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Domes Over Donner Pass

Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA

May 24-26, 2008

Story and photographs by Richard Elgenson
RailNews Network writer

On the left, the card players enjoying the Silver Lariat downstairs lounge.  Right, William stops by to take orders.
On the descent to Reno, the railroad follows the Truckee River.  After lunch, Chris Skow invited certain passengers to the press conference in the rear lounge of the Silver Solarium.  Mr. Skow had a 26 year career as a conductor for WP and UP.  He also stood in for Rick Silver from RailPAC.  First, Chris went over a brief history of the Western Pacific Railroad, then segued into RailPAC, which has around 15 projects for the California and Nevada region.  They have lots on the adjenda for rail service including some plans to extend Capitol Corridor trains to Reno and reintroduction of passenger train service over Tehachipi.  Pure PV tours are expensive and difficult to put together, as they typically cost $50,000 to $75,000 per day.  Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Golden Spike for the Feather River Route and the 60th anniversary of the California Zephyr.  According to Chris Skow, in its last 10 years, the California Zephyr did healthy business in the sumer time, but was empty in the winter time.  The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad did not participate in Amtrak, and 10 years later gave up its own passenger trains.
According to Bert Hermey, there are about 125 Amtrak certified PV's in the US.  Most of them are available for charter in most of the US.  TUT runs tours of PV's over Donner 3 or 4 times per year.  In first class luxury train travel, meals, drinks, flowers, stemware and linen are part of the experience. 
Chris then introduced Eugene Vicknair from the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.   According to Eugene Vicknair, Secretary of the WPRR museum, the CZ was very innovative in passenger train travel as it was designed to be a cruise on rails.  The CZ was dreamed up as a vacation, not a destination.  It was never included in the U.S. mail delivery system.  The CZ had the mountain scenery scheduled for daylight and the plains and desert for night travel.  These CZ dome cars are still offering vacations.  The UP railroad tracks through Donner Pass are more open in the wintertime as compared to the interstate 80 over/through Donner.

Finally, we are back in civilization again, going from riverside to subterranean travel. 
This concrete trench separates railroad and surface street vehicular traffic.  The rail line passes through downtown Reno, "The Biggest Little City in the World."  The city has less noise from train horns and train speeds can be increased through this location.

Could this be hell?  I feel I am between Reno and Sparks.  Ahead is the Nugget, with a view over the former Southern Pacific Sparks rail yard.
Below is a view of one of the staterooms aboard the Silver Solarium.
Various members of the on board staff pose in the Silver Lariat.  Servers John McClelland, William Hall, Sharloyn Reed and Steward George Lewis shown below left.  Silver Solarium had Cilff McDaniel and Norman Bradley aboard.  George and one of the others have 20 or more years working at the Bohemian Club serving political elite and sucessful businessman.  George had a humorous story about a Republican ex-president who ditched the secret service bodyguards.  There is at least one locomotive paint job dedicated to this same person.
Amtrak supervises the uncoupling of the Domes over Donner PV cars.
A last wave goodbye from Cilfford.

This trip included a 2 night one day layover in the Reno/Sparks area.  Most passengers detrained in Reno while I chose to continue the four miles to Sparks.  The plan was to take a passenger van to Portola the next morning to visit the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.

Western Pacific Railroad Museum Visit

Domes Through Donner Return Trip