TRAINWEB'S MOVE TO THE HEARTLAND
The news of plans to move Trainweb from Los Angeles to the much smaller town of La Plata, Missouri was very unexpected. The main reason for the re-location was the remarkable growth Train Party had experienced since its inception, which then necessitated another move. This would be their third, and they wanted it to be the last. Consequently the new premises had to be large enough to accommodate any future growth. The central part of the United States seemed logical from a shipping standpoint. The cost of land and services would be more favorable as well.
One of the deciding factors in the eventual location was the result of a phone call to Train Party from a customer inquiring about wooden train whistles. Six months previously, this individual had built a “train themed” Inn in La Plata, Mo. When he realized that Trainweb was planning to relocate, he said, “well, why don't you move to La Plata. We have everything you need right here.” A couple of expeditions to La Plata proved it would be a first-rate location for the new Trainweb site.
Shivam and Ray have already moved to La Plata, Missouri. A site on the south side of the tracks, east of the Amtrak station, was purchased and the old, abandoned fertilizer warehouse on that property is in the process of major renovations. Shivam took on the mission of overseeing the renovations and must, as well, keep on top of other day to day responsibilities at Trainweb and Train Party. Ray works in the office and seems to have a phone glued to one ear. Steve Grande has remained in Los Angeles and manages, by the magic of electronics, to keep everything together and on track.
They all agree that the unexpected popularity and growth of Train Party over the last two years has commanded more of their time than they ever thought possible. Consequently other areas of Trainweb have become backlogged. They hope to rectify this early in 2007 with the addition of two technical employees.
My ten year old granddaughter, Madison, recently reminded me of a promise I had made to take her on a train trip this year. It didn't matter where we went as long as she was able to sleep on the train. La Plata seemed a wise choice for many reasons. We would catch the overnight “Lakeshore” to Chicago, followed by a five hour trip on the “Southwest Chief,” thus we would have two full days in La Plata before the return trip for a total of five days, and only three school days missed. The tickets were booked online.
MADISON'S RAIL ADVENTURE TO LA PLATA MISSOURI
Thursday, October 12th, 2006
Grandpa drove us to the train station in Syracuse where we all enjoyed a sandwich at the Subway outlet. For the next hour we explored the station and watched television until our train arrived.
Train 49 was on time and by 9:05 p.m. we were sitting in roomette #9 in car #4911. We left the station at 9:14 p.m. and Melanie, our car attendant, came by to say “hello” and to ask if we'd like the beds made up. The door of our roomette had a roller-type blind that would simply not stay down. I asked Melanie for some duct tape to seal it shut. Unfortunately, the lurching motion of the train loosened the tape and it would suddenly fly open like those old window blinds whose springs had been rolled too tightly. For the next half hour I slept with one eye open in anticipation of the blind snapping up again. I would catch it before it opened completely and would pull it down to re-press the tape in place. I obviously yanked a bit too hard the last time it sprang into action because the entire blind came off the door. I went in search of Melanie and explained how I had accidentally destroyed Amtrak property. “You've put up with enough nonsense in that room,” she said. We followed as she moved us to room #11. The swaying, lurching motion seemed brutal at times, but sometime during the late evening I must have dozed off because I remembered being awakened by this excited voice that said, “Grandma, look out the window”. I wasn't sure of our location but it appeared that everything was blanketed with a foot of snow which made our progress very slow.
Friday, October 13th, 2006
In the diner that morning we overheard the news that Buffalo, N.Y. had received a two foot dump of snow and we were now almost four hours behind schedule. Madison and I both ordered the Bob Evans Special described as a blend of scrambled eggs, diced potatoes, sausage and cheese with a piece of French toast. What a mistake! It looked awful and was the consistency of runny oatmeal porridge. The potatoes were so over-cooked that they were more like starchy, glutinous gravy. We settled for the French toast.
The train stopped in Sandusky, Ohio at 7:35 a.m. A check of the timetable revealed the scheduled arrival time to be 4:05 a.m. and I couldn't help but think of the people who had waited an extra 3 1/2 hours for this train. An hour later, when the train pulled into Toledo, it was three hours and eighteen minutes late. It appeared we were making up some time at least.
