This is the second cross-country trip I have taken in the last year. I arrived at the Santa Barbara depot at 11:50 for a scheduled 12:05 departure on train #14, the northbound Coast Starlight.
The train arrived at 12:18 and I had no trouble finding my car and room assignment. With all the traveling I have done by Amtrak, I am considered a veteran rail traveler by now. My car attendant, Marvin, greeted me and asked me if I had traveled with Amtrak before. When I replied that I had, he quickly noticed my ham radio "J-pole" antenna that I had already hung in my room.
"Ahh, I see you have your CB antenna already in position." Marvin said.
CB antenna? Hardly This antenna is tuned for the 2-meter band, 144-148 MHz, but will receive perfectly fine within railroad frequencies between 160.200 and 161.600. Marvin explained to me where the bathrooms, Pacific Parlor Car, Dining Car and Sightseer/lounge Cars were located. There was already a waiting list for lunch in the diner and Marvin offered to put my name on the list. That was very thoughtful of him. Not long after, the conductor came by and collected my ticket. Glancing around the room, I noticed that everything was in order. There were fresh flowers on the fold-out table, behind which were a route guide and other brochures in the pocket behind the flowers. A toiletry kit and a copy of Travel Mall magazine were placed on the armrest next to the seat. I like to play with the controls to make sure they work. Everything seemed to work perfectly. I have no idea how the heating element control works. There's air that comes from a vent overhead and it would appear heat comes up from an element behind the wall on the floor. I guess the two "balance off" the temperature when set correctly. The window in my room was very CLEAN too! The one thing that aggravates me are dirty windows on a train. I believe the windows on long-distance trains are cleaned more often than commuter or short distance trains. Maybe it's because people pay more on these trains. The Chief of Onboard Services was Jay he stopped by my room to welcome me aboard.
I was very happy to learn that my room was on the ocean side of the train, so that meant a very pleasant view of the Pacific Ocean! The fog was quite heavy in the early morning hours, but it burned off to hazy sunshine. The sky was not marble blue, but rather a very bright blue-gray haze. There was even a whale off Gaviota Beach with a boat full of whale-watchers following it!
My name was called for lunch. When I entered the dining car, not many people were there. I thought this was strange since there was a long waiting list to eat. The car attendant greeted me cheerfully and I informed him that I was called to the diner. He told me that the dining car was one car ahead! The Pacific Parlor car on this train was just an extra dining car being used. It looked strange from the outside to see two consecutive dining cars! Usually the Pacific Parlor car is an ex-Santa Fe bi-level dome car. Perhaps there were no Pacific Parlor Cars available or this dining car was being deadheaded to Seattle? Another possibility is that one of the cars is being repaired in Los Angeles or Seattle.
There was only a slight menu change from my last trip aboard the Coast Starlight, which was last November to Redding. I sat with a very pleasant family which was on their first long-distance train trip. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on Amtrak and especially the Coast Starlight route. While eating, they asked me lots of questions about the upcoming scenery and Amtrak itself, so I felt like a cruise director and tour guide at the same time! Frank, Pat and their daughter, Christina (who was very shy) had boarded at Oxnard, CA and were on their way up to Whistler, Canada for a skiing vacation. I elected to have the Monterey Chicken BBQ sandwich. It was nice to have something other than my usual burger. For desert I had the pie a la mode as did my table mates at my recommendation. The meal was superb all the way around!
I returned from lunch at 14:34 and knew we were close to San Luis Obispo. I wanted to get off the train for some photos to put on my web page. I used to take photos to put into photo albums. Now, I think of what photos that would look good on my Amtrak trip photo pages! I still use a photo album but I am open to more options since I created my web pages. Another major difference with this trip from my previous trips is that I was able to type this report "on the fly." Many thanks go to my sister for lending me her Macintosh PowerBook laptop computer! After taking my cross country trip last year, I made notes of the trip into a micro cassette recorder. Upon returning, I spent many hours listening to the tapes, attempting to recall memories of the trip as they happened. I plugged the laptop into the AC outlet in my room and it worked just fine.
