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Gordon and Christie Wilson – The
TRAVELS TO THE 50th TCA NATIONAL CONVENTION
you CAN'T read the whole thing.”
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.
This will not endear me to many persons, but I'm sure there
are more who will agree with me than who disagree. If you've
ever driven on a two-lane road with no readily available place
to pass a slow moving vehicle, and that slow moving vehicle was
an RV, then you know from whence I come. I do believe that such
vehicles should be banned from all roads, other than multi-laned
main thoroughfares. I'm certain many of the drivers get a big “thrill” out
of seeing how long a back-up line of traffic they can create.
Leaving the Phoenix area, where we're told by Governor Napolitano
that the cost of fuel is high because everything must be piped
or trucked in, the costs jump downward as much as 30 cents per
gallon. The further east from Arizona one goes, the lower the
prices seem to go. The only conclusion one may draw is that communities
and states outside of the Phoenix area must all have their own
private petroleum reserves and refineries.
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. Heading east on I-40 from Holbrook toward New Mexico,
we suddenly find ourselves in the Jurassic Age, as all manner
of dinosaurs appear north and south of the highway. When we run
out of these ancient creatures, the mind-boggling billboards
for two-headed cattle, world's largest rattlesnakes, Indian crafts
and teepee motels begin. The dollar speaks.
Paralleling I-40, in addition to old Route US 40, is America's
first intercontinental highway, US Route 66. Because of the resurgence
of interest and nostalgia associated with this road, virtually
every town between California and all points east in which Route
66 ran, has now dedicated a part of that road for “old time's
sake.” Some are better than others; it all depends upon how long
your nostalgia and wallet hold out. For railroad buffs, I have
five favorites: 1) Barstow, CA; 2) Seligman, AZ; 3) Flagstaff,
AZ; 4) Winslow, AZ, and 5) Gallup, NM. Trains pass nearly on
a non-stop basis.
As you near the eastern Arizona/western New Mexico border, along
I-40, not only are you treated to an abundance of BNSF freights
and Amtrak passenger trains, you also will notice the plethora
of mesas and buttes suddenly climbing toward the sky from the
barren desert floor. Although spectacular at any time of the
day, the rays of first light and the evening's sunset make them
absolutely stunning. A camera is an absolute must! However, make
sure your bodily functions have been well cared for before entering
this stretch of highway, as the roadside rest stops have been
severely neglected in New Mexico. Pray that your kidneys can
last until you are nearly in Albuquerque. If you are a collector
of useless minutiae, then you will enjoy this tidbit: from Fountain
Hills, AZ to 30 miles west of Albuquerque, at an average speed
of about 70 mph, I was able to listen to all 9 of Beethoven's
Symphonies. Once leaving the beauty of the northern New Mexico's
mesas and buttes, I-40 turns into another one of those monotonous
super highways whose humdrum is broken only by herds of cattle,
packs of wild horses, Indian gaming casinos, and distant BNSF
trains. It is not until Albuquerque that civilization (as most
of us understand it) returns. At Exit 160 is a very worthwhile
food stop. Rudy's Country Store and BBQ is guaranteed to satisfy
your hunger and thirst, leaving you refreshed and enthusiastic
enough to continue eastward toward Tucumcari.
Rudy's Country Store & BBQ,
Clines Corners is probably a sign of the times. There was a
time when this was THE most major truck and rest stop between
Albuquerque, NM and Amarillo, Texas. Those days are gone, and
I suspect that within the year, Clines Corners will be a thing
of the past.
Tucumcari has two unique features. The first, obviously, is
its name – a legendary Indian chief. Second is its reason for
existence. If it were near anything of interest, it would be
ideal for a TCA Convention. There are over 2000 motel rooms,
nearly double the population of the town itself. Its sole purpose
for existence and the only businesses in town revolve around
the motels put there for the benefit of the Interstate traveler.
From Oklahoma City to the east and Bakersfield, California on
the west, the most common road sign implores the Interstate traveler
TUCUMCARI TONIGHT. Apparently most people make it there: be sure
you have a reservation.
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. Heading northeast we were on our way
to Wichita, Kansas, via US Route 54. If you wish to have some
geographic fun with your friends, tell them that you crossed
Texas and Oklahoma, each in less than an hour. In both instances
you are taking shortcuts, across the panhandle sections of these
states on your way to Liberal, Kansas. Liberal is the mythical
home from which Dorothy and her dog Toto were swept into the
Land of Oz by a Level V tornado. It seemed for all the world
that from Liberal and on into Wichita, we were destined to follow
in Dorothy's footsteps. I drove the largest and heaviest car
on the road, a Fleetwood Brougham, and I had to literally fight
the crosswinds clear across Kansas. I estimated them to be blowing
at from 20 to 25 mph. Was I ever wrong!
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.
