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The Coast Starlight, Fall 2006 -- Page 3

Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The Coast Starlight

October 30-November 4, 2006

Page 3
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Bedtime Stories

I woke up at 4:00am. We were stopped. I watched as Train 11 passed my window, then we proceeded. On the left side of the car, the only side I could see, came an industrial facility into view. Beyond I could see Interstate 5 and a shopping mall. I think this must be the Kimberly Clark paper mill south of Redding. I'd seen it from the highway many times, but never before from the train.

For the next hour or so I slept erratically. I was semi conscious of the Redding stop. The climb towards Lake Shasta with a few tunnels skipped in and out of my awareness until we reached the Lake Shasta bridge which I watched with more alert interest.

Northern California

My first morning view as we approach the Oregon border


The next thing I knew it was 8:00am, skies were sunny and we were almost into Oregon. I figured I had plenty of time before breakfast which the dining car steward, Karol, said would be served until 9:30. So I was still in bed getting cobwebs out of my head and making photos of the passing landscape, when her last call came at....8:40!!!

Wetland, wild land

So I spent the Klamath Falls stop in the bathroom rushing to make myself presentable in public for breakfast. I walked through the Parlour Car at 9:00 when an announcement came that the diner would be closing "momentarily." When I entered the diner I asked her why she was closing at 9:00 when she said last night she'd be open until 9:30. She replied "I didn't say I was closed. I said I'd be closing momentarily." From that I got the impression that she was trying to rush everyone through without actually going back on her word. My morning temper is never very good, so I was definitely not amused.

My breakfast table That mental condition would soon melt away, as my breakfast story will reveal. Karol offered me a choice of empty tables. I chose the side with the upcoming view of Klamath Lake. I ordered French Toast and orange juice, but was informed they were out of orange juice so I ordered apple juice. I had the table to myself for quite a while so I thought I would end up dining alone.

video Video Clip
Dining Car along Klamath Lake
Other diners claim to see an eagle

475 kb - 16 sec.

Klamath Lake from the breakfast table

Williamson River

Klamath Lake and the Williamson River from my breakfast table

The best part of waking up

After awhile a young lady named Shawn (phonetically, if not in actual spelling) came in from coach and sat down with me. After she ordered we started talking. This was the return leg of her first train trip, and she was so pleased she said she was going to ride a lot more of them.

But she began her story by saying "I was the victim of a train robbery."


Apparently, when she was traveling to LA, someone broke into the baggage car and started tossing luggage off the train, which was then picked up by an accomplice following in a pickup. I later learned that this did indeed happen, but I have not been able to nail down the particulars. It wasn't clear whether the robbers were caught or not, but they matched the description of some people she saw hanging around the Santa Barbara station. Some of the bags were recovered by a following Amtrak Surfliner, but Shawn lost hers. She didn't seem to mind too much. She said it gave her a good story to tell people. Like me.

The power went out for a while, and we stopped briefly as the crew announced they were repairing it. It delayed breakfast service until 9:30. It was worth the wait. Unlike last night's dinner, the French toast was quite good. Not quite as good as the very best Amtrak has ever served, but darn close, and much better than some.


Good French Toast

Terrific company

Even better was the company. Like me Shawn had an interest in photography, and when we were stopped we both tried to get a shot of some squirrels on a nearby post. I'm sure her's came out better since she had an SLR and I just had a point and shoot. She told stories about her work as a contractor doing home improvement type work. She was currently on disability due to a recent work injury.

At one point I noticed a large oval ring on her finger with an abstract eagle design, its talons grabbing the horizon. My memory is probably going to mangle the story a bit, but as I understood it, the ring came to her from a friend shortly after her Grandmother passed away a decade ago. At that time, she learned that her family had Hopi blood, and that their family symbol was an eagle. Her friend, completely unaware of this, happened to come across this Hopi eagle ring and gave it to her as a gift a few days later. Not long after, Shawn was on a moonlit beach with some friends. There was a halo around the moon and she saw the clouds part in such a way as to form an image very similar to the one on her ring, with the eagle's talons grabbing the ring around the moon.

This was one interesting gal, and a mere recitation of our conversation doesn't tell the whole story. Shawn was one of those people who just lets their inner light shine, a la Matthew 5:14-16. One just can't help but feel uplifted in the presence of such a one. Any sour mood I had upon entering the diner was gone for good.

