“If this train runs me right, I’ll be home tomorrow night,” is one of the most unforgettable lyrics from folk ballad “900 Miles.” For some, riding on a train means an end to homesickness, but for others, flashcard images whizzing past a gleaming window spell adventure. “All along the southbound odyssey, the train pulls out of Kankakee, And rolls along past horses, farm and fields,” wrote Old Town School songwriter Steve Goodman, in the 1970s hit, “The City of New Orleans,” an homage to the very train that habitually traveled from “The City of Big Shoulders” to “The Big Easy.”
Last week, rail representatives and Old Town School staff presented important news to local reporters and the community. Snacks representative of onboard meals were served by a chef and even a train conductor was in attendance. Many people think luxury train travel has gone the way of the transistor radio or manual typewriter, but the meeting proved otherwise.
Last year, The Pullman Rail Company restarted their famous route, which in 1930 boasted upwards of 33 million sleeping car passengers. After refurbishing vintage cars, incorporating first-class meal service and updating sleeping cars, they solidified their vision — “bring back part of the human experience.” That vision meant putting away computers and talking to one’s neighbors.
To that end, the company announced a new partnership with the legendary Old Town School, which Executive Director, Bau Graves, calls “a dream come true.” On special routes, OTS musicians will be onboard to play guitar, piano, banjo, blues harp, sing and even tap dance. On the inaugural trip, October 8, troubadours, Mark Dvorak and Chris Walz, will feature a repertoire that tributes folk heroes like Woody Guthrie and Goodman, making the nineteen hour ride a cultural, as well as, scenic undertaking.
Dvorak portrayed Guthrie in “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” and has been teaching at Old Town School since 1996. Walz plays everything from bottleneck to bluegrass. Both musicians are sought after for their diverse skills and comfort with a live audience.
The October 29 trip will feature Katherine Davis, whose powerful vocals were inspired by Mahalia Jackson, and whose portrayal of American blues singers in Chicago musicals garnered much acclaim. Also, composer Reginald Robinson, whose works celebrate big band, ragtime and more and Reginald McLaughlin, or “Reggio The Hoofer” will get pulses racing.
So even if your grandfather wasn’t a roundhouse foreman, you can still come along for the ride, “feel the wheels fumbling ‘neath the floor” and singalong — just save room for some beignets and gumbo when you get to the finish line.