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California Zephyr
 The California Zephyr

Among today's long-distance trains, the California Zephyr has a special place. It traverses magnificent scenery, with daylight rides through both the Rockies and the high Sierra on its trip from Chicago to Emeryville, just across the bay from San Francisco. Though there were lapses in quality and service shortly before and after Amtrak took over the route -- the train had been abandoned by the Burlington, Rio Grande and Western Pacific -- and Amtrak budget cuts had taken a temporary toll in amenities and services in the not too distant past, it remains a great way to see the country and, if my recent experiences are any example, enjoy satisfying food and friendly company. I'm among the lucky who have ridden this train when run by the private railroads, in 1968, and Amtrak as late as September 2013. Here are some photos of the train and what one can see from its windows en route, as well as some menus and other items I've collected


The above photos were taken somewhere in Illiniois in the mid-1960s. The following were taken on a 1968 trip.





The above photo was taken on the 1968 trip in the Salt Lake City station. On the left is the observation car on the Rio Grande's overnight Prospector, which would soon head over to Denver.

The photo on the right was taken in Fairfield, Iowa, in the mid-1960s.

For those interested in the original train's normal consist, the November, 1964, Official Guide lists a vista dome observation lounge sleeper, four standard sleepers, three vista dome chair cars, a vista dome buffet-lounge and a diner. This was undoubtedly augmented in the summer.

The photo on the left was taken in Ottumwa, Iowa, in the mid-1980s, the one on the right in Sierras in 2001. The next two photos below were taken in the Sierras, and Tuckee, California, in late summer, 2000.


The following were taken on my 2002 cross country trip. The two photos immediately below were taken in Denver's bustling Union Station, which serves as important stop on the new light rail line.



Here's some California and Nevada scenery, photographed from the train.

The following photos were taken in Berkeley, California, on September 12, 2001. The full CZ was filling in for the closed national
airline system, and was carrying two additional tour cars with passengers doubtless distracted by the tragic WTC events.

Here's the eastbound CZ arriving in Sacramento on September 28, 2004.

We rode the train in May of 2004 and there were signs of deterioration aplenty. At the very outset of our  trip windows were unwashed
and car exteriors chipped and peeling. The dining car steward was, well, contemptuous of coach   passengers, and crew members
complained openly about cutbacks.

The train remained pretty run-down through the summer of 2004, but we're happy to report that with the opening of a new
maintenance facility in Oakland and some equipment repair it was back in its full (exterior at least) glory in early 2005. The next
picture is a March, 2005, telephoto shot of the CZ cruising through Berkeley on its way to Chicago.  Now we have to hope the CZ
and other long-distance trains survive budget battles.


In late August and early September, 2005, we took a cross-country drive and caught up with the CZ here and there. These first shots
were taken in Winnemucca, NV, on the evening of September 1.  We're including two photos of the roadbed next to the station
platform. We've sent them to David Gunn, CEO of Amtrak. The terrible condition of the roadbed might be a matter of concern. What
is so evident in the pictures is that terrible condition of the Amtrak shelter, which had been shot up pretty badly.  Note that we
did not have a tripod with us, so the platform shots were handheld with our Olympus E-300 dslr.

Next, we see the train jjust east of Lovelock, NV on the morning of September 2, running one hour late. Shortly after the photo
was taken, it was put  behind a slow UP freight and lost well over 90 minutes on its relatively short hop to Sparks-Reno. We
followed the UP across Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California, and were surprised at what appeared to be the rundown condition
of many of its freight engines, which  were often very dirty. Conversations with locals familiar with the situation commonly revealed
that employees were disheartened by poor management, logistics and operations. A far contrast from the UP of old.


Finally, we caught up with an eastbound CZ on Sept. 2 in Colfax, California. It was already an hour late out of Sacramento
but it made for an impressive sight, particularly with a restored CN private car on the rear.

Here we have the CZ approaching Davis on its way to Chicago on a somewhat foggy November morning in 2006; a rather dramatic shot..


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We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into an important part of America's passenger train legacy. Check back because we'll be adding additional CZ photos.