The morning was quite rushed because I woke up late and I hadn’t had a chance to pack yet. It only took about 5 minutes once I got going because I had to pack lightly. I turned on the scanner, which is connected to a rooftop scanner antenna, which allows me to hear trains up to 50 miles away! I carefully listened for #14, the northbound Coast Starlight to enter DTC (Direct Traffic Control) land so that I could get a better estimate when it would be arriving at the Santa Barbara depot.
I would leave for the Amtrak station when #14 went over the detector at MP 386.4. The train depot is at MP 370, so that would put the train 15-20 minutes away, which would give me plenty of time. I had arranged a ride with my mother’s fiancé, for I didn’t dare leave my car at the station for five days! There’s no guarantee it would be safe even for one night in that part of town. With no mention of #14, I became concerned and logged on to Amtrak’s Train Arrival service on the Internet to get an update on my train. According to the information I got, #14 was running 12 minutes late. This was very strange because I hadn’t heard ANY radio communication whatsoever from them. Usually, I hear the dispatcher giving the trains block authority when entering Moorpark, which is more than one hour away from Santa Barbara. That made me suspicious about the accuracy of Amtrak’s train update/arrival system! Maybe I’d missed a call from the dispatcher to #14? Maybe the train was almost HERE and I was still at home pounding on the computer!!! That would have been disastrous if I had missed it.
I was getting very nervous by now, so I placed a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL to get an update from Amtrak’s automated train arrival/departure system. According to the system, #14 had left Los Angeles at 11:45AM, 2 hours 15 minutes LATE! That’s why I hadn’t heard any radio communication from them. I wonder why Amtrak’s Internet webpage told me 12 minutes late? After completing the call to Amtrak, I went down to the computer to see if there had been any updates. The information had just been updated and it was now confirmed, 2:15 late out of Los Angeles. My, oh my, it was going to be a long day from the start but I wasn’t upset since I didn’t have a connecting train anywhere else. Actually, I would get a full night’s sleep in my standard bedroom.
Most people probably wouldn’t think that getting an economy bedroom from Santa Barbara to Redding would be worth the expense for such a short distance. In the past, I took coach both ways and my neck and back would be about ready to break trying to get comfortable. I usually didn’t sleep in coach, so I would spend most of my first day in Redding sleeping instead of visiting with my family. This time I wanted to sleep as much as possible on the train trip up, wake up just to get off the train and be taken to my grandmother’s where I’d go right back to bed. That sounded better than staying up all night and ending up with a mangled neck and back.
I was upset that I wouldn’t get lunch on the train, so my mother and her fiancé took me to a nice restaurant near the depot. I was thinking that if the train were to lose even more time on the way up, I’d get to see scenery between Sacramento and Redding that is not normally seen due to darkness. Also, I’d get to eat breakfast in the dining car! We finished lunch around 2:00PM/ #14 was supposed to arrive around 2:20PM according to the last update.
There was no sign of #14, but it was time for San Diegan #782 to depart and #775 to arrive! While awaiting arrival of my train, I’d be thoroughly entertained with lots of rail action. Besides the two San Diegans, a Union Pacific freight train was waiting at the west end of Santa Barbara for all the Amtraks to get out of the way before proceeding east. Over the public address system came an announcement of an update on #14. The next expected arrival time was moved to 2:50PM! At that time, the very large crowd booed loudly! One man shouted, “I could have walked there by now!” Another woman said, but not loudly, “No wonder Amtrak is about to go under.” I was not upset in the least, for it would not speed the train up in any way, just my blood pressure. I actually was hoping for more delays so I could get more use out of my sleeper! I didn’t like the idea of vacating my bedroom at 2:52AM.
I took several photographs of #782 and #775 while they were in the station. I even got one nice shot of the locomotive of #782 pulling out meeting the cabcar of #775 arriving! After both San Diegans were out of the station, the Union Pacific freight pulled through the station very slowly blowing it’s whistle. I even recorded it as it went through. The freight had just cleared all the crossings when #14 pulled in. My mother and J.D. had to leave before #14 arrived because he had to go to work.
