The Nickel Plate - My 70th Railway, Published 9 July 1942When I got off at the Northwestern Station, the next order of business was to cross Chicago's Loop to Dearborn Station. For it was from here I was to take the Erie Railroad. Curiously enough, this line, butt of vaudeville jokes for decades, and a railroad whose water-logged financial background has been a horrible example for three-quarters of a century, makes Englewood a suburban station, seven miles out, only a flag stop. The trick was to find out whether or not she would or would not stop that night. Since I had no intention of going away out to the corn fields, I wanted to make sure that the flag would be out at Englewood. before I got on the Erie to ride my 70th road.
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But here began a chapter of ridiculous accidents that ended with me not riding the Erie at all. The gatekeeper said he could not stop the train at Englewood, and told me to try the conductor. The "con" couldn't halt her, and suggested I see the stationmaster. He was out, and so was his assistant, who was over watching a Santa Fe train come in. But the assistant's assistant phoned Englewood. and found out that no prospective passenger had turned up yet to flag my Erie. Then they looked at the Pullman diagram, and it revealed nothing for a stop. I went the rounds the second time all this had taken the better part of an hour and the conductor the next time said:
"We won't stop unless we have to. We got to pick up a car of berries, and we'll be late."
That's the Erie, gentle readers. Their fast passenger train was not going to be held, because they had a car of berries!
To make a long story short, after seeing the Monon trains come and go, looking over the Chicago and Eastern Illinois train for Dixie, and noting our own Grand Trunk Western, which name the C.N.R. takes west of Sarnia Tunnel, I gave up the Erie, and trailed my tired toes over to LaSalle Station, where the Nickel Plate (New York. Chicago and St. Louis) was to leave at 11.20. But to my amazement, the ticket agent would not sell me N.KP. to Englewood. I then and there went out and flung myself on the mercy of the conductor, and he said he'd take me.
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Therefore, at 11.20 precisely, you find me riding my 70th railway, the Nickel Plate. The conductor made quite a fuss over the occasion as he punched out a 22-cent fare. The brakeman opened up a new day coach trimmed with magenta, and altogether the eleven-twenty was a gala affair. while it lasted. The engine was 174, which by an odd coincidence was the number of the Milwaukee Road engine that took me to Madison the same morning. I never had ridden behind two engines with the same number on the same day before.
Now we shall leap suddenly to the second game of a Detroit-White Sox double-header. I was sitting with Dr. Harold D. Towsley, Chicago eye specialist, who grew up at 161 Nepean street. I agitated sufficiently to get him to leave in the middle of a ball game to drive me down to Dearborn Station, where I was to try once more to ride the Erie, and make it Railway No. 71 for me. I got there in plenty of time, loafed around a bit. and just as I finished chatting with a Chicago and Western Indiana switch engineer, he said: "You better hurry, if you're catching the Erie." I laughed, because I knew I had ten minutes. But the Erie Limited suddenly started to roll, catching me four baggage cars and a day coach up ahead. I ran like mad as the short train gathered speed, and got to an open vestibule only after the man had slammed down the platform, and was just about to close the door.
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"What's the idea?" I asked, and he replied. "We're going early now." I still was puzzled, and pondered during my short ride how I had almost lost out again, in trying to ride the Erie. Only at Englewood. did I discover that that very day. and not the day before, did the train start leaving at 5.50 p.m. and not 6 p.m. Why the Erie would keep such secrets from their public is beyond me.
So I cleaned up the 70th and 71st railways. New ones are getting hard to find. Two hours later 5346 of the Michigan Central was starting me homeward, and when I woke up. 2357 was wheeling me into Toronto. Then 3746 helped No. 2232 up to Leaside and cut off. and next change of engines came when we got 2518 at Smiths Falls, swapping same for 2518 at Carleton Place. So the 1,883 -mile week-end trip ended.