Tony's Birthday Celebration
Southwest Chief : Sep 5 - Sep 8
PLEASE NOTE: The following report is spilt into 2 sections. The first section will be my report, with the second being a report from my girlfriend Abril. I wanted to give her an opportunity to post in her own words some thoughts on this trip. So Enjoy!
It was that time of year again. My birthday was quickly coming up and I wanted to spend it on a train. Last April I had taken Amtrakís Southwest Chief to The Depot Inn & Suites in La Plato Mo for the Chris Guenzler Million Mile Celebration. Since I had such an amazing time in La Plata, I decided that for my birthday I would do the exact same trip. What made it extra special for me this time around was that my girlfriend Abril would be able to join me. I really wanted her to experience long distance train travel. Hopefully it would be something that she enjoys as much as I do.
On Sep 5 we would catch train #4 the Southwest Chief in Fullerton Ca for the trip to La Plata Mo. After arriving in Fullerton on Pacific Surfliner #583, we headed off to dinner at the Slidebar Cafť which is located right across from the station. This is the location where the TrainWeb - Train Travel Meetup is held every month. At dinner, I proceeded to have the Kobe Beef burger with Abril getting the Mac ní Cheese. The Slidebar really is a nice place. The food, location, and atmosphere are excellent. I highly recommend it if your in the area.
After dinner we started to make our way over to the station platform to wait for # 4ís arrival. The train was scheduled in at 7:20 PM and it came in a few mins late. Our sleeping car ended up being the very last car in the consist. After dropping off our heavy bags in the downstairs luggage racks, we made our way upstairs to roomette # 5. I had noticed that we were in a pretty run down Superliner I car. This car looked like it had come straight out of the 70ís. It still had that old brown & green color the original cars came in. Only thing missing was a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. As night began to fall, we were slowly making our way up Cajon Pass. Soon we would be arriving in Barstow. Around this time our sleeping car attendant, came by to make up our beds and after a few phone calls to friends back home we called it a night.
Always A Great View From The Back Of The Train
When we awoke the next morning the train was coming into Winslow Az. I also noticed that we were running about an hour late. I quickly ran downstairs to shower. After me it was Abrilís turn to shower up. I took this time to run to the back of our sleeper to view the BNSF transcon as it flew on by. At breakfast Abril and I both ordered the french toast. In my opinion you cant go wrong with the french toast. Its always pretty good. We would spend the remainder of the morning in our roomette watching the New Mexico scenery pass us by. In Albuquerque we would have time to stretch our legs and visit with the local Indian vendors. This is also an Amtrak service stop. Here the engines are refueled and a new crew comes aboard.
Southwest Chief @ Rest
Once out of Albuquerque the train really passes thru some spectacular scenery. We had a quick pizza lunch and then headed over to the lounge car for the trip thru Apache Canyon. Once in Raton Nm we stepped out for some fresh air. The Amtrak thruway bus to Denver was taking passengers right beside our train. There were quite a few people going to Denver. Back aboard the train it was now time to head up Raton Pass. Our time was spent alternating between our roomette and the very end vestibule of the sleeping car. The train climbed the pass and soon we would go by Wooten Ranch and into the Raton Tunnel. Out of the tunnel, the train would enter Colorado. Our next station stop would be Trinidad, then on to La Junta.
Exiting The Raton Tunnel
Sunset In Colorado!!
Right before our arrival into La Junta Co, our dining car steward had come by to take our dinner reservation. We decided on a time of 8:30. For some reason, I did not feel like having dinner on the train. Instead I decided that once we got to La Junta, we would take a quick walk around town to see if there were any restaurants nearby. I could easily order something to go and have dinner in our roomette. To my surprise we arrived in La Junta 40 mins ahead of schedule. This would allow us plenty of time to walk around. We immediately headed across the street where an old Santa Fe caboose was sitting in a park. It turned out to be a bank of all places. We then proceeded thru town looking for some place to eat. Only thing we saw were a couple of bars and after seeing a shady looking character talking to himself outside one, we decided to turn and head back towards the train.
