Archive

Posts Tagged ‘sears houses’

Veritable Veneration for the Aladdin Venus

April 25th, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Last week, Elisabeth Witt of Wisconsin contacted me and said she thought there were a few kit homes in Shorewood, Wisconsin. I went to Realtor.com and entered Shorewood to do a quickie search, and one of the first hits was an Aladdin Venus! Click here to see the listing.

The Aladdin Venus was a popular house, but what makes this house in Shorewood so interesting is that it’s the only Venus I’ve seen that retains its original wooden awning.

And before we get to the pictures, I wonder if the Realtor knows it’s an Aladdin kit home? If so, there’s not a peep about it in the listing!

Thanks so much to Elisabeth for sending the photos!

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

*

Located in Shorewood, Wisconsin, this is the only Aladdin Venus Ive seen with that wooden awning intact!

Located in Shorewood, Wisconsin, this is the only Aladdin Venus I've seen with that wooden awning intact! And the rest of the house is in lovely condition, minus the windows on the side. Best of all, this house is for sale and if you click on the link above, you'll find an abundance of interior photos. Thanks to Elisabeth Witt for getting this photo!

*

Detail of that wooden awning.

Detail of that wooden awning.

*

The Aladdin Venus was a beautiful house.

The Aladdin Venus was a beautiful house, with a lot of fun details, like those paneled columns, the L-shaped front porch, and the star-pattern of windows on the home's left side (shown here). It also has oversized eaves and the roof slopes over those upstairs windows. When you look at the interior photos, that slope is dramatic on the 2nd floor. (1919 catalog)

*

The Venus was offered in two floor plans.

The Venus was offered in two floor plans. Venus #1 was smaller (18 by 24).

*

One house

Venus #2 was 20' by 26' and a couple other minor differences.

*

House

"It continually attracts attention from people walking by..."

*

The Aladdin Venus, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Aladdin Venus, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

*

What a pretty little Aladdin Venus!

What a pretty little Aladdin Venus! But the removal of four windows is a curiousity!

*

Heres a tired Aladdin Venus in Newport News, Virginia.

Here's a tired Aladdin Venus in Newport News, Virginia.

*

Another weary Venus, and this ones in Norfolk (38th Street).

Another weary Venus, and this one's in Norfolk (38th Street).

*

Heres an Aladdin Venus just outside of Roanoke Rapids, NC.

Here's an Aladdin Venus just outside of Roanoke Rapids, NC.

*

If those other Venuses (Venii?) are tired-looking, this ones exhausted. Its on 35th Street, in Park Place. At one time, Park Place was solid working class and many classic bungalows. Now its a blighted, high-crime area thats trying to come back. In the meantime, the many bungalows in this neighborhood can be had for a song.

If those other Venuses (Venii?) are tired-looking, this one's exhausted. It's on 35th Street, in Park Place (Norfolk, VA). At one time, Park Place was solid working class neighborhood with many classic bungalows. Now it's a blighted, high-crime area that's trying to come back. In the meantime, the many bungalows in this neighborhood can be had for a song.

*

Lets end on a happy note. :)  Many thanks to Elisabeth for the wonderful photo. And someone should tell that Realtor that this is the real deal - an Aladdin (not Sears) kit home!

Let's end on a happy note. :) Many thanks to Elisabeth for the wonderful photo. And someone should tell that Realtor that this is the real deal - an Aladdin (not Sears) kit home!

*

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

*      *      *

Sometimes Buying a House is a Real Roller Coaster Ride…

April 14th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the last 37 years, I’ve bought and sold a lot of houses and every single time, it’s an extremely stressful experience. However this real estate agent in Ermelo (in the Netherlands) found a fun and unique way to market this brick house.

He built a small roller coaster track throughout the five-bedroom house. An in-house speaker system gives a room-by-room narration of the home’s many features.

It’ll be interesting to see if the homes’ buyer wants the roller coaster to remain!

I would!

To see the full youtube video of the tour, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

*

He

I don't even like roller coasters, but this looks like fun!

*

House

The coaster enters through the garage and then into the basement.

*

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

*      *      *

Gordon Van Tine #611: Unusually Well Planned

April 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

These last few months, I’ve been doing a proper survey of kit homes in Hampton, Virginia. I went out yesterday to check one last section one last time (which I’ve now visited twice), when this handsome bungalow jumped out of the bushes and called my name.

