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Published: November 5th 2012
Good mornin’ America, how are you? Don’t you know me? I’m your native son. I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done
We closed last night with a bumpy ride. In darkness we whizzed by Memphis, Fulton KY, Carbondale Ill, Champaign-Urbana Ill, and a host of unknown rail fronting towns. Night time on the city of New Orleans Changin’ cars in Memphis, Tennessee Halfway home, we’ll be there by mornin’
I woke up to the clickity-clack and the pleasant rocking motion of our train. The sun, peeking over the mowed fields of wheat, was doing its best to color the sky. Passing lonely farm houses, you have to wonder how people stay in touch. Then you realize why Midwesterners have the reputation of being so resilient and self reliant. Your neighbor is 5 miles away! You can’t run to the HEB grocery store every half hour. Imagine gazing at the “amber waves of grain”, undulating ripples pushed by the breeze.
Breakfast on the dining car, corned beef hash on eggs and sitting high above
the tracks able to enjoy the scenery pass by for miles. The dining car has large domed windows on a second level. Several cups of coffee later, we passed Kankakee Ill, unassuming and unaware of its assured immortality from the song: All along the southbound odyssey the train pulls out of Kankakee Rolls along past houses, farms & fields Passin’ graves that have no name, freight yards full of old black men And the graveyards of rusted automobiles
Our train was heading north and I doubt that old black men gather around freight yards, but the rest could still be the mid 1900’s
Noticeably, the little towns become more frequent and larger as we roll. More activity, cars and trucks and people are visible. Sadly, intuitively, I sense the big city’s footprint. Sure enough in another 15 minutes you can make out the shadow of the Sears tower. Quickly we’re in it. The big city: HOG Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders:
Carl Sander’s poem is on target, our train passed miles and miles of manufacturing facilities. Old brick buildings that have withstood countless gales from the lakes, no windows broken or missing as witnessed in other manufacturing cities past their time. Nothing however, was as obvious as: Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler. Arriving at Union Station we passed what must be the country’s largest rail marshaling yard. Chicago’s Union station, not impressive, utilitarian, probably befitting the mood of Chicago long ago.
The ride is over. We thoroughly enjoyed the trek back in history and the pass through our Nation’s heartland. It should be a required rite of passage for all of us that live in large cities to step back and see the simpler independent backbone of America. I can’t think of a better or more fun way to do it than by train. It is like being on a time machine that takes you progressively from the salty marshlands of backward Louisiana to the future, waking up to the extraordinary Chicago skyline. This Journey was about the experience, the train ride was a noteworthy bonus.
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