Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales
The Coast Starlight
October 30-November 4, 2006
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My first Birthday Train Ride!
My southbound train was scheduled to depart Salem at 3:37pm. I called “Julie” a couple of times. The first time she said #11 was running 15 min late, the second time just 1 min late. So we arrived at the station at 3:15. Locomotive #122 led the consist, with #507 right behind as I had seen the day before. However, a third locomotive, #119 had been added behind #507.
The 1131 car stopped with the door right in front of me, but it didn't open. Two attendants got out of the 1132 car, and looked towards me. I pointed at the door and the man came running. “Oops,” he said, “I didn't realize I had anyone boarding.” His name was Roger, and he took my bag to my room while I said my goodbyes. I recognized the other attendant was Angela, who we had on our trip in 2004. She impressed me then as someone who diligently looked after every need of her passengers. She came over, I said hello and added that I remembered her good service from two years earlier.
We were rolling at 3:42, just five minutes late.
Angela came walking through and I asked if there was a parlour car. No, she said with some regret, but rooms 9 & 10 of my car had all the goodies, sodas, water, muffins, newspapers, etc. Since I was in room 7, everything I needed was right next door. Cool. It wasn't a parlour car, but at least someone was making the effort to compensate. It occurred to me that someone knew well a head of time that there wouldn't be a parlour car in this consist, otherwise those rooms would have been sold.
Meanwhile Roger had arranged a dinner reservation for me at 8:00pm. He also had another treat for everyone. In his room, #1, he had set up a laptop with a GPS system running. He placed it on the upper bunk so that it was at eye level to anyone who wanted a look. It showed our position on a map, along with our speed, which I saw hit 81 mph on a few occasions. He left the room open all night, doing his sleeping in room #10.
Shakesbear and I settled into the room and watched the Willamette Valley go by. A couple of detector reports at mileposts 710.0 and 697.8 reported speeds of 68 and 69 mph respectively. I grabbed a soda and muffin for a little snack to hold me until dinner. Shakesbear sat in the window and raced the cars on Interstate 5 as we approached Albany.
We made a three minute stop at Albany, departing there at 4:14pm.
As we progressed down the Willamette Valley I decided to walk the train to see if I could get some photos from the rear, and had no trouble doing so this time. At 4:25 a detector at milepost 681.1 reported a speed of 66 mph. Five minutes later we stopped at milepost 678 to let #14 pass. Thank goodness it had a Parlour Car. The rumors that they would be discontinued on the 1st were not true after all. It also had a red 1920s era private car on the rear.
I shot some fun videos and photos from the rear, then returned to my room. I noted that the Sightseer Lounge was an unrefurbished Superliner I, with the original brown tones and orange ceiling. Some people feel these colors are too dated, too closely associated with the time they were built, circa 1979. But actually it was common to see those colors on lounge cars of the 1950s as well, particularly the reddish orange ceiling and paneling. I kinda like the warmer tones. The Superliner II lounges which are mostly whites and greys look pretty sterile by comparison. Though I must say, the blues of the refurbished lounge I saw on the northbound trip were superior to both.
As we came to a stop in Eugene I heard someone inquiring on the scanner if someone had called the police. Outside I saw a woman had been taken off the train and taken away. The scuttlebut was that she was planning to take her child across state lines without authorization in some sort of custody battle. Sigh. What a crazy world we live in where people feel, justifiably or not, that they need to do such things.
We started moving at 5:17 seven minutes late. Suddenly Angela called over the intercom “Conductor stop the train. We have a straggling passenger.” Like I said, she looks out after her passengers, even those who don't bother to follow the rules themselves.
We began our ascent into the mountains as darkness fell. Nothing to see outside, so it was time to catch up on some reading. Specifically, I needed to study some ballot propositions for next week's elections. Boring, but important.
Speaking of elections, a common theme I was hearing from the train crews in both directions was that the current crop of do-nothing Congresscritters, many of whom are hostile to Amtrak, needed to be voted out. I heartily agreed with that sentiment, and, as it turned out, so did most of the country because Amtrak isn't the only thing they've screwed up.
As I sat reading I heard several detector reports.
5:37 milepost 616.0, 47 mph, temperature 51
5:57 milepost 598.1, 56 mph
6:15 milepost 583.5, 45 mph
We passed through Oakridge at 6:19. I've often wondered why the train doesn't have a stop here, or at least a flag stop (where the train stops only if there are passengers). Oakridge is to this side of the Cascades what Chemult is to the other. It would provide a convenient interstate transportation link for the mountain folks. Right now they have to go 42 miles to Eugene to catch the train that runs right through their town, which means they probably aren't doing it. Perhaps Amtrak is missing a few sales here.
At 6:55 I pressed my attendant call button and notified Roger that my room was getting rather chilly. He brought an extra blanket and pillow then announced he left extra pillows and blankets on the luggage rack for anyone else who might need them. Then, as he informed me later, he reset the heating system. He noted that sometimes the system takes a little while to catch up to the changing climate, and by resetting it manually he can speed up its reaction time. Anyway, it seemed to work as I became more comfortable as time went on and outside temperatures dropped..
7:32, another detector at milepost 541.8, 32 mph, temperature 40. Not quite as cold in these mountains as one might expect. But its early in the season yet.
