the last segment of my trip story….
For their 1923 train journey, my mother Kathryn and her grandmother Rebecca planned two Oklahoma visits – one to Millers (Hassler relatives) and one to Carl, a young preacher who very much wanted Kathryn to be his wife.
To get to Stillwater where Carl preached, I drove about six hours from Kansas City. There, a church historian pointed out the sights to me, including where Carl’s church would have been, and where he thought the parsonage stood. As I stood near there I had the stunning thought that I (or someone half like me) could have been born there.
Carl mustered the leaders of his Evangelical United Brethern Church to help host his guests and there was plenty of music. Kathryn carried her violin on the trip and played frequently (even on the train) and this was no exception.
From Stillwater I drove to Beggs, Oklahoma, passing through towns like Cushing, OK, which calls itself the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” I found where the Beggs passenger station had been, but it’s just a dirt lot by the tracks now. Much of Beggs has been passed by as well, after farming and oil booms moved through. And there I could only visit relatives only in the cemetery.
I stopped at Holden’s Drive-In, which looked like the only place to eat. On a whim, I asked if the woman at the counter might have known a family named Miller. Amazingly, she and her mother did, and I am now in touch with a distance cousin in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Late in the day I drove from Beggs through a corner of the Ozarks to Sedalia, Missouri, where in 1923 there were lots of Rebecca’s family. I stayed in the historic section of town at the old Bothwell Hotel, not far from the restored Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) train station. The old Missouri line a few blocks in the other direction is the one now used by Amtrak.
For Rebecca, the Missouri visits brought her together with siblings as well as a half-brother she had never met. There’s more to that story but it will have to wait for my book.
After Sedalia, it was back to Kansas City for me and onto the Chief again heading for Chicago. The Chief was really, really late, because when it pulled into Kansas City it was being pulled by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight engine.
Engine failure took out Amtrak’s engine in the desert, and BNSF helped provided an engine to get the train all the way to Chicago. Problem is freight engines are slower so the Chief got later with every mile, reaching Chicago a full 8 hours behind schedule. I didn’t mind even when the dining car menu became irrelevant, and they served up their emergency beef stew.
Kathryn and Rebecca went home via Niagara Falls, finally taking what was then a direct train from Niagara Falls home to Harrisburg. Getting from Chicago home took me on a unplanned detour.
When the Capitol Limited was very late getting into Chicago and thus going to be really late leaving. I knew I’d miss my connection in Pittsburgh. I knew also that Amtrak then would put us on buses to take us across PA to Harrisburg. I did NOT want my great train trip to end that way, so I managed to book my sleeper all the way into DC.
I expected the Capitol Limited to get to DC reasonably close to schedule so I could hop on a train to Philly and then the Keystone line home. I miscalculated. I should have known the Capitol Limited was far from on-time performance. We didn’t get in during the early afternoon, or late afternoon, or evening. We arrived 9 hours late, which meant staying near Union Station overnight and coming home the next day – my 29th travel day.
I traveled 6034 miles by train, about 1000 by car, and 263 by bus for a grand total of 7297 miles, visiting 20 cities and 8 states in 24 days. I’m acutely aware of Amtrak’s difficulties but know that employees still have positive attitudes and are good at dealing with adversity. I am also convinced passenger rail should have a future, not just a fascinating past.