Royal Gorge, Tennessee Pass, and Salt Lake City
June 18th to 30th, 1997

Don Winter


This trip focuses on the NRHS Annual Convention at Salt Lake City, and on the substantial “inbound excursion” that precedes it, on the Union Pacific excursion train through the Royal Gorge and over Tennessee Pass, just before closure of that route to through traffic. The inbound excursion starts in Denver, so first we must get from Los Angeles to Denver. The arrangements for the trip to Denver, inbound excursion, and first two days in Salt Lake City were made as part of a group reservation through Let’s Travel Tours, in conjunction with Mountain Outin’. Let’s Travel Tours also made our individual homebound reservations, as part of the same group as those traveling on the Pacific Railroad Society's arrangements. Our Thursday to Saturday arrangements at the Convention were made individually, directly with the Convention.

To Salt Lake City (6/18-6/23)

Wednesday, June 18th, 1997

This evening, we started our journey by taking the shuttle van from home to Los Angeles Union Station. The shuttle picked us up about 4:40pm (for our 7:15pm departure from LAUS). When we get to LAUS, we check in with Ed von Nordeck, of Let’s Travel Tours, which is handling the bags, then get something to drink and wander out to the platform where the train is waiting. When the train is ready for us, we board.

Our room is downstairs in the sleeping car, something we don’t like, but can tolerate for the less than 24 hours of this trip. Following dinner, everyone in our group starts getting ready for bed, even though it’s only just after ten o’clock. The car attendant has music playing through the PA. After 10:30 pm, I ask him to turn it off. He tells me that “the other passengers like it.” I ask if he’s determined that the other passengers like it after 10:30 pm, and he threatens to have me thrown off the train. Only the timely intervention of one of the people Ed or Rolland has appointed as a tour assistant gets the attendant to back off and turn the music off.

P42      10
P40      835
P42      6

Train 4, 6-18-1997



Los Angeles






San Bernardino












Winslow           PT



Gallup              MT









Las Vegas (NM)









Southwest Chief Route Description

On the way up Cajon Pass, we stop at Keenebrook for 10 minutes to replace a fuse in locomotive 6.

Under normal circumstances, darkness falls on Train 4, eastbound, before it reaches Fullerton, and dawn breaks somewhere between Williams and Winslow. A late Train 4 may permit the traveler to see parts of the Crookton line change. This train, however, is not that late.

Thursday, June 19th, 1997

We arise while the train is passing through the Arizona Forest, west of Flagstaff, and go to breakfast after leaving the latter. We eat breakfast with Rolland Graham and Edna Tooker, a very spry, loquacious woman in her mid 80s. Rolland regales us with the story of how he put up the deposit to Union Pacific that made it possible for the Central Coast Chapter to arrange the Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass excursion prior to the NRHS Convention.

On the way up Raton Pass, the train stops for 10 minutes to reboot the computers in the locomotives. We eat dinner on leaving Raton, to be sure of finishing by the time we arrive in Trinidad, where we leave the train. We were supposed to be met here by our bus, but it proves still to be on its way here from Utah. So Rolland goes to the nearby pizza parlor to call the motel, and between the motel and a couple of taxi drivers, the party is transported to the motel a few blocks away. The PRS group, including ourselves, is among the last to go, largely because we’re busy watching and photographing a BNSF freight passing through the Trinidad station.

The bus arrives later, not long before we go to bed.

Friday, June 20th, 1997

Today, we’re traveling by road to a lunch appointment in Colorado Springs, then back to the Royal Gorge amusement park, and finally to our hotel in Cañon City. I get some coffee, but we don’t bother with breakfast. The bus loads the luggage, and we set off, west out of Trinidad into the mountains. After a delightful drive through cottonwoods and aspens, and climbing higher all the time, we make a scenic stop. Here we discover that Frances and Michael Mohr are part of our bus group, having arrived in Trinidad on the westbound Southwest Chief, the morning before.

