Spirit of Jasper

Felton’s Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad, the Napa Valley Wine Train, Mendocino’s Historic Skunk Train, the French Lick Scenic Railway, and the Spirit of Jasper. I seem to be drawn to historic trains.

I enjoyed train rides through the redwood forests in Northern California, where trains were used for logging generations ago. The cars were either open air or accommodated passengers hanging out at the end of cars to take in the sights better. I have distinct memories of the crisp California air as we chugged through majestic redwood forests, over bridges, and through tunnels—and snapping photo after photo of the beautiful scenery.

I miss that. The historic trains in Indiana have a different feel to them. Passengers are sequestered inside and not allowed outside the train compartments. No chance to enjoy the scenery from a closer perspective. No chance to snap photos as we wind through Indiana forest. But it is still neat to ride historic trains down historic tracks.

My most recent train excursion was on the Spirit of Jasper, a ride and dine experience. The train consisted of three different types of cars: the Club Car, the Lounge Car, and the Parlour (yes, parlour with a u) Car.

The Club Car was built in the 1940s as an overnight coach car for the Milwaukee Railroad. Jasper obtained it in 2006. The layout of the car is what I expected from a typical passenger car: sets of four seats facing either with a small table in between. The Lounge Car was built between 1917 and 1922. During WWI, it was used to transport coffins of the war dead (!). Tables extend from the sides with moveable chairs around them, like what you may see in a restaurant. The Parlour Car is kind of what you would expect—cushy seating lining either side of the car with a drink bar. It was originally built in the 1940s and used as a military hospital car. All of the cars were acquired by the city of Jasper in 2006 and restored by individuals and businesses.

The Ride and Dine took me 9 miles up the tracks and back, through forests and past the boyhood home of Larry Bird. Most of the train ride was during daylight, which allowed views of the trees and fields along the track. As twilight descended, I spied a lovely chocolate-colored buck standing majestically in the middle of a gravel road that wound through the trees.

A famous local restaurant, Schnitzelbank, catered the meal. Despite the French origin of the county’s name, the ancestors of Dubois County are heavily German. Although boasting Germany ancestry myself, German fare is not really my cup of tea. But the menu on the date I rode the train didn’t seem particularly German to me: pulled BBQ pork (a dish that Hoosiers seem to be enamored with), Italian chicken breast (a bit dry), cheesy potato casserole (potatoes and cheese…need I say more?), baked beans (tasty), steamed broccoli (not overcooked!), 7 layer salad (refreshing), dinner rolls, and banana pudding (not my choice—I would prefer chocolate—but it was quite good).

The train ride was enjoyable with the smooth rocking of the train and the trees rolling by producing almost a meditative state. Groups of families and friends were enjoying an evening of conversation. One nearby family initiated a conversation with me: parents and a teenage boy. To my surprise, I discovered that they were planning to go to Cupertino for a family trip. Cupertino, CA? Yes.

Seeing how Cupertino is usually not a top travel destination, I was intrigued. Why Cupertino? The son is obsessed with Apple so they are going to visit Apple. Hmmmm…knowing Apple’s secret-like paranoia (we couldn’t get a tour of Apple for women in STEM on a government-sponsored exchange that I was a part of), I gently suggested that they confirm that Apple allows people to tour their facilities before leaving on their trip.

Other than this impromptu conversation before dinner, I was mostly left to enjoy the train ride on my own. A waitress on the train stopped at my table to ask if I was traveling alone. When I confirmed, she was completely flabbergasted. The idea of someone doing something alone was clearly horrifying to her. I inwardly sighed. I hadn’t encountered someone quite so blatant with their own insecurities on one of my many solo ventures, though I assume that many others may have thought the same thing that she verbalized.

The Spirit of Jasper was a neat experience—I am glad I rode it and will look for others during the Indiana leg of my adventure—but my favorite historic train rides are through redwood forests in California.

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