The conductor had already taken my ticket at the depot before I boarded the train to save time once he got on board. Santa Barbara is a crew change point for the engineer and conductor(s) and the “outbound” conductor takes all the tickets before the train even gets there. Once the tickets are taken, the conductor gives the passengers a slip to put above the coach seats (I think it’s called a “hat check”) telling the destination city and number of passengers on the ticket. Hmmm, I could get one of those notecards, cut it to size and write it in myself using the same kind of pen they use! It wouldn’t work, as they change paper colors every day and there is Amtrak letterhead on the other side of each “hat check.” The conductor punched my ticket, tore off the proper slip for me to keep and instructed me to walk down the platform towards the front of the train where the sleeping cars would stop.
My car attendant, Hayward, opened the door and five people rushed out the door with unlit cigarettes in their mouths, which were quickly lit upon exiting the train! I was the only one boarding this sleeping car in Santa Barbara and he asked if I needed any help locating my room or help with my bags. I politely declined and told him I had traveled on Amtrak before.
We began to pull forward and then stopped. It turned out that the inbound crew had stopped to spot the baggage car short of the grade crossing at the west end of Santa Barbara and the outbound crew would then take over. This small move was just to pull the train forward enough to clear a grade crossing at the east end of the platform. This train was VERY LONG! A complete consist list is at the end of this report. Also, we had to be spotted for fuel! Usually the locomotives aren’t fueled until Sacramento or the Oakland Coach Yard.
Hayward came around and asked if everything was to my liking and I said it was. I also got a full explanation to why #14 was delayed out of the starting gate. The plumbing “vacuum system” had failed in one of the sleeping cars just minutes before scheduled departure out of Los Angeles! Ironically, the car that had the trouble was the car I would be in, the 1431 car. The first thing I noticed upon entering my room was that this car was NOT a Superliner II sleeping car! The bright orange colors in the room and tiny closet gave it away. At first, I didn’t notice when the train pulled in. If the car doesn’t have a state name on the outside, it’s a Superliner I which is about 17 years old. I was upset for a couple of minutes but there was nothing I could do about it. Complaint #2: my room, which was #8, was facing the mountains!!! Rats! I had heard that in most cases, the even rooms face the coast going northbound and the odd numbered rooms face the ocean going southbound. I would assume that orienting the room directions was the last thing on the minds of the people doing the switching of the cars in Los Angeles. That did not matter because I couldn’t do anything about it and I would be spending my time in the Pacific Parlor car for the wine tasting while taking in the beautiful Pacific Ocean scenery. I’d rather have a sleeping car with functioning toilets rather than have to trot down to the next car!
Despite the age of this car, it appeared to be in excellent condition and all the lights, vents and the AC outlet worked properly. I needed the AC outlet so I could power my scanner the whole way up. In the room were fresh flowers, Coat Starlight timetable, Coast Starlight stationery, passenger safety card, toiletries kit, guest comment card and a Coast Starlight “Service Guarantee” statement card.
#14 arrived in Santa Barbara at 2:55PM and departed at 3:19PM, running 3 hours 14 minutes down. Only one other instance had I seen the train depart later than this (3:30PM about a year ago). Over the scanner came an angry conductor saying that a trespasser had just crawled under the train!!! This individual didn’t want to wait or walk around to the head end to go around, so he just ducked under it. That was very foolish, dangerous and illegal. The announcement was made for wine tasting in the Pacific Parlor car so I headed down right away. There was one sleeping car between my car and the Pacific Parlor car and that sleeping car was a Superliner II. So was the one in front of mine. Oh well.
I entered the Sightseer/Lounge car….strange, shouldn’t this car be behind the dining car? I glanced around and saw plates of cheese, fruit, crackers and wine glasses stacked neatly. NO! No true blue Ex- Santa Fe bi-level dome car!!! The last time I rode up the coast on this train, there was an extra dining car substituting for the Pacific Parlor car. If I had a choice between a dining car or a sightseer/lounge to sub for the Pacific Parlor car, I’d choose the extra dining car. It’s very hard to balance a plate of cheese and fruit on your lap while sipping wine. There’s enough room to put the wine glass down between the window and the metal foot rest (don’t know if it’s intended for that purpose but I always stick my feet up on it) but there is NOT enough for a plate of food. It was kind of nice to have a sightseer/lounge car only for sleeping car passengers as it never got too crowded in there.
