model train set on track

Looking for trains, finding a Nation

e*Train Issue: Aug 2007   |   Posted in:

By Erney Alewine

Leaving Florida is not a difficult task.  Leaving Florida in 0-5% visibility due to smoke does up the demand, but leave we did.

Amtrak station also museum.

First stop was a family reunion of sorts in the hills of Northeastern Georgia, where train legends of themselves thrive from the small, sleepy town of Lavonia, once a major thoroughfare for logging, freight, and passenger; and close to Toccoa, where many a paratrooper earned his right to abandon perfectly fine airplanes for the hardened thump into a battlefield.

Toccoa, Georgia Museum.

I, along with my wife and father, traced my paternal decedents, finding grandfather, great grandfather and mother, and several aunts and uncles.

Wooden Trestle Bridge – Clarksville, Tennessee.

Relatives never met, but now somehow lent to closure along the road of heritage.

On and thru the great states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and into Illinois, to behold what I know of but never knew was real.

Crossing the Ohio River at Metropolis, Illinois.

Metropolis, the working city of a young reporter known as Clark Kent to many, Superman to those of us who have passed the half century mark wishing that type of hero still existed.

Superman guarding the Metropolis, Illinois
Town Hall.

Therein, amongst other historical tributes, is a museum dedicated to the Red Caped gentleman, dedicated to Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

Crossing the Ohio River between Paducah, Kentucky and Metropolis, Illinois, is a multi-spanned arch trestle bridge that is an architectural beauty to behold.

Mr. Peabody’s coal train across the Ohio.

And on the return trip I was fortunate enough to catch a coal drag rolling across against an afternoon sky, one step ahead of some storms.

The Welcoming Arch – St. Louis, Missouri.

Onward into Missouri, feeling awe-inspired and welcomed by the Arch in St. Louis.  Having passed over the Mighty Mo, the Missouri River, I felt what the first of the pioneers might have thought, how intimidating the other side and the crossing might be.

Saying goodbye to the Arch at St. Louis.

We passed many train yards, and sidings, and rolled along to Kansas City, Missouri, again finding large train yards, along with the stuff of modern lore, like stadiums and riverfront casinos.

Upwards towards Iowa, where the confusing and already exorbitant gas prices began in common.

A quick left turn netted us the Nebraska countryside, complete with the sights and sounds of trains, and long, straight highways, and picturesque old barns and farms, although far between.

North Platte leads tracks east.

North Platte, Nebraska was a target this vacation, and we finally made it after stopping at other various tourist traps, like Fort Cody, a tribute set to Buffalo Bill, whose home was nearby.  The rail yards were, too, and that was the chosen destination.

North Platte, Nebraska, west to hump yard.

North Platte is a Union Pacific utility, and is the largest rail yard in the U.S., if not the world.

We learned of walkways over the yard lead tracks, where a good vantage was held, watching in total amazement at the number of units being moved.

West view of North Platte yards – hump is to the right.

Although we did not get access into the actual hump yard, we could see most of the 8 mile splendor of a rail fan’s reward.

At one time, just a westward plain.

Across Nebraska, into Wyoming, stopping in Cheyenne to get a glimpse of the real U.P. Big Boy on display at the town park, and to go overhead again to view the yards in their evening cloak of sunset colors, last sun shining on the rails.

Monument at Wyoming line – Lincoln stares into forever.
Old UP caboose.

Needless to say, all of the above fits a tall order for someone who is used to a two track main, and the same Blue/Yellow livery in general.

Station at Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The Big Boy – and Girl – and a train, too!
UP Big Boy 4004 – Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Eyes turned to the vastness of the territories we encountered, the abundance of the wildlife, in herds, again a defined new characteristic from the one or two a season sighting of deer here in the flatlands of Florida.

Finally making our way to the westernmost part of our route, Yellowstone, we encountered what some may take for granted,-bison, elk, moose, beaver, mule deer, and trees upon trees, with the Purple Mountains Majesty of the Grand Tetons, that I have heard of for many, many years in verse and song, but now be held.

Lander, Wyoming
Imagine them by the thousands.
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
The second time – just for us.
The Tetons – true purple mountain majesty.
Sinks State Park – Lander, Wyoming.
Hey, that’s not real friendly!!

Old Faithful made its appearance, in a quiet, reverent manner, and also another geyser in the field that had not risen in a matter of years, made a spectacular display, seemingly just for us, as if saying “You, who have waited this long, need to see the best before you go away.”

Empty handed was not how we left the splendor of this region.

A must – see: Wild Bill’s show in miniature.
Ft. Cody, Nebraska – one miniature show to behold.
“Honest, honey – I think it will fit in the Jeep!”

Onwards to Deadwood, South Dakota.  Amongst cowboy, gold rush, and gambling folklore, one would not expect to find a perfect miniature world, but below in the basement of the building close to where Wild Bill Hickok met his demise from the drygulching Jack McCall, is one of the most spectacular HO model Railroads.

