Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another for the bucket list

A shot from the front porch of the Station Inn at Cresson, Pa., by the noted railroad photographer J. Alex Lang, taken from the hotel's web site. Click for larger view.

One of my enduring passions is staying at old railroad hotels by the side of the tracks where one can sit on the front porch with a camera and long lens and watch the trains go by while debating the relative merits of this locomotive model and that with fellow rail buffs all the livelong day.

This is generally a pastime for old-guy trainiacs, but spouses often come along and discuss choo-choo widowhood among themselves. Trainwatching ("trainspotting" in Britain) is a hobby for a certain kind of person, one who is not exactly a Luddite but perhaps an aficionado of a historic old technology kept alive with modern innovation.

In my particular case railroad hotels are a fine place to get some writing done -- I'm actually more productive in a small room by the tracks that I can leave from time to time to watch a fast freight go by. The thunder of locomotives and the aroma of diesel exhaust somehow inspires me. (Don't ask how.)

My preferred railroad hostelry is the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana, on the transcontinental High Line of the old Great Northern Railway (now Burlington Northern Santa Fe), reachable on Amtrak's Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. (See here, here and here).

I've also taken the Southwest Chief to the newish Depot Inn at La Plata, Missouri, on the Burlington main from Chicago to Los Angeles. (See here.)

Last weekend the New York Times' travel section reported favorably (although with barely suppressed amusement) on another rail buff's favorite, the Station Inn Bed & Breakfast at Cresson, Pennsylvania, on the old Pennsylvania Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) main line from Pittsburgh to New York City.

One can get there from Chicago by taking Amtrak's Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh, laying over for a couple of hours, then boarding the Pittsburgh-to-New York Pennsylvanian and debarking at Altoona, where one can rent a car for the 18-mile, 21-minute drive back down the line to Cresson. Alternatively, the time-challenged can fly to Pittsburgh and rent a car for the 100-mile, 2-hour drive to the hotel.

Gonna do it next spring. The Lady Friend wants to go, too.


  1. Not only do your railroad journey descriptions inspire one (well, me) to think about doing similar things, it reminds me about reading of the travels of "E.M. Frimbo" many years ago.

  2. (Took me a couple of minutes to remember that I can't cut/paste from or to this blog in Firefox, but it works fine in Safari.)


    Thanks for the mention of the Depot Inn in this post. As to your being inspired to write while in a trackside hotel, you may remember my story of the Izaak Walton Inn, and the fact that my traveling partner on that trip was my Clergyman, Don Roe. He too says he gets inspiration from trackside hotels, and has mentioned that he'd like to do that exact same trip again sometime. Here's two favorite photos of him in our room at the Izaak Walton and in the dining room:

     and (in the corner of the dining room)

    He's a great travel companion, he reads and writes, and I photograph, and we enjoy meals together on the train or in hotels. He's traveled more than I by rail, so he knows all the haunts in Seattle, Portland, Denver, Flagstaff, etc.

    The whole travelogue of the Izaak Walton Inn is at:

    Sue and I get similar inspiration at National Park Lodges (A good recent PBS special on this helps) and we leave in about a week for 2 nights in Zion and 2 nights at the Monument Valley's new "View" hotel. Nice to be able to go off-season to these great places.

    Thanks for the inspirational post today.

    Carl Morrison