Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another adventure


Have you ever been on a train ride? Four decades ago I arrived in South Africa and my first assignment was in a city 450 miles away.  Travel was by train and it would be an overnight trip.  I didn’t speak Afrikaans, I didn’t know north from south or east from west because I was in the southern hemisphere and everything was different in orientation from the northern hemisphere.  And I was traveling alone.  Well, I got there just fine and it was actually quite an adventure.  I had opportunities to travel by train a few more times, once for three days on a transfer from Salisbury, Rhodesia to Kimberley in Cape Province.  Each time it was a memorable and even enjoyable adventure.
Dr Patterson and the committee

In May Gaye and I flew out to Athens Ohio to cheer for Spencer as he defended his dissertation in communication at Ohio University.  The big school in Ohio is THE Ohio State University, but Ohio U was there first.  In fact, the other university with Ohio in its name has to pay OU for the right to have their marching band spell OHIO on their football field.  But I digress.  We left our car in Salt Lake and flew out for the big event.  The defense went very well.  Now there is another Dr Patterson, PhD.  (Good work, Spence.)
We planned the trip to include a train ride back to Salt Lake in stead of flying.  We enjoyed the visit with Spence, Emily, and the Three WIld Boys.  We helped them pack up their house and move to Columbus where Spencer has been working for a couple of months at the other Ohio university.  We got them all settled in and headed out for Cincinnati by way of Dayton.  Dayton is the home of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (no relation that I know of), home of The United States Air Force Museum.  It is the biggest such museum, and a week there would not allow enough time to read all the information plaques or even walk around every airplane in the seven huge hangers, but three hours was all we could spare.  It was exhausting but time well spent.

Then we went on to Cincy where we attended a Reds game.  

It was a great game with the home team pulling off a squeeze play in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat Detroit.  I have always been a NL fan.  I think the pitchers should bat.  The AL has designated hitters.  Wimps.  After the game we drove to the Amtrak station, said our good-byes, and Gaye and I checked in and waited for our train to take us to Chicago.  The ride from Cincinnati to Chicago cost us $38 each.  Not bad.

The run north was interesting. We were seated in the coach section, where the seats are bigger and more comfortable than the first class section on any airplane.  The train was a hour late, so we didn’t board until 0300 Saturday morning.  Sleeping on the train was difficult, especially with people walking past all the time, babies crying, and the newness of train travel.  But it was not bad.  Gaye will say that it was quite dirty.  Probably true.  
A single mom in front of us had two small kids and about a ton of baggage so we helped her haul it out of the station.  I was doing my Boy Scout good turn daily and she was very thankful.

Chicago is an  interesting place.  We were right down town, practically under the Sears Tower, so we hiked a few blocks to get some Chicago style pizza at Giordano’s.  

We had some pizza in Athens that was really the best I have ever had.  Really thin crust and amazing flavors.  The Chicago style was a completely different experience, but it was also very tasty.  They put the sauce on top of the cheese and stuff, and the crust is sort of like pie crust.  I think I ate more pizza in that week than I have had in the past two or three years.

We finished in time to hike back to the station and await our train to Salt Lake.  The first class passengers get to wait in a nice lounge at the station.  Then we walked out onto the platform and Bob, our attendant, got us settled into our room. We had a sleeper berth on the California Zephyr. You can see the compartments at  It was quite small but adequate.  There were two wide reclining seats facing each other.  

Three rest rooms and a shower were practically outside the door.  The car was a double decker, but we were on the lower level, so the sway from the motion of traveling was barely noticeable.  I had anticipated the click-clack  I remembered from my African excursions, so we were totally surprised when we found that we could carry on a conversation as easily as if we were sitting in our own living room.  The compartment had its own air conditioning, reading lights, speakers so we could hear announcements about stops, eating times, and other general information.  The windows were dirty but we cleaned them at the next stop and solved that problem.

Dining was a terrific experience.  I have not been on a cruise, but I imagine it is about the same.  The food was excellent, and it was included in the price of the sleeper.  We made reservations for dinner and were called when it was our turn.  Meanwhile, we could go up and sit in the lounge car with the huge windows or sit at the cafe-style tables and read or visit.  There was a cafe car downstairs for anybody who wanted a sandwich or soda.  At the dinner table we would be paired up with another couple or two singles.  We met a couple from North Carolina, a couple from Switzerland (he was German, she was French!), a Columbia University law professor, and three older ladies all traveling alone to visit or return from visiting their kids across the country.  The steaks or fish or whatever we wanted was excellent and the service was outstanding.

We slept across Nebraska.  I think that was good planning.  The seats make into nice bunks.  They were narrow but adequate.  I got the upper bunk, of course.  It had about 18 inches to the ceiling.  Plenty when I am sleeping.  In fact, I slept like a rock.  The safety strap was nice addition to keep me from rolling off the bunk, but I never noticed it.  

When we awoke the sun was rising over the eastern Colorado plains.  We had breakfast outside Denver, stopped for a few minutes to take on more passengers, and then began our climb up the steep foothills into the Colorado Rockies.  There were 29 tunnels along that stretch, the longest being 6.2 miles.  Gaye and I even enjoyed a nice nap as we continued westward.  Finally we arrived in Salt Lake at 11 pm, caught a taxi back out to the airport hotel where we left our car, and got a great night’s sleep before driving home Monday morning.

What did I think of the train ride?  It was a little slower than flying, but when considering all the airport security hassles and the requirement to be there hours early, plus waiting for transportation to and from the airport, the train was really not much slower.  The train was definitely more comfortable, quieter, the food was great, and we felt more rested when we reached the end of the journey.  The cost is comparable including the sleeping accomodations.  The main drawback is that the desired destination needs to be near an Amtrak terminal.  I hope we can do it again sometime.  

That’s all for now.


  1. Sounds like fun! We will have to try it some time.

  2. Josh and Emmett are totally into trains now. They would have loved that. We'll have to try it sometime.

  3. I'm glad you liked the train! You deserved a restful trip home after we wore you both out! Thanks again for being here to help me during the most chaotic time I can ever remember. It was very memorable. We had a lot of fun and you never complained about moving us. I love you!

  4. Great post Dad. Though I was running around like a headless chicken, and pretty grouchy, I'll always remember having you and mom here for that adventure. The Reds game was pretty fun too. It was my summer vacation. Glad I found this one.