Location: [Home] [Train Travels] Following Ducklings
When possible these days, we use Amtrak to bring our daughter Rebekah to her doctors in Boston. The exceptions are for ones which involve overnight stays at my aunt and uncle's house, which is not convenient to the rails.
We scheduled this appointment with the train schedule in mind, however. Amtrak's service to Boston has a large gap in morning arrivals, with no trains due between 6:55 am (Train 66) and 12:02 pm (Train 12), perhaps to avoid the commuter traffic at Back Bay and South Stations. A midafternoon appointment allows us to get lunch at the hospital cafeteria before we see the doctor, and return to South Station to get one of the south bound trains.
This trip had a second item on the agenda, however, which pushed the return back into the evening: we were going to follow the route of Robert McCloskey's Mallard family from the Boston Esplanade to the Public Garden as described in Make Way for Ducklings. Our son Brendan had recently discovered that the book was set in Boston, and both he and Rebekah were eager to see if it looked at all like the book.
I usually use Amtrak's Internet Reservation System to get tickets, but this time I simply went to Union Station while I was in downtown New Haven on other business. Metro-North agents staff those windows, and I found a fellow who called me "Doc," deduced that I'd taken these trains before, and asked me if I had a AAA card for a discount before I could volunteer it. I returned home with tickets in hand, and was briefly uncertain whether the trip would be rescheduled because of the doctor's vacation, but Evelyn and I decided that the ducks shouldn't have to wait.
Trip Segments: [New Haven, CT to Boston, MA] [The Duckling Trail] [The Harbor Walk] [Boston, MA to New Haven, CT]
We left the house early to attend to a couple small errands before heading for the station, which fortunately also left us plenty of time to return for the umbrella stroller we'd forgotten. We arrived at Union Station and parked in the garage at about 8:30 am. I'd called 1-800-USA-RAIL about 6:45 for the train status, which was on time in New York City, and indeed messages were already posted on Union Station's main board about the cars that should be boarded for trains 12 and 412. The Fast Mail is one of the trains that divides in New Haven; in this case the lead two cars go to Springfield, MA, and the last four go to Boston.
We got some coffee and edibles at the station's Dunkin Donuts, and noted that 412, the Springfield train, was boarding on track 10, so we decided that we might as well head for track 10 as well. The first call sounded on the loudspeaker as we went down the escalator into the tunnel underneath the platforms. In my experience, Amtrak trains nearly always use tracks 8 or 10 at Union Station--it seems odd that trains for which folks are most likely to carry luggage would be on the farthest platforms to me. We stepped onto the train just ahead of the cafe car and walked toward the front hoping to find a set of facing seats vacant, or at least opposite to each other, with no luck. We finally chose seats in the second car and settled in.
New Haven is the northern end of the electrified section of the Northeast Corridor, so there is always a power change. After Train 412's departure, we felt a pretty good jolt as the diesel engines backed onto the head of the train, which is unusual. Our departure was right on time at 9:02.
We were sitting in the second coach, #21670, which was a new design on me--though I suspect that it was rather an old one. From its exterior it was clearly an Amfleet car. Inside, the short corridors at each end had white walls, but the overhead reading lights looked years out of date. They used a slide switch rather than the usual pushbuttons, and a sliding toggle allowed me to swivel it back and forth, but not side to side. There were two of these in the consist, and a more familiar Amfleet coach, plus the cafe car behind.
As we pulled out, Amtrak's south bound train 95 pulled in running about two minutes behind. Two F-40PHs led 4 coaches in NortheastDirect phase IV paint, a cafe, and a custom class/club class car.
Despite the on time departure, we lost time immediately, going fairly slow through Branford, CT, where there seemed to be track work (related to electrifying the New Haven-Boston line) in progress. I can't remember, in fact, seeing as much as we did that day all along the line.
A Shoreline East commuter train passed us going west at 9:25; it had two coaches and a locomotive painted in the old New Haven colors at its head, but I couldn't see its type or number.
We arrived at Old Saybrook at 9:43, seven minutes late, and we got lucky--a man sitting in the seat across the aisle from Evelyn and Rebekah got off the train. I quickly moved my and Brendan's seat checks over, along with our stuff (and ourselves, of course), so that we were able to be together the rest of the trip.
