90 Miles An Hour Through Iowa, Published 21 February 1944Here we are at Manila Junction, and the two sections of the red and yellow stream lined Hiawatha are being coupled together. The Omaha section is in front, and we Sioux City and Falls folk have the beaver-tail observation car at our end.
You and I have just gone up to the brakeman watching the switch, and I have asked him how fast the big fellow can roll them.
This is the brakeman's answer: "That engine will go 90 miles an hour, and has to do it, too, to keep her schedule."
So a mile and a half a minute that's us.
While on the other dining car, before reaching Manila, I was told to get to the diner early, or take my chances. It took me seven minutes to reach there, and I accordingly took my chances. I waited in line. But the meal when I finally got it was good. The colored steward asked me how things were. I told him everything was all right except the tea, which was only "fairly good." He said with a wonderful smile that he didn't like the "fairly good" and since tea is not rationed in the States, he tried again. But American tea is American tea, just as English coffee is awful, and so it wasn't the obliging steward's fault if the tea wasn't up to our Canadian standards.
Incidentally, the diner, like others in those parts, have abandoned the formal table clothes. They have some sort of rubberized or linoleum base to their tables. So when they set a new place, they merely wipe up what's left with a damp cloth, lay a new serviette, and they are ready for a new customer.
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Now we are riding east from Manila tha full train is assembled, and we have an amazingly different type of engine. It enjoys the unbelievably low number of 3. The Hiawathas have engines 1, 2, 3, and 4. Not so long ago this railway's passenger engines were 6400's, and the like. No. 3 and her sisters are custom-built jobs for this run. She is an old fashioned Atlantic type, with wheel arrangements like this: oo-OO-o. Then the tender is equally unusual, with a six wheel truck next the engine, and a four wheel truck at the train end. Thus the tender wheels in profile were: ooo-oo. I know this does not interest the average reader, but every railroader likes to hear about these things, and if we railroaders can't have a quiet gossip in this column, then life's hardly worth living.
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So fax we have only gone 90 miles. But when the first engine we had switched us personally on behind the big No. 3 and her 80 miles per hour, we started to move. If we had crept at times on the crooked stretches from Sioux City to Manila, we didn't waste a single second on the main line. Our oil-burning steam engine ran like a diesel, and we moved wth delightful smoothness and swiftness across the Iowa landscape. Over at Tama, we crossed the Northwestern tracks, on which run the streamliners to California, like the City of San Francisco, and City of Los Angeles, and on which also all trains operate to the left on the double track, English fashion, instead of to the right, American fashion.
Then at Marion, the Milwaukee's point to gather up Cedar Rapids people, we picked up some of the latter city's smart set. Once aboard, they called immediately for drinks, and when the porter told them they could not even have set-ups (that is glass with ice in it) one young matron moaned: "What, no drinks in the parlor car! Why that's half the fun of travelling."
That's why I say to you that it is a tough, war for some people.
I might say that our Cedar Rapids benton set soon found the club car up ahead, and when 200 miles later, they came back, they were something the worse for wear.
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The sun got low and red. but still we raced. In the dusk we dropped down toward the Mississippi river, picked up the tracks from Kansas City, then at picturesque Sabula we said good-bye to Iowa before glimpsing the lights of Savana. Illinois across the frozen Mississippi.
Then the evening meal, in the crowded dining car, which incidentally has an odd shade of blue in the window panes. The American diner has lost most of its glamor, and all of its leisureliness. Yet the crew tries hard, although they really do want to keep you moving. You are torn between the option of getting there first when anything is fresh but when people are standing up in the narrow aisle to get your place, or eating late, with some leisure, but cold victuals. Finger bowls are gone.
Through the alternating twinkle of lights and blackness of countryside we streaked, our hoarse moan which has come to be identified with streamliners wailing banshee-like through western and central Illinois. We crossed main streets so fast you could hardly see their neon signs for blurs. Then eastern Illinois, and Elgin with its soft "g." and finally the yards of Chicago. We came tearing into a delightful world of shunters and coaches, till the porter called "All Out" and the 515 mile streamline trip was over. The Corn Belt was way behind, Chicago was here.
The Union Station was jammed with people, and so vast is this depot, even the locating of your red cap is a chore, and to find him again a bigger chore. Finally from this latter day labyrinth I managed to emerge, and headed for the Palmer House. Here, only those who had "confirmed" reservations got rooms. Since I had been duly confirmed by E. T. Lawless, managing director (sounds like an Anglican ceremony but really isn't) I soon found myself in a room equipped with real linen sheets, an extremely comfortable roost for a tired travelling man.
Now we shall spend a couple of unspectacular days in Chicago..