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Andy Anderson Amtrak Empire Builder
Leg Five - October 6th - Empire Builder
andy anderson train site empire builder
The Empire Builder hits a bit of snowy weather in Wisconsin
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The Seattle Waterfront Marriott

As usual, I'm up by 5:00a. I hit the gym, take a shower, and by 6:30a, the concierge lounge is open for breakfast, They have scrambled eggs toast and bacon. I have all three... WOO HAA.

After a bit the sun comes up, and for once, the city of Seattle is not cloudy. As a matter of fact, I thing this is the first time in all my trips that I've actually seen the sun. I put on my shooting vest, gear up, and head out to see what I can photograph. A long walk takes me to Pike's Market; however, no one is throwing fish today, so nothing going on there. I take some shots of the bay and the ferry that goes back and forth to Vancouver, and then just take a stroll down the streets, and shoot some the Seattle architecture.

Later I go back to the hotel, and use the guest laundry to catch up on my dirty clothes. That accomplished, I do some repacking, and leave for the Seattle station; The time is 3:15p.

The Seattle station is in the middle of a major renovation. For fifty years the beautiful overhead frescos and art deco furnishings of the station have been covered with a drop ceiling. I can't believe that they would do something like that. Actually, the designer for this station is the same gentleman that did Grand Central in New York. Last time I was here, all the architecture was covered. Now, they've begun to remove the drop ceiling, and it's amazing. I can't wait to see it when they complete the work.

All Aboard the Empire Builder

The Empire Builder pulls into Seattle station at 4:15p, and then begin boarding the first-class passengers at 4:25p. I head to my room, and get ready for the last leg of the trip. Then at 4:41p (one minute late), the Empire Builder slowly pulls out of Seattle station on the long journey across the top of the country to Chicago. Our first journey is a mile-long tunnel that goes underneath the downtown section of the city. When we emerge I grab my D3 and take a shot of the famous Space Needle. You only get about 30 seconds before it's out of site, so you have to be quick.

Once outside the city, we skirt the edge of Puget Sound, and for about 15 miles, we're treated to the beauty of the westerning sun, playing off the waters of the Sound. Unfortunately, the sun is coming directly into the window, so photography is almost out of the question. We glide into Everett Station on time 5:40p, pick up a few more passengers, and take straight off.

The Empire Builder leaves the calm blue waters of the Sound, and heads a bit more inland. The area is covered in pine and fur trees, as we begin an assent into the Cascade Mountains. My ears pop a few times as we ascend, and we're treated to beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains and countryside. Once over the mountains, we begin descending about 100 feet for every mile we travel.

Julie, the diner car attendant comes by, and I make a 6:15p reservation.

Dinner on the Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is the only long-distance train to serve made-from-scratch meals; in addition, the plates are real porcelain, not plastic. The diner staff adheres to the rule of 4 bodies to a table, so I'm seated with three other strangers; however, you don't remain strangers for very long on an Amtrak train. After 5 minutes, we're talking like old friends.

I have the strip steak with baked... Fully loaded, but no sweets. I think it's a sweet-free trip. After diner, I return to the solitude of my room, and begin work on my endless projects. About midnight, I call it quits and hit the sack.

Day 2 on the Empire Builder

It's 5:00a, and my eyes are open. As a matter of fact, I've been awake since about 4:30a. We've gone though a time change during the early hours of the morning, and in reality it's 5:30a. I get up and check out the GPS. It looks like were about to cross from Idaho into Montana (we passed through Idaho while I slept). Actually, we didn't hit Spokane until about 2:30a, so that put us about an hour and a half behind schedule. I hit breakfast at 6:40a, and partake of a cheese omelet. Then it's back to my room, and wait for the sun to rise.

It's a cool and foggy morning that greets my eyes, as we travel the eastern portion of Montana. Around 7:45a we stop at Whitefish Station, so we are still about an hour behind schedule. Whitefish is a stopping point for all those who like to strap boards to their feet an push off the tops of mountains... In other words, skiing. We're in Whitefish for about 15 minutes, so all the smokers get a chance to puff away, and then it's on down the track. The next stop is Belton Station, or the west entrance to Glacier National Park. Last time I took this trip, we were in the middle of a snow storm. Although it's cool outside, I don't think that we'll be seeing any snow today.

