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First Sober Long Distance Train Trip

by Chris Guenzler

After being sober for only a month and riding trains locally it was time to plan a trip. This would be the perfect test to see if I was still capable of riding trains while maintaining my new found sobriety but where should I go? What location should my sobriety find? Suddenly the idea hit me straight between the eyes. New Orleans, the only place that I ever got thrown off of a train would be the perfect destination of my first sober visit. I also wanted to ride the rerouted City of New Orleans through Yazoo City, MS so that would get me to Chicago. Now which way to the West Coast? Why not take the Pioneer to Seattle, that would give me a chance to ride the New Mt Baker International with its Talgo and a trip on the Coast Starlight would get me home. I now had a plan and one phone call to Amtrak got my reservation before I went down to Santa Ana Amtrak to pay for it and receive my tickets. Finally that Friday night came with me standing stone cold sober on the station platform at Santa Ana to start this journey. This was my start to ride back through ever state that I had ever drunk in sober so this was the start of that goal.

San Diegan 583 4/6/1995

I boarded the northbound San Diegan, sat in the lounge car and after five minutes realized that I am not having a drink on every train I take anymore. This time I am thirsty mainly at the excitement of starting this new trip so I ordered a 7-UP which quenches my thirst just fine. Another big difference was that I did not have a bunch of drinks at home before I left so I am totally sober and alert. I have got that feeling back like I am on a train for the first time. It was really a powerful emotional feeling and something I had not felt since my early days of riding. Anaheim and Fullerton were stopped at and once the train was on the move I was back into the rhythmical feeling of it. We arrived at Los Angeles Union Station on time where I disembarked, walked down the long tunnel to the waiting room where I sat down right in front of the gate that read, "Sunset Limited." I walked over to station services to get my boarding pass then sat patiently, listening to music and doing word search puzzles until they opened the gate and it was back up to track number eleven and my next train.

Sunset Limited 2 4/6/1995

I was boarded in the coach right in front of the lounge car and found a large right hand side full window seat. This Friday night was not all that full in the Sunset section but in the Texas Eagle coach seats every seat was taken. The train pulled out on time and headed the usual way down the middle of the Interstate 10 freeway. I went to the lounge car and Art, the bartender who was on the train when I had gotten thrown off was working the counter downstairs. I ordered a 7-UP and then told him the complete story of my last trip with him. He said, "He had seen a lot of people thrown off of this train and is happy to see me back aboard in my new sober life." I returned upstairs to enjoy the passing through the SP's City of Industry yard, the Walnut Valley and our first stop at Pomona. We next did a twenty minute sprint to our next and new stop for me, Ontario, CA where one person boarded our car giving us a total of twenty six people upstairs as the Sunset continued its dash out into the night passing through SP's West Colton yard before starting the climb up San Timiteo Canyon. I ordered another 7-UP and watched the countryside pass under a near full moon. We climbed to Apex before descending into the desert and by West Palm Springs I had returned to my coach, stretched out across both seats and fallen fast asleep. During the night, the train passed the Salton Sea, the Glamis Sand Dunes, Yuma, the junction at Welton and heading up the SP's line to Phoenix.

4/7/1995 Waking up sober on a long distance train for the first time in years, I went to the dining car to enjoy my breakfast and was served right at the spot of the sabotage of the Sunset Limited a month earlier. We passed through the area at restricted speed and the breakfast conversation turned to railroad safety with all agreeing that even with this single event where only one person was killed that trains are still the safest mode of transportation in our society. Breakfast lasted through the desert and into the irrigated area of the Valley of the Sun. After traveling for another hour, the train arrived at Arizona's capitol city of Phoenix. The train stopped here for about twenty minutes on this sunny early April Saturday morning. I was back in the lounge car as the train crossed the Salt River. I saw the Sun Bowl before we stopped at Tempe. My morning drink is no longer a Screwdriver but tea instead, with one cup after another but only in the morning so not to keep me up at night from the caffeine. It is time to play my favorite desert game, Spot the Saguaro Cactus. It is easy to play. Spot the first one you win. Advance play, spot an unusual one or the ever popular "Hands in the Sky!" Bonus points if you can spot two almost shaking hands. It is a fun game to play and an interesting way to enjoy the desert. We crossed the Gila River before coming to a stop at Chandler. We headed south to the SP mainline at Picacho before passing Picacho Peak and running into Tucson, our next servicing stop forty five minutes later where I enjoyed a morning walk and a chance to be in that dry desert air.

Leaving Tucson, we passed through the SP yard where four trains were waiting for us to clear out of their way. We climbed the grade to Mescal by heading up the faster westbound track passing over the eastbound track on a high bridge before the tracks rejoined at Mescal near the coaling tower. We descended the grade into the Santa Cruz River Valley and our next station stop at Benson. From Benson the Sunset snaked its way up the grade to Dragoon before descending to the Wilcox Playa and its dry environment. We flew through Wilcox and then up and over another grade before the Sunset kicked up the dust through Bowie prior to climbing another grade to Steins where we entered New Mexico. The train made its next stop in Lordsburg before racing across the Continental Divide with its location only given away by the highway sign before we arrived at Deming. East of town we lost Interstate 10 which we had been in sight of almost the whole way since Picacho before we headed straight across the desert. We descended into the Rio Grande Valley getting within fifty feet of the Mexican border before we crossed the Rio Grande River into Texas and our next station stop of El Paso. El Paso another servicing stop allowed me another chance for a long walk. We left on time and I was having dinner off of menu number three. As the night rolled on, tonight's movie was "The Firm" which I had never seen before. It was nice and relaxing to watch a movie on a moving train. After the, movie it was back to my seat for night number two and I reflected on my new way of riding trains. The days of the nightcaps are gone forever. I stretched out across my seat figuring out that I had saved thirty six dollars today by not drinking. That is three dollars a drink twelve times. I fell asleep as the train traveled east though West Texas to our early morning connection with the Texas Eagle in San Antonio in Central Texas. Texas is sure a large state but it is so much smaller than Ontario in Canada.

So far my every sober state goal has been reduced by four, California, Arizona, New Mexico and now Texas. That leaves thirty eight more to go through. You may wonder why that only adds up to forty two? Well I never drank on an Amtrak train in Maine because Amtrak does not serve Maine or Alaska, Hawaii, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Alabama, New Hampshire and Vermont are not on the list because I had not visited them yet on Amtrak. My goal is to travel to or through every state sober and all of those states that I had not visited yet on Amtrak will help me achieve my original goal of completing the entire Amtrak system.

Sunday 4/8/1995 The next morning I woke up in San Antonio with the train setting so I walked outside, stretched my legs and looked at my watch noticing that we were an hour and a half late. The through cars for the Texas Eagle had been disconnected but were still behind us and our train crew is no place to be found. I walked into the depot and out to the street for a morning paper putting in two quarters forgetting it is Sunday morning before my light went on and I gave the machine the money it wanted. I returned to the train to change clothes and to shave. Upon completion of my morning rituals, I walked back outside to enjoy the morning San Antonio air. After about twenty more minutes our new crew arrived, an all aboard was sounded and off to the east the Sunset Limited went.

