We were hot and tired by this point of the day and the loss of adrenalin after the 844 left us drained. We decided we had to do our other main stops of the day before we did lunch because we knew we'd collapse once we ate. We headed off to see the Big Boy, Leo's favorite engine, that welcomes visitors on a hill off of I-80. We found the parking area and stepped out only to see this:
Oh good God...and me with a bad back and iffy knees. Ha! Leo softly encouraged, with his hand at my back, "You can do it Mom." Only for my baby. We got to the top and it was stunning. The Big Boy and another Union Pacific engine I should know...standing at right angles to one another, beautiful plaza and plantings, overlooking the highway and the city beyond. Pretty incredible, but um...HOT. I wandered around for awhile and then told the guys I would wait in the car. Sweet air conditioning. The heat and stairs and lack of food made me dizzy. Those $6 cashews from the minibar saved my life!!!
We were fading fast but we headed to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. It was more a museum about the company that the actual trains but had some wonderful stuff.
A burger and fries seemed appropriate for our very late lunch. We headed over to Dinkers and I must say, world class onion rings....or onion strips more accurately. I skipped the bun on my burger but could not resist the onion strips. Lord they were good. We were pleased with our choice. Onto the hotel to collapse and load images and video onto the laptop. Later on, early evening, Ernie and I walked down to our new favorite place, Wilson & Washburn and had a drink but we were all too full for dinner. Instead we curled up and laid in the dark watching Storm Chasers.
Oh man. Some times things WORK. After all the worry and stress about the 844's schedule and our trip...when it happened...it was utterly perfect.
Friday night I barely slept and dreamt about trains and crowds. I was somewhere between a 5 year old on Christmas Eve and a college student before a huge test...and of course, in reality, I was a mother praying that this would work out for her boy. The train was supposed to leave Council Bluffs at 8 am. We got up at 6, or least they did, and I did after a few ten-more-minutes-please. We stopped and got doughnuts for Leo, because, you know...holiday. As we turned down the street that took us to the rail yard Leo yelled....and we could see the smoke. It was there and it was running. Leo had everything mapped out perfectly. We pulled into a graveled area by the yard...and there she was....the Union Pacific 844. She vibrated with energy, sniffing and snorting steam. Oh good God...I didn't expect to be so moved. She was gorgeous.
A couple of others were there watching, and as Leo set up the tripod and readied himself, more people pulled up. There was such an air of excitement. Semis would run behind us periodically, up to the grain elevator we were standing near. Some of them would stop and look as well.
Leo had such an air of happiness...I can't begin to describe it.
Slowly, with the whistle blowing, and the sound of the steam, those wheels began to roll with that storybook chug-chug sound, and off she went. As soon as she was out of sight, everyone leapt in their cars and headed north. Even when we were separated by trees we could track her by the white steam.
We were heading towards the next pass through in Missouri Valley, but we managed to catch her at a couple of other crossings as well. Each time as soon as she passed, we jumped in our car and headed toward the next place we could see her. Some times we couldn't see her and we wouldn't know if we were ahead or behind. She had to stop a couple of times, once for something they adjusted on the tender, and if she hadn't we might have missed her. She can MOVE! We got to see her at about 4 passings, and then headed to her first official stop in Fremont, Nebraska. We hadn't expected the huge crowd there. There we were, on a sunny, beautiful day in Nebraska, surrounded by a seemingly bustling town with crowds there, kids on the shoulder of their dads, older folks, grain elevators around us...it was truly moving. The train pulled in with her whistle blowing. People cheered. As she came to a stop the engineer leaned out the window, waving like a rockstar. People reached up to shake the hands of some of the other workers. A row of workers stood in front of her like bodyguards. I just wanted to cry. Leo busily changed tripod locations and focused on his video and photographs, chatting to Ernie (and directing him...we all had our tasks) the whole time.
Then we had to wave goodbye as she headed further west. She was stopping in North Platte overnight and then home to Cheyenne. At this point we were hot and somewhat exhausted from the constant state of adrenalin.
More to follow, but for now, it was a very, very good morning.
On Thursday afternoon all four of us were gathered in the living room trying to decide what to do about our trip....go, and just hope that the 844 would leave while we were there, or just cancel the whole trip. All four of us were anxious for various reasons. I was sitting with the laptop in my lap and all of a sudden I saw the Facebook message flash onto the screen....and it was Union Pacific telling me that the 844 was going to leave Council Bluffs on Saturday! MUCH CELEBRATION TOOK PLACE!
The next morning Ernie, Leo and I took off; Owen stayed with a friend. We managed to leave 45 minutes late, which is actually ahead of schedule. We usually figure on leaving an hour later than planned no matter what. We headed up through western Illinois and into Iowa. I was trying to stay on schedule as much as possible, but when I saw a sign for the Grant Wood house, what the hell was I supposed to do?
The prairie flowers around the site, and the visitor's center, were gorgeous.
Then, lo and behold, there was a Rock Island engine and caboose in downtown. We admired it, took some pictures and walked down the path to look over the river and the remains of an old bridge.
We left Eldon and trekked on toward Omaha. We decided to stop by Council Bluffs to see where we'd be going tomorrow. We pulled up next to the rail yard and there were a line of UP heritage cars. We were ridiculously excited. We drove across the river into Omaha, and checked into our hotel, which was wonderful. We'd gotten a good deal on the rooms but damn it was nice. Great Art Deco hotel. We left Leo to research roads for following the train the next day and Ernie and I walked down the block and had a drink at Wilson & Washburn. More to follow on that place, but suffice to say we LOVED it. We had a drink and nibbled some of the best beet chips I've ever had...and I DO love a beet chip.
We headed back to our room, I tried to find someplace good to deliver and finally sent Leo and Ernie and Owen down the street to get something. Pretty wretched food but we were happy enough not to care. And good Lord but don't ever leave me in a room after a glass of wine with a mini-bar. Those $6 cashews seemed like SUCH a good idea. Ernie and Leo just shook their heads.