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Trains Unlimited Tours Pacific Northwest Express

by Chris Guenzler

In October of 1994 Trains Unlimited announced the Trains Unlimited Special Convention Train, Pacific Northwest Express, from Sacramento to Portland via the rare mileage Feather River Canyon and Inside Gateway route on July 2-3-4, 2005. I decided to get onboard this trip as it would give me my missing mileage from Chemult north to Wishram. In the following months major changes to this trip first starting with the BNSF not letting the train go north of Bend due to freight train interference. The trip was changed to run on the Amtrak route Chemult to Eugene, the former Southern Pacific Coos Bay Branch and then the Amtrak route to Portland. At least we would still have the Feather River and the south end of the very scenic Highline. During the 2nd week of May Amtrak informed Trains Unlimited that they were short on power and that we would have to supply our engines in order to run our charters. Engines were located that were acceptable for our trip's need. We would be using some historic engines but we would need a couple of engines that are equipment with the HEP (Head End Power) in order to run the trains electrical system such as lights and A/C. The next major setback came during the 4th week of May when the Union Pacific contacted Amtrak management and informed them that they were reversing their approval to run our train through the Feather River Canyon via Keddie because of operating problems and said the train now must be run via former SP Shasta Route. A new option became running the train to McCloud over the McCloud Railroad and running several spectacular photo run-bys on the unique Signal Butte Switchback. Other additions include a McCloud workshop tour and photo Session, a McCloud steam pulled photo freight, and the McCloud Dinner Train. Since I had never photographed the McCloud 2-8-2 18 this was an incredible addition to my trip. The next day we would now run to Beck doing Photo Runbys on the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad. Add to that, the all daylight running, unique historic engines and the unique private passenger cars we would be using all this made for an exciting trip. The next challenge to this trip was that Amtrak and the freight railroads face an extreme crew shortage for the balance of 2005. Amtrak has no money to hire new crews. Some train crews came forward and said they would run our train and even work on their off days to get qualified to run on certain freight only lines. One train crew from Oregon inform us they were on vacation for most of July and were willing to work during their vacation to help run our charter train. A very big thank you to these Amtrak crews that are willing to work our train in order to make it happen.

Trains Unlimited had to deal with 57 different hotels for this trip. Remember we were suppose to overnight in the Greenville and Bend with hotels in some of the surrounding towns. When the BNSF pulled the plug on the run north of Chemult, all the Bend hotels had to be canceled and new hotels had to be found in Eugene. Then in the last week of May when the Union Pacific said no to the Feather River the hotels in the Greenville area all had to be canceled and new hotels had to be found in the Mt Shasta area and around Florence. Remember this last change with less than a month before the trip meant that Trains Unlimited was now trying to find hotel rooms over the very busy 4th of July weekend. The week before the trip Chris Skow had visited each of the hotel owners and went over the list of passengers staying there. With all that done, we were ready to take this most special and unique trip of 2005.

The Pacific Northwest Express Consist

SP 6304 F7A painted in full SP Black Widow power {ex Via 6304}, Amtrak P42DCs 142 and 136, SP 3105 ex SP Sunset Limited baggage car, Montana Open observation, Kitchi Gammi Club ex Pullman Company Lounge-Sleeper, Mount Vernon ex UP Lounge-Sleeper, Silver Rapids ex PRR CZ Sleeper, Arizona ex PRR coach, St. Paul ex PRR coach, Pony Express ex CP baggage car with bar-lounge & open doors, Overland Trail ex SP Lounge Car, Wisconsin Valley ex MILW Club Lounge Car, Super Dome ex Milwaukee Hiawatha Dome, Colonial Crafts ex PRR sleeper-lounge-buffet, Silver Lariat ex CB&Q CZ Vista Dome-Coach, and the Cedar Rapids ex MILW Hiawatha Sky Top Observation.

Day One Emeryville to McCloud July 2nd, 2005

A large group waited up on the Emeryville pedestrian bridge to wait for our train to pull into the Amtrak station. I met people for all over the country here plus a few foreign guests taking the trip which would be the norm for this trip.

A UP freight pulled into Emeryville and behind him into our view came our Trains Unlimited Special led by the Southern Pacific 6304. The passengers all boarded and checked luggage was placed into the baggage car for our trip to Portland. There was really a neat buzz among the passengers about what a great trip this would be. At 7:15 AM the SP 6304 whistled off and we were rolling. I was sitting at my table in the Wisconsin Valley where I would be writing this story from mainly. The train headed north through Berkeley then by Richmond with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District Shops. From here I rode in the Pony Express which will suit my picture taking needs well and to enjoy the morning ride.

Our colorful train running along the shore of San Pablo Bay at Pinole.

Looking back at the rear of our train at Hercules along the bay.

One last view of San Pablo Bay before we curved into the lone tunnel on our Cal-P Line to turn east to run along the Carquinez Strait.

Where San Pablo Bay meets the Carquinez Straits.

Alex Ramos caught the train at Crockett.

The view looking back at the Crockett Interstate 80 Bridges.

Our train rolling east along the Carquinez Strait.

We curved in Martinez which was a passenger pickup stop for our Trains Unlimited Trip.

Once we departed Martinez we crossed the Carquinez Strait Drawbridge.