The train pulled through SP's Kirby yard and its engine facility before heading out into the rolling hills and almost scrub bush looking trees of this part of Texas. We passed the Randolph Air Base when a woman named Joann who was traveling to Houston sat down by me as I drank my morning tea. We got talking about my mileage, travels and sobriety. After about thirty minutes I went downstairs to get another cup of tea for me and a cup of coffee for Joann. There was a guy about my age trying to order a screwdriver and Art was explaining to him that it was Sunday in Texas and he cannot serve him while the train is in the state of Texas. He then wanted a beer and got told he can not have one while the churches are in session. I watched this guy because it was like watching myself back on that Sunday when I got thrown off of the train. Watching him closely, I could tell he was nursing a pretty bad hangover and was not having a very pleasant morning. He left with me wishing him luck. I ordered the tea and coffee with Art and myself having a good laugh when I related him to myself on that last eastbound drunken trip.

Back to reality and a sober Sunday in Texas as we passed freight trains in almost every siding with Joann and my conversation switching to tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. She then wanted to hear some of my rail stories and we both had some good laughs. We talked about my alcoholism and it was almost like attending an AA meeting. The Cotton Belt Route left the Sunset Route at Flatonia and we crossed the Colorado River of Texas. There are not many scenic highlights in this part of the Lone Star State, so passing through a small town and taking a quick look helped pass the morning along. The countryside turned to rice and cotton fields as the guy from earlier has three beers in hand with him, sat down and drank them quickly like they were water before getting more. Why do I feel like I am watching a replay of my life? He came back upstairs with two more beers and I asked him, "Where are you going to?" "Houston!" he replied as he downed another one. I thought to myself that I think he would make it to our next stop of Houston.

We crossed the Bravos River and minutes later passed the Imperial Sugar Company of Sugarland, TX and I looked to see if the sugar in my tea was processed there. It was not! The Santa Fe mainline ran alongside ours and I got a freight train to watch. We approached Houston with its skyline rising above the plain as I looked for the Astrodome and finally spotted it. Joann left me to prepare to detrain while I enjoyed the final miles into Houston. For three and a half hours Joann had helped me pass the time of crossing Texas so when the train arrived in Houston I decided to get off the train to look for her. She came up behind me, said, "Chris!" I turned then she gave me a big hug then a deep passionate kiss and slipped a note into my pocket, then turned and never looked back. I got back on the train and read her note: "Thanks for helping me get to Houston. I never had so much fun on this train. If you are ever in Houston look me up. I will show you a good time! Love, Joann" Now I wondered when I would get a chance to come to Houston for an extended visit.

We left Houston an hour and forty minutes late and minutes later passed through the vast SP's Houston yards before we left the city's limit. I was in the lounge car drinking another 7-UP watching the Southeastern Texas countryside pass by in basically the same seat location where I had drank all of those beers from my last time through here but this time I am stone cold sober. We crossed the San Jacinto River then more farmlands and passed through more small towns before the Sunset Limited crossed the Trinity River. More rice fields appeared making me wonder where Texas is on the list of rice growing states. We pulled into Beaumont, TX, our last stop in the Lone Star State with no further delays or freight trains hitting cars on this trip. We passed the ships and the harbor facilities before the Sunset Limited crossed the Sabrine River and entered Louisiana, adding that state to my sober list.

With Louisiana and its bayous, the passengers in the lounge car were all on alligator watch but I did not expect to see any as it had turned into a very cool day outside. We made our way east over bridges and bayous passing the rice and sugar cane fields along with the small towns spaced out before our next stop at St Charles. We were losing the light of the day as we continued east through more lowland scenery before we crossed the Mermeutau River and arrived at Lafayette in the twilight of the evening. We crossed the Vermillion River and arrived at New Iberia as darkness took its hold. From here to New Orleans I had dinner in the dining car off of menu number three again and then sat watching the lights of the small towns and places go by as the train continued its trek east. We stopped at Schriever and I now knew we were within an hour of New Orleans. There is the one scenic highlight that I had been waiting for all day long which I did not get to see from my last trip, the view of New Orleans from the Huey P. Long Bridge. I sat patiently and in silence just waiting for that moment. We entered the SP's Avondale yard where the train began its climb up the grade to the bridge. We made a left hand turn high above the traffic circle below and continued our climb up to the bridge going higher and higher, till finally we had the waters of the Mississippi River far below and New Orleans all lit up in the night off to the forward right. With the grand sight of the Crescent City in the April night this had to be one of the most spectacular entrances into a city anyplace in the United States. We backed into New Orleans Union Station because the train continued on to Miami, FL and I stepped off the Sunset Limited sober for the first time in New Orleans.

New Orleans 4/8/1995

I was first off of the Sunset Limited and as I walked into the station I was met by one of the guards that had escorted me out of Union Station on my last visit. We talked for a few minutes and he remembered me from that long night three years before. His last words to me as I headed for the cab were, "Stay sober my AA brother for the rest of your life if you chose!" I was touched by that statement as I walked out of the depot and into a taxi. I changed my mind on hotel locations so I had the driver take me to the Days Inn on St Charles Street which will give me easy access to the St Charles Street Car Line. I got a room at the establishment, called the other hotel to cancel that room, took a hot shower and hit the sheets for a well deserved good night's rest.

4/9/1995 The next morning I got up and rode the streetcar line, then walked down Canal Street to Riverwalk and visited the train shop in the mall. I returned to the hotel, showered and cleaned up before watching Howard Stern on the E Channel and getting breakfast across the street at a restaurant. I returned to the hotel, checked out and taxied back to New Orleans Union Station to wait for my next train's departure.

The City of New Orleans 58 4/1995

I am back aboard a Superliner City of New Orleans for my first trip from Jackson to Memphis via Yazoo City. This train was a low level train with a Dome car the last time I had ridden it. The train left Big Easy right on time and I went to the lounge car for the trip north. I saw the Huey P Long Bridge, the City of the Dead Cemetery followed by the New Orleans International Airport on the right.

We ran along the west side of Lake Pontchartrain before we crossed the Pass-Manchac Waterway and ventured into the swamplands with Spanish Moss hanging from the trees. For some reason I cannot get Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean out of my head. We passed our southbound counterpart in a siding waiting for us to clear before we arrived at our first stop at Hammond. We then entered the Louisiana Woodlands and passed the above ground cemetery. Houses throughout this area are elevated above the ground due to the high water table. We sped by several beautiful Southern Estates and some Northern Louisiana small towns before we entered Mississippi so I can count that state off my sober state list.

We crossed the Tangipaho River before we arrived at our next station stop of McComb. The dining car Steward came by handing out dinner reservations and I took the earliest seating. We continued our trek up the Illinois Central's rails through the forest with the occasional lumbering industry located off on spur tracks before we arrived at Brookhaven. I went to the dining car and was seated at a table all by myself with that dreaded menu number three starring me in the face for the third straight night. Tonight's a different train and railroad so I ordered the chicken which was only a fair meal. While I was eating, the train stopped at Hazelhurst and following that stop as I was eating my ice cream for dessert, the conductor came through the car asking if anyone was going to Yazoo City with a couple across from me saying they were. The conductor then informed them that due to an Illinois Central freight train derailment, the train would be rerouted the old way and they would be bussed to Yazoo City. So much for Yazoo City on this trip. The good news was that I would get to go over the old route of the City of New Orleans sober and reclaim it for my sobriety so everything works out if you let it.

