The Train They Call the City of New Orleans by Rob Estes

Before the automobile was widely available, travelers often relied on passenger rail service to and from Arcola to connect with neighboring communities to visit friends, family, shop, attend concerts, festivals and sporting events. The rail connected Arcola to the world, making the shipment of goods and traveling very convenient. By the mid 1940’s steam locomotives and new diesel engines were pulling freight or passenger cars through Arcola on the Illinois Central every hour. The Illinois Central introduced the original City of New Orleans passenger route on April 27, 1947 as a daytime companion to the overnight Panama Limited. The diesel locomotive emblazoned with the traditional Green Diamond logo of the Illinois Central, was paired with colorful new Pullman coaches to complete the route from Chicago to New Orleans. One train would leave Chicago and one would leave New Orleans at the same time every morning and would pass each other at midday making stops along the route including little towns like Arcola, the original train could cover the 934 mile route at an average speed of 60 mph in 15 hours and 55 minutes. The onset of the fast diesel trains contributed to the decline of these “flag stops” in a number of small towns, including Arcola with the last City of New Orleans passenger trains stopping in Arcola in 1963. The train stopped to pick up Arcola residents who were headed to New Orleans to attend the wedding of Arcola native Thomas “Tim” Monahan to Joan Rivas. The Arcola travelers filled an entire passenger car, which was dubbed the “Doc Phillips Special” by the townspeople in honor of Arcola’s dentist, Dr. John Phillips, who organized the trip to New Orleans.

Amtrak took over the passenger train service from the Illinois Central in 1971 and returned to an overnight service, restoring the Panama Limited moniker until 1980. In an attempt to capitalize on the song written by Steve Goodman and recorded by Arlo Guthrie in 1972, Amtrak changed back to the City of New Orleans name four years prior to Willie Nelson’s album by the same name recovered the Goodman in 1984. Today, the City of New Orleans continues to pass through Arcola is equipped with Streamliner II cars with the closest local stops now located in Mattoon 15 miles south and Champaign 30 miles to the north.

Robert Estes owns and operates Brushstroke Signs in Paducah, KY. Rob has been a sign painter since 1985 and attended his first Walldog meet in Belvideere, IL in 1997. Prior to being selected as the project leader for the Train They Call the City of New Orleans, he had served as the project leader for the Electric Railway Company Mural in Pontiac, IL in 2009.