High Iron Travel's "Southern Explorer"
Rare Mileage Excursion
May 25-30, 2010

Part 1, St. Louis-Rockview (Chaffee), Mo.

High Iron Travel, in its never-ending search for rare mileage to travel by rail, set up this trip to basically cover the old Frisco line to Pensacola, Fla., now operated by Rail America's Alabama & Gulf Coast. In a rare approach, day trips were sold for the first leg out of the new origin point of St. Louis, as far as Memphis, again on the old Frisco. The train would run as an Amtrak special from STL to MEM and then, after an evening layover, run as a special overnight on the "City of New Orleans" route (CN-IC) to NOL. From New Orleans to Meridian, Miss., the four private cars (Frisco sleeper Cimarron River, ex-Santa Fe dome lounge 511 Nenana, NYC sleeper-lounge Swift Stream, and Caritas, High Iron's ex-Frisco sleeper made into a business car configuration in the 1980s. High Iron's parent, Iowa Pacific, owns the dome; it runs tourist lines in Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon. Cimarron River and Swift Stream are home to St. Louis.

From Meridian, the train would run special on KCS up to Columbus, Miss., there commencing the run to Pensacola on A&GC (initials AGR). From Pensacola the train would return to Linden, Ala., and deadhead on G&W's M&B (the old Meridian & Bigbee) to Meridian, to couple to Amtrak's southbound Crescent to New Orleans, to end the trip. M&B deadheading the cars was a late Genesee & Wyoming corporate decision; the passenger took a bus.

Having just finished a weekend in Southwestern Pa. on Bart Jennings' short-line charters (he did a full week of them, beginning in eastern New York State), four of us drove from Pittsburgh to St. Louis on Monday, May 24. Offficial arrival in St. Louis is marked with the passage over the Mississippi River on I-70. Note the Gateway Arch and the Steak n Shake billboard, which in smaller print at the lower left corner, advises "46 locations" in the St. Louis Metro area. Welcome to Missouri!

From the Union Station Drury Inn room of our PIT-STL driver, Rick Moser, we see, beyond the I-64 viaduct and parked just west of the new Gateway Amtrak Station, our consist. Note the Amtrak engine on the west end; it's No. 114, and will be our power to New Orleans, but it will be wyed to be on the east end of the consist. This is because the BNSF (ex-SLSF) River Line southward is blocked by the floodgates at Cape Girardeau being closed over the track, so our alternate route will be eastward from St. Louis into Illinois and down the UP old joint MoPac-Cotton Belt line across Thebes Bridge to Rockview, Mo., just west of Illmo and north of Chaffee on the old Frisco.

When we drop off our luggage at the train, Nona Hill of High Iron Travel welcomes our weary driver, Rick, with a Gateway Cocktail!

After our return from dinner, we find the Amtrak engine on the proper end; we won't move into the depot until in between all the Chicago trains in the wee hours.

Hard to believe my Dad and I toured this tower in 1960 when three men, a director and two levermen, of TRRA oversaw all the Union Station activity. Just to the left of the tower was the noted 4x4 diamond for station tracks, as most trains backed into the depot. Someone should either restore this tower or tear it down.

Amtrak #21, the Texas Eagle, departs at dusk

Next morning, we are ready to load the 50-some day passengers at > St. Louis' new Gateway Station and go at 7 a.m. That's a Missouri Rail Runner train at left, for Kansas City.

This proves I was on board. I forget who took the photo; that's John Atherton of the New York City area to my left. We made a fast, efficient, uneventful run down UP's Chester Sub (I think that's the right label), in the old days used by UP predecessors MoPac and Cotton Belt.

Crossing Thebes bridge, my second time (first on a Cotton Belt freight).

At Rockview, Mo., a northbound UP stack train passes as we pause on the interchange connection to change crews and take some photos.

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