We pulled into Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi after dark and I detrained during the smoking stop as the City of New Orleans was a nonsmoking train. As I stretched out on the platform while most everyone else smoked, a lady reporter approached me and asked, "Why are you off of the train if you are not smoking?" I responded with, "The smokers need there air to smoke in and I need my fresh air to breath!" She wrote my comments down, took my address and told me she would send me a copy of her article on "Smoking on public transportation." I wondered how she would work me in? I reboarded and returned to the lounge car where I found four railfans all wearing buttons, badges and pins. They were talking about how excited they were to be riding the City of New Orleans tonight as it was being rerouted onto its original route. I thought, "You guys had this train right in your backyard and you did not ride it back then? A little late is better than never. I wanted to go through Yazoo City and I just thought, "Ok, next time!" I went and got another 7-UP as the train passed through IC's Jackson yard before the train headed up the old route. This night's movie was Batman Forever which I enjoyed while the train was being detoured. At Durant, we switched crews and had to wait for a freight train before we continued north. The movie ended and I sat upstairs enjoying the night time views of the passing countryside as the train entered Tennessee as I crossed that state off the list and later tonight as I sleep, Kentucky and Illinois will also be crossed off. I returned to my seat and found a motherly looking black woman sharing my seats with me. After introducing myself to her and talking for a few minutes I decided to call it a night. I curled up on my seat and leg rest, a new position under my Amtrak blanket and fell fast asleep.

About eleven thirty, I woke up to find her arms around me and she was kissing me softly. What Should I do? She is not hurting anything. She is keeping me warm and I like it so what was the harm? I would not want anyone waking me from a sound sleep, so I laid there and enjoyed it before I fell back to sleep. Later about one-thirty, three thirty and five thirty I woke up with her in the same cycle, so I wondered if it had anything to do with REM sleep. "Whatever gets you through the night", which I think was a line from a former Beetle member song. Each of the times I woke and fell back to sleep. Since I am not drinking anymore I did not have to get up to use the bathroom so I didn't spoil the mood and besides I like being held, hugged and kissed by members of the opposite sex. I must say when I woke in the morning I did have a very interesting night's sleep.

4/10/1995 I woke up and crossed over my companion without waking her and walked back to the dining car for a breakfast of French Toast, sausage and juice. It was a nice morning meal followed by a great cup of tea as I sat and watched the Illinois sky of low clouds with the land being used in an agricultural manner. While I was in the dining car the train had stopped in Rantoul and Gilman, IL with the train crossing the Kankakee River before arriving in Kankakee as I got another cup of tea. The wind was howling and I knew it was going to be a cold windy day when I reached Chicago. All of the juice and tea made me need to use a bathroom so I went to the lower level of my coach. I found and unlocked door, opened it and there was a lady sitting on the toilet with her legs wide open exposing herself so I said, "Excuse me!" I closed the door but heard a knocking sound. I found the next door unlocked, opened it and this time a blonde lady was sitting there exposing herself to me as I said, "Excuse me!", shut that door before hearing the knocking sound again. Still needing relief, I tried a third unlocked door with another exposed brunette women behind it exposing herself, closed that door heard the knocking sound before I tried the final door with the same result but this time with a very good looking blonde lady. Being the gentleman I am, I closed that door and as I left heard laughing coming out of all four bathrooms. I had been part of a joke these women were playing on passengers. Since I had to still use the restroom, I walked back to the next car to use the bathroom there and had no problems in that car.

From Kankakee to Chicago Union Station the landscape changed from rural to urban in nature. We arrived at Homewood and had Metra Electric trains sharing the right away with us. We passed the Illinois Central large Markham yard then crossed the Calumet River. We passed the abandoned industries then ran under the Conrail mainline, the same ones that I had used on my first cross country trip. We passed the Museum of Science and Industry and I could see Lake Michigan off to the right. We ran alongside of Lakeshore Drive, passed Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears before the City of New Orleans turned onto the St Charles Air Line which gives a person the best view of the downtown Chicago skyline by train. We crossed over the Amtrak maintenance facility that leads to Union Station and the Metra coach yard. We descended to the end of the St Charles Air Line before we backed into Chicago Union Station right on time.

Chicago 4/10/1995

I walked off the train with my sleeping companion and we had a good laugh about the whole incident. She was from Memphis, lived in a one bedroom apartment and shares a bed with her two small children in an unheated unit so the way she held me was the way they stayed warm in the winter. I told her it worked on me and we both had a good long laugh about it as she was met by a friend at the arrival gate with me heading to the Metra ticket window.

Metra 2213/2236 4/10/1995

Before this trip I had sent to Metra for a complete set of timetables for all of their routes so I could plan out in advance what my options would be for my layover in Chicago to ride. Today's target route: The Milwaukee West route out to Big Timber Road. I walked to the north platform and boarded Metra Bi-level Train 2213 for Big Timber Road. The train left right on the mark as we curved under the CNW station leads before we straightened out giving me a northern view of the Chicago skyline. We curved off of the old Milwaukee Road mainline to Omaha passing the Metra coach yards before we headed northwest off of the mainline to the Milwaukee Road namesake city. We made stops every few minutes and once out of Chicago's north side the distance between the stops increased. Some of their names were quite interesting. Galeswood, Mars {we didn't stop there},Elmwood Park and River Grove. We passed through the Soo Line Yard at Bensenville before continuing through Itasca, Roselle, Schaumbury and Hanover Park prior to Elgin where we made our final sprint to our final stop at the park and ride station of Big Timber Road. I went to detrain and the conductor asked, "Is someone going to pick me up?" "No, I am just riding a Metra train between my Amtrak trains!" I said. "Stay on the train if you would like as it is way too cold to be standing out there!" he said. "Ok, let me get one quick picture of the train," so off I went to the front of the train for a picture. Walking back into the wind it is pretty darn cold and with the wind chill it must be near zero so I dashed back inside the warmth of the train as the train pulled forward about a quarter of a mile so the engineer could change ends in this push/pull train. The trip back to Chicago was uneventful with the train picking up large amounts of passengers and traveling back to Chicago through snow flurries along the way. Arriving back in Chicago, I mailed a few post cards and had a couple of Gold Coast Char Dogs before I went downstairs to the south waiting room to wait for my next train.

California Zephyr/Pioneer 5/25 4/10/1995

As I walked to board one of the rear five cars of this fourteen car train, the conductor asked me, "Where are you heading?" "Seattle!" I responded and he said, "You are the only person going there besides the on board crew, so if there is anything I can do to make your trip better just let me know." I always like to hear that when I board a train as it makes me feel so special. I found my right hand full window seat and waited for departure which came right on schedule. We headed out of Union Station onto a mostly cloudy afternoon, past the Metra BN coach yards, then sped off down the Burlington Northern triple track mainline racetrack towards our first stop at Naperville. We continued through Metra commuter territory until we passed through Aurora. We headed out onto the Illinois agricultural countryside and I returned to my seat to word search puzzles and music.

The Pioneer's dining car Steward came through along with a menu number three taking dinner reservations. I made the comment, "Oh no, not menu three again for the fourth straight night! "He said, "Really? What would you like to have?" I responded with, "The steak!" He said, "Well give me your name and I will have our chef prepare it in a different way so when you order have your waiter write your name across the top of the meal check, ok! This way you will get a special meal!" I thanked him and took the first evening seating. Later in the dining car, I had the waiter write my name on the check. As we pulled into Galesburg, here came my meal, a marinated steak which was so tasty that it was the best steak to date on my train travel. About halfway through my meal, the chef came up to my table to ask how the meal was. "In one word excellent, sir! Thank you so very much." "Are you going to be with us tomorrow Chris?" he asked. "Yes! All the way to Seattle!" "Great. Just wait to see how I make it for you tomorrow night if I have all day to prepare it for you!" he said with a big smile on his face. "I can not wait!" as I went back to finishing the best steak of my train riding career.

