Thursday, May 29, 2014

Traveling by Pullman in the 21st Century


Route of the Train
“You must be Chuck, our last passenger. We were getting worried.” Those were the words I heard as I walked into New Orleans Union Station at about 1:20pm on Sunday, May 25, 2014. At that moment I knew it was going to be a great trip to Chicago. But let me back up in my story a bit.

Dave Ingles, Rick Moser and I had made plans to ride the AAPRCO Spring convention train from New Orleans to Gulfport via Monroe, Louisiana, and Meridian, Mississippi in mid-May. The trip was to end the evening of Thursday, May 22, and we all had various plans for getting back to our respective homes. I had planned to fly home on the morning of May 23. Rick was going to stay with the AAPRCO special when it went back to New Orleans on May 25.  Dave was going to take the City of New Orleans back leaving on May 24.

About a month before the trip I wondered if it would be possible to economically ride the new premium service being offered by Pullman Rail Journeys between New Orleans and Chicago. Going to their website I discovered that not only was there a departure scheduled on May 25, but that a roomette could be had for that departure at the bargain price of $190. To put this into perspective, the best price I could find for a roomette on Amtrak any time in the next month was $272 with numbers close to $400 being more typical. Why the bargain? We got lucky because of a loading imbalance. For the date we were traveling, the passenger load southbound (two days before) was much higher than that northbound and Pullman had berths to fill. I told Dave about this and after a few days he decided to book it. Then he asked Rick and I if we’d like to join him. Rick declined, but I booked a reservation as well.
The Southbound City of New Orleans on May 24, 2014

Getting to the Station

Rick had dropped us off at the New Orleans Airport on Saturday afternoon so that we could rent a car to use for the not quite 24 hours until the train was to depart. We used it to get to our hotel, for some railfanning in New Orleans on Sunday morning, and to get to the station around noon. After dropping Dave off with our suitcases I drove to the downtown rental car facility and walked over to catch a trolley back to the station. I texted the information number on the trolley stop to find out when the next trolley was due and the reply said almost immediately. I waited through four trolleys on other lines before I decided that I needed to walk. During the walk I saw no trolleys on the Loyola line in either direction. My arrival at the station after the walk brings us to the opening paragraph of this missive.

“You must be Chuck, our last passenger. We were getting worried,” said the Pullman conductor who was standing by the door to the train as he handed me my Pullman name tag. He escorted me to my room in the Adirondack Club, the observation car at the end of the waiting City of New Orleans and introduced me to my Pullman porter, Gary. Immediately after I boarded they closed the vestibule door and as far as the Pullman company was concerned, the train was ready to depart.

I verified that my suitcase and briefcase were in my room and then went off in search of Dave who I found in the next car, dome Sky View seated at a table and chatting with a woman passenger who was treating herself to the trip for her birthday. By the time the train slowly eased from the station we were enjoying drinks and watching for the AAPRCO train that was due in just as we were leaving (we saw it waiting at a junction just after leaving the station.)

The Train

For those who care the the Pullman portion of the train consisted (from rear to front) the Adirondack Club a sleeper-observation lounge, the Sky View, a dome diner, the Silver Quail, a sleeper, the Chebanse, a sleeper, and the Pontchartrain Club, another sleeper-observation car which was being deadheaded back to Chicago. Beyond the Pontchartrain Club were the inaccessible regular City of New Orleans cars. Effectively there were two separate trains being pulled by a pair of locomotives.

Interiors - Top Row: Sky View, Adirondack Club. Bottom Row: Pontchartrain Club, Silver Quail

Shortly after departure lunch was served and we got to see all 11 of our fellow passengers, most of whom appeared to be somewhat younger than us. We dined at tables in the dome with white linen table clothes and napkins, real china, and exceptional service. I had a really good Caesar salad with grilled salmon and Dave had a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. Other choices included a stuffed tomato, a meat loaf sandwich, and a few others. Dessert was berries over shortbread.