Roughly half way between Liberal and Wichita is the town of
Meade. Once a thriving cow town, it is now virtually a ghost
town, as most economic opportunities have ceased. If you head
north out of the center of town, in roughly 30 minutes you will
come to arguably the Old West's most famous metropolis – Dodge
City, with its infamous Boot Hill. Returning to the center of
what remains of Meade, there is one legitimate tourist attraction – the
hideout of the famous Dalton Gang. The entry fee is quite reasonable.
If you are a fan of the Old West, this is a site you might find
extremely interesting. Unlike Tombstone, Arizona, which is now
excessively commercial, this area seems to remain consistent
with its traditions. Roughly another half hour east of Meade
is a “World's Record” site, which few persons really care about,
but it is interesting nonetheless. The world's deepest hand-dug
well is in Greensburg. A stop here will help break up the monotony
of this unscenic road. It will also allow you time to stretch
your legs, drink a cold pop, and see something very unusual.
You can also ask an unanswerable question: “Why?”
In Wichita, indulge yourself at the wonderful Railroad Museum
in the former AT&SF station/yards of 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
sailing yacht “America” and the America's Cup? A boathouse on
the Arkansas River has been restored by KOCH Industries of Wichita
and turned into a free exhibit dedicated to the America's Cup
Yacht Racing Series.
Our first evening in Wichita we were scheduled to go to a Wichita
Wranglers AA level Texas League baseball game.
Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in Wichita during a Tornado Alert,
which is the highest level of the warnings issued by the National
Weather Service. (A “Warning” is Level 1, a “Watch” is Level
2, and an “Alert” is Level 3 – basically “Get to cover.”) Although
the tornado did not directly strike Wichita, it did do severe
damage to a community just south, and the threat of a tornado
was enough to postpone the ballgame. The winds we encountered
coming across Kansas? Officially they were measured to have a
force of 40-45 mph, 20 mph higher than I had estimated. Later
that evening, when we felt comfortable that a tornado was not
coming near the vicinity, we headed out to one of our favorite
Wichita dining establishments, the Amarillo Grill.
Marquee Sign, Dumont Stadium, Wichita, KS
The next day the storms were long gone. Along with my host,
Jerry Brammer, we visited another baseball enthusiast. Baseballs,
gloves, photos, baseball bats, occupied as much, if not more,
space than all the room devoted to trains in my Fountain Hills,
Arizona home. Actual game bats once used by the likes of Stan
Musial, Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Jackie Robinson, and Henry
Aaron, to name a few, were in abundance. So were autographed
baseballs signed by the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb,
and Nolan Ryan. I guess it goes to prove that train collectors
are not the only obsessive hobbyists around! The “tornadoed out” baseball
game from the previous night had been rescheduled, so we made
our way to Lawrence Dumont Stadium, a strange place with an artificial
turf infield and a real grass outfield. Minor League baseball
is affordable, very competitive (batters actually run out every
batted ball), and lots of fun. Christie entered a contest for
an in-between innings drawing and won a $100 savings bond and
6 movie tickets.
Leaving Kansas, our next stop would be at the Missouri Museum
of Transportation. But first, an observation. Between Kansas
City and Columbia, Missouri, Lady Bird Johnson's highway beautification
plan has all but been forgotten. The height of the vegetation
in early June rivaled that of the measuring stick for the growth
of corn, “knee high by the Fourth of July.” It was either that
or the MDOT was planning to cut and bale hay. Virtually every “scenic” billboard
on this stretch of highway was advertising a strip club, a gentlemen's
club, or a porno web site. Where is Lady Bird when you REALLY
In the Missouri Museum of Transportation 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.
Bobby Darin's “Dream Car”
GM's experimental Rock Island
Prototype F-3 Diesel
“People Mover” trolley at
Transportation Museum, St. Louis, MO
One of seven remaining UP
The last Steamer from the
A “walk through” Hood
French Lick, Indiana, is best known as the boyhood home of NBA
Hall of Famer Larry Bird. I knew it long before then as the childhood
home of Martha Cleveland, who was to become the wife of my lifelong
friend Phil Nesty. Martha, by the way, is Larry Bird's first
cousin. I have long wanted to visit French Lick because I had
heard so many favorable things about the excursion railroad.
However, it has a very restricted operation schedule. On this
day, we got doubly lucky. IT had just switched to its summer
schedule, and it was running a charter prior to its regularly
scheduled run. And EUREKA! There was lots of extra room for non-charter
passengers. It lived up to all of its advance billings and it
should be a “Do Not Miss” if you're in the area. However, there
is more to French Lick than just the train, and I have taken
Martha to task for not telling me about them. There is West Baden
Springs Park, with its magnificently tiled, art deco, mosque/temple-style
building. That is to the north of the railroad depot, and to
the south is the French Lick Resort and Spa, a huge complex which
probably rivaled the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. IT has
been restored to its previous opulence and is now listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. The fine bone china, elaborate
silverware and exquisitely carved tables and woodwork thoroughly
enhance the dining experience. Compared with the hustle and bustle
of Concord, California, now that Martha is a widow, I don't know
why she wouldn't want to return to her childhood roots in French
Larry Bird rules French Lick,
Larry Bird's boyhood home
Train station at French Lick,
Waiting to call “All Aboard” in
A Lionelville prototype in southern Indiana?