Shortly out of Old Saybrook, however, the train slowed and stopped. At 9:47 the conductor announced that we were waiting to be passed by a west bound train due to track word ahead; it would be about twelve minutes. It wasn't. At 10:05 he announced that he didn't know what the problem was, but that he'd now been told it would be ten more minutes, which was closer: at 10:13 train 171 went by, running about 5 minutes late into Old Saybrook. I spotted 2 F-40s, six coaches (one should have been a cafe car and another custom/club class), a Material Handling Car, and what I suspect was either a coach or a Viewliner sleeper deadheading behind the MHC.
Our train now rolled across the Connecticut River bridge and along the lovely shore of Long Island Sound. Sure enough, there was plenty of track work going on in Niantic, and it went on for a while. Still, we were able to make up time from 37 minutes late in New London to about 27 minutes in Providence, RI. Train 93 passed at 10:43 (I didn't get a look at the consist), perhaps five minutes behind its time.
The day was quite nice, although the sky had a fair amount of haze in it, and there was plenty to see. Folks were out on the beach at Rocky Neck State Park (the train runs right behind the beach). I spotted a white egret just beyond Mystic and some other seabirds I didn't recognize. And, of course, there was lots of Maintenance of Way equipment to look at!
There were also our children to amuse. Rebekah played with her Winnie-the-Pooh figurines, enlisting us occasionally as well. We read to both kids: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Brendan and A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner to Rebekah. Brendan spent a lot of time with a set of stickers which he could apply, remove, and reapply to the waxed pages of a small book.
We weren't the only ones with children on the train. One little girl was leading her Responsible Adult up and down the train; she was a beginning walker, so she clung to the Adult's fingers over her head. She liked to stop and look at Rebekah, who was nice enough to say hello and share one of her Winnie-the-Pooh characters for a moment. Just ahead of Evelyn was a women travelling with her six-week-old son, who spent most of the time snoozing away in his car seat. She left at Providence Station.
We were just under a half hour late into Providence, and for some reason we sat there quite a while. Train 173 pulled in and out (seven minutes after its 11:38 departure time) as we waited; it boasted four Amfleet coaches, a Cafe, and two Custom Class cars (one must have been Club Class as well), most in phase IV colors with the NortheastDirect logo. We left at 11:45, 35 minutes late.
As the conductor came around for tickets, the man in the seat ahead of us (the kids had allowed Evelyn and I to sit together for a moment) asked how long it would be to Stamford, Connecticut--he was on the wrong train! The conductor told him to get off at the Route 128 stop and catch the next south bound train. I certainly hope he managed to do it right the second time!
We passed one MBTA commuter train (it was a northbound, I think) before arriving at South Station at 12:34, 32 minutes late. After a stop at the rest rooms (always important with a five year old, we descended the escalator to the MBTA's Rapid Transit Red Line subway.
A short subway ride later, we emerged from the ground to the elevated station over the interchange of Cambridge Street and Storrow Drive, known as Charles/MGH station. We walked easily over the Massachusetts General Hospital, first for lunch, and then for Rebekah's checkup. At about 3:45 in the afternoon, we were ready for the good stuff.
Locomotives: F-40PHs 244 and 288, elephant style
Massachusetts General Hospital stands very close to the Charles River and the park called the Esplanade. We used a pedestrian bridge to cross crowded Storrow Drive and turned left to walk up river. Rebekah rode in her stroller and Brendan, Evelyn and I sang about the ants marching into the ground as we walked. We saw a couple ducks very quickly as we walked the path along the river bank and stopped to look at them. They wouldn't be the last!
After a short distance, we passed underneath the Longfellow Bridge, which carries Cambridge Street and the Red Line rapid transit trains across the Charles River. It's also the bridge visible in the background of most of McCloskey's drawings of the Mallard's nest in Make Way for Ducklings, so we checked and rechecked our perspective on it in comparison with the book (which we'd brought with us). Where McCloskey showed one island there are now two, which shelter a sailing club's collection of small sailboats. We walked around the marina to the other end of the island, where a bench still stands in the right place to see the Longfellow Bridge over it and the islands beyond. I think the gap between the two may have been dug since the book's publication for the marina.