One thing I noticed upon returning from lunch was that the coffee pot in our car was full and all condiments were available! After the pie a la mode, I got a cup of coffee and took it to my room. It was GREAT coffee I must say! It's just as good as the coffee on my trip to San Juan Capistrano last week.
It was time for wine tasting in the Pacific Parlor Car! There were three wines, only one which I remember since I liked it the best. It was an Aurora white Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I'm no expert but it tasted pretty good! The wine kind of went to my head for a tad, but I'm feeling better now. I rarely drink alcohol, so the effects felt with only a few drinks. The dining car chief came around with dinner reservations and I chose to eat at 18:45.
I'm surprised at how many people buy a sleeper for such a short trip. After we pulled in to the depot, I saw many people getting off our car that I had seen earlier. I don't mind riding in coach except that I just cannot sleep in those tiny seats! I'm 6' 3" and even if I had two seats to myself (which rarely happens), it's still very hard to get comfortable. Most of the people who were wine tasting have returned from the Parlor car but are very "joyous" right now. That's fine with me so long as they are not obnoxious. The fog has returned in the Salinas Valley so I now can open up my curtains all the way. Trying to type with the sun in my face was not working out too well.
We just pulled into Oakland where Amtrak # 727 is waiting to depart. On the head end is CTDX 2052, ex-Amtrak #502!
Thanks to some nice schedule "padding" we are now back on time! I'm afraid that our "on time status" was short-lived because up ahead, there was a lot of track construction taking place. According to the WS-58 dispatcher, "it's going to be a while, #14." I'm supposed to get into Portland at 15:20 and my connecting train, #28, the Empire Builder departs at 17:00. That's only 1:40 between connections and I know that this train commonly runs up to 2 hours late. From what I have read on the Web and been told by friends that have taken a late-running Coast Starlight, passengers bound for Chicago were taken off at Klamath Falls and bused to Portland, which is over three hours by bus :( I sure hope this would not be the case. Last year when I was on train #35, the Desert Wind, it was over four hours late, causing me to miss the last San Diegan to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles. As a result, I finished my long rail trip by BUS! A big disappointment but that's the chance one takes with rail travel. Sometimes things go wrong that are beyond Amtrak's control (such as slow orders due to construction and weather).
News from the dispatcher regarding the delay was that a freight train in the "single trackage" ahead is running into signal problems. The number two track is closed for construction and all trains are being run on a single track. Maybe we will have them too! I'm not worried yet about the connection in Portland. We are due in Klamath Falls at 07:42, but if late, I'd better be prepared for the worst. I've noticed that with the laptop running, there is slight interference with the scanner's reception. The J-pole I have is sensitive to radio signals and it picks up quite a bit, although some are unwanted. Marvin was running like crazy making up beds for all the passengers. One person began ringing several times and a fed-up Marvin got on the intercom and said: "Whoever is ringing, I'll be right with you as soon as I'm done with this room, OK?" Such demanding people. If necessary, I can make my own bed. I think I'll be turning in for the evening in about half an hour.
Blast off! We just got a clear signal at East Oakland and we are on the move again at 21:43, 23 minutes down.
This morning, I got up at 06:20 to eat breakfast. I had the Coast Starlight omelet with sausage, hashbrowns, biscuits, orange juice and pleanty of coffee. The coffee was excellent on this train, unlike on others I've taken. I sat with three friendly gentlemen who were going to various points in Oregon and Washington. I also met a couple of other people who were concerned about our connection to train #28 in Portland. I assured them we would be fine if we maintained our present timetable. I believe there is more schedule "padding" built in between Salem and Portland so I think we are in good shape for an on-time arrival. This will give me time to take photos of the train depot and the departing Coast Starlight. I hate rushing so much that I am unable to take photos. Also, I want to check out the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland.
