November 4, 2010

In and Out of the Quad Cities

Gail-and-Toni-windturbineContributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

Hello everybody and welcome to the new and improved November edition of Fifty Plus Lifestyles. We certainly hope you have been paying attention all these months because – just like back in third grade – we are going to have a POP Quiz.

Pop Quiz
Aboard which of the following modes of transportation have we not enjoyed a nice meal and a beverage?

A) In a canoe navigating the Wapsipinicon River
B) In a sternwheeler riverboat
C) In the dining car of a steaming locomotive
D) In a brand-new Honda Camry
E) All of the above

E might have been a good guess, but in reality the answer is D. It was a trick question, we would never consider McDonald’s drive-through to be a nice meal.

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie all aboard the Boone and Scenic Valley Express
Trains enjoy a special place in the American culture. With names like the California Zephyr (Chicago – Oakland), The Texas Chief (Chicago to Galveston) or the Des Moines-Omaha Limited (Chicago-Omaha), these red and silver streamlined metal serpents sped passengers to every city across our great nation.

Some of our readers may recall trips taken in their youth – loading aboard a train with your parents and grandparents for the adventure of your still young life. You climbed the platform, stepped up onto the stairs and made your way down the aisles to your assigned seat. Off in the distance you heard the conductor cry out, “ All Aboard, All Aboard.” The train started to move. First a slow dull feeling movement, then an indescribable acceleration and finally a smooth momentum gently rocking to and fro as farmscapes and scenery flew by on the left and right.

But the greatest thrill of all came when you wound your way down the narrow passageway into another train car, through the sleeper section and into the dining car. How can anything be cooler than eating while you watched the world zip by? We wanted to experience that feeling. Last month, we (with the husbands at our side) traveled to Boone, Iowa to join friends Mark and Kathy on such an adventure – the Boone and Scenic Valley dinner train.

Boone, Iowa is a train town. The first trains arrived in the area just a couple of years following the Civil War. It’s the home of the famous Kate Shelley Bridge (which is a story on its own – if you internet – check out ). It’s the regional home of Union Pacific Rail Road. And it’s the Home of the Boone and Scenic Valley Rail Road – a railroad preservation group who maintains over twenty miles of 1890’s vintage track through the Des Moines River Valley.

We arrived at the historic old rail station in Boone, Iowa. The station takes you back in time as you soak in the ceramic floors and wooden benches once so common in train stations. There’s a ticket booth – just like the one we saw back so many years ago as kids. Author Tom Robins says our olfactory nerves have the most powerful links to the normally suppressed reaches of our subconscious mind – you can’t help but notice the place even smells like a train station.

After a short wait, the train pulled up to the platform and we boarded the dining car for the short trip through the Scenic Valley. The route crosses the sixteen-story high trestle bridge and the Des Moines River. Normally the trip covers some 22 miles, but this year several sections of the track were damaged by high water, so about 8 miles were cut off the excursion. This meant we boarded traveled about 14 miles stopped for a while then traveled back to the station – backwards.

In case you too would like to add a train dinner to your own bucket list, let us give you a bit of a description of the experience inside the train. The train consisted of three cars, two Pullman cars, and a dining car. They had all been adapted to their new use. Two of the private sleeping births have been converted into private dining rooms for groups of 4. The meal was served on railroad china and white linen. The staff was Iowa friendly and the dinner was the best we have ever had on a moving train.

Somewhere between dinner and desert we decided to take in the observation deck. This in itself was worth the price of admission. Let us paint two pictures for you; first Harry Truman crossing the country speaking to the nation. Where did he speak from? Darn right – it was the observation deck. Now flash to one of those great old spy movies in black and white. The villain usually lurked out on the observation deck tweaking his slippery moustache and waiting to pounce on our hero. For us, the observation deck was the cream in our coffee and the icing on our cake.

Moving on down the track…
If you decide you want to take a trip down memory lane – or in this case down the tracks. We encourage you to make Boone, Iowa a stop on your next excursion. They run multiple trains every weekend of the spring, summer and fall.

As you read this, Halloween has gone the way of the pheasant feathered pillbox hat. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The next time we write you it will be about Holiday cheer. Keep those cards and letters coming!