In Part One, I left the Plattsburgh train station and headed south on Amtrak's The Adirondack, then west on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago.
There, I saw Wrigley Field and the Museum of Science and Industry, then spent an afternoon touring Frank Lloyd Wright homes in nearby Oak Park. Come Monday, my wife and I hopped a subway to Union Station and continued the journey to Calilfornia.
The California Zephyr, the train that most closely replicates the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad, left precisely on time at 2 p.m. We took a diagonal course southwestward toward Omaha. Urban skyline gave way to suburbs and then the agrarian heartland. Instead of skyscrapers, grain elevators dominated trackside, with tilled fields stretching far into the distance. Crossing the Mississippi River, we left Illinois for Iowa.
Towns straddled the track, often just a block or two on each side. Names emblazoned on depots or water towers identified Mendota, Lockridge, Ottumwa and others. We ate dinner (pork chops, baked chicken, apple torte) with a couple from England in the midst of a three-week rail tour of the United States. A beautiful red and purple sunset accompanied the meal. Streetlights, blinking red traffic signals, and back-lit sky delineated cities during night travel.
Around 10:30 p.m., we crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska. In Omaha, a hotel van picked us up at the train station, and we prepared to fit all we could into our 24-hour stop.
In the midst of the havoc wreaked by the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln delivered a mandate for a railroad connecting America's Atlantic and Pacific coasts. He chose a route beginning in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the river from Omaha. The Union Pacific Railroad was granted the franchise to build west, while the Central Pacific began in California and headed east.