From Everett, Washington, it’s two stops on Amtrak to Seattle, not much more than an hour. We were just going for the ride, our little gang of travelers including a little boy who likes trains.

“I don’t like Thomas anymore,” declared Dhovlen, all of 6 years old. He’d been a big Thomas the Tank Engine fan as a toddler, as had his sisters in their day, and many times we’d set up his few yards of track on the floor. After a year or so of insisting that he liked Paw Patrol instead of trains, he has gone back to trains, but real ones this time: “I like fast trains. No trains with faces.” His uncle in Maine had been sending him the YouTube videos of a rebuilt Big Boy steam locomotive and this week, on May 10th, historic rail enthusiasts mark the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike uniting the railroads for cross-country overland travel. It was time he got a real train trip.

Everett Station provided a coffee shop, so hot chocolate for early-rising kids. We passed some time examining the inlaid brass images of historic ships embedded in the floor. The stationmaster — who seemed to do all the jobs around the place whether “stationmaster” was his official title or not — took good care of first-timers and explained that our train was delayed by freight traffic through the Rockies. The Rockies! This was no local commuter rail, the Sounder or the Link; this was the Empire Builder, all the way from Chicago.

The next train in would be the northbound to Canada. Then, we watched several long Burlington Northern and Santa Fe freights come through, piled with doubled-up freight containers. “How do they stay on?” asked the kids.

As our train arrived, we thought about where it had been, aside from stuck behind hundreds of truckloads of stuff. The conductor smiled to see a little boy who obviously liked trains. Passengers looked tired and somewhat bedraggled. The guy in the seat across the aisle from me seemed sort of punch-drunk and barely coherent. He giggled to himself and looked like he hadn’t slept in 48 hours. Forty-seven and a half, actually, from Chicago, and quite likely that is exactly what ailed him.

The end of the line was King Street Station, built in 1906 and designed by the same architects as New York’s Grand Central. The interior is restored glamour, a historic site, a work of art and a step back in time. I read somewhere that the city of Seattle bought the pile from the BNSF for ten bucks back when it seemed beyond repair. The older kids in my group thought the business about the ten bucks fairly hilarious.

At the end of a day in Seattle dedicated mainly to riding on things (such as ferries and Ferris wheels) our little group stood in line with people beginning their long overland journeys. “Passengers for the sleeping car please line up at Gate 4.” We were only going back to Everett, an hour away and barely outside the greater Seattle environs, but the others — what exotic destinations did they look toward? Once we were seated, as the conductor checked tickets, another fellow took reservations for the dining car (“Seatings at 6:00, 6:30, and 7:45, reservations required”). Of course, we would be in Everett before suppertime, and this train might be halfway to Idaho before the long-distance passengers had finished their desserts.

Idaho. Just imagine.

Another crewmember came around and simply asked each of us where we were going. She stuck a slip of paper with a few letters on the luggage rack over our heads, EVR for Everett. Across the aisle and two or three up, somebody for Whitefish, Montana: WFH. In the seat in front of me, a young woman with a baby for Minneapolis. None made a dinner reservation.

I sure would have.

The eastbound travelers, whether they slept in a bunk or in their seat or not at all, would ride through northern Montana all day, West Glacier and East Glacier and Cut Bank and Wolf Point, and North Dakota most of the night, hitting Fargo at around 2:00 a.m., and traversing Minnesota before breakfast. My little gang of eager rail travelers decided that someday, yes, we should take the train to Idaho, or North Dakota, or even Chicago to Boston and Maine and back.

This is a train for being on, for falling asleep and find-ing yourself somewhere far away. This railroad was not built, and that spike was not pounded in 1849, just for the likes of us who hop back and forth between Everett and Seattle. This is a train for taking some time, the City of New Orleans, the Orient Express. Or, for getting to Whitefish by morning.