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The Trip Back East to Meet Dave Smetko

by Chris Guenzler

My good friend Dave Smetko had contacted me about riding some trips out of Danville, Pennsylvania on July 20th, 2013. It sounded like a great idea but Dave could not get us tickets for those trips. After doing some Internet research, I found the correct phone number and after explaining I was coming from California, she took my order and mailed me my tickets. Dave then came up with a plan as I used my Guest Rewards for a sleeper to Chicago, then back home from La Plata.

I bought an Illinois Zephyr ticket to Quincy where the Depot Inn and Suites would pick me up for my three-night stay there. Once that was all set, Dave asked if I could get off at Naperville to cut down the driving time, which was fine with me. He then discovered a Friday trip on the Wilmington & Western that we could ride if he met me in Connellsville, Pennsylvania instead. Since I had never ridden that railroad, I agreed and bought a coach ticket on Amtrak to get me there. The next day we would do the Danville trips to Bloomsville and Northumberland then drive to Ringoes, New Jersey for a Caboose Hop trip on the Black River & Western Railroad to Three Bridges. Sunday we would visit Steam into History and the Williams Grove Historical Steam Engine Association's Pennsylvania Railroad 643. From here we would drive back to his house in Illinois, taking pictures of what we would find along the way.

After all of that I would return to La Plata for three nights before heading home. I lived up to the day of the trip when I packed my luggage, then my mother drove me to the Santa Ana station and I went inside to see my good and dear friend Marti, the Amtrak agent, who gave me a pair of new national Amtrak timetables. I then crossed the pedestrian bridge and waited for my train to Los Angeles.

Metrolink 609 for Los Angeles arrived in Santa Ana.

Metrolink 686 for Irvine came through next.

Pacific Surfliner 583 7/16/2013

I boarded this low-level Amtrak train for Los Angeles and took my seat in Pacific Business Class. Conductor Alex P. scanned my ticket and we were off on this rail adventure. I caught the story up as we stopped in Anaheim and Fullerton before I tried to go on-line but could not. I read USA Today the rest of the way to LAUPT, at which we arrived a few minutes early. For once the Southwest Chief reversed into the same platform that my Pacific Surflinr train had arrived on today about five minutes after we arrived.

Southwest Chief 4 7/16/2013

I had not ridden a long-distance train since July 1, 2012 and I boarded Sleeper 32038 and was ticketed for Room 13 downstairs. This train had engines 116 and 131, baggage car 1257, transition 39023, sleepers 32038 and 32056, diner 38061, lounge 33039 and coaches 34041, 34056 and 31043. We left LAUPT on time with Jose as my Sleeping Car Attendant. For some reason, my computer was not playing any of my music or DVDs that I brought with me so it might be a long trip! I tried to fix it to no avail but luckily my laptop did have a library of some pretty good songs.

We stopped at Buena Park for a late-running Metrolink train from Riverside before heading to Fullerton. I received an 8:00 PM dinner reservation and was seated with a lady going to Buffalo and two other ladies going to Williams. I had Richard Talmy as my fantastic waiter and enjoyed the Flat Iron Steak and the chocolate cream puff for dessert. After dinner I enjoyed Cajon Pass from my darkened room before calling it a night. The BNSF was certainly busy tonight with the most freight trains that I had ever seen from the Southwest Chief. It felt good to be back on a long-distance train again.

The morning started with me waking just as we pulled into Winslow. I went to the dining car at 6:30 AM and was seated with a black gentlemen going to Chicago and a black mother and her two twins going to St. Louis. The boys were a true handful for her. The French Toast is now thinner slices, but along with the pork sausage, gave me a good breakfast. I saw John Kennedy, the excellent Amtrak Conductor who had been in Albuquerque since he left San Diego over ten years ago. Time flies when you are having fun. Back in the room, I read USA Today, acquired some ice for the cooler and changed into a fresh set of clothes.

Rolling across eastern Arizona.

Welcome to New Mexico. The train stopped in Gallup after I had called Randy Jackson who was still living in Albuquerque, but would be soon moving to Florida, and he would come down to visit me when I arrived in his hometown. It would be good to see him again. I was enjoying the music from the computer again, doing Sudoku puzzles and enjoying a can of Coca-Cola as the train rolled east on another great day in my life. I worked on the timing of my next Orange County Railway Historical Society program for August as the train continued to Dalies then off the BNSF mainline towards Albuquerque.

