More than 100,000 people ride the Illinois Zephyr train line from Quincy to Chicago each year.
In addition to seeing it as a good means of transportation, some find riding the rails a nostalgic way to travel. An extra car on the train this month is making that even more true. The Great Dome Car is a double decker, and the top level features large rounded windows designed to maximize the view. The seating is a combination of restaurant style booths and built in chairs that make little seating areas. Amtrak assigns the car to various routes throughout the year to help attract attention to train travel and get people to take an extra trip.
It worked for Brian Nelson, a marketing executive from Minneapolis. He took a mini vacation so he could ride the Great Dome Car. He’s a railroad enthusiast with a history of riding in this car. "This car was originally built in 1955 for the Great Northern Railway, for their train called the Empire Builder that still runs today. It was originally the first class lounge car," Nelson said while taking his return trip in the Great Dome Car from Quincy back up to Chicago. "And this whole upper level had mid-century modern love seats and downstairs had a really cool bar with a wild sort-of Indian red, black and orange motif," Nelson said.
He knows, because he rode in the car as a child. "And as a little kid I just remember that do vividly, ordering a Coke from the bartender, and he is setting it up on the bar and pouring ice in the glass and all that stuff. My mother took us as little kids back to her home in North Dakota and the best way to get there was on the train. So I remember this car, and I just had to come back and ride it," Nelson said.
Nelson says he is impressed with how much of the car is in its original shape, and how well it has been modernized. He also says the views across rural Illinois remind him of those boyhood trips to North Dakota.
Many of the 30 people who rode in the car on a recent Monday morning in the observation deck took in the view. "I just think it’s awesome. You can see a lot because it’s much higher than the usual cars," said Evan Hirstus is a fourth grader from Quincy. He and his mom are regulars on this route to see family in the Chicago area, taking the Zephyr a couple of times a month.
Roberta Hirstus says it’s been a wonderful treat to ride in the Great Dome Car. "Last week when the peak color was coming in, it was glorious to see golden corn fields, soybean fields, or the farmers out harvesting. That’s just the perfect Americana icon. Ya know, bringing home the harvest," Hirstus said. "Especially this time of year, there are a lot of wonderful things to see. This is the heartland."
And it’s hard not to feel at least a little nostalgic, riding an observation car on a train through the Midwest. The scenery may not be what some people think is picture perfect, but for many people who live in and visit the area, it’s a pretty nice view. The Great Dome Car will be on the Illinois Zephyr Amtrak line from Quincy to Chicago through November 22nd.