I stood outside Jefferson Landing in historic downtown Jefferson City on a sunny Saturday morning as I waited for the Amtrak train to roll down the tracks. I had wanted to make a trip for several months after hearing how pleasant and convenient train travel can be.
“Travel by intercity passenger rail allows riders to not have to drive, they can work on their computer (free Wi-Fi) or phone, they can eat and drink while they ride, and trains stop in the middle of cities for easy access to them,” Eric Curtit, MoDOT’s Administrator of Railroads, said.
Amtrak operates the Missouri River Runner, the passenger trains that run twice daily between St. Louis and Kansas City. After researching options for a short trip in Mid-Missouri, I found a popular destination to the city of Hermann. Booking a ticket was an easy process. I simply Googled “Amtrak Jefferson City,” entered my destination and the date I wanted to travel on the Amtrak website. I do recommend booking tickets a few days in advance as you will save yourself about half the price from booking the day before you travel.
Roughly 50 miles from Jefferson City, Hermann is a historic city founded by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia in 1830. The society had a goal to make the city the heart of German America where they could build their culture around farming, commerce and industry. Noticing wild grapevines that covered the rugged hillsides, farmers began planting grapes and making wine. By 1843 most of the town had been plotted with grape orchards and home wine cellars had become a common addition. The city held its first wine fest by the fall of 1848 and still celebrates today with the city’s Maifest and Octoberfest, as well as several wine trails held throughout the year.
As I waited to begin my adventure with a large crowd of passengers, I grew with as much excitement as the children next to me when I heard the train whistle. Just moments after the train arrived exactly as scheduled, conductors swiftly began separating the crowd to board two separate cars, Hermann passengers to the left and long distance passengers to the right.
Eager to get to our destination, passengers quickly picked out their seats and we were on our way. It was only a short 45-minute trip, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space I had with large comfortable seating while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the way.
You can relax and enjoy the view of Missouri River country and not have to worry about the hustle and bustle of dealing with your vehicle, said Tammy Bruckerhoff, Hermann’s tourism director.
For me it was like viewing a glimpse of history as the train passed the historic Missouri State Penitentiary and ran along the Missouri River. The train continued across the Osage River and through large fields of farmland nearly ready for harvest until it reached its stop at Hermann.
The small town was bustling with visitors attending the Berries & BarBQ Wine Trail that features wine tastings and food pairings at seven of the local wineries. Stepping off the train I noticed several people chose to board a trolley waiting at the station.
The trolleys typically run Thursday through Monday and travel to five of the seven wineries. I later learned some of the town’s wineries and bed and breakfasts have charter vans that will pick you up at the station and a few Uber cars may also be available upon arrival.
“Some visitors feel like they truly escape for the weekend if they leave the hospitality and service up to us,” Bruckerhoff said. “From picking them up at the train station, to a most-relaxing lodging establishment, to a shuttle to a wine country winery, we are at your service!”
“Now, if they are bringing the family to Hermann for an outing, what a great experience for kids, to get to ride a train and enjoy the view along the Missouri River,” she added. “A day trip on the train, or an overnight stay with the kids, either option is amazing and there is so much to do in our downtown area within walking distance of the train station.”
I began my day with a walk around the historic downtown area to view the many shops and I happened to come across Fernweh, one of the town’s new distilleries that I hope to visit on my next trip. Soon after, I met my ride to start the wine tour at Stone Hill Winery and worked my way back downtown to the train station.
Each winery had its own unique atmosphere, beautiful views and of course great wine paired with tasty food. When we made it back downtown nearing the end of our tour at Hermannhof Winery a friendly employee gave me a bit of history as I sipped my glass of Vin Gris and ate my tasting of grilled chicken topped with strawberry salsa.
Like most of the town’s buildings the winery still holds it’s historical charm from when it was built. Although I could only see three rooms from where the wine tasting took place, I learned they have 10 cellar rooms in total that were built when they originally opened as a brewery in 1852 and only produced a small amount of wine. A number of metal hooks still hang from the ceiling, which lifted ropes connected to horses used to hoist barrels through an opening in the wall to Frene Creek where they were then floated down to the Missouri River and loaded onto a steam boat for shipping. The opening has since been sealed when the house was purchased by the Dierberg family, who decided to reopen the cellars for a full winery in 1974, after the brewery was closed due to prohibition. The winery has since become best known for their white wine and deli where they sell their locally-made German sausages.
Leaving Hermannhof with two bottles of wine in hand, we walked across the bridge to the train station. Although I didn’t ride the train back to Jefferson City, I did return in time to see much of the crowd I rode in with. They were noticeably in happier spirits than they had been during our arrival and it was clear to see why as I saw a gentleman helping other passengers unload their baggage and multiple cases of wine from Stone Hill Winery. The spirits of the passengers who had arrived earlier had also been lifted when he offered to share some of the bottles on the ride back.
Regretting my decision to take a car ride back to Jefferson City, I couldn’t help but think how the train was a much more comfortable experience. The car was cramped compared to the spacious train and I wasn’t able to walk around, visit the restroom at my convenience, or have cellphone service by connecting to free Wi-Fi. Though the countryside was pretty we had to drive through such curvy back roads I nearly became dizzy until we reached Highway 50. Most of all, traveling the highways took twice as long as the train on its direct tracks between the cities.
The experience did however cause me to appreciate the convenience of train travel, so much so that I plan to make more trips to Hermann this year for their fall festivities.
To learn more about Hermann and their upcoming events be sure to check out visithermann.com/hermann-calendar-ofevents. Check out upcoming Hermann Wine Trail experiences at hermannwinetrail.com. More Missouri routes and special offers from Amtrak can also be found at www.amtrak.com/missouri-river-runner-train.