One of the advertised attractions of the Pullman service is the presence of onboard entertainment provided by the Old Town School of Folk Music. The two performers on our trip, Chris Farrell and Michael O’Toole were to perform after lunch and after dinner. Dave and I had both filed this under “things to be avoided” but decided to give it a try and so we went back to the Adirondack Club where they were set up and performing (wait for it) the Steve Goodman song “The City of New Orleans”. Chris and Michael interacted with the “crowd” and it turned out that they both had known Steve at the Earl of Old Town. Many years ago I had heard him perform live on the Northwestern University campus and Dave had talked to him on the phone once and we were both big fans. At my request the singers played “The Lincoln Park Pirates” (I could not get them to play “A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request”.) We thoroughly enjoyed the performance for at least an hour.

Along the Way

In the meantime the train had made several stops along the way for passengers on the Amtrak train that was attached to the front of ours. According to the Amtrak timetable, conspicuously missing in our train (because there are no official stops for Pullman passengers until Chicago), we were consistently running a bit late, but because of padding we were on time into Jackson.

The day was hot (near 90) and the air conditioning on the Adirondack Club (and the Chebanse) were not keeping up. This drove us from the Adirondack Club. After a brief visit to the Pontchartrain Club which was somewhat cool, we headed back to the dome which was very cool. I asked the porter, Gary, about the air conditioning and he said a mechanic was looking at it (a statement that I usually find is a brush off.) Later he told me that he was sure it would cool down by evening, but just in case he had arranged a new bedroom for me in the Silver Quail. He did the same thing for Dave…this without either of us specifically asking or even really complaining. That’s real service. (The Adirondack Club was cooling fine by dinner time so the mechanic really did work on it. I assume but can’t state from direct experience that the Chebanse was cooling as well.)

The Cocktail Hour and Dinner

We chatted a while in the dome and all of a sudden it was the cocktail hour. Dave ordered a Bloody Mary with 7 olives (well, he ordered it with olives and I said “lots of olives” and that is what he got.) I had a Goose Island Matilda a Belgian Pale Ale.  The one lapse in service I noticed was that the beer was not served the Pullman way[1]. But it still tasted mighty good. We finished our drinks, and before we knew it, it was time for dinner.

The materials that Pullman sent before the trip suggested that dressy business attire was appropriate with a jacket at dinner. Since we were just coming off another almost week long trip neither Dave or I bothered to pack a jacket. Had we, we would have felt out of place as no one else did either.

Dinner was a multi-course affair, starting with a relish tray (spiced watermelon cubes!), and a salad with a delicious Illinois Central dressing. Both Dave and I had the steak in a pepper sauce as our entrees. Mine was cooked a prefect medium rare and was quite tender. Dessert was a slice of lemon cake with blueberries. Other entrĂ©e choices included (among others) a vegetarian ravioli, and a filet of salmon (which I would have had if I hadn’t had salmon with my Caesar salad at lunch.)

The Rest of the Evening

We ended up dining with the folk singers and had a quite interesting conversation until it was time for them to get ready for their evening session in the Adirondack Club. At that point I retrieved my computer to which I had already uploaded all of the photos I had taken on our trip and Dave went through them to identify the ones he wanted. He had brought both digital and film cameras along on the trip but his digital failed the first day. Dave then adjourned to his (new) room and I went back to the Adirondack Club to listen to Chris and Michael until we got to Memphis about 10 minutes ahead of schedule at 9:50pm.

Since we were in Memphis for almost an hour, I took the opportunity to get off the train and take the long walk up to the twin Amtrak engines and then back (running into Dave who was doing the same thing) and then went to my room in the Silver Quail and got ready for bed. After reading for a short while the rolling of the train started to put me to sleep and the next thing I knew we were in Carbondale (nature called), and then Champaign. After leaving Champaign I lazed in bed and finally, at 7:15am I decided to get up and was getting dressed when the porter knocked on my door to tell me it was 7:30am and the train would be in Chicago within two hours.

Breakfast and Arriving in Chicago

So I went up to breakfast and joined Chris at a table, along with the woman who Dave had chatted with the previous afternoon. She finished her breakfast before Chris and I (and eventually Michael) were served and when Dave came he ended up sitting across the aisle from us. I had the corned beef hash and eggs, Dave had the railroad French toast. Again both were excellent. I then went back to the Adirondack Club to watch our arrival in Chicago.

Because of the track arrangement the train pulls into Chicago by crossing the station tracks, and then backing into the station. This has the advantage that the Pullman passengers end up close to the station…avoiding a long walk. We arrived at about 9:20am, only about twenty minutes late, the end of a very fine trip to Chicago which I would do again in a (Chicago or New Orleans) minute.