This Gordon Van Tine Model #611 is on a main drag (300-block of North Mallory) which leaves me scratching my head. How did I miss it?

That will remain one of the great mysteries of the universe, together with, where did I put my husband’s truck keys.

To read more about the kit homes of Hampton, click here.

There’s even more about Hampton here.

*

Gordon Van Tine #611, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Gordon Van Tine #611, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

*

One of its distinctive features is the oversized porch and deck.

One of its distinctive features is the oversized porch and deck.

*

What a house!

Notice how the porch roof sits within the primary roof. Interesting feature.

*

Oh yeah, baby! :D

Sadly, some vinyl siding salesman has pillaged the house, but other than that, it's a nice match. The railings have been replaced, but that's a relatively minor affair.

*

Good match on this side, too!

Good match on this side, too!

*

So

And did I mention it's on the main drag? :)

*

To read more about the kit homes of Hampton, click here.

There’s even more about Hampton here.

*   *   *

And The Winner is… (Part II)

December 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about the “contest” offered by Sears Roebuck, where they invited 100 “up-to-date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design (Modern Home #189, “The Hillrose”), and second prize was awarded to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa for Modern Home #184.

Despite a lot of traveling, I’ve never seen an original Hillrose. However, in 2005, I gave a talk at a $1,000,000 reproduction of the Sears Hillrose in Prophetstown, Indiana.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is now open to the public, and in addition to the reproduced Sears kit home, there’s also a large working farm on the site.

When there in 2005, I had a thorough tour of the inside and snapped a few photos. As I told the director, I really loved what they’d done with the place. I snapped a few photos (old 35mm slides), which you’ll see below.

In 1916, the Sears Hillrose was offered for less than $2,000. More than 90 years later, the reproduction Hillrose cost more than $1 million.

To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

*        *       *

The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

*

The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose.

The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose (1914 catalog).

*

The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

*

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn. Upon reflection, Im not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when youre relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago.

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn to any known Sears kit barn designs. Upon reflection, I'm not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when you're relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago. That's my little red 2003 Camry to the right of the barn.

*

Close-up of the barn.

Close-up of the barn.

*

As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk in this barn.

As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk that night inside this barn. Back in the day, I toted around two slide projectors and would show the two slides on two screens, comparing extant houses with vintage catalog images. I was rather relieved when the world went to digital. Organizing all those slides for every talk was a massive undertaking. I finally gave away those slide projectors in 2011 when we moved into a new house.

*

The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty.

The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty. It disappears in the shadows, but yes, that's a chamber pot under the bed. The wallpaper was gorgeous, and the rag doll was a nice touch too.

*

Is that a Sears light fixture?

Is that a Sears light fixture? Not perfect, but close enough for government work. :)

*

For someone whos spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, the kitchen was charming.

For someone who's spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, I'd say the kitchen was utterly enchanting. And who doesn't secretly dream of a turquoise and white cast-iron, wood-fired cookstove?

*

Oh

What's not to love?

*

And what proper Indiana homestead wouldnt have a Hoosier cabinet?

And what proper Indiana homestead wouldn't have a Hoosier cabinet?

*

And properly stocked, too?

And properly stocked, too?

*

Do you have an aunt living in one of these towns?

Even though I've never seen an original Hillrose, the 1916 catalog shows that there were Hillroses buit in these cities. Please call your cousin Bertha in Griffith, Indiana and ask her to find the Sears Hillrose there and then ask her to take a photo and send it to the lady in Norfolk. Or maybe your Aunt Beulah in Alvada, Ohio? Or Granny Kittle in Waterman, Illinois? Work with me here. I need a photo of a real life Hillrose. Really I do.

*

To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

*       *       *

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

And The Winner Is…

December 29th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

It started out in 1913 as a contest.

Sears invited 100 “up to date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design, which came to be known as The Hillrose (Modern Home #189). In addition to having his creation featured in subsequent catalogs, he also won $50 - in gold.

Second prize ($35 in gold) went to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa. His house (Modern Home #184) didn’t last long enough to be granted a name (1918), and in fact, was gone by 1916.

