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A Rail Sale Trip To La Junta and the 800,000.0 Rail Mile

by Chris Guenzler

Getting near that 800,000 rail riding mark made me want to get it over and done with. I checked rail sale but instead of doing the usual Albuquerque turn around I thought why not go to La Junta, spend the night and return westbound the next morning. I bought my Rail Sale tickets on line and picked them up at Santa Ana. Marty, my wonderful night agent five nights a week, printed out the hotels and I choose the Mid Town Motel which was five blocks from the station. With that done, all I had to do was ride trains to get me to the point where this trip would get me 800,000 rail miles on my way back to Los Angeles.

Not the normal start to an Amtrak Trip 4/22/2004

I drove down to Santa Ana to start what I thought would be an ordinary trip to Los Angeles on Surfliner 583. I parked my Geo Metro and found a guard to give him my parking permit for being gone over 72 hours. Inside the station I found the ever wonderful Lee Jackson who I was surprised to see as he should have been working on a train at that time. It turned out that my Surfliner 583 had been canceled as something had happened this morning to 572. I learned later talking with the 572/785 crew that the engine for that train was useless and they tried four times to leave the station but due to a faulty over speed that the engine kept on going into penalty phase. Thus with 572 canceled in the station and not going to San Diego to become 583, there was no 583 today.

Faced with this major problem and following a major venting of my emotions, Lee suggested that I check the Metrolink timetable because he thought there was a train to Los Angeles that would get me there in time to catch the Southwest Chief. The schedule showed that Metrolink train 689 due at Santa Ana at 5:27 PM would get me to Los Angeles at 6:22 PM or 23 minutes before the Chief left. I went out and sat on the Metrolink ramp to wait for a train that would let me reach 800,000 rail miles on Sunday on my return from La Junta.

Metrolink 689 4/22/2004

The train pulled into Santa Ana right on time with me boarding cab car 604. I was very happy to be on the move toward Los Angeles as soon as Metrolink 604 had cleared at CP Lincoln. We made the Metrolink stops of Orange, Anaheim and Fullerton where I told some railfans what had happened to their beloved 583. I felt better as I was not the only one being inconvenienced by the lack of 583 today. As the train sprinted for Norwalk I thanked God for Metrolink and the service that they provided me getting to Los Angeles in time for the Southwest Chief. We passed the later running 784 on the fly at Bandini. We pulled into Los Angeles at 6:14 PM and I stepped off the Metrolink train with a big smile on my now happy face.

Southwest Chief 4 4/22/2004

I quickly walked from Track 6 to Track 12 around the south end of the platform and boarded Superliner coach 34079 Seat 43 at 6:17 PM. With time to kill, I got the consist of my train heading east. P42DC 167, B40-8PH 839 and 833, Baggage 1211, Transition 39042, Sleepers 32031 and 32098 New Jersey, Diner 38016, Lounge 33033, Coaches 31525 Smoker, 34079 and 34030, Express Track 74086, 74096, 74088, 74046, 74016 and 74096 and Road Railers 462140, 460023, 462017, 460127 and 410336. We left on time and as we backed to get the express cars, Conductor Alex Pavlopoulos {Yes I did get it right} took my ticket. Alex has been my conductor on San Diegan, City of New Orleans, Sunset Limited and now the Southwest Chief. He wins the prize for being my conductor on the most routes that I have traveled.

We left Los Angeles Union Station and a few miles of traveling along the Los Angeles River we crossed the flyover across the LA River and Alameda Corridor. We raced a BNSF stack train from DT Junction to east of the Norwalk Metrolink station with the train using distributed power units on the rear end. I arrived at Fullerton with 51.4 more miles than I would have had if I had waited for Surfliner 785. That train which had two trains worth of passengers as it picked up all the passengers from 583 that did not run today. We headed east through Santa Ana Canyon with me riding in the lounge car waiting for it to open which it finally did just west of Riverside. My Sierra Mist tasted really good after the long wait. We stopped both at Riverside and San Bernardino before we made our assault on Cajon Pass as I went to sleep for the night.

4/23/2004 I woke up to the pine trees just west of Flagstaff on a mostly cloudy morning. The Art Train USA was on display east of the Flagstaff Amtrak station. A breakfast of French Toast and Sausage was taken with a couple who had just ridden the Grand Canyon Railroad and were now heading to Albuquerque. I returned to my seat finding that the person now sitting next to me is also going to La Junta on a Rail Sale ticket. His name is Eric, a young railfan from Flagstaff who just happens to read my web site. Is it a small world? Was this planned? No, but what are the chances that on a full train, two railfans would be going to the same place and seated together? We talked all the way to Gallup.