As we pass through the park, the pine trees seem to be waiting for the first snow. Last year when I came this way (closer to Halloween), the park was clothed in two feet of snow. Today, the only indication that Fall is here, is the golden yellow leaves falling off the Paper Birches. In some places whole stands are bare, and the forest floor is golden with their leaves.

We're about to stop in Browning, Montana. It's a small town, home to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. As we approach, I see groups of trailers placed together into communities. I never did see what you would call a station. We just stopped, a few people got off, and then we started again. According to the time we arrived in Browning, we're still about 50 minutes behind schedule.

At Shelby... Still Behind Schedule

We hit Shelby, Montana and stop to pick up and drop off. Time wise we're still about 50 minutes behind schedule. Here's a bit of trivia for you. In 1923, this town was the spot for the famous Jack Demsey and John Dempsey 4th of July big fight. The fight went on, Dempsey won, but another dude took off with the 300,000 purse, and it caused 4 Shelby banks to fail. I HATE it when that happens.

We roll out of Shelby, and the engineer opens up the throttle, we're currently doing 80mph on the flats. From what I understand, the engineer has a bit of discretion on the speed of the train, and they use that flexibility to keep us on time. So far we've been making up a few minutes at every stop. So, I can only assume that if we were on time, we might only be traveling at 75mph... Just a theory.

This will be my last night on the train. We should arrive into Chicago, and my final destination, around 3:30p tomorrow. There are always mixed feelings at the end of a long journey; however, the way I have a tendency to overdo things, I'll be glad to get back home. To be honest, not many people could take an eleven-day train trip, when the trip was the entire journey. The only time I exited the train was at the points where I switched trains and spent the night.

This has been a stressful year for a lot of reasons. A lost my mother-in-law to Alzheimer's (I HATE that disease), I lost a good friend and fellow speaker, and I lost my first dog... Herb. But guess what??? I don't miss my ex-wife. I'm sure she's still alive and kicking, but to be honest with you, I miss my dog a whole lot more than her.

Okay, I know that last paragraph was not very tasteful; however in thinking about friends, family, and pets that I have lost, I felt the need to inject some humor, before I started to bawl like a little girly girl. Humor is the only thing that works for me. And it better work for you too, because there's more of it coming.

Okay, back to the journey for a second. What happens when you're on a train?


Well, not exactly nothing; however, if you allow it to happen, you can stop the world. When I started this trip on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, for three days I didn't know what the stock market was doing. And even though CNN has some smokin' broadcasters, I wasn't glued to the television waiting for the next round of bad news.

Which brings up another point... Why are all the broadcasters doing the television news so dang pretty. Why don't they let me do the news... I know how to talk... I can give out bad news, just as well as anyone else. But no... You wouldn't listen to me. You would look at the screen, and say: Who's that guy? I'm not listening to him... He's not pretty.

Back to my original point. On the train, you can relax and let the world stop spinning. Guess what? Those troubles will be there when you get back home. Just waiting until you open the door. And before you can say: Honey... I'm home. They will jump up and bite you. There's no where on the planet that you can escape your troubles... Except on the train.

Reality is a part of life (someone should be writing this stuff down), and sooner or later, you will have to face it. At least on the train, you can recharge your batteries.

Montana, like Texas is a big wide-open part of this country. If I'm not mistaken, Montana is called Big Sky Country, and I can see why. We pass mile after mile of unoccupied lands, and the only fences are the ones that are put up by the railroads to keep people, and critters off the tracks. Occasionally, we'll pass a road or a small town, and then nothing. Most of the fields that I see look recently ploughed, or freshly planted. I'm not sure what grows in a Montana Winter, but they may just be sowing a cover crop before the cold hits. Since I'm not a farmer, I don't really have a clue.

Harve Station

We hit Harve, Montana at 2:10p, and we are still about an hour behind schedule... Just can't seem to make up the time. However, it really doesn't matter if we get into Chicago tomorrow a bit late. Harve Station is designated as a smoking stop, so we have about 20 minutes, to stretch our legs. They have an old steam locomotive on display, so I walk over and take a few shots. There than that, there's really not a lot to photograph, so I mosey back to my sleeper car, and go hide in my room.

