August 18, 2015

This is a first, thanks to Maureen for this story. I was not able to attend this event and add my own brand of mayhem!

Guest blogger: Maureen

Commuting to work today, I was thinking about trains.

For over 30 years I took the “L” or got a ride downtown to work. In March of this year, my firm moved and forced a different commute—the Metra Milwaukee Road North Line from Grayland to Union Station. Union Station is two blocks from Ogilvie Station where for 50 years Dad took the Union Pacific Northwest Line (formerly known as the Chicago & Northwestern). Now that I’m on the “big” train, I think about the many trips he took back and forth to work. One thing that always struck me was that he would run 5-10-15 miles a day, but he never walked the four blocks to the train or home from the train. That meant Mom driving uptown and back almost as many times as he commuted. Or when we were old enough, she’d be making dinner and shout, “Someone go get Daddy!” and one of us would grab his London Fog wool stadium coat and whatever shoes or boots were in the front hall, jump in the station wagon and zip uptown.

When Dad retired in January of 2001, someone got the idea that we’d surprise him for his “last” train ride home. It was slightly complicated because when he retired, he flirted with the idea of teaching court reporting, so he had signed up for a semester as an adjunct instructor at MacCormac College. He actually had to teach a class on his last day of his job at the Federal Building. If he got out on time, he’d make the 8:30; if not, it would be the 9:30. Let’s just say JD was involved, so you know it turned into a full-blown military mission. It also helped that we had Matt the SEAL in town. Eileen happened to know a guy who worked for Metra (actually a running friend of hers), so she told him about it. He thought it was a great human interest story, so he called a reporter from the Daily Herald. On the night of the famous last ride, we had Jim’s spouse, his sister, eight of his children, various spouses, about 20 grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 16, my sister-in-law who just happened to be taking the train to Barrington, the reporter – all converged on Ogilvie Station.

John set up reconnaissance on the Madison St. bridge with a walkie-talkie to watch for our hero. Matt was inside the station to get the signal whether to load the group onto the train or not. The kids were excited but nervous – big trains pulling in and out, bells ringing, smoke belching, everyone talking at once.

It got to be 8:20 then 8:25. The tension was mounting. Finally John’s voice squawked through the walkie-talkie – “The Eagle has landed, I repeat, the Eagle has landed.” According to John, the first generation Motorola Talkabout walkie-talkie unfortunately made it sound like “The Beagle is Branded.” On top of that, Dad was running at full speed because he was going to miss the train! After some confusion, everyone ran to the platform and started loading. We ran through the train cars to the end car where the conductor opened up a dark car for us. We were scrambling so fast, the kids were actually terrified. The reporter brought up the rear holding out a child’s mitten: “Who lost a mitten?” Really, I think he thought we were nuts.

The conductor turned out the lights again in our car and headed back. He actually knew who Dad was. Dad sat in the same seat on the same car for all those years. Upstairs, south side, second car from the front. As he was collecting the tickets, the conductor stopped at Dad’s seat and said, “Sir, can you come with me?” He led him down the stairs and into the dark car whereupon we all yelled, “Surprise‼” We almost lost Dad that day to a heart attack. Once he recovered from the shock, he was grinning from ear to ear. The conductor then escorted him to the locomotive car where he brought him up to the engineer to introduce him. Dad in his Brooks Brothers suit and wingtips climbing up to the engineer! Then the conductor presented him with a lapel pin and a lifetime pass to ride the train (which he never used; he always paid when he went downtown after he retired).

So the reporter wrote a nice story about the mild-mannered commuter who took the same train to work for 50 years. And the kids had a memory for a lifetime about Grumpy’s “last train ride.”


Favorite song today: Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel

The C&NW

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