Thursday, April 15, 2021

Traveling With my Dad

When I was a pre-high school kid I used to spend some school holidays at my Dad's office in Chicago's Loop. We'd ride the C&NW commuter train from Ravinia. When I was really young (say, grade school) I would ride in the smoking car with my old coach with plush green upholstered walk-over seats and a stench you could not believe. But the train was pulled by a steam engine, likely a Pacific-class, and I was in railroad heaven. During the 55 or so minute trip Dad and three friends would play gin in a four-seat section with a conductor supplied lap-table and playing cards while I enjoyed riding the train. The day would be spent in his office except at lunch time when he (but more usually his secretary, Ann) would take me to lunch ... usually at the Stouffer's in the lobby of his building. Ann and I would usually go visit the nearby Walgreens or Woolworths and I would often come back with a stack of comic books. On at least one visit to Woolworths I saw the great Ron Popeil pitching his new Veg-O-Matic in person ("it slices, it dices, isn't it amazing!")

David R. Weinstock at Work

As I got older the railroad upgraded its equipment to shiny new diesels pulling brand-new gallery cars. Dad still rode in the smoker but he trusted me enough to let me ride in the non-smoking part of the train by myself. He also trusted me enough to let me roam downtown Chicago on my own. I would often visit Newark Electronics, the All-Nation Hobby Shop, and Ireland's Magic Shop. (Can you say nerd? I knew that you could!)

I was 13 years old and had a school holiday on Columbus Day 1961. Dad decided to take me on a business trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was the head of Rothmoor Coats, a manufacturer of women's coats and suits and there was a fashion show where some of his products were to be shown at the Hotel Roosevelt that evening. The show was to be emceed by Fran Allison, "Fran" of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie fame. Since my Dad did not fly (until 1968...because of a bad experience during WW II) we took the train. But since the direct train to Cedar Rapids (on the Chicago and North Western) had stopped running in 1960 we could only go part way by train and, so, a rental car was also required.

I don't have a timetable for that date, but the train we took, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy's Morning Zephyr generally left Union Station at around 8am. I have no memory of how we got from Highland Park to Union Station that morning, but at the appropriate time we were ensconced in Vista-Dome Parlor Car seats. It was my first time in a dome car and I was having a terrific time already.

All too soon, around 11am, we arrived in East Dubuque, Illinois where I noticed a railroad tunnel to the north of us. (It would be many, many, years (at least 40) before I was to ride a train through that tunnel.) We were met by a rental car and headed off to Cedar Rapids, a drive of less than two hours at the time. (In those pre-Interstate Highway days, driving would have probably taken in excess of seven hours. The train did not save a lot of time, but it did save wear and tear on my Dad.) Along the drive I remember stopping at what I think of as a roadside general store (in my minds eye this seems more accurate than calling it a convenience store) for snacks. I'm sure that we bought additional items but I'm pretty sure that Dad bought a stack of Premium saltines and I know that I bought a bag of salted-in-the-shell peanuts (perfect for eating in a rental car!)

We arrived in Cedar Rapids in time to check in to the Roosevelt and have a late lunch a a steakhouse around the corner. The fashion show was that evening and included dinner, but not for would have been inappropriate for a 13 year old to attend. So Dad arranged with the hostess of the hotel's restaurant for me to have dinner there on my own. The only thing I remember about the dinner is the individual-sized strawberry pie/tart that I had for dessert. After dinner I went back up to the room and watched TV while waiting for Dad. As I recall he was done with the show around 9pm whereupon we checked out of the hotel, drove to Dubuque, Iowa, turned in the rental car and caught the Illinois Central's Hawkeye which probably left around 2:30am. We both had roomettes. I slept like a log but Dad couldn't get the heat to turn off in his room and slept fitfully. According to a typical Hawkeye schedule the train arrived at Chicago's Central Station around 8am. I don't recall whether Dad went to work or not, or whether I went to school (a bit late) or not, or how we eventually got home. 

It was a terrific day and a great time spent with my Dad.