I went to the lounge car and had an after dinner 7-UP and wait for tonight's movie. If it was menu number three for dinner, the movie must be "The Firm". I watched it for a second time and I was able to remember some of the dialogue of the picture. It is interesting the small details that I caught the second time around. We crossed the Mississippi River and entered Iowa so I could cross that state off of my list as the train made its stop at the station in Burlington. The train continued into the night as Tom Cruise continued to act out his part. We traveled to Mt Pleasant and Ottumwa while the movie kept playing on and arrived in Osceola, a smoking stop where I detrained into the cold Iowa night air. I returned to my seat and curled up in the same manner as I did last night even though I had the extra seat to myself and fell asleep as the train sped across western Iowa. I woke up later, looked out the window, realized that I was in Omaha, so I crossed Nebraska off the list before I returned to my night of slumber in a Superliner coach.

4/11/1995 I awoke to the western Nebraska countryside and decided to have breakfast in the Zephyr's dining car because I was curious to see who was working it. I had a pancake and sausage breakfast as the train passed through McCook where I went to the Zephyr's lounge car for my morning tea ritual until Denver. We crossed into Colorado and made our first stop at Fort Morgan. I crossed Colorado off the list and anticipated three more states I would cross off the list later today. I saw the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains which would normally excite me but today I was going around them not through them. I went down to the bathroom and saw an unlocked door. With yesterday's experience still strong in my mind, I opened the door slowly and there was one of the same ladies as yesterday with her legs wide open exposing herself again to me. Thinking quickly I held the door opened this time and said, "Ok, I am changing the rules to your little game. Let us see what is behind doors number two, three and four?" I opened them all with the three other women behind them legs wide open but shocked to see me. "Let us see who I would pick. Door number one. No!" and I closed that door. "Door two. No!" and I closed that door. "Door three. No!" and shut it then went, "Door four. No way!" and I shut that door. "I would not pick any of you!" I left and went back to the next car to use the facilities there. We passed several empty coal trains returning to the Powder River Basin for more coal, as we closed in on Denver. I saw the Union Pacific line coming in from the north which would be my route later this morning before we passed by the stock yards followed by the Burlington Northern yards. The train was then wyed and we backed by Coors Field for my first ever view of the Colorado Rockies home park and arrived at Denver thirty five minutes early.

The Pioneer 25 4/11/1995

I detrained in Denver and the four women came up to me. "Sorry for everything we did but you got the last laugh on us!" I laughed at that and walked off to mail a few post cards along with making a few phone calls. I returned track side and enjoyed the morning air while the California Zephyr was being serviced for its trip west. They boarded its passengers and off they went towards the Rockies, Salt Lake City, Reno and the West Coast. That left just our five cars on the platform plus three deadheading cars for Seattle. Two engines and a baggage car were added to the front end with the Pioneer leaving Denver on time.

The Pioneer traveled over the rails of the Union Pacific all the way to Portland so we left Denver heading north towards Wyoming and the UP mainline across that state. We headed out through the UP yard then an industrial area of northwest Denver. The scenery turned agricultural with small towns before we crossed the South Platte River and arrived in Greeley, made famous by the man who said, "Go west young man." We made our way past the last of the grain elevators for quite a while and started climbing the foothills to reach the Wyoming border right before Speer. Scratch Wyoming's name off of the list. We rounded the wye at Speer prior to taking the Borie Cutoff to reach Borie, the stop for Cheyenne. The wind was really howling as people struggled to get from the downtown bus to the train. A piece of paper fell out of a boarding passenger's pocket and within a second it was gone with only God knowing where it would land.

The train started the climb up Sherman Hill on the old line which stirred up memories of the 1992 Union Pacific Historical Society's Cheyenne to Laramie trip behind the Union Pacific Challenger 3985. An afternoon trip up the new line and a night trip back over the old line. I will never forget the Challenger's whistle through the night but I was brought back to reality as our lead engine blew for an unprotected grade crossing. I love Sherman Hill with its rocks and trees. It is a unique landscape in North America. At Burford we met an eastbound double stack train and then passed Sherman, the highest point on the Union Pacific's mainline. We descended to Dale, where the new line rejoined ours prior to our passage through the Hermosa Tunnel, the only tunnel on Sherman Hill. We descended west on the old line through Colores to Laramie, our next station stop which also was a smoking stop where I detrained for some clean fresh Wyoming air. It is jacket weather but the fresh cool air felt so good on my skin. We sat for twenty minutes waiting to catch up to the schedule.

Leaving Laramie on the UP's double track mainline, the dispatcher crossed us over and by Rock River we had passed three eastbound trains then they crossed us over to the other mainline to pass four more eastbound freights with us never slowing. At Sinclair we crossed over again and right before Rawlins we passed two more westbound freights before crossing back over to get to the station with another eastbound freight waiting for us to get out of their way. There may not be too much in the way of scenery along this route but what an impressive show of dispatching the Union Pacific did getting us through all of that traffic. The UP sends its freight trains out in fleets, running them one railroad signal block one after another. I was totally amazed at the way UP handled our Amtrak train. Now if only the other freight railroads could do passenger trains that well.

We left Rawlins on time to cross the Continental Divide not once but twice at both Creston and Tipton with the railroad crossing the basin between those two points where the water has no exit. It is just low grass out here with an occasional herd of cattle being fed out of a truck and by the way the grasses were moving, the wind must have been really blowing out there. I got my cassette player ready to hear the guitar player of Yes, Trevor Rabin's song called "Red Desert" as we passed through the place with that name. We started to follow Bitter Root Creek to our next stop of Green River. I met a couple of ladies from Minnesota and over the next hour I taught them how to use Amtrak's All Abroad America Fare. We continued to follow the creek through a small canyon to our next stop of Green River with a butte overlooking the town and the Union Pacific yard. This was another smoking stop so I enjoyed more of the fresh air of Wyoming.

We left Green river on time then crossed the low point of our Wyoming crossing of the Green River. We made our westbound climb out of the Green River Valley onto the plateau as I made my way to the dining car. The waiter put "Chris" on my check then asked me to move to the other end of the dining car so no one else would see my meal. I waited patiently watching the scenic Wyoming countryside and after twenty minutes out came my meal. On one plate was my baked potato and rolls while on another plate was full of beef sliced into strips cooked medium rare with the juices lining the bottom of the plate. I cut off a small piece adding a little salt and pepper before putting it into my mouth where it almost melted in my mouth. It tasted so good and I had never had a meal anything like it. The Steward and Chef joined me asking my opinion and the only words that I could think of saying were," Absolutely excellent! I have never had a meal anywhere I have ever been in all of my travels like this!" They both showed smiles of appreciation. After finishing this meal it ranked as one of the best meals of my life. A special thank you to the Amtrak's Pioneer dining car crew of this trip.