Lionelville must have received its inspiration from southern
Indiana's Route 37. It is a winding, hilly, and very scenic two-lane
road. It seemed as though just about every other home resembled
one of the houses in the Lionelville collection. I took a number
of photos for the sole purpose of entering them in the Lionelville “Look-Alike” photo
contest. On a negative note, Indiana, like Kansas, is in the
Tornado Belt. The day before we visited French Lick, the nearby
town of Morenga had been visited by a killer tornado. Several
lives and approximately 80% of the town had been thoroughly destroyed.
I-64, at least in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, is a good
road to try to avoid!! It reminded me of the roads we once traversed
in Kenya while on a photo safari. For those of you who go back
in time before automatic clothes washers, the nicest thing that
can be said about this stretch of Interstate is that it resembled
a washboard, and that is giving it the benefit of the doubt.
Brandenburg and Louisville, Kentucky, were next on the itinerary.
A former next-door neighbor from New Jersey resides in Brandenburg,
KY, the Eastern Time Zone's westernmost community. She is a recent
widow and asked me to check out her late husband's toy trains.
They will be in the Desert Division's 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.
While visiting with her, we made several trips into Louisville.
One trip was to the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Factory.
Another was to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum.
The Kentucky Derby is one of those events I've always had the
desire to attend, but thought it was impossible to get tickets.
Not so! Our visit here was during the height of the Smarty Jones
furor. Stan's Fish Sandwich Restaurant is the people's choice
in Louisville. You'll need to ask directions, as it is a local
favorite and not known to the tourist traffic, but well worth
the effort to find. One final sojourn into Louisville took us
to the brand new Louisville Bats AAA baseball team park. As we
were approaching the ticket booth, we were intercepted by a total
stranger who gave us three box-seat tickets in back of third
base. As with most minor league parks, the food served here was
varied, plentiful, tasty, and very reasonable priced.
The Louisville Slugger Logo
Bat, the world's largest
The entrance to Churchill
Downs, Louisville, KY
One of the famous Churchill
Smarty Jones statue at the
On our way to Scranton, PA, it was necessary to negotiate the
state of Ohio from the extreme southwest (Cincinnati) and exiting
in the northeast (Youngstown). As usual, Ohio was once again “UNDER
CONSTRUCTION.” The jaunt across Pennsylvania on I-80 was very
uneventful. We arrived at the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Baron's
baseball game a bit late, but still in time to obtain their give-away
promotion of insulated water bottles. The Lackawanna County (PA)
Stadium, in which this Philadelphia Phillies AAA farm team plays,
is the largest minor league facility I've ever been in!
County (PA) Stadium
In Oneonta, New York, I added to my list of visited Halls of
Fame. This was the National Soccer Hall of Fame, outlining the
history and development of soccer in the United States. Their
centerpiece exhibit naturally featured the American Women's Gold
Cup and Olympic Champion team. Not surprisingly, one of the featured
artifacts in this exhibit was Brandy Chastain's Nike sports bra,
made famous when she ripped off her jersey after scoring the
winning goal in the World Cup finals against China. Definitely,
a most unusual bit of sports “equipment.”
Soccer Hall of Fame Lobby
staircase, Oneonta, NY
USA Women's Soccer Team display
Train wise our next stop was near 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.
Waiting for heavy traffic – the Cooperstown & Charlotte
Cooperstown, New York is to a baseball fan what Mecca is to
a Moslem or York to a TCA member. It is that “shrine” which must
be visited at least once in a lifetime. I had not been here since
the summer of 1976, when Robin Roberts, the greatest of all Philadelphia
Phillies pitchers, was enshrined as a member of this most famous
of Halls of Fame. Not much has changed in the Hall. We DID get
to enjoy the town quite a bit. Our motel, called the Lake View,
overlooked beautiful Lake Oswego. Nearby were the James Fennimore
Cooper Museum and the Cardiff Giant, thought by many to be the “missing
link.” In reality it was a cement hoax perpetrated by P. T. Barnum.
About two blocks from the baseball Hall of Fame and adjacent
to a public park was the Lake Front Motel and Restaurant.
Entrance to Baseball's Hall
of Fame, Cooperstown, NY
Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts'
Hall of Fame plaque
Lake Front Restaurant
window table view of Lake Oswego
I subscribe to a travel publication called Country Discoveries.
