Last Updated :16/01/08
Land of the Free? Yeah Right!
his is the tale of my second trip to the USA, a split trip starting with a week desperately harvesting the locos, beers, and police cars of Chicago, then a mammoth 959 mile, 20 hour, journey to New York to fill in some gaps (locos and beers) from my first visit last year.
The planning stage went pretty much like clockwork, with the flights coming down to £279 for an open-jaw Manchester-Chicago, Boston-Manchester ticket. Still more than I’d like to pay, but not bad. I then booked the Amtrak passes at $215 (£110 at the time) for 15 days unlimited travel in the whole east half of the country (sadly the prices have been massively inflated, and the same pass now costs a whopping $329), and the sleeper for the Chicago-New York trip, which came down from $209 for the two of us to $156. Not bad, £40 each for a sleeper for 20 hours, including meals.
This time I didn’t need to do so much train planning as I knew the script on the east coast, so it was just Chicago I had to plan for. I therefore had more time to plan beer moves and find the brewpubs. At this point, credit must go to 'Beige' Phil Booton for much of the Chicago gen, and again to Alex Hall for the NYC gen.
After booking everything, the two months remaining before departure flew by, and soon enough it was the day before departure. The trip was undertaken with Stewart ‘Redhill’ Wells, mine & Gazza’s partner in crime in Argentina, who drinks proper beer but has no real interest beyond that. On the Friday night, two beers brewed for my 10,000th (one including Ireland, the other GB only) were on sale in the Fat Cat in Sheffield, so after work I made my way down there, starting with a pint of Clark’s Mr Unpronounceable’s 10,000 Not Out at 6.7%, accompanied by steak pie. The beer was a proper IPA style, brewed with Polish Marynka hops. The idea for this was inspired by my liking for the American IPAs, and my Polish family history. I then had a pint of Tigertops Arrogance 10k, a Triple IIIPA at 10.0%, also of my devising. Brewed using pure Maris Otter pale malt, and with multiple hoppings using Marynka, finished with a late hopping of Slovenian Styrian Goldings, and then dry hopped with more Marynka, this was a total hop overload. For a 10% beer it was very drinkable, with the bitterness offset by pine and peach undertones from the hops. Possibly too drinkable, as I had five pints of each! Somewhere around my eighth pint, Redhill arrived from his place of employment, so we had a couple of pints, then home via a kebab palais to get what doss we could before our 0530 alarm call.
Saturday 28th April 2007
Awoke feeling surprisingly fresh considering I’d had ten pints at an average of 8.4%, and only four hours sleep. We ambled up to Sheffield shack, where we boarded some rancid unit or other for the journey to Manc airport. Check-in was relatively kerfuffle free, and we set off to kill the three hours remaining before our flight. We had the rip-off breakfast, before wandering over to the departure gate. After what seemed like an age, they announced our flight… but not for boarding, only to tell us that the plane would be delayed due to a foul smell on board! And that’s before I get on and start dropping my guts…
About ninety minutes late we were allowed to board, with our hopes of escaping the airport in time for a Genesis scratch leap on the South West Chief well out of the window. The flight was fairly uneventful, with passable food and at least one reasonable film (being a 767, no seat back screens, so no choice of films). We landed about an hour late, and joined the queues for immigration. After the interrogation last time, I expected worse this time as we’d put Alex’s New York address as our residence in the States, so landing in Chicago looked a bit of an odd move. However, the questioning was minimal, the only interest being registered when I told the Bert my hand luggage was all I had for two weeks.
After negotiating immigration it was time to escape, easier said than done! There is a free shuttle bus to one of the commuter railroad stations, but one that only runs weekdays (and then infrequently). We therefore made our way to the airport transit system (which involved an unnecessarily long route!), for a short ride to the next terminal, where we followed signs for the CTA metro system. These led us to a lift, but the lift gave no clue as to which floor we needed. We eventually found the right one, and followed more signs… which abruptly ran out. We found the metro by luck rather than judgement, and bought our tickets to town. We were still hopeful of getting off a few shacks out of the airport to connect to the Metra train, but such hopes were withered when the metro set off and crawled at snail’s pace most of the way. We therefore missed the train, and had to stick with the metro as the trains are less than frequent at weekends.
