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The Coast Starlight, May/June 2002 -- Page 6
Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The Coast Starlight, May /June 2002

Page 6

Ascending the Cascades

After a brief sortie to my room, I returned to the Parlor Car and sat at a table. Some conversations were going on between a couple at the next table and a man across the aisle. I heard the woman among them saying she thought the Parlor Car design seemed sort of phony to her. It wasn’t as luxurious as the parlor cars of old, but seemed to have just superficial design features, like wall sconces, that were just a poor imitation. I took the opportunity to explain the origin of the Pacific Parlor Car, which they all seemed to enjoy hearing.

Oregon's longest covered bridge spans the Willamette river near Oakridge


After several minutes, the couple left for dinner and I was left with the other gentleman. he was from Colorado, near Denver, and he seemed to be an outdoorsy type. He worked in the energy industry, I’m not sure in what capacity. His home was entirely self-sufficient for electricity, being powered mostly by the wind, along with some solar power. He talked about Nazi formulas for synthetic fuel that had been suppressed by the American government and were being held in a vault in Texas. At first I dismissed this as just another conspiracy theory without much to back it up, but he seemed to have a better working knowledge of energy issues than the average conspiracy theorist. He said the principles behind the Nazi’s synthetic fuel was widely known, but the research to make it practical was locked away. He referred me to the George C. Scott movie “The Formula,” but the reviews were terrible, so I think I’ll skip it.

According to the route guide, somewhere as we ascend into these mountains the tracks make a hairpin turn. We travel more or less northwest for five miles, before another hairpin turn points us back to the southeast. In all of the trips I have taken on this route I have never been aware of such a significant change of direction. I would think I would notice the sun coming from the opposite direction or something. Perhaps the shadows of the mountains prevents my being aware of that. There is a place where you can see tracks below us. I noticed those on my very first trip way back in 1974. I always assumed they were a different line, but I have recently been informed that those are our tracks farther down the mountain between the hairpin curves.

However, in analyzing the photos I made I found I had shot, without knowing it at the time, the same mountain from different sides of the train, as seen here:

Here are two views of the same mountain. The top photo was taken out the right side of the train from the Parlor Car, shortly before dinner. The photo below was later shot from my dinner table on the left side of the train. The peak just right of center in the bottom photo is the same one as above. You can match up the scars on the hillsides.


7:00pm was approaching, so I excused myself and went to wash up for supper. My reservation was called just as I returned to my car. I took my camera in the hopes of getting a window seat, but I doubted I could be that lucky again.

The dining car

As it turned out I was seated on the aisle with four ladies on the left side of the train, facing rearward. I set my camera down and explained that I brought it along just in case I got a window seat. The woman next to me asked “Are you right handed?” I said yes. “Well let’s trade places. I’m left handed and I don’t want to be bumping elbows all through dinner.” My wife is left-handed and I totally agreed so we traded places and I got a window seat, where I was able to get some great shots.

A narrow mountain stream works its way to the valley

My table companions were Robin (on my left), an operating room nurse. Across from me was Robin’s traveling companion, Mary Ann, who was the eldest of the group. Next to her was Audrey, a former resident of Pacific Grove, now living in San Luis Obisbo.

The dinner menu again featured salmon, but I opted for the chicken this time. My companions all ordered the steak.

As we waited for our food, we passed through a fairly long tunnel very slowly. This caused very slight smell of diesel exhaust to be noticed in the car. But as soon as we emerged, the air cleared quickly.

Conversations covered a wide range of topics, not all of them of interest to me. The ladies spent a fair amount of time talking about kids and grandkids, and that sort of thing.

The train wraps behind one of my dinner companions

Education became a hot topic as we progressed. It actually grew out of our train discussions. I explained that most of my experience with the Coast Starlight took place in the '70s when I rode back and forth between Salem and a boarding school in Northern California. I spoke about my bad experience in public junior high schools, which everyone seemed to sympathize with. I was asked about my college experience, of which I had virtually none. Mary Ann thought maybe I should go back to school of some sort, and suggested possibly a correspondence school. Then she had second thoughts. "You seem to know a lot about a lot of things. Maybe you don't need to."