Ask of its whereabouts along the main street, anyone can give you the details.

Deadwood Depot. Check out the building in the back – few will.
Deadwood – just a-waitin’ for a train.
Find this sign, find a railroad.
HO scale railroad below Wild West Casino, Deadwood.
Wild Bill Hickok’s demise in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Heading back towards the scrub oaks and palmettos of Florida, the long way, we came around a curve and out of nowhere, a circa 1880 train and excursion.  A quick stop and a few questions and pitiful facial expressions captured me a walk around the maintenance area, where Mallet # 110 had just finished its duties, and sat regaining its breath, complete with all the delightful oil, grease, smoke and steam aromas, delicacies of lost decades in the nostrils of the fanatic train chaser.

Black Hills RR Station
No. 110 Mallet – duties finished for the day.
Black Hills Central Railroad
Hill City, South Dakota

Following our hastily laid out plans, we followed a long twisting highway into what was called the Needles, where looking closely at the license plates ahead of you would yield the same issued to you at your local agency.

Needles Highway

Rocks, with holes carved thru that allowed the car to pass and would make the shadow of the vehicle patiently await its turn for access.

You want to drive through, or me?

We made it to the end, and then found ourselves in Custer State Park, amid more bison, lumbering aimlessly to where ever their notions took them.

We then started another ascent on a road called Iron Mountain Road, and after about 30 minutes of climbing, came upon the most dramatic part of our journey, four stately gentlemen, posed for a period of infinity, overseeing this Land in a passionate gaze into the future, with a weathered stance of knowing the past.

First sighting – Mt. Rushmore
Posed in vigilance.
Truly American soil.

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, carved into Mt. Rushmore, is as stirring a patriotic moment frozen in time, as picturing Francis Scott Key peering over the side of the vessel staring at the Flag in his vision penned to paper of this country’s rise to glory.

As with all good things coming to end, we came away humbled by the experience at this Monument.  It is in small part about the carving, but the magnitude lies within the heartfelt mood it stirs.

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Devil’s Tower – America’s first National Monument.

Said this, to leave.  Down the mountain, and on to another wonder, the Devil’s Tower.  Rising over 800′ in the middle of nowhere, it guided us like a beacon to its majestic stance.

Closer, we found climbers that looked to be no more than ants, clinging to the sheer walls.  Not for me, thank you, but I can imagine that “just because it’s there” feeling.  There is another kind of reverence felt in viewing this wonder.

Badlands of South Dakota

The Badlands, although producing little or no train activity, is not to be missed.  One can see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne riding over the knolls, and it also has a strange beauty, one of a compelling nature, the vastness and the evidence of the violence that took to create it.  It beckons, “Come closer, but stay out.”

Badlands, South Dakota

At the Eastern entrance to the Badlands, South Dakota, and a man-made reality came upon us.  The National Minuteman Missile Complex.  This is a good place to think out the true meaning of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Thankfully, we are the Good.

Doesn’t seem real.

The ride home was not that anti-climactic.  We found other items of interest, including a Museum in a small town called Murdo, South Dakota.

Darn speed trap!
Depot – Murdo, South Dakota
Old depot at the Pioneer Museum, Murdo, SD.
Old wooden caboose, Murdo, SD
Tom Mix’s ’31 Packard

This man has an assortment of cars, tractors, movie, toy, and hundreds of anything that can have the word “memorabilia” attached to it, including the ’31 Packard of the beloved Tom Mix, cowboy of cowboys.  It also includes the old depot/station in its own little world, along with old wooden caboose.

In this year’s 5500 mile jaunt, added to the 7000 miles of last year, this country has amazed me in many ways.  The utter diversity, the great expanses, coast to coast, is by itself filled with invaluable lessons.  How Lewis and Clark and their party must have felt, although it was a duty to them, to be so honored and allowed to first map and plot the routes that many would follow from their day forth, and how those that have followed have used this great Nation as a canvas.

It is a setback in reality to just think of it as a place to live, and the more of it I see, the more I believe in a much Higher Power to have put it here for us to enjoy, in any form we can.

I would request that all regroup, and pass on not only our feelings of trains and their enjoyment, but the legacy of all the Great States of our America, still–United.

A challenge for modelers.
A fair day’s end.
Another flaming finish to the day.
Clouds, sky, and trains.
Crossing the Mighty Mo.
In the middle of nowhere – an old town.
Lewis and Clark’s Guiding Light.
Mixing man and nature.
Old 1800’s town used in movies.
Morning run Kansas City, Missouri.
Seldom seen on any road.
Take U.S. West – MKT.
This would look good on a Pike Lander – Wyoming.
Check out the paint scheme – Gillette, Wyoming
I still think it will go in the Jeep!
In the distance – 7 engine consist for coal drag.
Wall, South Dakota

See ya, Erney

Erney Alewine
Clermont, Florida – U.S.A.!