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|Travels To The 50th TCA National Convention 6/27/2004|
by Gordon Wilson TCA 76-10233
What a trip! Since moving to Arizona, we have driven to all buy one TCA Convention. That one was in Atlanta, when we rode Amtrak. That was a mistake we will never repeat again. This year we left Arizona on May 28 and some 8,240 miles and 16 states later, we returned late on the evening of July 3, 2004.
Needless to say, by driving, we are able to stop, go, visit or not visit things along the way. One of the really great things about northern Arizona and New Mexico is that the railroad more or less parallels Interstate 40, from Holbrook all the way to Tucumcari. Tucumcari, New Mexico, is a town made up primarily of motels, from “bare bones” to luxury. While the main lines of the BNSF and UP continue east toward Amarillo, Texas, a major spur at Tucumcari takes a left hand turn and heads northeast toward Wichita, Kansas. Coincidentally, that is how we were going also. Across New Mexico, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and into Liberal, Kansas, the trains continue unabated. The loads change from auto carriers and trucks to grain hoppers, as those large grain elevators dot the horizon in a never-ending pattern. There are three big highlights in Liberal. One is the display dedicated to Dorothy, Toto, and the Wizard of Oz. There is a world-class air museum with an emphasis on the planes of WW II. The final attraction is an antique mall on US 54. I have never been disappointed in finding toy trains and related items at this site. It is on the east side of Liberal and very hard to miss. Plan to spend at least an hour.
In Wichita, you can indulge yourself with a wonderful Railroad Museum at the former AT&SF station/yards in the restored downtown area. Not too far away is an extremely interesting museum devoted entirely to Coleman lamps and camping equipment dating back more than a century. A bit further from the railway tracks is something one would NEVER expect to see in Kansas. Would you believe the “America” and the America’s Cup? A boathouse on the Arkansas River has been restored by KOCH Industries and turned into a free exhibit dedicated to the America’s Cup Yacht Racing Series.
Leaving Kansas, our next stop would be at the Missouri Museum of Transportation just southwest of St. Louis. Here is everything from a super customized car of Bobby Darin to General Motors Turbo Locomotive, made for the Rock Island Railroad. A trolley serves as a people mover around the expansive grounds. There is a real F-3, the prototype developed by GM; a Camelback loco from the Lackawanna; one of the last 7 Big Boys and the last articulated steam engine made at the N&W shops in the early 1950’s. Rolling stock is plentiful and varied and is “rail fan” friendly, allowing you to walk through the interiors of tank and refrigerated cars. Plan to arrive early and stay late. To see and grasp everything, you’ll need at least half a day.
From here we headed further east to Louisville and a visit with a former New Jersey neighbor. She is a recent widow and asked me to check out her late husband’s toy trains. They will be in the Turkey Meet – an amazing array of Lionel Post War and American Flyer Pre-War O gauge, mostly 3/16 size, plus some Marx and really nice Lionel accessories.
Train wise our next stop was in Cooperstown, NY, known for its National Baseball Hall of Fame. Just south of Cooperstown is a combination excursion and commuter train ride. Because Cooperstown, a very small town, has limited parking and there are many baseball fans, this train, “The Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley,” will move people to and from Cooperstown on really busy days. It is a scenic and smooth 15-minute ride pulled by one of several diesel locomotives. The passenger cars are “bare bones,” apparently suffering from a lack of funds to make them really first class.
Just northeast of Troy, NY, is the Erie Canal Village. Around its grounds runs a 2-2-2 steam locomotive and about 6 open air passenger cars. It operates from a very nicely restored, but original, New York Central depot. The trip, well narrated, takes about 20 minutes. To complete the Erie Canal experience, one must take a voyage on the canal in a packet boat pulled by a team of mules.