Leaving Homewood - photo by Paul Burgess, © May, 2014; all rights reserved.

I had called my sister as we left Homewood and I only had to stand at Canal St. entrance to Union Station for about five minutes before she picked me up. We drove out to Deerfield where I was picking up my Mom’s car to drive back to Pittsburgh and I was on the road by 10:30am, stopping for the evening in Toledo, and home by 12:30pm on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reflections on a Thoroughbred

Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes - June 9, 1973
In 1972 I was still a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. That May, some friends and I decided to take a trip to the Kentucky Derby. Roy and Jan drove their Volvo with Keith and myself in the backseat. We left Pittsburgh early in the morning. It rained off and on, but by the time we arrived at Churchill Downs (perhaps in time for the 6th race) it had more or less stopped. We secured space in the infield and proceeded to enjoy the party atmosphere. I tried my first and last Mint Julep, and waited for the Derby. The Derby itself was anti-climatic -- the infield was so crowded that all I saw of the actual race was Riva Ridge's ears as he flew by to win the race. By the time we got home early the next morning I had pretty much decided that if I ever went to such an event again it would be with real seats. As things would work out, I wouldn't have seats at the next such event either but I had a great view of something quite historic.
Secretariat's Past Performances
In 1973 I had started paying attention to a horse named Secretariat as he demolished competitors. As you can see from the above past performances chart, going into the Kentucky Derby he had won nearly every race he had entered with the exception of the prestigious Wood Memorial. He proceeded to convincingly win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, each by 2 and a half lengths over the second place finisher, Sham (a great horse himself.)

As June approached I decided that I would attend the Belmont Stakes to be held on June 9. I was dating a CMU undergraduate who had left for the summer to be with her parents in the Philadelphia area and I gave her a call and asked if she would want to go with me. She said yes, and her parents invited me to spend the night before and the night after at their house. So on June 8 I drove my red Datsun 240Z from Pittsburgh to her house north of Philadelphia. I recall going to dinner at Bookbinders and then calling it a night.
A page from the original program
June 9 was a sunny day, and we left the house early to be sure to be at Belmont Park in time for the big eighth race, The Belmont Stakes. I had never driven in the New York area, but found getting to Belmont Park via the George Washington bridge to be relatively simple. When we got to the park all we could get was standing room admission, but we soon found a well placed area in the covered grandstands from which to watch the race. I have absolutely no memory of any of the other races that day, but I will never forget the eighth. Looking at the odds on the tote board (Secretariat's were uniformly much lower than those shown in the morning line, the others were mostly much higher) I quickly determined that the best bet was Secretariat to place (there was no show wagering on this race as there were only five horses entered and two of them were coupled.) The reason I thought this was not to improve my chances of winning my bet, but rather to improve the amount I would win if Secretariat won. My reasoning was that there was so much money (relatively) in the win pool for Secretariat and so little money (relatively) in the place pool for Secretariat that the payouts would be higher on a place bet when he won. (In my mind, Secretariat winning was never in doubt.) Watch the actual race here. If you have never seen it, you are in for a real treat.

The Belmont Stakes - June 9, 1973
As you can see from the watching the video above Secretariat won and it wasn't even close. In the process he set a world record for the mile and a half that has not been beaten to this day. I recently read somewhere that this is considered to be the greatest world record in any sport at any time. Virtually every other world record has been broken several times since 1973 - but not this one.
Chart of the 1973 Belmont Stakes
So I happily went to the cashiers window along with thousands of others to collect my winnings, right? Well not exactly. I figured that even if my place bet won as I expected that it wouldn't pay much. As you can see a place bet would have won me $2.40 on my $2 bet (and as a grad student I wasn't in a position to bet much more than that.) I reasoned that it would take forever to cash the ticket and that it wasn't worth it for 40 cents, or 80 cents, or even $4.00 and so I elected to not bet the race for real. This paid off in that we managed to leave the park ahead of a lot of traffic. It wasn't until several years later that I realized that an uncashed winning ticket would have made a terrific souvenir. And it wasn't until the last 10 years or so that I realized that such a ticket would have collectible value. In fact, I just saw one such ticket selling on eBay for more than $1,000. (Or at least that is what was being asked.) Now those are great odds. I suspect my place ticket would not be worth nearly as much!