A very tedious hour later, we arrived in downtown Chicago, and walked the short distance to the Union railway station (amazingly, with several metro routes, not one directly serves Union station, the Ogilvie Transportation Center (sic) commuter station, or the electric line terminal. Only La Salle commuter station has a metro stop (on the ‘Loop’, part of the famous elevated system)). We then went to collect our Amtrak passes, and a series of about 30 reservations I had made. However, the person who had made the reses, while seemingly very helpful, had in fact flamingoed up (like a cock-up, but bigger!). By putting our free reses on the same booking as our paid-for sleeper, she had set up something the system didn’t allow, and the only way we could get our sleeper reses was for the agent in Chicago to delete all the other trains from the booking, thus we then had to rebook all our moves, exactly what I was trying to avoid by emailing my bookings over.
After a quick spin to score a couple of locos, it was time for the first of fourteen overnights, a step-down out-and-back move to Toledo, netting us six new Genesis (and over 1,000 loco miles!), and not a bad doss.
Sunday 29th April 2007
We should’ve arrived back in Chicago at 0945, but late running meant it was gone noon when we finally got back. We did a couple of leaps, before catching the California Zephyr to Naperville (a 28 mile move on a train that travels over 2,000!), for a minus ten on paper for the South West Chief back. The Chief was about an hour late, so we went to the station bar, where I sent Redhill to get beers while I visited the facilities. Not impressed to find he’d bought Blue Moon Belgian White, since the brewery is owned by filthy Coors! Especially when I saw they also had Goose Island 312 Wheat Beer, which I got next.
After a couple more train spins, there seemed to be little to do, as my planned move to score three Genesis and the state of Michigan had been withered as trains no longer stop at the shack we needed them to. We therefore decided in the absence of anything else we’d do a leap on the City of New Orleans train to the first shack. We then looked at the timetable for getting back to town. There was a train in 40 minutes, and I suddenly remembered the Flossmoor brewpub was at the next shack out. A quick check of the outbound timetable revealed a train in one minute, so we duly took that to Flossmoor, where the brewpub is directly outside the station.
Redhill had an IPA, while I went for the sample tray, the promised ten beers actually materialising as twelve! Not bad for £4.50. First up, Belgian Wit, a reasonable attempt at the type, though as is often the case this first beer disappeared too fast to get a real taste of it. I followed this with Replicant Red 6.5%, a full bodied, malty ale, ruby in colour and much heavier than an Irish style red ale. Next up was the oddly-named Belgian American IPA 10.5%, not sure where Belgian comes into it, but it was a typical American style IPA, with total hop overload overpowering the burn of the massive alcohol content. Baltic Porter was up next, another good imitation, ABV was not quoted but it certainly tasted like it was packing a punch, with roast and burnt flavours matched by generous hopping. I stuck with the darks, scoring Milky Way Stout 5.0%, and could quite happily have sunk a couple of pints of this delicious, smooth, roasty brew. I then headed to the lighter side, with Pullman Nut Brown Ale, which unusually for an American beer I found somewhat lacking in flavour, though not unpleasant. I then went lighter still, with Zephyr Golden Ale, which to be honest didn’t register after the dark beers, though it did cleanse the palate nicely for Gandy Dancer Honey Ale, a good example of the type, with a hoppy nose and slightly sweet finish (as one might expect). I then went onto the two fruit beers, Roundhouse Raspberry Wheat, a good fruity brew with the fruit not totally overpowering the flavour of the base beer, followed by Chessie Cherry Wheat Ale, presumably based on the same wheat beer, with a nicely sour finish imparted by the fruit. My penultimate brew was the Panama Limited Red Ale, which seemed to be a weaker version of the Replicant, and smoother to the finish. Finally, with four minutes remaining until the train to town, I boshed the Station Master Wheat Ale. I guess this is the base for the fruit beers, and the unmodified version is a decent german-style wheat beer, not noticeably cloudy, but with all the banana and bubble gum flavours one associates with Bavaria.