Despite 14 years of wandering and researching, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose and that was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 20 years old.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is part of a museum exhibit that offers an interpretive display of a working farm.

The first floor of the house is true to the catalog image and to the time period. The interior is filled with period furnishings, appliances and even ephemera. An old Sears catalog sits on an end table in the front room of the Hillrose. The second floor is thoroughly modern, not open to the public, and is used as administrative offices.

In 2005, I traveled to Prophetstown to see this recently built Hillrose “in the flesh” and to give a talk on Sears Homes.

Originally, it was planned that I’d give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose (with space for 30 attendees). Not good. These talks - even 10 years ago - often drew 100+ visitors.

The only option available at the last minute was the barn. And it was a real barn, with real critters and hay and implements.

That evening, at 7:00 pm, I addressed about 90 people, four goats, six cows and several chickens. In the barn.

This newly built Hillrose was a pricey little affair. The 1916 Sears catalog showed the house offered for $1,649. More than 90 years later, the Hillrose’s contemporary cost exceeded $1 million, due to the expense of re-creating an early 20th Century farm house.

And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.

Click here to see inside the Hillsboro in Prophetstown.

To read more about this Hillsboro in Indiana, click here.

Want to learn more about to identify a Sears House? Click here.

*

Contest

I wonder what an "out of date" farmer looks like? This image came from a promotional brochure, dated about 1914. Take a moment and read it in its entirety. It's fun!

*

First prize

Modern Home #189 was the prize winner, and garnered $50 in gold for Mr. Selck of Evansville, Indiana (1914 catalog). Fine house (with more than 2,000 square feet) for a mere $1,473.

*

house hosue house

W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Ohio won $35 in gold for this design (1914 catalog).

*

First prize winner

Apparently, Sears asked for a letter from the first prize winner.

*

Second

And the second-prize winner, too.

*

house

Aladdin was actually the originator of the business of selling kit homes via mail-order catalogs, but what's a little promotional puffery between friends?.

*

hillrose

A comparison of the two houses - side-by-side.

*

house

I guess the woodshed was the thing that carried the day.

*

house

A panoramic view of Modern Home #189, showing not only the house, but outbuildings and livestock.

*

1916

A closer view of Modern Home #189 (The Hillrose).

*

barn

A close-up of the Sears kit barn, as shown with The Hillrose (above).

*

Round barn with

I love that dormer atop not just the round barn but the silo, too.

*

cheapter

Chicken House #221 is shown next to the Hillrose.

*

Long shot

Here's a long view of the 2nd prize winner. He has a chicken coop, but it's not the #221. He has a vehicle, but it's only one-horse power. He has an outbuilding, but it's a little milk house.

*

house 1916

Second-prize winner got cheaped out on the chicken house.

*

house house

Nice little milk house, though.

*

Even though Ive never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog).

Even though I've never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog). Alvado, Ohio can't be that big. It can't be too tough to find a big old Sears foursquare in little old Alvado. Perhaps a kind-hearted Avacadoan will find this Hillrose in their town and snap a photo for moi. Or maybe someone in Griffith will embark on this mission of mercy. One can hope. I need a picture of a Hillrose.

*

However, I dont know if any of these homes were ever built.

However, I don't know if any of these homes were ever built. Good news is, this house is so distinctive, it'll be easy to spot! In addition to being an L-shaped foursquare (yeah, really), it has an offset porch, small vestibule, pedimented porch roof, big gabled dormer, oversized eaves and a dainty-looking horse in the front yard.

*

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy.

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy, and it's the only Hillrose I've seen.

*

From catalog side

A view of the Hillrose from the same angle as the catalog.

*

My favorite view of all

My favorite shot of the Hillrose, showing the barn in the background.

*

Just a little archival storage tip: If youre going to

Just a little archival storage tip: If you're going to collect rare Sears House ephemera and sell it on eBay, don't cut it up into tiny bits and then laminate the whole caboodle with thick plastic. This photo here is to help explain why images 1, 4, 5 and 6 look like they were scanned through wax paper. Because - actually - they were. Special thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for purchasing this rare brochure and sharing it!

*

To read Rachel’s wonderful blog, click here.

*      *       *

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

And So This is Christmas…

December 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Thanks so much to Rachel Shoemaker for providing me with the PERFECT Christmas Day photo!

