Nat Read boarded the Amtrak 681 Downeaster train at North Station Friday morning, a small suitcase in tow. This wasn’t just any trip; it marked the completion of the train enthusiast’s decades-long quest to travel all 21,400 miles of the entire Amtrak railroad.
Read, 84, boarded the 8:50 a.m. train to Brunswick, Maine, arriving at about 12:15 p.m. and completing the final leg of his tour — or, as he put it, “the last thread of passenger rail on Amtrak’s spiderweb map.”
Once Read arrived in Brunswick, he said the train staff made an announcement over the speaker to let all the passengers know that Read’s trip completed his journey of traveling across the entirety of Amtrak’s railroad.
“I feel fulfilled, this has been over 80 years it’s taken me, and to be in Brunswick after all of this, it’s an elated feeling,” Read said from Maine on Friday. “It was a day I will remember forever.”
He planned to ride back to Boston immediately and take three trains home to Altadena, Calif., on Saturday.
While his first Amtrak ride was decades prior, it was a couple of years ago that Read, an avid traveler, realized he was just 10 segments from traversing the entire Amtrak map. He set out to complete the spiderweb but was halted during the pandemic. Now, he said, it was time to finish what he started.
“I have a fascination with watching America go by,” he said in an interview earlier in the week. “Sitting up high in a rail car and looking at the deserts of the West, the farmlands of the Midwest, the small communities of the Northeast, and being on a magic carpet to watch America unfold. I’ve never grown tired of that.”
One of his earliest railroad memories is a steam engine ride from Kentucky to Texas during World War II. Read was traveling home with his mother and brother after they said goodbye to his father, who was fighting in the war. His mother had to stand throughout the day-and-a-half trip, he remembered.
“She developed a hatred of train travel from that time,” Read said, “but I was caught up with the adventure of it.”
A year later, he voyaged with the Boy Scouts of America to a jamboree in Irvine Ranch, Calif., which later became an Amtrak stop itself. The trip was a circuitous ride full of sightseeing stops including the Grand Canyon and Great Salt Lake. Read remembered sleeping four boys to a two-person bunk, “nose to toes and toes to nose.”
With his love for adventure, Read has visited all seven continents, seen 100 countries, and stood on both the North and South poles.
In the late 1950s, Read was one of 72 American students on an exchange trip to the Soviet Union — “the trip of a lifetime,” he said. He had always been fascinated with the region, he said, which was relatively unknown to average citizens at the time, and was desperate for the chance to learn more about it.
“I put on my application that I could speak a little Russian. I only knew five words, but I figured by the time [the trip administrators] came to check my fluency I could learn enough to limp along,” he said. “I made a list of 50 words every morning and I knew about 10,000 by the time they came.”
Years later, Read visited the South Pole with the US Navy as a public affairs officer. This made him eager to visit the North Pole, so he pulled a few strings and did that, too.
“I tried to get a ride on a nuclear submarine, but that didn’t work,” he laughed. “But I was able to book passage on a Russian nuclear icebreaker.”
After all those trips around the world, Read said rail travel still stands out most to him — and he continues to opt for trains over planes and automobiles.
Read’s love of railroads and thirst for adventure permeated into every aspect of his life. In addition to being a lifelong train rider, he served as vice president of public relations for the US High Speed Rail Corporation. He was part of an effort to build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1983 — an “exciting idea” that, he said, failed to get the population’s consensus and ultimately failed.
He is also a veteran of the Vietnam War, a retired US Navy captain, a published author, a stand-up comedian, and a police officer.
Read continues to harbor his passion for adventure. While Friday afternoon marked the end of his Amtrak journey, it was not the end of his love for railroads or appetite for a challenge, he said.
“I’ve set different goals and satisfied them one at a time. I’m 84 years old now and kind of coming to the end of the list,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll think of something.”