Earlier this year they ran some articles about the Erie Canal,
a thing I thought had long since passed from the scene. In Troy,
New York, a portion of this 19th century engineering marvel has
been restored for anyone interested in this era of our country's
history, a visit to Erie Canal Village should be at the top of
your list. The personnel reenact various aspects of the daily
life of those times and afford the opportunity to ride around
the village on a narrow gauge train, followed by a leisurely
(2 mph) cruise on a mule-drawn packet boat. 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.
You're here! Erie Canal Village, Troy,
Narrow gauge 2-2-2 circles the
A packet boat awaiting its Eric
A team of mules pulling
the Canal Boat – note the tow rope to the right
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
Gordon (right door) rides the
Adirondack Scenic Railroad GP-38
At Old Forge, in addition to the Adirondack Scenic Railway,
we encountered a Harley-Davidson motorcycle round up, plus one
of the most delightful restaurants on this trip. It was called “Old
Mill,” and if you left it hungry, you had no one to blame but
yourself. After dinner we adjourned to the restaurant's bar and
lounge where, unfortunately Smarty Jones came up a head short
at the Belmont Stakes. The two-lane road entering Old Forge from
the south is apparently very dangerous, as there were two major
accidents on it just in the short time we were in the vicinity.
Hoss's General Store, Long Lake,
Long Lake, near Lake George and Lake Placid, was a place my
parents vacationed year after year. I had never been there, but
owing to the peace, tranquility, and quaintness of the area,
I can now appreciate their desire to return here year after year.
Hoss's General Store complex dominates the small downtown area.
We particularly enjoyed some “bear claws” from the bakery. If
you've ever had a desire to ride in a floatplane, such excursions
are readily available at Long Lake.
Everyone knows Lake Placid is the site of the Winter Olympics
in 1932 and 1980 (Miracle – USA hockey team victory). I was particularly
interested in testing the summer training facilities of the luge
and bobsled runs. Much to my chagrin, they had yet to open for
public use. The Lake Placid Resort Lodge and Holiday Inn offered
a golfing opportunity. That was a real stretch! The only thing “pristine” about
their Pristine Course was its name. I actually lost two golf
balls in the fairway which was filled with blooming dandelions!
A highlight of the stay here was the food and ambience at their
Boat House Restaurant, located right on the lake.
A fine Lake Placid eatery – The
The “F” units at Lake Placid Excursion
While looking for the luge and bobsled rides, we 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.
Another bit of transportation variation; this time a ferryboat
ride across Lake Champlain. Once in Vermont, Route 7 north offers
several unique points of interest.
The Lake Champlain (NY-VT) approaches.
The first of these is the
Vermont Teddy Bear Factory. The tour is free, but when you are
finished, chances are you or someone in your party is going to
want to “give birth” to a personalized teddy bear. Continuing
north toward Burlington is one the great museums of Americana,
rivaled in my opinion only by Williamsburg, Virginia. It is called
Shelburne, and you will need the better part of a whole day to
get even a fraction of the flavor of the entire complex. The
railroading exhibit is quite comprehensive, but perhaps the most
attention-grabbing exhibit is the Ticonderoga, the last of Lake
Champlain's luxury paddle-wheel steamboats. How it wound up in
this museum is a most interesting tale. Finally, just before
arriving in Burlington, you'll need to stop and tour Ben and
Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. Like the Teddy Bear Factory, there
are “samples” at the end, only these are much more wallet-friendly.
Starting in late June and continuing through Labor Day, the Vermont
Flyer makes several trips a day between Burlington and Rutland.
The F-9 with its streamline passenger cars makes a stop, both
ways, at the Shelburne Museum. There are many lakeside restaurants
in Burlington, plus the old Vermont Central Railroad Depot is
now a restored upscale shopping mall, in many respects very similar
to Station Square in Pittsburgh, PA. My favorite culinary hangout
is called Perry's Fish House, on Route 7 in South Burlington.
One of its unique features is that you may sample Fralinger's
(from Atlantic City, NJ) salt-water taffy to your heart's content.
However, leave room for the real food, as it is both mouth-watering
and plentiful! The excursion trains in and around Vermont had
not yet begun their summer runs, as it was only early June.
The backyard of Christie's aunt's
home – Burlington, VT
The “view” from that backyard – Yes,
it's Lake Champlain!
A visit with my dad took us to Ocean Grove at the Jersey shore.
Captain Jack's was yet another very fine seafood restaurant.
Should you ever find need for a place to stay, I would recommend
the quaint and quiet Quaker Inn, just a stone's throw from the
beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. On another day, we went to Lake
Hopatcong, New Jersey's largest natural lake. The town of Landing,
NJ, had both “downs” and “ups.” The down sides were that Bertran's
Island's Amusement Park, so much a part of my youth, was gone,
replaced by cookie-cutter condos. Although still served by NJ
Transit (formerly the Lackawanna) Commuter Line to New York City,
the railroad station is gone, having been replaced by a covered
waiting platform. On the upside in this very small lakeside community
is a restaurant whose single person servings are among the largest
I have ever seen. You certainly will not go wrong or hungry by
stopping at Cambiotti's Tomato Pie.
