Riding A Rocket But Not To The Moon, Published 14 February 1947When I arrived at the Santa Fe station at Colorado Springs, to catch the Texas Zephyr to Denver, my mind went back to the same station, 21 years before. In that same place, on those hard benches, I had spent the night, because I was running short of money. To come to the point, I had only $4.65 to take me from there to Denver to Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Hamilton. That I made it was because I could live on coffee and rolls for three days.
This time, things were a little different. The Texas Zephyr came in and when I boarded her, I was riding my 119th railway the Colorado and Southern.
A most pleasant streamliner, it combined a dinner with its observation car. It was marvellous to see the red morning sun play on the snow caps of the Rockies - over my cereal and out the window. Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, and approximately 7300 feet, flashed by with the second cup of coffee. Even Diesels have trouble with the grade up to Palmer Lake, and it was noticable that our Zephyr stepped along faster once we had taken the high jump. In fact, we swung into Denver, a few minutes early.
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The most notable thing about the trip was the comment of the passengers. They had left a hot Texas sun the day before, and the frost on the roof tops excited them a great deal. For those not north before, this was quite an event.
I hated to leave this courteous train, but I had to hustle up to the Cosmopolitan hotel, where the effcient Mr. "Rock Island" Schwartz had engaged me a room.
Now I was back in Denver, where I had begun my motor trip. But this time, it was all over, and I was heading back east.
With Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Housey, I dined at the Cosmopolitan, and service was improved greatly when the head waiter found I knew a little French You're more apt to get Spanish and French in Denver. The next day, I had a quick look at the mammoth Rio Grande locomotive power, thanks to my old friend, Assistant Superintendent Allen. He had a place in my Geography Lessons, ten years ago. He showed me his compounds, his old mallets from the Chesapeake and Ohio, and then finally, his slick but soul-less diesels.
Thanks to L. P. Blyler, general agent of the Rock Island, I was treated like a visiting potentate, when I jumped aboard the Rock Island Railway's "Rocket." The Houseys and I had had a quick lunch at the station, and then they turned me over to the hospitality of the Rock Island. There were people to see me off, and there was promise of more treats to come.
"The "Rocket." a slick Diesel job, headed out of Denver, and soon was heading south west to keep a rendez vous with its twin at Limon, Colorado. We ran over Union Pacific tracks to this junction, since the R.I. owns the roadbed only into Colorado Springs. At Limon, we coupled up, and were away on Rock Island tracks.
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At no place did we exceed 85 miles an hour, but at no place did we drag very much either. After Limon, I was taken into the hands of W. F. Kline, road foreman from Goodlands, and G. R. Branch, superintendent of the western division, and resident at Fairbury. Kansas. They led me up to the cab of the Diesel, and there I rode from 2.40 till 4.17, according to the time table. Gone now were the snow caps. Pike's Peak, long visible to the west disappeared, as did every other hoary head that peeped above the drab prairie. We were now on the flat part of eastern Colorado, which was to be succeeded by the equally flat part of western Kansas. With Hamlet I could gladly intone: "Oh God, how dull, flat, stale, and unprofitable..."
But it was interesting to see us slice through a town in a gale of wind, to whistle past a freight train "in the hole" at more than a mile a minute. It's fun to be at the head end. with the speedometer saying 85 MPH.
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Odd thing about birds, they don't seem to know enough, or to know how, to keep out of the diesels' way. We not only clipped more than one flock of sparrows, but when we flushed some pheasants, they too flew right into our path. The windows of the cab have to be extraordinarily thick to protect the train crew.
We said goodbye to Colorado at Burlington, and said hello to Kansas at Kanorado. Then I got off at Goodland, Kansas, to end my ride in the diesel engine and to return to my plush seat in the streamliner's observation car. From this point on, Superintendent Branch and I proceeded to get well acquainted, and I was sorry to say goodbye to him at Fairbury. He had been in India during the war, and we seemed to develop plenty in common, a welcome relief from the ignorant isolationism from some of the passengers.
The Rocket rolled on into the night, and finally rocked me to sleep. Tomorrow, we end the trip on the New York Central's fancy train of tomorrow,