Later, we reach the line of the former Denver & Rio Grande, one time narrow gauge, over La Veta Pass. We have a chance to photograph the old depot before proceeding down to Pueblo, past the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company’s massive steel works, where so much of the output is devoted to production of rails for railroad tracks, and make a quick trip on Interstate 25 north to Colorado Springs. Here, we meet up with those who have arrived by air, today, and have lunch at the restaurant that now occupies the Rio Grande’s Colorado Springs depot. The depot has been beautifully restored. The most memorable thing about lunch was the waitress who knocked the pink lemonade all over my tee shirt and trousers. Rolland Graham thinks this is supremely funny. I think that says something important about Rolland.

After lunch, we head southwest to Cañon City, then west up the mountain to the Royal Gorge park. Here we spend a couple of hours, including time to go down to water/trackside on the funicular (a 15-minute trip, almost 2000ft in length). We also walk out on the highest suspension bridge in the US, built across the Royal Gorge as part of the construction of the park, in the late 1920s. Our time at trackside is interesting. We will be here again, on Sunday, passing through on the train!

We’re staying for two nights in Cañon City, mostly because the organizers (Mountain Outin’, Let’s Travel Tours, PRS) couldn’t get hotel space in the Denver area, due to the Group of Seven international economic conference that is taking place there this weekend. Chris and I walk over to a restaurant just east of the motel for dinner, then go to bed because we have an early start on Saturday.

Saturday, June 21st, 1997

We’re up early this morning, in time to grab some coffee and board our bus for the ride up to Denver. At Denver Union Station, we will board our Union Pacific excursion train for the ride back down the “Joint Line” to Pueblo and then west along the Arkansas River to Cañon City. The route as far as Colorado Springs takes the same road over the shoulder of the mountains that we used to come south, the previous day. North of Colorado Springs, we again use Interstate 25, exiting the highway just north of Mile-High Stadium and passing the Forney Museum, with the ex-UP “Big Boy” 4-8-8-4 displayed outside, on the way to Union Station. Outside the station, we are stopped by the police and told we can go no further until the “dignitaries” are out of the way.

It transpires that Hillary Clinton and the spouses of the other world leaders attending the G-7 conference are taking a train ride using the Ski Train equipment up to Winter Park, today. Until they have boarded their train, we (and all the other riders on the UP excursion are not allowed into the station concourse. Until their train has left, Steve Lee is not allowed to bring UP 4-8-4 844 and the UP excursion train into the station. We’re allowed off the bus and into the station concourse at about the time our train was planned to be departing Denver. About 15 minutes later, we see 844 draw into the platform and pass the concourse, and then we’re allowed out onto that platform (through the pedestrian subway) to board our train. After the excursionists have headed for their platform, Amtrak train 5 (the California Zephyr) draws into the platform nearest the depot.

We find our assigned car, the penultimate in the train, board, and take our seats. We’re seated on the right side of the train, just at the foot of the stairs up to the dome in our car, Columbine. We also have all-day access (subject to space availability) to the dome in this car, which nominally has seating for only half the people assigned to this car. Rolland’s arrangements are divided among three groups: one riding solely in a chair car, one that has fixed time periods in a dome and fixed time periods in a coach seat, and our group that has all day dome privileges, subject to being asked to leave the dome if (a) it is full, and (b) others in our group want to use it. Naturally, we take seats in the dome for the first part of the trip, only to have an overly officious car host (not part of our tour group) inform us that he will be asking us all to rotate out of those seats at some specific time later. We remonstrate with him that we can police ourselves, but to no avail. When he carries out his ‘threat’, he is amazed to discover that there were no people in the car awaiting their time in the dome! A little while later, we explain matters to crew chief Bob Bunche, and are not bothered by this kind of officiousness again! Columbine will be our car for all three days of the Inbound Excursion, plus the Wednesday Convention trip. Rolland has made an arrangement with the catering crew in Dome-Lounge City of San Francisco, the only car behind us, that allows us to get coffee and soft drinks from the lounge counter by showing our name tags. The people riding in that car, not part of our group, do not have the same privileges! Among those whom I notice riding in that car is NRHS National President Greg Molloy.