There were always plenty of single seats available in this lounge car. I took a walk to the regular sightseer/lounge car with coach passengers and the car was packed with standing room only! I took a walk through and turned right around when I saw the hordes of people jammed in there taking in the Pacific Ocean views. Back in the Pacific Parlor/sightseer/lounge, I claimed a perfect seat on the ocean side and enjoyed the wines offered. I have never been a fan of red wine so I only had one glass of that. I had two glasses of each of the other wines offered, so I felt very happy at the end of the wine tasting session! Why are cheese, crackers and fruit always served with wine? I learned that the reason cheese and crackers are eaten with wine tasting is that after sipping one wine, you eat some cheese and crackers to “clear the palette” for the next wine. Explained Russell, our wine expert and Chief of On-board Services. I hadn’t known that until now. Cheese and crackers just seem to taste good with wine anyway! With this substitute Pacific Parlor car, wine was being poured into PLASTIC cups! Oh well, the wine tasted the same and that’s what was important. If it seems like I’m complaining about the trip too much, I apologize. I have come to expect a certain level of decor on the Coast Starlight, new equipment and the advertised Pacific Parlor to BE the actual car, not an additional lounge. Breakdowns will occur which can cause a last-minute change in the consist or schedule. What mattered to me was that the service and food were good, which they were. During the wine tasting, Hayward came by and asked me what time I would like my dinner reservation to be. I chose 7PM. I could have gone as early as 4:30PM but I was still full of Chinese food from lunch.
We arrived in San Luis Obispo at 5:40PM and departed at 5:57PM, 3 hours 2 minutes down. Since it was a designated smoke and water stop, I had plenty of time to walk the entire length of the train to note the consist. Using my micro cassette recorder, it is so easy to just read off the car number and tape as I walk, rather than write in chicken scratches on a notepad! There wasn’t time for me to run inside the depot as we could leave at any time when running this late. There usually is some padding built into the schedule between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and the train usually arrives 20 minutes early. Now we are playing catch-up and the train is being serviced as quickly as possible to try and make up some time. We didn’t! Just before we departed, I photographed Hayward by the car and he then said “That’ll be eighty bucks!” I told him he’d be world famous on my web pages and he should be paying me $80! he laughed. The only other car attendant I photographed was Marvin, from my last Amtrak trip. I told Hayward that I had photographed Marvin, he said he knew Marvin and said “he’s a great guy.” All the crews must have worked with each other at one time or another during their careers.
I indulged myself in a couple of cups of coffee before my 7:00PM dinner reservation. Hayward had kept coffee, cream and sugar available the entire day! There were some juice cartons but they were empty. The coffee was delicious! There was no sign of ice or soft drinks so I had to get some from the Pacific Parlor car.
At 7:00PM, the dining car chief called passengers with 7PM dinner reservations. I had the swordfish selection that came with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes To drink, I had Diet Pepsi. For desert I had apple pie a la mode. The food was good but the vegetables weren’t steamed enough, which made them crunchy. I didn’t mind that at all but several people, mostly elderly, had considerable difficulty chewing them. I never have had swordfish before. It has a slightly bitter flavor and it’s somewhat tough. Maybe the toughness was based on how it was prepared. I sat with a couple and their son on their way to Eugene from San Diego. The mother was very overweight and she seemed agitated when the dining car steward instructed her to scoot over to accommodate me. Not only did she have to move over, but all of her plates of food as well! Once seated, she was nice enough. Some people don’t realize that everybody not traveling in groups of four must be expected to share a table with strangers.
In Salinas, I did some experimenting with nighttime photography without flash. I set my camera’s lense aperture to the maximum opening (f/3.5 for my lens) and the shutter speed was about s/-2 (one second I think). I think that the film I was using might not be correct for this kind of photography (ASA 200) but I wanted to experiment. We departed Salinas at 9:01PM and Hayward stopped by and offered to make up my bed. I gladly let him as I went to brush my teeth, etc. before bed.
I sat up for quite a while with all the lights out so I could take in the city views as we sped through. Between San Jose and Oakland, we had to change crews near a residential dead-end street because our engineer and conductor were about to go “dead.”
