This autumn marks a milestone for Terry and I. We met three dozen years ago last month. I can remember where we met, but I can’t remember the exact date. But the story of our meeting is a Moss Family urban, legend which I only share with close friends and family. To commemorate the occasion, Terry and I decided to try something completely different: dinner on a train going nowhere (literally I have a photo to prove that!).
We left the house a few minutes after three o’clock and drove south southwest, deciding to take the scenic non-toll byway through Basehor, Tonganoxie and Lawrence. I made a brief stop in Lawrence to apply for and receive my sixth regional library card (more on that later this week). That took less than five minutes, but escaping Lawrence took four times that long! Sunday drivers in a college town evoked much gnashing of teeth and cursing.
Once we escape Lawrence on US 59 south, it was a fast fifteen minute drive to Baldwin, so we arrived with plenty of time to peruse the small Midland Railway station and shop. We were concerned we had no tickets, just an electronic receipt and reminder email. We stood in line at the shop for ten minutes just to ask what the standard operating procedure was to board the train. The shop attendant was mildly surprised we’d received an email reminder. He assured us our names would be checked off a list by the conductor.
We sat in the small waiting area for a few minutes until our boarding call. Promptly at 4:45 p.m., we boarded our car and were seated at table three. We already had full glasses of water but our waitress soon stopped by to take our drink orders. Terry ordered iced tea, requesting the sweetened variety, and I asked her for a recommendation for a red wine (even though I’d preordered the fish entree with our tickets). I mentioned I did like Australian wines and she asked if I preferred merlot, shiraz or cabs. I replied I prefer the cabernets so she suggested the Rosemount.
While we waited on our drinks, another train pulled into the station and started disembarking families with small children. Bruce, our conductor, explained over the PA system, the other train was the Great Pumpkin Patch Express excursion train (which explained all the small children and the cute costumes).
We pulled away from the station on time at a quarter past five o’clock. The train kept a steady but extremely slow speed, which I calculated later at around five or six miles per hour (more on that later). Eventually, we received our Caesar salads, which were good and well dressed. To be completely honest, this is the first time ever that I’ve eaten actual Caesar salad dressing. I’ve always asked for my salads to be undressed or dressing on the side. But I knew that this dining situation had it’s serving challenges so I decided it was high time to take the plunge into Caesar salad dressing. And the final verdict? I liked it! Not sure why I’ve been avoiding it for decades (might have something to do with anchovies?).
The weather wasn’t completely ideal. When we left Lansing, the skies were partly cloudy to the east, but completely overcast and somewhat ominous in the west and southwest. As the afternoon waned, so did the sunshine. I took a few photos of the slowly passing countryside, but none of them were vibrant with fall colors or cornflower blue autumn skies.
Right before we were served our entrees, I visited the women’s restroom, which happened to be in the back of our car, which also happened to be the last car (no caboose). When I finished in the restroom, I stepped to the back door and took a few photos of the lonely stretch of tracks leading back north towards Baldwin. Several times during our ninety minute ride south to Norwood, we saw people waiting at the railroad crossings, outside of their cars, sometimes with their kids sitting on the hoods, waving at us as we slowly passed by.
I returned to our table and enjoyed my fish, but was surprised to see regular rice (instead of rice pilaf) and carrots (instead of something else which I can’t remember from when we ordered the tickets online). The fish was moist and enjoyable, the rice was rice, but the carrots were not done enough. Terry’s steak medallions were cooked properly (medium rare) and he liked the potatoes, but agreed that the carrots needed to be steamed longer (or perhaps roasted?).
Throughout the evening, we were serenaded by big band standards from the 1940s, because, as Bruce, our conductor, explained when we embarked, during wartime, train travel peaked and as a non-profit historical preservation initiative, the Kansas Belle Dinner Train strove to provide an appropriate ambience. Terry and I remarked that we really need to visit the birthplace of Glen Miller, which is an easy day trip from our home to his in Clarinda, Iowa. According to their website, there is a festival in mid-January, but I would prefer not to head north at that time of year.
We reached the end of the line in Norwood at about a quarter to seven o’clock. It was still light enough to see the little park and station (under construction). After a few minutes, the engine passed us by on the southside and hooked up to our car, which had been the substitute caboose. As we headed off into the north and the gathering gloom, dessert was served, with more coffee and we arrived back in Baldwin on time at straight up eight o’clock. Terry and I both thought the return trip was a tad bit faster, but it was hard to tell once the sunset and you couldn’t see the passing landscape as a reference.
I purchased a commemorative glass, etched and with a gold rim, when I received the check for our drinks. I neglected to take a photo of the glass so I will share that at a later time. Our return trip home was mostly uneventful. We were racing a thunderstorm home which apparently decided to head north instead of northeast as we didn’t get much of anything (no rain, hail, thunder nor lightning) overnight in Lansing.
I checked our location a few times during our ride, but although I was getting GPS signals, I had no other connectivity while on the train. I was completely unreachable by the outside world and disconnected from social media and internet distractions. When we were stopped at Norwood station, Google Maps was telling me we were 7.8 miles away from Midland Railway station, but I didn’t know at the time if that was by road (automobile) or as the crow flies. So when I got home and started writing this post, I did the math:
a squared + b squared = c squared
(6*6)+(4*4) = c squared
36+16 = c squared
52 = c squared
7.2 = c
So the hypotenuse of the right triangle (US 59 and US 56) between Midland Railway Station and Norwood Station is 7.2 miles.
And on that note, I’m going to bid you a fond farewell until next time.
Yes, we enjoyed our train ride and our dinner. Would we do it again? Perhaps.