Gordon with his Dad and Walt Essbach,
a high school friend, at Ocean Grove, NJ
What is left of Sperry
Springs on Lake Hopatcong, NJ
Home,” Convent, NJ
It is possible, despite all precautions, to occasionally encounter
a restaurant that does not live up to expectations. So I simply
follow my mother's advice, “If you can't say something nice,
don't say anything” and ignore them altogether. However, every
so often, there is one that's SO BAD that it seems unfair to
allow anyone to accidentally get stuck. The Reservoir, just south
of Boonton, NJ, is one such place. There was absolutely nothing
wrong with the food, when we FINALLY got it! We were told they
do NOT take reservations, yet persons who arrived well after
us were ushered right in to the dining area. We later found out
that if you phone ahead and ask for your name to be put on a
waiting list, they will do so. Somehow, this is not considered
a reservation. The half-hour wait of which we were advised upon
arriving and putting our name on the waiting list turned into
an hour and a half. My father is visibly handicapped, yet when
we were finally called for dinner, instead of taking us to an
open table near the dining room entrance, we were seated in the
furthest corner of the establishment, next to a table with three
screaming out-of-control children, whose parents were totally
oblivious to their actions. Another 15 minutes passed before
a waitress noticed that we didn't have water or menus. It was
another 20 minutes before she returned to take our order. My
dad ordered only an appetizer while Christie and I ordered a
meal each. Time passed and passed and passed. We began to notice
persons who entered well after us being served and leaving. We
had now been here for early 2½ hours and had a glass of
water and some bread. Bread and water! Prisoners in Civil War
era movies fared better! You might ask why we stayed. First of
all, my dad's physical condition. Second was one of the advertised
entrees and a reason I chose this restaurant in the first place – soft
shelled crabs. Alas, the waitress informed us as we were ordering,
that was a previous day's special which had not been removed
form the signboard! We were told the major hold up was my dad's
order – the appetizer! I asked to see the manager, but he didn't
come. When the food finally arrived, there was no apology for
its lateness. It was more or less slung at us in a contemptuous
way, and I once again asked for the manager. About 5 minutes
later a 30-something man appeared, claiming to be the owner.
He was full of invalid excuses, very arrogant, and belligerent.
He asked where I had come from. Then in no uncertain terms, he
got right into my face (like a baseball manager and umpire arguing)
and suggested that I return there! If you wish to put up with
such abuse, I would highly recommend this “joint.” Otherwise,
there are other eating establishments in this area whose food
is just as good and the service wonderful. To recommend just
one, head south to the Mountain Lakes railroad depot and visit
The Station. It is literally a 1st class dining experience.
A spectacular restaurant, The
Station, at Mountain Lakes, NJ
Across the street from The Station
is The Train Station train store
A Black River & Western GP-7
in Ringoes, NJ
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.
Sunday in New Jersey to me means a trip to the Lambertville
Flea Market. This flea market 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. Just south of Lambertville
is New Jersey's capital city of Trenton, most famous for a Revolutionary
War battle won by the Colonial troops on Christmas Day. Near
the site of the British troops' barracks today is the Eastern
League AA baseball stadium, Waterfront Park, home of the Trenton
Thunder, an affiliate of the New York Yankees. Naturally, we
attended a game. Sitting near and around us were all manner of
major league scouts, with their clipboards, stop watches, and
radar guns. I figured some sort of trade of minor league prospects
was probably in the works. A week later, while listening to Sports
Center on ESPN, I found out the reason all of those scouts were
there! Brett Halsey had pitched 8 innings of two-hit, shut out
ball for the Thunder, which prompted his promotion to the NY
Yankees where he pitched against and defeated the LA Dodgers.
Trenton's Waterfront Park
Brett Halsey pitched for Trenton
on Sunday and the NY Yankees a week later.
While in New Jersey we had the opportunity to visit with family
and friends. A round of golf at the River View Country Club in
Deptford afforded me the opportunity to observe air traffic from
the Philadelphia International Airport, which was directly west
across the Delaware River. Southwest Airlines has recently started
service into Philadelphia in a big way. There were roughly three
Southwest planes coming and going for every one of the other
airlines servicing Philadelphia. Even though I played well enough
to score better than my friends, I must admit that one errant
shot wound up in the Delaware River and by now is probably somewhere
in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, following the current. I suppose that
could be termed, “The Longest Drive.”
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.
Camden's (NJ) Delaware River Campbell's
Camden, NJ, directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia,
has been a blight upon the reputation of southern New Jersey.