Being in the last group of reservations we were able to take our time in the diner. We were going through dessert when we hit Chemult. At 8:35. Most of us ordered the apple pie. It was several sweet, thick layers of apple slices, with a crumbly cinnamon crust. Whipped cream topped it off. Thursday's cheesecake has nothing on this. It was the perfect all-American apple pie.

We didn't leave the diner until 9:00pm, two full hours after arriving. It seemed like half of that, and would have been if the train had been more crowded.

It turned out that Robin and Mary Ann were in room 4 next to mine. Robin gave me her card so we could keep in touch if desired.

After dinner

In my room I turned on the scanner and heard that cattle were reported in right of way at milepost 449.2, closer to Klamath Falls.

"UP detector, milepost 472.0, no defects, axles 56, speed 78." I forgot to note the time.

At 9:30 I went to one of the lower level rest rooms. There was a little gremlin in there that kept unlocking the door every minute or two. It came unlocked three times all by itself. I also noted that the water pressure in this car was perfect. Every rest room had just enough to get the job done without splattering. So it can be done.

At 9:40 another report came in of cattle on the right of way at milepost 449.2.

We must have passed the cows without incident, for at 9:43 we met up with "UP detector, milepost 442.6, no defects, axles 56, speed 71" No defects, no cattle.

Nighttime photography

We made our "fresh air" stop in at Klamath Falls 9:53. As with the northbound trip we changed crews (engineers and conductors) here, so it is a longer stop. I got off and went to front of train for photos of the locomotives illuminated only by streetlights.

Locomotive #119 at Klamath Falls

A Union Pacific engineer waits alongside his machine a few tracks over

I also got some shots of the lights reflecting off the cars, and rails. This is an ideal location for nighttime photos because of the curved platform.

Reflections off the side of my sleeping car at Klamath Falls. A thin band of twilight can be seen at the horizon.

For this shot I set my camera directly on the rail. Not wanting to put my face to the rail to look through the viewfinder, I just aimed as best I could. The composition turned out nicely.

A final peek out the far side of the vestibule reveals more UP locomotives.

We pulled out at 10:12, 27 minutes late. At 10:15 I heard on the radio we would meet a UP freight #4021 at "Warden."

10:20pm "UP Detector, milepost 424.0, no defects, axles 56, Speed 72."

At 10:30 Al asked if he could make up my bed so he could get some rest. That would be great, but I wasn't ready for bed, so I went to the Parlor Car while he did his thing. I chatted again with bartender Dana for about 90 minutes until she closed up. She, like myself, once worked in movie theaters, so we had something in common. Early in our conversation the aforementioned UP 4021 passed us.

11:33pm, "UP detector, milepost 357.5, no defects, axles 56, speed 40."

Late at night

Dana closed up the Parlor Car bar at 11:45, I went to the Sightseer lounge to see if there might be any sign of life there. As I went through the diner, a conductor looked at me curiously and asked "Can I help you?" The tone in his voice suggested that he was suspicious of anyone besides him who might still be awake at this hour. The lounge was like a ghost town, so I went to my room and settled in for the night.

11:55pm, "UP detector, milepost 342.3, no defects, axles 56, speed 50."

Six minutes later we appeared to be passing through the town of Mt. Shasta, or so I gathered from the name on a motel signs.

12:13am, "UP detector, milepost 330.5, no defects, axles 56, speed 25."

I did a little reading, then turned out the lights, including the night light, so I could see the stars. Below me the bushes were illuminated by the light in the vestibule, and just beyond I could see the foaming rapids of the upper Sacramento River on our approach to Dunsmuir. Two more detectors were placed fairly close together at mileposts 327.3 (at 12:21) and 323.2 (at 12:31). No speed was given on either of these, just "no defects."

We stopped in Dunsmuir at 12:34, only 14 minutes late. We seem to have made up some time since Klamath Falls.

A locomotive turntable was outside my window at Dunsmuir

Outside I saw a locomotive turntable. We were moving again before long, and I was very tempted to keep my eyes on the window as we rounded all the curves of the canyon. The locomotive headlights were lighting up the walls as we passed, and it was fun to watch. But I decided it would be best if I got some sleep. I hadn't gotten much the night before, and less than normal over the entire vacation, so I did the sensible thing and put my head down for the night.

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