We just caught the EMU back to town, leaping at Van Buren (the penultimate stop) as this gave us a shorter walk to Union station to pick up the last train to Fox Lake, where we were to spend the first of four bench overnights. As you’d expect from two managers on holiday, we were staying in total luxury, each having a bench on the station platform, from arrival at 0130 until the first train out at 0420. It was not too cold, and the station building afforded some protection from the wind for which the Chicago area is famous, but it was still a fairly rubbish night’s doss. Annoyingly, there was a cosy waiting room, but all the waiting rooms have time-activated locks so we were stuck outside.
Monday 30th April 2007
‘Fresh’ from our overnight, we spent most of the day spinning locos (no surprise there), picking up Leinenkugel Berry Weiss 4.7% from the 7-11 store down the road from Western Avenue (Milwaukee District division) station. We also found time for lunch in the station restaurant at Union, which offered Goose Island Kilgubbin Red Ale, Honkers, and the 312 Wheat already sampled. The first time we went to the bar, something strange happened, which hadn’t happened to either of us for twelve years: we were asked for ID! On my trip to the east coast last year, I didn’t get ID’d once, but in Chicago it turned out this was to be the first of many occurrences. Even by US law, we’re both seven years past the legal minimum age, so probably just typical septic tank paranoia. Overnight was at Elburn, where again the waiting room was locked, and there were no benches, so we ended up dosing on a window ledge!
Tuesday 1st May 2007
Morning again spent purely spinning. in the afternoon, we covered the Harvard line, and as the winners dried up later on, we found time to visit the bar opposite the shack at Cary, where we had Leinenkugel Red and New Belgium Brewing Co Fat Tire (sic – bloody yanks and their inability to spell!). Another quality overnight, involving the last train to Kenosha (yes, I was just being desperate to get over the border into Wisconsin so I could score the state!), then back as far as Waukegan, where there were no benches, window ledges or anything! We ended up dossing on the platform, but when the wind changed we adjourned to an adjacent lawn for the rest of the night. Who said bashing involved rubbish overnights?!
Wednesday 2nd May 2007
No beers at all until 7.30pm, being too busy scratching – 25 winners for anyone who cares. Our rush-hour spin finished with a desperate leap on an Amtrak Genesis from LA Grange Road to Naperville, from where we could perm two moves from the four trains heading to Aurora. Typically, the first two were dud, leaving minimum possible time at the Roundhouse brewpub. As the name suggests, it is in a former railway roundhouse, the brew plant being upstairs overlooking the bar. The sample tray ($8.95 I think) comprised of: Payton Pilsner 4.73%(!), a fairly standard lager but with a good hop rate; Honey Wheat 5.7%, not really what I normally think of as a wheat beer, though the honey seemed to be pretty real; Aurora Amber 4.99%, a mid-brown ale with the characteristic sweet edge from the amber malt; Chocolate Beer, did exactly what it says on the font!; and Sweetness Stout 5.78%, which was reminiscent of a milk stout or similar, nor really my cup of tea, but not a bad beer. We also then sampled Oatmeal Cream Stout 4.7%, a deliciously smooth stout which disappeared all too fast, and (deep breath…) Wine Barrel Aged Hannah’s Cherry Imperial Stout 7.9%, which was actually quite disappointing. It was hideously chingy (about $7 for 12oz or something like that), and didn’t live up to it. The cherries were simply overpowered by the stout, and the wooden wine barrel had imparted a musty flavour, and bizarrely the overwhelming aroma was stilton cheese!
