The Pullman Musings Of An Old Man

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  • Member since
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  • From: Trieste, Italy
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The Pullman Musings Of An Old Man
Posted by GN_Fan on Saturday, October 31, 2020 7:18 AM
The other day I found myself wide awake at 4AM taking in the quietness of the early morning.  Sitting alone in the dark on the living room couch, there was barely enough light to see, but I could make out the cover of Classic Trains special issue titled Pullman.  It brought back thoughts of long gone exploits of decades past, memories that are now clouded by the mists of time.  My first Pullman ride occurred on May 12, 1967, between Chicago and St. Louis.  That’s a really strange routing, isn’t it?  Well, that was the day I was invited with open arms to help defend the US from the insidious Communists in Vietnam.  After spreading my cheeks for an indifferent doctor, we were herded like cattle to the now demolished Central Station where we boarded a train to take us to who knows where. 
Feeling like I’m on my way to a death camp, I was happy to see a couple of nice, shiny Union Pacific Pullmans coupled to the rear of Illinois Central # 9, the Seminole, a train I was intimately familiar with during my years at the Univ. of Illinois at Champagne.  I made up my mind to find a room rather than a section, something I was successful at.  Things are a bit fuzzy now, but I did make friends with my roommate who talked me into going forward to the lounge.  For me, it was a BIG mistake…the place was jammed with newly drafted GI’s trying to get drunk before getting killed in the jungles of Nam.  And with no place to even sit down, I went back to my room, where I found the berths already turned down.  Absolutely exhausted, I turned in for the night. 
Somewhere in southern Illinois, we were REALLY ripping…I could hear ballast bouncing along the bottom of the car.  During the night, most likely at Carbondale, we sat motionless for a long time.  My Official Guide says we arrived at 10:15 PM and departed at 5:10 AM on # 16, the northbound Chickasaw, arriving in St Louis at 7:40.  I remember waking up as we were now going a lot slower and crossing a huge bridge (Eads?) and in the distance I caught a glimpse of the Gateway Arch.  About that time the Pullman porter came in and instructed me to get up and dressed as we’d be arriving shortly.  Herded off the train in the big trainshed, we were led to a restaurant where we were fed and watered a non-descript meal.  Still having no clue where we were going, we were led to another train, this time on the Frisco.  Some 53 years later, my official guide says it was train # 3, the Will Rogers, which turned out to be the LAST RUN of that train.  I boarded the last car, a heavyweight coach.  Along with the newly recruited GI’s, the car was full of RR fans, which made me feel at home.  I crowded into the rear vestibule as we pulled out of the station, with my thoughts wandering to the idea that we were being routed thru the freight yard.  We never got above about 15 MPH, and freight cars were everywhere.  Finally out on the main, we made good time on some good, deeply ballasted track.  At each stop some clown with a bugle played taps as we departed.  The bugle was irritating for me and spoiled the departures, but the 6 wheel trucks on jointed rail was sweet music in my ears.  it was a bittersweet trip at best.  Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri would be my new home for a while, then off to battle, and to a very uncertain future. 
Well, if anyone is wondering, I wasn’t killed in the jungles of Nam.  A kind of miracle happened as I was assigned MOS (military occupational specialty) 67H20…an OV-1 Mohawk crew chief….a twin engine, ejection seat, turbo prop, STOL (short takeoff and landing) reconnaissance aircraft.  And yah, I hated planes and now I was a flyboy, at least I had to keep them flying and to fly in them when needed.  The OV-1 was the coolest of all the cool military aircraft I ever flew in.  Later, I was to find out that my plane was # 60744 built in 1960, painted snow white with bright red trim.  Believe it or not, the Mohawks flew in the Gulf War many decades later….it was that good.
After basic training in Missouri I was sent to Ft Rucker, Alabama to learn the principles of flight and how to properly maintain the most complex aircraft the Army had.  This is where I got to take a round trip on some unknown ACL train from Dothan to Montgomery.  I caught a northbound train in Dothan, layed over about 2 hours in Montgomery, then caught the southbound back.  It’s strange the Official Guide does not list anything close to that.  Anyway, I spent my entire Army stint with 20 or so enlisted men and an equal number of pilots (all officers...mostly majors) on a Navy base in New Jersey….Lakehurst Naval Air Station where the Hindenburg burned.  We were 40 grunts with 5,000 swabbies and 5,000 jarheads….at the height of the Vietnam War.  It was MASH on steroids…the most un-military posting imaginable.  Got a few stories about ALMOST running out of gas over NJ…it’s not cool to have a flameout over Atlantic City and have to eject, especially when the low fuel thingy happened twice, but that’s for another time or maybe another place.  If I learned ANYTHING with those episodes, the low fuel warning on the Master Caution panel is God.  And non-truncated exception writeups in the flight log is the Right Hand Of God and can be a life or death type thing.
I digress.  Prior to all of this, while attending the Univ of Montana, I happened upon a letter to the editor in the local paper asking for penpals from Montana.  I responded, and 3 year later while in the Army stationed in NJ, we were married in Trieste, Italy.  Yah, against all odds, and against both the UCMJ (uniform code of military justice) and Italian law at the time, I married my penpal 10 days after meeting her for the first time. 
And yes, it was done legally but with a LOT of help and strings pulled.  A city councilman, the Asst. American Council in Trieste, and my Army CO back in Jersey all helped.  And yah, when I got back to my unit, I was called into the first shirt’s office to endure a 45+ minute chewing out.  But, after 50+ years, we’re still together.  Anyway, I digress again.  Back to railroads.  This is where it gets REALLY fuzzy.  I landed a job with the Northern Pacific Railroad as a forester, and as such, I was entitled to a company pass.  I applied for and was granted a round trip from Missoula, MT to New York.  Our new son was one year old and mamma wanted to show her new kid to her mother in Italy.  The two were to fly out of New York without me.
We boarded the train in Missoula and took our place in a nice cozy bedroom on the North Coast Limited.  Pat took the upper while I slept with the kid on the lower.  I was miserable over fear of squashing the kid in my sleep.  We arrived in Chicago during a fantastic blizzard that shut down the entire city, and staying with my elderly grandparents, getting back downtown to catch the Century to NY was not an option.  Somehow Pat and our son got to the airport and flew from there, and I headed back to Montana a few days later.  As an aside, our one year old went thru a dozen diapers while on the flight, so I guess I’m not the only one getting a bad case of the trots when flying.  Pat did NOT have fun on that fight.  After all these decades, I don’t remember much else, sorry. 
In any case, those are the musings of an old man at 4 AM looking at a Pullman magazine in the dark, sipping a Grand Mariner.  Maybe I’ll have another shot to loosen my memory.  We’ve traveled coast-to-coast from Boston to both Seattle and Frisco on Amtrak, but that’s like comparing eating Alaskan crab legs to a Big Mac.  And yah, while traveling to my Army posting in NJ, I ate dinner on the Century, complete with heavy silver, finger bowls, special monogrammed china, and all that.  It’s stuff to remember, even if I could only afford chicken.  It’s too bad as a student at the Univ of Montana I never had enough cash to eat in the diner on the North Coast Limited.  But on those 4 or 5 round trips I made between Missoula and Chicago (1,675 miles or 2,680 Km) , the meals in the Traveler’s Rest car was “not too shabby” as Montanans would say.  NP’s signature baked potato and a nice rainbow trout on the Mainstreeter out of Spokane will do just fine too.

