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Location: [Home] [Train Travels] Vacation in Leavenworth, KS

A Vacation in Leavenworth, Kansas

New Haven, CT to Leavenworth, KS and return

  1. Amtrak Train 173, NortheastDirect, New Haven Union Station to New York Pennsylvania Station, Unreserved Coach--April 13, 1998
  2. Amtrak Train 49, the Lake Shore Limited, New York Penn Station to Chicago Union Station, Viewliner Standard Bedroom--April 13-14, 1998
  3. Amtrak Train 3, the Southwest Chief, Chicago Union Station to Kansas City, MO, Superliner Standard (Economy) Bedroom--April 14-15, 1998
  4. Amtrak Train 4, the Southwest Chief, Kansas City, MO, to Chicago Union Station, Superliner Standard (Economy) Bedroom--April 19, 1998
  5. Amtrak Train 48, the Lake Shore Limited, Chicago Union Station to New York Penn Station, Viewliner Standard Bedroom--April 19-20, 1998
  6. Amtrak Train 476, NortheastDirect, New York Penn Station to New Haven, Unreserved Coach--April 20, 1998

Our dear friends Jill and John, who are also our children's godparents, lived until recently in Leavenworth, Kansas, where John was assigned to the Army's school for field-grade officers. As he was soon to be transferred and they had really wanted us to visit an area they had enjoyed a great deal, we did some saving for this vacation. Unfortunately, Evelyn had less vacation time than I did, and had to be back home for Sunday worship, so she and Rebekah flew out to Kansas City on American Airlines. Brendan and I, therefore, travelled together. It was my first experience on a real cross-country rail journey since I was about four years old, and it was Brendan's first overnight rail journey in his life.

I'll tell you right now: I loved it, and I'm planning a family rail excursion around the country--but it will take a while to save up for that!

I'll be telling this story in sections, and the latter part of the trip will be on page 2.

Trip Segments: [New Haven to New York] [New York to Chicago]
[Chicago to Leavenworth]
[Adventures in Kansas and Missouri]
[Kansas City to Chicago] [Chicago to New York] [New York to New Haven]

New Haven to New York City--April 13, 1998

A friend of ours dropped Brendan and I, with our luggage, at New Haven's Union Station about half an hour before our train's 1:50 pm departure. From my prior experience with a Viewliner, we'd packed pretty well. I had a single softsided bag with a shoulder strap, and it was strapped to a pretty heavy-duty roller for getting around stations. Brendan had his backpack (which was stuffed with toys and a fair amount of his Easter candy) and a small suitcase. The suitcase was an enormous success: it had its own wheels and extension handle, held most of the clothes he'd need for a week, and was small enough that he could manage carrying it. My biggest struggle was convincing him that it was easier to pull it behind him than wheel it in front of him, but he agreed after a few experiments.

The train arrived pretty close to schedule, and we boarded. We were able to find two empty seats together, and I hefted our bags into the overhead storage. I immediately had trouble: the wheels on my cart made my suitcase to high, so I had to unstrap the cart and load them up separately. Eventually I managed it.

New Haven is the end of overhead electric catenary, so the train waited while its diesel locomotives were replaced by the electric which would haul it to Washington. I always forget this, and hustle far more than necessary in getting my bags placed. I might as well hold them on the seats until people have passed by.

We pulled out on schedule and headed for Penn Station. Brendan and I made the journey to the lounge car at the back of the train for a Pepsi, but he preferred to be in our own seats to staying there. I read to him, or he colored and I read to myself as we rolled along the Sound.

There are very few stops on the Amtrak schedule between New Haven and New York, but I was puzzled when we seemed to pass through Bridgeport without stopping. I was even more puzzled when the train stopped not far beyond the station, and then lost power. After some minutes it became obvious that there was something seriously wrong, and the conductor came along to let us know (the PA system was out, too) that they had to replace the locomotive. In retrospect, I wonder if its brakes had failed when it tried to stop in Bridgeport, but I really don't know.

Waiting was uncomfortable, as the day was sunny and bright and the air conditioning was gone with the power. Fortunately it was April and not July. I walked to the vestibule where the conductor had opened the door to ask him if he thought we'd make our connection to the Lake Shore Limited in New York, and he told me that would be no problem. Another passenger did not seem so happy; the conductor didn't seem to know what she expected him to know (I missed what it was) and she demanded him name. I thought he was very professional, despite being harassed and goaded, and obviously frustrated that he didn't know all the answers either.

