Issue 153, May 1995PDF Download (2.66 Mb)
1994 was the "Year of the Zephyr." On exibition runs for the Burlington Northern, the train travelled to Fort Worth, Galesburg, and Mendota on three separate trips. It also ran a fantrip in late 1993 for the Association of Railway Museums and to celebrate IRM's 40th anniversary. Chief Dispatcher Harold Krewer was present at all four events. We put his story together with Bob Banke's beautiful photos of the Zephyr, plus a few of Harold's photos, and a few from Greg Heier and John Howell, to make a special issue of Rail & Wire. The excursions were also covered in color in the May issue of Trains Magazine, in a lead article by Robert McGonigal.
The Nebraska Zephyr
Far, Far From Homeby Harold Krewer
with photos by Bob Banke, Greg Heier, John Howell & Harold Krewer
"Highball Burlington 9911A!"
At the opposite end of the consist, V-12 diesels start chanting an octave higher, urging the stainless steel articulated consist of the Nebraska Zephyr away from the Burlington depot. West of here, people will be waiting for this train. So will several freights. And as she has so many times be fore, the Zephyr will keep all her appointments today...
While this scenario was played out daily with nearly monotonous precision across the Iowa prairie, what makes this trip of the Nebraska Zephyr different is that today's passengers are several hundred miles and 25 years removed from that place and time. The place: Burlington, Wisconsin, on the Wisconsin Central Railroad. The date: September 30, 1993.
Welcome aboard the Nebraska Zephyr.
What started out as a one-time excursion for the benefit of delegates to the 1993 Association of Railroad Museums convention became the first of what would be four forays into the land beyond the derail on the IRM-C&NW interchange track, trips that would take the Zephyr "boldly where no IRM artifact has gone before." These four trips, in case you're keeping score, were:
While the last two trips (to Galesburg and Mendota) took the Zephyr back to towns she called on during her daily dashes across the prairie, the Neenah and Fort Worth trips took the train beyond the boundaries of the world she knew as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q).
These trips were also a mix of the new and the familiar for the group of IRM volunteers (including the author) that not only keep the Zephyr mechanically operational, but work to provide the on-board service that give passengers an approximation of what it was really like to ride the train when it was in service on the CB&Q.
For them (us), the Spring of 1993 through the Summer of 1994 would be filled with new projects to tackle and tight deadlines to meet, along with the usual ongoing work. Their (our) efforts would be rewarded with unique and exciting experiences as well as the appreciation of the thousands who experienced the Zephyr "on the road."
Having participated in all four of the Zephyr's recent "off-campus" sojourns, I have been asked to share our experiences with you through these pages. So, join me now for a brief review, a travelogue, if you will, of "The Way of the Zephyr."
North to Neenah
For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, the Nebraska Zephyr makes a passenger trip on the high iron. Here, on September 30, 1993, it echoes a long-vanished departure from Burlington. But this time it's not Iowa but Burlington, Wisconsin. And it's Echo Lake, not the Mississippi River. The trip was the kickoff for the 1993 convention of the Association of Railway Museums.
In the Spring of 1993, much of the talk around the property centered on the Museum's 40th anniversary and the three major events IRM would host as part of the celebration. In July, IRM would anchor one day's activities of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) convention, being hosted by the Chicago chapter. In November, IRM would host the Tourist Railway Association's (TRAIN) annual convention. But the "Big Daddy" of the three would be hosting the Association of Railroad Museums (ARM) convention September 30 through October 3.
Early on, it was anticipated that the Museum would "pull out all the stops" to put on a first-class show for its peers in the museum community.
Just how far out the stops would get pulled I did not realize until the word came out that the kickoff event of the ARM convention would be an excursion with the Zephyr on the Wisconsin Central.
Yeah, right... Assuming it would be possible to appease all the legal and liability concerns and reach an agreement with the railroad, the train needed quite a bit of work to be ready to make a trip like that.
