“The Rail Watcher” An Article About Dennis Warrick

If you read any of our blog posts on this page. Dennis Warrick’s name has popped up quite a bit. He has been involved with things in LaPlata, MO for many years and is a conductor member of the APRHF. On his last visit he brought two friends with him and one of them wrote this article about his visit to LaPlata.

Tucked away two hours South along Hwy 63 into Missouri, lies a sleepy little town called La Plata. To many, a spot along the road onto larger Missouri towns like Macon or Moberly, others, an oasis that lends itself to weekends of rail watching. To railroad enthusiasts, it is the Mecca boasting itself of a Depot, Lookout Point, Hotel/Museum and several nearby bridges that overpass the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) rail lines that travel between Kansas City and Fort Madison. Though the rails are mostly used for transporting domestic goods, they are utilized by Amtrak as well, providing public travel along the lines. The Depot contains a live web cam in which train watchers across the globe can examine the activity at any time on the web in the little Missouri town. It is “the spot” for train enthusiast Dennis Warrick and he has made it more than a weekend hobby. Curiosity, and 20 years of listening to Dennis talk about his passion, I was intrigued about his drive. What was it all about? Really, standing there for hours just watching trains? Together, along with a fellow enthusiast and train watching student Ethan Denney, the three of us left Keosauqua at 5:15 a.m. and traversed afar to the train watching mecca- La Plata to discover what leads to the rail watching addiction.
Dennis has been traveling to La Plata for about 20 years, sometimes with family and friends, other times riding solo. He can be caught on the live feed at the Depot, at Lookout point, or along the many bridges looking over the side with his camera in hand. Numerous scrap books of train photos record his journey and travels. It is Lookout Point that has called to him, and captured a piece of his soul. It was Lookout Point that we would visit first, existing on a retired cross roads of rail lines; where once, long ago, the Wabash line running North and South crossed above the Burlington Northern Santa Fe lines that traveled East and West. As is the case across our great nation, and my home town, rail lines have been removed and railroad property sold off or refurbished. The Wabash is no longer, only a narrow path that leads to a small lookout, 25 feet above the BNSF lines. The sun broke the horizon giving light and revealing our breath clouding the crisp morning air. Then the whistles, and train after train making way along the lines. I was attracted to the graffiti and art work on the car sides, not advocating the defacement of public property, merely admiring the skill set of those who left there works and tags. Dennis began explaining the cars, cargo and operations of the iron horses along the rails. I was admittedly intrigued, as I like learning new things. It was interesting, and I began to visualize how goods and services were provided throughout our area via rail lines.
After hours had passed, we made our way to the depot as Amtrak was soon scheduled to arrive. I was shown the web cam and taken inside to look around. The three of us examined the large Amtrak map in its main lobby. I couldn’t help thinking about the development of our country, as rail lines snaked their way through river valleys and mountainous canyons. It was a history review that lead itself to deep discussion. Intellectual conversation; refreshing and embraced. Amtrak arrived on time and we spoke with travelers coming to and fro. Dennis made arrangements for Bob Cox, the care taker of the station, to meet us at a remote bridge crossing a few miles outside of town. We were on our way to a new location once again.
Through some rough terrain and dirt roads that were, for a better term, sloppy, we ended up at a rickety old bridge that crossed over the rails like a wooden, planked hump back whale. The sides were covered with defacement, revealing a spot in which youth may gather to be rebellious and free from rule and restraint. Looking over the sides, I was saddened to see the amount of trash that was tossed on the tracks down below. Mattresses, furniture, garbage bags, televisions and such tossed about on both sides of the tracks stretching at least 50 yards in both directions. I was ashamed as a human looking out upon this travesty. Why do we abuse our planet and the environment the way we do? Bob arrived, introductions made and questions flowed. He was a kind and knowledgeable man, and very appreciative of Dennis. There we sat as men, discussing commerce, history and the basic knowledge of the Kansas City/ Chicago lines. I didn’t realize so much was happening when I sat “inconvenienced” waiting for a train to pass so I could continue in my travels. As the sun began to reach late day, we shook hands and departed, in route to the hotel/museum on the North edge of town.
The Hotel was nice and clearly embraced the railroad tradition and history. Memorabilia and artifacts decorated both the exterior and interior of the complex. The halls were exhibits of days gone by and I quickly discovered that Dennis had donated items within the cases, and a brick in the front yard had been dedicated to he and his wife Gayle. The manager let us examine a few vacant rooms and away we went to finish the day at Lookout point. While in commute, I couldn’t help but think how little we know about our neighbors and their volunteerism and sacrifice. What many don’t realize is that the renovated lookout, a sided 14X12 building that is insulated, wrapped with windows for viewing, a large deck for gatherings and picnics, and even equipped with a heater was made possible by the efforts of Warrick. Through his generous contributions of time and money, a place exists for many to gather, learn and enjoy. Many weekends of loading “old blue” full of tools and materials and pounding the pavement Southward, Warrick slowly renovated the lookout, bringing it back to life and usage. His hobby and passion for train watching carried him throughout the commitment of the project. When I asked why, he stated, “I love trains. When I see families gathered together here and watching trains, learning about trains, it makes it all worth it.” When leaving the interior of Lookout point, exiting the East door, written on the wall in childlike penmanship is the simple phrase, “I learned about trains today.” This summarized my day, revealed the intent of Warrick’s design and gave clear purpose of Lookout Point.

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