Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ridin' the Eagle

My Grandaddy was a railroad man
When I was young he took me by the hand
Dragged me to the station at the break of dawn
Said, "Boy, I got to show you somethin' 'fore it's gone"
She was blue and silver -- she was right on time
We rode that Texas Eagle on the Mopac line
We had some sandwiches that Granma packed
We rode to Palestine and hitchhiked back
Home in time for supper with a tale to tell
That night I dreamed I heard that lonesome whistle wail

When I got old enough to take the train alone
I rode that Texas Eagle down to San Antone

Nowadays they don't make no trains
Just the piggyback freighters and them Amtrak things
They shut the Eagle down awhile ago
Sold it to the railroad down in Mexico
But every now and then that whistle's on my mind
I ride that Texas Eagle 'cross the borderline
-- Steve Earle, Texas Eagle

Tomorrow I'm puttin' on my engineer hat and ridin' that Texas Eagle -- all right, one of "them Amtrak things" -- down to San Antone, thence to Los Angeles on the connecting Sunset Limited from New Orleans.

The original Texas Eagle was the marquee streamliner of the old Missouri Pacific and the Texas & Pacific, both now part of Union Pacific. It first ran in 1948 between St. Louis and San Antonio (with through cars to other parts of Texas). Although not as celebrated as the Broadway Limited of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the 20th Century Limited of the New York Central and the Super Chief of the Santa Fe, the Eagle had enough cachet to be serenaded by a noted bluegrass artist.

For me the trip will be a five-day working joyride. For reasons I do not quite understand, my best writing often gets shaken loose in a snug sleeper compartment aboard a train speeding through the night. Somehow movement through space and time inside a private place liberates the faculties.

I'll be aboard the Eagle for three nights, one of them a 10-hour overnight stop in San Antonio station waiting for the Sunset to arrive from the east. There will be an 11-hour layover in Los Angeles, where I'll hook up with the railroad photographer and writer Carl Morrison for lunch and a short tour of the town's landmarks.

After that, I'll catch the eastbound Southwest Chief (successor to the Super Chief) for the two-night return to Chicago.

One of the things I'll be looking for on the Eagle is general tidiness. Because of a shortage of cars owing to fire and accident, Amtrak is now using the inbound City of New Orleans trainset, arriving in Chicago at 9 a.m., for the outbound Eagle, departing at 1:45 p.m. Four hours and 45 minutes isn't much time to clean, strip and restock the cars -- let alone wash the windows so that onboard photographers can get good pictures.

There will, of course, be a full trip report, with photographs. You have been warned.

[Later Saturday. Amtrak reports all seats on Sunday's Eagle are sold out, except for one roomette, available for a $611 premium plus the $180 fare, total $791 -- one way. "Them Amtrak things" seem to be in great demand these days.]

Route of the Texas Eagle

Route of the Southwest Chief


  1. Your Uncle is green with envy. Bon Voyage

  2. Why would anyone want to ride Amcrap?

  3. I like your blog Henry!--the combo of journalist [etc] blog with occasional rail-fanning!

    Here's a link to a recently posted page about the Tx Eagle of '48.

    Other famous trains or yore


  4. "Why would anyone want to ride Amcrap?" he asks. I guess I'm just weird that way.

    Thanks, Chaz. It's fun to look at old timetables.

  5. You're not the only "weird"! Count me in! Even riding coach is fine because you can spend most of the time in whatever other section there is: club car, dome, whatever the set pulls! Wish I could join you! And it sure beats the grey dog! Netagene (again)

  6. If "Anonymous" can find a more civilized way to travel, I'll eat my chapeau. Given the fact that a hostile Bush Administration did everything possible to kill off Amtrak by budgeting less than bare-minimum funding, it's amazing the railroad is still in business, let alone doing an outstanding job. A long-distance train is without doubt the best way to see this great country. Without doubt!