The return trip to my date's house in Philadelphia was rather interesting. My officemate, Mady, was from Brooklyn and always had talked about how if a car broke down on the Brooklyn Shore Parkway that it was likely to be stripped before you could get a tow truck to show up. It was 90+ degrees at this point and the traffic on the parkway heading for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was bumper-to-bumper. At some point in the stop-and-go traffic I pushed the 240Z's clutch pedal and it went right to the floor with no resistance. I was worried until I remembered that I could get the car started in second gear. It was a pain in the ass while we were in traffic, but we eventually made it back to Philly. By the time we got there the clutch had started working again. It was clearly a problem with the hydraulic system but when I took the car to a dealer in Pittsburgh they could find nothing wrong. I sold the car that September.

As I write this, California Chrome has convincingly won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. I am really looking forward to the Belmont Stakes, though I won't be there this time. I would love to see the Triple Crown won again and will be watching closely to see if a 41 year old world record will be broken.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Absent Without Leave

Note: The following was originally published in the September 1992 edition of Trains Magazine. It is used here by permission of the publisher, Kalmbach Publishing.

David R. Weinstock (1918 - 2010)
By David R. Weinstock as told to Charles B. Weinstock
In February 1943, I was inducted into the Army and was awaiting orders at the induction camp, Fort Sheridan, north of Chicago. About three days after I reported to Fort Sheridan, my company spent a Saturday morning sorting mail at the base post office. We had been led to believe that a two day pass would be awaiting us upon our return to the company area, giving us one last chance to see our families before being shipped out. Our pleasant weekend was not to be, for when we returned to the barracks around noon, we discovered that we were shipping out that day for Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo., about 150 miles south of Kansas City.

We packed our barracks bags and staggering under the unwieldy load, marched the 3/4 mile to the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee's Fort Sheridan station. By 4 p.m. we were on a train down the Shore Line to Chicago, where we transferred to Union Station. Our routing to Neosho was via the Milwaukee Road to Kansas City and the Kansas City Southern to Camp Crowder. (My son, who likes to ride "rare mileage," gets a vacant stare in his eyes every time I mention this.)

Our train, the Milwaukee Road's Southwest Limited, awaited us beyond one of the north gates at Union Station. We boarded special cars on the rear provided for Army inductees. The train left Chicago at 7:20 p.m., and it wasn't long before we were doing what it seems that all Army inductees did with their spare time-gambling. There were card games and dice games, and I was on the floor shooting dice as the train sped through the Illinois countryside.

The time was just shy of 10 p.m. when the train pulled into Savanna, Il. Everyone was hungry. Since the train was to pause in Savanna for a few minutes, one of my buddies and I made up a list, hit the ground, and hiked forward the length of the train to the station lunchroom. Here we could pick up burgers, Cokes, and other goodies.

Food in hand, we went outside, got on the train, and started walking back to our car. After going through several cars, we came to a vestibule, and the conductor, who asked, "Where are you guys going?" "To our car," we replied. "There aren't any more cars on this train," he told us, to our obvious dismay. "What do you mean? We're with the Army cars!"

We then learned that Savanna is where the Milwaukee Road crossed the Mississippi River and that just across the river is a junction where trains destined for Omaha turned north, and trains destined for Kansas City turned south. The evening train from Chicago to Omaha was combined with the evening train from Chicago to Kansas City as far as Savanna, where the train was split. The rear of the train, including our Army cars, was added to No. 25, a Milwaukee to Kansas City train. The front of the train, which we had erroneously boarded, ran as No. 107 and was about to leave for Omaha. You can imagine how we felt about this-two young, newly inducted soldiers screwing up royally before even getting to basic training!

No. 107 started out of Savanna, and when the rear car was opposite the station the conductor signaled the engineer to stop. The conductor told us that the train we should have been on was just crossing the Mississippi. The three of us got off the train and went inside the station, where the conductor talked to the stationmaster. He got on the phone to the tower at Sabula, the junction across the river. After a few minutes, the conductor said, "Well, we got'em just in time." We got back on 107, which soon made its way across the river.

When it got to the other side it started slowing down and eventually stopped next to another train. The conductor told us. "That's your train. Now go ahead and keep your mouths shut." They had stopped the other train for us where the lines split. As we jumped on No. 25, a big load was lifted off our shoulders. We had had visions of being court martialed for being AWOL and spending time at Fort Leavenworth (conveniently near Kansas City).