Continuing northeast toward Lake Placid, you will arrive at Thendara, NY. Here works the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. I was able to talk my way into the cab of the SD-38, while Christie rode in one of the exquisitely restored New York Central Pullman cars. It was a three-hour trip and the engineer, a man named Tom, never stopped talking to me during the whole trip. Quite an experience!
We next went to Lake Placid and while looking for the luge and bobsled rides, accidentally discovered yet another excursion railway which was not listed in the May issue of Trains Magazine. We got lucky, for as we were inquiring about it, it pulled into the Lake Placid Depot (which also serves as an area museum). All I can say is “WOW.” The locomotives were two F units, one an F-7 and one an F-9. Their paint scheme was spectacular. There was no doubt that we’d be on the next trip out, which just happened to be in less than an hour. That time was spent exploring the train and photographing just about every square inch of it. Unfortunately, talk as I might, I couldn’t talk my way into the cab of the head-on F-7. That was really an unexpected trip and quite a bonus! As I’ve said, sometimes you just get lucky.
From here it was on to Vermont and a ferry boat ride across Lake Champlain. The excursion trains in and around Vermont had not yet begun their summer runs, as it was only early June. The next train didn’t happen until passing through central New Jersey. It was near Flemington, NJ, and no, it was not Northlandz, the huge model railroad exhibit. This was in Ringoes, NJ, a very small burg just north of US Route 202. There is a delightful excursion railroad called the “Black River and Western,” which makes several trips daily between the Ringoes depot and the one at Station Square in Flemington, NJ. If Flemington sounds familiar to you, it should. On many TV game shows, prizes from Flemington Furs have been offered and it was in Flemington that the famous Lindberg baby kidnapping trial was held some 70 years ago.
Amazingly there were no more real trains for nearly a week. We did, however, pay a visit to long-time friend and Desert Division member Rich Bimmer. Rich operates Antique Trains in Turnersville, NJ, and has been a great supporter of the Division with donations for our Turkey Meet and other activities. Today was no different, as Rich handed me an MTH Log Loader (looks like an old AF) for our use in an upcoming raffle or as a prize at the Turkey Meet.
Actually, the next trains did come earlier than a week later. A flea market in Lambertville, NJ, has always been a great source of toy trains for us, and this time was no different. Lionel, K-Line, and American Flyer were there in abundance and some pieces have made their way back to Arizona.
Now, back to the real trains. The last surviving narrow gauge railroad east of the Mississippi River is in Rockhill Furnace, PA. The East Broadtop Line runs a steam loco and a long string of restored wooden Pullman cars along a picturesque river valley. Across the street from the train ride is the Rockhill Trolley Museum. Following a 20 minute ride in an open air trolley came a visit to the gift shop. What a bonanza! Toy train catalogs were for sale and at prices you simply could not believe! I had to pinch myself to see if I were not dreaming. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Obviously next came the TCA Convention, where trains were the norm. A Marx Train Museum in nearby Wheeling, WV, was a real eye opener and the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum was equally wonderful. Station Square in downtown Pittsburgh provided an endless array of CSX freights, plus a spectacular restaurant in an old PL&E passenger terminal. It was called the Grand Concourse and is a real “don’t miss” stop.
Following the Convention, it was “let’s get home” time. A stop in Cincinnati took us by the famous Union Station. A trip to the ballpark gained me a foul ball hit by Barry Larkin. Branson, MO, is known for its variety of shows, but the best thing by far was the Branson Scenic Railroad, pulled by yet another F-7. For the two-hour trip, we rode in a former Burlington Zephyr Vista Dome Car, one of 3 such cars on this train. Another “Don’t miss!”
Now on the real road home, we once again entered northern New Mexico, and, as when we left some five weeks earlier, we paralleled endless strings of BSNF and UP consists. It made us feel right at home to learn that nothing had changed in the desert, except a nasty forest fire near Payson. We have many fond memories from the trip East, some of which you have just read about and shared.
For your culinary information, here are some restaurants you should (or should not) investigate:
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