Sadly there is no sign of Officer Michael's police box, and Boston police now wear leather jackets rather than double-breasted coats, carrying automatic pistols instead of a truncheon. His box has not gone in vain, however, as we're pretty sure the Hatch Shell occupies that spot, which is the site of lots of wonderful free concerts and the home of the Boston Pops orchestra. A rock group was preparing for a concert that evening with sound checks and parts of songs; Rebekah eagerly asked about "going to the music" and danced along the walk pushing her baby doll Emily in her stroller.
In place of Officer Michael and his police box, we used the Arthur Fielder Memorial Bridge to cross Storrow Drive and its speeding traffic, then walked back down river a short distance to Mount Vernon Street. McCloskey's directions were both explicit and accurate, and we walked the short distance down the narrow, tree-lined, brick-walked, quite street to Charles Street. There we turned right (sadly, the Corner Book Store is now a 7-11) and walked on toward the Public Garden.
Michael summoned a police car to assist the Mallards across the busy Beacon Street crossing; Brendan pushed a button for a walk signal. A path leads directly from an entrance on that corner beneath tall shade trees toward the pond. Brendan immediately spotted the swan boats, and was more excited than could be believed; I think he may have feared they'd gone the way of Michael's police box! And along the path, of course, Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings still walk, now rendered in bronze (and rather larger than life). We attracted a lot of attention when we stopped for pictures and petting, not because of what we were doing (lots of people were doing exactly the same) but because we were carrying the book. Folks simply came up to us to tell us how much they had loved it, and to enjoy our children's love for it.
The last stop on the duckling trail was, of course, the swan boats--and we just made it. It was 4:55 when we arrived at the dock, and they close up at 5:00 pm! After a hurried question to one of the staff, we joined the line. "We try to close at five," the ticket seller told me, "but we also want to take everyone in line, too." She was grateful that I had coins (the child's fare is 95 cents), as she had almost no change left at the end of the day.
The boats ride on twin hulls with benches across the flat deck and a large swan at the stern, from where a staff member guides it and pedals what is, I suspect, a directly connected stern wheel beneath the seat. Water sprays up from beneath the swan's tail from that wheel! After boarding, a couple people push the boat off hard so that the pedaling only needs to keep it going, not start it. The boat then turns about the pond's shore, and returns to its dock after just a few minutes. And all the while the ducks follow along hoping for food, just as the Mallards did in McCloskey's book.
The one vital thing we forgot, of course, was to bring food for the ducks.
After disembarking from the swan boat, we stood and looked at the pond a short time and pondered dinner. Eventually we decided to walk to Quincy Market, which is a nice collection of shops built into an old set of dock side warehouses and a large trading building.
Our route lay along Boston's Freedom Trail for the most part; the Freedom Trail links several historic buildings and sites related to the beginnings of the American Revolution. From the Garden we crossed Charles Street to the Boston Common, one of the grandest of New England's splendid custom of the town green. It was originally established to allow community grazing of animals, and I'm told that it is still legal to bring a cow there for its mealtime, though I've never seen it. The Common was full of people, some playing ball, others coming from work, others playing their instruments with the cases open in front of them. The State Capitol Building and its golden dome looks over the end of the Common from the intersection of Beacon Street and Park Street. Interestingly enough, it is truthfully the home of the Supreme General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the legislature and the state are more accurately named.
At the end of the Common we picked up the Freedom Trail and its line of bricks in the sidewalk as it goes along Tremont Street, passing the Old Granary Burying Ground and King's Chapel. Beyond it we crossed to the brick and concrete grounds of Government Center and Boston City Hall, which is a truly monstrous piece of architecture on the site of old Scollay Square. We made a bit of a zig zag to avoid bringing Bekah and her stroller down the Government Center Plaza, so we were able to see the Old State House amidst the glass and steel towers. Brendan enjoyed the unicorn and the lion which adorn the roof ends.
Just beyond, one of Boston's early and historic public forum buildings, Faneuil Hall, stands at one end of Quincy Market. The Market was once a bustling wholesale trading site, with some retail shops for those seeking bargains on ship-delivered meat, fresh fish, and other goods. The working harbor, however, moved as the ships got bigger, and about twenty years ago the complex was turned into shops and restaurants, most of which also occupy the interior of America's malls. One landmark remained, however: the dock worker's restaurant Durgin Park remained open throughout the renovations and remains open, still serving enormous portions of good food at fair prices.
Lunch is the best time to go to Durgin Park, but we had dinner there anyway. It was more than any of us could eat, and all of it good. The restaurant remembers its roots with the longshoremen; the tables are covered with red checked cloths, and the servers, especially the women, have an air of toughness about them. It's been like that, as their motto says, since "before you were born."
