Introduction, Minneapolis to Chicago
Back in October of '91 we decided to travel to Harry Sutton's home port of San Diego to see several of the America's Cup entries that had arrived there early to practice. Though this report is of an old trip it involved several trains and we traveled the entire route of all but one by the time we returned to MN. I was sent to the local station to arrange the trip and buy tickets from St. Paul, round trip via Chicago to LA. We had decided on the Chief between CHI and LA.
On my way to the station I began thinking about the potential for a little additional Amtrak mileage. I decided if we could get the rooms and such without changing the dates to much, maybe we could do the trip a little differently. After spending about 3/4 of an hour with the station agent (very helpful guy BTW) I returned home with the tickets. Teri was excited and quickly asked if I was able to get them. I produced the envelope and she added "great, I've always wanted to see Albuquerque". A while later when asked if it was New Mexico she wanted to see or simply the desert I was relieved to hear the later because I had changed our trip slightly. Instead of Albuquerque we'd stop in San Antonio before going to San Diego and instead of coming right home I'd booked a stop in nearby Seattle - only made sense with Amtrak allowing 3 stops, I didn't want to waste one! Oh, just one other small change, instead of 12 days the trip would take "just a little longer", about 24 days. Other than that I'd booked exactly the trip we discussed.
One thing we had to consider was the weather (and it was a good thing we did), Oct. can be cool to cold in MN and Seattle yet warm to hot in San Antonio and San Diego. Packing became a challenge, two suit cases contained cooler weather clothes and two for warmer climates. We arrived at the station to begin the trip and shipped the cold weather gear directly to San Diego. Checked our larger warm weather bags to San Antonio and were left with just a small bag to travel with on the train & deal with in Chicago. After that was done I looked at the platform and saw Amfleet (round) cars, The Empire Builder was 5 hours late and this was a make up train. There were to many passengers between St. Paul and Chicago to use busses (thank god). We had reserved an economy room to Chicago and were told we could wait for the Builder if we wanted, many did, but our schedule didn't permit so we boarded and were seated across from a wonderful couple from Canada on their way to the Chief and a city on the southern point of Baja CA. They had also booked a room. The train left a little late but the route east from St. Paul is pretty and better with the sun higher. Looking out the window as we crossed I-94 we saw my brother driving to Minneapolis. to work, sitting in a traffic jam was more like it. We laughed & waved.
East of the St. Paul station you wind through the central portion of the city and begin a long down grade to the Mississippi River and the downtown area. When downtown is in sight you can see the dome of the St. Paul Cathedral to the northwest. The river area is industrial in nature and the city is soon far behind. After Newport the train turns to the river again. If traveling this route you'll see deer, herons, egrets, ducks, etc., very pretty. We crossed the river in Hastings and stopped in Redwing. From there the train leaves the river until Lake City where it becomes very wide (called Lake Pepin). After La Crosse the scenery is farm land with the exception of the area of the Wisconsin Dells. At the Milwaukee Station there are often several private cars on the right side of the train. Leaving Milwaukee you get a glimpse of the Lake and before you know it you're entering Chicago. Here our new friends had to catch the Chief and we were cutting it close for them time wise. Upon entering the station we noticed a man in an Amtrak uniform waved him over and he happily (and quickly) took them to the proper gate. We arrived an hour and a quarter late so they had no time to spare. We waited in the metro lounge for the Texas Eagle.
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