I woke up just as the head end power was turned off. This was obviously the Oakland coach yard. We are loosing our new Amtrak Express cars, Material handling car and our lead locomotive. It was extremely quiet with the exception of idling locomotives outside. I become accustomed to the sound of the vent air blower motors and when they were shut off, I woke up! Coincidentally it got very hot in the room without air conditioning. I could hear someone in an adjacent room trying desperately to turn the reading light on! This person obviously was reading when power was cut and I could hear repeated “click-click, click- click, click-click-click-click-click!” GET A CLUE, THE POWER’S OFF! I wanted to yell out. I just laughed to myself and felt sorry for the poor light switch being abused like that.
Between San Jose and Chico, I drifted in and out of sleep, but left my micro cassette recorder and scanner turned on. The recorder was in VOX mode, which conserved tape and battery life and enabled me to get station times without staying awake to dictate the times in.
Apparently we had lost another hour since the start of my journey, which would enable me to eat breakfast in the dining car. We were told the dining car opens at 6:30AM and the Pacific Parlor car opens at 6AM. I decided to get up at exactly 6AM and head on down to the parlor car.
I awoke at 5:55AM just before the sun came up. We were pulling out of Chico and Redding was our next stop! Looks like we had made up some time so I was not sure whether I should risk eating in the dining car without missing my stop. The worst that could happen is that I would have to excuse myself from the table early to get back to my sleeping car. I got dressed and packed up all my radio gear in anticipation of a speedy exit should I decide to risk a quick breakfast. There was no sign of Hayward yet and no coffee was brewing! Most car attendants usually start the coffee by 6AM. I don’t know how many cups those coffee pots brew but I’m sure it takes at least 40 minutes to brew one of those pots. I am in charge of the coffee at work and I know that the 55-cup Farberware coffee pot takes one hour to brew! Sitting in the Pacific Parlor car, I enjoyed a cup of coffee, delicious Danish and a chocolate chip cup cake while awaiting the dining car to open. A few people tried to enter the dining car early but were turned back. I’ve ridden several of the major Amtrak routes and most of the time, the dining car opened at 6:00AM sharp. In the winter, when it remains dark longer, I could understand their waiting until 6:30 to open the dining car. The sun had already come up by 6:10AM.
This was a special treat for me as I have never seen this scenery before. The train travels through this part of the state in the middle of the night except on rare occasions when it’s many hours late! A few miles north of Chico, we slowed to a crawl for quite a long time—25 minutes or so. Since my scanner was packed away, I had no idea why we were going only 10 MPH. This was very fortunate for me and it was the factor that gave me enough time to eat in the dining car.
6:30 at last and I was seated for breakfast. Once at the table, we picked up to full speed again, great! I had the Coast Starlight Omelet , hash browns, side of sausage, coffee and orange juice. The sausages weren’t the thin links, but two very fat round sausages (Italian?). I hesitated for a second and ate them anyway. Everything was delicious including those sausages. A few cups of coffee with breakfast woke me up the rest of the way. I sat with two elderly women and we talked about the various Amtrak routes that each of us had traveled. One woman, who was traveling from Flagstaff, AZ to Seattle, WA really enjoyed complaining about everything! She was particularly angry about the brand new sleeping car being swapped with an 17 year-old sleeping car (the one I was in). Actually, the sleeping car was in excellent shape for its age. Not too much rattling and everything seemed to be in good working order, unlike the one I rode in on the Southwest Chief last April! The other woman had boarded at Salinas and was traveling to see her daughter in Tacoma, WA. She was not as talkative but she had no complaints about the train.
As breakfast was wrapping up, I began to see some familiar sights near my grandmother’s house and I knew I only had five or six minutes before arriving at the station. I gulped down the remaining 1/3 cup of coffee and headed back to my room which was three cars away. I picked up my bag and headed downstairs just as we were pulling into the depot. Hayward was there and I gave him a $5 tip as I got off. I photographed the train and the Redding station as I’ve never seen it during the day! Our arrival time in Redding was 7:28AM, 4 hrs. 36 min. late. I felt sorry for the passengers connecting in Portland with the Empire Builder as they would be taken off at Klamath Falls and bused to Portland, at least four hours away. Buying a sleeper both ways really paid off on this trip insofar as I got an entire night’s use out of it, plus breakfast.
Same as from Santa Barbara to Oakland but minus the following: