Sunday, August 28th, 2011

A couple weeks ago, My Darling B sat down at the dinner table, flipped a brochure at me and asked, “Did you still want to go on this?” I picked up the brochure at the last model train show I went to. It advertised a dinner train out of East Troy on an electric rail car. I thought maybe I could talk B in to going along, but then I could never figure out how to broach the subject. She mostly just yawns when I talk about trains around her, so I try not to talk about them, and the reflex carried over to this. Then I lost the brochure, and then I forgot about it until I found the brochure again while I was cleaning up the bedroom, but I still couldn’t figure out how to ask her, so I just threw it in the recycling pile. She must have dug it out of there.

“Do you want to go?” I asked her. Nothing like a direct question to get the point across.

She said something like, “Sure, sounds like fun,” proving once again that I married the right girl, not that there was a doubt in my mind.

I made the reservations for the train, she made reservations for the overnight accommodations, and we went yesterday.

The dinner train we went on is run by the East Troy Electric Railroad, a volunteer group out of East Troy, not far from Milwaukee, that restores and runs electric street cars, interurban cars and steeplecab motors. Interurban cars took commuters between towns to the big cities of the Midwest in a network that spiderwebbed up the east coast of Wisconsin. Steeplecab motors were electric locomotives that pulled freight cars. You know what street cars are.

The dinner train used to be an interurban car that the East Troy Electric Railroad volunteers turned into a diner. Fifty passengers sit down to a catered dinner while the car makes it way slowly from East Troy to Mukwonago and back. The trip takes about an hour and a half, so it arrives in East Troy with plenty of time to drive home, but we planned this trip to be our anniversary getaway, so B booked a room in a local bed & breakfast so we could have a nice, relaxing evening without having to think about making the hour-long drive home in the dark.

The dinner train leaves town from a brick building that used to be an electric power station and looks as though it must be at least a hundred years old. The inside has been cleared of just about all the old machinery to make room for a ticket office, a refreshment stand, lots of shelves displaying souvenirs like books, shirts and toy trains, and a model train layout that will come to life with the push of a button. We didn’t poke around in there too much on Saturday night, but came back Sunday morning to have a good look around and talk to some of the volunteers.

The dinner train was fifteen minutes late leaving East Troy because of a broken belt on the air conditioner. One of the volunteers got off the train with an unhappy look on his face, crawled under the car and didn’t emerge for almost ten minutes, trying to wipe thick, black grease off his hands. He still didn’t look too happy but the air conditioning started running when they turned the power back on, and everyone in the dining car gave him a round of applause as he walked the length of the aisle to his table at the end of the car.

The meal wasn’t served until we traveled down the tracks a ways. Until then, we snacked on cheese and crackers and sipped wine. They have very cleverly installed a cash bar at one end of the car that I couldn’t help but notice was bringing in plenty of additional revenue. I had two glasses of a pretty tasty Merlot, as did My Darling B, but they charged us for just one each because of the late departure. I made sure they got a hefty tip and I think most of the other passengers showed their appreciation, too.

The train stopped just long enough for the caterers to serve dinner, and as soon as everyone had a plate we started off again. Dinner was a generous slice of breaded steak and a chicken breast with mashed potatoes and assorted veggies. Frankly, it was more than generous. It was way more than I could comfortably eat, and had to leave some on my plate no matter how valiantly I tried to finish. I have to admit that I didn’t expect much better than airplane food so I was very pleasantly surprised by how good the meal was. The food was all catered (I wish I could remember the name to give them the credit they deserve) and the staff did a great job of taking care of us.

The end of the line is a public park in Mukwonago where we were encouraged to stretch our legs during the fifteen-minute layover. On the trip back they went a little faster, maybe a whole ten miles an hour, instead of moseying along the way they did while we were eating. We still got back before dark, strolled through town and retired to our room at the B&B with a bottle of white wine we found at a store on the town square.

22 | 9:04 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel | Tags: ,
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