Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Not Stubborn Enough the Missouri Mule Is Reaching the End of the Line

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Not Stubborn Enough the Missouri Mule Is Reaching the End of the Line

Article excerpt

THE FOG that had settled over downtown like thin white smoke for much of the morning had nearly disappeared by the time Engine No. 300 - 280,000 pounds of steel, glass and diesel machinery - rumbled away from the little Amtrak station just south of Market Street pulling three silver-gray passenger cars.

Gradually, it picked up enough speed so that finally the city was slipping past the windows like a reel of film slipping past the lens of a movie projector. Images came and went in the blink of an eye: an eastbound MetroLink filled with morning workers . . . a blue and white sign painted on the side of a building: "Dixie Cream Donut Flour" . . . a salvage yard littered with the rust-spotted corpses of cars . . . the enormous black roof of The Arena, a lumberyard, a neon-lit tavern.

Kirkwood station was 20 minutes to the west now and Hermann was an hour ahead. And then it was on to Sedalia, Warrensburg and Lee's Summit.

It was just past 8 in the morning and the window-pictures were moving by more quickly. Three-foot-tall plastic Christmas candles on a front porch . . . a barking dog . . . a tire suspended by a rope from a backyard tree.

On a wall at the rear of the second coach from the front, someone had taped a neatly typed flier:

"By This Time Next Year, This Train May Not Be Running!" it said. "DON'T LET AMTRAK BECOME EXTINCT!"

At the very bottom, a message was scrawled in ink: "Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas."

The Missouri Mule, this oddly named train that began its life 14 years ago, may be on its last legs.

Amtrak, the nation's passenger train service, announced last month that it is considering ending all routes between St. Louis and Kansas City as part of nationwide cuts to save money and help yank the rail carrier out of red ink. If it happens, it would mean the effective end of passenger train service across the heart of Missouri for the first time in 140 years.

The news has hit crew members and train passengers hard.

On this Thursday morning, Matthew E. Slovinski, 60, of Russellville, Mo., was on his way home after taking his 78-year-old mother to New Orleans. She had taken the train from New Orleans to Jefferson City to visit him, and when she became ill, he had taken her back by train.

"I can't get her on an airplane," Slovinski said. "There are a lot of older people who are the same way."

Slovinski himself worked for the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis for 35 years. He loves railroads; he loves their history. He loves the people.

"A long time ago, railroading was family," he said as the Mule pulled out of Kirkwood. "Not anymore; now it's just business.

"They call St. Louis the Gateway to the West. If they take this line off, what kind of Gateway to the West will it be then?"

It will be like severing an artery, he said.

Near the rear of the car, 67-year-old Norma Bolton of Kansas City was finishing a late breakfast and had just picked up a crossword puzzle book.

She takes the train to St. Louis to stay with her 5-month-old grandson while her son and daughter-in-law work. She takes the train back home again, she says, when one of the baby's parents has three or four days off to stay with him.

She could fly, she said, but the trip would be more costly and much less convenient. Besides, she says, train travel is in her blood.

Her father, she said, was a railroad man; she can still remember riding the rails with him.

"He didn't like to sit down," she said, "he liked to stand and rock with the train. I can see him now, rocking with the train. "

Bolton said her mother was just as bad. "She used to say people traveling on trains had time to talk and visit with each other. She called airplanes a cold way to travel."

She says she often spends long periods of time just sitting looking out the train window. …

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