And if you want to read about Sears Homes all year long, join our group of kit-home enthusiasts on Facebook!

*       *      *

Rach

Rachel Shoemaker's favorite elf studies not one, but two catalogs whilst gazing upon a diminutive version of the Sears Mitchell - decorated for Christmas! Photo is copyright 2014 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

*

Teddy

Teddy will look back on this Christmas with many fond memories.

*

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Visit Rachel’s blog by clicking here.

Interested in learning about Gordon Van Tine? Click here!

*       *        *

Peace Pipes and Fourplexes: The Calumet

October 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The Calumet is a rare Sears kit house that was offered for a brief time in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Sears did offer a few apartment buildings (yes, as kits), and the Calumet was one of them. My favorite feature of the Sears Calumet is the wall-bed, and the Calumet had two wall beds per unit.

The bed frame was included in the kit (but not the mattress).

It’s also interesting to note that the word Calumet comes from the Latin word calamellus, meaning “little reed.”  According to my online dictionary, a calumet is a “ceremonial smoking pipe, traditionally smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.”

Next time you’re watching TV with your friends and an Indian starts smoking a peace pipe, you can exclaim, “Why, he’s smoking a calumet!”

They’ll be so impressed with your esoteric knowledge!

Want to learn more about Murphy Beds (Wall Beds)? Click here!

*

The Calumet, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

I just love the math: 20 rooms in 12! How do they do it? :)

*

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

*

Bs

The Calumets had four porches, each with their own coal bin, whichwas nothing more than a small bin. Not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Plus, it has "handy closets." I wonder which model had the "unhandy closets"?

*

That would have been a heck of a kit house!

That would have been a heck of a kit house!

*

Bloomintong

Notice that the wall beds have their own windows - in a closet!

*

bed

The Calumet - as seen in the 1918 catalog.

*

The only Calumet Ive ever seen - and its in Bloomington, IL.

The only Calumet I've ever seen - and it's in Bloomington, IL. You can see those two "closet-bed windows" on the right side. Sadly, the second-story porches are long gone. That first step outside of those 2nd floor doors is a doozy!

*

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

*

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

*

In the silent short film (1:00 a.m.), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed).

In the silent short film (title, "1:00 a.m."), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed). The full video (about 10 minutes) is at youtube. See link below.

*

To see the Charlie Chaplin short, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

*

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

*       *       *

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

*

Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

*

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

*

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

*

Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

*

Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

*

Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

*

A Kit House in Lebanon! (New Hampshire)

September 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, Hubby and I traveled to Vermont to see all the pretty things up there (including the Ben and Jerry’s Factory).

Sadly, I didn’t see much in the way of kit homes, but I did discover this gorgeous “San Fernando” offered by Lewis Homes (early 1920s).

The house is just across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire in a small town known as Lebanon. (We ended up staying at the Fireside Inn and Suites in West Lebanon.)

Lewis Homes was a kit home company (like Sears and Aladdin), and it was based in Bay City, Michigan. While Sears and Aladdin tend to get all the ink, the fact is that there were six companies selling kit homes on a nation-wide basis.

As you can see from the pictures below, it is a gorgeous house and has its original windows and siding. Might even be the original storm windows!

To read about the other pretty houses I found in this area, click here.

Read about my train adventure by clicking here!

*     *     *

The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow.

The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow (1924 catalog).

*

It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

*

And with two floorplans!

And with two floorplans!

*

2

These floorplans appear to be the same (mostly), but this one is two feet longer (1924).

*

It really is a beautiful bungalow!

It really is a beautiful bungalow!

*

House

Located on Main Street in Lebanon, NH, this is a beautiful San Fernando!

*

Perfect - DOWN to the details!

Perfect - DOWN to the details!

*

windows

Hard to say for sure, but these are either original storms or fine-looking replacements.

*

Heres a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio.

Here's a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio. That's Dale looking at the house.

*

While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. That was great fun!

While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. The water is turqouise color due to some of the minerals leeching out from the rock.

*

Amtrak’s “Vermonter”: The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly

September 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 14 comments

Update! Amtrak contacted me and offered me $180 voucher for future travel! I’m not sure how they arrived at the math, but the customer service rep said it was the difference between a coach fare and the business class fare.