For starters, the side panels on the E5 were loose and needed to be reattached to new backing, the brake valves needed a COT&S (Clean, Oil, Test and Stencil) inspection, the trucks under the cars needed attention and, without a working water system on the train, where were all these passengers supposed to go to the bathroom on this all day road trip?
"Harold, you want to hand me that torch?" Three weeks until trip day and this September afternoon found me, Dave Dote and local plumber Maury Keifer in the Barn 4 inspection pit, underneath the parlor-observation Juno. Today's work was replacing water piping under the car as part of the continuing mission to restore the wash rooms of the Juno and the coach Minerva to working order.
Up above, members of the dining car crew (John and Lorrie Rockey, Dana Ishman and "Mrs.-Ishman-to-be" Donna Wojtczak, Kris Randall, Yvonne Anderson, along with conductors John Ennis and John Howell) had been hard at it every weekend all summer to strip and refinish the washroom walls and clean the fixtures, and over in Yard 9 Internal Combustion Department workers (Jeff Delhaye, Laddie Vitek, and others) were giving the Silver Pilot a new set of "knickers" (side panels) to hold her stainless steel "dress" on securely.
Work on the train's trucks and suspension system was delegated to a contract crew headed by Mike Adams, a carman for Wisconsin & Southern. Their job entailed jacking up each car, inspecting each truck and replacing springs (some) and rubber parts (virtually all) as required. The brake work and several other miscellaneous projects inside and under the train were being attended to by a group of Internal Combustion Department "regulars:" Joe Whitmer, Jamie Kolanowski, Jim Jones, Dan Currens, John Howell, Mike Sweers, Laddie Vitek, Ted Raye, Darryl Van Nort, and John Rockey, led by Dave Dote.
The only break in this regimen came in late July, when visible work areas were tidied up and made presentable for the NRHS convention activities on July 21. While work on the E5 carbody could not be completed in time for the convention outing, the work was arranged so the missing side panels were on the side of the locomotive facing away from the station (and hence the convention visitors and their photo lines!).
After the NRHS convention, the Zephyr was taken out of service for Railfan and Member's Weekends, not only to allow an uninterrupted work "window" as the trip deadline approached, but also to permit the drawbar in the power/baggage/coach Venus to be removed for repair and to be measured for casting of a new coupler knuckle. A pre liminary inspection by Chicago & North Western personnel indicated the inner face of the knuckle (where most of the scraping and rubbing takes place) had worn beyond the limits allowed for interchange service. Of course, the knuckle turned out to be a style no longer made by the manufacturer, Ohio Brass, so a custom casting was in order. The brake shoes tor the Zephyr are also a custom fit, so enough shoes for two complete changeouts were ordered.
Okay, it appeared the conventioneers would have a place to ride and a place to go potty, but what about eats? After all, one must keep one's energy up tor the photo run bys! Certainly a major attraction of the trip would be the meals served in the dining car Ceres. To make sure the passengers would not be disappointed, Kris Randall enlisted the help of an acquaintance, Phil Siciliano, owner of Catered to You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Together they planned a luncheon menu that would reinforce the feeling of being aboard a first-class passenger train.
In the office, fingers were doing the walking (and the typing, etcetera, etcetera) as all the various arrangements were completed to make this trip a reality. Jim Johnson and Nick Kallas spent many hours on the phone, as did Jon Fenlaciki, who along with Dave Dote are WC employees. They acted as liaisons between IRM and their employer in arranging the operational plans for the trip. Add to this all the work being done by museum members to plan and prepare the rest of the convention, sell tickets, etc. and the museum office was not a place to loiter... you'd either be given a job or be run over!
Tuesday, September 28, 1993, 2:00 pm: Twenty-four hours to go. The C&NW in spector has been by and mechanically, we' re cleared for departure. With the truck inspection completed, John Hucksdorf sets up his spray gun near Central Avenue. The Zephyr pulls slowly by, then shoves back after John changes sides. Voila ! Freshly silvered trucks.
Inside the train, I've been "fan-tripping" the vacuum cleaner and, with the help of several others off and on through the past two days, the interior of the train will be ready... I hope. You see, Maury' s still back in Juno's vestibule working on getting the hopper in the ladies' room operational. Kris and her crew are busy cleaning the kitchen and dining room (loading the ice bunkers for refrigeration and the provisions will wait until just before tomorrow's departure). Up front, a bone-tired Dave Dote and friends are giving E5 9911A some final adjustments, in cluding installing a 97-channel radio, necessary for our three-railroad adventure that begins tomorrow. Wednesday, September 29: We've been busy all morning loading food, ice, spare parts, tools and god-knows-what-else aboard the Zephyr. A reporter and photographer from the Northwest Herald are here for a story about the trip. They tour of the diner, then go up to the head end for a photo of Laddie Vitek giving Silver Pilot (9911 A) a bath.
About 1:00 pm, I put my grip and CB&Q uniform aboard and it occurred to me that for having made hundreds of trips with this train at IRM, this is the very first time I' ve ever actually gone someplace aboard it... it also seemed a little strange to be boarding the train with the well-wishers shouting "see you tomorrow!"
The C&NW crew arrives by taxi to take us to West Chicago. Before we can shove off for Wisconsin, a stop is made on Station Track 1 at the pumphouse to top off the water tanks that supply our newly operable washrooms. In a defining example of the term "last-minute." John Hucksdorf throws a ladder up and touches up several badly faded letters of the Nebraska Zephyr lettering on the car sides while we fill the tanks! (This conjured visions of John still hanging on for dear life to the side of the train as we sped across the prairie...)
At 2:45 pm, we unlock the derail and shove out onto the C&NW Belvidere Sub division. Illinois Terminal 415 is set to pace us out to Kishwaukee Grove, but boorish railfans blocking the IRM mainline and a C&NW engineer impatient to get to West Chicago thwart their efforts, leaving 415 watching our markers fade in the distance.
As the Zephyr passes the end of the IRM mainline and sails eastward beyond the Kishwaukee, it is noted by the dozen or so IRM people aboard the Juno that this is the farthest any of us have ridden this train with out backing up!
The deadhead move from Union to Burlington went smoothly, and we particularly enjoyed collecting the rare mileage of the freight-only Elgin, Joliet & Eastern from West Chicago to Leithton and watching the antics of the motorcading railfans. Arrival in Burlington was just after 7:00 pm.
While the Zephyr spent the night on the house track behind the depot, we shuffled up the street to the Rainbow Motel to "tie up" for the night. Item: When filling out his registration card at the motel, Dave Dote listed under "make and model of vehicle" the following: "1940 EMC E5." Bet the desk clerk wondered about that one awhile.
Thursday, September 30: Perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Did I mention how well the trip went? If you were along for the ride, you already know. If you weren't, no amount of verbiage could properly convey the experience. If I had to sum it up in one word... seven letters, starts with p...
The day dawned quite chilly, but everyone who prepared for this trip was warmed by the sight of our Zephyr standing in front of the old red brick depot, the sun bouncing brilliantly off her flanks. Her train crew stood attentively at the vestibule doors, ready to receive their guests. Everything was ready.
Stepboxes up, one last look at the trusty Hamilton 992B before shoving it into the vest pocket and then Dave Dote (our WC conductor) gives Jon Fenlaciki (the WC engineer) the highball that set this article and nearly a year's worth of work into motion. Within minutes of departure, the dining car crew began serving a continental breakfast to the first-class passengers in the Juno. The real show began about 11:00 am. when the sound of chimes heralded Dining Car Steward Dana Ishman announcing the first of several sittings for lunch. The dispatchers in Stevens Point did a wonderful job of weaving us through the heavy freight traffic on their incredibly busy railroad. Two photo runbys were planned and executed, the second one on the return trip at Theresa was exceptionally nice, with perfect sunlight. One of the photos from that runby graced the 1994 IRM calendar.
