News & Reviews News Wire News photos: ‘Cardinal’ offers fleeting view of small-town celebration

News photos: ‘Cardinal’ offers fleeting view of small-town celebration

By Bob Johnston | December 5, 2023

Trip offers example of trackside sights as a selling point for rail travel

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Two people on horses
An equestrian unit takes part in the Crozet, Va., Christmas parade on Dec. 3 — as seen from onboard Amtrak’s Cardinal. Note the antler-wearing banner-holders at right. Bob Johnston

CROZET, Va. — “Surprise and delight” is language public-relations gurus routinely apply to whatever they are promoting, though you never know when it will actually occur while looking out the window of an Amtrak passenger train.

Last Sunday, Dec. 3, it happened aboard the Chicago-bound Cardinal about 12 miles west of Charlottesville, Va., on the Buckingham Branch Railroad’s former Chesapeake & Ohio main line. The annual Christmas parade in Crozet, Va. — population 9,224 — was in full swing just as the train bounded around a curve into town. Early morning rain had given way to mild temperatures and afternoon sunshine, so fortunately a camera was ready to record less than 30 seconds of the event at 2:14 p.m. EST

People with strollers in parade
It can be hard to differentiate between the spectators and the participants in a small-town parade. Bob Johnston

But that was enough time to witness horses prancing down the main highway next to the tracks, families with strollers enjoying the afternoon, and a spotless fire engine bringing up the rear as people lined the street. Was that Santa aboard?

Parade prepares to turn corner
A good crowd is on hand where the parade turns the corner. Bob Johnston

And just like that, the scene gave way to fields and forests.

The local Crozet Gazette says the parade was sponsored by the volunteer fire department, which offered “food off the grill, a bounce house, arts and crafts, and fire trucks to explore” at the firehouse after it was over. Crozet residents clearly enjoyed the afternoon.

Winter’s shortened days often provide fewer opportunities to see what’s going on in the towns Amtrak trains pass through. On the other hand, one of the unremarked pleasures of traveling around the holidays is to see how residents and merchants take pride in  their decorations. At night in a darkened roomette, there are few visual experiences more satisfying than watching an ever-changing array of light displays, especially in towns like Ashland, Va., and Montgomery, W.Va., where trains go slow through residential neigborhoods and festive downtowns. You never know what might be waiting around the next bend.

6 thoughts on “News photos: ‘Cardinal’ offers fleeting view of small-town celebration

  1. One more reason for Amtrak to wash the windows on the trains. The ones I’ve seen lately coming out of and into New Orleans are filthy. Absolutely no excuse for this as watching the world go by is a big part of the experience of train travel.

  2. Bob you brought back memories of the time I was the engineer on Amtrak 19. We were running late and went through Suwanee, GA, during their Christmas parade. NS had a 10 mph speed restriction due to the parade crossing the tracks. We literally became a part of the parade as it was delayed due to us. And south of the crossing the parade followed the street parallel to the tracks. It was great as many of the people were looking at us and taking pics. And a delight for the kids.

  3. Great post! It’s my recommendation that every person should ride a train home at Christmastime at least once in their lives.

  4. I was onboard the Cardinal many years and decades now ago to watch fireworks across the Ohio river as a new year rolled in. Treasured memories . . .

  5. The town of Crozet was named after Claudius Crozet, the chief engineer of the Blue Ridge Tunnel that went under Rockfish Gap on Afton Mountain when it was built in the 1850s. It became part of the Virginia Central Railroad, which later became the C&O. The original tunnel was replaced with a new larger tunnel during WW2. The Cardinal will go through it shortly after it leaves Crozet. By the way, you can hike the original tunnel as it is now a trail. Just make sure to bring a good flashlight!

  6. Bob–What a delightful post! Your reporting is always insightful, and here you captured well one of the delights of traveling by train. Like probably all of your readers, I’ve spent many an hour gazing out those windows by day and night. Often it’s been when I should have been at least trying to sleep, but the window called and I answered.

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