Quincy Market's three long buildings run in line with Long Wharf, which was once a major loading/unloading site for oceangoing vessels and now supports a Marriot Hotel. Some years ago Boston leaders decided to supplement the Freedom Trail with a Harbor Walk, marked with a blue painted line on the sidewalk. South Station stands very close to Fort Point Channel, close to part of the Harbor Walk, so we decided to follow the waterfront back to it. We had about an hour and a half, plenty of time even with two walking children (Rebekah, though hopped in her stroller and stayed there).
Getting from the Market to Long Wharf, however, promised to be something of an adventure. First there was the temporary stage to be bypassed at the Market's end; fortunately the concert hadn't begun yet. Then there was the massive work of "The Big Dig," Boston's enormous downtown highway reconstruction project. Today I-93 enters the city from the south, dives into a tunnel, and then emerges onto an elevated section very close to South Station itself. When the digging is done, its entire downtown length will be underground. For now, it means lots of plywood barricades and detour signs even for pedestrians!
With the aid of those signs (including ones that helpfully warned us which way to look for oncoming traffic) and some walk signals, we reached the waterfront. We passed the new facade of the New England Aquarium, which I think is a mismatched addition to an undistinguished building, but inside the Aquarium's design and collection is splendid. We soon reached the Rowes Wharf complex of buildings, two of which run right out onto the water. It amazed me that these expensive apartments and condominiums had no basement but the Harbor. I've always enjoyed the architecture of Rowes Wharf; it was completed about the time I graduated from a Boston area seminary in 1988.
Its two building-crowned wharfs enclosed a small private marina containing several private boats, including two enormous private yachts, each one easily larger than our house. Coming around the second wharf we saw the opening of Fort Point Channel, and against the dock side on the far bank we saw a three-masted ship tied up. I think it was probably the HMS Rose, a modern construction of a British 18th century frigate, but I didn't see the name and I'm not sure. The Rose's current home port is Bridgeport, Connecticut. We passed directly by the docks for the MBTA's Boston Harbor Shuttle to Logan Airport, which was visible on the east side of the Harbor, and the MBTA's passenger ferry to Quincy. We also passed a good-sized whale watching vessel, which Brendan promptly identified correctly because of its whale flukes logo. We'd been on a whale watch just the previous week in Bar Harbor, Maine, so Brendan decided we didn't need to go on one again quite yet.
Leaving the Rowes Wharf complex, we climbed some steps to Northern Avenue, whose Fort Point Channel Bridge is closed to vehicles, and turned onto Atlantic Avenue for the short distance to South Station. Atlantic Avenue parallels I-93, and there were plywood barricades, Jersey barriers, dirt piles, construction equipment, and other signs of the Big Dig everywhere. At each street crossing we had to look around for the walkway on the other side!
South Station's brownstone facade was a welcome and attractive sight when we arrived, and we entered its grand front door (after weaving through the plywood walls before it). It was just before 8:00 pm, so we did a little freshening up before waiting for the Twilight Shoreliner's boarding call.
It was not hard to tell where our train was waiting. For one thing, Amtrak tends to use the platforms on the left side of the station. For another, there was only one Amtrak train there, and the last car was a Viewliner. As the Lake Shore Limited was scheduled to leave hours before, that had to be the Twilight Shoreliner.
Evelyn sent me out to ask a member of the train crew if we might get our small children on a bit early, so I went out and found a small group of people standing at a rope barrier placed at the end of the platform. No crew members were in sight, and it was clear that they weren't ready for passengers yet. I went back inside and told Evelyn this, and we decided that we'd wait to be admitted through the barrier. We really wanted to get the kids settled as soon as we could.
When we returned, a member of the conductor's crew was shouting that nobody was getting on the train until he said so, clearly in response to some "suggestions" from the waiting group. As they debated, a gentleman came up behind us with a somewhat puzzled air and asked if this was the train to Washington. When we said yes, he said that he'd been puzzled that the track number wasn't posted on the board; in Europe, track assignments in the stations are set a year in advance, and even printed on tickets! I had to agree that made sense, but I explained that here the number is only posted when the train is ready for boarding. He was visiting in the United States for a conference (I never ask about people's work so I don't know in what, though medical seems most likely) and with the conference over he was going to spend some time sightseeing in Washington before flying back to Denmark. Evelyn and I thought that sounded like a lot of fun.
