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The Southwest Chief historic route was first traversed by the earliest Indians who first discovered its twists, turns and passes.

The Empire Builder operates daily between Chicago and Seattle/Portland and was named for James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railway.

Long-distance trains travel as far as 2,800 miles and pass through as many as 12 states.

The Fascinating People You Meet on Trains

What kind of people does one meet on a cross-country train adventure?

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Interestingly, we'd encountered something similar years ago on the Ute Reservation. Because of new-found mineral wealth, each member of the tribe — man, woman, child — received $600 per person per month.

They'd go into a shop, buy a coke and put $20 on the counter and walk out. Because money wasn't important in their culture, they were sadly taken advantage of. Very aged Indian men began appearing with very young belladonna (white) wives and small children. Other tribes more wisely used their mineral wealth for schools, roads, health and so on.

We've already mentioned the ultimate passengers — the Canadian couple who had been away from Victoria, British Columbia for a year on their catamaran. They had now sold it and were going home to sell their other boat and take off on Japanese motorcycles. For long-distance travel, they were right up there with the couple who had travelled from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Seattle to take a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Then travelled north to Whitehorse, Dawson and Fairbanks.

We'd learned about their adventures at the train's wine tasting when homeward bound. He said: "On planes you don't meet people. This is so much more fun."

A very sophisticated Connecticut couple we met at the outbound wine tasting were heading to Fairbanks, Alaska to visit their son. Also train enthusiasts, they'd boarded in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Because our family has early 17th-century roots in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, that conversation led in an interesting direction when we all started comparing family roots and early settlements.

Turns out they lived near the museum-home of our great-great-great-great grandfather, Israel Putnam, who had led the Continental Army in early days of the American Revolution under George Washington.

Hers was Cotton Mather, a name that became infamous in early New England and led her to remark: "It's still a challenge to carry that name as part of your heritage."

It's definitely not our intent to make railroading sound Utopian. There are flaws, mainly in the dining room where food is good, but service often aggravatingly indifferent, orders mixed up and a don't-care attitude often evident.

Three of our porters on these trips — Julio, Candace and Paul — were excellent. Prince, on our return from Montana, was totally disinterested and obviously wished he was somewhere else. He was certainly never around.

We boarded what was supposed to be a clean room in Whitefish to find an empty bottle of Black Velvet scotch left in our sink's wastebasket, along with a number of cups from the drinker.

Are we ready for yet another long-distance train trip regardless of these small flaws? Absolutely.

They're minor annoyances compared to the joy of relaxing and watching the world glide by. Everything else about railroading is very special.