City of New Orleans train has local connections - Republic-Times | News

City of New Orleans train has local connections

By on April 19, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Nathan Stahl

Kyle Dudley

Dave Dudley

“All along the southbound odyssey – the train pulls out of Kankakee
And rolls along past houses, farms, and fields
Passing trains that have no name, and freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobile”

Famed folk singer Arlo Guthrie covered these lyrics written by Steve Goodman about traveling on the City of New Orleans train that runs 934 miles from Chicago to New Orleans, La. But boarding the train —that debuted in 1947 — as a passenger, even as a famous one, doesn’t seem to compare to the stories coming from three Monroe County railroaders.

Pictured is the City of New Orleans operated by Illinios Central Railroad until 1971. While today’s looks more like the Amtraks that can be seen cruising the railways every day, this was the City of New Orleans of Steve Goodman and Arlo Guthrie’s era.

Dave Dudley
As a longtime Amtrak engineer, Dave Dudley, 57, of Waterloo, reminisced about eight years of steering the City of New Orleans along his route from Carbondale to Jackson, Miss. The career railroader was an engineer on the train from 1988 to 1996 and continues to work for Amtrak.

From the challenges of navigating along windy railroad tracks to negotiating the Obion River Bottoms in Kenton, Tenn., Dave looks back at his time on the train with nostalgia.

“It was just always different. I enjoyed running,” Dave said. “It was a night train, yes. I left Carbondale at about midnight. We would have a good trip and be (in Mississippi) about 9 a.m.”

The other exciting part of his job included his brushes with fame. Dave recalled pulling such celebrities as John Travolta, Cybill Shepherd, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and also getting the chance to meet many of them.

“Yes, I did meet them, and of course it was before cell phones,” Dave said.

And while Dave is not famous, he did become part of a milestone achievement as the fourth generation of his family to work the railroad. His son, Kyle, is a fifth generation railroader.

Kyle Dudley
Kyle, 35, didn’t completely follow in his dad’s footsteps when he started in 2002 as a conductor and then moved on to the City of New Orleans in 2004.

What he and his dad share in common, however, is that he works nights and a lot of hours. His eight-hour route takes him from Carbondale to Greenwood, Miss.

In railroading, a conductor oversees train staff and guides the engineer along his route, among other responsibilities. Kyle said he will also climb off the train to hand-throw switches that change the direction of the tracks.

“I like the actual railroad side of it. I like getting out and pulling the switches,” he said. “It’s actually the more pressure, the more I like it.”

Kyle has his own stories of meeting famous people, such as encountering Guthrie as the musician performed Hurricane Katrina benefit concerts at each stop the train made in 2005. He also took a picture with Sammy Hagar and has met Willie Nelson and other big names who travel along the route because the train stops at musical cities such as Memphis, Tenn. and New Orleans.

Nathan Stahl
Nathan Stahl of Columbia isn’t part of the Dudley family, but he does have railroading in his blood. The 27-year-old has been an engineer on the City of New Orleans for three years.

“It’s an interesting job,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t know.”

Stahl’s routes take him on a 220-mile journey from Carbondale to Memphis, or 309 miles from Carbondale to Chicago. Before becoming an engineer, he had served as a conductor for a time.

“I love the history of (the City of New Orleans). You’re going across tracks that have been there (a long time),” he said.


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Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net