When we got back to the car. we found our friends still shooting dice. One of them looked up and said, "Where have you guys been?" "Oh, just getting hamburgers."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In Search of 75 "New" Miles

We encountered our long time friend and rail aficionado CBW the other day. He was polishing off a brisket and egg breakfast taco from Salt Lick BBQ while awaiting his flight at the Austin Texas airport. CBW enjoys riding trains and particularly trains that travel over routes that he has not traveled over before. So it was not unexpected that when he heard from a well connected friend that an Amtrak train would be detouring in Texas that he made plans to be on said train.

A passenger train detours when the normal route that it follows is impassable for some reason.  Often this happens when the route is blocked due to a mud slide or the derailment of another train, etc. Those detours are hard to plan for. In this case the detour was planned…the Union Pacific railroad was doing major work around Fort Worth that would necessitate a reroute for the train leaving Chicago on May 12 and crossing Texas on May 13. Instead of going from Longview to Dallas to Fort Worth to Taylor to Austin, the train would be going directly from Longview to Taylor via Corsicana. CBW was particularly interested in the 75 miles from Tyler to Corsicana.

The route of the Texas Eagle
A plan was quickly put together. CBW would fly to Dallas Forth Worth (DFW) airport the afternoon of May 12 where he would meet friends Rich and Ed for a flight to the East Texas Regional Airport (GGG) near Longview, arriving around 5:30pm. At Longview the group would meet up with Rick (who was coming by train from Dallas) and Dan (who was coming by bus from Dallas). Alas, it was not to be quite so simple.

The weather in the DFW area was nasty to say the least. Ed and Rich made it to Dallas and waited for CBW at the posted gate. About 45 minutes before CBW’s flight was due to land he was informed that the airport was closing due to weather and that the plane would be diverted to Houston before (hopefully) eventually getting to DFW. This put the connection to GGG very much in doubt. Actually that didn’t end up making a difference because that flight was canceled outright. But no worries there was a plan B – catch an evening bus from Dallas to Longview, or even a plan C – rent a one way car for about $300.

As he fretted on the plane while awaiting the plane's arrival in Houston (since onboard wifi was not working or overloaded at the time), CBW was pleasantly surprised to feel a lick on his left hand from one of his seat companions that sensed his worry. This was from Freddie, a Scotty-Poodle mix service dog providing emotional support for his other seat mate (and it turns out CBW!)

Freddie helped to ease CBW's worry
While CBW usually prefers to be seated next to a blonde, particularly his wife Barbara, Freddie came in a close second.

CBW in Houston consulted with Rich and Ed in Dallas and they said they would wait for him and either catch the bus or rent the car depending upon the timing. CBW discussed the likelihood of the plane getting to DFW at any reasonable hour with a very friendly pilot…who showed him a scary weather radar on his iPad and said probably 8pm at the earliest. (In the event the plane did not arrive until around 11:30am the next day!) At this point CBW called Rich and told him that he would try to catch a Greyhound bus from Houston to Longview leaving at 6:15pm and that they should go catch their own bus at 7:40pm. The two buses were scheduled to arrive at Longview within 10 minutes of each other and they could share a taxi to the Longview motel.  (It wasn’t until he was well on the way to the Houston Greyhound station that CBW realized he had made a rookie mistake – he had assumed that a one way rental from Houston to Longview would cost about the same or more than a one way rental from DFW to Longview. This was not the case – the rental would have been approximately the same cost as the taxi to Houston plus the bus to Longview – but by the time CBW realized it he was essentially committed to the bus option.)

CBW’s taxi arrived at the Greyhound station around 5:15pm with the bus due to leave at 6:15pm. While he was waiting he dined on a pair of McDonald’s finest hamburgers. (CBW is nothing if not an epicurean.) 6:15 came and went with no bus and no driver. Finally both showed up, but it wasn’t until about 7:30pm that the bus actually left Houston. It turns out that the driver originally scheduled for this run had disappeared and they had to call a replacement. The replacement was a very nice man who had been driving for Greyhound for three months and had never driven the route from Houston to Shreveport via Longview before. But have no fear, he had a Greyhound route guide and would do his best. Well it turned out that the route guide was somewhat cryptic and CBW ended up being the navigator with the aid of his trusty iPad.