Among the people in our car are Watson Warrener, from somewhere in Virginia, Tom Tischer from upstate New York (both regular patrons of Rolland’s tours) and Doug Walsch, from western New Jersey, who is new to this sort of thing. Also in our car are several members of the Pacific Railroad Society’s private car repair and maintenance volunteers, including some whom I have not met before (Ted Shackleford, for example). Frances and Michael Mohr are also in our car. Frances is complaining about being cold, since she’s seated right behind an air conditioning vent about five rows behind us (at the rear of the car).

Colorado Joint Line Route Description

Several years ago, the tracks leading south out of Denver Union Station were severed. So, when everyone has boarded, our train backs out of the station and onto the southbound main track. There we sit for awhile, while a trainload of coal from the Powder River Basin headed for a power plant in Texas clears the block ahead of us. While we’re sitting there, Amtrak 5 leaves, headed for the climb up to Moffatt Tunnel. Then, we start to head slowly south onto the Joint Line. 844 and the E-9s behind it are just loafing along on the grade to the summit at Palmer Lake, because we’re forced to follow the loaded coal train ahead of us most of the way up the hill, and are thus limited by the speed it can make. This has occurred even though the Joint Line along here is actually paired trackage, since the tracks are by-and-large dedicated one to each direction, rather than both being available for travel in either direction as on the ex-Santa Fe mainline through California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Soon, we reach Palmer Lake, or rather what is normally Palmer Lake. The authorities managing the State Park that includes the lake have chosen this spring to drain the lake for maintenance, so what we pass is just a large mudbath. Across the summit at last (2000 feet up from Denver, over 7000 feet above sea level, and we haven’t entered the mountains yet), the coal train takes a siding and we storm past.

In Colorado Springs, we slowly pass the restaurant at which we had had lunch the previous day. On the right is a glorious view of the mountains in the Front Range. We’re sitting at the front of the dome, and Frances comes up to ask which mountain is Pike’s Peak. We’ve been here a couple of times before, and I’ve flown over the mountain several more times (Los Angeles to Washington flights often go right over the top), so I can do so without difficulty, as well as pointing out the entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD Operations Center as well. After she goes back to her seat, I wonder if she thinks this is right in our neighborhood, rather than being a full 1000 miles from our home on the Pacific shore. J

South of Colorado Springs, on double track again, the Joint Line is a much faster line, and we make good time (although still quite late) the rest of the way through Fountain to the end of joint track, north of Pueblo, where we take the more easterly line to pass through Pueblo westbound. (The other line goes on a westerly slant and passes through Pueblo eastbound.) All along this stretch, the railroad parallels I-25, which is clogged with railfans out to watch, photograph, and pace the train. Since we're actually traveling at less than the speed limit on the highway (we're allowed 55 mph, it is posted for 65), there are many truckers on the highway who are confounded by all of the cars going at the same speed as the train. At Bragdon, we take Track 2, so that we can pass through Pueblo, at an altitude of only 4,695 ft. before heading west. We pass slowly through Pueblo Union Station before stopping to service the locomotive in the yard west of the station. Alongside the track near the depot is a collection of old equipment, including a former Santa Fe 2900-series 4-8-4, 2912 in the process of restoration. Members of the restoration crew are out to ring her bell in salute as we pass. An eastbound coal train waits for us to clear the station area at Pueblo.

Tennessee Pass Route Description

A few miles later, in an area with some delightful rock bluffs, we stop at Swallows for our only photo runby of the day (traffic levels having precluded any on the Joint Line). Once the runby is complete, we reboard and the train quickly runs the rest of the way to Cañon City, altitude 5.332 ft. We leave the train and board our bus for the quick trip back to our hotel. Dinner is in the hotel dining room, where about 10 of us form a fairly raucous party around one extended table.

Sunday, June 22nd, 1997

Today is the big day on this excursion—we will pass through Royal Gorge and across Tennessee Pass, the last passenger train to cover the entire route before UP closes it as a through route. This will be a long day, so the train is making an early start. We check out of the hotel, turn our bags over to those loading the bus, and board the bus for the trip over to the train station. (The bus will return to the hotel after the passengers have left it, to pick up the bags and take them to tonight’s hotel in Grand Junction.)