We were now in farm country where fields of ripened corn stood waiting to be harvested. The sumac, now crimson red, and the multi-colored maples added splashes of brilliance to the tree lines and farm yards of this area. Madison found the scenery unexciting so we played Crazy Eights, Old Maid and Fish for a few hundred miles. A large puzzle-book, “Find the
The train arrived at the Chicago station at 1:35 p.m. which was much later than the scheduled time of 9:05 am. We went directly to the baggage claim area. The next leg of our trip, on the “Southwest Chief,” would be traveled in coach because La Plata is just a five hour trip from Chicago. We skipped lunch at the station as I didn't want to get caught up in any food line before we found the waiting area for the “Southwest Chief.” There was just over an hour before our train's departure.
After fifteen minutes of standing in line for the wrong waiting room, we finally claimed a seat in the correct area. It suddenly dawned on me that we had changed time zones and would have had plenty of time to visit the food court. At 3:00 p.m., after the pre-boarding had taken place, it was finally our turn to board the #3 Southwest Chief. Our reserved seats were on the upper level of the Super liner car, one ahead of the sightseer car. I didn't bother with the train consist on this trip because riding in coach for part of the journey denied me access to the sleeper cars. I made an executive decision to skip that duty.
We proceeded to the snack car on the lower level of the sightseer car to obtain some nourishment. Madison chose a cheeseburger while I opted for a tuna fish sandwich which left much to be desired. I too ordered a cheeseburger and quite enjoyed it. Rather than taking our food back to our seats, we ate our lunch in the snack car while enjoying the scenery from this level. As far as the eye could see, in any direction, were vast seas of corn and grain. While some fields revealed signs of an early harvest, the majority sat untouched. Our car appeared to be only half full and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. There were a number of Amish families on board and I suspect that they, like us, had an early start to a long day and were enjoying the quiet and relaxation in very comfortable high-backed seats. We took out the puzzle books for awhile, and then headed for the sightseer car. Madison really loved this car and when they announced that the movie to be shown a little later was “The Devil Wears Prada”, it thrilled her even more. She was glued to her seat for the next two hours and shortly thereafter we arrived in La Plata MO.
Ray met us at the station and drove us the short distance to the Depot Inn.
Upon entering the Inn I was impressed by the size of the lobby. The first notable feature was the high ceiling with deep crown molding and sparkling chandeliers. The working fireplace, the comfortable, cozy furniture and the rich color combination added inviting warmth to the room. There were numerous authentic, eye-appealing and tastefully arranged railroad trappings. Everything from an antique baggage cart standing near the front desk to simple locks and keys were on display. As we made our way along the hallway, the rail theme continued with framed pictures and artifacts. Then I noticed that each doorway along the corridor had its own distinctive hobo symbol. Ours meant “a good place to catch a train”, while the room across from ours
boasted the symbol meaning “ill-tempered man lives here.” We were booked into the Pullman suite which is one of four elegant suites in this Inn. Madison immediately noticed the built-in large screen television and working fireplace. The massive, king sized sleigh bed with thick pillow-top mattress looked so inviting, especially after the poor night's sleep we had experienced the previous night. The suite also contained a king-sized Jacuzzi, bar fridge, microwave, bathroom with shower, a leather couch, and a writing table and chair. Everything looked perfect right down to the dark chocolates set out for us.
Ray made plans to pick us up the next morning around 10:00 a.m. and after he left it didn't take us long to brush our teeth and prepare to retire. The bed was s-o-o-o-o comfortable that we were both sleeping by 10:00 p.m. I enjoyed ten hours of uninterrupted slumber.
Saturday, October 14th, 2006
I leisurely prepared for the day ahead while allowing Madison to sleep until almost nine o'clock. We sauntered down to the lobby for my morning coffee all the while taking in more rail displays that we had missed the previous evening. A light Continental breakfast of cold cereal, fresh fruit and muffins was available. The Depot Inn does not have an on-site restaurant but patrons can dine at the Red Rooster, an eating establishment nearby.
