River Express Private Varnish
Train, Emeryville to Portola CA
Photos By Richard Elgenson
How would you like to take this "Dream
this location to a heavenly railfan destination? If your answer
is yes, let's go! Why call this a dream train?. For this
answer, we need to speak with Chris Skow of Trains and Travel.
Dreams can come true. Just ask
Chris Skow of Trains and
Travel International. His 42 year dream came true on August
20, 2010 when the
Feather River Express pulled into the Emeryville California
station and out with passengers. About 125 people boarded the 14
private cars for this trip with 200 more expected at Sacremento.
dream was to operate a charter passenger train to Portola, Mr.
Skow points out that this special train is the first regularly
scheduled passenger train for the public in 40 years. Of note is
the four buses
which delivered Plumas County passengers from a meeting point near
Sacramento to take the train home. This train made a positive
impact on the 28th annual Portola Railroad Days (August 19-22) and
economy. All accomodations were booked in and around the
area. Nice touch to have a special passenger train traverse an
otherwise freight railroad route to small town America. The
railroad through the
Feather River Canyon and Portola in particular traces its history to
one Western Pacific Railroad, which connected Salt Lake City Utah to
San Francisco California. The Western Pacific was absorbed into
Union Pacific in 1983. Portola was an important location along
the railroad through dieselization. Most recently, the area has
seen reduced freight rail traffic since the Donner Pass route was
opened to doublestack intermodal trains. It was a nice
story to hear while on the way to Portola of how Chris Skow came to
the WP. The story is a hearwarming one told personally by Chris
while standing in a vestibule on board the FRX. As a teenager, he
fell in love with the Feather River Canyon area and Portola.
Judging by the number of automobiles following the train, it's not so
hard to imagine a kid in the 1950's and 1960's enjoying this area so
much, that once he had his driver's license, he visited on his
Chris, the love of the area was so great, that once an opportunity came
along, he took it to live and work out of Portola for the WP.
We'lll get to the particulars, check out the train and depart for
Our route will take former Southern Pacific trackage to Sacramento and
switch to former Western Pacific tracks to Oroville and Portola.
All Aboard the Feather River Express!
Imagine 14 mostly private cars pulling up to the station for your
pleaseure of an 8 hour ride from the east Bay Area of California to the
high Sierra Nevada mountains just shy of Nevada. Aboard the
Feather River Express dream train, you will
traverse mileage ranging from ocean waterfront to fertile fanmland to
major rivery canyons to majestic mountains.
passengers and crew stayed at the Emeryville Woodfin Suites the
previous night. I met a
number of car attendents for Trains and Travel as my neighbors. I
met people whose names I recognized from public train posting
boards. Some of these people were active or retired railroaders
as well as a local luminary who promotes a large Stockton gathering in
March. Some of the above people were going to board. The
photographers interested to see the train. About 125 people
boarded in Emeryville.
Once aboard, it was goodbye to Emeryville, I happened
to be in the
Silver Lariat and caught up with
some passengers and crew. This couple had been waiting on the
where I had spoken to them briefly. William Hall is a longtime
aboard the Silver Lariat. Note the passengers wearing
Railroad Days buttons. If not for the Nikon camera on the table,
photograph could have been taken in the heyday of passenger
railroading. I do belive at least one costume change took
The Golden Gate Bridge is barely
visible from certain locations along the FRX
route. Since it was an overcast August morning, capturing the
bridge did not yield good results.
Photos from Pony Express,
however, yield all the other domes on this special train. Four to
the rear and three up front. Who's counting? The day is
Martinez Station is just ahead and there is a large crowd there, many
of whom join the FRX. Check out the signals. Every
single one is red.
Another interesting aspect to taking the train is the time one can
devote to studying imposing structures with which the train
Benicia railroad bridge is two tracks in width and has a lifting
section which allows large vessel traffic through. The bridge was
open while we were at Martinez loading new arrivals to the FRX.
There are parallel highway bridges on each side of us.
In bewlow left photo, the bridge operator is visible watching the FRX
him. How exciting, an Amtrak Capitol happens to meet us while we
are out on the bridge.
To begin Chris Skow's story, he began
"Ever since high school, I fell in love with the Western Pacific
Railroad, Portola and the Feather River Canyon. My first taste of
Feather River Country came in February 1966 when my parents allowed me
to drive to Portola in order to spend several days taking pictures of
Western Pacific trains and most important of all, the California
"Needless to say I was very impressed
with the Western Pacific
Railroad. On my first trip to this area I met Bob Larson while
taking photos of his train in the Feather River Canyon. Bob went
to work for the Western Pacific in the 1950’s in engine
service. He invited me over to his home in Portola to look
at his railroad slides and collection of the WP. So a lifelong