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Southwest Chief round trip, Los Angeles to Chicago

June, 2008   By Dan Mays, Hemet, CA


Our Locomotive in Albuquerque

(Click any photo for a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this report.)

I made reservations for this trip back in March online. We elected to pick up our tickets at the station. I started in LA even though Riverside or San Bernardino is much closer to where I live because I wanted to make sure the three of us would be sitting together. That was a good idea because the train was pretty full and it is questionable whether we could have gotten three seats together at Riverside or San Bernardino. We got seats 23, 27 and 28.  Seats 27 and 28 were right near the stairwell and we liked the fact that we had more legroom than other seats. My wife and other kids were able to come on to the train and see how the car was laid out.
We pulled out of LAX on time. My kids turned around before Fullerton, the first stop, and said that this may be a long trip. They had been on commuter trains so they were not so charmed with riding trains. The train had two engines, a baggage car, three sleeper cars, a diner, the lounge/observation car and three coach cars. The bathrooms in our car were TINY. Some of the other cars had larger ones that were much easier to use. I was glad to see our car had outlets at every seat.
We got to ABQ (below) almost an hour early so walked around downtown for quite a while. It was pretty warm but good to be out of the train and walking around.

Back part of train in ABQ
Kids next to train
Front part of train in ABQ


About 10-15 mins outside of Lamy, NM

We saw a lot of pronghorn in NE NM and SE CO both coming and going. I was surprised to find out there was only one tunnel on the whole trip and it took about a minute and a half to get through it.
We crossed the Mississippi river right after Fort Madison, IA. I have crossed it in Minnesota and near Memphis and it seemed wider both other times so I wasn't even sure we crossed it until we saw a "Welcome to Illinois" sign on the other side of the river. I suppose I should know the geography of the US a bit better.
We pulled into Chicago about 15-20 minutes early on the 10th of June. 

Sears Tower from the train
CUS engine

A few observations about the train--

Some bathrooms are incredibly small. It wasn't until I explored the train a bit more than I discovered other bathrooms with room enough to turn around in.
I thought it was great that they had cold water and ice available.
The seats were very comfortable. I had no trouble sleeping in them. It was a bit like camping though where I woke up every hour or two. But I got 5-6 hours of sleep each night I think plus I took a short nap or two during the day.
The train folks were all very pleasant. The snack bar attendant we had on the way to CHI was very funny.
I enjoyed the scenery east of the Rockies much more than that west of the Rockies. I have been throughout the southwest and seen much more impressive scenery but I really enjoyed the different scenery in MO, IA and IL.
I felt safe on the train and was not the least worried that my baggag or valuables were in danger of being stolen.
The train was pretty cool (72ish) the entire trip but I found that very nice. I know some were a tad cool during the day and especially at night but I was not one of them.
What we did in Chicago--
Day 1 after arriving at CUS on SWC about 3 PM.
Stayed in the TraveLodge downtown which was nice enough for me (I am not picky) and was close to the station (one mile cab ride). Cheapest place I could find (about $160 per night w/ taxes).
Ate at Giordano's--GREAT PIZZA and service. Loved it.
Went to top of Sears Tower--enjoyable view.

View from Sears Tower
Walked around Millennium Park--It was nearby and we all enjoyed the fountains and sculptures.
Day 2 Field Museum--only spent 3 hours there but could have spent all day. Wonderful place.
Alder Planetarium--nice place but the two hours there was probably plenty.
Shedd Aquarium--nice aquarium with good selection of animals. I think we could have spent more than two and a half hours there had we had the time.
Took redline to Pizzeria Uno but too crowded so went up a block to Pizzeria Due. We were not there in time to have the deep dish pizza but the food we had was very good.
Cubs game at Wrigley Field. A big highlight as we have been Cubs fans for 45 years and now we finally saw a game at Wrigley. Plus the Cubs won so can't beat that for a good time.

View of Wrigley Field 061108 Cubs vs Braves

Cubs win..left field bleachers
Day 3
Breakfast at Billy Goat Tavern on Washington Ave. Decent food for a good price.

Art Institute--I am not big on art but this is a great museum. My daughter does love art so she had a good time.
Walked around town looking at buildings and outside art.
Returned to LA on SWC. 3:15ish, left on time.
On the trip home we had the same cars plus a parlor car that was attached to the rear of the train but not used.
Parlour car on the back of SWC,  in La Junta, on return from CHI to LAX.

We sat in seats 65/66 I think. They were the front seats in the car and like the other seats had plenty of legroom. The only downside was that every time anyone went to the lounge car that the doors opened and were noisy. The train was FULL at CHI. Over 100 Boy Scouts got on and rode it to Raton where they got off for their big camp thing at Philmont. The car attendant said scouts took the train out all summer. The train was virtually empty until we got to ABQ where it filled completely up again.
Inside observation car

During the evening of the 12th we went very slow in MO. The conductor came on to say we were going slow because of possible high wind. We saw lightning about every 2 seconds but it didn't look windy at all. Do you think that the high wind warning was a euphemism for possible tornado watch? We lost an hour there that we never did make up until we got off. We got off in Riverside because we had arranged for someone to pick us up there.


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