Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Trip to Morehead City

One of the very few pictures I took on that trip

On February 20, 2007 I learned of an opportunity to ride a special train from Morehead City, NC to New Bern, NC the weekend of May 12 and 13 celebrating the Morehead City Sesquicentennial. Not a particularly long ride but one that interested some friends including Rick from Chicago and I so we began to make plans. I would fly into Raleigh on Thursday, May 10th and check into a hotel for the evening. Rick had to work the night of the 10th and would fly in from Chicago on the morning of May 11. From there we'd make our way to Morehead City, ride one of the excursions the next day, then head back to Raleigh and both fly home either that Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Then on April 6 the organizing committee sent out a notice that made the trip even more interesting. They were offering a chance to ride the train on May 11 from Goldsboro, NC as it came into Morehead City for the celebration. This seemed workable with our original flights so we signed up.

Then I asked myself the obvious question "how and when would the train be getting to Goldsboro?" So on May 8 I reached out to a friend at Amtrak and learned that the train would be heading unoccupied from Raleigh to Goldsboro, leaving around 1pm on May 11. The friend was able to arrange for Rick and I (and a few others) to ride the deadhead move.

The trip to Morehead City could not have worked out much better. I flew in, as planned, on Thursday afternoon and met up with friends John Arbuckle and Murrel Hogue. I rented a car to be dropped downtown the next day and checked into my hotel and then had a (not very good) BBQ dinner. Then John took the car and checked into his hotel down the road.

Friday morning Rick called me when his plane landed. John picked him up and brought him to my hotel where he sacked out for about 90 minutes. John then went back to the airport, picked up Dave Smetko and his girl friend and took them and Murrel to breakfast and then dropped Dave and friend downtown. He then picked up Rick and I and the four of us drove to the Hertz location near downtown and they dropped us all at the Amtrak station. (The car came to about $9 a person so it was a bargain compared to taxi.)

The Amtrak person who had arranged for us to be able to ride out of Raleigh had given me the name of the road foreman who gave us instructions as to where to wait to board the train (which was sitting in the station when we arrived at about 12:20pm.) John and Murrel had also talked to the person at Amtrak. A small group of us (including the above mentioned six people plus John Emery and Mark Entrop and a few locals ... not sure how or even if they arranged things) boarded just prior to 1pm and sat in the car right behind the food service car. (Five Amfleet I's...2 coaches, food service, 2 coaches with an engine on each end.)

A portion of the train prior to departure from Raleigh

The ride was reasonable quick to Selma (the start of "new" mileage) and on to Goldsboro where we arrived sometime after 2pm. Rick and I took a walk around town looking for signs of an old depot...we did not find it but it turns out there was one...just not near where we were looking. Then we got back on the train awaiting the buses from Morehead City. The five buses arrived around the expected time and the other passengers boarded. No one ever checked that we were ticketed, but I did manage to meet Patricia (the woman on the organizing committee I had worked with) and introduce myself. Nice lady. On board they had given every four people a box meal that included cucumber sandwiches, some shrimp and sauce, some cheese, grapes, and probably some other things I'm missing. They also passed some delicious Chicken Satay and Scallops wrapped in bacon. There was also ample soft drinks, water, beer, wine, and mixed drinks on board. A very nice operation. (The first part, with just the handful of us, was much nicer because it was quiet.)

The train operated a bit late (left late) and did not make up time. Near New Bern we passed an old civil war battlefield where they stopped the train so that we could see a reenactment instead of the rest of the line in daylight. We arrived pretty close to 9pm. Friend Ed Graham who had ridden the bus out of Morehead City had agreed to take us to our hotel which was near his.

On Saturday Ed also gave us a ride to New Bern (where he was headed anyway) so that we could pick up our one way rental car to Raleigh. After a nice drive with Rick taking pictures of depots along the way, and a good lunch we turned the car in and both Rick and I flew to Chicago. (I went to see my Mom for Mother's Day and my Dad who had been in the hospital earlier in the week.) I returned to Pittsburgh the evening of May 15.

A great memory.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A Ride on the American European Express

Once upon a time, when the world was somewhat different, there was a luxury train that made excursions around the United States using meticulously refurbished passenger cars with exacting levels of service and designed to be occupied by wealthy sightseers. Usually a ride on such a train would be out of my reach, but 30 years ago today some friends and I were able to ride it on a two day excursion from Panama City, Florida to Chicago. This was a positioning move for American European Express from its winter home to where it would begin its new season and the company sold space to some of us at greatly reduced prices. 

