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Amtrak Coast Starlight

Richard Talmy, Parlour Car Attendant

"The Most Unforgettable Character"

By:  Carl Morrison,


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

Richard resumed his comments on the rail-side vistas after our stop in San Luis Obispo.  As we climbed Questa Grade, he pointed out Seven Sisters (ancient volcano cones) stretching west from SLO with the last of the seven being Morro Rock in Morro Bay, CA. 

The movie, "Daylight, the Padres Trail," made in 1939 was started at 6 pm by Richard in the theater on the lower level.  The Daylight used to make the San Francisco to Los Angeles run, from sunrise to sunset, in nine hours and 45 minutes.  It was recognizable in it's red, orange and black color scheme.  In their diner, they featured the Southern Pacific Salad, all you can eat.

After the movie, we waited for our dinner call in the Parlour Car, watching the late afternoon sun light the velvety hills, cattle, and ranches dotted with solitary California Oaks.  At San Ardo, we saw oil wells pumping like giant aging wood peckers.  Oil pumps soon gave way to extensive farm fields near Salinas.  We enjoyed the excellent piano music which Richard had playing on his sound system before dinner. 

I noticed a quote on the front of the menu by Harry Truman, "You get a real feeling of this country and the people in it when you are on a train."

The next morning, since we were running a couple of hours late, Richard began his morning talk on Mt. Shasta.  The schedule says would pass it between 5 and 6 am, but our lateness gave us the opportunity to have Richard point all the geological characteristics of this region.

Mossberry Falls used to be the site of a bottling plant for Shasta water, then Shasta soda.  However, they were caught using tap water and business declined.

Shasta Trinity National Park is north of Dunsmuir, California.

We went through a horseshoe curve.  In the 1980s a car derailed here, spilling pesticides into the creek, killing all life in the river down to Shasta Lake.  Now there is a massive barrier built to prevent this (below).


Notice the size of our double-deck train in relation to the barrier built beside the bridge.

Richard explained the geographic movement  that took place in this area causing the Coastal Mountain Range and Cascade Range to be formed with Mt. Shasta, a volcano vent, to be formed as well.  Mt. Shasta has errupted every 300 years and Mt. Rainier every 500 years and we are due for both to erupt now.  With an erruption, glaciers melt, and mud and rock flow down like Mt. St. Helens.

Richard had a large picture he used to show how the mountain used to look.


He held up the photo at precisely the correct moment for us to see the same image.
As we slowly rounded the mountain, he pointed out other features of Mt. Shasta.
Finally we could see that it was two peaks, Mt. Shasta and Shastina (Little Shasta).

Satellites can detect precursors of volcanic eruptions:  earth deformation, escaping gas, and warming.    Richard related that Mt. Shasta City is a hotbed of Power Point Worship.  There are seven Power Points in the world:  Mt. Shasta; Sedona, AZ; the Pyramids, Machu Picchu and three others.  Mt. Shasta is 14,262 ft. tall!  It is so tall and solitary that it 'snags' its own weather.

We passed Black Butte, a cinder cone on the west side of the tracks (below left), and lava flows (below right).  Water flowing through volcanic pumice fields pick up the brown silt and form brown river water.

Root Beer Falls, colored from pumice, in Williamson Canyon.
At every turn in the tracks, Mt. Shasta takes on a different persona.  A third cone can be seen from the north side.

We were able to see Mt. Shasta for more than an hour as we circle the base on the western side.  We slowly curve and twist through the lava flows and humics (mounds.)  We passed Grass Lake, the highest point on the railroad route, 5000 ft., and Klamath National Forest.  Finally we passed through a tunnel and we are at the California/Oregon border, and Klamath Falls Station.  Richard pointed out, from the diner, Mt. Scott, which holds Crater lake.


Inside Klamath Falls Station.
Sign outside Klamath Falls Station showing local area.  The track closely follows the Hwy 97 route.

Klamath Falls has geothermal heating in the homes from hot springs. 

