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San Ysidro to Tecate 2/24/1996

by Chris Guenzler

Being a member of the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum for years, I was hoping for a through the Carrizo Gorge trip to happen so I could ride a passenger train through it. The Museum had started running a Ticket to Tecate trip from Campo but that was not a long enough trip for me. I had booked an all private car train but for one reason or another it never ran so I decided that if the Museum ran a trip out of San Ysidro and over the Redondo balloon curves I would go and that was how I found myself standing in San Ysidro on February 24, 1996. I took Amtrak 578 riding up in the engine to get to San Diego, rode the trolley around the night before, stayed at a Motel 6, bought another all day trolley pass and rode down to the end of the line to be ready. The main reason I wanted to do this trip was part of the goal of riding sober in every state I had drunk in so why not add the Mexican States to my list as well. I never drank on my last trip on the Tijuana and Tecate but with those other trips I drank on the Sonora Baja California which originated and finished in Mexicali, Baja California. It seemed like a natural place to start plus a visit to the Tecate Brewery was included with my ticket. I wanted to prove to myself and my parents I could remain sober while traveling in Mexico.

I was standing on top of a hill overlooking the SD&IV yard waiting for the power to come down to our train.

First the SD&IV local for Mexico came by with the 2198, a GP7r, stopped at the border gate then entered Mexico. Following him, the power for our train came by as I took pictures before boarding my train and finding a right hand coach seat in an ex Lackawanna coach. Our train had the SD&IV GP-38 5537, five Lackawanna coaches, the Army Kitchen car and an open platform observation car.

All of the passengers were loaded and then we sat for forty five minutes waiting for Custom Officials to open the gate so we could enter Mexico. Once on the move, I went to an open vestibule as we crossed into Mexico. This engineer was really laying on the horn at every chance he got and like my last trip here all of the locals were waving. We crossed the Tijuana River and I took a really good hard look at Tijuana and found some of it to my liking. I will just have to come back down here sometime for a visit. Past Arguello we found the SD&IV local inside some industry and we now had the railroad all to ourselves. There was talk on the train of this line being opened to the east and a new railroad to be built from Ensenada to Tecate to take advantage of the port there and the North American Free Trade Agreement. I looked through the plan and saw what great potential this plan would have. If such an undertaking would take place I might finally get to ride through the Carrizo Gorge at last so I am all in favor of this plan.

We passed Garcia before crossing the high bridge over the Tijuana River and entering tunnel number one. We crossed San Ysidro Creek, passed the Rodriguez Dam before plunging into Tunnel number two. So much for the tunnels this morning as we entered the Redondo Valley. At Mantanuca I saw a brand new container facility that would definitely benefit from the reopening of the line east. The biggest difference from my last trip here is how much economic development has taken place here. Our top speed was thirty five miles an hour and we kept up that pace until Redondo. Passing the former station this was where the show began as we headed up the Redondo balloon curves then twisted and turned up the middle level to the upper balloon curve where we looped back to the northwest and again I felt most impressed at the railroading engineering of this route. We went around the Rita Curve and continued our climb through La Puerta {The Door}, crossed Tecate Creek, up its canyon then across the Tecate Valley. We pulled into Tecate ten minutes to the good and all of the passengers detrained for a two and a half hour layover.


I had a brewery ticket but I decided I was more hungry so I was in search of something to eat. I noticed a Burger King sign and went in search of it. I walked the streets of Tecate almost unnoticed except for the occasional "HI". I saw the Burger King down the street but decided to see what was up the last street in town. I turned and walked west so I could circle back to the Burger King. I saw a house with a woman out front who seeing me ran back into the house and paraded eight women out for me to view, I know exactly what is going on and since I did not need any women of the evening before lunch I turned down their offer. I must admit they did all look good and if I had more time or more money or if..... .......... I went to Burger King which turned out to be a trailer and ordered a plain hamburger, fries and chocolate shake. I walked back down to the brewery, got within two blocks of the place and I was overcome by the smell of Tecate Beer. It made me think just how good it tasted but with my new lifestyle, I thought to myself, there is nothing wrong with breathing the fumes and besides it is free. I walked inside the brewery and the guard let me take my own private tour. When I was done, I gave a nice couple from the train by beer tickets and sat back watching people drinking Tecate Beer in various quantities. Several of the people reminded me of myself and this was another good lesson of what I was like when I was drunk. I gave up that lifestyle and am extremely grateful I did. I walked back to the train, reboarded and did one word search puzzle after another killing time until we left. Tecate was an interesting town and I had a very educating visit.

