Ode to an Amshack

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Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 12:51 am

I don’t think too many people lament the loss of an Amshack. The austere yet definable architectural style of these first-decade Amtrak stations continue to serve many cities in America as the home of rail passenger travel – but one fewer in recent times. I’m proud to have visited Dearborn’s new multi-modal transit center, but am just a little bit sad for the retirement of the old Amshack behind the police headquarters. Maybe not sad, just a bit nostalgic.

I shared this station with hundreds of thousands of other people over the years, but growing up, it was my hometown depot. From my earliest memories, I remember going to the station to see Amtraks come in with my parents. I have them to thank for nurturing my interest in trains, and for taking photos of my early train experiences. I remember meeting the train when my grandma would come up to visit us from Indiana, and eventually taking trips to and from the Niles station to visit her.

I learned about trains from going to this station. That green signals mean a train is coming. That Amtrak engines had special sounding horns which freight engines didn’t (true in the 1990s, not so much today). That the alternating “round, square, round, square” cars were actually called Amfleets and Horizons. That the locomotives were called F40’s, but a new engine called the Genesis was slowly replacing them.

It’s where I learned about Amtrak and America. I inspected the system map posted on the wall and learned the route names. I collected schedules and pamphlets. It's where I left for an overnight trip to Chicago with the scouts, my first visit to the "other end of the line." It’s where I first saw an “Am-Cab” (metroliner) cab car, an NPCU, and a P-32. Somehow my parents managed to keep it together when their 12 year old kid kept repeating that we needed to go to the station to see a new “Pepsi-Can.” The F40 vanished. I documented Heritage Baggage Cars and the Automat during their brief Michigan Line era. Paint schemes changed from Phase III to Phase IV and the jumbled schemes during the transition. I struck up conversations with various station agents, like “I remember the E units” guy, and Jim. My photos went from ones my parents took for me to ones I was taking myself.

Amtrak 9650 Dearborn 353 1993.jpg
My brother and I beside "Am-Cab" 9650 around 1993. My green shorts were awesome!


The station was a place full of memories. Walking the long platform under the overhang on a warm and rainy summer’s evening watching that light slloooowwwwwwly approach on the horizon. Freezing in the bitter cold to see what the power would be on a Saturday 353. Going there with J32885. Meeting Mackinac Mac for a round trip 350/355 journey to Pontiac and return. The smell of brake shoe smoke when a train came to a stop. That one time, during the F40 era, when two Amtraks met at the platform, but we forgot the camera at home. When station announcements used to include the old train names: Wolverine, Lake Cities, Twilight Limited.

Amtrak 90218 Dearborn 350 8-17-1998 A.jpg
Freshly converted and outshopped NPCU 90218 leads Wolverine 350 demonstrating the square-round-square-round car arrangement I noticed as a child. Point and shoot film cameras could take some decent shots! 1998.


I moved to Kalamazoo during college, and my railfanning moved westward. But at least once a semester, I planned an Amtrak trip back home, and disembarked and then boarded again from the Dearborn Amshack. The trains were jammed. The trains were late. The 355 consist finally got a 3rd coach car. The humor of the Colin Powell café car attendant. Would I get stuck sitting next to some old person? Still, the fluorescent and flickering glow of the platform lights out the window was always a pleasant sight as an eastbound weekend train trip concluded at the Dearborn station. My summers were still spent in Dearborn, and one of the best I remember was the season the ITCS was down an Amtrak sent whatever power they had to Michigan again.

Train consists grew, the paint scheme was finally looking matched again with Phase V. But the station was often crowded now. The seats torn and frayed. The platform cracked and uneven. The letter “r” fell off the outdoor sign, spelling “Amtak.” I remember in high school, 2002 in fact, going to a presentation about the new Dearborn Amtrak station they were planning for Elm Street. Three tracks, an overhead walkway – like Fullerton, California, a station I had been to several times. Too good to be true? After Kalamazoo, I moved to Ypsi, then to Connecticut.

The construction finally took place. Platforms were constructed and a bridge was installed, and a station building rose from a parking lot. The mainline will be double track again. Dearborn’s new station just opened in December 2014. My last visit to the old station was actually as a passenger, not a railfan, and was now quite some time ago – boarding the 6030 bus to Toledo to catch the Capitol Limited in early 2013. My first visit to the new station was as an arriving passenger just over a week after it opened – again from a connection to the Capitol Limited. Dearborn’s new station is large, modern, airy. The sun streams through the arched windows. Passengers – the non railfan types – enjoy a modern first-class facility, giving a brand new first impression of Amtrak travel. It will serve the Michigan Line’s growing ridership well for decades.

I’m impressed by the new station, and pleased to see it open. But I’m just a little sad for the closure of the old. It doesn’t matter where your first train experience was, most every railfan, regardless of age, gets that hint of excitement when a headlight first appears down the track. The old Dearborn Station was that place for me.

All aboard for the next great adventure!

Amtrak New Dearborn Station.jpg
Passengers wait for train 353 to arrive at the new Dearborn Amtrak Station, 12/29/2014.
Last edited by GP30M4216 on Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Dan Cluley » Mon Jan 19, 2015 2:18 am

Very nice!

These stations may have been one of the first real indications that Amtrak was going to be a permanent thing, and compared to a moble home or a walled off corner of a mostly empty big city station, they looked pretty good at the time.


I'm wondering how many were built originally, and how many remain?

Ann Arbor -in service
Hammond - sort of in service
Dearborn - replaced
Cincinnati? - replaced
Albany - remodled or replaced?

It's not nearly as nice as an official "Amshack" but it's going to be weird to see the East Lansing station go too.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby MQT1223 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:00 pm

Dan Cluley wrote:Very nice!