We said our goodbyes, openly acknowledging that we greatly enjoyed each others company. I then retreated to my room for some quiet reading and relaxation. Work had been very busy leading up to this trip and I had been looking forward to some private chill-out time for several days. Thus I spent much of my spare time in my roomette rather than taking advantage of the public parlour car.

video Video Clip
Walking back from the diner to my room
through the Pacific Parlour Car.

1.2 mb - 45 sec.

Settling back in

Shakesbear relaxes in the Roomette At this point it seems appropriate to introduce my traveling companion. He was allowed to come along because teddy bears ride free when accompanied by a human. Shakesbear is one of the smallest members of the Toy family, but he is well traveled because he fits well in a carry-on bag. This was his second train trip. His first took him to Denver, though he was quite upset that he rode eastbound in the baggage car. On the return leg of the California Zephyr he got to be in the room with us as intended, and even made friends with the dining car server. This time, however, he spent the entire trip in the room.

We reached Chemult at 10:37, 53 minutes late. From there we began our ascent into the Cascades. About an hour later Karol came around to take lunch reservations. This was a new practice, for in the past lunch had been, like breakfast, first come first served. I booked mine for 12:45.

At about that time needed to stretch my legs, so I decided it was time to “walk the train” from one end to the other, both to get a little exercise and to see that rebuilt sleeper occupying the 1432 position in the consist.

Out and about

WOW! When I first stepped into “the 32 car” I was struck by how bright, cheery and elegant it looked compared to most Superliners. The walls had woodgrain paneling on the lower half and clean white on the upper half. The hallway lighting was dramatically improved. The dull amber room numbers and spot lights were replaced with soft white light fixtures. Downstairs, even the vestibule had paneling instead of the traditional stainless steel. Bathroom doors were now a nice shade of blue. It was all quite elegant.

But most impressive were the rest rooms. I have always despised the cramped design of Superliner rest rooms. They were designed in the late 1970s when the cultural emphasis was on economy to the exclusion of all else. Many products of the day were of poor quality and design. This was the era of the polyester leisure suit, Chevy Vega, and inferior generic grocery products sold in plain white packages. Superliner rest rooms are among the last surviving artifacts of that era and they epitomize the philosophy of the day. Everything about them is wrong, wrong, wrong! With only an 18 inch square of floor space they make it difficult to maneuver to do one's business. Worse, the toilet paper is kept in a cubby hole behind your hip. The sinks have tiny faucets that you can't get your hands under, and the water is under too much pressure, causing them to splatter everywhere. Finally, they put the towel dispenser directly above the tissue dispenser so that wet hands drip right onto dry tissues.

Although the new design fits in the same space, they have almost three times as much floor space, allowing one to have room to turn around and pull up your pants without hitting your elbows on something. The faucet has a nicely curved spout with plenty of room to get under it. An aerator smooths the flow and nothing splatters. TP is on the wall in front of you where it belongs. I hope whoever designed this was handsomely rewarded.

I don't want to clutter this page with too many photos, so I have made a page of comparison photos, showing the rebuilt Superliner I features next to images of an ordinary Superliner II sleeper.

OK from the frontmost 1432 car, I walked all the way to the rear of the last coach. Well, almost. There were four coaches, but the last one was unoccupied and locked. Rats. I was hoping to get some shots out the rear, but not today.

Video Walk Thru
Three sleeping cars, starting with car 1432, the rebuilt Superliner I, followed by the 1431 and 1430 cars, both Superliner IIs.

2 mb - 1 min. 15 sec.

video video Video Walk Thru
Beginning in the diner we pass through the Sightseer Lounge and half of one coach. Watch for the tunnel!

1.4 mb - 52 sec.

But I did get a good look at the refurbished Sightseer lounge. I like the idea of having a mix of tables and viewing chairs to enable patrons to enjoy a wider range of activities.

New tables at one end of the Sightseer Lounge

Refurbished viewing chairs

Top left: New tables at one end of the Sightseer 4Lounge.

Top right: Viewing chairs refurbished with cloth upholstery and head rests.

Right: The "cafe" on the lower level of the Sightseer Lounge.

Snack bar on the lower level

The round trip from one end to the other and back again took me on a journey of 1,530 feet, more than a quarter of a mile! And since we were on a grade, half of that walk was uphill.

At noon, shortly after I returned to my room we stopped to allow the crew to inspect something on the train before heading down the mountains. No problems were found. At 12:08 a detector at milepost 557.3 reported a speed of 32 mph and an outdoor temperature of 43 degrees.