The view from our dome, today, shows how very clearly it is true that only one line could be built through the gorge. In fact, there are spots where only very creative engineering permitted any line at all to be built. This is especially clear on this particular day, because the Arkansas River is very, very, close to flood stage, being only a couple of inches below the trackbed in many places. The flow of water is so great that flow conditions of full turbulence prevail. This is spectacular to look at, but one wonders how close we have come to having the trip canceled out by floodwaters!

A couple of miles into the gorge, the suspension bridge across the gorge comes into view, high above, and then the train slows for its passage through the narrowest part of the gorge, which is right were we had been two days earlier at the foot of our funicular ride. Just to the west of the foot of that ride is the main spot where it would seem that there was room for no track through the gorge. The creative solution was the ‘hanging bridge’, where the track bed is, in fact, suspended from anchors on the wall of the gorge, with no rock support below, designed by Charles Shayler Smith and built by the Santa Fe prior to Rio Grande winning the court battle for ownership of this route. The train travels very slowly through this spot, not just because track conditions require it, but so that as many passengers as possible can photograph the artifacts in this location without unloading the train. (Only those in our tour group had been here two days earlier to inspect the area from the ground.)

At Parkdale, we encounter the first train chasers of the day; every railfan within a hundred miles who isn’t on the train must be out chasing the train on the lovely Sunday, the first full day of summer. (I later see Joe McMillan’s report of the day’s activities on an Internet e-mail list.) In addition to the train chasers, there are many people out whitewater rafting on the river. The turbulent, almost flood stage water provides ideal conditions for that activity at several locations we will pass during the course of the day. We do a double photo runby at Texas Creek, altitude 6,230 ft.

The Colorado State Patrol is obviously well prepared for their traffic control duties, and we see several instances of drivers whose actions are a bit too much over the top (e.g., one who was standing up using the video camera through the sunroof, driving with his knees (and presumably controlling speed with the cruise control) was pulled over in very short order). A few miles further west, the train makes a service stop at Salida, altitude 7,036 ft. It seems like the whole town is out to greet it (the timing is great, just after church services have completed).

Because the line we’re on is running alongside the river, we don’t really notice the grade, although we’re climbing steadily. The train is going very slowly, but that is due to the 35 slow orders (temporary (?!) speed restrictions) that have been placed on the line due to the cessation of major maintenance activity in view of the impending closure of the line from the Royal Gorge to a gypsum plant close to the junction with the Moffatt line at Dotsero.

The line may be due for closure, but the traffic level doesn’t seem to have diminished as yet. We pass UP 8063 on a coal drag at Brown Canyon, CSX 6400 on a manifest freight at Nathrop (altitude 7,690 ft.), then pass through Buena Vista, where again the whole town seems to have come out to watch. As the valley opens out, we can see the many 14,000+ ft. snow-covered peaks lining the valley to the west (including Mount Elbrus, 14,433 ft and nearby Mount Massive). They and whitewater rapids (such as those in Brown Canyon, especially in the park at Hecla Junction) are our scenic companions the rest of the way until the final climb to the summit of Tennessee Pass.

In mid-afternoon, we pass UP 8132 on the Oakland to Herington, KS autoracks (AOAHN), and later we meet SP 306 on an eastbound coal drag at the summit of Tennessee Pass. The Arkansas River has become noticeably smaller, as we have passed many of the side streams feeding it with snowmelt. West of the summit, the diesels shift from Run-8 to Full Dynamic, and 844’s throttle is eased back. It seems that our day spent railfanning this area two years previously has set me in good stead, since I seem to know more about exactly where we are at all times than anyone else in the dome (which is standing-room only on this part of the trip), and get lots of questions once I show that I know the lineside locations and landmarks.

At Minturn, altitude 7,818 ft., the operations and helper terminal for Tennessee Pass, the train stops so that the locomotive can be serviced. Passengers are not allowed off the train, which reaches Minturn with just twelve minutes remaining before the pilot crew (the legal, but not operational, train crew) would have run out of their twelve hours legal service. Again, the whole town of Minturn (and perhaps half of Vail, just around the corner to the east) seems to be out to look at the train. Once the servicing is complete, the train heads on past the Eagle Gypsum facilities to the junction at Dotsero, altitude 6,155 ft. Once we’re past the junction, we stop for a photo runby just west of the junction, and not long before the light would have been completely lost.

