laclede with time to drive to Hannibal,
Missouri to experience Mark Twain sites. If one were staying in La
Plata, it is an easy hour and a half drive to Hannibal to spend the day or
as part of other stops like the Heartland Ford Museum or Solid Rock Café
in Newark, MO.
Returning to the Depot Inn, the good news awaited that
a path had been plowed to the Chris Guenzler Lookout. A quick visit
before evening was mandatory. Prior to this, I had withstood the urge
to drive out there for a good reason. Having had experience driving
in snow, I knew that just the ten inches of new snow was enough to get stuck.
Trying to turn a vehicle around at the Lookout would definitely mean trouble.
Snowy path to Lookout
Roadway to Lookout
Burma Shave signs
At the Lookout, a BNSF freight train emerged from under
the Brown St. Bridge. Notice the remains of the old Wabash Railroad
bridge abutment across the tracks and the BNSF sign on the newer Lookout
Doublestack at Lookout
Train Party & Trailer cars
It was time to head to the Red Rooster Restaurant for
dinner and the Depot Inn for the evening. I put the vehicle in reverse
and backed all the way out the snowy Lookout roadway. Resisting thoughts
of turning the van around, I did this on every trip to the Lookout and thereby
avoided the old stuck in the snow routine. The Red Rooster can be seen
to the right in the photo at the end of the pathway.
Reversing out of Lookout pathway
The next morning, my new friends Jerry and Kathy Staab
were preparing to head home on the eastbound Southwest Chief. I told
Andrea at the front desk that I would drive them to the station. When
we arrived at the depot, Bob Cox said the train was running about an hour
late. The answer was “absolutely” when I asked the Staabs if they wanted
to fill in the time with another trip to the Lookout. Kathy was a
little concerned about missing their train, but I assured her I would have
them back in time. In five minutes we all had our cameras out taking
photos at the Lookout.
LAP Station reflection
Buggy on Brown St bridge
Amish horse & buggy
Checking the time from the cell phone in my pocket
(pocket watches have come full circle – only with a screen instead of a
watch face), it was indicating a return to the station. With a few
minutes before the arrival of the Southwest Chief, I had Jerry and Kathy
pose for a photo.
Jerry and Kathy Staab
Three minutes later, the Southwest Chief could be seen
over Bob Cox’s shoulder.
Bob Cox checks arrival time
A series of photos caught the Southwest Chief making
its approach. Kathy and Jerry waved to the engineer as it slowed into
La Plata station. All eastbound passengers boarded, including the
Staabs, and the Southwest Chief was on its way toward Ft. Madison, Iowa.
I was sorry to see the Staabs leave for home, but knew my turn was coming
the next morning. How lucky, or smart, Bob Cox was to have moved and
made his home in this wonderful community. Of course none of us know
the future, but here’s an “atta-boy” to Bob for a great move.
EB SWC Conductor
Pulling my car out of the station fifteen minutes later,
a double stack train led by a set of BNSF locomotives came thundering through.
The magnetic pull of the Lookout exerted its influence
upon me, and thus, another visit was in order before lunch. It has
come a long way from its original bandstand gazebo type structure to the enclosed,
heated viewing platform it is today.
Doublestack at Lookout
BNSF 4727 & 962 (Dash 9 44CW)
BNSF 4006 & 5082 (Dash 9 44CWs)
Someone at the Depot Inn had mentioned a great place
for lunch about ten minutes down Route 63, in Atlanta, MO. It is called
the Olde Atlanta Locker Restaurant. I believe it was formerly a meat
locker, and thus the name. As I drove up I noticed several trucks parked
in front and that is always a good sign of great food. Inside, tables
were filled with locals – another good sign. I ordered the Main Street
burger (1/4 lb of Macon County Black Angus beef). No way could I contemplate
the 1/3 lb Atlanta Burger or the belt busting ½ pound Locker Burger
with bacon – yikes! The food was wonderful with the service prompt
and friendly. This restaurant receives a high recommendation if you
are in the area. They have breakfast and dinner menu items as well.
A call on my cell phone from Bob Cox tipped me to a
draft of SD 40 locomotives passing Marceline and headed our way. I
didn’t want to miss the locomotives as they charged past La Plata.