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking! I awoke this morning to incredible scenery in the Cascade mountains. When I least expected it, lakes would appear and disappear too fast to get any good pictures. With such great scenery, I wish I had a camcorder. I chose to sleep very lightly because I wanted to see the terrain north of Redding. The 3/4 full moon provided just the right amount of light to see outside. There is a 150-foot high trestle north of the Redding depot which is nearly a mile in length. From the ground it is a spectacular site to see and I've always wanted to see it from the train. I was somewhat disappointed. For some reason, it didn't seem that high up! From the ground looking up at it, it's an incredible sight! We departed Redding at 03:40, 50 minutes down. At Chico, we were over an hour late due to some slow orders between Martinez and Davis. More slow orders followed between Davis and Sacramento. We seemed to have made up the time for we departed Klamath Falls a mere 12 minutes late. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the car! No newspaper under the door this morning. I thought that Marvin would have picked up some papers in Klamath Falls. I saw him outside the car just standing around, so I put him to good use and had him take my picture. I took a photo of him as well.
Klamath Lake seemed to go on forever with the train hugging the eastern shoreline. I got some great pictures of this area.
It was time for a morning walk and I wanted to get the car numbers for the consist list but had forgotten to take my recorder outside in Klamath Falls to note the car numbers and names. The sleeping car I'm in is called the "Texas." There was no announcement for Klamath Falls and I had to scramble to find my camera to get off to take photos of the train. The camera I'm using is my mother's camera, but used to belong to me until I decided to upgrade to a 35mm SLR Minolta Maxxum 3xi. I sold her my old camera, a Minolta Freedom III. I must say, that little Freedom III takes excellent photographs! The photos are very sharp and the camera sets a small aperture in order to get sharp backgrounds as well as the main subject. I wanted to pack light for this trip so this point-and-shoot camera was ideal.
This stop was described by our on board services chief as a "flag stop" and NOT a smoking stop. The next stop I will have an opportunity to get out and walk the length of the train to get car numbers will be Eugene, in three hours. Right now, we are running 15 minutes down, just departing Chemult. At this moment, the snow is getting heavier as we climb higher. No wonder, Chemult is at 4,761 ft, according to the route guide. Klamath Falls is 4,105 ft. The Cascade pass summit is listed at an elevation of 4,840 ft.
Our train entertainer, or magician, is David. He's occasionally mildly funny to somewhat boring most of the time! The adults ignore him most of the time but the kids love him.
It must have snowed through this area last night. Beautiful pine and fir trees are blanketed with fresh snow. I can't get any photos due to the proximity of the trees to the train. As soon as a clearing opens up, I'll let loose with the camera before the next thicket appears. The weather seems to be worsening the further north we go. Scattered showers are forecast for Portland today. That's what the Weather Channel website had listed yesterday morning. So far, it's correct.
We are flying along at a good clip of 30mph! Due to the curves and tunnels, we must obey posted speed limits. The train is descending down a 1% grade towards Eugene and there is no more snow on the ground. At one point there was a good six inches near the top of the pass. This sure is beautiful country. Most of it is only accessible using a high-railer vehicle. I've seen a couple of roads but they look privately owned.
I was expecting more wildlife along the way. Besides the usual cattle ranches, I've only seen ducks at Klamath Lake. With the noise of the train, I'd hardly expect animals to jump out and say "cheese."
What a beautiful town this is! It's so green everywhere but it rains a lot
to get it this way. At this time, I RAN the entire length of the train
gathering car numbers and types. I guess I could have done this from the
inside, but hey, I had to get my exercise to burn off all that apple pie a
la mode! Also, I wanted to take a few photos of the train in the depot.