The train makes a stop in Glenwood Springs to service the locomotive and detrain some excursionists. Hereabouts is also where members of our tour group are served their box dinners. (Train riders not in our group have no dinners provided, and are expected to eat after arrival in Grand Junction. Since the time is already after 8 pm, they may be out of luck by the time we get there!) The sun is rapidly setting as we leave Glenwood Springs heading down river for Grand Junction, and darkness falls soon thereafter. In the dome, Ed and Rolland are reminiscing about when they first met, and how long they’ve been cooperating on trips. The train is now running at track speed, but there’s no way to make up the lost time (we should have been in Grand Junction before the time we actually left Glenwood Springs). Our very belated arrival in Grand Junction finds our bus waiting for us, but the bus driver gets lost finding the hotel (to which he had already been with the bags, by mid-afternoon), and we don’t get to the room until almost midnight. We go quickly to bed.

Monday, June 23rd, 1997

This is the third day of the inbound excursion, crossing the Utah desert and Wasatch Mountains before descending to Salt Lake City. Our bus takes us back to the train, before returning to the hotel for the bags. We board the train, where coffee and drinks are available, along with a few morning goodies.

We start today from Grand Junction. Before reaching Green River, we stop at Floy siding, out in the desert, to wait for Amtrak 6 (P42 27). Steve Lee decides that this is a good place for a photo stop, where excursionists can photograph the Amtrak train passing the excursion train. After everyone is out on the ground, the dispatcher asks Steve if he would like to move up to the next siding, since Amtrak is later than he had expected.  Steve points out that his passengers are outside, and couldn’t be loaded up in time for the move to make sense. So we get our photographs where we already are! During the wait for Amtrak 6 to go by the rear of the excursion train, where we’re standing, I chat with Greg Molloy and ask Richard Shulby about the 1996 Convention Video, whose producer seems to have reneged on his contract to produce it.

The train reverses into the former UP station in Salt Lake City. (It had been planned for the train to go into the former D&RGW station used by Amtrak, but 844’s engineer (and UP Steam Program Manager) Steve Lee decides that a turnout is too sharp for 844 to negotiate and arranges to go around to the UP station instead. It’s not clear to me whether this is a real concern, or just a ploy to have the UP train use the UP station instead of the former D&RGW station.

The bus for our group is waiting for us (which is more than those who booked directly with the Central Coast Chapter can say), and we’re soon delivered to our hotel. Here’s we’re treated to an unintended event. The hotel has not arranged the room keys the way that Rolland had asked them, so handing them out is very inefficient. Rolland blows his top, and treats us all to a visceral display of temper!

After dropping our bags off in our room, we walk over to the convention hotel, catercorner across the street intersection, check-in at the NRHS registration desk for the tickets to the events that we ordered by ourselves and the all-important ‘goody bag’, and eat dinner. Then it’s back to our hotel, our room, and our bed.

In Salt Lake City (6/24-6/28)

Tuesday, June 24th, 1997

Today’s trip is over the Heber Valley Railroad, colloquially known as the Heber Creeper. Buses from the Convention hotel take us from Salt Lake City to Heber City where the railroad has its home base. As we leave the hotel area, we see today’s Amtrak 6 just leaving Salt Lake City for its eastward trek. At this point, it is already at least five hours late! The buses take us up into the Wasatch Range along Interstate 80 as far as the Park City turnoff, and then south through the eponymous ‘park’ (in this part of the world, a ‘park’ is a large relatively flat area at quite high altitude, surrounded by mountains) to the railroad’s home at Heber City. Along the way, our bus host points out the places where vestiges of the one-time Union Pacific Park City branch can still be seen.

