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Amtrak's Southwest Chief from Fullerton, California to LaPlata, Missouri

Passenger Train Historical Society

A non-profit organization of passenger train enhusiasts devoted to the presentation and exhibition of Passenger Train History, especially that of Amtrak.

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Above titles and graphics by:  Steve Grande,,  Announcement: 

August 7 - 10, 2008

Heading to the Passenger Train Historical Society Meeting

Southwest Chief

Fullerton, CA, to La Plata, MO.

Rails through the Southwest United States

(Double-Click any photo in this Travelogue to see a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

Getting There

I suppose the best way to get to a Passenger Train Historical Society Convention, held in a rail-themed Inn, would be to take a passenger train!   Steve Grande of planned it this way, I'm sure. 

Such good convention planning provides the attendees with the opportunity to travel thousands of miles to the convention, and attend all activities, without the use of an airplane nor automobile.  This allows the attendee to pack what he wants and needs at the convention without worrying about what will or will not be allowed on the plane.  Avoided with train travel is the long time to get through security to get on a plane.  A friend simply drove me 20 minutes to the Fullerton Amtrak Station, I walked a few yards to trackside and awaited the arrival of the Southwest Chief...simple as that.  From my trackside position, when the Southwest Chief arrived, I stepped up into my car, with help from the car attendant, stowed my luggage just inside the door of the traincar, and went on to my room #14 on the lower level, 8 feet away.  I would tell the car attendant when I would like to go to the diner for dinner, or he would bring me my dinner if I wished.

Taking an Amtrak Long Distance (Named) Train is a vacation in itself, so I had looked forward to this trip with great anticipation.  I had some computer work to do, so I took my laptop, pulled out the conventient table in my roomette, plugged in my computer, and got right to work. 

The only things stopping me from working the whole 1,932 miles to La Plata would be taking time to walk from the sleeper car to the diner for meals, sleeping in my private room, taking picutres out the wall-sized window in my roomette, and showering in the morning, all the while in a vehicle that was clicking off the miles, day and night, at up to 90 miles an hour, averaging 53 mph day and night for the 1,932 miles.

All Aboard!

Monday, August 4, 2008.  Awaiting the arrival of the Southwest Chief, scheduled for 7:20 pm, at the Fullerton, CA, Station, I noticed a fellow with luggage dressed in kitchen apparel, ready to board the SWC.  Bruce Levin, Amtrak Chef, and I had some time together talking trains as the SWC was announced as being behind a Metrolink Train in nearby Buena Park. 

Chris Guenzler was on the train, and he called to keep me updated on the status of the train.  It seems some switches had failed around Buena Park and both the Amtrak and Metrolink trains had to manually switch the trains through.  In the meantime, the Fullerton Amtrak Agent announced that we should all move to Track 3, up an elevator, across the pedestrian bridge, down an elevator.  Luckily the many Boy Scouts headed for Raton, New Mexico for their 2 weeks at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch were younger and stronger than us, so they used the stairs.  We were all along track 3 before the SWC was seen.  However, a Metrolink pulled in and there was no announcement that is was not the SWC.  I don't think anyone got on by mistake.  Finally, the SWC did arrive and Chris by this time had already called the evening's menu to me, I'd ordered, it was ready, and Waitress Yolanda was keeping it hot for me in the waming ovens!  As soon as I boarded, I walked through half the 31 sleeper car, and all the 30 car to the diner to find Chris waiting at a table.  Waitress Yolanda was expecting me and had my dinner at the table for me in a few seconds.  Now that's service.

The reason you seldom see photographs taken on the Southwest Chief after it leaves Los Angeles and Fullerton, is because of the departure time.  This evening was no different, especially since we were about 50 minutes late, it was dark as we headed to Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Barstow, Needles, CA, and Kingman, Williams, and Flagstaff, AZ.  In fact, the Southwest Chief never passes these towns in daylight, east or westbound.


Southwest Chief arriving in Fullerton on Track 3, an unusual arrival track.