The Zephyr made a photo run-by at the Route K
Another rare treat of the trip was covering the twisting street trackage through the city of Oshkosh. These tracks are soon to be abandoned. Even at the time of the trip, preparations to reroute all WC trains through town on the former C&NW tracks were underway. The ultimate proof that we must have done something right came as the train crew made their final announcements before arriving at Mundelein. The roar of applause carried throughout the train, capped off in the parlor-observation car by a standing ovation.
Immediately after unloading our very happy passengers in Mundelein, the Zephyr deadheaded back to Union. The return trip seemed to go twice as fast as the trip up, largely due to the feelings of excitement and accomplishment amongst the crew. We arrived back on IRM property at 10:20 pm and by 11:00 pm the train was put to bed and the crew wasn't far behind, both having earned their rest for a job well done.
South for the WinterDecember 12, 1993: Standing at Central Avenue on this clear-but-bitter-cold Sunday morning is the 9911A and the Nebraska Zephyr, ready to begin a journey of over a month and nearly 2,000 miles that will even tually take the train to Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters of Burlington Northern Railroad (BN).
The BN is borrowing the Zephyr from IRM to take part in the ceremonies as the first of 350 revolutionary alternating-current-drive SD70MAC locomotives will be accepted and christened. By reaching back into its corporate past, when the Burlington's Zephyrs were the embodiment of state of-the-art railroading, the BN hopes to emphasize how again today the company is redefining the state-of-the-art in railroading.
Before the Zephyr makes her appearance in Fort Worth, though, the train will head for the BN's former Frisco shop facility in Springfield, Missouri for some mechanical and cosmetic work.
While all these plans are cause enough for excitement, the immediate significance of today' s trip is that the Zephyr will for the first time since its 1968 retirement travel over a portion of its old route, from Aurora to Galesburg. Since Dave Dote, as IRM's official caretaker of the train, will be the only museum member on board for the trip, the rest of us will be free to chase and photograph the day's moves.
Departure from East Union is at 8:20 am and less than an hour later the Zephyr is cooling its heels at the West Chicago yard limits. There are conflicting instructions as to whether the BN wants the train turned on the wye before it is interchanged to them. After much three-way radio discussion, the answer is no, and soon the Zephyr snakes through the crossovers at JB Tower and into "66 track," the BN interchange.
After 25 years, the Nebraska Zephyr is "Home."
BN has sent a freshly-washed pilot locomotive (1526) up from Eola yard in Aurora to pull the Zephyr backwards to Eola. Because of track changes in Aurora, the backwards move is necessary to leave the train pointed properly to leave Eola facing west. After tying on and performing an air test, the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr ("Ak Sar-Ben" is Nebraska spelled backwards) heads south down the oldest stretch of track in the entire Burlington Northern system (built in 1849 as the Aurora Branch Rail road, predecessor to the CB&Q).
Arrival at Eola is 11:15 am, but there are no crews rested and available to take the train on to Galesburg, so a crew is called and taxied up from Galesburg, resulting in a three-hour delay. Dave, Jim Jones and myself pass the time drinking hot chocolate and giving tours of the train to several BN officials. During the layover, the 1526 is turned and placed in front of (and MU'ed to) the 9911A, primarily to act as grade crossing protection.
Finally, at 3:30 pm, 9911A and the Nebraska Zephyr take the switch onto Main 1 and in doing so once again validates the slogan that this is, indeed, the Way of the Zephyrs. The railfanning lasts about as long as the sunlight, and I say my farewell as the Zephyr's tail-sign heads into the sun set west of Somonauk. But the Zephyr has miles to go before it sleeps. Galesburg, Quincy and Hannibal all slide by the Zephyr's windows before the train stops for the night at the ex-Frisco yard in the Saint Louis suburb of Lyndenwood, Missouri at 2:10 am on the 13th. Later that morning, the Zephyr continues southwestward, arriving in Springfield at 7:15 pm Monday evening.
