MARSHALL: Trackin' on Amtrak: Seeing purple


With our fast-paced society today, with jet-speed airlines able to transport people cross-country in a matter of a few hours, why would folks even consider that age-old mode of transportation — the train.

With our fast-paced society today, with jet-speed airlines able to transport people cross-country in a matter of a few hours, why would folks even consider that age-old mode of transportation — the train.

In this case, the Southwest Chief, which moves along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway in Garden City twice a day.

The No. 3 train heads west, with the origin in Chicago, while the eastbound No. 4 begins in L.A. and ends in the Windy City.

All told, it takes about 40 or so hours, depending on whether the train is on time, to get from the Midwest to the West Coast.

With that in mind, I hopped on Amtrak early the morning after Christmas with my 89-year-old mother to travel all the way to Needles, Calif., get picked up by my older brother and sister-in-law for the short 15-mile drive to Laughlin, Nev., for a brief five-day respite in between all the high school and college basketball that occupies a sports writer's winter schedule.

What does Amtrak and my vacation have to do with sports? Well, actually, not a single thing.

But what prompted this observation was the fact that I thought I was on the Wildcat Express when we loaded ourselves on the Chief in the wee hours of Dec. 26.

Why the Wildcat Express?

There was somewhere between 30 to 40 folks, of all ages, who were dressed in some form of purple shirts, caps, hooded sweatshirts and Polo shirts with various sizes of the Powercat logo.

There were families of four or five, with young kids, middle school and high school. There were couples with no children. There were retirees.

And it was even more curious since Amtrak, i.e. the Southwest Chief, doesn't go to Phoenix, the site of this year's Kansas State vs. Michigan Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday. Nope, the choo-choo train runs through Flagstaff, Ariz., in the north central part of the state, roughly 153 miles from Tempe, and according to most map searches it takes about two and a half hours of driving to get there.

Some of the Kansas State faithful said they were staying in Flagstaff and then either driving back and forth with a rental car, or taking a bus down and returning the same way.

Yep, the 'Cats' supporters came fully outfitted to take on the Maize and Blue of Michigan, the winningest program in college football history.

I met a couple from Wellington, a family of five from Topeka (on the return trip on Dec. 31), a husband-wife set of school teachers from St. George (near Manhattan), and parts in between.

They were optimistic about their team's chances against the mighty Michigan team. And well they should have been.

There were the usual friendly barbs about the rivalry between Kansas State and Kansas.

And wouldn't you know, the Wildcats were on their game against Michigan, dominating in all phases for a convincing 31-14 victory with a throng of just more than 53,000 watching at the 71,000-plus capacity Sun Devil Stadium Frank Kush Field.

By winning six of its last seven games, Kansas State powered its way to an 8-5 season record. Oh, for those days to return. Wouldn't it be something to see KU vs. K-State for the Big 12 championship at the end of the regular season? It would be a lot of fun.

The KSU fans on the Chief during our return were obviously happy. As they should be.

Maybe on my next trip on Amtrak, the fans will be wearing Crimson and Blue.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at

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