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The Coast Starlight, Mother's Day weekend 2005 -- Page 4
Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The Coast Starlight

Mother's Day Weekend 2005

Page 4

Monday, May 9
Time to go home

Somewhere up near Portland a pharmaceutical plant blew up not too far from the tracks, which delayed Train #11 almost two hours. But every cloud has its silver lining. Train #14 beat #11 into Salem by about 30 minutes, providing some photo ops of the northbound Starlight.

It was raining that afternoon, so I stayed under the awning for my shot of #14. I think it made for a more interesting composition, as I captured the people coming out of the depot to meet the train. If it hadn't been raining, I don't think I would have thought to shoot that angle.

Train 14's arrival

Train 11 arrives 30 minutes later

On this train we had two sleeping car attendants. Denise was a trainee on the return leg of her very first run. Her trainer was Anthony, who came and went as the need arose. I must say that if we hadn't been told that Denise was a rookie we probably wouldn't have noticed. She really had a solid understanding of customer service, and I expect she will have a promising future with Amtrak. In fact, when we sat down in our room, she had a cloth napkin, two bottles of water and cups spread on the table for us. I did notice a very few minor errors, but Anthony quickly covered them, and overall the service was flawless. We later learned that Denise used to live in Salinas.
I made note of the car names. We were in 1131, Louisiana. Behind us was Kansas, where we rode in room #3 last year, and ahead was Texas. Our lead locomotive was a Genesis #115, and the second was a Dash-8 #507.

We just relaxed in our room for a time, listening to the scanner, which was now getting clear reception. We passed a detector at milepost 697.8 (miles north of Oakland), which reported no defects, 56 axles and a speed of 66 MPH. From here it was 7.1 miles to Albany. Another detector report came at milepost 670.2, which is 22.9 miles from Eugene. It reported a speed of 68 MPH.


We sat down to dinner a little after 7:00. Our server was Linda, and our table companions were Les and Anne. This couple was part of a large tour group of senior citizens who had taken a cruise ship from San Diego to Vancouver BC. The train was taking them all back to San Diego. They were all very nice people, but it made us the youngest couple on board.

In various conversations with this group over the next 20 hours, I was surprised that most of them had never been on a train before. After all, they were all in their 70s and even their 80s, so they came of age when the railroads were the primary means of interstate travel. The consensus among this group was that the train was interesting, but it seemed to suffer in comparison to the luxury cruise they had just taken.

Meanwhile, back at dinner, several people warned us not to order the prime rib, which they all said was tough. I don't eat steak often, so that was no problem for me. I was torn between the roast chicken and the salmon, because Amtrak usually does both very well. So what did I do? I picked the special, which was a chicken breast in some sort of wine sauce. I should have gone with my first instincts. It was OK, but not exceptional. Heidi, meanwhile, had the salmon, which was perfect as usual.

We split an apple pie a la mode, which was really, really, really good. Really good. And big enough to share without feeling cheated.

Regrettably, thanks to that exploding drug plant, our delay had the sun setting before we got very far into the Cascades. We had some nice dinnertime views of Lookout Point reservoir, but the light faded around Oakridge, and was gone completely before we got to the best parts, a disappointment to us and our table companions equally.

The evening winds down

Back in the Parlour Car we had a nice chat with an English couple from the tour group. Among other things, they told us that their son had visited both World Trade Center towers on September 10, 2001, and took some of the last photos of their interiors. He was scheduled to fly home the next day, and they had some tense hours wondering if he was OK. It turned out that he sat it out in his hotel room.

When we returned to our room we turned out the lights and looked outside to see a fresh blanket of snow covering the trees. This had happened recently, as there was no snow when we came through here three days earlier. The scene was illuminated only by the soft light from the train itself. On the curves ahead the locomotive put a spectacular spotlight on the hillsides.

After I put Heidi in bed, I took a magazine and the scanner back to the Parlour Car for some reading. Unfortunately, as I had noticed after dinner, the attendant had dimmed the lights around 8:00pm, leaving only one chair near the door with sufficient light for the task.

In fact, this particular Parlour Car attendant, whose name I never learned, was not up to the job. I never saw him smile, nor did he ever offer any service. He was often absent, and took his time cleaning up. A real disappointment, the exact opposite of Tom. I got the impression that he didn't really want to be there.

It was around midnight when we got to Klamath Falls. I was back in our room, and ready for a little night photography. I had purchased a mini tripod just for this purpose, one that would fit in our carry-on bag without taking up much space. I met Denise in the vestibule and we had a nice little chat as we enjoyed a little fresh air together. Using the tripod and camera timer, I stepped into the image and made a really dopey looking self portrait. I tried again and made a fairly decent one, with Denise in the background.

A self portrait shot at Klamath Falls with Denise

After that I went to bed and fell asleep. I was aware of only one station stop at Dunsmuir, which I recognized from the large tank bearing the old Southern Pacific logo in glorious color. It was 3:15am. Soon after I enjoyed a glimpse of the Sacramento River gorge in the darkness, and that was the last thing I saw until we approached Sacramento almost five hours later.

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