Over the next three weeks, the Springfield Shop forces, with Dave's guidance, attend to several projects on the 9911A. Be sides performing a FRA-mandated 92-day inspection, the wheels on the E5 are turned, putting them back into profile, and the #7 cylinder on the #l engine received a new piston and rings. Meanwhile, over in the car shop, contract workers are stripping and repainting the ceiling of the coach Vesta, which had started to peel badly.
As the deadline for being in Fort Worth approached, problems in the train's head end power system had the shop electricians stymied, so on January 3rd IRM electrician Dan Currens flew to Springfield and assisted in solving the problems and also assisted in inspecting the MU circuits in the 9911A, returning home on the 5th.
At noon on Thursday, January 6th, the Zephyr, ready for her role as grand dame of the Burlington Northern, departed Springfield for Tulsa, where she'd spend the night. Leaving Tulsa at 6:00 am Friday, the Zephyr ran off the last, long lap to Fort Worth, arriving at the Amtrak (ex-Santa Fe) depot at 9:30 pm. Coincidentally, that was the same time my United Airlines flight touched down at Dallas-Fort Worth International.
Saturday and Sunday were consumed with getting ready for the ceremony and open house on Monday, most of which in volved cleaning. Dave and I were blessed with help in the form of a pair of "Steves:" long-time IRM member Steve Iverson, down to visit from his (at that time) home in Arkansas, and Steve Holding, current BN dispatcher and IRM member who moved to Fort Worth with his job the summer before. To finish off the IRM contingent, Jim Jones arrived Saturday evening on Amtrak's Texas Eagle and IRM president Jim Johnson flew in Sunday evening.
Sunday evening the BN executive train arrived, led by SD70MAC 9400, the City of Fort Worth, sporting the same wintergreen and cream paint scheme as the office cars. Of course, a night photo session ensued, featuring the 9400 side-by-side with the 9911A.
A pleasant surprise awaited us Monday morning. While dashing about making all the little last-minute preparations, one of the BN's media people brought an older gentleman over to the Zephyr. The man, Vernie Barber by name, had some old railroad stuff he'd like to display...could we accommodate him?
"What'cha got, Vernie?"
"Oh, nothing special... some Burlington china and silver and stuff like that."
Yes, I thought we could accommodate him.
Soon Vernie had two tables filled with place settings of Burlington china and silver, teapots and menus and even the track sign for the Sam Houston Zephyr. Vernie sat there throughout the day answering questions and helping to hand out IRM flyers.
After the midday dedication ceremony, the Zephyr and the SD70MAC were open for walk-through tours and both train's keepers were kept busy fielding the questions of both the media and the public. The television crews especially enjoyed the Zephyr, as it "made good pictures" inside and out. The resulting coverage, while recognizing the accomplishment the SD70MAC embodied, was definitely skewed toward the Zephyr and the "glory days" of the railroads. To wit: the next morning's Fort Worth Star-Telegram put the SD70MAC dedication on the front of its business section, but the face of the Silver Pilot decorated page one!
The SD70MAC and the business cars departed that evening for a corporate function in Winter Park, Colorado, but the Zephyr remained on display in the Amtrak station for two more days, with a steady stream of visitors coming through the train. An estimated 3,000 people visited the Zephyr during its stay in Fort Worth. Every one of those visitors has a story to tell about a passenger train in their life. The older ones brought their stories with them. The younger ones took theirs home.
Speaking of home, it was time for us to be getting back to the frozen tundra of Illinois. I came home via the friendly skies on Wednesday evening, while Dave and Jim came home aboard the Zephyr, departing Fort Worth Thursday morning (Temperature: 65 degrees). A scheduled overnight in Tulsa was skipped, running straight through to Kansas City (Temperature: -10 degrees!).
