Train Trip to Chaffee

Mural on Mississippi River Floodwall

One of the rites of passage for kindergarten classes at Trinity Lutheran School was the ride from Cape Girardeau to Chaffee on the passenger train.

Trinity Lutheran School Kindergarten Class

Here is a snippet of a family 8mm movie of what I think is my brother David’s class boarding the train and pulling away from the station. I think he’s the boy in the red shirt in the first few frames.

Notice the old-fashioned, steel-wheeled baggage carts near the depot. The movie was shot in the early 1960s.

21 Replies to “Train Trip to Chaffee”

  1. This is very nice, great home movies from the 60’s! I remember taking the same train ride when I was in the first grade. My mom was on the train as parent guide and I still remember the all of us posing for picture that Mr. Fhronebuger took…I think it was in the Missourian, you could check.
    The train cars were probably the same one’s that are in the pictures. They were old even then, with wooden seats and NO air conditioning. I remember going south to Chaffee and riding back in cars. But not a lot more, must be the 60’s working on me.

    1. Toni, Toni, Toni, my child, trains used to be the way people traveled.

      To clear up one point, no, the kids didn’t do this EVERY morning. It was an annual event for many schools. (The Palm Beach County School Safety Patrol sends kids to Washington, D.C., every year. It’s something they never forget.)

      I used to take the train back and forth to college in Ohio from Cape. That was in the days before the train lines were successful in killing off passenger service by scrambling schedules. Hauling freight was a lot more profitable than hauling people.

      For example, I could take a train from Athens, OH, to Cincinnati, OH, but I had a day’s layover to catch the next leg to Cape. Eventually, the railroads made the case that there weren’t enough passengers to justify keeping the trains running. That’s when Amtrak came into being.

      I took a train from Cape to Chicago for a press photographer’s conference when I was at SEMO and four of us traveled by train from Cape to Philmont Scout ranch when I was 14.

      In 2003, my wife and I decided to take a train from West Palm Beach to Washington, D.C. It was great. The seats are roomy, you can walk around, there was a dining and club car. You could watch movies and the seats had AC outlets so you could power a computer or other device.

      I set up my computer on one of the tables in the club car and finished a major work project while rocketing through the countryside. I carried a portable scanner with the railroad frequencies in it so I could hear the train crewmembers talking to each other and to other trains along the line. When we got pulled over onto a siding for an extended period, I knew exactly what was going on.

      You should give it a try.

  2. I remember my Brownie troop taking the train to Chaffee…that would have been in the mid-1950s. It was a squealing, giggling experience.

  3. haha Well yes I did know that trains were popular travel back in the day and still are for semi-long commutes…but I just never knew the trains in Cape were used for travel too! It’s a cool video!

  4. Since I, too, went to Trinity kindergarten I remember well the train ride. Such great times and memories. My Mom and I had also ridden the train back from Texas right before I started the big K and was so much fun. Then a couple of years ago one of my friends and I rode the Amtrak to Chicago to go to the Oprah Show. Trains are awesome. My husband and I are thinking about taking one out west one day.

  5. I have a photo of our 2nd grade class from Franklin School standing on the riverbank – waiting to take the train. That must have been in 1957 or 1958. We thought it was so cool!

  6. Until about 1961 Cape had 4 trains a day, two northbound and two southbound. That schedule allowed local businessmen to travel to either St Louis or Memphis without having to spend the night.
    The southbound Sunnyland (day train) arrived Cape a bit before Noon. It then proceeded to Chaffee, arriving 15 or so minutes before its northbound counterpart. Passengers could get box lunches there. This schedule made the early year school trips possible.

    When Frisco successfully petitioned the ICC to cut The Memphian (night train, the Cape Chamber of Commerce lost interest in the day run.

    With Rush Limbaugh, Jr., pushing planes and the coming of I-55 (who cannot remember the traffic and Muhlenberg hill on old US 61), Frisco passenger service along the
    river died at the end of 1967, thus preventing the route from being considered by Amtrak when it was created in 1970. Ken must have ridden some of the last trains out of Cape.

    As I recall, a trip from Cape to St. Louis was about $5, and was scheduled for 3.5 hours to Union Station or 3 hours to Tower Grove (usually ran 30 minutes late), with stops at every small river town including Whittenberg where one could marvel at the public bomb shelter.

    1. Russell,

      I don’t think the classes I can recall did a roundtrip to and from Chaffee. I believe most of them went Cape to Chaffee and then rode back in cars.

      They probably didn’t want to take a chance on getting a bunch of kids stranded in a wild town like Chaffee.

      There’s very little trace of the sidings and switchyard in Chaffee these days. I scouted around a few years back and either didn’t look in the right places or they’ve pulled up all the track.