While I was eating the train passed through Granger where the UP line to the Pacific Northwest takes off. We traveled through a series of washes to the Altamont Tunnel before we arrived at our next stop of Evanston. We started to climb the Wasatch Mountains and crossed into Utah crossing that state off of my list. We were traveling through the Wasatch Range after dark so other than the car's lights on Interstate 84 it was total darkness outside of the train. We finally passed Devils Slide and then the lights of the Great Salt Lake Valley appeared before we passed through the Union Pacific's Ogden yards and arrived in Ogden thirty three minutes early. This gave me a chance to call home where a lady gave me a phone card out of the blue. I looked at the engines at the Ogden Railroad Museum before reboarding the Pioneer. We left Ogden and headed north along the base of the Wasatch Mountains into the night. I decided to stay up tonight for two reasons. I wanted to be awake when we arrived in Idaho and wanted to see the station where my brother Bruce used to work at in Pocatello.

4/12/1995 I have been sitting in the lounge car section of the dining car on the left side since we had left Ogden. We passed through Brigham City then entered the scenic Bear River Canyon. I had seen the canyon in twilight on a previous trip and it was absolutely beautiful. We approached the Cutler Dam which was well lit then slowed to twelve miles an hour for the curved bridge and tunnel above the reservoir. The train headed through the canyon to Cache Junction before heading north into Idaho so I crossed that state off of my list. We passed through the small farming towns of Trenton, Weston, Dayton, Downey and Arimo. Between Dayton and Downey we passed through Red Rock Canyon before arrived at McCammon where we swung onto the UP mainline from Granger, the mainline to the Pacific Northwest. We traveled through the little ballast rock canyon which I liked so much, passed through Inkom where there was a rule, "Watch out. Do not fall into coal pit!" and within fifteen minutes we were at the east end of the UP's Pocatello hump yard. The conductor walked by me and said, "You look so familiar to me. What's your name?" "Chris Guenzler, the brother of the Amtrak agent who used to be the Amtrak agent for six years in Pocatello." "Chris. Nice to see you again" and for the next few minutes we talked before he asked me to get my coach door here and at Boise as they were shorthanded tonight. I agreed to help out as the train passed the hump. I went downstairs and waited for the train to stop before I opened the door and put out the foot stool. It was a clear cold night just like those nights I had visited Bruce. I walked into the station and it was just like the last time I was here. I returned to my door, loaded four passengers, helped get their luggage aboard before we got the highball when I closed up and off we went west. I stayed up long enough to say good night to our crew and pass Simplot before I returned to my seat to curl up and fall asleep.

Later that morning I awoke as the train was traveling on the Boise Cutoff passing the locomotive rebuilding company of Morrison Knudsen or MK for short. I got my shoes on, went to the restroom before opening the door at Idaho's State Capitol city of Boise. The outbound crew thanked me and introduced me to our new crew. We left Boise on time and I gave myself a sponge bath to make myself more presentable. I felt like a new man as our train pulled into our last stop in Idaho at Nampa where we regained the UP mainline once more. I decided I needed breakfast and had pancakes along with bacon as we traveled through the fields of southwest Idaho before we crossed the Snake River and entered Oregon crossing its name off of the list. I returned to the lounge section of the car and was drinking tea as we crossed the Snake River putting us back in Idaho as we passed through Payette. We ran along sand dunes which seemed out of place here in Idaho. We entered a canyon with high steep walls before we left Idaho forever on this trip and crossed the Snake River one last time into Oregon.

The train started up another canyon and stopped at Huntington to switch crews again. We started our climb up the Brunt River Canyon passing a cement plant and through a tunnel before the next cement plant. We headed up a side canyon and made a horseshoe curve at Oxman. We finished our long climb from the Snake River topping the grade at 3,998 feet. We descended into the Baker Valley before coming to a stop at Baker. I got off at Baker one time to work for a day on the Sumpter Valley Railroad and remembered standing on this station platform waiting for a Pioneer. Leaving Baker, we started our next climb and snaked up to its summit at Telocast before we dropped to the town of Union then crossed the valley to our next passenger and smoking stop at La Grande. I got out and enjoyed the clear clean cool Oregon mountain air. With twenty minutes to kill here it gave me a chance to check out the station building here. La Grande is a delightful location and sometime I would like to return here.

Leaving La Grande we shared the tight narrow canyon with Interstate 84 starting its ascent on the Blue Mountains. Union Pacific had doubled track the eastern side of the grade so we snaked our way up the grade and met three freight trains with helpers descending the east flank of the Blue Mountains. The mountains were really heavily forested and there was snow on the ground for the first time of the trip. We reached the top of the grade at Kamela at 4,205 feet and started our descent down a 2.2 percent grade down a canyon far away from any paved roads. We snaked our way all the way to the bottom of the canyon where we crossed the Umatilla River before we arrived at Pendleton, thirty five minutes early as we took none of the sidings so there were no delays of any kind. I used my station time wisely, going to an ATM for funds and to call home to Santa Ana before I returned to the Pioneer under a now cloudy Oregon sky to take a few pictures.

Leaving La Grande we shared the tight narrow canyon with Interstate 84 starting its ascent on the Blue Mountains. Union Pacific had doubled track the eastern side of the grade so we snaked our way up the grade and met three freight trains with helpers descending the east flank of the Blue Mountains. The mountains were really heavily forested and there was snow on the ground for the first time of the trip. We reached the top of the grade at Kamela at 4,205 feet and started our descent down a 2.2 percent grade down a canyon far away from any paved roads. We snaked our way all the way to the bottom of the canyon where we crossed the Umatilla River before we arrived at Pendleton, thirty five minutes early as we took none of the sidings so there were no delays of any kind. I used my station time wisely, going to an ATM for funds and to call home to Santa Ana before I returned to the Pioneer under a now cloudy Oregon sky to take a few pictures.

We left Pendleton on time and followed the Umatilla River down its meandering course to the Columbia River. We traveled by the ranches and farms before passing through a lone tunnel. We pulled into a siding to meet a long stack train. These trains connect with ships acting as a land bridge bringing goods from the Far East to eastern markets and sometimes Europe. With a five to seven day journey across North America it is a lot quicker than going from the Far East around Africa then back up to Europe. As we entered the Union Pacific's Hinkle yard we passed a westbound double stack train before we made our stop right in the middle of the yard at Hinkle. The closest town is Hermiston which is miles away.

Leaving Hinkle on time, we continued through the agricultural landscape before we passed along the Umatilla Army Ordnance Depot and reached the waters of the Columbia River which we would follow all the way to Portland. Spanning the width of the river was the John Day Dam which produces electricity for western states. Here we entered the Columbia River Gorge and across the waters is Washington with bluffs of basalt rock raising above. It made for a very beautiful picture. Suddenly we were in a rainstorm as the train sped west down UP's excellent maintained tracks. We were now running right along the shore of the river as the rain became harder. We ran below the US Highway 97 bridge across the river followed by passing a grain barge terminal. Barge traffic travels up the river as far as Pasco I know but I understand it goes up the Snake River to Walla Walla. Next up on my westbound journey was the crossing of the Deschutes River with the Inside Gateway rail line built by the Great Northern to compete against the Southern Pacific for California traffic and after that line passed through a few tunnels it crossed over us and the Columbia River to Wishram. The rain stopped as we passed The Dalles Dam and arrived at The Dalles. The gorge's vegetation is changing from the dry almost desert like to a wet forested environment. The river makes several huge bends before we arrived at our next station stop of Hood River where I saw the passenger cars of the Hood River railroad, a line I want to ride someday. The sky was still overcast which prevented seeing any of the peaks of the Cascades today.

