Herman: Amtrak journey to Metroplex offers different view of Texas


Two things happen when you ride Amtrak’s Texas Eagle between Austin and Fort Worth. First, you’re surprised at what you see inside the train: people. It’s easy to forget that people ride trains in Texas.

Second, you’re surprised at what you see outside the train: a different view than the one I’ve seen during too-many-to-count drives to the Metroplex. As many of you who’ve endured that drive know, it’s not the most scenic stretch of America. The natural terrain is none too pretty, and much of what humankind has added is worse. (Though there now is a Buc-ee’s.)

What you see out the train windows often is unpretty in a different way than the view from I-35 is unpretty. There seems to be something about railroad tracks that, in some places along the way, attracts the metal detritus of once-beloved vehicles and whatever else you can make out of metal.

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But on a recent Thursday morning train to Fort Worth, I was able to enjoy the sounds, if not always the sights. I was blessed with PA system commentary about the cities on the route. In Austin, the voice told all on board that they were in the state capital and the “Live Music Capital of the U.S.”

Actually, it’s the Live Music Capital of the World, though that’s self-proclaimed.

And Amtrak Man noted Austin is the home of Lance Armstrong, “seven-time Tour de France winner.” I guess Amtrak didn’t get the update about the unpleasantness that made Armstrong a no-time winner of the Tour de France.

The first stop — “station stop,” as railroad folks tend to call them — heading north from Austin is Taylor, just outside of which I saw the front-end of a pickup truck with a tree growing through the place where an engine used to be.

Bless Taylor’s heart, the Amtrak view of the city isn’t what you’d call a chamber of commerce dream. The downtown view from the train features a building that includes what appears to be a long-abandoned liquor store. There was a sign reminding us it’s the Home of the Ducks — that would be your Taylor High School Ducks — but, in a disappointing oversight ripe for correction, there is no sign reminding folks it’s the hometown of long-ago Duck grid great Kirk Bohls.

Anybody know whatever happened to that ol’ boy?

Pulling into Taylor, Amtrak Man called our attention to a barbecue joint that was honored by USA Today in 2004. I’m guessing the food’s still good these many years later. If not, maybe there are still some 2004 leftovers.

Heading north from Taylor, Amtrak Man wanted us to look for a house about a quarter of a mile across a field.

“Two-story home,” he announced, “wraparound porch, multiple pillars. That is the home that was used in filming of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’”

And there was more movie magic just down the track, according to Amtrak Man, who had a tendency to repeat things for emphasis.

“We’ll be going through the city of Granger,” he said. “Granger, the location of the 2010 release of the latest version of the movie ‘True Grit,’ parts of it filmed here in Granger.

“Granger,” he said, “the location of the 2010 release of the latest version of the movie ‘True Grit,’ parts of it filmed here in Granger. Granger, coming up.”

There’s no station stop in Granger. The next one is in Temple. As we approached, Amtrak Man made an announcement he’d make at subsequent station stops.

“For the smokers, if you wish to step off the train, stretch your legs, take in a breath of fresh air and take advantage of a short and brief smoke break in Temple you are welcome to do so,” he said.

I’m not sure “fresh air” is exactly what smokers were craving.

The Temple station is the most attractive trackside sight along the route. Amtrak Man told us it’s now the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum, a 105-year-old building refurbished and owned by the city of Temple and formerly the headquarters for the southern division of the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

The building is used for public and private events and there’s a nice display of old railroad equipment outside.

Amtrak Man didn’t have much to tell us about Temple but did note that Waco, a “neighboring community,” is home to Baylor University where the “the Baylor Bears girls basketball team” was 2012 national champ. Oh yeah, and Baylor’s boys basketball team recently was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

The Texas Eagle doesn’t stop in Waco but does stop in nearby McGregor, a town Amtrak Man had nothing to tell us about. But he did have something to say about downtown Crawford, which the train passes through.

“It’s coming up on the left-hand side if you’re facing the direction we’re travelling,” he announced. “Crawford, made famous after Bush was elected president. He already owned the 1,600-acre ranch located a couple of miles west of downtown Crawford. The ranch is not visible from the train. However, if you’re very observant and you have a keen eye you may be able to spot the Crawford Station Café.”

The café, he said, was where George W. and Laura “would enjoy their coffee when they visited their ranch in Crawford.” To see downtown Crawford, Amtrak Man cautioned, “you have to look behind the huge grain and feed silos, the very large grain and feed silos.”

Some miscellany announced along the way: A giraffe statue (waiting for the circus train, Amtrak Man joked) near the tracks, a solar-power facility and the Brazos River (originally “Brazos de Dios, which translates as Arms of God”).

A pleasant four and a half hours after leaving Austin (and a few minutes early) we rolled into the Fort Worth station, where Amtrak Man again invited smokers to step off for a breath of fresh air.

It also was time for a crew change, including Amtrak Man, who bade us farewell with this: “We look forward to seeing you aboard another Amtrak train soon. And remember folks that friends don’t let friends fly. That’s right folks, friends don’t let friends fly. Thank you for choosing Amtrak.”

You’re welcome. All in all, a very pleasant way to travel, unless you enjoy the airport strip searches.



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