1977 visit to the Stockton, Terminal and Eastern Railroad

For the summer vacation of 1977, I talked my parents into a cross-country train trip from Kissimmee to Sacramento, via Chicago. My ultimate destination was Stockton, California. Why Stockton? Because the September, 1975 issue of Rail Classics magazine told me to! Literally. In the headline of the story!

Stockton story - Rail Classics - Sept75

I modeled the Santa Fe on my HO scale layout, and had somehow picked Stockton as the town my layout served. It was serendipity when I read the magazine story. My summer destination was set. My dad accompanied me, along with one of my friends, Joe, on this railfanning adventure. I'll save the details and photos from that trip for another post, but one of several highlights of the trip was to see the Stockton, Terminal and Eastern Railroad. The ST&E is a 25-mile short line railroad which started operation in 1908. It is one of two Stockton short lines featured in the Rail Classics article.

Written in ink as a place to visit, I instructed my dad we needed to stop by the ST&E office to say hello. Yes, two 14-year-old boys stopping in to say hello. I'm not really sure what I was expecting in doing so. Why would they even care about two kids from Florida? Well, surprises awaited.

Upon entering their office, Joe and I were greeted by Lorinda Navone. I don't recall the details of the conversation, but I am sure we told her about our trip across the country to visit her city and railroad. She told us to have a seat as she wanted us to meet someone. In short order, the vice-president of the railroad, Robert Barry, entered the lobby to say hello! 

He listened to our story and told us we might enjoy a book they had just published, The Slow Tired and Easy RR, a history of the railroad!

STE Book
Whoa! Talk about a great surprise. But the surprises didn't stop there. Mr. Barry signed the book for me!

STE Book Beard

After meeting Mr. Barry, I would have left happy, but more was coming. Lorinda also signed the book for this 14 year old kid.

STE Book Lorinda
I read her words today and reflect on my life. I hope she'd be pleased that this small town kid went on to work for Amtrak, leave it to start his own company, marry a wonderful woman, raise a smart, sassy and loving daughter, and throughout it all, continues to share his love of trains with others. Words matter. Simple notes like this matter. Thank you, Lorinda.

But Lorinda wasn't through with us yet. She presented me a book of - get this - Stockton, Terminal and Eastern matchbooks! I love to collect matchbooks (well, at least I did years ago when they were common place).

STE Matchbook box
Best of all, these were custom matchbooks, with my name embossed on them!

STE Matchbook cover

We left a short time later, and my dad was shocked when we got into the car with the book and matchbooks in hand. These are some of the great souvenirs - and memories - from this epic trip. Sometimes just saying hello and being curious can lead to unexpected surprises.

Almost 50 years later, which is incredibly difficult for me to accept, I still have the book, the matchbooks, and these wonderful memories of June 15, 1977 in a town far, far from home.

Thank you Mr. Barry. Thank you Miss Navone. And thank you Rail Classics writer Miles Moran for an article that inspired a fantastic summer vacation.

Matchbooks from Central Florida's Past

Matchbooks were once a standard item at restaurants as, after all, you could smoke while you had a meal! While I never smoked, I did enjoy collecting matchbooks when I traveled. Only problem was that I didn't collect many when I was home in Orlando. Here are a few of the ones I did collect in Orlando, Kissimmee and Maitland, plus a few from the Walt Disney World Resort.

Central Florida Matchbooks. Personal Collection
Central Florida Matchbook Covers. Personal collection.

Looking at these, there are only three matchbooks from stand-alone restaurants; Pebbles, Lee's Lakeside and The Bubble Room. I enjoyed visiting those restaurants as often as I could, which wasn't nearly often enough. If I remember correctly, Lee's Lakeside had previously been a dinner theatre, and sometime when in elementary or middle school, our class went to a matinee performance there. I'm thinking it was 'Cabaret,' or some similar style musical, but I can't be certain some 50 years later.

Cherry Plaza Hotel on the shore of Orlando's Lake Eola. Florida Memory photo.
Cherry Plaza Hotel on the shore of Orlando's Lake Eola. The single story portion closest to Lake Eola is where Lee's Lakeside would be located in later years. Florida Memory photo dated 1958.

On a side note, the building that housed Lee's Lakeside was once the Cherry Plaza Hotel where, on November 16, 1965, Walt and Roy Disney, along with Governor Haydon Burns, officially announced their Florida project, Disney World, to the public. The name was later changed by Roy to Walt Disney World after Walt's death on December 15, 1966.

Central Florida Matchbooks. Personal collection.
Central Florida Matchbooks. Personal collection.

The remainder of the matchbooks were from hotels or Walt Disney World. Limey Jim's was at the Hyatt Orlando at US 192 and I-4 in Kissimmee. Church Street Station was a popular hangout in the 1980's and early 90's. They definitely 'Let the Good Times Roll!'

What I'll call the most unique of the bunch is from Disney's Lake Buena Vista Club. The purple matchbook cover would be custom embossed with the family name holding the reservation. This one is hard to read, but the reservation was made by my uncle, so Lupfer appears on the matchbook. I recall two or three different family matchbook covers over the years, but this is the only one that remains.

It's been some time since I picked up a matchbook at a restaurant, hotel - well anywhere really. While I don't miss the smoke that often filled the rooms, I do miss these unique and free pieces of advertising.