Cascade Mountains

Cascade Mountains

We were now passing some of the most spectacular areas of the mountains, but my room was on the opposite side of the train from the view. I could have gone to the parlour car, but I was still in the mood for a retreat, so I spent most of the next hour in my seat quietly reading with Shakesbear, taking a few moments at one point to visit the hallway for a photo out the opposite side and a few “no-no” shots out the vestibule window when nobody was looking.

The camera, not my head, went briefly out the window.

Soon the train came to its first horseshoe curve, which reverses our direction for five miles, and before long the view was on my side of the train. No need to go anywhere for photos now.

More mountains

And a river framed by fall color

At 12:36 came another detector report at milepost 571.9. I lost the speed in a tunnel but the temperature was 45. A few minutes later came the call for my lunch.

But will it be any good?

I was seated with an older gentleman who had spent some time at the Monterey area's Fort Ord during his military service, so we had some common territorial interests. During our meal we passed by Oakridge at 12:57, then for many miles the Lookout Point reservoir was our table's vista.


Lookout Point Reservoir

Homes in Oakridge

Lookout Point Reservoir

Chocolate cake - Amtrak styleOn the menu I debated whether I should get quiche or a burger. I asked the server, Michael, which was better and he discreetly replied “I always have the hamburger.” I took that as a sign that the quiche wasn't all that great. The burger was indeed quite tasty and filing. I didn't think I was all that hungry, but I ate it all and had room for some pretty good chocolate cake, too.

OK, I thought, aside from last night's horrific salmon, there might still be hope for Amtrak's simplified dining service menu.

Pasture south of Eugene

A pastoral scene somewhere south of Eugene.

Willamette Valley

After lunch I felt I was ready to stay in public for awhile, so I found a newspaper in the parlour car and got caught up on the world of politics as we approached the fringes of Eugene. An older couple was seated a couple of chairs down. The woman asked her husband “Where are we?” They began a debate as to whether we were in Washington or still in Oregon. A passing employee told them we were almost to Eugene. As soon as she left the debate resumed. “Where are we? Are we in Washington?” “No, I think this is still Oregon.” A man across the aisle from me told them again that we were near Eugene. Fruitlessly, as it turned out, for the next thing we heard was “Where are we?” He and I looked at each other, rolled our eyes and resumed our reading.

Eugene suburbs

Willamette River

The Willamette River at Eugene

The scene at Eugene across the tracks from the station.

I got out at Eugene for a little fresh air, and we were rolling again st 2:10, one hour twenty six minutes late. I've seen worse. A lot worse.

The whole darn train!

The whole darn train in Eugene!

At 2:30 my sister Liz called. She said according to the Amtrak Website our train had arrived Salem already. Nope. I told her I'd call after we left Albany, which happened at 3:05. I glanced across the halI and noted that the couple there never seemed to leave their room. Hmmmm.

Scenes of the Willamette Valley - Eugene to Albany

Fall color

Willamette River railroad bridge


Fall color in a row of trees


Red dump truck

Fall colors lead to a railroad bridge across the Willamette River. Then we find a pumpkin patch, a colorful windbreak, grazing llamas and a red dump truck. These are just a few of the many interesting glimpses into Willamette Valley life that can be had from the train.

At right, a nicely refurbished depot in Albany:

Albany depot

3:15 we passed the detector at milepost 697.8 traveling at 67 mph. 20.4 miles to go!

video Video Clip
From my window between Albany and Salem
Hear the detector report at milepost 697.8!

646 kb - 22 sec.

The stretch run

Not far from Salem now!

Not far from Salem now!

Train 11 and Train 14 often meet somewhere near Salem. There have been many times where one couldn't be sure which would get to the station first. Today was one of those. As my sister related, an announcement was made at the station that both trains were ten minutes away and they weren't sure which would win. As has happened to me many times before, the meet occurred at a siding called Renard, south of town near the Salem airport. We stopped to let #11 pass, and I got a shot of it in the hallway. Tom, the 1431 attendant said I should go downstairs and stick my head out the window for a really good shot. I told him I knew better than that. I think he knew I knew better than that.

Train 11 passes, and now we can proceed to the depot.
I was happy to see it had a parlour car.

George came by my room to help me get ready to detrain. I gave him my standard "note of appreciation," then we shared a few laughs in the vestibule. He admired my hat, then remarked that he never looked good in hats. I let him try mine on, and he went to look in a mirror. I said he looked good. "No," he said, "it makes me look too German." (He was Argentinian.)


The Salem station

At 3:51pm I was on solid ground where I would stay for the next 72 hours. I was able to introduce George to my family before he closed up the doors and moved on.

Goodbye George!

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Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

See also the

The Del Monte Club Car

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