Mo & Terry Smedley


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Heartland USA by Rail
June, 2005

Part IX:  Chicago to Seattle
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Saturday morning, we walked around Chicago's Loop to explore the downtown shopping.  Mo was delighted to find Marshall Field's, what I would call a "mall in a box".  It's a department store in the grand tradition, occupying one full city block, with nine floors and a lower level full of shopping.  Mostly high-end, name-brand merchandise.  There's a full 20-page guidebook to the store so you won't get lost.  We also walked through the theatre district and watched an el train or two before returning to the hotel. 

Before leaving Chicago, we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, the "Elephant and Castle" on Adams Street.  We've also enjoyed this restaurant in Victoria, B.C., and Seattle.  Chicago Union Station was very busy on this July 4th holiday weekend.  Trainloads of weekend visitors were entering the city as we were getting ready to leave.  Our departure was delayed for about 30 minutes to allow some inbound passengers on a late train to make a connection.

The Empire Builder exhibited outstanding on-time performance, running within 30 minutes of schedule at all points along the route.  We're expecting to arrive in Seattle about 20-30 minutes early (due to schedule padding inbound from Edmonds).

Some observations from our trip home:

Wisconsin is "neat and tidy".  Lawns are closely cropped, houses and streets look quite tidy.  Lots of dairy farms, as you'd expect, with well-defined borders.

North Dakota is much greener then I recall it.  Lots of marshland along the tracks, with open fields of tall grasses bending in the breezes.

A woman is our conductor on the CP/Soo route from Chicago to St. Paul.  She wears an Amtrak badge that identifies her as "Queenductor".

A passenger steps too far from the train at a brief stop in Williston.  The train leaves without him, but is signaled to a stop a hundred feet or so from the station so he can get back on.  The conductor (not the Queenductor) lectures the entire train on the PA system for an unreasonably long period of time about staying close to the train at all times, and vows the train will not stop again for passengers not on board at departure time.  A message not without merit, but definitely not delivered in the flavor of good customer service.

We had "dinner in the diner" while crossing Marias Pass in the Rockies.  I have no pictures of the beautiful scenery, but the early evening sun heightened the colors along the way.  The full crowd at the Izaak Walton Inn was out to wave at us, and another group waved us by at the West Glacier Lodge.

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Mo navigated directly to the Frango section of Marshall Field's. The Chicago theatre district. Look at the size of the Chicago downtown library! The great hall of Chicago Union Station.
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Mo looks lonely in the great hall.  There were throngs of people by the gates, but the great hall was amazingly quiet today. Sunset over the Mississippi as we head West. In Minot, North Dakota, I notice that the Amtrak station crew uses a John Deere 855 tractor for baggage duty.  That's my tractor! Three GE locomotives head our consist of 13 cars, including two private cars destined for the National Railway Historical Society convention held in Portland this week.
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If you showed me this picture, I wouldn't guess "North Dakota".  But we passed a hundred miles or so of this kind of scenery there. Bright yellow crop (OK, I don't know what it is) dots the landscape in Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana. We pass lots of buildings like this - "fixer uppers" I call them.  Still, you wonder what the story is behind the building - what caused the people to leave, where did they go? Something you don't see a lot of on the UP/Southern Pacific routes - double track!  We had lots of it on the BNSF route home.
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Our first glimpse of the Missouri River from the train (in Eastern Montana). Fort Union, built in 1828, near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.  It has been restored and preserved as a National Park site. Train time in Havre, Montana is a busy time. Mo in our sleeping car compartment on the Empire Builder.
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We're in Big Sky Country now. A first glimpse of what's to come as we approach Shelby. Me at the Shelby station.  We arrived twenty minutes early, so we had time to get of and exercise a bit here. The Glacier Park Lodge just across from the East Glacier station in the afternoon sun.  Look at the colorful flower boxes that line the walkway to the lodge.
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I spotted one of the Glacier Park "Red Buses" as our train parallels Highway 2. Mo at Whitefish Station.  They're proud of the 75-year tradition of the Empire Builder. Another view of Whitefish station.