On our way from Chicago, we stopped at Rochelle, Illinois to eat lunch at the town’s Railroad Park, a triangular piece of land at the intersection of two BNSF lines and two Union Pacific Lines. Over the course of a normal day, between 75 and 100 trains pass through the intersection, so the town has set aside the park so that families with kids and grown-ups with cameras can enjoy watching the trains come through.
I especially enjoyed the signs with hobo symbols all around the picnic pavilion. They provided an insight into how travelers on our route about eighty years ago might have navigated their tenuous circumstances. I’m sure the Rochelle intersection was a major thoroughfare for people trying to find transport to towns with work during the dustbowl. Signs like “man with gun lives here,” “town is hostile,” and “get out quick!”, while funny to a modern audience, showed just how tough life on the road must have been and how ingenuous hobos needed to be to create such a complex system.
The park is not only a haven for serious railfans (i.e. guys with radios and laptops telling them when the next train is coming), but also for kids and pets. The park shop sells rail gear, snacks and drinks, and provides restrooms, recycling bins, and free wi-fi for visitors. After we watched a couples trains pass by, Guinness was even kind enough to pose for a photo aboard the kids train. After we finished our lunch, we were ready to hit the road again and head to Iowa.