  7. I used to meet the passenger trains from St. Louis &Memphis every morning in the early 40’s. They brought the daily papers which my buddy, Gene Schmidtt & I would roll up, tie with a wire, and deliver to the entire town of Cape. The first train I rode was in 1945 when I graduated and joined the navy. It was a trip to Great Lakes training center and it had no A.C. so we had the windows up and got covered with soot from the coal fired steam engine. The next and last train ride was from submarine school in New London Conn., to catch my “boat” at Hunters Point navy base in Sanfrancisco. My lovely bride of 62 years keeps after me to take a trip on the am-track train so maybey, one more train is in the future!
    Joe Whitright-class of ’45

    1. Joe,

      Your comments triggered another memory. When I was working at The Missourian, we had an early edition that was most a replate of the previous day’s paper.

      They had to get it out early to make the trains. I don’t know where they were bound. Maybe somebody else can chime in.

      Go for the train ride. The only regret that Lila and I had was that we didn’t spring for a sleeper car on the trip from FL to Washington.

      A train buff on the ride said that you can sometimes gamble and get lucky that they have a spare berth that you can get at a cut-rate price.

  8. I was in the Jan. 1948 CHS graduating class. My father was a railroad telegrapher in the train station in the 1940’s. The steel wheeled cart was not necessarily for luggage but was primarily used to unload metal cream cans and railway express shipments.

  9. My first train trip was on April 11, 1968. I was sworn into the Air Force earlier that day and then five of us were put on a train to San Antonio for basic training at Lackland AFB. It seemed strange the Air Force would send us by train.

    Later on, I used to take the train from Penn Station to to St. Louis to go home on leave. That ended once I found I could fly free on courier flght into Scott AFB and take a shuttle to Lambert.

  10. OMG! I was in Mrs. Bohnsack’s kindergarten class circa 1949/50. And I still remember taking the train – couldn’t remember where we went, but we didn’t take the train back. that was the first and only time I had been on a train until last summer when I took the train from L.A. to San Juan Capistrano, CA to visit a friend. Other than being worried about getting on the wrong train, I loved it!
    Thanks for the memories, Ken.

  11. Ken,
    We had a very thoughtful teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, when I was in the 6th grade at Washington School (about 1954)who took her entire class on their first train trip from Cape to Chaffee. It was so neat and she was a very dedicated teacher to do that for us.
    On another trip, she took us to the Kimbleland Stables in Jackson. Those stables are long gone and now has become a subdivision full of many homes. Too bad they couldn’t have preserved the stables. They were quite fancy for horses and pretty snazzy for that day and time. Wish I had a picture of them. Do you have any in your stash?
    Thanks for all the interesting pictures and subjects that your bring to the Tiger Letter to add so much to it!

    1. I was looking for any trace of Kimbleland Stables when I was home recently, but I’m afraid all that’s left is a golf club with the name and some streets with Kimble in them.

      I remember driving by there when I was a kid and hearing my dad say that he wished he lived half as well as those horses.

      I don’t think I have any photos of it, but no telling what might turn up.

  12. My parents actually put me on the train from Cape to Chaffee when I was about twelve (’57) all by my lonesome just for the experience, and they of course beat the train there to make sure I would not continue on to more southern environs. The interesting part of it, which I clearly remember, was sitting next to an adult who told me he had taken a picture of our train’s engine after it pulled into Cape. En route to Chaffee he showed me an album of his engine photos …all black and white images and, as I recall, very good.

  13. When we were high school seniors in 1961, my Girl Scout Troop 17 took the train from Carbondale to New Orleans for a long weekend. We had roomettes on the overnight trip down on the Panama City Limited and rode coach going back on the City of New Orleans. Great Fun! I rode the City of New Orleans several times from Anna to Chicago and from Anna to Kankakee, IL to visit my mother’s sister and her family.

    A few years ago, Jerry and I took the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad from Blue Ridge, GA to McCaysville, GA/Copperhill, TN and back. The next year when we received their new brochures, there we were in the promo picture along with some other Florida friends. We never imagined we’d ever be living within 16 miles of Blue Ridge and that great ride!

  14. Ken, my grandfather was an engineer on the passenger train that ran through Chaffee. He retired in 1964. I too rode the train when I was in first grade,1964. But we rode from Chaffee to Cape and then rode back to Chaffee on buses. The old depot in Chaffee was torn down in the 70’s. The yards got reduced in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I am happy to see somebody has footage of the day. Thanks a bunch. It was short but enjoyable. More please.

    1. I took a jaunt through Chaffee on one of my recent visits looking for the old yards, but someone has done a highly efficient job of removing almost every trace of Chaffee being a major switchyard.

      I’m keeping my eyes open for other railroad pictures. Over the years, I’ve done lots of “last run” stories in Ohio and Florida.

  15. Riding the train brings back memories of my grandmother taking me for my first train ride from Whitewater, Mo. to Jackson, Mo. I was around 5 years old at the time and remember it well. The seats were hard wooden benches and the floor was made of boards, nothing fancy. That same train would take my grandfather’s cream cans to Jackson. A great memory for a farm girl.

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