Again we’d only been left with half an hour to do all the beers, and so it was soon time to catch the train back to town (the Chicago commuter system is heavily ‘weighted’ so there are very few trains going against the commuter flow), for the last train of the night to Joliet for our fourth – and by now we had decided, final – bench overnight. Unfortunately this proved the worst one yet, as a METRA cop was on hand at Joliet to ensure everyone left the station, and so we aimlessly wandered the streets for an hour, before sneaking back onto the shack, where we took up residence on the sole bench. It was bloody cold (even by my standards!), the station building offered no shelter against the biting wind, and every fifteen minutes or so freight trains would run through, each one over a mile long consisting of over a hundred wagons each weighing around 150 tons – headed by four or five loud engines. One even had EIGHT locos on the front – now why couldn’t that have come through in daylight?!
Thursday 3rd May 2007
We were exceedingly relieved when the first commuter train rolled in at 4am, and gratefully boarded for the short run to New Lennox, where thankfully the waiting room was just opening. After a forty minute fester there we caught the next train to Mokena Front St, where we partook in our usual breakfast – a doughnut and a large coffee (gotta hand it to the yanks, when they say large, they mean LARGE – 22oz of coffee (for the bargain price of $1.70 – about 85p), though they do seem surprised when I say I don’t want cream and sugar, just a pint of pure black coffee!). Another leap later, and another giant coffee (as had been the script every day for the last week!). Unfortunately, like most American commuter lines, METRA operates push-pull, with the loco always at the ‘country’ end, so in the morning it can be difficult to identify the loco before boarding, as it is often off the end of the platform.
A few leaps later brought us to Oak Forest, where we identified the next inbound train as a winner, and duly piled on. However, the train didn’t move, and an announcement was made about removing a ‘sick passenger’. Get on with it, we thought, but it turned out that this was not strictly true, the train was waiting for the cops to remove us from the train! Presumably the guards had reported us because we were leaping one shack at a time, and the feds came to pick us up. The Chicago Police Department cops who picked us up just interrogated us for ten minutes, did a quick bag search, radioed our details in, then let us go. The next train was the dud from the night before, so we waited for the next one, which we took to Midlothian – where we found METRA police department waiting for us. They insisted on taking us to the police station, and after patting us down we were put in the back of a police car.
At the police station, the commander came out to question us, and though he said he knew exactly what we were doing, and what cranking was about, he still insisted on photting us, running us through all the computer systems, interrogating us, doing a full bag search, and on finding our Amtrak resos then tipped off Boston Police and NYPD. All the while he was quoting about ‘suspicious behaviour’, and heightened sensitivity due to terrorism! Talk about paranoia! Still, at least I can now wither ‘Blues Brothers’ fans by pointing out that I have been driven across Cook County in a police car!
After about three hours we were allowed to go, and made our way to the shack across the road. Instinct told us to get the fuck out of there, and go back to the civilised side of town (several other cranks have had similar problems on this line, yet no-one has had any problem on any other METRA line), but desperation took over and we hung round a bit longer, scoring four more locos (but not the one we were kicked off, or the one we’d been waiting for when we got hossed a second time. D’oh!). As I’m sure Gazza would say, the moral of the story is don’t be a spinner (ok, Gazza would never put it that politely…)!
Anyway, enough gibber about being arrested for being terrorists, the net upshot was no time for beer today, other than Goose Island Octoberfest picked up in a 7-11. We dossed in a youth hostel near LA Salle St for about $25 each – well worth it for a much needed shower and bed.
Friday 4th May 2007
More spin moves, including scratching Amtrak’s lowest-numbered loco, 1. All a bit Thomas the Tank Engine if you ask me…
Saturday 5th May 2007
Not much spinning with the reduced weekend service, and the move we did got withered by the push-pull factor, as a winner rolled in but stopped with the lok miles out of the platform, so we only viewed it as it left. D’oh! We worked out its next move, and found that we could do a winner to Clybourne, have an hour there, for another winner forward. This gave us time (just – it’s a good 15 minute walk) to visit the Clybourne Goose Island brewpub. We only had time for one sample tray, so I picked (from around 12 beers on offer) English Malt Porter 6.0%, Saison 07 7.0%, Smoked Maibock 7.3% and very smoky, and La Deuxieme 8.0%.
