Special Excursion Train features 'Cedar Rapids' Car
By Steve Gravelle, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - More than 300 people boarded a train in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday morning and rode all day, only to find themselves back in Cedar Rapids at the end of the day.
Which was just fine with them.
“I just decided to take a slow train to no place,” said Terry Fouts, 70, of Cedar Rapids.
“I love trains,” said Judy McCoy. “We all do.”
The run from Cedar Rapids to Moline, Ill., and back was the first of six excursion trains scheduled by the National Railway Historical Society as part of its weeklong annual convention, which has brought more than 600 rail enthusiasts to town.
Like Fouts, McCoy, husband Mick McCoy and their daughter Deb Jurkowski, all of Cedar Rapids, paid a premium over the $169 coach fare to ride what was probably the train’s star car, the Cedar Rapids.
Built by the Milwaukee Road in 1948 to bring up the rear of its premier Hiawatha passenger trains between Chicago and Minneapolis, the parlor-lounge-observation car features art deco touches and a glass-enclosed solarium in its tapered tail where passengers could relax, chat and sip beverages. The striking car is visiting its namesake city for the first time, part of a nine-car train assembled by convention organizers from excursion operators and NRHS chapters around the country.
“The train’s a real mixture,” said NRHS President Greg Molloy of Cincinnati. “Amtrak would cringe when they saw the mix of paint schemes, but it’s run real smoothly.”
It was Mick McCoy’s first train ride, “but we’ll be going on more in the future,” he said as the train eased away from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City’s Smith-Dows Yard. “It’s kind of a slower pace of life — comfortable.”
The CRANDIC pulled the train to its connection with the Iowa Interstate Railroad near Homestead. An Iowa Interstate diesel engine then pulled it to Moline, where locomotive 6988, one of the railroad’s two Chinese-built steamers, took over for the return leg.
Judy McCoy’s father was a Milwaukee Road conductor on passenger and freight trains on the railroad’s Chicago-Omaha line through Marion, now abandoned.
“I used to ride the freights with him, and I even got to run a steam engine when I was a young girl,” she said.
Joseph Maloney Jr., 64, of Williamsport, Va., began riding trains with his dad, too — passenger trains, mostly in the Northeast, starting about 1949. He’s kept it up, riding trains all over North America, Asia and Africa.
Daniel Meyer, meanwhile, dates his fascination to a ride from Seattle to Minneapolis about 1970.
“To a 9-year-old boy, it was pretty much a thing of wonder,” said Meyer, 51, of St. Paul.
Steam locomotives are the big attraction for Maloney and many others.
“The sounds and the smells are much nicer,” he said. “Just hear that whistle in the distance, and it conjures up images of American life in the past.”
Riding on the top level of a glass-enclosed dome car, Maloney and Harvey Bastian, 60, of Muscoda, Wis., followed their progress in Maloney’s detailed railroad atlas as the train rolled through Tiffin, Oxford and Iowa City.
At West Liberty, the train paused for a “run-by”: Most of its passengers debarked in the blazing heat and formed a line trackside, cameras ready. The train backed up about a half-mile, then charged past the group, whose members snapped photos as it passed the old brick depot. The train then backed up to retrieve the satisfied passengers.
“As long as the air conditioning and the toilets are working, they’re happy,” said Meyer, a 25-year NRHS member.
Riders talked railroading’s future, too, as east of Iowa City the train rode the same rails that passenger rail supporters hope will one day accommodate twice-daily Amtrak trains to and from Chicago.
“Looking at it as a business, passenger loadings are up, revenues are up,” Maloney said. “Every indicator is favorable.”
“The problem in the United States is, we run railroad (freight) cars on the same tracks,” said Fouts, who’s ridden high-speed trains in Asia. “In the rest of the world, they have different sets of tracks.”
As the afternoon wore on, the Cedar Rapids and its train rolled through cornfields and pastures, past vegetable gardens, abandoned cars and sleepy small-town streets where surprised neighbors waved from their porches.
“It’s been said you see America’s backyard by train,” Meyer said. “In some places, that’s really true.”
The convention has scheduled trips with the same train to Newton (today), Iowa City and return (Friday), Waterloo (Saturday), and from Cedar Falls to Manly (Sunday), with buses from the Clarion Hotel & Convention Center, 525 33rd Ave. SW, to and from trackside.
Seats are still available to the public and may be bought at the NRHS help desk at the Clarion. The help desk is staffed from 6 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 8 p.m. today, 6 to 8 a.m. Thursday, 6 to 9:30 a.m. and 1 to 6 p.m. Friday, and 6 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
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