Galesburg, September 24 and 25
Galesburg Mayor Mayor Salvador Garza
Mini-train rides celebrate
Glancing at a map, you can quickly tell that Galesburg is at the center of a lot of rail action. Two long distance Amtrak trains—the Southwest Chief and the California Zephyr—stop in the city on their runs between Chicago and California, as do the more frequent corridor trains that are part of the local Illinois Service. One of those, the Carl Sandburg, is named after a native son who spent a lifetime exploring and celebrating the American spirit through poetry, biography, and folklore. Passengers milling about the station were surprised to find the Exhibit Train parked on the private car track, and many walked over to take a look.
The morning kicked off with a special reception and preview for local and state legislators and rail advocates, many of whom have worked to increase Amtrak service and provide Illinoisans with expanded travel options. Around 10 am, Mayor Salvador Garza was joined for an official ribbon cutting ceremony by Thomas Carper, Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, and by State Representatives Don Moffitt and Rich Morthland. With a quick snip of the gleaming scissors and a round of applause from the audience, the train opened to the public.
Although the Exhibit Train has been traveling the rails since its launch on National Train Day back in May, we continue to add new-found treasures and explanatory signage. One of my favorite displays includes a mannequin dressed in a jumpsuit with a suitcase at his feet. Wrapped around the handle is a bunch of brightly colored, vintage luggage tags. Each one is marked with a destination point, which is indicated by a three letter code. For example, if the bag was going to Galesburg, the tag would read “GBB.”
1970s Flashback: Baggage handlers
loading from an old-fashioned cart.
Note the mail bags. When you first start working for Amtrak, you realize that everyone uses these station codes in their writing: “We had to go from WAS to CIN but along the way we stopped for a meeting in AKY…” With more than 500 destinations across the country, it can be terribly confusing for the uninitiated! Luckily for Exhibit Train visitors, there’s a handy sign above the suitcase that explains how the codes are determined. A lot of them simply use the first three letters of the city name: MAC (Macomb, Il.); some employ the first and last letters: DQN (Du Quoin, Il.); and others are drawn from the name of the station building: NYP (New York Penn Station). I’ve gotten better with them over time, but all those towns in California that start with “San” or “Santa” are still a mess in my head! To see if it makes sense, the sign includes a little quiz where you have to match a few codes with the right places.
The Downstate crowd’s warmth and excitement was definitely contagious. We had such a great turnout because many residents recognize the important roles that railroads have had in shaping their community. The first railroad to reach Galesburg was the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, which came through in 1854. Townspeople pitched in to help us staff the Exhibit Train, including a member of the City Council and employees of the F&M Bank. In addition, the National Railroad Hall of Fame and the Galesburg Historical Society set up tables and distributed information about their activities.
Galesburg is also a hub in the national freight railroad network, and throughout the day, freight trains rumbled passed us. South of downtown, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad maintains a large hump classification yard. Here freight cars are processed and sorted by geographic destination to form trains. Pushed over a hump in the yard, gravity carries the cars to the correct track where they are coupled. Next to the Amtrak station, the Galesburg Railroad Museum maintains an interesting collection of railroad artifacts and rolling stock such as a Railway Post Office car. In early summer, rail fans from far and near gather for the town’s popular Railroad Days festival.
Well, as they say, the railroad never stops—which is definitely true of historic Chicago Union Station where we’ll be this coming weekend. The bustling nexus of Amtrak’s long distance routes, every day it sees off cross-country trains whose destinations include Boston, Washington, D.C, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Seattle.