Nothing could be finer
I'd been sitting through numerous calls for dinner reservations, and mine finally came at precisely 8:00. I sat down with an older couple. She introduced herself as Lydia and her husband Milan. They said they lived in Carlsbad. I remarked that their accents suggested they had come here from a far away land. She said, yes, she was Polish and Milan was Czech. They moved to the United States 48 years ago. At that I mentioned that today was my 47th birthday.
Milan asked about my occupation and then asked, “Why does a busy businessman like you choose to take a slow train?” I explained that I wasn't traveling on business (never do) but for this personal trip it is the most convenient way to get to Salem. I then reversed the question and Lydia replied that due to a heart condition she cannot fly.
At 8:17 we arrived in Chemult. I thought I was going to have another meal with only myself on my side of the table, but we were soon joined by David, who was in room #2 of my car, right across from the GPS display. We briefly met earlier. David, whose occupation is transporting horses, was returning to the Ventura area. He had made a roundabout round trip routing on the Empire Builder to a family event in New York. He, like myself, was a strong advocate of improved rail service, a member of NARP, and we had some lengthy discussions about it, not just with our table companions, but also with the Customer Service Manager who stopped by our table for a chat.
As for the food there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that I was given a salad that was so badly past its prime the lettuce was turning red. It doesn't get that way without sitting around for days. Quite frankly it belonged in a compost pile, not a dinner table. I sent it back, but it took awhile because our poor server was spread a little too thin.
The roast chicken
turned out to be very good!
The good news was that I ordered roast chicken with rice and carrots. Unlike my previous salmon dinner, this was absolutely mouth watering. The meat was flavorful and juicy. The carrots and rice were cooked to perfection and both very tasty. Milan had the beef ragout, Lydia the lamb shank, and David the ravioli. There was satisfaction all around.
I ordered cheesecake for dessert, and when it arrived my companions spontaneously sang Happy Birthday.
Night light images
There was more good news. The stop in Klamath Falls is usually about 15 minutes, with a departure at 10:00pm. But tonight the train was early. We had a full half hour for our fresh air stop. That gave me plenty of time to go to the front of the train and get some much desired night photos of the locomotive. I did this once before in 2002, when Amtrak locomotives had a different paint scheme.
I'm a night owl, and I've always enjoyed the challenges of night photography. Even though there was a fair amount of time, I did feel some pressure to work as fast as possible, and there were a number of great angles to work with. I was very pleased with the results here, so I hope the non-railfans reading this will indulge me as I show off all of my favorites.
AMTK #122 changes crews in Klamath Falls
"Uncle Pete" was here, too
122 and 5314 were kind enough to pose together for me
Even the boxy #507 looks handsome in evening wear
The KFS depot and curved platform provide a great pose with flattering light
One last look out the sleeper door
Just as the day before, as soon as I got my photos it started to rain. I stood in the vestibule and called home as Roger closed the doors and went upstairs. David remained with me in the vestibule, looking out the window. On the phone I asked my wife if the doors were locked and David replied “Yup.”
Next, I asked Roger to make up my bed while I went to the Sightseer Lounge. I hoped to find a little social activity, but tonight's crowd seemed to be a rather rough looking bunch. I flipped through a found magazine; nothing of interest there so I just watched out the window. We were alongside a highway, US 97 according to my map. A passing truck flashed a spotlight as if to say hello.
A little boy began running circles around my chair, using my legs as a drawbridge. Happy to play along. His daddy said he was just 16 months, but he looked older. Mom came along, reporting her displeasure with the snack bar prices. I asked if this was their first train trip. She said yes, and she was very bored. They were riding the entire length of the route SEA to LAX in coach with a toddler, which must be a challenge. It seems she had unrealistic expectations that Amtrak would provide more for their amusement. Dad seemed to be OK with everything, though.
Having found the lounge lacking in excitement, I went back to my room for some quiet reading before laying down in bed. Likewise, Shakesbear wanted to study the timetable before putting his head down for the night.
At 10:40 a detector at milepost 390.9 reported 77 mph, and the temperature at 43. The next one at milepost 372.9 said 41 mph and 40 degrees.
Night lights out
Then I realized there was an almost full moon outside, and I was missing a show! I turned out the lights at 11:45 and was treated to a beautiful snowscape. At 12:03 we passed under Interstate 5 at the town of Mt. Shasta. Then the cloud shrouded mountain itself came into view for a few minutes, revealing only its massive base reaching up into a mysterious fog.
From there we began our descent into the forested canyons towards Dunsmuir. Heidi and I had the privilege of ascending this grade in daylight in 2004, something that is not possible when running on time. I made one of my favorite photos as we passed a retaining wall here. I saw that wall in the moonlight tonight. But it was unimpressive compared to the pure white puffs of fog clinging to the treetops below me as we made our way down. Soon, the rapids of the upper Sacramento river were revealed as we drew closer to the stream. There was no way I was going to put my head to sleep while this magnificent moonlit vista was in front of me.
Next I recognized the unusual design of the Cantera Loop bridge, which marked the end of the descent. We were now as close as we would get to the river. At 12:35 we passed under the towering twin bridges of Interstate 5 which marked our entrance into Dunsmuir.
At that point I decided it was time to sleep.