Ray arrived around nine thirty and took us to the Red Rooster where we enjoyed a hearty bacon, egg and hash-brown breakfast. The portions were plentiful and the staff were friendly and attentive.
After breakfast we went for a walk behind the Depot Inn along a pathway in a wooded area that Ray explained was part of the old Wabash rail line. The rails were long gone and the pathway ended abruptly where an old Wabash rail bridge once spanned the existing rail line. However, across the way you could see the continuance of the pathway. From this vantage point Ray pointed out the new Trainweb building and further down the tracks we could see the Amtrak station.
On the return walk we met Shivam, so we all drove over to see the new location of the Trainweb building. It was still a work in progress but much had been completed in a short time. Their pride was evident as they both pointed out some of the special features they had incorporated. Most impressive to me was the size of the structure. Shivam talked of future landscaping plans and spoke of the helpful relationship they had with town officials who had gone out of their way to facilitate them in any way possible. While we walked around outside, Madison discovered an old, discarded rail spike with what looked like WMC stamped on the head. No amount of reasoning could deter her from her conclusion that it stood for Wabash Cannonball.
We picked up Shivam's family and went to lunch at the Red Rooster and again enjoyed an excellent meal served by their personable staff. Next on the agenda was a visit to a nearby Amish General Store where we poked around looking at all the neat stuff before making some purchases.
Back at the Inn we spent most of our time at the indoor pool along with a number of other families who were enjoying the facilities. A splendid collection of railroad memorabilia in the pool area captured our attention. From time to time we heard the recorded sound of a steam engine approaching a station and then, high above the pool, an old railroad water pipe discharged blasts of water onto the unsuspecting swimmers below. I chatted with one young mother who told me that she and her husband were at the Inn attending the first annual Lester Dent convention. Lester Dent grew up in La Plata and was one of the great pulp fiction writers of his time. His most noteworthy action hero was “Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze.”
Before returning to our room we purchased some microwaveable snacks at the little in-house store. Television programs entertained us until bedtime.
Sunday, October 15th, 2006
I awoke around 8:00 a.m. after another restful night's sleep. Madison was still comatose so I took my shower and dressed before waking her. I proceeded to the lobby for a cup of fresh coffee while she dressed and watched a few cartoons.
During another satisfying breakfast at the Red Rooster, we discussed our plans for the day which I had promised would be spent doing whatever she pleased. We started by checking out the play area at the rear of the Inn but it had started to drizzle so we put that aside for later in the day. On a sunny day the kids would have a great time playing on the little miniature golf course or on the wonderful train-related play structures. A bicycle stand supported various sized bikes just waiting for the kids to come along and take them for a ride. There was even a trackless train which transported the children around the site.
The different hobo signs on the doors intrigued Madison so, at the front desk, she picked up a pamphlet that explained these signs and symbols. She then vigorously set out to search for and check off the ones she identified on the list. While she was on her mission, I returned to the showcase-lined corridor to once again study the wonderful exhibition of railroad memorabilia which encompassed railroad china, lanterns and so much more.
The previous day Shivam had given lessons in playing pool so we put our new-found knowledge into practice. After watching television, Madison went swimming with her new best friend Victor, whose parents were attending the Lester Dent convention. Victor's family lived in St. Louis, Missouri, a two and a half hour drive from La Plata, and they would be driving home early Monday morning. Before retiring we sipped hot chocolate from the courtesy counter and enjoyed popcorn while viewing a movie. Our bags had been packed for the return trip the next morning and I noticed the old rail spike Madison had discovered carefully wrapped and tucked away in her suitcase.
