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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'You can't drive through Iowa and not think about farming.'

It's another beautiful Autumn day!

When I went to bed last night, the train had just left Denver and my Rocky Mountain adventure was over. I did sleep better than the first night, despite the train jerking this way and that. Sometimes it literally shuddered and I swear the wheels left the rails once or twice as the driver tried to make up some of the four-hour delay that had occurred yesterday. I believe he made up about forty-five minutes, which means that we will arrive in Chicago at about five o’clock this evening.

My wake-up call was to announce that we would be soon arriving in Omaha, Nebraska, which would be the last stop in that state. Since I had been asleep, I had not felt the train stop nor did I hear the movement of people. Mind you, the train is very quiet at my end, where all the sleeping cars are. However, it may be a different story in the coach because there were some lengthy rules and regulations put over the PA system with threats of being thrown off at the next stop if there was a sound after 10 PM. I’m not sure how passengers are spirited off the train without making a sound, but my across-the-aisle neighbours disappeared without a sound sometime during the night.

Today’s landscape could not be more different to yesterday. The mighty Colorado River is gone and the mountains have given way to farmland – mostly corn. It is harvest season now and tractors are busily travelling through the paddocks in straight lines as they chop off the stalks leaving stubble after them. Some fields are ploughed as if they are ready for replanting. I'm not sure whether they would be ready for replanting yet as the bleak winters would prevent another crop before year’s end.

Iowa reminds me of Kerang in the mallee of northern Victoria; flat with vast fields of grain. Here, stands of trees hide the farmhouses and huge stainless steel silos filled with grain glint in the sun. It’s a farming community out here. As I watch the vast paddocks slide past my window, I cannot help but wonder about how much corn is actually grown here. In Australia, corn is not such a major crop and we certainly do not use it as a substitute for wheat or sugar syrup.

By midday, we stop at Burlington, a larger regional centre that was first settled in 1833. Situated on the Mississippi River it became not only an important port for river trade, but later became a central city for the railroad.

As we cross the Mississippi River, we are informed that Chicago is less than three hours away, so I pack up the small bag that I have used over the past couple of days and watch the scenery pass as we leave the rural area and merge into one of America's largest and most iconic cities.

Chicago's Union Station is huge. Upon alighting from the train, I make my way up to collect my suitcase, which has travelled with other baggage. My room had been far too small to store a large suitcase. As it comes off the carousel, I make my way to street level and to the taxi rank. Here there is an altercation between a man who had waited in line for a cab only to have it snatched from him by someone who crossed the road and snuck into the passenger seat. The bell hop tried to get him out and I thought there might be a bit of biffo, but the bloke in the queue [ungraciously] let him have it. Is this what I am to expect here in Chicago?

I get my cab without issue and ten minutes later am deposited outside the Best Western Grant Park Hotel, where I will spend the next two days. It's not salubrious by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it's close to everything I want to visit tomorrow.

The last fifty-eight hours have taken their toll and I am exhausted, but really pleased that I took this trip. Apart from seeing the changes in landscape as we travel in a line from Emeryville California to Chicago Illinois, through seven states, it is an opportunity to meet people who are also doing the trip for one reason or another. I certainly recommend this trip for anyone who loves trains or for people who simply want to take their time to get from A to B. Word of caution however, the roomettes are barely large enough for one person let alone the two that they are designed to accommodate. I would suggest that any couple wanting to do this trip take a roomette each, on each side of the train to share the best views.

Quote: Hope Jahren


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