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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gray Matters: Last passenger train through town

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A friend who has a multitude of interests started talking about the demise of passenger train service the other day. That set me to thinking, so I turned to the MARCUS QQC BOOK to refresh my memory.

The exact date of the last passenger train on the Illinois Central through Cherokee County was May 1, 1971. I clearly remember the "end-of-an-era" feeling as quite a sizable crowd gathered at the depot that evening. Some of my boys took an old sheet and created a farewell banner with colored chalk which they waved as the train pulled out that final time.

Their older half-sister and one of their brothers had both lived in the Chicago area so our kids had traveled on the "Flyer" to visit them. However, a good many youngsters had never had a train ride, so several parents at the station that evening boarded the train with their children, bound for Cherokee. It would be there first and, perhaps, last opportunity for that experience.

In retrospect, many now wonder if ceasing passenger service was a wise decision, but in the late 60's, with good cars and cheap fuel, it seemed perfectly logical to put our resources into developing highways instead of improving rail lines. Now the situation is changing.

Serious consideration of the development of rail service between Chicago and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor is very much in play, and I understand this is but one of many such developments throughout the nation.

Trains offer a totally different and enjoyable means of getting from point A to point B. Sitting comfortably watching beautiful (or at least interesting) scenery roll by is truly preferable to driving with eyes glued to the road. It's also better, except for the time element, than flying over infrequently-glimpsed expanses, after having endured the boarding tedium.

My husband and I took three of our youngsters from Omaha to the west coast many years ago. An unforgettable experience, especially that of eating in the diner and viewing the Rockies from the domed passenger cars. I am pretty sure we slept in our seats that time, which must have been much more enjoyable for the kids than for us, but much less costly.

However, I have traveled by Pullman car, too, and that was a great way to go. The amenities were so ingenious and the ride was totally comfortable. George Pullman came up with the idea of a sleeping car in the middle of the 19th Century and it was a remarkable development. I expect if passenger train travel again becomes a reality there will be many innovations to bring it into the 21st Century.

We elderly folks have the benefit of having had experiences that are no longer available. Remembering them brings both pain and pleasure.

I have been assured by my younger friends that today's adventures, as reported in the media or acted out in fantasy games, are just as invigorating. However, I am not inclined to totally agree, but we'll address that difference of opinion at another time!