Once off the bridge our train sprinted across the flat landscape.

A view inside the Great Dome.

Later Alex Ramos caught the train at Bahia. At CP Tolones we waited for Capitol Train 727 to clear so we could cross over. Once on the move again, we continued our sprint through Suisan-Fairfield, Dixon and curved into Davis.

Alex Ramos third picture caught the train at Davis. We then headed east and minutes later crossed the Yolo Causeway. This dry four miles of fill and trestles allows for flood waters of the Sacramento River to overflow into this passageway to run south down to the California Delta thus protecting the city of Sacramento. It is used for farming during the dry season. A few minutes later, we crossed the Sacramento River.

At the California State Railroad Museum the Granite Rock 0-6-0T 10 gave us a whistling chorus welcoming our Trains Unlimited Trip to California's Capitol City of Sacramento. We stopped at the Amtrak Station to pick up more passengers who would join us here. Our train left Sacramento at 9:15 AM to head east to Haggin to switch onto the old Western Pacific, former route of the legendary California Zephyr.

Our train taking the connection at Haggin from the old SP to the old Western Pacific. The train next crossed the American River then headed north of the metro Sacramento region and out into the rice fields.

Striking colors of the Sacramento Valley.

A nice water scene.

Our train then passed the Modoc Railroad Academy with a pair of engines for training of students.

At Pleasant Grove we pulled into the siding behind a freight to let a very late Coast Starlight head south past us. Once the stack train had cleared we followed it to Mounkes where it went into the siding. We crossed the Bear River to enter into Marysville.

Alex Ramos used black and white to catch our train at the west switch at Marysville siding. Our train then rolled along passing through Marysville.

At Binney Jct we curved to begin our run north up the former Southern Pacific Shasta Route. We next crossed the Feather River.

The Sutter Buttes stood out in the west as our train started traveling north up the longest section of tangent track in the state of California. We made a left turn to cross the Sacramento River then turned north at Tehama where the California Northern West Valley Line that runs to Davis takes off. This was the pre Sacramento stop route of the Coast Starlight.

On this beautiful clear California day, Mt Lassen stood out in the east.

Mt Shasta was off in the north ahead of our train. We would get much closer to this great mountain in a few hours. Our train run through Gerber and on through Red Bluff. From here our route took us into the foothills.

The train climbs the grade near Hooker Creek.

Our Trains Unlimited Special rolled through Cottonwood. We ran through Anderson and on towards Redding.

A former Rio Grande unit assigned to the Redding local.

Our special next crossed the impressive Redding Trestle across the Sacramento River. This is the start of the line relocation due to the building of Shasta Dam and Lake in the 1940's that took the railroad away from the Sacramento River and on a new line with ten tunnels and three major bridges.

I walked back to the rear of the train for a few views of the ex Milwaukee Road Sky Top Cedar River.

Next the forward view from the Silver Lariat Dome. We then traveled through Tunnels 1 and 2.

We crossed on the lower lever of the Pitt River Bridge with Interstate 5 on the top. We ran through Tunnels 3-5 followed by Tunnels 6 and 7 to O'Brien.

The trains Unlimited Special entered Tunnel 8 before reaching Mead. We then ran through Tunnels 9 and 10.

We crossed Shasta Lake just before reaching Lakehead.

One of the many crossings of the Sacramento River in the canyon. The original line bridge supports can be seen in this picture.

Our train running at Delta as we ran deeper into the Sacramento River Canyon.

The Trains Unlimited Special ready to make a big curve at Lamoine.

Alex Ramos next shot the train at Lamoine. Alex said, "This was definitely my favorite spot that we caught the train at, could have been better lighting, but oh well."

The train twisted and turned towards Gibson.

Rolling north through Sims.

Alex Ramos gives us all the going away shot taken at Conant.

Between Conat and Castle Crag, Mt Shasta would come into view in front of the train.

The Castle Crag.

The water tank at Dunsmuir with the great Southern Pacific emblem on it.

Alex Ramos next picture was a black and white at Dunsmuir.

Alex Ramos next photo was taken above Dunsmuir.

Our train climbed along the Sacramento River into the upper reaches of the Sacramento River Canyon.

The Trains Unlimited Special rounded the Cantara Loop to climb out of the Sacramento River Canyon.

Looking back into the Sacramento River Canyon from where we came.

Alex Ramos caught this great going away taken at Mott.

Good views of Mt Shasta abounded as we neared Mount Shasta City.

Another common view on the trip were people "Mooning" the train as it passed by.

At Mount Shasta City Alex Ramos caught the SP 6304 and the WP 2001 that would lead the first section of the train to McCloud.

Here our Trains Unlimited Special was split into two sections. The First Section would be SP 6304 and the WP 2001 with the first 9 cars and pulled over the 4.4 % grade over the hill to McCloud by the WP 2001 and SP 6304. It would be Displaying Green Flags. The Amtrak units would spend the night in Mount Shasta City. The Second Section of the last five cars including myself was pulled by McCloud SD-38 37. After the First Section left it would be our turn to be coupled up to that SD-38 and head for McCloud displaying Red Flags.

Part 2 of the Trains Unlimited Tours 2005 NRHS Express