We soon entered Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Klamath Falls Wetlands. 

White, fresh water, Pelicans.


An abandoned, solitary barn rests in the flat high plateau.
Ski runs.

Rails to Refuges

Seventy-five percent of the Pacific Flyway has been lost in the last 100 years.  The loss started in 1906 when wetlands were being filled in for farmland, a proposal of the federal government.  Theodore Roosevelt saw the loss and started the National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs).  Klamath Wetlands were the first created by this refuge program.  This NWR is the most frequently visited on the west coast.  Birds use this as s stop as they fly south from Alaska, the East and Northeast.  Common are white pelicans, cormorants, egrets, snow geese, great blue heron, and now bald eagle since they are nesting here!

Benefits of wetlands are numerous. They provide life for the oceans by filtering water.  The local economy gets a boost.  Wetlands absorb ocean surges, and provide food for migrating birds.  Most birds can fly 25 miles, using the 'necklace' of wetlands unless they are destroyed.  Fifty percent of the fish come from one percent of the ocean, and 2/3 of the fish feed, span, or nurse in the wetlands.

The Bureau of Reclamation handles the distribution of water.  In 2000 there was a drought and in 2003 they ran out of water in this area, so they cut the agricultural allotment.  There were the "Water Wars of Klamath Falls" and Pres. Bush started taking water out of the wetlands for agriculture.  70,000 salmon died as a result.  They reversed their decision and salmon fishing on the west coast was banned until 35,000 salmon again come upriver to span.  Only 21,000 came up this year.

There is now a program to restore the wetlands and farms are being changed back to wetlands.

The future of water seems to be in desalinization.  Marin County has such a project and is the first of 28 such projects in California.  GE invested $3 billion in desalinization.

Klamath Lake is shallow and has more life than the 1000-ft. deep Crater lake. 

Evidence of glacial scraping near dome.

We topped the summit and started down Salt Creek Canyon, a drop from 4,800 ft. to 1,200 feet, through 21 snow sheds and tunnels, down to the Willamette River.  Snowsheds were built to protect the tracks from avalanches and runoff.  Some snowsheds have pillars on the downhill side distinguishing them from tunnels.  Propane tanks along the track, near siding switches, are used in winter to melt snow and ice so the switches will work when told to from the Omaha, NB, control center!

The longest tunnel, origianally wood, then sprayed with concrete, caught on fire from a diesel coming uphill.  A Union Pacific Vice President, in his infinite wisdom, felt they could 'blow out the fire' so they placed fans at the entrance and, of course, this made the fire burn harder.  Finally the tunnel was closed and the fire was snuffed out, but it closed the track for 2 weeks.  We passed some cars in a ravine that were derailed in 1964.

Our time with Richard ended after wine tasting and dinner this second day on the Coast Starlight.  The wine tasting notes for both days can be found by clicking "wine tasting" in the menu below.

I learned so much on this trip from Richard that I feel I have taken a couple of college courses!  He is so informative both in his commentaries of the sights we pass, and during the two wine tasting sessions per trip.

Richard came highly recommended, but I had no idea it would be this enjoyable traveling with him as our Parlour Car Attendant on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.

If you would like to experience an Amtrak train ride with Richard Talmy, there is a 25 percent chance, if you book a sleeping car on the Coast Starlight, that you will find that he is your Parlour Car Attendant. 

When you go into the Parlour Car from your sleeping car accommodations, for the first time on the Coast Starlight, if Richard is the Attendant, tell him you read about him at!  You'll enjoy your trip with Richard, I guarantee it!

Now read about our day in Seattle and our return trip to Los Angeles on Train 11 by clicking "A Day in Seattle" below.

[ Santa Barbara Coastal Commentary ] [ Wine Tasting ] [ Comments by Passengers ] [ Northwest Commentary ]

[A Day in Seattle]  [ Coast Starlight to Los Angeles ] [ Links to help you plan ]

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