After we take off, Rick, the dining room steward comes by to take dinner reservations. Since I didn't do lunch, I take a 5:00p (first seating) time. I'm seated with three other people who are firm believers in aliens... Area 51, and all that stuff. If you know anything about me, I just love to talk to these people and debunk this stuff. Understand something, I do believe that there is life out in the universe; however, I have a very hard time believing that they would be so interested is us.

So... we spent the better part of an hour talking about everything from how the pyramids and how they were built, to aliens out at Area 51. Suffice to say, I don't think I convinced anyone of my point of view.

After dinner, I retired to my room, worked a bit and called it quits about 10:30p.

The Final Day on Amtrak

I wake up around 4:30a, and get dressed. According to my GPS we are about 1.5 hours behind our normal schedule. Here's what happens: When the train is on time, then everything meshes like the gears in a watch. The freight haulers know when our train is coming and vise versa; however, when we are late, then it all breaks down. The analogy of the gears meshing becomes two goats butting heads. Since we're on the track at the wrong time, we are forced to stop and wait for other trains, and we get further behind.

Amtrak does build in time for problems; for example, we're heading into St. Paul/ Minneapolis, and we are supposed to be there for about an hour. I'm guessing that we'll spend less time there, and try to make up some of the loss.

I head for breakfast at first call (6:00a), and sit with three gentlemen who, like me, are early risers. We had a bit of fun with the flying saucer conversations I had the previous evening, and after about an hour we said our good byes, and headed to our respective rooms.

I spend this last day working on my computer, and staring out the window at the passing Mid-West scenery. The Autumn colors in the trees are beginning to break out, but they are not in full bloom yet. In another two or three weeks, the colors should be nothing less than spectacular.

I'll have to admit, with the exception of the suicide in California, this trip has been splendid. The weather has cooperated and the entire trip has been sunny and bright. That means I should have a lot of good photos to show you guys. But I'll know more about that when I get to my studio, and begin processing.

Life on the train is a simpler and more elegant way to travel between two points. As I have said before, airline travel is about the destination; while the train is about the journey. For example, just at this morning's breakfast, I had more meaningful conversation with my fellow travelers than I've had on a six hour flight across the country. I sit here with a cup of fresh coffee, and gaze out at America's backyard... The places that you will never see from your car. It truly is an excellent journey... when you travel by rail.

We stop for a bit, and pull out of St. Paul/Minneapolis... Still about an hour behind schedule. After being on a train for about 2.5 days, I don't see where 1 hour makes much of a difference.

However, after all this time on the train, I'm ready to be home, see my wife, and sleep in my own bed. When we hit the Wisconsin border and stop at the La Cross station, we're still about an hour and a half behind schedule. Then we have to wait because a Canadian Pacific freight hauler is stuck on the track in front of us with a car that jumped the rail. It takes another 30 minutes for them to fix that problem before we're on our merry way.

Chicago Union Station

At 6:15, over two hours late, we pull into Chicago Union Station. I say my good-byes to all the friends I'm made, and make my way to the taxi stand, where a line of Chicago's finest are waiting to transport us to where we want to go. I wait in line, and five minutes later, I'm heading into the Chicago traffic. My destination is the Chicago O'Hare Hilton hotel. The traffic this time of the day is fairly heavy, and it takes about 30 minutes to get to my destination. Once there, I check in and get upgraded to what is called a: Theater Room. It's a room where you can plug your iPod or the like into the system, and play your own music or watch your own movies. I play with that for awhile; however, my focus is dinner, bed, and then going home... In that order.

While I'm in the restaurant eating, I'm forced to listen to this young lady, who is being feed Jack Daniels, straight up by her father, getting louder and louder as she gets drunker and drunker. She told him that she had never drank any straight Jack, and he said, daughter, it's time you learned... Nice going Pops.

Anyway, dinner was unassuming; however, I did enjoy the side show. I return to my room, and do a bit of packing for tomorrow's flight at 2:30p, and then hit the sack about 10:00p.

Tomorrow, if all goes correctly, I'll be home... Click Here


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Keep the faith... And keep traveling
Andy Anderson