 

Alea Iacta Est -- The Die Is Cast
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, October 31, 2020 9:20 AM

Great story GN Fan, thanks for posting!

It's always good to hear from folks who had the railroads weave in and out of their lives over time.  

And thanks for your service during the 'Nam years, even if you'd have rather been doing other things!  And I'll say this much, if you're like me and others who've worn the uniform you do know things, a million things, that those who haven't never will.  

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Posted by bill613a on Saturday, October 31, 2020 3:39 PM

The WILL ROGERS was discontinued in September 1965 along with the overnite METEOR on the St Louia-Oklahoma City route. In their place Frisco ran the daylight OKLAHOMAN until it too was discontinued in May 1967.  

I am also an alumnus of Ft. Leonard Wood.

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Posted by GN_Fan on Sunday, November 1, 2020 1:13 AM

bill613a

The WILL ROGERS was discontinued in September 1965 along with the overnite METEOR on the St Louia-Oklahoma City route. In their place Frisco ran the daylight OKLAHOMAN until it too was discontinued in May 1967.  

I am also an alumnus of Ft. Leonard Wood.

 

 
I stand corrected.  My OG of that period is dated Dec, 1960, so it would not have listed the Oklahoman.  As a draftee, you know that you have to get ride of almost everything personal, so I had no watch, I had no access to any timetables or anything of the kind and no one told us anything.  I had to kinda piece this all together years later when I got all my junk back.  My next OG after the 1960 edition is dated 10 years (tears?) later, and by then everything was gone.
Alea Iacta Est -- The Die Is Cast
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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, November 1, 2020 3:00 AM

Thanks for the memories.

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Posted by mvlandsw on Friday, November 6, 2020 8:31 PM

My first Pullman ride was also provided by the US Army. A roomette from Pittsburgh, Pa to Washington D.C.on the B&O and then coach to Columbia, S.C. on the SAL. While in the army I got to do all but two of my post changes in the U.S. by rail. I traveled about twenty five thousand miles and got to ride some nice trains while seeing a good portion of the country.

They even paid for me to visit Australia and do a little train riding there on R&R from Vietnam.

Mark Vinski

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, November 6, 2020 8:45 PM

Thank you for your Vietnam service Mark!

And I'm going to say this with all sincerity.  To all you guys out there who served in 'Nam, did your duty and did it well, every one of you are heroes!  

Even if you may not think so, but the real heroes never do.

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