Last Tuesday, I left Washington, Missouri at 6 a.m. and traveled north along the Avenue of the Saints to St. Paul, Minnesota. Ms. Shuttletrain had to handle important stuff at work, so she could not get away. So I picked up a friend of mine from the garden railway club I belong to, as my travel navigator in Foristell, Missouri.We headed north along the Avenue aka US 61. We stopped by Trainland USA, which is just north of Colfax, IA along Interstate 80. there we met Red and Judy Atwood the owners of Trainland USA. The husband and wife duo take care of this attraction which has everything Lionel, in three different themes. The frontier era, a steam era and the diesel era. There lots of different scenes in the display, even a fireworks scene. The lights go out several times during your visit so nightime can be observed. The layout was built several decades ago, and it does show it’s age sometimes, with trains not co-operating like they should. Red has his golden touch, to bring them back to life. There is also several rows of engines and cars on static display in the museum. The the collection of railroad art is pretty cool too. The property also has a renovated depot with lots of railroad items on display. A caboose is also available for parties and the historic commuter coach is Red’s shop and store. I will say that it is worth a visit. The website is http://www.trainlandusa.com.
After taking three takes to tape a segment for the Let’s Talk Train program it was off to St. Paul again. We cut a corner off, and found a detour that led us to Interstate 35. As we approached the MSP area, we found ourselves in a road construction zone where the warning signs started 10 miles before the actual work zone started. Dire warnings too, Expect stopped traffic, one lane road. We never really experienced a slowdown, but we hit it at 8 p.m., just started thinking about what it would be like when we left town on Thursday morning. One thing that did surprise us was a section of regular interstate that had a speed limit of 45 MPH. Found out later that the speed limit was set in a lawsuit.. We arrived at our Holiday Inn-St. Paul East about 9:30 p.m. The hotel is right off Interstate 94, and was very large for a suburban hotel. We checked in and then found the restaurant, which is in the bar area. They use the bar area instead of the actual restaurant to save money I guess. The next morning after breakfast in the real restaurant, we headed for St. Paul Union Depot. I had been to the Union Depot before in the middle of the night in 2000. I had taken Amtrak from St. Louis to Chicago, but because the train was delayed on the Mississippi River bridge outside of St. Louis, we missed our connection in Springfield, IL. So the Amtrak staff put us on a van from Chicago at 1000 at night and as we towards St. Paul dropping off other passengers at the stations in between. They had not given the van driver directions to the stations, so along the way we the passengers started looking up the stations on a map. I found a Union Depot pinpoint on the map and headed the driver to it. When we arrived it was abandoned and in a rundown area,. We tired to find a gas station or a 7-11 to ask where the AMTRAK station was., We got back on the highway and went east to a gas station about five miles away for what is now called Lowertown. They told us it was in Midway, MN, what they did not tell us was that it was in an industrial area. Fast forward to 2014. We drove around Union Depot and took in it’s beautiful outsides. We found a place to park under the old freight building. and unpacked the computers and gadget bag, and headed inside. We got on the escalator and found the empty, soon to be filled later that morning, Amtrak counter and the Intercity bus counter, I found that those counters are out of the way from the gates which are located in the concourse, up two more levels. The St. Paul Union Depot was designed as a pull-through station. The Head House houses a restaurant and offices for the Depot and the Rail Authority. The concourse was closed off since the last passenger train left in 1981. Amtrak never used it. They used Midway. The station has been reopen for a year. St. Paul’s city transit buses and the intercity bus lines have been there since then. Amtrak has been waiting for the three railroads that it operates on in the area to get together and allow Amtrak to come to Union Depot.
After getting a tour of the Depot, my friend, whom doubled as a production assistant, set up the video camera to tape the press conference and the computer for the live streaming of the conference. The waiting room aka concourse, was being set up for a private event the next night so only a 1/8 of the hall was available for the press conference. Over 150 citizens, the press and officials including President and CEO Joe Boardman, who came town on his personal trainset. The Assistant Director of the Federal Railroad Admistration, Karen Hedlund. along with the Ramsey County Railroad Authority Director, the MN State Railroad Director. After the ribbon cutting the public was allowed on the platform to check Mr. Boardman’s train. Once the press was done shooting B-Roll it was time to go back upstairs and start to set up for the taping of the LTT segments.
