Streamliner to the Corn Belt (extract), Published 1 May 1939In this, my safari to Mexico, the last part of the rail journey is about to commence, for we are going 360 miles from Chicago to Des Moines, where my Ford car is champing at the bit. So I tossed a gold piece negligently to the Palmer House menial. I said good-bye to the funny wallpaper in an otherwise high class hotel, and first thing I knew, I was at LaSalle Station, boarding The Rocket.
The Rock Island operates a fleet of Rockets, which are really streamlinerettes. Whereas, the lordly City of Los Angeles goes out with 17 articulated units, this little time annihilate keeps down to a parlor car, a day coach, and a half-day coach diner, as well as the Diesel unit up ahead. I landed in the parlor car, and stayed there a bit to look at my fellow-passengers. Two persons stood out. One was a lady who thought she could handle men and liquor at the same time, and proved capable of neither, for the last 100 miles of her trip saw her own travelling companions as a series of beer bottles. The other dame had a definitely New York East Side face and figure, but whose temporary exposure to a southern accent had given her the idea she was a Dixie belle, and who didn't want anybody to miss that idea. With that pan of hers, I had a good notion to say: "Hera us mit u in die Kueche!" to see if she wouldn't unconsciously scram for the kitchen and start to wallop the pots.
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However, we will leave these high life cultural exhibits and go into the dinette, where as you travel 100 miles an hour, you eat. Occasionally you hear a moan and lookout to see yourself snaking through a string of lights which constitutes a sizable town. It's fun to eat at this speed.
I have never heard anybody ever advertise the Rock Island cooking, but I think it is the best you get in any diner on this continent. You hear a lot about the Fred Harvey system on the Santa Fe. and wonderful southern dishes you get beyond the Mason-Dixon Line, but I don't think you can beat this self-effacing Rock Island cuisine.
In the relatively small area of a streamline dinette, you have to double up a bit. and I got talking to a man who once spent a night in Montreal.
"I'll never forget," he said, "in the morning they put a French newspaper under my door."
"What's your name?" I asked, and he said "Laduke."
I told him that anybody in Montreal naturally would take it to be another version of "Ledue." and certainly he would be taken for a Frenchman. A Protestant and a Mason, he never realized that his name was French before, and yet he was 50 years of age.
But say. Let's get on and by on, I mean across the Mississippi, then half-way across Iowa, then to bed, then up again, and here we are with the Ford V8 pointing due south: its a beautiful Sunday morning, and just as soon as that spare tire is checked for air, we're heading south for Mexico.