After our spinning, we had a mammoth overnight planned: Leave Chicago at 7pm on the Washington train as far as South Bend, Indiana, where we would have an hour to wait for the Lake Shore Limited, alighting at 3pm Sunday at Poughkeepsie. After we booked everything, the times changed, giving us three hours at South Bend. A quick bit of internet research dragged up a brewery (the name of which now escapes me), and I ascertained that their beers were available at the Vine bar & restaurant in the town, a short taxi ride from the shack. Upon arriving at Vine, we were informed that the brewery had recently closed. However, we were still able to score Upland Wheat Ale, Kalamazoo Bells Oberon, and Brooklyn Lager. We also procured supplies for the sixteen hour journey in the shape of a case each of Goose Island Summertime and High Falls Honey Brown. However, once the train arrived, the first priority was DOSS, and plenty of it.
Sunday 6th May 2007
We awoke in time for the last sitting for breakfast, then promptly went back to bed until the last lunch sitting. After lunch we sat in our sleeper, drinking our bottles and watching the upper Hudson River pass by. We arrived in Poughkeepsie a little after 6pm, around an hour late – not bad for the Late Shore Limited, I’ve seen it arrive 19 hours late!
We went to a bar at the end of the station approach road, the name of which escapes me, but there were several winners on. While Redhill stuck with Wildmer Hefeweizen, after trying that I then moved onto Stone Mill Pale Ale, before trying the Yeungling Lager, accompanied by a huge burger. We did a quick out-and-back move to Rhinecliffe-Kingston, scoring a Genesis in the process, before returning to the bar to watch the sun set over the Hudson. On this second visit I scored Sam Adams Summer Ale and Anchor Steam Beer, the latter I had tried in bottle form in the UK, but I don’t count ‘Foreign Muck’ in the UK.
We then caught the penultimate Amtrak to Croton Harmon, for the last one to New York Penn arriving just after midnight, for a bit of a fester until the 0300 departure to Philadelphia arrived at 2am. We then did the usual overnight to Philly and back, ready for Monday’s GM harvest.
Monday 7th May 2007
Not much time for beer, too busy having 14 new GMs, then in the evening I flagged both trains and beer in favour of going to view Type O Negative on home territory. Sadly there was no beer of even a passable nature, but the gig was hellfire, a lot better than their subsequent UK gigs. Overnight was to Boston, for another stab at MBTA, plus of course beers.
Tuesday 8th May 2007
After a successful morning harvesting GMs out of Boston North Station, I visited a shop at West Medford which I knew to stock a decent range. When I’d visited last year, the bert behind the counter had refused to sell me individual bottles, it was all cases only. This time there was an Ada, who said I could have mixed cases but it’d cost more. I therefore acquired bottles of Long Trail Blackberry Wheat, Wachusett Blueberry, Shipyard Export, Mercury Ipswich IPA, and Harpoon IPA.
Later on I had a spare forty minutes, so paid a return visit to Boston Beer Works. Having scored 12 out of 13 last time I wasn’t expecting to score enough to justify a four-beer sample tray, let alone two of them! But, lined up for my delectation were no fewer than eight winners. Haymarket Hefeweizen was a good example of the type, as was Bullfinch British Pale Ale. Mad Hops Imperial IPA did exactly what it said on the tin, and was washed down with Kenmore Kolsch, not really a Kolsch in my view, but still drinkable. My second sampler consisted of Hob Light, Green Man IPA (much lighter than the Imperial, but still mega hoppy – hellfire!), Handsome Devil (did they know I was coming?), and Mayflower Maybock (sic), a top beer to finish on.
After some more loco spinning through the afternoon, we went to the station bar at South Station, which alongside a couple of more common offerings had two beers from Harpoon, namely the IPA and UFO. We then did the overnight to Philly and back to NYP.
