Kev’s Planning: My Dad’s Retirement Trip

by Kev
Alpine Texas

Dad’s Retirement Trip: To Texas And Beyond

A few months ago, I finished booking a trip for my Dad and me. The adventure is my Dad’s retirement trip to celebrate his 47 years of working at the same factory, ironically not for the company.  He started working there a week after turning 18 and retired at 65. The factory changed hands several times during his employment. But he lasted long enough to be the second person from the top on the seniority list.

Dad and Award

Dad and his Fork Truck Hall of Fame Award.

He planned on retiring at the end of December (2019), with half of the month as paid vacation time. Unfortunately, he had to go back and work in January 2020 due to paperwork issues. And as of January 31, 2020, he is retired! His department had a party, gifts, and the whole nine yards, so it is official.

My Great Aunt and Uncle made Dad a plaque to celebrate his achievement. I thought it was nice to see he made it into the Fork Truck Hall of Fame. (Don’t tell him, but I don’t believe it exists, haha)

Dad’s First Day of Retirement: He Took A Trip

On February 1, 2020, he took his first solo train trip. His journey took him, from the Sturtevant Depot to Omaha, NE, with a layover in Chicago. From there, he took the elite shuttle service, aka my sister’s Buick, back to her home. My mom, his wife, stayed in Nebraska to help Paula while Mikey was at job training.

Dad at SVT

My Dad is getting ready to take his first 563 miles solo Amtrak.

I am proud of my Dad; he is taking this next adventure with a positive outlook, and he is excited. His travel confidence is growing, almost a little too much.

Now he and mom are talking about taking Amtrak trips out to Paula’s without me! I have been their chaperone for years, or as I like to say, their support traveler. It looks like I am no longer need for their routine trips.

I have mixed emotions with this new independence, I taught them well, and that proves I know what I am talking about and teaching capabilities. But on the other hand, it does cuts down some of my travelings.

Trip update: August was the original date for this adventure. As of 5/16/2020, the experience moved to October. The trip could be moved to winter or spring, depending on the pandemic. 

We Have Traveled Together

Over the years, Dad and I took several trips together by rail. But, our long-distance Amtrak trips were to visit my sister and family in Charleston, SC, who since moved to Papillion, NE. So, we never took any long trips for the sake of traveling.

South Shore Line

A South Shore Line train going through the middle of the street in Michigan City, IN

My Dad is more adventurous than my mom. He is open to new routes to visit family, providing they are not too inconvenient, cut down on layovers, or making travel more enjoyable. That said, my mother is growing as a traveler, and she is more open to new things than ever before.

I enjoyed traveling to Charleston, SC, because of how long it took. Two nights and each night is on a different train. Plus, there were a few routes to choose from for that adventure. Since my sister and family moved, things have changed, between Chicago and Omaha, there is only one option with no overnights.

Dad and I went on a few Metra and Southshore Line adventures. He enjoys seeing the South Shore Line running down the middle of the street in Michigan City, IN.

Dad’s Retirement Trip: His Dream

Alpine TX Amtrak

Amtrak in Alpine Texas

If you haven’t picked up from the title, my Dad has a dream to see Texas. The Texas Country Reporter piqued his interest in the longhorn state for years.

Growing up and spending most of his life in the midwest, getting a chance to see the “world of Texas” is a new and exciting adventure for him. I asked him what he wants out of this trip, and he replied, “I want to see Texas.” His answer gives me a lot of options, but I need to remember this is his trip.

Since he likes train travel too, an Amtrak adventure will fulfill his wants and wishes, with minimal stress, and is less work and possibly cheaper than a road trip.

A Little Backstory

For years I wanted my Dad to go on a westward Amtrak journey, but with our work schedules and precious little vacation time, it never happened. But out of an unfortunate event, an idea came to mind, and tentative planning started.

White River Bridge

The White River is spilling over its banks during the July 2017 flood in Burlington, WI.

In 2017, a storm hit that caused a 100-year flood. The storm caused flash flooding on many streets and caused the banks of Fox and White Rivers to swell and overflow.

The flooding of the river caused many streets to back up, and ours backed up for hours. The back-up flooded our yard, garage, and our basement. We had had about 18″ in our basement, destroying many memories and causing damage.