The Rio Grande River marked our entrance into Albuquerque, where arrived a few minutes early. I called home after I arrived then Randy showed up and we had a good conversation, after which I tried to get on-line but had no luck this afternoon. The train departed Albuquerque on time and headed to Lamy. I had a 12:30 PM lunch reservation and was seated with my friend going to Chicago and couple from Zephyrhills, Florida going to Elkhart, Indiana. I enjoyed the Angus Steak Burger and another chocolate cream puff and finished my meal just as the train was nearing Lamy.

The old church is still there in Lamy.

Also here is what is left of the Santa Fe Southern, GP16 93, ex. Minnesota Valley 1850, exx. CSX 1850, exxx. Seaboard System 4804, exxxx. Seaboard Coast Line 4804, nee Louisville and Nashville GP7 414 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1952. It was a good thing when I rode it twice because you can no longer ride it.

The train stopped in Lamy then headed up through Apache Canyon and up and over Glorieta Pass. We met the westbound Southwest Chief at Sands today then I took a nap until outside of Las Vegas. The National Association of Railroad Passengers representive, who was on board, placed their latest newsletter in all the rooms and in the lounge. Then the Train Chief, in charge of the onboard operations, stopped by to see how my trip was progressing and asked me to keep riding the rails. I do not think I am going to stop at this point.

The train made its way to Raton, our next fresh air stop of the trip. I reviewed my four previous pre-Winterail shows and it was good to look back and see all I did these last years. After a very nice fresh air stop at Raton in some of the nicest temperatures that I had ever experienced here, I had a 5:30 dinner reservation and was seated with a neat older couple who had plenty of interesting stories to tell about their family, including one with Casey Jones. I enjoyed another excellent steak and another chocolate cream puff. I relaxed in my room and listened to music in my Windows Media Player that took me to La Junta. After we left there, I made up my room and called it a night.

I awoke at 6:20 AM CDT and headed straight to the dining car, being seated with my NARP friend, a gentleman going to Indianapolis and a clinical psychologist going to Kansas City for a convention. I enjoyed the French Toast and pork sausage patties before our arrival into Kansas City where I took some fresh air. We left there on time and headed to La Plata; it would feel strange not getting off there.

The Missouri River at Sibley.

A BNSF train at WB Jct. Later the train stopped at La Plata.

The Des Moines River took me into Iowa and our fresh air stop at Fort Madison.

The train crossed the mighty Mississippi River into Illinois. With that I put the pictures into the computer and would then just relax the rest of the way into Chicago. We made the rest of the stops to Chicago Union Station, ariving there at 3:10 PM, five minutes early, ending another excellent trip aboard the Southwest Chief.

Chicago 7/18/2013

After I exited the train, I walked directly to the Metropolitan Lounge and after checking online and uploading a few things, went to Gold Coast for my Char Dogs for dinner and stopped by Metra for a BNSF line timetable then relaxed and waited for my next train to be called.

Capitol Limited 30 7/18/2013

I walked out to the train with the sleeping car passengers and sat on the train to almost 6:50 PM, ten minutes after our scheduled departure time, for the rest of the coach passengers to board. We also had to wait for connecting passengers from the late-running Empire Builder. So we sat and sat and sat. Let us just say I was not impressed by Chicago's handling of this situation as they did not keep us informed. That improved when they bought the Empire Builder into the station on the same platform that we loaded on at 7:20 PM. The train finally left Chicago Union Station at 7:49 PM {6:40 PM} and headed out into the early evening into the night and by Elkhart, I was sound asleep.

I woke up west along the Ohio River as the train neared Pittsburgh. Once up, I changed clothes and the train arrived at Pittsburgh and I saw that the eastbound Pennsylvanian had an Amtrak Heritage Unit on the point. My new seatmate was going to Martinsburg and we talked almost all the way to Connellsville. I stored my bags in the vestibule and went back to my seat to continue our conversations. The train passed CP Sodomy which I spotted from our rare mileage trip by Bart Jennings.

The drive to Wilmington

The train arrived in Connellsville and Dave Smetko was waiting for me. We took off and stopped at a McDonald's to get me hot cakes and sausage before joining the Pennsylvania Turnpike and driving east to Harrisburg. We then took the highway to Lancaster and when we reached Lehman Place, we found the Strasburg steam train getting ready to return to Strasburg. We made our way to a grade crossing and parked to wait for the steam train.

The Strasburg steam train at the Black Horse Road. From here we drove to Wilmington for my first ride on the Wilmington & Western Railroad.