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'It’s very nostalgic, it really is': Hundreds ride back in time on Union Pacific passenger train in Omaha-Columbus round trip

Union Pacific train ride

This article is written by Marcella Mercer, World-Herald staff writer. It was posted on on August 14, 2017.

Sunday morning, a Union Pacific passenger train surged forth out of Omaha once again.

As the commemorative train pulled away from the Durham Museum, Bennington retiree F. J. Richter looked out the dome windows on the second level of the train car and broke into a grin.

"I've really been looking forward to this," he said.

"It's like you're a kid, right?" his wife, Sue, replied.

The black tops of a coal train streaked by in the opposite set of windows, a reminder that most trains in the U.S. these days are hauling cargo, not people.

But this weekend, nearly 400 people hopped on the train as part of a fundraising event for the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. The ride from Omaha to Columbus and back traced the start of the transcontinental railroad route.

Union Pacific discontinued passenger service in 1971, but it occasionally conducts rides on its historical heritage fleet to benefit the museum. The last such ride was in 2010. The trips have been the museum's largest fundraising effort, a spokeswoman said.

The rides draw train enthusiasts from across the country, former Union Pacific employees and people looking to relive memories of the heyday of rail travel.

Nearly 400 people were aboard a dozen Union Pacific heritage passenger cars as the Union Pacific Railroad Museum provided a historic round trip excursion via railroad from Omaha to Columbus, Neb., on Sunday, August 13, 2017.

The family of Iowan Ruth Roberts Heller marked her 100th birthday, which she celebrates Wednesday, by making the trip Sunday.

"She's only wanted to ride a streamliner for almost 85 years," her son, Rollie Roberts said. "We thought it was about time."

Her last train ride was in 1936, as she headed off from her hometown of Dunlap, Iowa, to Iowa State University in Ames. Sunday, she enjoyed the scenery streaming by the tracks.

"It's just lovely to see the country, all the tall corn, especially because we're farm people," she said.

Nigel Eacock of Cheltenham, England, said the idea of seeing more of the Midwest attracted him to this train ride as well. A retired government worker, he spent about 200 days last year taking train rides around the world.

"I've actually found that small town America is much, much more interesting than the large cities," he said.

A few cars up, a car was filled with students from Boys Town who had received tickets on behalf of the museum. For many in the group, it was their first train ride.

"It's pretty exciting," said 18-year-old Tanner Sayavong.

"It's slow," remarked 15-year-old Josh Reed from two seats away.

A hiccup came as the train stopped for about an hour after the freight train in front of it halted to handle a breakdown.

But the delay didn't dampen the enthusiasm of many of the riders.

Back in the 1950s, Richard Ahrenholtz recalls thinking he should take the train while he could, and he rode by rail several times from his San Francisco naval base to Omaha, on his way home to Iowa.

"That was the way to travel," he said. "It's very nostalgic, it really is."