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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Taking a ride on the Otto train

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Published:   |   Updated: May 23, 2014 at 05:40 AM

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When the Auto Train slowly pulled out of Sanford at 4 p.m. — pretty much on time — it was the longest train in the world ... if you believe the Amtrak literature.

It had been impressive watching them load nearly 200 vehicles, including dozens of motorcycles and automobiles, into storage cars at the end of a train. With three engines, the train also pulled sleeping cars, lounges, dining cars, coaches and almost 300 passengers on the daily 900-mile trip from Sanford to Lorton, Va., on the outskirts of Washington.

Vehicle-carrying trains are common elsewhere on the planet, but the Auto Train is it for the United States, with another train leaving at the same time from Lorton south to Sanford.

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The Frau — being the mother she is — figured the train would be the perfect way to carry “stuff” in our car that our son in Washington really didn't want. We could unload it at his condo and drive back to Florida, where she could begin accumulating more stuff for another trip. I mean, we're talking furniture, pots and pans, and even school papers from his elementary days he must have believed were long destroyed.

The Auto Train uses Superliner cars, which means your room is on the second deck of the car. There is almost enough space to stretch out on your bunk, unless you have drawn the short straw and have to climb into the upper berth. You even have your own bathroom as long as you don't have to squat down on the seat.

The good news is that it is nonstop. You leave late in the afternoon, have dinner and when you wake up in the morning you are in Washington.

The bad news is that you are on CSX tracks, which means every few minutes the train rattles and sways and you lay there waiting for the screeching noise that will warn you the train has gone off the tracks into some swamp.

The deciding factor is that you don't have to drive Interstate 95 and will be reasonably sane when you climb off the train and they hand you your car.

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Sunday is the 18th annual Scratch My Back benefit at the Skipperdome behind Skipper's Smokehouse from about 5 p.m.

I get to be one of the emcees, along with “Party” Marti Ryan, for the concert to benefit the Friends of the Hillsborough County Animal Shelter.

The benefit is the vision of my old buddy Scott “Pinetop” Peterson. We tell his story every year — but despite our warnings, animals die.

For Pinetop, it was more than 18 years ago that a friend unintentionally left Pinetop's Labrador retriever, Molly, in a car on a summer afternoon.

As a reminder, Scott — he's a drummer for his band, The Quivering Rhythm Hounds — and this year's guest bands, including The Lint Rollers, do a benefit. The good people at Skipper's donate the venue, and there are drawings and auctions and music until late. (I never know how late because I poop out.) But it's a great time for a good cause, and I hope you can come by.

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