To take my mind off of all that was going on, I decided to plan trips. Yes, I do like planning trips for fun, even if I am not going to take them.

One of these adventures I planned included a long weekend adventure where Dad could see part of Texas, and I could take a train I hadn’t been on before. The trip we looked at us to Oklahoma via Texas.

Sadly, once things calmed down, reality struck. Between the cost of basement repair, an emergency plumber visit,  and replacement of water heater and other appliances, the funds quickly depleted.

As time went on, the trip got shelved altogether.

Now when this milestone came up, my mom not only took the idea off the shelf but asked me to expand it, and I was excited to plan a week plus a long trip!

Dad’s Retirement Trip: The Plan

Amtrak Superliner Train

Amtrak Superliner Train

This trip will consist of five Amtrak trains, spending most of our time on the train. During the journey, we have two nights “on the ground” in New Orleans and a day in Los Angeles between trains as well. So yes, this trip is about the journey and less about destinations.

We booked a bedroom on the City of New Orleans, separate Superliner Roomettes on the other two trains, and coach on the Hiawatha (a coach only train). All of our onboard meals come with the price of our room.

All the long-distance trains on this adventure are Superliners with Coach and Sleeper accommodations. They also have Gea Sightseer Car with a cafe and a dining car.  All the routes have traditional dining but for the City of New Orleans, which has flex dining. 

Dad’s Retirement Trip: Getting What We Both Want

Killer Po-Boy

An omelet po-boy from Killer

As I said before, my Dad’s wanted to see Texas. Under his definition, he needs to view the state, and stepping on the ground is a bonus.

For me, I want a little more than that. I am traveling as much as I want other than to Nebraska to the family. There are cities that I want to see again, and that happens on this trip.  One city I miss is New Orleans, and you know what, I talked my Dad into going there.

A few points helped talk him into it, one being, by going to New Orleans, he can see more of Texas, as you will find out. The other point is food and music, and both are if interest to him. I promised him tickets to Preservation Hall to see the band, and he liked that idea.

First & Last Legs Of The Trip

Like many of my trips, they start and end at the Sturtevant Depot, and the first and last train will be the Hiawatha. We could take Metra, and honestly, we still could, but the beautiful thing about this station is parking. As of now, parking is $7 for parking for up to 30 days. With Metra, it is cheaper to ride and park. But the convenience of Amtrak made us chose it, plus, the ride is shorter.

These plans are fluid at the moment because my mom may stay at my sister’s while we are gone. We may take Califonia Zepher or fly from Omaha, NE. Those are details we are working out later.

Chicago & Boarding The City Of New Orleans

CUS Great Hall

The recently restored Great Hall at Chicago Union Station

From Sturtevant, our next stop is Chicago. Because we booked a roomette on the train, we can use the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station. The lounge area is a great place to relax before we start on the adventure. If we were in coach class, we would wait in the beautiful Great Hall.

Another update: when I moved our tickets, there was a price difference. I could upgrade our City of New Orleans ride from a roomette to a bedroom and get a $1 back!

Amtrak’s City Of New Orleans

The City of New Orleans takes 19.75 hours to travel 934 miles. A decent amount of time is while we sleep, and I am sure we will miss the only stop in (Fulton) Kentucky. We will start catching our scenery from Memphis, TN, through Mississippi before we travel over Lake Pontchartrain and into the Cresent City.

A New Orleans Layover

NOLA Band

A jazz band playing from a balcony in New Orlean’s French Quater.

I am excited about this layover, as you know. I think we will both can enjoy the city if both give a little. My Dad wants to try the food, and I want to walk around and maybe have a beer or two.

We have a room reserved at the Old 77 Hotel in the Warehouse District. This hotel suggestion comes from the podcast Beyond Bourbon Street; it is one of its sponsors. Side note: if you have any interest in New Orleans, Beyond Bourbon Street is a podcast for you.

Boarding the Sunset Limited – Dad Get’s To See Texas

While the City of New Orleans started my section of the trip, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited starts my Dad’s part.

The Sunset leaves New Orleans at 9:00 am, traveling west through Louisana. Five stops later will are in Beaumont, TX. From there, we will go across the width of Texas to El Paso. Dad will see a lot of the state. All the stops between San Antonio and El Paso will see twice, plus there we will have several opportunities to get off the train for a few moments walk on Texas soil.