Monday, October 6th, 2006
After our last Red Rooster breakfast, Ray transported us to the Amtrak Station. Even though the Depot Inn is close-by, they do provide a shuttle service to the train station. The Southwest Chief rounded the bend and pulled into the station a few minutes late. We boarded and deposited our suitcases on the luggage rack then proceeded to our seats on the upper level in time to wave good-bye to Ray. The skies were overcast and dull. Madison played one of her electronic games while I pulled out the pocket book purchased in La Plata at the Amish store and began to read “A Barefoot Country Boy”, an anecdotal recollection of the author's younger years while growing up in an Amish environment. We had an early lunch which we purchased in the snack car, and then we returned to our seats where Madison entertained herself with the different games and puzzle books we had brought along.
The return trip didn't seem as long and I was quite surprised when we pulled into the Chicago station at 2:55 p.m., twenty five minutes ahead of schedule. Our first stop was the Metropolitan lounge where we checked our bags and enjoyed a cold drink from the soda fountain. Madison remembered a picture I had taken on a previous trip of the marble steps in the Great Hall and wanted to see them first hand. We completed the station and souvenir tour and then went to the second floor food court to have something to tide us over until our late dinner on the train. We amused ourselves with television programs and card games for the next few hours. I was thankful for the early boarding call which meant we were settled in our rooms shortly after seven. Our sleeper attendant, Mac, stored our luggage and informed us we could advance to the diner once the train departed the station at 7:55 p.m.
We sat with a lovely couple from southern California who were on their way to Rochester, N.Y. to celebrate her husband's 85th birthday with family and friends. This was their first train ride and they absolutely loved it. “For so many years” she explained “we made the drive across country, but this is so relaxing that I think we'll take the train from now on.”
Madison had the Angus burger with chips while I ordered the half chicken with mashed potatoes and carrots. A nice crisp salad and dinner roll was followed by a generously portioned main entrée. The potatoes and carrots were tasty, and the perfectly browned chicken was tender and juicy. The taste however was mediocre. After a while I realized, as silly as it sounded, that there was no aroma of chicken to my meal. Our table companions had the beef dinner and, while it looked very appetizing with the dark gravy drizzled over top, I could not detect any scent of beef. Madison enjoyed her burger and declared the Mississippi Mud Pie really excellent.
While we were in the diner, Mac had put down the beds. We wasted no time getting ready for sleep. I told Madison that she could read or play games as long as she wished, but I would be plugging in those earplugs and calling it a day.
Tuesday, October 17th, 2006
I awoke at 6:00 a.m. and promptly fell asleep for another hour and a half. I wasn't sure if we were on schedule but thought it best to get up just in case. I roused Madison and she said, “oh Grandma, can't we just stay on the train?” She told me she had fallen asleep about 10:30 after trying her best to stay awake all night. We dressed and tidied up our belongings before heading to the diner so that Mac would have an easier time of making up the room. He informed us the train was running about an hour late so we had plenty of time for breakfast.
One advantage to entering an almost deserted diner is being served your coffee immediately. I just had it doctored and was taking my first sip when I realized the plastic cup had a leak. It was promptly replaced but, in the meantime, the paper tablecloth looked a mess. We both ordered a simple cheese omelet with hash brown potatoes and sausage rounds. This breakfast was not much better than the Bob Evan's Special. The sausage was over spiced and the hash browns were most likely steamed but the omelet, while it looked appetizing, had no taste whatsoever.
The rainy weather continued and as we pulled into Rochester at 9:20 am it was pouring. We were delayed a further twenty minutes when a boarder patrol official boarded the train and escorted two passengers to the station. Further delays caused by freight traffic meant we pulled into Syracuse at 11:18 a.m., one hour and fifty two minutes late. Thus ended our adventure!
Madison's first train experience was declared wonderful. She announced that, “bouncing around in the bed” at night was the best part. I was so grateful for the attentive personnel we had on this journey, especially Melanie on the Lakeshore Limited. Her caring nature and frequent visits rendered a four hour delay into a new Junie B Jones fan.
I had heard great reports from Ray and Shivam about the Depot Inn and I was not disappointed. The accommodations and tastefully presented railway theme were simply first rate, but it was the honest, friendly ambiance of the Inn which helped set it apart from other first rate establishments. The hand-picked personnel and family friendly amenities contributed greatly to our stay. I think young Victor summed it up best when he described it as the “funest place.”