We have over an hour to spare after our arrival and before the train is ready to board, so we have time to inspect the railroad’s artifacts and meet other convention attendees. We soon run into Whayne McGinniss and his wife Margie, from Louisville, and later into Helen and Smoke Shaak, from the Lancaster area. Among other things, we watch the preparation of the steam locomotive (former UP 2-8-0 618, from 1907) for the day’s activities, including loading coal into the tender using a skip loader, the switching that is performed (by a diesel) to make up our train, and then the steamer’s move from the ready track to the head of our train. Then it’s time to board. Our tour group has a reserved coach at the rear of the train (on the outward journey), so familiar faces congregate around us.

Heber Valley Railroad Route Description

At Vivian Park a picnic and refreshment area, where the locomotive runs around the train. Here, our box lunches are loaded on the train. We’re now quite close behind the loco as the train heads off to return, uphill. (The seats are of the ‘walkover’ variety, so we all switch our seats to face the other way.)

We eat our lunches as the stack talk from the hard-working loco reverberates around the valley. At the beginning of the line deviation around the lake, we alight for a photo runby, which has the loco working hard on the still steep upgrade. I climb quite a way up the hillside to get a good angle on the train during this runby. At the other end of the lake, we have a second runby, where the views of the train are across an alpine meadow. Returning to Heber City, we reboard the buses for the return to Salt Lake City. A second set of conventioneers has been delivered by these buses to take a second run of the Heber Creeper this afternoon. We’re back at the hotel by mid afternoon.

We eat dinner at the Denny’s a couple of blocks west of our hotel.

Wednesday, June 25th, 1997

Our excursion today uses the same UP excursion train on which we arrived, hauled only by the E-9s. The train starts from the UP depot, downtown, where we also see 844 and a UP Business Car train that 844 will be hauling sometime between now and Saturday (when she hauls a convention excursion). We’re heading for the former Oregon Short Line branch south from Salt Lake City through Provo to the junction with the former Los Angeles & Salt Lake line at Lynndyl, then back along that line to our starting point. For the first half of the trip, the train will be hauled backwards (although the E-9s will be on the leading end), because there are no turning facilities at Lynndyl. (That’s probably also why 844 isn’t going.) The UP (former OSL) line as far as Provo has been closed in favor of (what were once trackage rights on) the former D&RGW line, and is now the basis of the route of the area’s light rail line project. In Provo, the train moves over from the former D&RGW line (on which we arrived on Monday) to the ex-OSL line to continue its journey.

Provo to Lynndyl Route Description

Lynndyl to Salt Lake City Route Description

We’re back in Columbine again, today, with the same seats and companions as on the inbound excursion, but with car hosts from the Salt Lake City convention team, rather than the Central Coast folks who ran the inbound excursion. Also traveling on the train today is a group of strolling musicians who provide the occasional diversion in various cars as the train rolls along through the somewhat uninteresting desert floor scenery. (The mountains in the distance are interesting, however.) Along the trip south on the ex-OSL line, we stop for a couple of photo runbys. The appearance of a UP Streamliner is only marred by the obvious fact that the flat end observation car is adjacent to the locomotives (because the train is running backwards), rather than appropriately at the other end of the train.

Returning on the former LA&SL main, we have the honor of being the first train over a new line diversion of several miles in the region between the smelter (at Smelter, UT) and the Great Salt Lake). This diversion has been built for both operational and prospective safety reasons, the new line being a lot further away from the smelter itself.

This was the last excursion as part of the tour group, so some of our companions will be leaving us in the morning.

For dinner, we walk eastward to Trolley Square, a shopping complex built in the onetime shops of the former streetcar operator in the area, to eat in the same Chinese Restaurant we had patronized at the end of our five-day UP excursion back in 1992. City “blocks” in Salt Lake City are quite a bit longer than in other cities we know, so the walk is a bit further than we might have anticipated, but dinner is good.

Thursday, June 26th, 1997

Today we’re visiting the Utah State Railroad Museum at the Ogden depot, the depot at Brigham City, and the National Historic Site at Promontory, where we will see a reenactment of the golden spike ceremony. While waiting in line to board the buses, we meet Lloyd Stagner, author of many books on the Santa Fe and other railroad history subjects. The first half of the set of buses is going to Promontory for the morning and Ogden for the afternoon. We, however, are far enough back in the line that we will be going to Ogden first. As far as I can tell, this is of no importance whatsoever (except, perhaps, that the books in the hobby shop next to the Ogden Station museum will have been picked over by the time those coming back from Promontory get there).