The time gained by running through to KC was lost the next day. Generator failure left the train without lights (and more im portantly, no power for the electric space heaters that were keeping the train's interior barely livable in the sub-zero cold). Dave and Jim were able to hook up a portable welding rig to provide battery charging and excitation, which would be enough to get them home.
Saturday the 15th was clear but bitter cold as the Zephyr ran the anchor leg of her 2,000-mile relay race, from Kansas City through Quincy to Eola.
The Zephyr's return to East Union would be stopped tantalizingly close to its goal, though. The Chicago & North Western, fearing a broken rail due to the extreme cold, refused to handle the Zephyr over the unsignaled Belvidere Sub until a section truck could precede the train in daylight to insure a safe journey.
When the Zephyr arrived in Eola shortly after 8:00 pm, and it was evident the train would not get home to IRM that night, the immediate concern turned to: 1) getting the E5 put away indoors to keep it from freezing up; and 2) Getting Dave and Jim and their belongings home.
Solving the first problem involved taking the 9911A as a light-engine move down to the Clyde enginehouse in Cicero to be bedded down until she could go home (The train would remain at Eola yard). The second problem was solved by Kris Randall and myself, as we loaded up the "road warriors" and their baggage and took them home.
Monday the 17th the C&NW was ready to handle the train and the great sojourn finally came to an end 36 days and 2,000 miles after it began, with the Zephyr safely tucked in its berth in Barn 9.
On to Galesburg
With the Zephyr parked at the display area, all cameras turn to the
Shortly after the Zephyr's return from Fort Worth, the BN requested the Zephyr participate in two public festivals held in on line communities: Railroad Days in Galesburg on June 25-26 and the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival on August 11-14.
The electrical problems encountered on the way home from Texas would have to be fixed, of course, but a much bigger obstacle stood in the way of the Zephyr's participation.
Not long after returning from Texas, large chunks of paint began peeling from the ceiling of the train's interior. Evidently the extreme change in temperature (from 65 above to 25 below zero in just 36 hours) encountered on the way home caused such sudden contraction of the metal that the paint blistered and cracked. Only the washrooms repainted the summer before (with latex paint) and the Vesta (the car whose interior was repainted in Springfield on the trip down) survived with interiors intact. The rest of the train's interior would have to be scraped, sanded and repainted.
Burlington Northern offered to help with the expenses of repainting, but the work would still have to get done by June.
The available funds would be used to have a professional painting contractor apply the new paint, the reasoning being the interior finish is so highly visible to our customers that it commands such attention.
In the true IRM tradition, volunteers would step forward to perform the hot and dirty job of scraping, sanding and prepping the interiors for the contractor. To paraphrase the famous line in Casablanca, the "usual suspects" (the Zephyr's regular diner and train crew) were rounded up, and they proved to be as adept with putty knives as with saucepans and ticket punches. Several other volunteers from the Internal Combustion Department and other areas of the Museum also pitched in to help. Kris Randall's son, Edwin, proved especially useful as he was small enough to climb completely into the baggage racks to scrape the back corners!
As the spring progressed, on any given weekend you could find a dozen or so people working on the Zephyr, split about equally between the interior preparation and the electrical work up in the power car Venus. With the deadline for having the train ready quickly approaching, weekday workers were lined up to continue the interior work, with volunteers coming in as days off could be arranged.
During this time, there was regular maintenance to be performed as well. In the time since the Fort Worth trip, the brake valves on the cars had become "out of date," so in the middle of all this, Dave Dote, Jim Jones, Jamie Kolanowski and the Internal Combustion Department took all the brake valves off the cars, sent them off for rebuilding and reinstalled them.
The day before the trip was a marathon clean-up session, with bags and buckets of paint chips and debris being dug out of every crack and crevice. As a downpour raged outside the train, paper cups and buckets went under all the old familiar leaky spots (and a few new ones). At 6:00 pm, with the train once again presentable, a test run was made to check out the brakes and the E5's performance.