Therefore, after a hurriedly eaten lunch, I raced back up Rt 63 without exceeding
the speed limit – admittedly not by much. The locomotives would be
traveling eastbound past La Plata Amtrak Station, the Train Party building,
Chris Guenzler’s Lookout, under the Brown St and Rte 63 overpasses, then
by Santa Fe Lake. Thinking it may take too long to the Lookout, I decided
to go to Santa Fe Lake. Turning opposite the Depot Inn and down Lantern
Street, it was a relief to see the crossing gates still in the up position
at Santa Fe Lake. Snow was in abundant supply; however, the roads had
been expertly plowed. Once again, my snow driving experience served
me well when I noticed that the Santa Fe Lake parking lot had not been plowed.
However, a four wheel drive vehicle had circled it leaving a trail.
It would be safe as long as my vehicle continued moving in its tracks until
back on the downward sloping driveway. The gravity would then keep
the car moving when starting out again, rather than slipping on level ground.
Santa Fe Lake crossing
Parked safely on down-sloping driveway
While circling Santa Fe Lake’s parking lot back to the
driveway, two signs produced a chuckle since they were surrounded by ice
Swim at your own risk
No lifeguard today
Santa Fe Lake had been built by the railroad of the
same name in 1907, probably to water those wonderful old steam belchers.
Starting some time in the 1920s to the present, the public uses it for swimming,
picnicking, and fishing.
It was only five minutes until the locomotives came
into view. Led by BNSF 4469, the freight was suddenly roaring into
the crossing with Dash 9s and SD40s. Then as fast as the freight had
arrived it was gone, with the crossing gates returning to the up position.
Returning to my room at the Depot Inn, it was suitcase
packing time for returning home. Sadly, the next morning meant departure
on the Southwest Chief. I loved riding the train, but I hated leaving
La Plata. I washed my used clothes in the Depot Inn laundry room.
Everyone knows clean clothes take up less suitcase space than dirty, right?
As dusk was closing in, one more trip to the Lookout for the night became
a necessity. Arriving there about six o’clock, the rewards were three
Autorack at dusk
After leaving the Lookout roadway and driving past
the Red Rooster Restaurant, I found myself turning right instead of left
for the Depot Inn. Hey, one more spin around town for the night.
I’m happy I did so because I caught another train at the station on the way
back. Slowly crossing the Brown Street bridge, I snapped a photo of
the Lookout at dusk.
Chris Guenzler Lookout at dusk
After driving around town just a bit, I turned on Owensby
Street to take another trip past La Plata Station.
Owensby St to railroad
Crossing on Owensby
The lights were flashing and the gates were coming
down. While waiting for the train, I captured a few photos of the locomotives
and station building before returning to the hotel for the night.
La Plata AMTRAK station
Up early the next morning, I wanted to fit in just
one more trip to the Lookout before my homeward train. Although difficult
to see in the photos, the early morning light gleamed off the snow covered
trees and thickets like sunbeams on diamonds.
Morning sun on snow
Pathway to the Lookout
Arrival at the Lookout was just in time to catch a
passing Intermodal train. Notice the critter tracks in the snow.
One set might be rabbit and the other something smaller.
Intermodal and tracks
Intermodal and critters
Intermodal at Lookout
Westward photos provided a closer view of the Train
Party building and the tall tower seen in the Lookout webcams. A car
was passing Owensby Street crossing at the station.
Train Party & Tower
Passing Car at depot
Before leaving, I went inside the Lookout building
for a few more photos. You can see the signature of the Million Mile
man himself, Chris Guenzler. Also, my 2008 signature with wife plus
rail fan friends Carl Morrison and Tony Escarcega on either side - now that’s
good company! Someone wrote that the Depot Inn and Suites is a great
place to stay and I certainly agree with that. The heater makes the
Lookout a year round train watching site. Notice the ATCS monitor which
stands for Advanced Train Control System. It allows the monitoring of
train traffic so that one will know a train is approaching and be ready with
the camera. To prevent vandalism, the whole area is monitored by cameras.
Carl Morrison, Dutch Myers & Tony Escarcega
Leaving the Lookout, I returned to the Depot Inn for
a ride to the station. Once there, I talked with Bob Cox while waiting
for the eastbound Southwest Chief. We heard the diesel horn just before
it was curving the track west of Amtrak station. Bob and I shook hands
and I thanked him for his kindly help during my stay. One more photo
of the train and I had to climb aboard.
Transition Sleeper 39043
As the Southwest Chief pulled out of La Plata and under
the Brown Street bridge, I thought of a couple of photographs taken the evening
before. Indeed, scenes of my favorite place in La Plata along with
the Depot Inn, Amtrak Station and the Train Party building – the Chris Guenzler
Lookout Point. It is a most wondrous place for any rail fan.
The Lookout at dusk
Chris Guenzler Lookout