Crossing the Country in Style … Part Three

We left Chicago at 3:15 in the afternoon, right on time … three sleepers, a dining car, a lounge car and three coaches, all pulled by three locomotives.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is a two-night journey heading, as the name implies, in a southwesterly direction from chilly the Midwest crossing prairies and deserts and winding through mountain passes to Los Angeles.

Leaving the city behind, the Chief heads out across Illinois farmland – mostly soy beans and corn – through small communities invariably and proudly identified by the town’s water tower.

Just a few miles south of Galesburg, two main rail lines converge and the Chief pauses for several minutes while a 100-plus-car freight train lumbers by on its way to Chicago.

Forty minutes later, as twilight begins to fall, we swing into a long turn, slow down, and clatter across a “swing bridge” over the Mississippi River. (A middle section of the bridge pivots and swings open to allow river traffic to pass … hence the name.)

Once we cross into Iowa, the Southwest Chief runs along the west bank of the river and into Fort Madison, first passing a river boat of modern construction, but classic “paddle wheeler” design.

During the night, the Chief crosses Missouri and heads out across the Kansas prairie. When I wake up the next morning, the train isn’t moving. I raise up on an elbow and peer out the window to discover we’re in Dodge City. About 200 yards up the street from the station is Boot Hill. At that very moment, a conductor passes the door of my roomette and I can hear him speaking to the engineer on his radio: “OK, Number 3, let’s get outta Dodge!”

More tomorrow.