Day Away

November 27, 2011

Westward ho


We neared our destination. I spotted a commercial canal, steeples, the occasional rounded top of a mosque, U.S. Cellular Field (sterile commercial name of what the White Sox once called Comiskey Park), the Chicago River (nicely landscaped on one bank, chockoblock with warehouses on the other) and the beginnings of a glittering skyline. The train entered a tunnel. Minutes later my steward shouted "Chicago."

I gathered my things and headed up into Union Station.


Chicago offers plenty of sightseeing options. I enjoyed the advantage of having my niece Susan, a graphic designer and Chicago resident, as a guide.

Stop No. 1 was the Museum of Science and Industry. Only surviving building of the famed White City from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, it was renovated as a science museum with funding from Julius Rosenwald, chairman of Sears Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald, one of the country's leading philanthropists during the first half of the 20th century, had a Clinton County link — his wife, Augusta Nusbaum, grew up in Plattsburgh.

I focused on railroad exhibits, beginning with the sleek stainless steel Pioneer Zephyr, launched in 1934 as one of the country's first aerodynamic trains. A cutaway engine and accompanying diagrams taught me how diesel locomotives serve as generators, producing electricity to drive DC current motors on each wheel.

Tour guide Dennis ushered me through the baggage and club cars, then the observation car in which celebrities like John Wayne and Bob Hope lounged. Life-size figures depicted the excitement of such a well-equipped train, the first boasting baseboard heating, air conditioning, a radio car and a full kitchen (meals were served by the Zephyrettes).

Early locomotives on display included a full-size replica of the John Stevens, built in 1825, and extolled by its inventor as surpassing the capacity of horse-drawn cars for carrying freight. An 1893 engine manufactured near Albany became the first to exceed 100 mph.

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Day Away