There was a BNSF remote control locomotive switching the yard leads in Gallup. I then went to the lounge car to get myself some snacks before I listened to some Jeff Beck.

The red rock mesas always look good whenever I pass them so I took a couple of pictures. After that I relaxed.

Once past Thoreau and the Continental Divide, we passed an eastbound BNSF freight train near Pegs before rolling through Grants. I watched more of the beautiful New Mexico countryside pass before Eric rejoined me and we talked the rest of the way to our servicing stop at Albuquerque, arriving early

I made a trip to Cheryl's Bus for some Coca-Cola before walking across the street to the Quick Cool for some ice cream.

As part of the servicing of the train here the windows are washed by hand. This is one of the few places on the entire Amtrak system where this is done. I picked up a USA Today and was reading it as the Southwest Chief departed Albuquerque on time.

The Southwest Chief ran north up the Rio Grande River Valley before it turned away from it on the route to Lamy.

The Southwest Chief headed into a storm as we neared Lamy.

The train climbed slowly through Apache Canyon as it started its climb up Glorieta Pass. At Glorieta the westbound Southwest Chief was in the siding waiting for us.

On this rainy afternoon I finally took a picture of the former Santa Fe Glorieta depot now a US Post Office. As we descended to the Pecos River, Starvation Peak came into view ahead of the train although we would not pass it for at least thirty minutes.

The Southwest Chief next climbed the "S" curves at Chapelle before we passed Starvation Peak. My early afternoon was spent listening to Jethro Tull. We made our station stop at Las Vegas and headed north towards Raton. Eric and I received a 5:30 PM dinner reservation as the steward walked through the train. I switched to Rush and Vapor Trails next for my musical enjoyment as we rolled north.

Our train headed towards Wagon Mound off in the distance down the rails. The countryside was slowly turning into a late season winter wonderland in mid spring. At 5:30 PM we were called into the diner for dinner with Eric and I sitting with a couple from Michigan returning from Santa Fe. We stopped in Raton before climbing up to the Raton Pass Summit Tunnel. A pair of drunks came in without a reservation, swearing at the steward and making a scene. The steward remained cool and under control. The drunks returned to the lounge car most likely for another few rounds of drinks. We exited the tunnel to over three inches of fresh snow with more falling at a good rate. I enjoyed a Delmonico steak with an ice cream sundae with great conversation taking place at the table. A BN SD-40-2 was heading up the south track clearing the newly fallen snow. We descended to a snowy Trinidad before we started our final trek to La Junta. I returned to my seat, packed up and relaxed the last miles. We arrived at my destination at 8:08 PM or 21 minutes early.

La Junta 4/23/2004

I detrained into a good snow storm falling at a good rate but it was not sticking. I made my way under as much cover as possible before I had to take out the umbrella for the trip the rest of the way to the Mid Town Motel. This motel, five short blocks southeast of the Amtrak station on 3rd Street, is a really rustic place to stay at the unbeatable rate of $32.00. I watched a bit of the Lakers losing effort to the Houston Rockets and then the Weather Channel's Storm Stories along with a local forecast. A surprise waterfall shower ended a great day of train riding.


Up before 7:00 AM and following personal duties, this well rested train rider went first to the Love gas station for snacks. From there I went to the Amtrak station then onto the Copper Kitchen Cafe where I enjoyed a pancake and bacon breakfast which was excellent. This restaurant is located half a block south of the Amtrak station. Filled, refreshed and satisfied, I returned to the station to wait for my train.

Southwest Chief 3 4/24/2004

The train pulled in ten minutes early and after I boarded Superliner coach 34014, Seat 47, I went and recorded the consist. P42DC's 196, 33, 70 and 65, Baggage 1734, Transition 39041, Sleepers 32078 Florida and 32079 Georgia, Diner 35028, Lounge 33030, Coaches 31502 Smoker, 34014 and 34012, Express Box 71100, 71153, 71280 and 71014, Express Track 74089, 74044, 74048 and 74084 and Road Railers 462151, 462118, 460147, 462192, 460237, 462123, 460138, 462138, 462099 and 462015. We departed La Junta on schedule and headed west toward Trinidad. At Simpson we met an eastbound BNSF freight as we crept down the siding. Later we did our station work at Trinidad and started our assault of Raton Pass on a very clear late April morning. People were still digging out from the storm as we climbed the 3% grade. The 27 car train looked impressive snaking up Raton Pass. Before we reached the Summit tunnel and the Elk were all over the valley on the west side of the train. The north side of Raton Pass was very snowy, the south side had only patches in places and the ground was bare when we reached Raton.