I worked on my computer after dinner and used the call button in the room to have Car Attendant, Fred Rogers, make up my bed. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My bottom bunk in my roomette 14 on the lower level of the train provided a good night's sleep.  The track east of San Bernardino is smooth ribbon rail, so no clackety-clack or being tossed from one side of the roomette to the other.  Actually, I hadn't had a lower level room in a few trips, and I think lower level rooms are more stable.  Since we had a 5.4 earthquake in the last week in Southern California, every time the train awoke me from it's movement side-to-side, I throught it was an earthquake until I convinced my unconscious that it was not and I should just roll over and go back to sleep.

On the lower level there are very few people who walk past your room, unlike upper-level rooms.  This, I thought, would mean I wouldn't hear the kitchen staff going to work in the diner from the transition car, which usually wakes me up.  This was true, but I forgot that every call button pushed in the car is heard throughout the car and after a few of those I decided to get up and go to breakfast.  It was 6:30 a.m.

After my shower, I headed for the diner.  I grabbed a glass of orange juice from Fred's refreshment spot at the top of the stairs and passed Chris' room.  He had already had breakfast, so I proceeded to the diner and had a fresh Southwest Omelette, croussant,  and coffee for breakfast.

On the way back to my roomette, Chris mentioned that he had the DVDs that were made on the SWC and in LaPlata for the celebration of his Million Miles Traveled on North American Rails and his Million Amtrak Miles Celebrations, so I watched them on my computer the full morning and finished them after lunch.  Since I attended both of these celebrations in LaPlata, it was interesting to see the final product of a film crew that Steve Grande brought from California to cover this historic event.
Chris Guenzler on his Million Mile Celebration DVD with Southwest Chief Route Guide from this trip.

You think the US is crowed with people, then you ride a train through the Southwest's California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and there is a lot of open space, void of people:

Wigwam Motel, on Route 66, Holbrook, AZ
Big Sky Country
Indian Reservation Church in New Mexico

Mesa in New Mexico.



The crew-change stop in Albuquerque, NM, for about 35 minutes gave Chris and me time to take photos of the Rail Runner commuter trains, Route 66 through town, the Indian vendors, and our Amtrak SWC.  The weather had gone from full sun in the morning to overcast in Albuquerque.  We departed on time at 12:55 pm.



This Southwest Chief had a typical consist of 3 coaches, observation/lounge car, diner, 2 sleepers, transition/crew car, baggage, and two Genesis locomotives.




0431 Car Attendant, Fred Rogers (Right), helped boarding passengers find the correct room.

Crew change.


Bruce Levin brought on more ice for the diner and sleeping cars.

Route 66 ran through downtown Albuquerque.  The RR overpass, just a few steps north of the Rail Runner platform, is a good place to look down on Route 66.  Since this ABQ stop is a crew change for Amtrak, you'll have time to look down on Route 66.


Looking east (above) isn't quite as exciting, but the Route 66 Café is in this direction on 66.

Lamp post artwork in Downtown Albuquerque emphasizes the RR history of the town.  A few blocks west of the overpass is a marker showing the distance to both Los Angeles to the west and Chicago to the east.

Just like in the days of The Chief, Indian venders still have spaces on the ABQ platform and meet the eastbound and westbound Southwest Chiefs.

Chris Guenzler (right) heading back to the SWC for the 12:55 pm departure.

After Albuquerque, we headed for Lamy, the stop for the state capital at Santa Fe.  After Lamy, the train winds through Apache Canyon with its red rocks then ascends Glorieta Pass at 7,421 ft. elevation. 


Passenger Train Historical Society

Once you've ascended Glorieta Pass and traveled the high plains at the 6,500+ elevation for a while, the Horseshoe Curve will provide an opportunity for photos of the front and back of the train from your sleeping accommodations, or all of the train if you are in the coaches.

Two locomotives and the baggage car.
Three coaches and the Sightseer Lounge Car
A landmark along the Santa Fe Trail.

Interesting gate and one lone horse at this high plains ranch in New Mexico.