The first guest was the author of the book about St. Paul’s Union Depot, John Diers. Mr. Diers was very knowledgeable about Union Depot. Although he could not find many people that worked in the depot while writing his book, since they had left the area or simply passed away, using the archives of libraries and historical societies, his book is a must read. The next guest was the Ramsey County Rail Authority Commissioner, Mr. Ortega. Union Depot is owned by the Ramsey County Rail Authority, not the City of St. Paul. Mr. Ortega was truly a very interesting guest. He described what it was like to start from scratch and make Union Depot a work of art. Mr. Ortega was followed by the Director of the Ramsey County Rail Authority, Timothy Mayasich. Timothy was very gracious in allowing us to come and visit during this historic day. He rally knows how to manage a comeback. I usually interview the convention and visitors director next, but, I was told that a chamber of commerce member would be a better fit. It turns out that the chamber person also owns the minor league baseball team which is moving from Midway to Lowertown too. Even better he turned out to be my high school friend. Tom Whaley. Tom is a transplant from St. Louis that stayed in St. Paul. You can tell he is proud of his adopted city. Tom was able to answer the tough questions and I even got him thinking about being a rail tourist in his own city. The final guest was David Christianson, MN DOT official. David is a railfan turned government official. It was an interesting interview. Unfortunately, his segment was left on the cutting room floor due to time. After the tapping at St. Paul Union Depot it was time to head to the James J. Hill House for a tapping.
After a tour of the Hill House with the Convention and Tourism Bureau folks with the Site Director for the Hill House, Craig Johnson. We sat down with Craig and discussed the house and it’s importance in St. Paul. We even interviewed one of the members of the Great Northern Railroad Historical Society, Gary Nelson. Once we completed the interviews it was back to the Union Depot to meet up with my friend Tom Whaley for dinner and a tour of the new baseball park site. The dinner conversation switched back and forth from from the high school days to the future of St. Paul Lowertown. It was nice to visit with an old friend and see his passion for the future.
While we waited for Amtrak to make it’s first appearance at Union Depot, we caught up on emails. The first train was supposed to be an westbound train from Chicago with an arrival at 1003 pm. The arrival kept getting pushed back as freight traffic interfered. The station set aside four bleachers along an not yet used track for the locals to watch it arrival. The media, that would be us, were allowed on the actual arrival platform. The moved President Boardman’s train to another track to allow for the Westbound Empire Builder to have full access, and once the EB arrived they were going to hook on to it and drag Boardman’s train to Minot. ND
The Empire Builder arrived about 11:20 pm and the media took pictures and interviewed travelers getting on and off the train. The train left the platform and moved into the darkness about 12:15 am. We headed back to the hotel. The eastbound train was scheduled to arrive at 8:00A.m. the next morning and it arrived after noon. but I was not planning on meeting it as we had to be back on the road south to Boone, IA to tape another segment.
My friend and I left the hotel about 6:00 a.m. and headed south. We stopped off in Boone, IA to tape a segment at the James H. Andrews Railroad Museum and History Center aka Iowa Railroad Museum located next to the Boone Scenic Railroad. This museum building is just over two years old, and houses some very unique items. The first is a depot within a depot. The second is a conductor button collection. and third a architectural drawing of the bridge that the Boone Scenic goes over. They are starting a library for the railroad readings. and other items. http://iowarailwaymuseum.org
Back on the road southeast towards Washington, we cut across Iowa and found the headquarters of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata. We stopped off at the lookout point to watch a couple of trains. When we got to Columbia, MO it started to rain and rain and rain. I dropped my production assistant/friend off at his house in Foristell, and headed home. I got home, handed the dirty laundry bag to my wife to switch for new clothes as we were due at St. Louis Union Station that night. It was just after 8 p.m.,. I had hoped to arrive home at 6 p.m. but with the rain, I erred on the side of caution.
We arrived at St. Louis Union Station, about 915 p.m. just as the 3D light show was ending,. Mrs. Shuttletrain and I were part of the Friends of Union Station that built the permanent G Scale layout in the Grand Hall Marketplace. So we had seen the staff doing lots of tests shows for the last several weeks. We checked into the headhouse suite that had been reserved for us. and then went back to the Grand Hall for dinner and drinks. The next morning, met up with the hotel’s general manager, to discuss details about that evening VIP event. I am proud to say that the owner of the hotel used our show to detail the plans for the hotel transformation way back in January 2013. Mrs. Shuttletrain and I help set up the Gateway Garden Railroad Club’s layout that was going to be the biggest part of the VIP event, along with five other model train displays, Those displays would then be part of National Train Day, which followed the next day. The VIP’s met in the Grand Hall where they had drinks, watched a special 3D show, then headed down to see the displays and then off for a train tour of St. Louis Terminal Railroad yards and bridges. After the tour, they came back into the station,. some left but a handful came back into the Grand Hall, were the Friends of Union Station were introduced and were allowed to party with them. We stayed till 130 a.m. and had a blast.
The next morning came early, breakfast a 7 a.m. We started to run our model trains at 8 a.m. because there were so many hotel guests wandering around. The National Train Day opened to the public at 10 a.m. and ran till 6 p.m. We started taking down the modular display at 6 p.m. and it took till 8 p. m. Five of us went up to the Station Grille to have dinner. After that it was bedtime, On Sunday morning, packed up our hotel room, and headed back to Washington, Missouri where we unpacked from both trips, picked up Ajax from boarding, and then played with him for a little bit before heading off to bed. Whew what a week. Leaving town again in two weeks for two days. I love to travel and see America, but I love to come home too.
Thanks for wandering. More later.