The Return

I was most interested in watching people on the trip back as most of the members of my car had been drinking many to excess. There was a guy two seats out who had been totally quiet going to Tecate and is now totally out of it. He kept proclaiming, "The Black Top Girl!" He wanted to go back to Tecate and using language that would vividly described his sexual ambitions with her or to her. What exactly is a Black Top Girl anyway. A girl walking on the blacktop or a girl laying on the black top or a girl wearing a black top or a girl made out of black top? All I know is I had wished he had stayed back in Tecate with his Black Top Girl. I named him Black Top Boy. His antics were annoying the other passengers as well so to quiet him down his group gave him more to drink. The scenery caught my eye again so I put on my headphones for the first time on this trip. I listened to the Rolling Stones from New Orleans quite loud blocking out the surrounding noise in the car. With my eyes focused on Baja California Norte's countryside and with my head full of music I was back to having a great sober time. I stared at the ridge line of the surrounding mountain ranges noticing things I had never seen before. My eyes were constantly scanning the countryside for new details before they turned to the sky where I noticed a black sky rolling in on a cold west wind. It is late February and we might get rain but I love being on a train in the rain. That thought brought back a memory of the Copper Canyon Trip in the rain with Bananafish Tours where it was rain, rain, everywhere! Looking at these clouds I did not think that it was possible but what an adventure it was.

Liquid of another kind was the call of the day as Black Top Boy was back at his verbal tricks and now he was insulting people. He verbally abused a very attractive blonde lady in her early forties with a nice figure sitting in front of me and she got upset and left in a rapid manner. I decided that I needed to do something about this so I went to find her. She was standing in the vestibule and I said, "Hi! I'm Chris the Alcoholic and has not had anything to drink in 401 days. I saw the whole incident and I apologize for this happening to you. He is a candidate for an AA meeting and let us hope he gets to one very, very soon!" She smiled and gave me a big hug, saying, "At least someone on this Earth cares about me!" We had a nice conversation about my train riding and before you knew it I was pointing out things to her like the balloon curves and we had a nice descent together. When we were passing through Redondo her traveling companion found us and invited her to move up two cars as she had found new seats. She introduced me to her friend then gave me a big kiss thanking me and left saying, "You made my trip really special!" Sometimes I feel like I am really special and once again I made a difference in someone's life. She helped me made my trip really special as well.

I returned to my seat to find the Black Top Boy trying to pick up on underage girls while he spilled his drink all over the front his pants looking liked he had peed. I just laughed to myself as the comic relief continued and I was sure glad I did not live that way anymore. We continued west down the Redondo Valley and we passed all of that growth in the Mantanuca area. The valley narrowed and I enjoyed the passing through the tunnels, crossing the bridge and the Tijuana River Gorge. As we approached Garcia, Black Top Boy is back to his antics and was now trying to offer me a drink. I said the first time, "I do not drink anymore!" He persisted and this time I responded with, "No thank you!" of my will and he asked a third time. I said, "I do not drink anymore because I turn into what you have become if I do!" The whole car gave me a round a applause as he stood there with a bottle of Tequilla in one hand and a dumb found look on his face. His friend came up to me, apologies to me and took Black Top Boy back to his seat. Several of the other passengers came up and congratulated me for the way I handled that situation. If that was a test of my sobriety then I do not know what is?

We passed through Tijuana and entered back into the United States passing through the border gate with the guards inspecting the train as it pulled through and came to a stop in San Ysidro. The US Custom Officials boarded our car first. When they were done with us we would be allowed to line up to detrain. Black Top Boy was shooting his mouth off and his friend was trying to keep him quiet. The general conscience was that we all hoped they would deport him back to Mexico. I did not want to be delayed because I have a trolley to take back to Amtrak 585 and home. The agents started at each end of the car and when they got to me they asked three questions. "What country are you a citizen of? Where and how long have you been in Mexico? Do you have anything to declare?" I answered all of their questions to their liking and was permitted to leave the train. I walked past the Custom agents down the hill, looked back at the train and wondered what ever became of Black Top Boy? With my all day trolley pass in hand I stepped on the first waiting trolley and was whisked away to the Santa Fe Depot where I sped home in the cab car of Amtrak 585 at a much greater rate of speed than down in Mexico to Santa Ana. With another train trip completed and with my start of my sober state riding in Mexico done, I could cross Baja California Norte off of my list.