The train headed into the deepest part of the gorge which is the same point where the peaks of the Cascades line up almost in a straight line north to south. We pulled into our next stop of Cascade Locks, a small town located between the river and the cliffs. We passed under the Bridge of the Gods before passing Bonneville Dam, the last dam on the river. We plunged into one of the longer tunnels on the route, then across the river was Beacon Rock, the second largest monolith in the world. We entered the section of the gorge where waterfalls are commonplace. The first major one was Horsethief Falls followed by the highest waterfall and most visited area by tourist in the state of Oregon, the 620 foot Multnomah Falls. The Pioneer passed Rooster Rock and entered the last tunnel before exiting from the Columbia River Gorge. The gorge opened up and the land returned to dairy farming and agriculture. We got to Troutdale where the UP has a cutoff which bypasses Portland and got stopped at a red signal for twenty minutes waiting for an eastbound double stack train. Once on the move again, we shared the right away with Interstate 84 and the Portland light rail system for a few miles before we stopped underneath a freeway interchange and watched the Coast Starlight pull by us so they will get to Portland first. We got a signal to proceed but stopped short of the Steel Bridge which was open to let a boat through. Once it was closed and following a thirty five minute delay, we arrived at Portland Union Station fifty five minutes late.

During the servicing stop, I ran into the station and called home. I reboarded to learn that there would be no dinner service on the train tonight. I felt sad wondering what our great chef would have prepared for me tonight. I will never know. We left Portland an hour late following the Coast Starlight so after passing through the yards, we crossed the Willamette River then the Columbia Slough and finally the Columbia River and after seeing Washington across the river for over five hours I entered that state. At our next station stop of Vancouver I crossed it off of my list, the final state of this trip. I returned to my seat and since we were now a night train, I decided to take a nap and slept until Olympia-Lacy. I woke up and returned to the lounge section for the trip along the Puget Sound. Out in the sound I saw the lights of Ketron, McNeil and Fox Islands. We passed Stellicome before we entered two tunnels then ran along Tacoma's waterfront with the docks and grain elevators with ships ready to be loaded. We passed the old Tacoma Union Station before arriving at the Amtrak Tacoma Washington Station. I returned to my seat to pack up as the train sped through the night. We crossed the Puyallup River and twenty minutes later passed through Auburn followed by Kent prior to passing the Boeing Aircraft plant. We ran by UP's Argo yard, passed Amtrak's Seattle facilities and the King Dome before pulling into Seattle's King Street Station, thirty two minutes late. This ended my first complete trip on the route of the Pioneer.

Seattle 1 4/12/1995

My base hotel for the next two nights was the Six Avenue Inn. So after a ten dollar taxi cab ride, I checked in, got my room on the second floor, took an extra long hot shower and laid down to go to sleep. I immediately noticed how much more room I had to stretch out than in my coach seat on the train but this bed does not rock and roll you to sleep.

4/13/1995 The next morning after a McDonald's hot cakes and sausage breakfast, I taxied back to King Street Station and out on the station's track sat on old friend of mine, the Talgo train.

The Mt Baker International 760 4/13/1995

I boarded and was assigned a single seat on the left hand side of the Talgo. The train left on time and plunged into the tunnel under downtown Seattle. Once back in daylight, we passed the Waterfront Trolley and freight cars with me now remembering just how low the Talgo rides to the rails. The Talgo traveled through BN's Interbay yard then crossed the drawbridge at the Ballard Locks. We ran along the shore of the Puget Sound and I did not even notice any of the curves as I looked out over the watery scenery with the Olympic Peninsula hidden under a blanket of clouds. We made our first stop at Edmonds, with the ferry terminals to the Kingston Islands out in the Puget Sound. Leaving Edmonds, we continued winding along the empty miles of shoreline and just for a brief minute the clouds parted showing a snow capped Mt Olympus out on the Olympia Peninsula. With the industries encroaching on the shoreline, we pulled into our next stop of Everett. We passed through another tunnel taking us under that city's downtown before turning off of the BN mainline at PA Jct to head north to Canada and new trackage for me. We passed the edge of the BN Everett yard with the town on the hill behind it and ran along the Skykomish River before we crossed it on another draw span. We crossed the estuaries then picked up speed as the Talgo bounced along the tracks with a ride that the Talgo had never given me before due to track conditions. Felt more like an Amfleet train going through a crossover than the normal smooth ride the Talgo gives. The Talgo representative came through the train selling headphones before they showed the movie, "The Santa Claus" with Tim Allen. I watched the movie as the tracks smoothed out. We ran up a valley with farms and forested hills on each side that led us to our next stop of Mt Vernon.

The sky was becoming overcast again and I suspected rain would be the order of the day later. We crossed the Skagit River and followed it down to the Puget Sound with great views of the San Juan Islands. We ran along the shore of Bellingham Bay then entered the most scenic area of the trip. We passed through a tunnel, then ran thirty five feet above the shoreline before passing through two more tunnels and around a horseshoe bay. The Talgo tilted around another curve before we entered Tunnel 21 which bought us to our next station stop of Bellingham after we passed the Alaska ferry terminal. The depot is of nice brick construction and once back on the move, the train passed the large Georgia Pacific plant then downtown Bellingham. We climbed the bluff to Ferndale, travelled through the low hills with trees or farms located on each. We crossed the Nooksack River before we returned to the shores of the Puget Sound and passed through our last town in the United States, Blaine, Washington.

We entered Canada and passed the Peace Arch on the right which reads, "Children of a Common Mother." We skirted the edge of Whiterock, BC with a large white rock along the shore and once north of town we hit the rain. I knew I should have bought an umbrella. The Talgo crossed the Nickel Knocker River on Bridge 69 and a bit further crossed Bridge 70. We passed the tiny town of Townsend then crossed the lowlands with the bluffs to the east. We ran along the Fraser River until we crossed under the Skytrain Bridge and the Trans Canadian Highway before we crossed the Fraser River on the lowest of the three bridges in a driving rainstorm. The Talgo passed the Labett Brewery as Canadian Custom forms were distributed. We passed the BN's New Westminster Station and now I was on the same route that I had taken across Canada back in 1992. We headed through the woody gap in the low laying hills before the urban world took over as we passed through the eastern suburbs of Vancouver. We descended through a deep cut with bridges passing high overhead. We exited the cut onto the flat lands, passed the BN's Vancouver facilities and Via's Maintenance facilities before the Talgo entered a fenced off area of the station and we arrived at Vancouver's Central Station right on time. They detrained us in small groups as not to overwhelm the Canadian Custom officials. As I detrained I realized that I had made my first international train trip on Amtrak. The Custom's official asked me my questions then I was off to spend the afternoon in Vancouver, Canada.

Vancouver, British Colombia 4/13/1995

I walked out across the street and went to the I-Max Theater and saw two films, "The Storm Chaser" and "Inside a Computer" although I do not think I got the second title right, but they were both excellent. It started to rain as I exited the building so I dashed across the street to the Skytrain station and bought a one day pass. I rode east out to King George Road and it was a great way to see Vancouver's eastern suburbs plus you get to cross the high Skytrain Bridge over the Fraser River. The rain kept falling harder than ever which obscured the ever present mountains to the north. I hope the next time I come here I get a clear day. At King George, I got off while the train went down to switch tracks, then reboarded sitting on the jump seat in the front of the car and rode to the other end of the line at Waterfront. This system is completely automated so there is no one on board controlling the train. It is a clean efficient system, mostly elevated and is very well used. I took the Skytrain all the way to the other end passing the I-Max Theater, the BC Palace and Molson Place before we ran in a tunnel under downtown Vancouver for the reminder of the trip to Waterfront the connection to the Seabus to North Vancouver and North America's newest commuter train service, the West Coast Express out to Mission City. I managed to get a handful of schedules for my fellow members of the Orange County Railroad Historical Society. I took the Skytrain back to the Science World stop and transferred to a BC Transit electric bus to a Kentucky Fried Chicken for some dinner. I returned to the Via Station in a heavy rainstorm and once off of the bus made a run for the station between rain showers. I visited the gift shop in the station prior to going upstairs to the Rocky Mountaineer offices and bought a T-shirt. I later filled out my US Custom form and went through precustom inspection before I boarded the Talgo for my return to the United States.