The beleaguered conductor now announced that Sleeper and Custom Class passengers could now board the train, and one of his colleagues used her radio to call the station that they could announce it, too. It took some effort to work through the group, some of whom were unhappy that they didn't even know what Custom Class was. Our ticket inspected, we walked up the platform to the far end of the Custom Class car, where our attendant checked the ticket again, greeted us, and pointed us to the left.
I was amused to realize that Custom Class seating was exactly the same as I had had on the Vermonter two weeks before: The seats and carpet were medium blue with a lattice pattern, and spaced somewhat farther apart than the regular Amfleet coaches in Northeastern service. They have a fold-down footrest, but not the fold-out legrest of a long distance train. Evelyn said that when she'd taken the train from Boston a few months ago, she'd paid for Custom Class but she thought she'd actually got Club Class that time. One of these days I'll have to try Custom or Club on another train to find out.
We chose two sets of seats across from each other in about the middle of the car. I took a short walk down the platform again to get a look at the consist, but not far enough to see the numbers on the lead locomotive. Though I knew the train wouldn't leave for a few minutes, I had the ticket!
We left right on time at 8:30 pm. Brendan was quite proud that his feet could read the footrest--if he had it in the halfway down position, anyway. The attendant came by and gave Brendan and I a pillow without our asking; Evelyn then asked why I hadn't asked for them for her and Bekah. I assured her that I hadn't even had to ask, and shortly enough the attendant reappeared with a large bag of pillows which he handed to each passenger. Evelyn asked if he had any blankets, and he told her he'd be back with those when he'd handed out the pillows. When he returned, we each got a purple blanket with the Twilight Shoreliner logo in gold; my wife was highly amused.
Evelyn and I started reading to the children, The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne for Rebekah and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Brendan. By the time his two chapters were read, Rebekah was asleep, before the end of her story! I decided to go have something to drink in the Twilight Lounge, which is a special cafe car on this train for Sleeper and Custom Class passengers. Brendan, who on our trip to Kansas hadn't wanted to leave our sleeper compartment, wanted to come, too, so off we went.
The Twilight Lounge was dark except for the serving area in the center; each table was covered with a purple tablecloth and decorated with a lit bowl candle and a bowl of munchies. I rather liked the atmosphere. We waited a bit while the attendant served a couple of other passengers, then took our complimentary cranberry juices to one of the tables. We sampled the munchies, drank our juice, looked at the darkness, talked about the day, and basically had a nice little wind-down time. After we'd gone through Providence station we headed back to our seats.
The Custom Class car wasn't terribly full, in fact there were a lot of empty seats. Our friend from Denmark was in one of them. Rebekah was fast asleep, curled up on the outside seat, and Evelyn was sitting next to her leaning back with her eyes closed. Brendan and I settled in, and he stretched out to put his feat on the footrest, I tucked the blanket over him, shushed him a couple of times, and soon he was asleep. Evelyn abruptly got up and curled up on the floor in front of her seat; she claims she could sleep better than across two seats. I just tucked her in as well, and closed my own eyes.
From the viewpoint of a tired man, falling asleep at that point was a good thing. From the viewpoint of a travelogue reader it leaves something to be desired, but there it is.
I woke again as the train pulled into Old Saybrook, which is the last stop before New Haven. I noticed that the attendant had dimmed the lighting from its earlier brilliance. My wife and children were fast asleep, and I decided I'd wake them at 11:15, 15 minutes before our scheduled arrival in New Haven. Evelyn woke herself as we were passing through Branford, and shortly after the conductor came by, looked at me and at her empty seat, and said, "All awake?"
As the train rolled behind the stores on North Haven's Forest Ave., I woke Brendan up, and packed up the various books and small things which were out. We were going fairly slowly, and came into New Haven at 11:39, nine minutes late. The head end power cut off immediately as the crew began the process of switching the locomotives to electric engines. We didn't stay. We made our way out through the boarding passengers, carrying Rebekah rather than putting her in the stroller. Brendan walked gamely along carrying his own teddy bear (though I had his back pack) all the way back to the connecting parking garage.
By midnight we were home again, in our own beds.
Locomotives: 2 F-40PHs # ? and 243