I come from a long line of railway workers – 450 years if all the O’Neills’ years of service to Queensland Rail were added up – grandfather, great-uncles, father, uncles, aunts, cousins, and yes, even me, in QR’s data processing office years ago.
We always lived in drafty, wooden railway houses next door to the line and my earliest memories were of shunting engines whooshing steam, whistles in the night and the overpowering smell of cattle in barred wagons.
We travelled everywhere by train – railway families got free travel across the state so that’s the way we went. The best treat of all was to get a sleeper – being the eldest sister, I claimed the top bunk. We had home-made curried egg sandwiches and cups of tea from a flask, and then there was the freedom of rocking corridors and scary toilet bowls where you could see the ground flashing past underneath.
So, now in the US I follow my dream – to travel the route taken by explorers Lewis and Clark (in reverse) across this wide land by national rail – AMTRAK.
Our planned route is on the Empire Builder – from Seattle to Chicago. From the western coastline, over the Rocky Mountains, skirting Glacier National Park, across the wilds of Idaho and Montana, the black hills and plains of North Dakota and Minnesota, then the final leg south into Wisconsen to follow Lake Michigan into Chicago, Illinois. We cross some of the great rivers too, the Missouri and the Mississippi.
Sitting in a train with nothing urgent to do – except for eating in the dining car meals or chatting with strangers in the observation car means taking in the changing landscape without distractions. I’m a small child again, gazing out the window of our sleeper at the world passing by and I’m content.
But rather than tell you about the two and a half days journey in words I’ll share some images to show you those landscapes.