We arrived early into Raton which allowed for a picture of the unique station and time for a visit inside. Music for this late morning was Aerosmith's "A Little South of Sanity". On the way to Las Vegas today as I felt like a "High Plains Drifter" heading south with the snow capped mountains to the west, a very relaxing situation to be enjoyed. Later by Starvation Peak I was listening to Blue Oyster Cult's "Some Enchanted Evening" and just sat back as the train took the "S" curves, crossed the Pecos River before climbing Glorieta Pass and started down Apache Canyon.

At Canyoncito we went into the siding and waited fifteen minutes for the eastbound Southwest Chief before we proceeded to Lamy. We departed on time and ran to Waldo where we went into the siding for BNSF 551 East. To answer a reader's question, "Yes, they still run freight trains over this route". A dead heading BNSF engineer said, "That was the fourth eastbound freight movement in the last 24 hours". We then ran straight to Albuquerque arriving at 3:54 PM or 13 minutes early.

I visited Cheryl's Bus for more Coca Cola then worked on my suntan on this warm afternoon for forty five minutes before returning to my seat for Ozzy Osbourne's "Speak of the Devil". I saw the Assistant Conductor and asked about upgrading to a room and told him about my reaching 800,000 rail miles tomorrow. He told me he would get back to me before Gallup if he had a room for me. We left ABQ right on time and headed to Gallup. We ran to Dalies and west of the line separation Eric and I went to dinner. From Menu Five I enjoyed a New York Strip Steak along with my usual sundae. Joining us was Peter who was returning from Cleveland to his home in Los Angeles. The meal lasted through Grants and out to Pegs where I returned to my coach seat to listen to more music. Before Gallup the Assistant Conductor came and told me he had a room for me for $70 and would be by after Gallup to settle with me.

This was the icing on my cake for this trip and will make my 800,000 rail mile tomorrow even more special. After Gallup I purchased Room 13 in the 331 Car better know as the Florida Sleeper. Once our business was done I carted my luggage to my new quarters and settled in waiting for darkness. I did go back to the coach to say good bye to all my new friends and especially Eric. They all wished they could be with me when I reached my 800,000 rail mile tomorrow and I wished they could be there with me too. I enjoyed the change from twilight into night as the stars started to fill the skies brightly as we neared Winslow. There I found my sleeping car attendant RJ before I turned in for the night just east of Flagstaff.

4/25/2004 I woke up at 4:35 AM and we had just left Barstow. I waited until 5:05 AM for the dining car to open for French Toast and Sausage which was the call of the morning. Back in my made up room I enjoyed as predawn trip down a very busy Cajon Pass with the BNSF putting on quite a show. We departed San Bernardino a little over thirty minutes late and proceeded to Riverside. From there we went to Corona and just west of the West Corona Metrolink Station I passed my 800,000.0 rail mile. It was a quiet celebration as I still had a couple of pictures yet to take before we arrived in Los Angeles.

The Southwest Chief went through Santa Ana Canyon and rounded the Horseshoe Curve at the west end. From there we headed to Fullerton leaving there at 7:24 AM. The train then made its final sprint to Los Angeles Union Station.

The Southwest Chief crossed the flyover across the Los Angeles River and the Alameda Corridor with downtown Los Angeles in the background. We arrived at LAUPT at 7:58 AM, 17 minutes early.

Surfliner 566 4/25/2004

Following a picture of the Southwest Chief at the end of its run, I walked over to Track 8 to wait for 566 to back in. The consist for this train was Surfliner Cab Car 6904, Coaches 6406 and 6401, Coach Cafe 6303 and 6300, Pacific Business Class 6804 and F59PHI450 operating in the push mood. I boarded and was now in total relax mode enjoying a Coca-Cola as we departed. We started moving but stopped for four minutes before leaving LAUPT for good.

We headed back southeast to Fullerton crossing the dry San Gabriel River along the way. The hazy skies made me long for those dark blue clear skies of New Mexico from yesterday. We made our way to Fullerton, Anaheim and then Santa Ana, ending another great and interesting Amtrak adventure which took me from the falling snow in Colorado then back to a heat wave in sunny Southern California.