The Mt Baker International 761 4/13/1995

The Talgo left Vancouver under the guise of darkness as our whole trip will be under the cover of darkness. The Talgo rode quiet so sometimes you even forget that you are on a train. The first noticeable point of reference was the Skytrain Bridge all lit up during the night. The conductor came through the car and explained how customs would be done. The miles to the border came quickly and the next thing I knew we were passing the Peace Arch and we pulled to a stop at Blaine, Washington where United States Custom agents boarded to do their inspections as the train rolled down the mainline towards Bellingham.

The inspectors came into my car and after a few minutes one of them came over to me and out of the corner of my eye I saw another agent standing at the back of the car watching. The first one asked, "How long had you been in Canada for?" Answer, "Just for the afternoon." "What was you purpose of your visit to Canada?" Answer, "To ride this new Amtrak route." "Where do you live?" Answer, "Santa Ana, California, USA." "You do not sound like you are from California?" Answer, "I had no hearing for the first two years of my life." "Where were you born?" Answer, "St Joseph Hospital, Orange, California on December 31, 1957." "Prove to me you have a job in Santa Ana?" Answer. I took out my McFadden ID Card and my Santa Ana Unified School District ID Card and I showed them to him. He then said, "I do not believe you live in Santa Ana but I will be back to deal with you in a few minutes," and he walked off. The other agent then walked up to me and said, "I witnessed the way he treated you and that was against our policy for dealing with a native US Citizen. I am his supervisor and if you would please sign this form that states you were harassed by this agent and I will see that he never bothers you or anyone else. I will also not let him come back and bother you." I signed it, thanked him and never saw that custom agent again. I went to the Bistro to buy a Talgo T-shirt and a coffee mug before tonight's movie of "Apollo 13." We got about fifteen minutes into it and it stopped. It turned out that it was not being shown in two of the other coaches so they rewound it and started the movie again. We had an uneventful trip to Seattle but the crew in the movie was still in space when I detrained at King Street Station on time and taxied back to the hotel for another good night of sleep.

Seattle 2 4/14/1995

The next morning it was another McDonald's breakfast and another ten dollar cab ride with me thinking I needed to find a hotel closer to the station. I waited at King Street Station and since I knew where the conductor gave out the boarding passes, I was at the front of the line to get mine. Next I was the first person at the door to be let out to go to the train. They opened the door with me leading the way to my next train.

The Coast Starlight 11 4/14/95

The Starlight left Seattle on time this Friday morning and once I had my ticket taken it turned into an uneventful trip south. The countryside I saw felt like an old friend so once I made my way to the lounge car by Boeing Field I was settled in ready to look for differences from all my other trips on this route. You would not think there would be that many but with all of the booming building in the Northwest, man had altered the landscape considerable. It is just not man who has caused change, nature plays along with its own set of rules. Fields are now turning green and are being worked from their dominant state of my last visit of the summer had them alive. Trees are just beginning to get their leaves. Even the levels of the streams are always in a constant state of flux. These changes are some of the best reasons why I keep riding trains and why it is always interesting no matter how many times I have ridden a route. After a brief glimpse of Mt Rainier through the clouds then passing through Puyallup, the game was over as the train pulled into Tacoma. It is amazing that the unusual things you can see if you only take the time to look for them.

The Puget Sound south of Tacoma is as beautiful as ever with the islands standing out against the blue clear sky. We left the sound behind as we cut through the forest to our next stop of East Olympia. We continued south speeding down the BN mainline which the UP has trackage rights over from Tacoma to Portland and we met a northbound UP double stack train before our next stop at Centralia which had to be one of the longest station stops before the train climbed Vader Hill before we descended and crossed the Cowlitz River. The river and the area is really amazing after what the Eruption of Mt St Helens did to it with the rush of mud and logs that came down the river. Man redid the river channel and nature did the rest. Our next stop was Kelso-Longview before we ran along the Columbia River and across it is the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant with its cooling tower standing out against the bluffs behind it. In the I never noticed it before, I saw totem poles in a park along the side of the river. The area to the right of the train was getting extremely wet, going from marshes to small lakes. We passed through the BN Vancouver train yard before we made a stop at the station which overlooks the bridge crossing of the Columbia River. We crossed the bridge into Oregon then the slough and minutes later the Willamette River before running along the waterfront industries prior to reaching Portland Union Station. During the station stop I mailed some post cards to some of my friends. Back in my drinking days I never sent anyone a post card and now I send one special person one for every day I am on the train if possible. I put how many days sober I have which lets her know that I am still sober, Oops, I gave away it is a she. It also reminds me of just who I am now, a recovering alcoholic.

The Starlight left Portland on time as it crossed the Steel Bridge and basically followed the river south. We passed the Southern Pacific Brooklyn yard and headed south down the SP rails passing Oregon Falls of the Willamette River. The dining car Steward came through the train taking reservations for dinner and I took the first seating. We stopped at Salem, the state capitol of Oregon before we met our northbound sister train prior to our next stop of Albany. About half way to Eugene, we crossed the Willamette River now much smaller with the old Oregon and Electric now BN drawbridge just to the west. We skirted the SP's yard before coming to a stop at Eugene. It was a smoking stop and I looked to the south thinking of Carol from Cottage Grove thirty miles away. Traveling with her was so much fun. Following the Eugene stop, they called my time for dinner and guess what? It was menu number three again. You do not think tonight's movie will be "The Firm?" I had the steak not expecting anything special and I was not disappointed. I guess I was spoiled by that great Pioneer dining car crew. I hoped that it would not last forever. While I am eating the train passed the Lookout Reservoir and I was finished by Westfir with the train traveling over Cascade Summit in the dark. I returned to the lounge car to get a seat for the movie and you were right if you thought it would be "The Firm." This time though I had more fun with it as I could mouth most of the dialogue to the amusement of my fellow passengers. As the Starlight climbed the grade of Cascade Summit on this full moon night, the snows became more visible and grew deeper as we gained elevation. It is always a unique sight being able to see the snow of the night from the train. The movie was over by Chemult and I returned to my coach seat, curled up in my new found sober sleeping position and slept the night away. I have learned on this trip that I sleep far better sober than I ever did when I was drinking.