Also in this area, between Lamy and Raton, is Wagon Mound.  Wagon Mound was once one of the best-known landmarks on the Santa Fe Trail, and it was was also the last major landmark on the Cimarron Route. The 6,930' high peak, shaped like an oxen-drawn wagon in profile, is a famous Santa Fe Trail landmark and campsite. The Wagon Mound, a National Historic Landmark, once served as a campsite and permanent source of water for westbound Santa Fe Trail travelers. The nearby village, settled in the 1870s, has several historic homes and buildings like the 18-room Santa Clara Hotel, built in 1894. Once a farming and ranching community, it is now home to just over 300 people.

Next was Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Beside the platform is "The Castaneda," one of the few remaining Harvey Houses still standing on the Santa Fe route.  Watch the 1946 movie, "The Harvey Girls," with Angela Landsbury and Judy Garland to see what the Harvey Houses looked like in their hey day.

Below, it takes 3 photos from the train to cover the track side of "The Castaneda," below are shots of the left, center, and right sections.


East of Las Vegas, at about 6,500 ft. we passed vast high country grasslands with windmills pumping water for cattle, Cottonwood trees, antelope, one scared coyote, buzzards, and grass as far as you could see.


The windmill above, is actually pumping water and many cattle seem to be partaking of the "cool, clear water" as the cowboy song goes.
This bright barn seemed out of place in these grasslands without other buildings around it.
It was not like any barn I've seen, with the 3 top vents and the open north side.

At Raton, NM, about 5:30 pm, the scouts and leaders detrained for their 2 hr. ride to Philmont Boy Scout Ranch for their 2-week summer activities.  We ascended Raton Pass, the highest point on the former Santa Fe Railway at 7,588 ft.  At the top is a tunnel and immediately through the tunnel, on the north side of the track, is an obilisque for the NM/Colorado State Line.
There are some nice ranch houses with long lanes out here.
This road, paralleling the RR, had just lost its center line, but still had a sign announcing, "School Bus Stop Ahead."

Along the tracks were a line of "wireless" telephone poles (where the wires had been removed).
"One more payment and it's MINE!"
Little house on the prairie.
Why do these many signs in the pasture have 3d tires around them?

At Raton, NM, about 5:30 pm, the scouts and leaders detrained for their 2 hr. ride to Philmont Boy Scout Ranch for their 2-week summer activities.  We ascended Raton Pass, the highest point on the former Santa Fe Railway at 7,588 ft.  At the top is a tunnel and immediately through the tunnel, on the north side of the track, is an obilisque for the NM/Colorado State Line.

IMG_2908.jpg IMG_2907.jpg
In a Roomette, I prefer the open closet rather than an enclosed closet.  As you can see above, next to the arm rest,the area is open below, and above is a belt to hold your clothes on hangers next to the wall.
My "Bag of Tricks," or bag of 'gadets' as my friends call it, has 4 rolling wheels and can be placed in my room if I have an 'open closet,' as above.  I hang my backpack on a hanger.  If the closet is enclosed, you have a useless space except for 2 hanging items of clothing.

There is a sign like this on both sides of the tunnel, on the west side of the track.
Immediately through the Raton Tunnel, on the east end, on the north side of the tracks is the state line.  You can barely read the "(s)TATE LINE" in my photo.  The marker is too close to the train to photograph in my opinion.
Soon after exiting the Raton Tunnel's east end, you'll see Dick Wootton's Ranch.

Some old Ranch building of the Wootton Ranch.

With more 25 mph curves, you'll have more opportunities to shoot the train from your window.
Thus ends the first full day on the train from Fullerton, and the second night on the train.

Table of Contents
      1. Top of this Page
      2. SWC to La Plata
      3. PTHS Conference Aug. 6 -7
      4. PTHS Conference Aug. 8
      5. PTHS Conference Aug. 9
      6. PTHS Conference Aug.  10
      7. PTHS Conference Aug. 11
      8. Other Rail Travelogues by Carl ]
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