IN 1899, THE GAME OF FOOTBALL WAS STILL A NOVELTY. Only a couple dozen colleges and universities fielded teams, and the majority of these were all but unsanctioned, being affiliated with their eponymous school in name only. Into this hazy world of sport came the plucky gridders of Sewanee, Tennessee. The team from The University of the South were stinging from a disrespect done them by the Vanderbilt footballers. Unable to agree on the split of gate receipts, Commodore Vanderbilt’s Commodores had canceled a football game, and the Tigers were itching to exact brutal revenge on… well, on somebody.
In those days of iron men and mud roads, the visiting team had more disadvantages than mere crowd noise, and just getting to the game might be the tallest hurdle they would face. Being college students, Sewanee’s players researched and found a solution to that problem… take the train!! After a flurry of scheduling, the Tigs were ready for road work… lots of it. They had set up titanic struggles with not one, not two, but FIVE other southern football clubs… an impractical task made, well, made inconceivable by a time frame of SIX DAYS!!! On November 8th, 1899, the surly Tigers boarded a train for a 900-mile-plus ride to Austin, Texas. After dispatching the Longhorns, it was back on the Irons for a short hop to College Station, Texas, where less than 20 hours later, the Aggies succumbed. A 350-mile overnight ride to New Orleans followed. Apparently the ease of sleep made possible by the Shiny Irons’ inherent smoothness agreed with the team, as the Tulane Green Wave was victimized in their turn. Sunday the 12th was a day of rest for the Episcopalian University of the South, as the team convalesced and saw some sights, then it was onto the Irons again, this time a day trip to Baton Rouge. Thumping the LSU Tigers, the Sewanee Tigers followed up with another smooth and comfortable overnight Irons excursion, a 400-miler to Memphis and the waiting Ole Miss Rebels. Another day, another win, such is the result of the rest and relaxation of traveling by train. Sewanee’s team rode 2500 miles on the Irons including three overnight trips, and bested five top-flight opponents in six days, by a total score of 91-0.
Take me out to the ball game…
Take me there on the train…
We’ll get a seat in a Pullman car…
Too bad the ball park is not very far…
For decades, sports teams, journalists, and fans all rode the Irons to the games, many times on the same train. The close proximity enhanced the sense of team among the players and allowed traveling journalists and boosters a closer look at the players. The Irons were, from the beginning, an integral part of the experience. By the late 1800s, baseball game times were being set to coincide with the local train arrivals. Railroads, ever watchful for ways to entice the riders’ dollars, adjusted routes and timetables to add extra capacity for games deemed to be more popular. To more properly cover 2016’s World Series, New York Times columnist Dan Berry rode the modern incarnation of these “trains to the games”; Amtrak’s “Lake Shore Limited” connects Chicago to New York and Boston, skirting Lake Michigan and Lake Erie before heading across the hills to the coast. Coincidentally, this course takes the train through Cleveland, making it a “home run” choice for baseball fans wanting to take in all seven games. Reflecting on a time when the teams and fans rode the Irons to all the games:
In fact, when the Indians beat the Boston Braves in 1948 to win their last World Series, they took a special train from Boston that picked up this same rail line in Albany. It then continued on to Cleveland, where the giddy denizens awaiting them surely believed that other championships would follow, the Yankees be damned.
Today’s passenger rail, even stunted by decades of under-emphasis and neglect, is every bit as inviting. According to the ubiquitous “Google Maps”, a car ride from the home of the long-suffering Cleveland team’s Progressive Stadium to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago billy-goat-cursed Cubs would have set you back 5 hours and 31 minutes, give or take a game-day traffic snarl… and a stop for gas… or two… and a stop for a meal…. Take the train!! A 24-minute light rail ride on the blue-green line from Progressive Field gets you to Cleveland’s Lakefront Station, then six hours of smooth scenic relaxation (with breakfast!) and you arrive at Chicago’s Union Station. The blue line leaves every 8 minutes and, after a transfer to the red line, delivers you relaxed and well-rested at the gates of Wrigley.
In the heyday of the Passenger Irons, the railroads ran special trains to sporting events of national prominence. As late as 1985, the “I-70 Series” contests between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals were served by a dedicated Union Pacific route between the two baseball-mad cities. This run was only for dignitaries, however; politicians, former players, and other notables. The bright yellow 11-car train whistle-stopped across the show-me state announcing that, for this year, at least, baseball was a Missouri game!
The Shiny Irons go to “America’s Game”. In the decades following World War 1, the U.S. service academies at West Point and Annapolis built ever-stronger football programs, and the natural rivalry between Army and Navy made their annual contest a nationally recognized event. Situated half-way between the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., the logical neutral site for the game was Philadelphia. The 1924 contest was hosted at Municipal Stadium, just a short hop from Pennsylvania Railroad’s Greenwich yard. The proximity was noted by the railroad management who quickly put in place a system for moving the growing number of attendees. Each year that the game was hosted at Municipal (later John F. Kennedy Memorial) Stadium, the Pennsy built a temporary depot in the freight yard, hauling the thousands of fans from around the country to the game and back home. This is the largest concentrated move of rail passenger traffic in U.S. history.
This painting shows Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric locomotives lined up outside of Municipal Stadium after the 1955 game.