Until very recently the only notable things about Camden were
its high school basketball team's prowess, the number of city
politicians going to jail for corruption, and the Campbell Soup
Co. Factory. In recent years the waterfront has been revitalized
with a world-class aquarium, an Arts Center, the most decorated
battleship ever in the US Navy (the USS New Jersey), commercial
shipping and receiving facilities, and a minor league baseball
stadium, home of the Camden River Sharks of the independent Atlantic
League. The game we attended was played against the Pennsylvania
Road Warriors, so named because they play all of their games
on the road. Their home field in Lancaster County (PA) will not
be completed until next year. After the game we decided to sample
a nearby restaurant which had been one of our favorites prior
to moving to Arizona from the Delaware Valley. “The Pub” was
just as we had remembered: good service, well-prepared food,
and generous portions.
My second trip to Philadelphia's new Citizen's Bank Ballpark
was much different from my first visit there on opening day,
April 12, of this season. First of all, the sun was shining,
and, most important, this time the Phillies won!
Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank
Ballpark, home of the Phillies
Phillies Phanatic, sports' best
On the way to Pittsburgh, the
TCA National Headquarters
It was now time to head west toward Pittsburgh and TCA's 50th
National Convention. The first major stop was between York and
Harrisburg, PA, at the Hillside Café. This is a restaurant
we frequently visit during the York train show, although on this
day it was not nearly so crowded as it is in April and October.
The nearby PA Turnpike directed us to the Fort Littleton Exit,
as it is near the East Broad Top Railroad and the Rockhill Trolley
Museum. Although there is only one restaurant in the area, the
Family Restaurant is fortunately quite good.
East Broad Top's 2-8-2, Orbisonia,
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.
Gordon on the rear of the President's
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!
Open-air trolley at Rockhill Trolley
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.
Kruger Museum marquee, Wheeling,
Marx trains inside the Kruger
rare “Alaska” Marx Play Set is on display at the Kruger
One of the many trolley cars at the Pennsylvania Trolley
Museum, Washington, PA
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.
The first tee view at Grand View Country Club, North
Tuesday, June 22 was the date for the TCA Golf Tournament. Grand
View Country Club lives up to its name and then some! Situated
atop a mountain southeast of Pittsburgh, it overlooks the Monongahela
River Valley. Every hole has its own unique and incredible vista,
but few can outdo the first tee.
The Callaway Handicap System winner, Lucretia Brown, from NC
CXS and Norfolk Southern are easily visible on both sides of
the river, as is all the railroad switching activity within the
confines of the US Steel facility. Across the valley is the world-famous
Kennywood Park and, of course, up and down the Monongahela River
are countless towboats pushing and pulling barges filled with
the raw materials needed for the industries of the area. With
all the incredible scenery, the tournament itself seemed almost
anti-climactic. Two significant things did happen on this day
- well, actually three. 1) For the first time, the tournament
was NOT won by a member of the Desert Division. 2) The tournament
was won by a person from North Carolina. 3) That person was a
woman named Lucretia Brown.
Bob Lemberger had the lowest unadjusted score.
The lowest scratch score, without using the Callaway Handicap
System, was turned in by Bob Lemberger.
The previous year's winner, me, finished fourth. Each of the
17 participants received a prize, regardless of his or her place
of finish, as the main purpose of this tournament is not competition,
Later during the week we rode the Pittsburgh DKW's (WW II military
landing craft called Ducks; Lionel post war #6807). I received
my Duck Captain badge by navigating the craft for a brief time
on the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers.
A Pittsburgh DKW (Duck)
Gordon drives the Duck – Quack, Quack!
Dinner trains and harbor cruises with a meal are things we enjoy,
no matter what city. Pittsburgh being at the confluence of three
rivers obviously afforded us that opportunity. What set this
dinner cruise apart from many others was the high quality of
the food aboard the Pittsburgh riverboat Majestic.
Dinner cruise on the MAJESTIC riverboat
Are Tom Stange (L) and Nick Ladd (R) twins?
President Wassermann (M) is surrounded by Paula Wik and Denise Micale.
Adding to the ambience was something that I must presume was
purely coincidental, for it seemed as if every time we went under
one of Pittsburgh's many bridges, a train from the CSX or the
Norfolk Southern was crossing it directly above us. Station Square
in downtown Pittsburgh provided an endless array of CSX freights,
plus a spectacular restaurant in an old PL&E passenger terminal.
A Norfolk & Southern freight passes over the MAJESTIC.
One display layout at the TCA Convention
An operating Crane Car for next year's TCA Convention in Seattle, WA
It was called the Grand Concourse and is a real “don't miss” stop.
Stained glass interior of the Grand Concourse Restaurant, Pittsburgh , PA
Early on the final morning of the Convention, we actually began
our trek westward toward Phoenix. Foremost on the agenda was
getting to Cincinnati in time for that afternoon's major league
baseball game. A major surprise on the way occurred at one of
the State of Ohio Welcome Centers, and it is something that would
be nice for every state to do. Ohio DOT has prepared a comprehensive
spiral bound booklet containing the names of every restaurant
and tourist attraction available at every exit of Ohio's vast
Interstate Freeway system. In my opinion, this is an invaluable
resource guide for anyone traveling in the state of Ohio. We
arrived at the Great American Ball Park roughly an hour before
game time. As my seats were in Row S, between third base and
the left field foul pole, I didn't feel I would need a baseball
glove for protection. We arrived at our seats shortly after the
National Anthem and were very surprised to find that Row S in
Cincinnati's version of the alphabet plopped us down a scant
six rows from the field. I had no sooner remarked to Christie
that we were in foul ball territory than Barry Larkin, the Reds
long-time shortstop, smashed a vicious line drive right at us.