The importance of this test could not be overemphasized, as tomorrow's trip to Galesburg would be made unassisted, i.e. without a pilot engine. Because the vast majority of grade crossings on the Aurora Galesburg main have gate and signal protection and the line hosts regular passenger service, IRM and the BN decided it would better serve both organizations publicly to "show off" the Zephyr in the most aesthetic way possible.
The morning of Friday, June 24th dawned gray and chilly. The rains the day and night before had played havoc with the C&NW operations, causing some small washouts and signal problems. Consequently, the C&NW crew ordered for 7:00 am to take us to West Chicago did not materialize. Instead, a crew was ordered at Clinton, Iowa and deadheaded to IRM, arriving a little after 10:00 am.
Other than the delay getting on the road, the trip to West Chicago and Aurora went just like the trip the previous December, only warmer! Even the late departure had its benefits, as by the time we reached Eola yard the skies had cleared and the Nebraska Zephyr would head west into blazing sunshine. God IS a railfan!
As it turns out, God would be about the only railfan that could keep up with us. Originally bulletined as a 60-mile-per-hour train for the run to Galesburg, Division Trainmaster Rollie Paulsgrove, impressed with the smooth running and riding qualities of the Zephyr, authorized the crew to take the train up to the passenger train maximum of 79 mph. The rest of the way to Galesburg, the 9911A's speedometer needle played tag with the numbers over on the side of the dial she hadn't touched in years.
Sandwich, Somonauk, Leland... One by one, the villages and burgs along the "Way of the Zephyrs" slammed past the windows. BN Engineer Jim had one hand wrapped around both horn cords, playing his grade crossing concertos in stereo.
At trackside as well as on board, Professor Jim and his 58-year-old special guest were giving everyone an education. Today' s lesson: Those other passenger trains are Amtrak. This is a Zephyr.
At Earlville, the dispatcher had train 151 (with three BN business cars in the consist) waiting for us to cross over from Main 2 to Main 1 in front of them. On to Mendota, where we stopped for about 10 minutes to promote our impending visit there in August. A crowd of nearly 100 had patiently waited over three hours to witness our arrival. The rest of the way to Galesburg saw us overtake a westbound Southern Pacific stack train and meet eastbound BN train 160 and Amtrak's California Zephyr (Their 18-car Zephyr may be longer, but with those Genesis units ours is sure a heck of a lot better looking!!)
After arrival in Galesburg, we turned the train on the wye and were spotted with the other equipment displays at the BN Amtrak depot (Galesburg is one of the very few places on Amtrak to have two depots... the other is the ex-Santa Fe depot, stop for the Southwest Chief).
Our wild weekend in Galesburg was largely taken up with displaying the train and hawking a selection of Nebraska Zephyr and IRM hats, shirts and souvenirs, but there were some diversions. Friday evening there was time to take in the carnival downtown (read get sick on a couple of rides) and Saturday evening there was a cook' s tour (literally given by the train's chef) of the 8-car BN executive train in town for the event.
Another nostalgic experience for many of the Zephyr's crew was bunking in the Knox College dormitories. It had been awhile since most of us had the communal bathroom experience (Thank God there were two on the floor, or we'd have had to establish "boys time" and "girls time"). The native down staters in the group also took pleasure in introducing our Chicago-area friends to the epicurean delights of Steak 'N Shake (the official restaurant of Railfan & Railroad Magazine ?)
Monday morning before departure, we spotted the Zephyr at the north end of the site of the old Galesburg depot. adjacent to the S4a Hudson 3006 on display there, replicating as much as is presently possible the view in IRM's limited-edition print of the Nebraska Zephyr. (We also took the group shot that appears on page l6 of the May 1995 Trains.)
The trip home went as briskly as the trip down, the only setback being a 2 hour wait at Eola yard for the yard engine to tow us up to West Chicago. During the wait we called WGN radio on Jim Jones cellular phone and spoke live on the air with Spike O'Dell. Arrival back at IRM was just before 4:00 pm.
Off to the Land O'Corn(OR..HERE WE GROW AGAIN!)
Our visit to the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival was in some respects very similar to our previous trips (some of us probably could have qualified on the Belvidere Sub and the West Chicago branch by this time!), yet in other ways we were once again plowing new ground, so to speak.
What made this trip so different was while in Mendota the Zephyr would host two groups of guests for dinner, a fund raising event for the train's restricted fund. Both evenings the Zephyr's dining car crew played to a full house.
Part of the reason for the success of this event was Rose Buck, executive director of the Mendota Chamber of Commerce and a unabashed Nebraska Zephyr fan. Rose handled advance ticket sales and promotion of the dinners, in addition to her usual duties of coordinating most of the Sweet Corn Festival, an event which draws over 25,000 people to this town of 6,000 souls.
For a fund-raising dinner such as what was planned for Mendota, our usual paper plates and plastic forks would not do. To that end, real dishes, bowls, cups, saucers and utensils were purchased from a restaurant supply catalog. While the pattern is not even remotely similar to CB&Q's legendary "Aristocrat" or "Violet and Daisy" china, the new dishes do feature an art deco styling which harmonizes with the atmosphere of the Zephyr. The new stuff also has the added advantages of being economical and easily replaced.
The new non-disposable dishes brought with them a new problem: How do we wash them?
Answer: On the "back side" of the Zephyr (the side facing away from the street), a table with washtubs is set up at the bottom of the vestibule steps. Everyone not involved with serving the meal is washing dishes in assembly-line fashion, from scraping to scrub to rinse to dry. It's not the way the Burlington did it, but it works.
The real highlight for most of us, though, was our accommodations for the weekend. The only motel in Mendota is several miles from the track (and was booked solid for the festival, anyway), so the BN provided lodging aboard their business cars for the entire IRM crew!
Our group was split between the sleepers Stevens Pass and Deschutes River, while the office car Mississippi River and lounge Como were used by BN Chief Operating Officer Bill Greenwood and his party. (Bill is a native of Mendota and was home to preside as Grand Marshal of the Sweet Corn Festival.)
The Stevens Pass is similar (but not identical) to our CB&Q sleeper Savanna, differing mainly in that everything works on the Stevens Pass.
Rose Buck had decided that a representative of the Zephyr crew should be a parade judge. This job came with the fringe benefits of riding in the back of a convertible in the parade, sitting on the reviewing stand and a grossly oversize ribbon to wear on your lapel. We drew straws and John Howell lost. He looked absolutely smashing riding in that convertible in his CB&Q uniform.
Since there was no place to turn the train in Mendota, an engine had to tow us backwards all the way back to Eola. The benefit of this was this time we would travel over the West Chicago branch "head first."
On the return trip to East Union, there was one errand to take care of. "Guys, on your way home, can you pick up a gallon of milk and a U30C?"
Well, we forgot the gallon of milk, but we did get the U30C.
Earlier that summer, the BN had donated U30C #5383 to IRM in appreciation for bringing the Zephyr out to Fort Worth and Galesburg. The engine was sitting in Eola yard waiting for paperwork to get it interchanged to the C&NW. With the Zephyr passing within yards of a unit that was technically "ours," why couldn't we just take it home with us? The answer from BN: Why don't you do just that. So, with the tall, boxy 5383 tucked in between 9911A and the articulated Zephyr consist, we headed for West Chicago looking kind of like a silver snake that had just swallowed a frog.
The silver snake that swallowed a frog.
With our arrival back at IRM that August afternoon, the barnstorming tour of the Nebraska Zephyr was finally over... for now. No further trips off property are planned at this time, but perhaps someday 9911A and train will write yet another chapter to this story. In the meantime, we have our wonderful memories of the Way of "Our" Zephyr.
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