La Junta Co : Me
Back aboard we departed La Junta and once 8:30 hit, we went off to dinner. I asked our waiter if the Chicken sandwich from the lunch menu would be available for dinner and he said no. He did say he that could bring me a childís plate of chicken strips. Perfect I thought. The Chicken plate ended up being pretty good. It came on a bed of rice w/ green beans. Abril choose to have the Beef Bourguignonne. She said it was also pretty good. After dinner we went back to our roomette where we would spend the rest of the evening. About 11:00 PM we called it a night.
About 3:30 AM I was awaken by the sound of rain outside my window. I was in the bottom bunk and as soon as I moved the curtain aside to have a look, I was greeted by loud thunder and lightning. Every 3-4 seconds the lightning would strike. Our train seemed to be moving slower than usual. Turns out the lightning storm would delay us an hour or so. When we awoke the next morning, our train was stopped in BNSFís Argentine Yard. Here our locomotives would be refueled. After that we would continue the short distance to Kansas City Union Station. I wanted to have a look around Union Station since I didnít have a chance to on my last trip. We quickly showered and once at the station we were able to get off to look around. First thing that caught my eye was the Kansas City Southern F unit that was on an adjacent track.
KCS F Unit
Back aboard we were ready for breakfast. More French toast for me. Abril had the Bob Evans Scramble and we both agreed that it tasted a whole lot better then it looked. After breakfast we spent some time in the lounge car. In about 2 hours or so we would come to our final stop of La Plata Mo. We arrived in La Plata Mo about 25 mins late. We slowly made our way down stairs and waited for the train to make its double stop. Since we were at the end, we would exit last. Once off the train we were greeted by Harold Marshall. He is father to Tom Marshall, Tom being owner of the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata. Harold would drive us the short distance to the hotel. It felt good being back at the Depot Inn. This would be our first time in a Suite as well. I choose the Pullman suite for this trip. My ultimate goal of course is to stay in the remaining 3 suites. The Pullman suite itself is really nice. There is a 47" flat-screen television w/ DVD player, a 2-Person whirlpool tub and a huge comfortable king size bed. After settling into our room it was time to try out the indoor pool. After spending about an hour in there, we headed off to the adjacent Red Rooster for some food. This place serves excellent food and we would continue to eat here for the duration of our stay.
Abril Taking The Speeder For A Test Drive!!
After our late lunch it was time to grab a Depot Inn golf cart and head off on a little tour thru town. It was such a nice day and as we drove around most of the locals would wave to us. We continued down a few streets and then made our way over to the Amtrak Station. Off to the right in a siding I noticed some Ex-Amtrak high speed material handling cars. These cars are going to be placed behind the Depot Inn and used as an Amtrak museum. The Depot Inn already has the tracks in place behind the building for this. The spot where the Ex-Amtrak cars stood made for a perfect photo location. Unfortunately after waiting for about 20 mins, no trains would pass.
The Ex-Amtrak Material Handling Cars
After that it was time to head out to the Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point. Since my last visit here in April a few things had changed. There was now a bulletin board with a BNSF System map, local train news, and a bunch of links to various train related sites. Right besides the new board stood the new toilets. You know for being porta-potties, these had to be the nicest ones Iíve ever seen. They both had a wooden exterior that went real well with the train watching platform. After about an hour of train watching, we headed back to our suite to relax and wait for our hunger to hit. I was really looking forward to another meal at the Red Rooster.
Depot Inn Golf Cart w/ New Bathrooms In The Background
Even Grasshoppers Like Trains!!
Abril Relaxing At The Lookout Point
Southwest Chief #4 On Its Way To Chicago!!
The rest of the evening was spent in the suite. Since I had brought a bunch of DVDís with me, we would take advantage of the big TV/DVD set up. The next day would be our last in La Plata. We were both excited as it would be spent on a side trip to Marceline Mo, the home town of Walt Disney.
The next day it was time to jump into our rental car and head the 40 or so miles to Marceline Mo. I have to take this opportunity to thank Maria Snodgrass of the Depot Inn for assisting us in the car rental. She really went out of her way to make sure we were taken care of. After a short 45 min drive we arrived at the old Santa Fe Train depot in Marceline Mo. This is now the location of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. As soon as we parked our car, a west bound UP freight passed by on its way west. I donít know if there was a detour in place or what but we would see a number of UP freights on our visit to the North Missouri area. Once inside the museum there was a very informative tour getting underway. We had gotten there right on time. The museum is filled with pictures and artifacts from Walt and his familyís time in Marceline. The tour guide was excellent as well. You can tell she loves Walt and the history his family has had in Marceline. One room in the museum is devoted solely to train memorabilia. They had some really cool conductorís uniforms from Santa Fe along with original china that was used on the Super Chief. Also a ton of old books and schedules that I found very interesting. Right before leaving the museum we had a look inside the gift shop. Here I would find a book that long ago I almost bought at Disneyland but never did. That book is entitled, Walt Disney's Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom by Michael Broggie. I of course had to pick it up.