The routing was via the Atlanta and St. Andrews Bay Railroad (or Bay Line) from Panama City, FL to Dothan, AL, and CSX from there to Chicago (but historically this means the Atlantic Coast Line to Montgomery, AL, the Louisville and Nashville to Evansville, IN, and the Chicago and Eastern Illinois to Chicago.) Enroute we were treated to luxurious accommodations, an open bar, and gourmet meals.

I flew into Pensacola from Pittsburgh on Friday, February 8 and was picked up some friends who had rented a one way car from (I think) Mobile to Panama City where we spent the night in a motel.

The morning of the 9th was a beautiful, sunny, day. It was also the only chance we had to take pictures of the train from outside as I don't remember being able to get off anywhere enroute. (Note: that must not be true as there were crew changes, but I have no photographic evidence of that.)

The train was due into Chicago early afternoon on February 10th meaning that I could do it only taking Friday afternoon off. Note to self: if you are ever able to go back and do life again remember that its ok to spend a little more time getting too and from one of these trips...maybe with a chance to explore the local area for instance. You never know when a pandemic is going to hit and take away your ability to travel completely.

At any rate I stupidly scheduled an early evening flight back to Pittsburgh Sunday night. I say stupidly because the train was running late enough that I was unsure I'd make my flight and had to leave the train at Yard Center in Dolton, IL where a friend gave me a ride up to O'Hare.

Here are some more pictures from the trip.

Three views of the American European Express at Panama City

Back: Dave Arthur, Mark Metz, Neil Lang, Rick Moser. Front: Dave Ingles

Same as previous picture except Chuck Weinstock replaces Neil Lang

Bill Crawford and Neil Lang

Rick Moser, Neil Lang, Dave Ingles, Chuck Weinstock

Rick Moser and Neil Lang not having a good time of it

Chuck Weinstock in the lounge car

Bill Crawford and Neil Lang

Bill Crawford, Rick Moser, Neil Lang, Dave Ingles

Additional photos below are by Neil Lang.

William Spann (on the right) who was responsible for the AEE and some of the exquisite Art Deco interior of the lounge car St Moritz

Rick Moser, Neil Lang, and Chuck Weinstock toasting the new day (February 10, 1991)

Neil Lang who writes "The AEE operation was very high-end and "proper" attire was required. Not very often would one see our group of rail travelers in suits and ties. But we would make sacrifices for the mileage:-)."

Monday, February 1, 2021

River Boat Gambling in the 80s

 (The 1980s that is.)

In the mid-1970s I played in a regular home Pittsburgh home game. We played for low stakes but it was great to play with the same group of friends. After I graduated I left town for six years returning to take a new job in early 1982. The game was still going though some of the players had changed.

Fast forward to 2021 and the game is still going, though before COVID hit we sometimes struggled to get enough players in a given week. COVID has forced us online and as an example of the adage "it's an ill-wind that blows no good" some of the old regulars (including one now living in Australia) are able to join us. During last night's game one, who now lives in the Boston area reminded me of an event I organized twice in the mid-1980s.

Pittsburgh is home to a fleet of river excursion boats known collectively as the Gateway Clipper. Mostly they do short cruises a short way up the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers often while serving a meal. Occasionally they venture further, particularly in the Fall foliage season. One day I spotted an ad for a cruise from Pittsburgh to Waterford Park, a race track in Chester, WV. Now known as Mountaineer Park and with a casino, at the time it was just a low-grade thoroughbred race track (with, what we assumed was a glue factory the other side of the racing oval.)

So it was that one October day a bunch of us boarded the Gateway Clipper and commandeered a large table on the upper deck. As we cruised down the Ohio river we enjoyed a buffet lunch and then sat down to do some river-boat gambling ... that is we started playing poker. My friend remembers someone being amazed that you could play poker on a river boat (it was ok we explained, we were only playing for chips!) As we played the mostly older crowd on the lower deck was dancing the "bird dance" and other polkas, and having their own special kind of fun.

Upon docking in Chester we were transferred to the track where we had seats for dinner in the clubhouse dining room and watched (and bet) an evening racing card. Then we were taken by bus back to the dock in Pittsburgh.

It was so much fun we did it again the following year...but I believe at that point the Gateway Clipper folks stopped running the excursions--or perhaps we just got tired of hearing the chicken dance.

Postscript: To my everlasting regret I never rode one they did down the Monongahela to Morgantown...something my step-son does every other week on the coal tug he Captains.