In last week’s blog, I mentioned my 10+ hour trip on Amtrak. In this blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about my experience on the The Vermonter between Brattleboro and Washington, DC.

When it comes to trains, I’m a hopeless romantic. I love, love, LOVE the idea of train travel. It’s an adventure, it’s relaxing, it’s environmentally sound, and “riding the rails” is an integral part of our American culture and history.

Plus, it’s a great way to find kit homes. My little pretties were often built right along the rail lines.

However, after my most recent experience on the Vermonter, I’d have to say that this country’s rail system needs some big help.

First, the good parts.

Frequent flyers will have culture shock when they board a train for the first time. The train slows down and stops at the platform, you climb on board, stow your luggage, pick a seat and get comfy.

That’s it.

No full body-cavity searches, no presentation of ID, no long wait to board. A few minutes into the trip, the conductor will walk down the aisle and ask for your ticket. Rarely do they ask for any ID. In my 20+ trips on Amtrak, I’ve been asked to produce ID only twice.

Our seats in “Business Class” were spacious and comfortable, and the long, tinted windows offered a broad and comfortable view of the world outside. There was an abundance of leg-room, and our brown-leather seats had foot rests and cup holders.

If you’re going to go Amtrak, Business Class is the way to travel. It’s been my experience that passengers in this car are usually well-coiffed, quiet, and mature  (35+). The cost to upgrade to Business Class is minimal.

Business Class is typically located within the Cafe Car, and the plus is, you have ready access to all manner of tasty treats (chips, drinks, pizzas, etc.). The downside is, Hubby spent $52 on snack food during our 10-hour ride back to DC. His sub sandwich, with a bag of pretzels and a small bottle of orange juice cost $22.

The other plus is that a train trip offers views that you’re not going to see on our highways and byways. And there’s a little splash of voyeurism too. You get a sneak peak into America’s back yards, as well as abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and forgotten farm houses.

Train travel can be so very relaxing, and for the most part, fellow passengers are in good spirits. The rhythmic clicking of the wheels against the metal tracks soothes the weary soul. The gentle to and fro rocking can induce a meditative, almost euphoric state of mind.

With every train ticket you buy, you’re supporting an alternative to flying and driving. America desperately needs alternate modes of transportation.

Those are the good things.

Ready for the not-so-good things?

The trip from Brattleboro to DC (the trip home on Sunday) was less pleasant than the outbound trip, because every seat on the train was sold. This meant that the bathrooms saw a lot of use. Within three hours of our departure, the smell from the bathroom (within the cafe car) was horrific. And the bathroom looked worse than it smelled.

There were small puddles of urine on the floor, together with a few wads of used toilet paper. (My husband reported that on an earlier train trip, the bathrooms in coach had much bigger problems than “just” puddles of urine. Yikes.)

The bathroom trash can was filled well past overflowing. I skipped the paper towel portion of my visit so that I could avoid placing my hand into the mass of used debris stuffed into the trash receptacle. Again: Ick.

Fortunately, I had an adequate supply of disposable wipes in my briefcase.

A not-so-well-coiffed woman in Business Class threw her McDonald’s bag and an empty bottle of soda on the floor when she was finished with breakfast. And there it remained for four hours (despite several conductors stepping over it). When I arose to use the facilities, I picked up the bag and carried it to the overflowing trash can in the cafe car.

Admittedly, slobs and litter bugs are not the fault of Amtrak, but Hubby and I were both surprised that the conductors walked right past it repeatedly.

More bad.

As my closest friends know, I’m highly allergic to little children, especially when they scream loudly and jump about and make lots of unexpected, dramatic movements. Less than an hour into the trip, a young father came into Business Class with two children (ages 5 and 7, I’d guess). The children crawled all over the seats and made a fair amount of noise and I don’t think they sat still for more than 20 seconds at a time. That took away a lot of the enjoyment of a “peaceful, quiet ride.”

Whey they got off the train, my husband, who’s far more tolerant of little children than said, “That’s a relief. Those kids were nerve-wracking.”

It was disappointing that the conductor didn’t ask those children to remain seated - especially in Business Class.

Which brings me to the next “Oh Dear” comment.