The Sign Says It All
BNSF Westbound Passing Marceline Depot
After thanking our wonderful tour guide, we headed off to have lunch in downtown Marceline. Now, it is said that Kansas Ave in Marceline is where Walt got the idea for Disneylandís Main Street USA. It was really cool to see all the similarities between the two. Our tour guide from the museum had recommended a nice little place in downtown to have some lunch. After lunch it was time for Abrilís photo with Mickey Mouse and of course Mickey was kind enough to grant Abril a photo. Then we headed up and down Kansas Ave taking pictures. We noticed that most of the store fronts were sporting signs for the local High School Football team. They are known as the Marceline Tigers and they had played the night before. At the end of our walk downtown we came to E.P. Ripley Park. Here there was an old Santa Fe Steam Engine and Caboose on display. It was real nice to just sit back on the park benches for awhile. A few trains would also pass our location as we rested.
Abril & Mickey!!
Santa Fe Steam Engine On Display @ E.P. Ripley Park
Santa Fe Caboose Also On Display
Once back in our rental car it was time to head back to La Plata to spend our last few hours at the Depot Inn. I wanted to have enough time to pack. I also wanted to use the pool and head out to the train watching platform one last time. The Depot Inn was nice enough to grant us a late check out as we would be departing on that evenings west bound Southwest Chief to Kansas City. Back in our suite we packed and left all of our belongings ready. That way we could go off to the train watching platform and then have one more dinner at the Red Rooster. Our trip was quickly coming to a close and once back at the Depot Inn, Harold Marshall would once again drive us down to the depot to wait for that evenings train to Kansas City. The next day we would fly home to San Diego bringing our excellent trip to an end.
Thinking About My Next Adventure!!
The Southwest Chief was my first long distance train trip and for me it has been one of the most amazing experiences. I didnít mind the look of our 70ís sleeper car. It was the great service we had that made it special. I also loved the time spent in the lounge car. You can have fuller visibility of the scenery. I very much enjoyed how the landscape was changing as you pass state by state. I also liked how every time we went to the dining car, we would meet very interesting people whom you can share a little of your self with and as well learn from them. Train travel is a very different way to experience a trip; itís like vacationing in a moving hotel. You have everything in hand to make it a full and pleasant trip. And I didnít even mind the thunder storm and how the train wasnít feeling so stable as I was in the upper bunk, on the contrary it felt like I was being rocked like a baby.
Our stay in the Depot Inn & Suites couldnít be better, since we were first received by Harold and when we arrived at the beautiful installations, Maria took really good care of us and made us feel right at home. The room was so comfortable and the indoor pool was practically just for us. Everything was perfect. . .
As we were cruising around town I noticed how all the people were nice and friendly. It was a sunny and wonderful day. There are a lot of big trees and we also saw a little lake. The food in the Red Rooster is delicious and if you go there try the Chicken Noodle Soup and the Onion Rings. On our way to the Lookout Point I felt like we were going down some kind of secret passage between trees and the little dirt road, feeling the fresh air on my face. . . It was invigorating! When we were at the Lookout Point all you can hear was the grasshoppers and scanner, if a train was coming close. Itís a nice place where you can just sit and relax.
On our way to Marceline I also enjoyed the beautiful countryside. We first got to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum which is taken care of by volunteers. These people are devoted to Marceline and the history of Walt Disney. Our tour guide that day was a very nice lady and she actually met Walt in person when they were young. When we were walking around the little town we found the likenesses between Disneyís Main Street and Marcelineís Kansas St. We ended at a beautiful little park where I could lay in the grass and rest before we went back to La Plata and shortly back to the Depot for our return aboard the Southwest Chief, only this time just going to Kansas City and the next day finally to San Diego.
**All Photos In This Report By Tony Escarcega & Abril Batallar**
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