The Texas Eagle - Chicago to San Antonio
When we entered our car we were greeted by George Thompson, the best sleeping car attendant I can remember in my years of traveling trains. He insisted on taking our bags and we followed him to room C. The baseball playoffs were to start & my Twins (formerly Hakk's Senators) and his Braves were in. This would lead to a lot of banter between us and set the theme for the trip. He became busy loading other passengers and I checked things out. We were in the last car on the train, perfect! Looking out the rear door I noticed a couple of men at a control panel in a glass booth on the platform. I always thought the trains were directed from the tower in the yard.
The rear door became a great meeting place for travelers in our car, Chuck & Mary were from WS, Harry and his daughter Carol were from MI. We didn't know it at this point but we would see each other again on different trains.
All of the Eagle's crew were great and seemed to have an attitude that if they had fun so would the passengers and it worked. Before the train left we were given our meal vouchers and introduced to the Chief of On Board Services. There was the usual announcement about the rules & regulations followed by the first of many funny announcements by Charlie the lounge car attendant. Several of my friends have traveled with Charlie since and all enjoyed his humor (Ann McInty is one that a few of you know).
This train was very long with two lounge cars, they split the train in Dallas where our portion went on to San Antonio and the other to Houston. Since it was fall the sun would set early, we wanted to get to the lounge car and watch as we left Chicago. George asked what dinner reservation we wanted so that he could get them for us. Our new friends came along.
Leaving Chicago you get a pretty good view of the skyline and the Amtrak yards. It was rush hour and the commuter trains were zipping around in all directions.
NOTE: We have traveled to and from Chicago many times and the afternoon commuter rush is something to see, everyone's in a hurry. The doors at the street level of Union Station seem to fly open at about 4:30 for an endless stream of people heading for the Metra trains. When the station is that busy it can be difficult for a new traveler to find his way around, the station is huge. My advice is to ask anyone in an Amtrak uniform or redcap where your waiting area or gate is rather than wander around. The station has always seemed very safe to me but with all the people coming through it can get pretty fast paced and confusing. We've always found the station personnel to be polite and helpful in assisting passengers. Back to the train...
Soon it was dark and we returned to the room. George had made all of our dinner reservations, ours were at the last sitting 8:45. Traveling without kids for the first time in years, it would be nice to see how the other 1/2 dines (after 5:30). Late became later and George asked if we would be interested in that evenings special for dinner, prime rib. He was afraid they were so busy that they would run out before we got there. We were seated at 9:30 and each given a small bottle of wine as a reward for waiting so long. George had them hold two orders of the special which were served with soup, salad, roll, veggies, beverage and dessert. Even though it was getting late after dinner the dining car crew urged you to stay as long as you liked, no rush at all. We went to the lounge car and found a real party going on, the evening movie was over and Charlie was providing music with his tape deck.
We got up early the next morning and had breakfast with Chuck and Mary. The laugh of the day was at Chuck's expense, he had selected the wrong button in their bathroom and received a surprise shower the night before. I can tell you it's a lot funnier to hear about than it was a few years prior when it happened to me.
It was a beautiful sunny day and we enjoyed walking on the platforms at most of the stops. George was very nice about opening the doors even though we had no passengers boarding our car, not every attendant will do that. The scenery was almost all ranch and oil fields, I found it interesting but others thought the route was a bit boring. At Texarkana the front of the train was in TX while we were still in AR so we took an interstate walk on that platform. Lunch was good and we arrived in Dallas on time.
The Dallas station is very attractive and at the time it was getting a facelift. Across the tracks is Reunion Tower, one of the strangest looking structures I've ever seen but it's designed to be seen at night I believe. Here they split the train. Departing Dallas we went by the famous School Book Depository Bldg., I'd never seen it before and felt a chill looking at the area.
Between Dallas and Fort Worth the schedule has our train traveling 30 miles in 1:25. I'm sure this is just padding in case the train is late but that was not the case for us. We came to a stop in a rather unattractive spot and sat for nearly an hour. They told us that we had to wait because of a military air show that we could see in the distance but I think they had to come up with an excuse whenever they were on time. Charlie declared it happy hour so we went to the lounge car. We passed the time with a Texas trivia quiz "no fair cheating, keep your eyes on your own paper" Charlie instructed. Chuck won a Amtrak blanket with 19 of 20 correct answers.
After a great dinner we waited for our 11:40PM arrival in San Antonio. Many of the passengers continuing to LA took afternoon naps so they would be rested for some late-night sightseeing during the 4 hour stop in San Antonio.
I gave George an official MN Twins Homer Hanky but I doubt that swayed him from pulling for his beloved Braves. I was a little sad getting off the Eagle, this was about the best group of passengers and crew I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.
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