Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Last Part

“Thanks for the Memories”

The above was the theme for entertainer Bob Hope. His orchestra, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, played the theme at the end of any TV show Bob did.

And so this Wednesday morning, I am back at the Congress Plaza Hotel in downtown Chicago getting ready to take a Lyft to O’Hare International Airport and head back to Hartford and thinking of my recent memories.

I made a lot new friends, all of us being railfans. Some bringing knowledge of working in the railroad industry. Others talking about previous rail journeys.

And also helping out these new friends at times. Some of them were Joan and her husband Charlie. On a number of occasions, Charlie would have his camcorder running as he filmed long portions of our trip as the trains traversed the countryside. Joan, on the other hand, has named me her hero; well, in my perspective, a co-hero. Seems Joan dropped her credit card down a crack in the boarded sidewalk at Old Town Sacramento. One of our tour guides, Hannah, was trying to grab the card with stick-um tape at the end of 2 chopsticks. My friend Scott and I tried to help. Next thing we know, one of the store owners came out with a portable power drill. He tried to get the screws out of the boards after one of Sacramento’s maintenance crews said they could not get the card due to the age of the screws that held the boards in place. When the owner came out with a box of screwdriver bits, I grabbed the drill, found the right size bit, and with Scott running the drill and me adding downward pressure, we managed to get half of the screws removed so that I could raise the plank and Hannah then scooped down to grab the card. Joan was beyond being delighted and Charlie then made sure that the all of their credit cards were in a secured place. Just another day in paradise. And a cold beer that night for my reward.

Anyway, I close this blog by saying thank you to Hannah, Shawn and John from Special Interest Tours for being our tour wranglers and taking great care of us. Thanks to William and Rafael, aka Butch and Sundance, for driving our chartered Trailways coach buses for part of our journey. Thanks to bartender Don and Altaplano Rail’s Adam and his chef Malia and their wait crew for taking care of us aboard sleeping cars Cimarron River, Berlin, Pacific Union and Super Dome car #53.

And thanks to all of you for reading and traveling along with me. See on the rails someday soon. And as always, have a safe ride whenever you ride the rails.

I’m Philip J Zocco. On The Road. In Chicago, Illinois.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Part Fourteen

“Field Trip – One More Time with Feeling!!”

These last few days have literally been like elementary school field trips. And Monday was no exception.

We departed North Platte, Nebraska and headed for the town of Cozad, who claim to fame is that the town sits on the 100th Meridian or 100 degrees west longitude. We arrived at the old Union Pacific Depot which has a small museum inside and has a Union Pacific caboose on display on the south side of the station. And the station sits right on UP’s triple track mainline. A few minutes after we arrived, we were greeted by an eastbound unit coal train, all 135 hopper cars carrying an estimated 18,000 tons of Power River Basin coal from eastern Wyoming.  

Our next stop was Omaha, Nebraska and a place that I did not know of but is known to travelers entering the city on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80. The place is Kenefick Park, named after former Union Pacific chairman Paul Kenefick. It is part of Lauritzen Gardens. And what is out there, or should I say, up there, that leaves you wondering how the park builders did this. Forming a point are Union Pacific’s Centennial diesel locomotive 6900 and Big Boy steam locomotive 4023. The park overs great views of Omaha and the Interstate system. Once you climb the 64 steps to the park, gently sloping concrete walkways get you around the park.  More information can be found at:

Next, it was a trip across the Missouri River to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Many exhibits about the railroad's history from its creation to the modern technology used o n the railroad today. 

Our last stop was the Durham Museum, formally Omaha’s Union Station.  The station has been meticulously renovated inside and out. Inside is a grand and high waiting room with the station looking as it was in its heyday. At the height of WWII, more than 40 passenger trains made a stop in Omaha with soldiers heading to and from the war, more than 10,000 passengers a day. At one end is a grand ballroom, beautifully carpeted with a parquet floor for dancing. The ballroom is used for weddings, banquets and the local high schools’ senior proms. Amtrak stops here twice a day with its California Zephyr but at a small station across a large field which contained the former big station’s platform tracks.

O In the basement was a bright yellow caboose and one of Union Pacific's steam locomotives. I cased out the caboose. Took a lot of pictures. My dream place to put my ham audio shack and audio studio. As the song goes, "Dreeeeaaammmm, dream ,dream dream".

At the end of our final “field trip”, we were off to the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Omaha for our farewell dinner. For some of the participants, they’ll head up to their rooms for a full night's  sleep and departures from Omaha’s Eppley Field International Airport on Wednesday . For the rest of us, it will be a short night with a wake-up call at 3:45am to catch Amtrak’s California Zephyr. With sleepers Pacific Union and Berlin split by Super Dome #53, we will run behind Amtrak's #6, the California Zephyr as it cruises across Iowa and then into Illinois with an estimated arrival of 2:50pm CDT at Amtrak’s Union Station in Chicago.

I will wrap things up on Wednesday as I head back to Connecticut.  Please stay tuned.

I’m Philip J Zocco. On The Road. In Omaha, Nebraska.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Part Thirteen

“Field Trip….AGAIN!!”

Sunday began with another field trip. Well, it felt like that to me.

We left Cheyenne, Wyoming this morning and headed to the city of North Platte, Nebraska. home of Union Pacific’s Bailey Classification Yard, the largest on the planet. At 2 miles from north to south and 8 miles from east to west, it is North Platte’s biggest employer. On the southeast corner of the yard is the Golden Spike Tower where railfans can view the yard the surrounding area from an enclosed 8th floor observatory or from the outside balcony on the 7th floor. The tower has a nice gift shop. The view from the tower is anything a railfan would love. You see the locomotive repair shop, the fueling and sanding racks, the east hump yard and various storage tracks. You can see eastbounds that are on their way east and see the westbounds coming for crew changes, fueling and inspection. 
And the scenery is complete with freshly planted corn fields.

After leaving the tower, we headed to Cody Park which has a number of UP equipment on display including steam locomotive Challenger 3977 and mega diesel locomotive Centennial 6922. And lucky for me, there was a UP caboose on display. I took numerous pictures inside to give me an idea on how my ham radio station and studio would look next to my Nebraska homestead AND the 50 foot tower next to the  caboose. Hey, a railfan can dream, can’t he??!!

After the park, we headed to the Switchyard Grill & Pub right near the eastern side of Bailey Yard for as fabulous buffet.

Monday, we go to Cozad and our final destination of Omaha before some of us fly home and some of us take a 5am CDT departure on our private cars to Chicago on Tuesday.

It has truly been great. One more day (sad).

I am Philip J Zocco. On The Road. In North Platte, Nebraska.

The Last Part

“Thanks for the Memories” The above was the theme for entertainer Bob Hope. His orchestra, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, played th...