Cincinnati 's ballpark where Gordon caught a baseball
I was preparing to duck when some younger, macho, not-so-bright
young men tried to catch this ball bare-handed. For their efforts,
there very easily could have been some broken fingers and undoubtedly
bruised hands. The ball landed softly right at my fingertips – I
didn't have to stand up nor fend off any little kids. The couple
sitting next to us were overjoyed to be so near someone who had
actually “caught a baseball” during a game that they took, and
later sent to me, my picture holding the ball. Between Spring
Training and the professional games I've attended in my lifetime,
this was not the first ball I ever caught but it was undoubtedly
one of the easiest!
Korean War “Sabre” jet at USAF Museum , Dayton , OH
America's largest ever bomber, a B-36
One of the surviving “Mercury” space capsules
The departure route in Cincinnati took us past the famous Union
Station. North of Cincinnati is the USAF Museum at the Wright
Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It had been more than
30 years since I last visited this site. Virtually every aircraft
from the Wright Brothers through the experimental era, through
spy planes and spacecraft are in four incredibly large hangars.
Outside, and not under cover, is the one and only REAL prototype
of the Lionel 3665 Minuteman Missile Launching Box Car. Yes,
as far-fetched as it may seem, the USAF actually contemplated
such an esoteric military weapon. The big added bonus in this
extremely comprehensive Museum is that parking and admission
are free. We spent the better part of a day and a half here,
and didn't see it all! That evening we were directed to the Oregon
Historic Section of Dayton for yet another culinary adventure.
Jay's Seafood House, on the National Register of Historic Places,
is located in a restored garment factory. The interior furnishings,
woodwork, and decorations are a throwback to the late 19th Century.
IT is not an easy place to find, but it is well worth the extra
Again moving west and south, we returned to Brandenburg, KY,
with the express purpose of picking up the previously mentioned
collection of postwar Lionel and prewar American Flyer 3/16 trains
for the Desert Division's 29th Annual Turkey Meet Auction on
November 28. For dinner our former New Jersey neighbor took us
to the Doe Run Inn, which is also on the National Register of
Historic Places, having been built by the brother of Daniel Boone.
As has been our experience, whenever a restaurant is on the National
Register, it is synonymous with high quality, service, and food.
The Doe Run Inn was no exception.
I've long heard about Branson, Missouri, and all its attractions
and musical shows. The most talked about “rave-reviewed” show
is violinist Shoji Tabuki. A major “no-no” for any classically
trained musician is to visibly tap his or her foot to maintain
tempo. Shoji claims to be classically trained, yet his foot tapping
is extremely distracting. Based upon my years of experience,
I would rate this show mediocre at best. All three shows we attended
were major disappointments, alas! However, in Branson, all is
not lost. A very pleasant surprise was learning that a popular
local restaurant was owned and operated by the National League's
1969 Rookie of the year, Phillies pitcher, Jack Hamilton. During
a visit here, Christie prevailed upon him to autograph a baseball
for me. One of the attractions at the park is a DKW (Duck) ride
and another, in my estimation, is the highlight of the area,
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!”
The station at Branson, MO
Branson's F-7 readies for a trip to Arkansas .
Looking at 2 Vista Domes from the consist's third Vista Dome
A totally unexpected and extremely delightful stop combined
lunch at the Hammett House and a visit to the adjacent Will Rogers
Museum in Claremont, Oklahoma.
Statue/Sculpture of Will Rogers, Claremont , OK
Moving west on I-40, Amarillo, Texas was next. The Hoffbrau
Steakhouse was a local delight. Nearby was somewhat of a disappointment – access
to the Cadillac Ranch has been closed! Having been there before,
I simply moved on closer to home.
We had but two more days on this cross-country marathon. One
of the premier venues for opera performances in the country takes
place in the summertime in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe
Opera is nestled in a mountain valley slightly northwest of Santa
Fe. It is housed in a beautiful, covered, contemporary, outdoor
facility. This year I got lucky and ordered my tickets last November.
Guisseppi Verdi's Simon Bocanegra was the opening night production. “Opening
night” is a real happening at this annual opera festival. Even
I dressed up a little bit, but nowhere near the level of the
haute couture and finery of Santa Fe's cultured elite.
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. There is an old saying
that “what goes around comes around.” In Albuquerque we made
a return visit to Rudy's Country Store and BBQ. Our next stop
would be at my sister and brother-in-law's home in Payson, Arizona.
