The Palmland and Modeling Mail & Express Trains pt.2
Back to my experience on that summer’s trip. At 11 years old I was quite the experienced rail traveler, knowing most of the route between Hollywood, Florida and Washington, DC. However, the Palmland would open me up to a totally new view of rail passenger travel. I was quite surprised to see that our train had not reachedRaleigh,NCwhen I awoke the next morning. My first thought was that we had been delayed sometime during the night and we were behind schedule. I quickly learned from the conductor that was not the case, we were on time. Then I began to notice all those little stations that used to catch my attention as we sped by at 90 plus MPH on the Meteor and the Star. They were now becoming regular stops.Raleighwas reached, and I soon realized this was not going to be the normal ten minute station stop. First a dinner car was added, and then a bump from the rear indicated something was being added to the end of the train. This proved to be two piggyback cars. This was a first for me to see piggyback cars in a passenger trains consist. We finally got underway and it was now time to explore this unique passenger train from the inside. First, this was not one of SAL streamline coaches. The seats were wider and more comfortable with a good deal more leg room. Second, it rode much smoother; those six wheel trucks do lend to a better ride. Soon the conductor notified us that breakfast was now available in the dining car. We also learned that the full dinner would only be on the train until we reached Hamlet NC, two hours away. If you wanted breakfast you better get it early. In Hamlet they would switch the full diner out for a Seaboard grill car. So we headed for the diner very hungry. Food on the SAL was always good and the Palmland’s diner was no exception.
Hamlet brought more switching. Off came the piggybacks and the diner and on came the grill car. The grill car itself was another rebuilt heavyweight from the pre-streamline days. It would be on the train until Jacksonville to provide late breakfast and lunch. Once we arrived in Jacksonville, you were on our own for diner. The stop in River City (as the railroaders called it) would be two hours, plenty of time to find a restaurant.
The run from Hamlet toJacksonvillewould take nearly 10 hours. There are many differences between riding a train and flying. One of the big differences is that you have a tendency to get to know the people you are traveling with much better than on a plane. So over the next 10 hours, that is what my mother and I did. It was during this time we learned that this train carried so many railroad employees and their families as passengers. We also learned from these experienced riders of the Palmland that there was a very good steakhouse right across the street from the Jacksonville Union Terminal and that restaurant was also inexpensive
The run through the Carolina piedmont was very nice but the numerous station stops and reduced speed did start to have its effect on our mood. At 3pm we finally reached Savannah GA. However, with the realization that Hollywood was still 17 hours away, our good moods was beginning to wear thin.
Jacksonville Union Station
Both Photos Jacksonville Union Station, Photo’s: Clarkfred33/ALCOMike@Flickr.com
That is Beaver Street Tower on the right
At 6pm the Palmland begins to navigate its way through the north side of Jacksonville. My enthusiasm for the trip begins to return as we stroll through the industrial landscape that surrounds the approach to JUT. Soon we stop at the west end of the wye, then start our backup move, pass Beaver Street (BS) tower, and begin to pick our way through JUT complex’s track work that will lead to the palm tree adorned bumpers at the terminal. We come to a stop. The car attendant opens the Dutch doors, and we make our way off the train, through the terminal and over to that steakhouse across the street. That was one of the best steaks I had up until that time, or maybe our situation just made it taste that much better. Either way I still remember it as if I just had eaten it 45 years ago. Back at the terminal, the Palmland was being taken apart and then rebuilt, most of the headend equipment was removed, and the train was much shorter.
Soon it was time to depart Jacksonville and we all climbed aboard for the ten hour run to Hollywood. Those big coach seats seamed more comfortable than ever, and I was soon asleep, only waking up briefly for the stop in Wildwood. At Hollywood, my father was patiently waiting for us to arrive. The long ride was over, and it was good to be home. Looking back, this was the most interesting train trip of my life, a trip that could never be repeated. Trains like the Palmland are long gone, and will probably never return. It’s been over 40 years since the Post Office Department began to pull mail off the rails; the Railway Express Agency went out of business about the same time. Eventually all trains like the Palmland were discontinued, ultimately ending another chapter in US railroad history.
Next time: We get to the Modeling…