My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Riding the train called The City of New Orleans - part 2
This is a continuation of my post from October 28, 2013. Please read part one first in order to follow the journey better.
Even before The City of New Orleans train rolled on these tracks there had been since the 1880s a primary rail link through the Mississippi River region and the cotton fields of the Delta. The railroad then was called The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, incorporated in the year 1882, and part of the Illinois Central Railroad system. The cars in the old 1880s railroad were yellow and many "blues" songs include the "Yellow Dog" in their tunes. Black farmers trying to find better paying jobs in the North took the railroad north and left their towns in the Mississippi Delta - some small towns were left empty and tenant houses were abandoned. So many African-Americans left the segregated South then for Chicago on the railroad that the local police would stop the sale of train tickets or would even drag black riders off the cars as there was not enough labor force left to cultivate the cotton fields.
Now in the present, swampy lands were coming into view with small streams covered with moss. The view would change quickly from wide open spaces to areas overgrown with weeds. I took countless pictures as the bright landscape rolled by. (Click on collages twice to enlarge.)
But soon the landscape changed as we were approaching Lake Pontchartrain. Now we saw mossy trees and pools of water reflecting the sky and clouds.
Then we began to see the marshy shores of Lake Pontchartrain behind some trees. The train stopped for a while to let a freight train go by so I took a picture of the landscape with my Nikon D40, top picture below, and almost the same scene with my Panasonic Lumix, shown on the bottom below.
The train came closer to the water. The lake looked immense. In 1669 French settler and explorer, Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville (1661-1706) made a journey through these lakes and bayous with a Native American scout. He named the lake after Louis Phelipeaux (1643-1727) comte de Maurepas and comte de Pontchartrain, under French King Louis XIV. (D'Iberville was the founder of the French colony of Louisiana of New France and his brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans in 1719.)
Lac Pontchartrain covers an area of 1,600 square kilometers or 630 square miles with average water depths of from 3.7 to 4.3 meters (12 to 14 feet.) It is oval in shape and about 64 km by 39 km (40 x 24 miles.) It is not a true lake but an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico. We followed its long curve for quite a while.
The train had to stop several times as freight trains went by but eventually we arrived close to New Orleans and started to see some housing under heavy rain clouds.
Before we stopped at the New Orleans station the conductor announced that we would move to another set of tracks and to stay seated. While this was happening the conductor played the song "The City of New Orleans" sung by Johnny Cash over the PA speakers. It was so moving to listen to the song and be in the train - I just loved it. We then pulled into the station which looked quite empty, apart from some stationary trains. I could also see some Greyhound buses parked on the side.
We left the station and took a taxi to our hotel. It was warm and overcast. By the time we reached our hotel it was pouring rain (tropical storm Karin was expected soon) but when we went out to eat, the rain had stopped.
Future posts will show what we did with our time in and out of New Orleans. On Sunday, October 13th, we returned to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal for our ride back to Memphis. We arrived early. The station is clean and light. The station was designed in 1949 and built in 1954. It has a long mural on Louisiana and New Orleans history painted by Conrad A. Albrizio, American (1894-1973.) There is an area reserved for the Greyhound Bus Lines which offer a connection to Baton Rouge, LA., and other cities.
Again I was shocked to see so few passengers and one employee at the counter. New Orleans' population was 484,675 in 2000 but after Hurricane Katrina it dropped. It is slowly gaining again - statistics indicate a population of 369,250 for 2012. But even so, there are only 3 trains coming and leaving from New Orleans. In addition to the City of New Orleans train which arrives at 3:40 pm each day and leaves for Chicago at 2:05 pm daily, arriving in Chicago the next morning at 9:20 am, there is the Crescent. It originates in New York City, stopping in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC., Atlanta, etc. The third train is the Sunset Limited departing 3 days a week from Los Angeles. We checked our luggage, free of charge, and waited to board the train. When the time arrived we were given the number of our seats. This time we were in Coach Seats that were very roomy and comfortable.
We were seated on the opposite side of the train from our previous ride. We left New Orleans looking at the vehicles driving on the freeway close to us. We rode along the freeway for a long time - all the way to Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge. The scenery was wild and constantly changing. I tried to photograph the many birds I saw but the train was going too fast or bumping at the wrong time.
I would like to drive on that bridge, but riding on a bus would be better as I would be able to sit high and see the scenery. (Vintage postcards below.)
We left New Orleans at 1:45 pm and were due to arrive in Memphis at 10:00 pm. At 2:45 pm we stopped in Hammond, Louisiana. My Route Guide said that we were now back in the bayous, exotic swamps and moss-laden cypress trees. The French Canadian settlers arrived here during the late 1700s (now they are called Cajuns.) The train station has not changed much in Hammond from the look of the vintage postcard below, bottom right hand side.
This time we went to the Cross Country Cafe car to have a snack. The train stopped at Hazelhurst, LA, and a little girl in the next booth moved from the window so I could take a photograph.
We talked with one of the conductors for a short time while he was drinking a cup of coffee. He told us that sometimes the train runs fast, and also must slow down often, depending of the state of the rails. Our train was about full with 240 passengers, 120 of them getting off in Memphis. He said that it happens that the train makes unplanned stops. For example during the "Strawberry Festival" in Patchatoula, LA, the train was stopped and every passenger was given some fresh strawberries.
The sign above is about "Little Brother" Montgomery (1906-1985.) He was an American jazz, boogie-woogie and blues pianist, self-taught, who was born in the town of Kentwood, LA. I found a YouTube of Little Brother Montgomery playing "Brothers Boogie."
But it was getting dark so I stopped taking pictures and read while The City of New Orleans bumped on toward Memphis. We arrived in Memphis on time and so, we had to leave our shiny silver train. We waited on the platform for our checked suitcases.
Before we arrived in Memphis the conductor did not play the song called "The City of New Orleans" by Johnny Cash as it was played when we arrived in New Orleans, but I still like Arlo Guthries' version best as he sung it during a Tour in Atlanta in 1978 (video below.) This had been a very pleasant journey on the City of New Orleans - a memory I will cherish.