4/15/1995 What an incredible night of sleep I got. The next morning I woke up west of Davis, put myself together before I went to the lounge car for my breakfast of orange juice and cookies. I am starting a new policy when traveling that the last day of a trip is now a day to be totally relaxed. In reality all I have to do today is to get off of the train in Los Angeles and get on a San Diegan to Santa Ana. Sounds tough but someone has to do it. Now if they could only run one car off of the Starlight through to San Diego. Now that is an idea. The train passed through Fairfield then headed into the marshy lowlands of Suisan Bay. We passed the Mothballed fleet as I wondered what our Navy will do with all of those boats. We got stopped at the drawbridge for a ship to pass then crossed over the bridge to our next stop at Martinez. We headed west through the Carquinez Straits and in the right morning low light this is my favorite part of the trip. The state is scheduled to improve this section of track and put in CTC {Centralized Traffic Control}, new ties along with welded rail which will really speed up this section of railroad. We passed under the Interstate 80 bridge then through a tunnel before winding our way along the shore of San Pablo Bay. We passed through Pinole before we cut inland to Richmond, our next station stop which won't be a station stop by the next time I pass through here on the Starlight. We made the quick trip through Berkeley, passed the Bay Shore Racing Track with views of San Francisco beyond the San Francisco Bay before we made our next station stop at Emeryville where we arrived fifteen minutes early. This was a new stop replacing the earthquake damaged Oakland 16th Street Station. Here I had time to go inside and look around the station. Southbound buses to San Francisco leave from here and the northbound buses arrive here. As depots go this one was clean, nice and well designed. We left on time and traveled by the old Oakland station as well as the freeway construction for the replacement of the collapsed Nimitz Freeway from the Loma Prieta Earthquake. We pulled into the West Oakland Coach Yards where we added a coach and the private car, Silver Lariat to the rear of the Starlight. We pulled down the middle of the street through Jack London Square to the new Oakland Jack London Square Station. Again, we were early so I ran across the street for a newspaper while they loaded the passenger who had come mostly by the bus from San Francisco. Northbound passengers for San Francisco get bussed to the City from here.

We left Oakland on time and slipped out of town by way of the Oakland Alameda County Stadium home of the Raiders and A's. Further past Newark, we ran by the Morton and Leslie Salt Companies, the ghost town of Alviso and the San Francisco 49'ers training facility. As I was sitting in the lounge car the window was paint balled. The conductor who was standing nearby got a message on the radio, "The train is under attack from three individuals firing at the train." Two windows were hit in the lounge car, one in the dining car and three coach car windows. We would not know exactly how many paint balls had hit the train until we have a station platform on the left side either San Jose or Santa Barbara. We pulled into San Jose right on time but used a right hand side platform so we will have to wait until Santa Barbara. Leaving San Jose on time, we headed south following Highway 101 to Gilroy, the garlic capitol of the world, then traveled through the Pajora Gap and passed the sand and gravel plant to Watsonville. We skirted the estuaries, passed Moss Landing, then flew through Castorville, the artichoke capitol of the world before arriving at Salinas, the lettuce capitol of the world. Boy, did I pass a lot of capitols on this trip, seven state capitols and all these vegetable capitols of the world.

Now the train headed south up the Salinas Valley and has a new found interest for me because of my sobriety. I am enjoying the passing landscape for the first time. I am playing the spot the unexpected game thus I am noticing things for the first time. I would not spoil anything for you but if we would meet on a future trip someday, we could have an interesting conversation on what I had seen. We followed the Salinas River with the train passing through a tunnel. The Starlight passed through an oil field at San Ardo, passed Camp Roberts and then sped through Paso Robles, a future stop. We climbed to the top of the grade at Santa Margarita before we entered the summit tunnel of Cuesta Grade. We started our descent through two more tunnels as we were high on the side of the slope then twisted and wound our way down to the Goldtree Horseshoe Curve before crossing the Steener Trestle and entered San Luis Obispo. We met our sister northbound Coast Starlight and we were twenty three minutes early so it was post card time with a fresh air break. We left San Luis Obispo on time passing through a gap in the Santa Lucia Mountains to near the coastline and behind the sand dunes of Grover City. We crossed the Santa Maria River followed by passing through Guadalupe. We cut through the coastal hills to Casmalia before we reached the view of the Pacific Ocean as we entered Vandenberg Air Force Base. We passed the Minuteman launching pads before we crossed the Santa Ynez River and the public area called Surf. Next we passed the launching pads that were built for the Space Shuttle had the Challenger Disaster never taken place. They made the first call to dinner and I had the steak off of the menu three again tonight but there was no showing of "The Firm" tonight. While I was enjoying the meal we passed Jalama Beach, Point Conception, Gaviota, Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches before I returned to the lounge car for the rest of the trip to Santa Barbara.

We arrived at Santa Barbara and I walked the train from engine to private car and found that we were hit by twenty one paint balls. The private car managed to escape. I wondered if they had run out of shots by the time it had passed their location or had they had noticed it was a different type of car so they watched it go by instead of hitting it. During our twenty minute stop the sun had set on the last day of my first sober long distance train trip and the rest of the trip would be made under the cover of darkness. We left Santa Barbara on time and made it to Seacliff siding where the train stopped on the mainline. We sat and learned that train 779 was shot at with a weapon with no injuries but was being held due to a police investigation. My connecting San Diegan train number 786 pulled in next to us and there we both waited. We had a folk singer aboard to provide entertainment during the trip. She wandered into the lounge car and asked if we would all like to sing some songs and we all had a good time forgetting all about the delay as we sang away with our hearts. We started to sing, "I've been working on the Railroad" and by the second chorus we were on the move again to a chorus of cheers. The singer provided an excellent service to all the passengers and she said publicly that I had one of the best voices that she had ever heard.

I sat in the lounge car and reflected back on my whole sober trip as the train traveled along the Pacific Ocean towards Oxnard. The beer drinking guy on the Sunset who reminded me of myself, my kissing companion on the City of New Orleans, the open bathroom door women, those wonderful special meals on the Pioneer, my first run on the Mt Baker International and the on time to Santa Barbara paint balled Coast Starlight. I thought about the differences of riding sober and drunk. I think about how much money I saved at three dollars a drink and the figure worked out to about two hundred dollars. That would pay for a one region All Aboard America Fare. Most of all I felt good about myself, that I could do something that I truly loved and do it without alcohol. I deemed this trip a success.

We pulled into Oxnard an hour forty two minutes late, then headed through Camarillo and Moorpark before coming to a stop at Simi Valley. We headed into the Santa Susana Mountains and it was funny how I can tell when the train is in a tunnel. It is the sound. The train burst out of the second tunnel to a sea of lights of the San Fernando Valley. We passed through the last of the tunnels then traveled through the sea of lights all the way across it to our next to last stop of Glendale before we made the final sprint to Los Angeles, one hour twenty minutes late.

San Diegan 586 4/15/1995

I stood on the platform on track nine waiting for that same San Diegan that was next to us at Seacliff to pull in. They had unloaded the Coast Starlight's baggage car and a guy with two baggage wagons filled to over the top with baggage came down the platform. The wheels of the last wagon were getting a little too close to the edge and we the passengers yelled at him to stop. He gave us all a no problem wave and continued to drive along. Seconds later, the wheel of the rear wagon went off the edge and then the two wagons tumbled off the platform spilling their contents onto track number nine. Quick thinking by the outbound crew of 786 who called Terminal Tower telling the operator, "Do not put any train on track number nine. We have a problem here!" The operator switched train 786 to track number eight so everyone waiting to board train 786 had to move to track number eight and minutes later, train 786 arrived in Los Angeles. The San Diegan based crew did a fast job of loading the passengers and off we went down the Surf line towards home. We made our stops at Fullerton and Anaheim before we pulled into Santa Ana thirty two minutes late thus ending another Amtrak trip. I started and finished this trip sober and as I detrained I was already thinking of future trips. Summer vacation came to mind, now the question is where to go next?