After about forty-five minutes the train moved--backwards, into the station. I watched a couple of Metro-North trains leave the station, where they had no doubt been held behind our train. Then an electric engine in Amtrak colors passed by the coaches, and after another half an hour or so we were moving toward New York again.

Brendan got thirsty, so I headed back to the dinette for more Pepsi. To my surprise, the entire stock was gone--which I ought to have anticipated after an hour and a half or so without power. Brendan had to make do with water from the coach's dispensers.

The tunnels to Penn Station on Manhattan are not continuous: there are several open areas, many of which have small rail yards. I noticed as we came in that the Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey circus train had cars on several of them, and pointed them out to Brendan.

We arrived in New York City about an hour before our train to Chicago was due to leave. From the platform, we faced an obstacle I hadn't anticipated: the escalator. Brendan is still learning how to use those, and had been frightened of them until recently. His backpack and suitcase made it a big more of a challenge, but he handled it well.

New York to Chicago--April 13-14, 1998

I'd arranged to meet Jane, a college friend at the station, and was delighted to find that she was still there but disappointed that we'd have very little time. In fact, we decided that we had about enough time to walk around the block! Which we did, and found that the circus was in Madison Square Garden right above the station, and had just concluded its matinee performance. We even ran into a friend of Jane's who is a professional clown, which impressed Brendan less than I'd expected. He was more interested in the circus posters decorating the Garden.

As we returned to the gate area in the station, we saw the line for the Lake Shore Limited, so we went to join it. A conductor at the top of the escalator took our ticket, and I proceeded Brendan onto the escalator. There was a sudden flurry behind me, and I looked back to see that Brendan had somehow managed to fall onto his suitcase with his head down the escalator! He wasn't hurt, but it took some doing to right him, his suitcase, and my bag and wheel set, for that matter. It was with some relief that we came off that escalator.

I got some guidance to the sleepers, which were near the end of the train, just behind the diner. We were in the second of two, marked 4911, and the attendant helped us find our Standard Bedroom. Somewhat to my disappointment, we were on the right side of the train, which meant that we would not have the river view on the way north. Storing the bags was another adventure in the Viewliner's space-efficient but high luggage area, and again I had to remove the wheels from the carrier. Fortunately it all fit, except for Brendan's backpack which I placed on the shelf next to the larger seat. To my surprise I found a pair of wine glasses and a small bottle of wine in two small boxes marked "Silver Service," clearly left there by some other passenger and missed by the cleaning crew. Our car attendant smiled and said that they were gifts to us from Amtrak.

We received a voucher for meals, which was different from my last trip on the Lake Shore Limited, when I merely showed my ticket. Our attendant also asked if we wanted coffee or juice in the morning, which I did and Brendan didn't. We pulled out a few minutes later than our 6:40 pm departure, but not seriously so.

Brendan was delighted with the discovery of the room's built-in TV set, and very happy with the movie which was running: Robin Williams in Disney's "Flubber." We watched that until dinner.

I soon found that my concern over missing the scenery was premature, as we headed to the dining car for the first sitting--which annoyed Brendan, who wanted to watch "Flubber." We walked through the next Viewliner car, with Brendan enjoying pressing the buttons to open the doors. It takes some effort for a five-year old! The diner, however, has a manual latch and requires the strength of an adult to open. We passed around the kitchen area to wait for seating.

To my surprise, they seated us quickly; I think they called the sleeping car passengers before coach. We sat at a table with a couple who were returning to California after visiting their son in New Haven; they had been on the same train with us! Their son was graduating from Yale's graduate Drama School, and they had seen a show he'd designed. A train trip was a treat for them, and we were in the midst of the grandeur of the Hudson valley, so I could see why.

I repeated my March success with the Limited's prime rib and called it good. Brendan, who spent much of the meal being shy (and still annoyed at missing "Flubber") had the adult portion of chicken, and seemed to enjoy it pretty well even if it wasn't a Disney movie. He resented my wanting dessert, however.

We returned to our room, where the movie was still running, though near the end. When it ended, we didn't find anything else of interest, so we turned it off. Brendan did some more coloring, and I read to myself and to him. He was pretty fascinated by the toilet, and found the folding sink irresistable.

At bedtime Brendan really enjoyed the top bunk of the Viewliner. I read in my bottom bunk, somewhat annoyed that the "wall" light at the head end wasn't working and that the "reading" high-intensity lamp was dim. After a while I simply switched ends to read, which worked out well.