Though by 1975, the Army-Navy Day Special had reached the end of it’s time, the Shiny Irons returned to “America’s Game” in 2005, in a very heartwarming manner. Philadelphia philanthropists and Irons enthusiasts Bennett and Vivian Levin decided this tradition needed to be revived. As the owners of three luxury rail cars, the Levins already had a leg up on a program to transport football fans to the Army-Navy extravaganza, but their plan was to do more – a lot more. In addition to their cars, they cajoled the owners of fifteen MORE luxury rail cars to throw in with them, and arrangements were put in place for Amtrak to pull the cars. The passengers would be football fans who had already paid far more than the price of a ticket; wounded American soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center (in Washington, D.C.) and the National Naval Medical Center (in Bethesda, Maryland). A donor from the Army War College ponied up 100 really good seats, and 88 wounded warriors and their guests attended the 2005 Army-Navy game.
The tradition continues on the Charitable Irons, the 19-car Liberty Train
passes the Maryland Area Regional Commuter station in Bowie, Md., heading for Philadelphia and the 2010 Army-Navy game.
Excursions on the Shiny Irons. In addition to taking the train to your favorite activity, the Irons can also be the activity. There are dozens of excursion trains taking passengers on sightseeing trips where the train ride itself is among the memories. High Iron Travel offers excursion rides to scenic areas not covered by Amtrak routes.
For over 25 years, High Iron’s special trains have visited the far corners and out-of-the-way places of North America. From the tall timbers of Oregon, to the wilds of the Yucatan, to the stately peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the Caritas and accompanying Pullman and Dome Cars have delighted adventurous travelers and railway enthusiasts.
Sightseeing from the back of a restored golden era passenger car not only offers a sensory experience unmatched in your minivan, but in many cases, the Irons run through territory you can’t see from any other venue. And, if you REALLY want to see the sights of Classic Irons, High Iron offers a special excursion trains to the Spring Meeting and Fall Convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners!
Back to the grandstands, excursion trips are available to Cheyenne, Wyoming’s famous Frontier Days. You’ll ride to “The Daddy of ’em All” behind a steam locomotive from Union Pacific’s “Heritage Fleet” leaving Denver for Ol’ Cheyenne. If your taste runs toward the “Sport of Kings”, Pullman Rail Journeys offers a private train ride to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky. For the children, and the children at heart, Premier Rail Journeys touts itself as the “nation’s largest operator of holiday rail events”. Their Polar Express Train Ride will take you to the North Pole (figuratively speaking) from Massachusetts or from Mount Hood, from Texas or New York! The incomparable beauty of Southwestern Colorado is on the Irons courtesy of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Winding through the breathtaking Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, the Rio takes you from Alamosa to La Veta, and offers a multitude of diversions for those not into natural wonders… The Oktoberfest train features food, live theme-inspired music, and the best German beers on the Party Irons, as well as an extended stopover in La Veta to explore the German Bier Gardens and festival booths. Rio Grande’s “Rails and Ales” excursion is the Rio’s most popular (wonder why…?). For those not “goin” just to be goin’ ”, the Rio has a fantastic concert lineup for this summer season, too! Here’s a database of the train tours, excursions and tourist railroads in North America… this information may be outdated, call first!
There is a lure to the train that calls to us. The siren song of the bygone time when the Irons were the first and sometimes only choice… that lonesome whistle immortalized in song… the size, speed, power and sheer intensity of the railroad beckons. “Come see the sights with us”. Take the train, not because it is there… take the train because it is the train!!!
’cause that’ll keep the rails shiny!!! Thank you for joining us!!
The Silk Road on the Shiny Irons
For those looking for an excursion of a more exotic flavor, the Shiny Irons becon you to go East… waayyyy East. Central Asia, the area between China and the Caspian Sea, between Russian Siberia and Afghanistan, has been a crossroads of culture and of trade for thousands of years. Lapis Lazuli, the azure stone from which Cleopatra made her eye shadow, came out of the eastern hills of Central Asia and made its way along hardscrabble trails to Egypt. Pottery, precious stones, Chinese and Indian cloth, even steel for Viking swords passed along these trade routes. Alexander the Great found his bride, Roxanne, in Sogdiana. Most famously, Chinese silk was passed from trader to trader, giving its name to the network of caravan roads. Near the conclusion of “The Thousand and One Nights”, the Arab collection of tales which gave us Aladdin, flying carpets and Sinbad, a main character retires to the mystical city of Samarkand. He takes a horse caravan and a couple of months to get there… you can take the train.
Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers:
Silk Road by Private Train
An iconic 21 day rail adventure between Moscow and Beijing through Central Asia. Join us in September as we retrace the most important trading routes of ancient civilisation. Retracing one of the most important trading routes of ancient civilisation, the Silk Road follows in the footsteps of such legendary figures as Alexander the Great and Marco Polo. For centuries, merchants and adventurers journeyed to and from China on ancient routes through some of the most testing landscapes in the world trading silk, spices and perfumes. These ‘highways’ – stretching some 4,000 miles (6,400 km) – collectively came to be called the ‘Silk Road’.
This incredible tour offers a close-up look at Moscow, Volgogorad, then across the Kara Kum desert into the Old Orient. The 6000 year old ruin of Merv, fountains and golden domes rising from the earth, magnificent architecture and art and history in abundance are yours to behold as the Irons carry you across this ancient portal between East and West. The ride goes from Moscow, in Russia, to Beijing, in China before retracing steps. This is not a ride for the faint of wallet, however, as the “double-occupancy” cabin will set you back enough to buy a mid-sized car. For one who wishes to see the Silk Road in style, this is an unmatched experience. Golden Eagle has sever other luxury train excursions, see their web site!
Play a Train Song
Taking the Irons to a resort hotel… somewhere in the hills. Flat and Scruggs sing “The Petticoat Junction Theme”
from the campy 1964 sit-com of the same name.