Wednesday 9th May 2007
Another manic spinning day left little time for beers. Actually , that’s not strictly true, what stopped me scoring (apart from being far too desperate!) was that a combination of timetabling and pot luck on which loco is on which train meant that I always seemed to end up with a thirty minute fester in the middle of nowhere, followed by thirty seconds at the major shacks! The net result was that the only beer scored was a bottle of Gritty McDuff’s Best Bitter obtained yesterday in Boston. ‘Overnight’ was the last day train to Washington DC, arriving 0130, for three hours on a bench (upon which I actually slept surprisingly well)
Thursday 10th May 2007
Fresh from our Harry Ramp overnight, we spent the morning covering the VRE trains coming in from the south, scoring 11 of the 12 diagrams. We then adjourned to the Capitol City brewpub, scoring Hefeweizen, another good wheaty beer. Must be a seasonal thing, hardly saw a wheat beer on my October trip, but this time everyone seemed to have them. I then tried Swan Song Saison and the superb Irish Stout 4.5%, tasting like a slightly weaker and smoother version of Porter House Wrasslers XXXX. The afternoon was spent spinning MARC diesels, before our overnight to New Haven.
One thing to note about Washington is that public transport is very expensive, and as far as I can tell there is no all-day ticket valid on trains. The all-day metro ticket is only valid after 9am.
Friday 11th May 2007
We arrived at New Haven Union at a hideous 4am, and walked the short distance to State St Station to pick up the first commuter train from Old Saybrook. We then repeated the walk for the second commuter, before leaping on a Genesis heading to New York vice EMU. The main purpose of the visit was a last-chance attempt to score an FL9 or F10 on the Danbury or Waterbury commuter trains, but in the event all three turns were hauled by ex-Amtrak Genesii (Genesises? Geneses?). Defeated, we returned to New York, and headed up the Hudson line to Yonkers, where in a so-called sports bar near the station we scored Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold. I also acquired a bottle of Sam Adams Cream Stout at Hoboken, with which I celebrated scoring NJT 4109, my last of the first-series GP40s, scheduled to be withdrawn soon.
I then sped over to Grand Central Terminal, where we boarded one of the evening through commuter trains to Wassaic, though we bailed at Southeast to await the local turn, which as hoped for was headed by 1950s-built F10 no. 411, one of only a handful of real (i.e. supercharged) GMs left working passenger in the States. After scoring this monster, we then suffered the rancid EMU back to town, noting that the units have opening windows, something all the hauled stock lacks. Cheers then!
Once back in town, Redhill headed off for the overnight, while I headed over to Atlantic Avenue for the Brooklyn Cask Ale festival at the Brazen Head, which Alex had kindly arranged for the weekend I was there.
Start as you mean to go on… so I kicked off with Arcadia Cereal Killer 9.0%. I followed this up with Smuttynose Shoal’s Pale Ale 5.0% (dry hopped with Centennial). Unfortunately, while there were a couple of winning breweries on the list, none of them were ready, so I moved onto Sixpoint Apollo 5.7%, and Dry-A-Peel 6.5% (which is Bengali Tiger with the addition of orange peel and Columbus hops). I followed these with two from Chelsea, Ard Righ Irish Stout 6.7% and Pier 59 Pale Ale 6.2%. I then had Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA 8.1%, and stuck with the IPA theme with a visit to the normal bar for Blue Point No Apologies IPA2 10.0%.
Back at the festival bar, I tried Oskar Blues Gordon 8.7%, and Battle Creek Organic Porter, before finishing off with the immense Southern Tier Un-Earthly at a whopping 11.0%. I then headed back on the subway (and nearly got lost on the way!) to NYP to catch the overnight to Boston for my flight home Saturday
Another top trip, 227 new engines and 70+ beers. Many thanks to Alex for gen, the fest, and the offer of accommodation even though we never actually got there!
I was most alarmed a couple of weeks after I returned, to receive a ‘phone call from Sergeant Parker at NYPD! It turns out that when we’d got arrested in Chicago, they’d tipped off NYPD, and because our immigration cards quoted Alex’s address, the feds had turned up there looking for us, but they made a hash of my last name and got Redhill’s first name wrong, so Alex’s missus told them she didn’t know us! D’oh!