The buses head north on Interstate 15 to Ogden, where they leave the highway and go to the forecourt of Ogden Union Station. This no longer has scheduled passenger services (its last one ended when the Pioneer was canceled), but has been converted to a railroad museum. The station interior has been beautifully restored, and there are operational machine shops where some of the equipment owned by the museum has been (or can be) repaired and restored. There is an outdoor section of the museum that has, among other things, UP Turbine 26 from the 1950s/60s, and a UP Centennial double diesel from 1969. The turbine is particularly interesting to me, as it’s the first one I’ve seen outside of vintage films.

While we’re here, I patronize the adjacent hobby store, buying some books. Back on the bus, the bus host explains where the Bamberger interurban line had once run. We head north on I-25 to Brigham City, where the excursionists are left to visit the restored station and museum (and photograph the passing UP freight trains), while the buses go to a caterer to pick up the sandwiches for lunch. This depot is of quite a different size and character from the one in Ogden, with a very interesting design.

Once the lunches have arrived (and our buses with them), we reboard and eat lunch while driving to Promontory NHS. This is well away from any currently operating railroad line, down a long side road on which its only real neighbor is the Morton-Thiokol solid-fueled rocket plant, of Challenger-disaster infamy. At the Promontory NHS there is a museum, along with operating replicas of the two locomotives (Central Pacific 4-4-0 Jupiter and Union Pacific 4-4-0 119) used in the original 1869 Golden Spike ceremony on May 10, 1869. We are treated to a reenactment of the latter (which is a regular summertime activity at this site), which is quite interesting and very well done, and then have time to observe the two locomotives in operation around the site. There’s also time to visit the museum.

We head back across the empty countryside and down the interstate to Salt Lake City, where we walk back the block to our hotel. (The bus-boarding zone is on the far side of the convention hotel from the hotel we’re staying in.)

Friday, June 27th, 1997

This morning we’re riding on the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western, the remnants of a one-time interurban trolley operation serving the Saltair amusement park on the shore (then and intermittently since) of the Great Salt Lake). Today’s train comprises three elderly passenger cars, none of them former interurban cars, hauled by an old diesel switcher. Several busloads of conventioneers head over to the starting point for the morning excursion (there’s also one in the afternoon). Among those who ride in the same lounge car as us are Bob and Diane Heavenrich and Bart Jennings. At the western end of the trip, near but not adjacent to the lake, we’re allowed down on the ground to photograph the train while the diesel uses the wye to run around the train. Then we run back to the starting point and take the bus back to the convention hotel.

After grabbing some lunch, we walk north to the park where ex-UP 4-8-4 833, sister to the operational 844, is located. After looking around that locomotive, we cross the street to the location of the Railroadiana show. After buying a few videos (there are no good ‘Chessie’ items on sale), we walk back to the hotel. Later, we attend the NRHS Annual Meeting and then the Banquet in the evening. The featured speaker at the latter is Steve Lee, who provides a good hour’s entertainment as he regales us with stories from his years as Manager of the UP Steam Program. The entire steam crew is also in attendance at the banquet, as guests of the convention committee.

Saturday, June 28th, 1997

Because we’re leaving on Amtrak, tonight, we check out of the hotel in the morning and have the hotel store the bags until later.

The final excursion of the Salt Lake City NRHS Convention will again be on the UP excursion train, hauled by 844. This time we’re not traveling in the car we had used for all the previous days spent on this train. We have seats in a specific dome in a different car in the train, Colorado Eagle. It turns out to be the same dome that Bob and Diane Heavenrich have seats in. As usual, the convention provides buses to get us to the UP station to board this train. There is time to get more pictures of 844 before departure.