One part of this ride, I am looking forward to is towards the beginning. We will travel over the Huey P. Long Bridge. I went over the bridge a few years ago but in the dark, and I am excited to see it during the day. Check out the video or click the link to see more on the bridge, it’s fascinating.

The Sunset Limited runs three times a week, in each direction, between New Orleans, LA and Los Angeles, CA. From end to end, the train takes 46.58 hours to travel 1995 miles.

From San Antonio, TX, to Los Angeles, a sleeper and coach car from the Texas Eagle gets added (or taken off when it is headed east). More on that in the next section.

A Day In Los Angeles

LA Union Station

LA Union Station

The train arrives early in the morning, leaving us with a day to fill before getting back on the train and heading home. Luckily LA Union Station has a lounge for us to keep our luggage.

I hope to find a place to do laundry, but we will see. A few activities we chatted about include taking a few train rides to bide our time and fining a few places to eat.

The LA Union Station is beautiful, and I think Dad will enjoy walking around the place.  Like Chicago Union Station, Amtrak and commuter trains share the station, so there is a lot of people watching available if so wanted.

Basically, on this day, we are getting off a train to get back on almost the same one. We will be in the Texas Eagle section of the train, so from LA to San Antonio, we are technically on the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle.

The Train Heading Home: The Texas Eagle

Like I was just saying, the Texas Eagle has two destinations, depending on the day. Three times a week, a sleeper and coach car from Texas Eagles joins up with the Sunset Limited in San Antonio, TX to head to LA. The 4421/422 Eagle is the longest Amtrak route covering 2,728 miles taking 65.8 hours. Not all of the time is rolling on the rails. Part of the time, Amtrak uses to move cars from one train to another, and schedule padding.

A Few Points Of Interest For The Sunset Limited & LA Texas Eagle

Burrito Lady

Juanita the Burrito Lady

From LA to San Antonio, we will have the opportunity for a few fun things. The last I heard Jaunita, The Burrito Lady, as she is affectionately known, is still selling burritos at the El Paso station.

The El Paso stop is long, and I think both fuel or crew change; nevertheless, you are there for a while.  The photo on the left is from 2014, the first time I saw here and had a tasty burrito, I had to save some room. Last I hear she is now closer to the station.

During this trip, the train gets close to Mexico (although not cross over). One attraction to keep your eye out for is the “Marfa Prada Store.”

The train does not stop for you to get out and see the store; you can see it as the train rolls by. Besides, the store isn’t a store, but it is an art exhibit. The product inside is real Parada, but the bags have holes in them, and the shoes are all rights or are they lefts. Nevertheless, it is something to see as you roll through Texas.

Marfa Texas Prada

Marfa Texas Prada “Store”

Why Aren’t Spending More Time In Texas

Some of you might ask, Kev, since your Dad wanted to see Texas, why are you go to Texas instead of passing through? That is a fantastic question that I have asked myself. El Paso, TX, was an option when we were looking at this trip, but my Dad opted to go to LA instead.

Going to LA saved us a few days of hotels. He also thought it could be less stressful. Since he hasn’t traveled much, he didn’t want to push it. As someone who travels a lot, I forget how overwhelming a trip like this can be to some people.

He also said, if he likes the trip, he has an excuse to go back.

Dates Could Change

LA Boards

If you are at LA Union Station and need to find information on your train, here is where you check.

With the current pandemic going on, although everything booked, the adventure is still tentative. If we have to move the date, that is fine, because timing is not as important as the adventure itself.

Right now, tickets are for August, but we are talking about October with a back-up plan of 2021.

With All This Said

Planning a trip like this has its challenges for me, I know what to expect and what I would like to do, but this is not my trip.

My Dad struggles with letting me what he wants for his adventure. He isn’t for sure what to expect or what he can do. So I am trying to ask the right questions and give him options. I want him to know that his requests are not an inconvenience.

I hope this trip will make my Dad happy; I think it will. We both travel reasonably light, helping us maximize our space on the train.

If you are interested in traveling via Amtrak, check out my Riding Amtrak page. If you want to see more from me, contact me, or join the email list, click here!

Safe Travels!

Kev

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