I slept better on this trip than I had in March going to Erie, so I guess that not having a set time to wake for a stop makes a difference. In the morning our car attendant brought me the coffee he'd promised, and I got Brendan up so we could go get our breakfast. He wasn't really ready to be up, and next time I think I'd wait, but I was pretty hungry. We had to wait briefly to be seated, which we did in the lounge car just beyond the diner.

When we were seated, I ordered bacon and eggs. The Limited's menu is fairly fixed, and Brendan didn't like any of the alternatives in and of themselves, so I asked if he could have a bagel and some bacon. The waitress wasn't sure, but the chef was willing, as that's what he had when it arrived. Again the food was good, and the service courteous.

The train was running about an hour late, which it kept all the way to Chicago. Waking somewhere in Ohio, I got to look at the gentle hills of that state and Indiana, read, watch TV with Brendan ("Flubber" was on again, and he got to see it all), read the USA Today which the attendant had provided, read C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Brendan, and watch him color. The attendant brought him a small box of crayons to supplement his markers and a coloring book which included some dinosaurs, which he like a lot. The cardboard Amtrak visor, however, didn't impress him. The scenery included several small towns with some interesting buildings, a couple of obvious railroad museums near the main line, and some sizable freight yards.

With the train late, I decided to grab something from the lounge car for lunch; Brendan refused to leave the room. I left him with instructions on locking and unlocking the door, had a fairly rubbery cheeseburger, and returned pretty quickly. My sleeper ticket covered the meal, but I missed the diner!

The train rolls into Chicago past a series of freight, commuter, and intermodal yards, so the trainwatching was good coming into the terminal. The Limited pulled straight into the stub-end terminal tracks beneath an immense roof. I soon discovered that some good-sized buildings rise above this shed! I was somewhat surprised that we had to descend the Viewliner's steps at the platform; large Eastern stations have platforms level with the train floor.

My first priority was to find a place to leave our luggage, as I wanted to see a little bit of Chicago; at least what was within walking distance of the station. We came to a short wall of luggage lockers, but I couldn't get the machine to take my quarters. A sign directed us to a second locker area through the old grand waiting area with its magnificent arches and skylight. It was fairly empty, from being away from the platforms, I suspect, and it was somewhat sad. I found the lockers room, and used one of the larges to tuck our cases into, including Brendan's backpack. The machine gave me a ticket with a code which I would use to open it again.

I then insisted that Brendan have some lunch, and he chose a tuna fish sandwich at a small shop on the station's food court. This was a double hit with him--he ate all but a small bite of the sandwich (which was full of tuna), and he got to watch (but not hear) a TV while at our table. I was glad I'd insisted.

Emerging from the station, we crossed over the Chicago River and looked at a fire boat tied up below us, and another boat decorated with pictures of various animals. I had no idea where I was, as I'd forgotten the AAA guidebook I'd picked up for this trip. Wandering farther, I looked across the street and realized that the building on that corner was the Sears Tower. I asked Brendan if he would like to see if we could got to the top of it, and he really wanted to, so we set out to see if it was possible before catching our train.

Access to the Sears Tower Skydeck is not intuitive! We found the entrance around the corner, and actually one floor down from where the main entrance. Not only that, an attendant promptly put us on an elevator going down! Following the rope barriers, we found ourselves between a camera and a painting of the Tower, and a man insisting that he had to get our picture. Someday I'll scan and post it.

We got our tickets and followed other ticket holders into a room with a model of the downtown area. There we waited for a film about Chicago, which we enjoyed--but we got cut off by a baby stroller and were among the last out of the theater when it emptied. The line streamed through a series of exhibits about the city of Chicago, which I would have liked to examine closely if I'd had the time. After an extended wait, we joined several others in an elevator car with only two buttons: one for this level, and one for the Skydeck.

The trip up prompted a fair amount of swallowing on my part to get my ears to adjust. When the door opened, we walked out to an amazing view. Windows wrap completely around this floor of the Tower, with all of Chicago below. We walked all the way around, looking at it all. Brendan enjoyed it a lot.

Returning to the elevator, we returned to the sublevel from which we'd come. On the way out we found our pictures waiting for us, to buy or not to buy. I couldn't resist; I bought. 8-{)

Chicago to Leavenworth, KS--April 14-15, 1998

We walked back to the station, which was only two blocks away, and retrieved our luggage--not without adventure. Those big lockers are expensive, and they use quarters! I had to run a $5.00 bill through a machine to ransom our bags, twenty-five cents at a time. Why can't Americans figure out that dollar and two dollar coins are good things, as the Canadians have?