Nearly from the time we exited I-40 at Holbrook, in the southwest
sky appeared as an ominous grayish white cloud that could mean
only one thing. In Arizona, where we are in our ninth year of
a drought, it would have to be yet another major forest fire.
The Willows Fire in Arizona – altogether 150,000 acres burned.
Unfortunately, I was correct. About 15 miles south of Payson
raged a totally out-of-control lightning-caused fire. As we passed
it, the fire had consumed some 40,000 acres. By the time it had
been extinguished, three weeks later, it had grown to nearly
150,000 acres. It made us feel right at home to learn that nothing
had changed in the desert, except that 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 a few restaurants you
should (or should not) investigate:
1. Rudy's Country Store and BBQ, Albuquerque, NM
2. Amarillo Grill, Wichita, KS
3. Triple E Barbeque, Mt. Vernon, IL
4. French Lick Spring Bistro, French Lick, IN
5. Stan's Fish Sandwich, Louisville, KY
6. Lake Front Restaurant, Cooperstown, NY
7. Old Mill, Old Forge, NY
8. Boat House, Lake Placid, NY
9. Perry's Fish House, S. Burlington, VT
10. Ferretti's, Clifton Park, NY
11. The Station, Mountain Lakes, NJ
12. Cambiotti's Tomato Pie, Landing, NJ
13. Reservoir Tavern, Boonton, NJ – AVOID, WORST SERVICE EVER,
on any trip!!
14. Captain Jack's, Ocean Grove, NJ
15. Ritz Seafood, Voorhees, NJ
16. The Full Moon, Lambertville, NJ
17. Hillside Café, Yocumtown, PA
18. The Grand Concourse, Pittsburgh, PA
19. Jay's Seafood House, Dayton, OH
20. Doe Run Inn, Brandenburg, KY
21. Hammett House, Claremore, OK
22. Hoffbrau Steaks, Amarillo, TX
23. El Nido, Tesuque, NM
24.Tonto Verde Country Club, Tonto Verde, AZ
Saturday, June 12, as it turned out, was the last
time I would see my Dad alive. At the age of 88, he passed from
this world on August 12, 2004. He had been a fireman in Morris
Township, NJ; and in the 1940's and into the 1950's, he served
as the Chief.
This is important because it means Dad more or
less, “knew everyone.” At Christmas of 1943, I suspect because
of “knowing everyone,” I got my first Lionel train set, a three
car Flying Yankee. According to what I've read about the sale
of Lionel Trains during WWII, such sales were supposed to be
forbidden. I suspect my Dad “knew” someone who had some leftover
stock for sale. I also don't believe for a second that such sales
didn't take place across the country. In any event, it was this
train that got me “hooked.” After the war came a 2020 set and
in 1950, two sets: a 2026 Freight and the 2023 UP Passenger set
with the gray noses. I still have all of these sets. As I look
back on their prices, and having a pretty good idea of Dad's
salary, I really don't know how he afforded such things, as my
sister would get an equal dollar amount each Christmas. Years
later, while in college, I would find out that the government
classified us as “poor.” Funny thing about being “poor” - Dad
always provided. We were the first with a TV, all the trains
I wanted, food, clothes, shelter, and transportation, not to
mention music lessons and a summer place at Lake Hopatcong. Yet,
we were poor! Compared to J. Paul Getty, I guess we were!
Dad built me a large U-shaped layout in a spare bedroom. I was
forever breaking my trains by running them too fast. The drop
to the floor was “devastating.” We didn't live too far from Hillside,
so about once a month we'd head off for the Lionel factory and
play with trains as we waited for the repairs to be completed.
Dad never seemed to tire of that drive from Morristown to Hillside.
I suspect he enjoyed the trains as much as I.
Amazingly, when I went off to college, all my toys (including
Pyro vehicles) went the way of the dodo bird – all, that is,
except for the Lionel and Marx trains and Plasticville pieces.
For whatever reason, Dad kept them. A phone call in 1993 probably
explained why. Christie and I had just returned from the TCA
Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Greeting us in Fountain Hills
was an enormous fire to the north. As it grew in size to some
225,000 acres and approached the northern boundaries of the town,
Dan Rather decided to do a “live” CBS Evening News from our town.
Later that evening I received a concerned phone call from Dad.
He wasn't concerned about our home or our personal safety, but
wanted to know, “How are you going to save your trains?” I guess
that sort of sums up why I always got Lionel Trains at Christmas
and why they didn't get tossed when I went away to college. My
collecting “gene” came from my Mom, but Dad seemed bent on preserving
it. Our last trip together was at Sperry Springs on Lake Hopatcong
on June 11. I last saw him at the NJ State Fireman's Home in
Boonton the next morning. Two months later, to the day, he passed
away from a “broken heart.” He and my late mom had been married
for 65 years.