These stations may have been one of the first real indications that Amtrak was going to be a permanent thing, and compared to a moble home or a walled off corner of a mostly empty big city station, they looked pretty good at the time.


I'm wondering how many were built originally, and how many remain?

Ann Arbor -in service
Hammond - sort of in service
Dearborn - replaced
Cincinnati? - replaced
Albany - remodled or replaced?

It's not nearly as nice as an official "Amshack" but it's going to be weird to see the East Lansing station go too.


Don't forget Grand Rapids, although it's replaced. It's a true Amshack, more like a hut its so small.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Dan Cluley » Mon Jan 19, 2015 6:54 pm

I think "cottage" is the word I would use for the old GR station :) , but my list is just the ones built to the standard Amtrak design of the '70s.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Ypsi » Mon Jan 19, 2015 7:53 pm

Very nice right up on the old station.. Neat to read about your memories of the 90's and early 00's on the Michigan line and of Amtrak. I will say the old station has nothing on the new one, from not cracked platforms to heating shelters, it's a major upgrade.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby GTW6401 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 9:03 pm

The Dearborn station served its purpose. I actually liked the old location better, mostly because having the police department right across the parking lot provided more peace of mind when I left my car there for a couple days.

Birmingham was a great example of an Amshack. The depot was restored and houses a fancy restaurant while the passengers got a bus shelter to wait in.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby GTW6401 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 9:47 pm

Ive gotten a few shots from the station in recent years. Amtrak 355 was usually a good bet for a nicely lit westbound in the evening.

NS 38E on June 1, 2014.
Image

Amtrak 355 on July 26, 2011.
Image

NS 62T on August 16, 2011.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby 59caddy » Mon Jan 19, 2015 10:01 pm

I saw a three way meet (Amtrak 350, 38E, and 39E) earlier this year at the old station just out of luck - I had no scanner with me.

I hear they'll be turning it into an animal shelter, so at least it would still serve a good purpose.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Burb8145 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 9:51 am

I used this station as the start/end point of my April 2009 Chicago trip.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Fred » Tue Jan 20, 2015 11:35 am

I remember being there for the Grand Opening way back when - Ven Marshall of Channel Seven "action news" was there live broadcasting the event. After the closing of the MC Depot in Detroit, boarded many a train there in Dearborn to start off a journey to Chicago & points West, East, & South on other Amtrak trains.
Yes, parking my car there gave me piece of m. ind knowing my car was probably safer than at other stations, (had my car stolen from the MC Depot back in 1970 while working 3rd shift there)
Amtrak needed a larger station there in Dearborn & this new one looks like a nice one.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:25 pm

Thanks for the comments and photos, all!

The old Dearborn station served its purpose, and as Fred mentioned, was actually a modern station building for its time. But passenger traffic in Dearborn increased such over 30ish years that it was no longer modern, and no longer sized for the crowds which would show up before train time.

The subject of an "Amshack" is interesting. In doing a little bit of follow up research, I found this to be the case on various railfan boards across the web. Some refer to an Amshack purely in it's literal sense - an Amtrak shack, similar to what (was) in Birmingham, or (was) in New Buffalo. (Glorified bus shelter, anyone?) Others, including myself in writing this article, refer to an Amshack as a type of station and architectural style which Amtrak built many of during the 1970s and 1980s. This design is typified by the Walthers Cornerstone model which was sold some years ago:

Image

Typical architectural features included the low flat roof perched atop a wide cantilevered cornice, a band of windows directly beneath this roof, and exterior facing in either light tan brick or concrete, and an overall earth-tone color scheme. In some cases, these stations replaced large big-city depot buildings as Amtrak tried to more closely match the station size to the number of trains or traffic in a specific place (Cincinnati, for example, since re-replaced by Union Terminal). In others, it was a simply a more modern station building built to serve a specific town or city, or to start service in a new location (such as Dearborn). The design was standardized in many respects and numerous examples were building in the U.S., mainly in the northeast and Midwest, although other examples were constructed elsewhere.

The Amtrak history blog has a great article about this station design, the different sizes and characteristics. I had never really considered that Amtrak carried on the tradition of standardized railroad station designs, but during their first decades, they did. Check it out here: http://history.amtrak.com/blogs/blog/creating-a-visual-identity-the-amtrak-standard-stations-program

With the Dearborn station closed, remaining "Amshacks" continue to service Michigan trains (for now) in Ann Arbor, Flint, and Hammond-Whiting, and nearly 20 other stations around the country. If the old station is to become the new Dearborn animal shelter, the architecture may linger on in Dearborn long after the last train stopped behind the civic center.

Thanks again for reading!
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Ypsi » Thu Jan 22, 2015 8:36 am

I always thought of the design as the "Amtrak cookie cutter" station design, and then the little bus depot/ shacks as Amshacks. I think having running plumbing, heat, and air take you out of the "shack" designation :P

As for using Dearborn as an Animal shelter, the design of the station should be perfect for that. They have the waiting area which can be the well.. waiting area. They already have a desk/ counter area. And the back storage/ luggage area will work well for a clinic/ kennels. Plus you have the small luggage garage door for bringing animals or other stuff in and out. Should serve the purpose very well... unless the dogs and other animals bark at or are bothered by the 8 or so passing trains.
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Re: Ode to an Amshack

Unread postby Burb8145 » Thu Jan 22, 2015 10:31 am

YpsiAmtrakBoy wrote:I always thought of the design as the "Amtrak cookie cutter" station design, and then the little bus depot/ shacks as Amshacks. I think having running plumbing, heat, and air take you out of the "shack" designation :P


At least they're better than this...

Image

Would you classify that as an Amshack?
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