Here I interject some advice: don't do as I did on this trip. It wasn't until the trip home that I learned about the Metropolitan Lounge which is available to First Class (sleeper and Club Class) passengers, and that I could have left the bags there during our walk. I also didn't know that I could have waited there for our train in greater comfort and with soft drinks available. Take advantage of my hindsight!

We repaired to the regular waiting area for the Southwest Chief, which is a pretty typical airport-style room. Mercifully, they called for sleeping car passengers to board first, despite the fact that we were not where they expected us to be! We were somewhat late in boarding for some reason which I don't recall. After a few minutes waiting in the line, we were directed out to the platform.

Here I discovered why the platforms aren't floor height as in the east--the Superliner double-decked trains have doors at that lower level, at about sidewalk height. The car attendant directed us to the upper floor and to the right, where we found our room to be the first one beyond the refreshment center. I started putting things about, and looked around for somewhere to put my fairly large suitcase--and there wasn't anywhere. At that point the attendant came by and told me about the luggage racks on the lower level, which I'd walked past without noticing. So I lugged my suitcase down the stairs again. Ah, well.

Brendan, fortunately, wasn't too disappointed at the lack of a TV, probably because he knew he'd had his limit for the day anyway. His suitcase fit nicely in a little space next to one seat, opposite the steps to the upper bunk, and I set his backpack on top of it. Experienced train riders say this and the blue decor indicates that we were aboard a Superliner II, which was more than we knew.

We found that we were the very last car on the train, which gave a great view down the tracks as we left Chicago. Our attendant was pretty busy, as one passenger was complaining that someone had vomited in her room and that it hadn't been cleaned up. The Chief of Onboard Services made a visit, too, and it was quite a merry time. I stayed out of the way. Shortly afterwards the Chief visited us and presented us with a voucher for free beverages in the lounge car. She seemed very nice, and she had an excellent manner on the PA system, too.

Dinner gave Brendan a chance to be shy again, but he seemed to enjoy his selection (which I can't remember; chicken, I think) and ice cream for dessert. I had salmon, and it was excellent. Who would think of having great salmon on a train through the SouthWest? but it was! Our table mates were making quite an odyssey--they were from York, England, and their itinerary included Boston, Cape Cod, Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Vancouver! They were delightful company, and they kindly corrected my geography of Britain when I thought York was about half the island away from where it is.

After dinner we checked out the Superliner observation car, which I found impressive; Brendan preferred the privacy of our room. As darkness fell I didn't have the attendant make up the beds. I put my son, still dressed, in the upper bunk to sleep until shortly before Kansas City, and I unfolded the lower seats to nap. I set an alarm to wake myself before we got there, but I don't think I actually slept.

Despite a late departure from Chicago, we arrived early in Kansas City, about 12:15 am, but I got Brendan up in plenty of time, and actually waited on the lower level as the attendant watched our progress through the open window. We had something of a walk across the platform to the station, and it was fairly windy, which Brendan doesn't like at all. At one point he started running and I had to chase him down! I thought that we might have to wait a while for John to pick us up, but there he was just inside the station door. In fact, I saw very little of the station except to note that it was small and modern. It was at the lowest level of a parking garage, and to my surprise we had to go up to get out, as the railroad tracks are in a fairly deep cut, well below the level of the city streets.

Leaving the modern station we passed Kansas City's old Union Station, which is a massive, imposing structure. I saw no signs of platform canopies, so I'm not sure if those had been removed or if the station included a large train shed, though I suspect the latter. The tracks look like they were all stub-ended in the station, so that Amtrak moved out onto the line itself in order to be able to run through without back up moves. John told me that the old station is being renovated for a children's museum.

We drove through the city with John pointing out some of the landmarks which were visible at midnight: the nation's only World War I memorial, a set of four towering pillars with abstract shapes on them which were an effort at great modern art, and gradually losing the city lights as we passed into the suburbs and farmlands.

We approached Leavenworth from the opposite side of the Missouri River, crossing it on a long steel bridge, passing through the edge of its downtown and by the main gate of the Army base. Further along we saw the brightly lit and impressive facade of the Federal prison; the lighting makes it look positively stately at night. Soon after, we arrived at Jill and John's house, where Jill and Evelyn arose to greet us and then we all quickly repaired to bed.

[Continue with the Adventures in Kansas and Missouri]

http://www.computerseraph.com/Trains/Travel041998A.html -- Revised: 3-Jul-98
Copyright © 1998 Eric S. Anderson

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