The bus itself was at most half full throughout the trip. Each seat had a pair of electrical outlets (that worked), and the bus had wifi (that didn’t work very well.) The clientele was “interesting”. Mostly friendly but some of the passengers had “issues.” One lady, sitting across the aisle from CBW was berating the driver almost from the get go because she was going to miss her connection in Shreveport. She would not shut up and eventually the driver had to threaten to put her off the bus at Livingston (the first stop). She calmed down after that (and eventually offered fried chicken to many sitting around her. It looked good but CBW declined the generous offer.) Another fellow, a very polite and friendly cowboy who was in the fracking business was trying to get to Longview in time to catch a corporate flight to Oklahoma at 2am. He had been on the road a week longer than he had expected and had run out of cash and had to borrow $1.56 to pay for his ticket to Longview. He helped with the navigation chores as he knew a lot of the roads in the area.

Finally there was a fellow CBW called “the smoker”. The bus had been underway about an hour before it pulled into Livingston. He came to the front of the bus and asked if he could get off for a smoke. The driver said that he could not as there was no layover until Nacogdoches in another two hours. He muttered to himself but went back to his seat. About 45 minutes to an hour later the bus pulled into Lufkin where it was pouring sheets of rain. He again asked and was again told “no”. At this point he became extremely vocal to the point where the driver said that if he gets off the bus he won’t be getting on. This led to a bigger argument that eventually resulted in the driver calling the local police. They showed up and the guy got off the bus to talk with them and presumably smoke. While this went on about 10 or so other passengers also got off the bus to smoke. They all came back seriously wet and smelling of tobacco, but presumably calmed from their addiction. Oh, and “the smoker” also came back on the bus after apologizing and begging forgiveness. He was quiet thereafter. (It developed that his brother had died the day before and he was heading to the funeral.)

At Nacogdoches the bus stopped for 15 minutes at the sleaziest convenience store CBW had seen in a long time. The bus then made stops in Henderson and Kilgore before pulling into Longview at about 1:10am (it was due at 10:40pm.) As CBW got off the bus the driver thanked him profusely for his help – hopefully he made it to Shreveport okay. A call to Yellow/Checker cab resulted in a taxi about 10 minutes later and a driver who said to CBW that “I’m the psychic cab driver – I bet you want to go to the Comfort Suites.” Of course he had earlier taken Rich and Ed to the same hotel. CBW was in bed by 2am and slept very well until just before the alarm went off at 7am.

At 7:30am CBW, Rick, Rich, and Ed went to the Amtrak station in Longview for the 8:28am departure for Corsicana. Dan was waiting for the group at the station as were buses to take those Amtrak passengers destined for stations on the normal route between Longview and Austin. The station itself had recently been remodeled, an ongoing project that resulted in one of the neatest phone charging stations that CBW had ever seen.
A unique charging station
The train arrived nearly two hours late and disgorged all of those passengers leaving a very empty train for everyone else.

CBW and Rick had elected to get a roomette for privacy (and free meals) instead of a pair of coach seats. CBW in particular is of the opinion that one should always go first class when funds allow it. Unfortunately the lateness of the departure meant no breakfast and so CBW did not have the opportunity to dine on the fabulous Amtrak French toast. But there was always lunch and (possibly) dinner. As it happens CBW and Rick barely used the roomette as there was quite a bull session that went on in the lounge car all day. It turns out that other friends, Otto, Pete, Dwight, Mike, and Don had spent the night on the train, riding down from Chicago or St. Louis. CBW had considered that option but thought he would get a better/longer night’s sleep in a hotel bed. CBW is not always correct in his reasoning.
Passengers waiting to board at Longview
The train left at 10:27am and made its way to Big Sandy where the train maneuvered onto the line to Tyler and Corsicana. This involved a backup move and it eventually left Big Sandy at 11:11am.  CBW had previously ridden from Big Sandy to Tyler behind steam engine SSW 819 in the 1990’s so the new mileage didn’t begin for him until Tyler, which was passed at 11:44am.

At about noon the dining car steward made the first call for lunch in the diner. Since most of us had not had much breakfast (CBW had had none) the group of ten was among the first to arrive and was quickly seated and before long were feasting on steakburgers, veggie burgers, planko chicken,  or bratwurst. All topped off with a vintage Diet Pepsi.