Salt Lake City to Ogden Route Description

Ogden to Cache Junction Route Description

Midway through the Bear River gorge, the train stops for a photo runby. Many of us climb up the bank on the south side of the line and photograph the train as it backs into the gorge and then comes storming out past us. During this runby, I encounter Dave Stubbs, from Santa Monica, who rode with us on Caritas on the way to the 1996 Convention in Charlotte. After reboarding the passengers, the train proceeds around the curve out into Cache Valley and runs south as far as Cache Junction. Here, it turns on the wye. During the subsequent servicing stop on the sidetrack, lunches are loaded onto the train, and consumed by the passengers. On the return trip, we do another runby at the exact same location, this time facing the other way. Further into the gorge, we see a videographer on the side of the track against the wall of the gorge. The train then returns the way it came, looking for a mid afternoon conclusion

On the return to Salt Lake City, the train is diverted through the Salt Lake City yard, because the dispatcher has both main tracks occupied. At one point, 844 has serious difficulty with a tight curve or switch, and has to reverse out of that track. Eventually, the train makes it through the yard, but our return to the UP station is at least 90 minutes later than it should have been. Steve Lee has some choice words on the radio for both yardmaster and dispatcher. (I’m sure he had more to say by more secure communications methods, once the trip was over.) Of course, we are in no hurry, but some conventioneers had been expecting to take late afternoon flights home and are seriously inconvenienced by this turn of events.

Chris and I take the opportunity to look at the stained-glass windows inside the former UP depot, which is currently set up for an art fair. Unknowingly, we enter the art fair area from the rear, and leave without paying. We walk back to the hotel, past the Mormon Temple and Abravanel Symphony Hall, then south on the street leading directly to the hotel. Once there, we check up on the one room that Barbara Sibert has kept available for the PRS folks to hang out in until its time to go to the Amtrak station, and then walk over to Denny’s for dinner. At about 11 pm, we all reclaim our bags and take the hotel’s vans over to the former D&RGW station, where train 5 is due shortly after midnight. (We had, of course, checked its timeliness before heading to the station.) We check the big suitcase through to Los Angeles. We are able to board the train not long after midnight, where we find our sleeper room ready for bed. We’re soon asleep.

From Salt Lake City (6/29-6/30)

Sunday, June 29th, 1997


P42      59
p42      11
(deadhead) Coach
(deadhead) Diner

Train 5, 6-27-1997






Salt Lake City (MT)



Winnemucca     (PT)







































California Zephyr Route Description

I awake just as the train is leaving Winnemucca. We eat breakfast towards the end of the serving period, as we cross the Nevada desert, and by the time the train arrives in Sparks are ready for a walk. From the platform, we can see the former SP rotary snowplow that is stationed here, as well as some spreaders and other maintenance of way equipment. The air is pleasant, not yet too hot and much cleaner than Salt Lake City.

On departure from Sparks, we ready ourselves for the trip across the Sierra Nevada through Donner Pass. The PRS folks from the room across from us have gone to the Lounge Car (to use the big sightseeing windows there), so we can see out of their room as well as ours, and slip over to their room when the scenery is on that side of the train.

Because of our late breakfast, we choose to eat lunch late (along with most of the other PRS folks). The dining car crew tries to tell us that most of the menu items are unavailable. Ed von Nordeck tells us to insist, then collects the Chief of OnBoard Services and holds a meeting with the Chief and the Steward regarding what comprises real service to passengers.

After arrival at the Jack London Square station, we walk the two blocks north to our hotel, right on the street along which the railroad runs. We eat dinner at a Mexican Restaurant across the street (because it had the shortest waiting period).

Monday, June 30th, 1997

This morning, we check out of the hotel and walk back to the station at Jack London Square. We meet Barbara, who has decided to take a San Joaquin home. Her train leaves before the Coast Starlight arrives. When the latter arrives, we board and find our private room in the sleeping car. This gives us access to the Pacific Parlor Car, as well as meals included in the fare (as well as the advantages of our private space away from the crowds in the coaches).

Coast Starlight Route Description


P40      805
P40      801
Pacific Parlor

Train 11, 6-29-1997









San Jose






Paso Robles



San Luis Obispo



Santa Barbara






Simi Valley






Los Angeles



At 3:58 pm, we pass Amtrak 14 (with P40 806) at Santa Margarita.

On reaching LA, we reclaim our checked bag and take the Metropolitan Shuttle home. We’re there in time for a normal weeknight bedtime.