Some of the staff onboard the train were not pleasant. One conductor came into our car and literally yelled for all  of us to produce our tickets immediately. It was a piercing, strident voice and really not needful for the 20 passengers seated in the small section. Another employee - the cafe car attendant - made no secret of the fact that he was annoyed when someone showed up at the snack bar, and he had to get up out of his seat and wait on them.

On the north-bound journey, the Vermonter is moved onto a track at Palmer, Massachusetts and a new engine is put on. From Palmer to the end of the line (in our case, Brattleboro), the train goes backwards. If you’re in the Coach Section, you can switch seats (if there are openings) and find a backwards-facing seat. If you’re in the Business Class section, you’re kind of stuck.

Both Hubby and I have a bit of a tendency to motion sickness, so going backwards was a no-go for us. We moved to the cafe section and sat at a table, so we could face the right direction.

And there was one really big surprise.

Occasionally, the conductor would tell the passengers that they had “five minutes for a smoke break” at the next stop. Whenever these announcements were made, I’d hop out of my seat and go stand outside for a couple minutes to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. At one such stop, the rear door in the Business Section was opened. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be at that stop, so I stayed inside and admired the view from the safety of the car.

Good thing too, because without warning, that door slammed shut and the train started rolling. In other words, there was no conductor checking for passengers at the back of the train and no one yelling, “All aboard!”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but those doors can be - and ARE - operated remotely from the front of the train. Had I stepped out of the car, I would have been left on the platform! Let me tell you, that would have taken a lot of fun out of the trip!

Factoring the four-hour drive between DC and Norfolk, the trip from Brattleboro to Norfolk took 14+ hours of travel time. (Not counting parking, and other miscellaneous travel events.) Fortunately, the train was on time both ways. However, this is a trip that takes about 9-1/2 hours by car.

The two round-trip train tickets were $566 and it cost $132 to park at DC’s Union Station.

It was an adventure, and there are some good memories, but I shant be riding The Vermonter again, for all the reasons outlined above.

To Amtrak’s credit, I must add that during the many years I lived in the Midwest, I rode the rails at least a dozen times. I’ve been on The Cardinal (2010) and the Texas Eagle (2004). In 2005, I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. That was 48 hours of bliss!  I also rode the commuter train between Alton and Chicago too many times to count.

Those train rides were great fun. The service was good, the cars were clean and the trains were on time 75% of the time. In 2008, Hubby and I took the Silver Star to Orlando, and that was also a pleasant ride.

As I said in the beginning of this blog, I dearly love train travel and our country has great need of ecologically sound alternatives to flying and driving, but Amtrak has some major issues that need to be resolved. And the Vermonter’s run along the Northeast corridor has a lot of room for improvement.

As of 2008 (the last year for which I could find stats), the US taxpayers were subsidizing air travel to the tune of $13 billion per year. Perhaps it’s time to do more for Amtrak, in the hopes that they could find better staff and get the restrooms cleaned up and establish high-speed rail in more areas.

In short, Amtrak needs some re-tooling so it can be a viable contender in the transportation industry.

To read what I found in the Vermont area, click here.

*      *       *

The trip to Brattleboro was a big annual vacation, and Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there aint easy.

Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there ain't easy.

*

The Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel, which was convenient.

The Brattleboro Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel (where we stayed).

*

Amtrak in 1915

The original train depot is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. It's now a museum.

*

Another view of this beautiful old train depot.

Another view of this beautiful old train depot. Kudos to Brattleboro for preserving it.

*

The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the back of the building. Pretty modest.

The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the rear. That "does it fit?" frame in the left corner isn't used much apparently.

*

New Haven

The Amtrak station in New Haven, Connecticut.

*

Sometime

In New Haven, Connecticut, the pretty Amtrak diesel-electric locomotive was replaced with an electric train, which runs on catenary or overhead wire. From New Haven to DC, we were electric. (Photo is from Wikipedia.)

*

A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City.

A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City. I'd love to know how old this thing is.

*

Long view of our train at Penn Station.

Long view of our train at Penn Station.

*

Busines

Hubby sitting in the Business Class section. The seats were quite comfy.

*

I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV.

I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV. Ten hours on a train is too much for moi.

*

I think these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

I know these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Check out those lamps. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

*

To read about the future of train travel, click here.

Or here.

*      *       *