HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN:

HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - city of big bottoms and small minds.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A STEP BACK IN RAILROAD HISTORY - MAKES FOR A MEMORABLE SUNDAY BRUNCH

Right around July 6, Kim's birthday, I made two reservations for a "sunday brunch" ride on the Osceola and St Croix Valley Railway. This particular ride leaves Osceola, Wisconsin, at 11 AM on a sunday morning and winds westward through some of the most beautiful, wild, landscape one can imagine, along the banks of the St. Croix River and through the sandstone outcroppings and incredibly untouched hard woods that border the other side of the tracks.
We arrived about 40 minutes ahead of time, took a short tour of the depot there in Osceola, and spent some time visiting with the all volunteer crews of the railway, including the warm and charming gentleman pictured here with Kim.

Richard was our conductor and a very charming one at that. In no time he had everyone completely at ease. He makes his home just across the river in Minnesota but spends his weekends playing his role as the man in charge of the passengers.

We were allowed to board about 10 minutes to eleven and found our tables, complete with name reservations on real table cloths -- and brunch served on real china - no plastic cups or plates, thank you. We were in the "first class" car and were very well taken care of by the staff.

Brunch was catered and really very good. It included scrambled eggs with cheese, regular and blueberry pancakes, very meaty, crispy bacon, pork links done to a lovely brown, glasses of orange juice, fresh coffee, fresh fruit cocktail, and miniature muffins.
The brunch was served cafeteria-style, with those at the far end of the car going through the line first to keep the middle of the car open and the traffic flowing easily.
At no time did we find ourselves short of coffee or juice as the staff made the rounds regularly refilling as needed.
As Kim worked on finishing her plate, the staff announced that there was plenty left for seconds and I beat a hasty retreat back into the line to replenish my plate. All the while the train moved very quietly and smoothly westward, crossing a trestle which afforded us a beautiful view of the river.
Finally surfeited, Kim and I got up and moved towards the fanciest car of the bunch, the James Hill car, named after the gentleman who founded the "Empire Builder" line at the turn of the century. Hill became known as the empire builder when he finished a line that stretched from Chicago all the way to Seattle.

As you can see from the photos, this is the creme de la creme of the train cars and back in the day was reserved for the movers and shakers of business and government.

When we reached the switchback area, we watched as the engine came past our windows to the opposite end of the train and the journey back to Osceola began.

This left the rear of the James Hill car as the caboose, complete with a walk out platform that we were invited to use on the way back.

It gave us an opportunity to take some air and get some incredible photos of the river and the trestle.



The views pictured were taken standing on the open platform of the last car as it made its way back to the east. At one point, as we were walking towards our goal, the engineer hit the brakes pretty hard!

When we returned to our seats we found that the staff had left champagne for us in flutes bearing the railway's logo. Unfortunately, the sudden braking had knocked one of the glasses into the other and shattered it.

Again, the gracious staff came to our rescue and offered us new flutes as we exited the train.

All in all, it was a great trip - one that I would recommend heartily for anyone looking for a special way to celebrate a special occasion.

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