How original, you NEVER see this on anybody's web page
The cloud cover intensified as we continued north. Lunch was very good today. I had the #14/11 burger which came with potato chips (mostly crumbs!), pickle wedge, onions, lettuce and a tomato slice on the side. To drink I had a diet Coke, er, Pepsi as it seems like Amtrak doesn't serve Coke, ugh. I guess it's because they are trying to be "A New Generation" or however that goes. I don't really care as long as it's wet and quenches my thirst. For dessert, I had cherry cheesecake. The company I had at the table LOOKED very strange. One guy had shoulder-length uncombed scruffy dirty-blonde hair with a rough-looking face. He looked like someone I would NOT want to meet in a dark alley or on a lonely road. The other man was half bald but had "beady" eyes and appeared to stare at everything for a long time before glancing elsewhere. Now, looks can be deceiving as these guys were very nice! The long-haired guy (we didn't exchange names) said he'd been pulled over and hassled by law enforcement based on his appearance. One officer even asked him: "Have you any dead bodies in the trunk?" He had been in Phoenix attending a wedding and was on his way home to Alaska where he is a deck hand on a crab boat. The other man sells insurance in Seattle.
This afternoon there was champagne sipping instead of wine tasting in the Pacific Parlor Car, like yesterday. My car attendant Marvin participated in the event and kept my glass full! I had just sat down when my new friend, "long hair" sat down across from me along with another man that I had met at breakfast. "Beady-eyes" showed up, so the entire booth was full with our own little group. With our plates full of cheese, crackers and fruit, we went to town with the champagne! One of the car attendants (Marvin took off somewhere) had poured our drinks and left the bottle! Uh oh, we had that bottle gone in five minutes! I knew I had to get off soon so it was time to head back to the room to pack up the antenna and the rest of the gear. I sure was dizzy. I rarely drink, so it hit me very hard.
The Coast Starlight pulled into Portland at 14:55, 25 minutes EARLY. That's a lot of schedule padding. At that point, I knew that I wouldn't miss The Empire Builder departing at 17:00. After getting off the train, I noticed a trainset parked on the far platform. Could that be my train? I looked at the car numbers and they began with 27xx which would indicate that it was the incoming Empire Builder from Chicago, through-car train #27 from Spokane. The train is really #7 but the train splits into two sections in Spokane. One section continues on to Seattle (#7) and another section heads along the Columbia River to Portland (#27). When I crossed the tracks, I saw, on the other side of the Empire Builder, the Mount Adams Talgo pulled by AMTK #293! It was such a treat to see the Talgo that I took several photographs of it before heading to the Metropolitan lounge.
Portland Union station was very nice. There was plenty of waiting room space for the passengers and lots of ticket counters with friendly staff. I knew right where to go to find the Metropolitan lounge too, thanks to Steve Grande, who had written a trip report in which he had to do some serious searching to find the lounge. It's not very obvious either. To find the lounge, go directly to the right of gate 5. There will be a glass door with the Amtrak arrow logo and the words "Metropolitan Lounge" on the door. The door is locked and I saw several people try to pull it open, and couldn't, so they walked away! From the report I had read, I knew that there was a doorbell to the left-hand side. After ringing the doorbell, the lounge attendant opened the door only seconds after I had rung the bell and only asked for my name. I had my ticket out but he didn't need to see it since my name was on his roster for the Empire Builder. I didn't take any photos of the lounge because it didn't look any different from when Steve Grande went through only a couple of weeks prior to me. Click here to go directly to the Metropolitan Lounge photos on his page. There was ample coffee, tea, juices and soft drinks available. I was still very full and, well, rather sauced from my champagne-sipping a couple of hours earlier. Food and drink were the last things on my mind. I wasn't falling-down drunk, but rather relaxed and content to just sit down and gaze through the lounge window at the Mount Adams Talgo being moved around by an Amtrak Switcher. The lounge attendant came over and gave me some writing cards with an Amtrak F40PH on the front. I guess he thought I was bored!
I wanted to get some exercise so I exited the lounge and explored the depot and surrounding area outside the station. After a few more photos, it began to rain so I retreated back to the lounge! Hey, I forgot to use my new parting gift from the Coast Starlight, an umbrella! It was buried deep in my bag and I didn't want to search around for it. Besides, it was near boarding time for the Empire Builder.