The train reached Corsicana at 1:41pm and proceeded on to Hearne. CBW and Rick and others had previously traversed this portion of the line in 1984 on the World’s Fair Daylight  behind steam engine SP GS-4 4449 as it made it’s way to the worlds fair in New Orleans.

The train had to wait for almost two hours near Hearne because of freight congestion. It left Hearne for Taylor at 5:00pm. CBW and most of the others had ridden this route less than a year ago when the Texas Eagle did a previous detour. The steward made the first call for dinner at 5:15pm. The group had a reservation for this first seating because the train was due in Austin around 6:30pm. Wine and cocktails and iced tea and Diet Pepsi flowed followed by a fresh salad, rolls, and in CBW’s case a wonderful turkey shank dinner. Others at CBW’s table had the steak and the Mahi Mahi, with a triple chocolate mousse for dessert. The train pulled in to Austin at 7:25pm where a mob of passengers were waiting to board,. At this point the group split up heading in different directions. CBW, Rick, Rich, and Ed had reservations at the airport Hilton and while calling for a taxi were approached by a gypsy driver who took them to the hotel for $25. (CBW checked later, and the taxi fare would have run around $22 subject to variation., but the gypsy was there and no one wanted to wait.)

All day CBW had been trying to get his boarding pass for the flights back to Pittsburgh the next day. But American Airlines was having none of it. Also, because of a fire and weather in Chicago there were a lot of canceled flights throughout the day. CBW decided to go over to the airport to get his boarding passes ahead of time. Ed and Rich joined him and it’s a good thing they did as for some reason their reservations had been canceled. It took a lot of patience and firmness but Rich was able to get them back after a long discussion.

After getting back to the hotel, CBW pretty much went right to bed as he had to be up at 4:15am to be ready to take the 5:00am shuttle to the airport. Thanks to having the boarding passes already and TSA Pre-Check security was a breeze and this brings us to him dining on his brisket and egg taco. He reports it was delicious.

CBW later informed us that his flight to Chicago was a good one. Just before boarding they upgraded an individual and CBW was right there to grab the seat he had vacated, thereby snagging an aisle seat near the front of the plane instead of his window seat at the rear of the plane. This flight arrived early enough that the plane had to do some additional taxiing until a gate opened up for it. The gate for the Pittsburgh flight was practically across the hall from the arrival gate and, after buying a bag of “Chicago mix” at the world’s best popcorn shop (Garrett’s) CBW settled down to await the flights boarding at 9:45am (which eventually became 10:20am or so).  The flight arrived in Pittsburgh about 45 minutes late and CBW was home by 2:30pm.

We asked CBW if it was worth it for a mere 75 miles of trackage. He replied “you bet, I’d do it again in a moment”, then he thought a bit and added “but perhaps I’d rent the car the next time.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gambling Genealogy

My Grandmother Goldie Weinstock (front)
This is my paternal Grandmother, Goldie Weinstock. Whatever gambling genes I have come from her. This photo says Goldie to me so much that I had to share it with you. I loved my Grandmother, but I really loved the stories about her and horse racing.

I am not sure when the above photo was taken, but when I encountered it among the pictures while cleaning out my Mom's house recently it brought back a flood of memories.

My Grandmother loved to go to the track, but she liked to bet horses regardless of whether she went to the track so she frequented bookies on a regular basis. There are two bookie-related stories about her. The first is that sometime in the early 1930s she was arrested in a bookie raid in the Chicago suburbs conducted by Cook County State's Attorney John Swanson. Her picture, along with lots of others, was on the front page of the Chicago Daily Times. I have tried for years to find that newspaper without luck.

My Dad, David Weinstock was inducted into the Army in February of 1943. While he was in Florida in training to be a radar officer, he and my Mom, Jean Weinstock were married on June 18, 1943, and they initially lived in an apartment in Palm Beach. Shortly afterwards Nanny Goldie, who was not at the wedding, came down for a visit. She walked into the apartment, dropped her bags, said "where's the bookie" and dashed out the door barely saying hello to the happy couple.

I've heard that Goldie had a betting system -- she'd bet on a gray horse if one was in the race -- among others. She always had action on more than one horse in a race. If another horse won she'd say "I thought about that horse". I have no idea how successful she was as a bettor, but she loved it.

My own first encounter with live thoroughbred horse racing was in the mid-1950s when a friend's parents took us to Washington Park as part of a birthday celebration (for perhaps 10 year olds) that included a day at the races and an evening at Chicago's fabulous Riverview (amusement park.) My friend and i had no idea about picking horses, but we spotted a booth labeled "Information". We asked the guy in the booth who was going to win the next race and he told us. My friends parents bet the horse for us and it won! Needless to say we went back to the booth for the next race only to hear "get out of here kids before you cost me my job."

After that, several times throughout my childhood my Grandfather Max and Nanny Goldie would take me, my sister, and my cousins Jimmy and Johnny to Arlington Park. We'd stay for 6 or 7 races and were each given $20 to bet. (Or more correctly, to have an adult bet on our behalf.) One year I remember buying Goldie a racing slide rule computer at Von Lengerke & Antoinne/Abercrombie and Fitch in downtown Chicago. She had no interest in such a thing so one of my cousins and I appropriated it and proceeded to win something like 5 out of the 6 races we stayed for. By the 4th race we had adults in boxes all around us asking for advice. (A few years later I took the slide rule as a basis and wrote a computer program to process inputted Racing Form data to pick horses for me. It worked great for a number of test runs...and failed completely at its first and only live test.)

Alas, my Nanny Goldie died in November 1963, the week before JFK was assassinated, way too early for me to know her as an adult...something I've always regretted.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How ConJelCo Got Its Name

One of the questions I'm occasionally asked is what ConJelCo stands for. It turns out that it stands for the Consolidated Jelatin Company, Jelatin being a brand name of gelatin. Of course there is more to it than that.

The Beginnings of Conjelco

Around 1977 some friends of mine (who will remain nameless unless they choose to come forward) were riding a train across Canada. They were sitting in the club car and to pass the time started discussing how Canada was known for its vast deposits of jello. As the train passed deposits of raspberry jello they began to embellish the story for the entertainment of passengers who happened to overhear them. They described a vast conglomerate, Conjelco, that owned all of the jello mines in the world.

Over the next months the story was embellished and made the rounds among a group of friends -- especially those who were together at the 1978 convention of the National Railroad Historical Society. The first meeting of the Conjelco Board of Directors was held in Squamish, BC on the last day of that convention (after a trip behind steam to Pemberton, BC), with those present all inducted into the Loyal Order of the Royal Squam.

British Columbia Railway 2-8-0 3716
British Columbia Railway 2-8-0 3716

The Hopkinsville & Southern

After that meeting I got to thinking that it would be fun to write up some of the stories about Conjelco and see if I could get the article published. I imagined the story of an immigrant to the US who moved West and discovered the, until then, only known deposit of gelatinite (the ore from which jello is refined). He built a railroad to serve the gelatin mine and also built an industry. The story as I wrote it was eventually published in the April 1979 issue of Model Railroader magazine. You can read the story here.

Eventually this article formed the basis of a business case-study that I presented when I was attending Carnegie Mellon University's Graduate School of Industrial Administration to obtain my MBA.

The Pittsburgh Subway T-Shirt Company

In 1985 the Port Authority of Allegheny County opened the subway that runs from the Pan Handle Bridge across the Monongahela river to Stanwix and Liberty Streets replacing the on-the-street running that (supposedly) tied up downtown traffic. They named it the "T".
One of the last existing shirts
Since the whole system was less than a mile I thought a name like the "T" was, shall we say, pretentious...worthy of a much bigger system. So I decided to design a parody T-shirt along the lines of the London tube map shirts. The resulting shirt showed three rivers, the one mile rail line, and five stations. I ran an ad in a local alternative newspaper and sold over 100 of the shirts using the company name "The Pittsburgh Subway T-Shirt Company". It was only after I had paid the fees and ran the legal ads to be able to use this name that I realized that it was somewhat limiting...if I wanted to sell other things I could not reasonably use that same name.

ConJelCo the Publishing Company

So it was that when I decided to start a company to publish and sell books and software I needed to come up with a new name, re-file all the forms, and pay for ads, etc. I looked for a name that would not be suggestive of any particular product and I thought that Conjelco would fit that bill. I decided to idiosyncratically spell it ConJelCo

So now you know. Aren't you glad you asked?