The Great River, the Great Lake, and the Great Plains
June 25th-July 7th, 2004

Don Winter


For our visit to the 2004 National Railroad Historical Society Convention in Minneapolis, we have chose to ride both ways through the Pacific Northwest using the Coast Starlight and across the Great Plains using the Empire Builder. This year, we haven’t added on any pre- or post-convention activities on our own, since we need to get home to complete our packing and move house less than a week after our return

The Journey East (6/25-6/29)

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Our last trip starting from the Hermosa Beach house begins with a drive to downtown Los Angeles at the tail end of the morning rush hour, in our own car, making good use of the carpool lanes on the freeways. After our 40 minute 20-mile drive, we park in the usual place in the garage under the MTA tower just east of the station platforms and walk through the pedestrian tunnel to Los Angeles Union Station, where we check two of the suitcases through to Minneapolis. Not long after we’ve got our morning coffee, etc., there is a call for first-class passengers to get boarding passes for our train, and then head for the platform.

While Chris gets our boarding passes, I walk out the pedestrian tunnel, up onto the platform serving track 10, where I’m hailed by Charles Varnes and his wife Carol, who are also heading for NRHS using the same routing we’re using, and on up to the front of the train. I’m ahead of Chris (somewhat to my surprise), but since our names are on the manifest, our sleeping car attendant (John, on his first ever solo trip) has no qualms about letting me drop my stuff in our room before heading off the photograph the train and collect the consist information. Chris arrives while I’m walking the outside of the train, and is settled in the room when I return.

We’re on the way, in our Standard Bedroom on the left side of the train three cars ahead of the Pacific Parlor Car (this train has a standard Sightseer-Lounge fulfilling that role), pretty much on time. It is interesting to travel over the River Line and the Coast Line again, now that we have visited every road crossing, every bridge, every station and just about every signal along these lines (as far as Ventura), as part of my infrastructure and lineside structures project. The level of detail which I now have for route descriptions in Greater Los Angeles, while it might be appropriate for a local excursion, is much too great for a trip journal like this one, and thus will not be reproduced here.

After some of our less-than-positive experiences with Japanese tour groups in Switzerland, it is somewhat amusing that there is a Japanese tour group spread out amongst the three sleeping cars on this train. The car we’re in is filled with their noisy chatter until they all head off to sit in the Pacific Parlor Car. After that, we don’t notice them again until sometime after lunch (which , I presume, they eat at first call) when it is necessary to be in one’s sleeping room to get one’s choice of dinner seating times.


P42                              72
P42                              115
Baggage                       1252
Transition                     39022
Sleeper             32071  Arizona
Sleeper             32103  Ohio
Sleeper             32077  D. of C.
Lounge             33028
Diner                            38042
Lounge             33030
Coach                          34041
Coach                          34508
Coach                          34113
Coach                          34106

With the recent added Metrolink service, the Coast Starlight is now scheduled to meet three trains along the single track west of Van Nuys: Metrolink at CP Raymer, Amtrak 774 at CP De Soto and Metrolink at Hasson. The last time we had ridden (October 2002) there was only the meet with 774 at Hasson.

No explanation is offered for the 14-minute stop at Simi Valley. Radio conversation between crew and dispatcher only states that some “train” problem was fixed. The conductor gets some kind of authority from the dispatcher by using her cell phone just before we reach Oxnard. From Oxnard to Seacliff, we follow a slow-moving UP freight that is finally put into the siding at Seacliff so that we can pass.

Train 14, 6-25-2004



Los Angeles






Simi Valley






Santa Barbara



San Luis Obispo



Paso Robles






San Jose












Klamath Falls


















Vancouver, WA


















Coast Starlight Route Description

We go to lunch after the Santa Barbara stop. We’re seated with a couple of which the man is somewhat familiar, although I can’t quite place him. In the course of discussing our plans for this trip (going to Seattle because we have such a low probability of making the direct Empire Builder connection at Portland), he laughs out loud, and says that he is very familiar with that problem, since he is the Product Line manager for the Coast Starlight. His name is Matt Cahoon, and at one time in his career he was the Dining Car Steward on the Southwest Chief for a number of years, which is surely where I remember him from. We have a very interesting conversation over a leisurely lunch, during which we pass through the area around the Gaviota Trestle, which had recently been burned over by a major brush fire that had closed the Coast Line for five days until the trestle could be repaired. Matt wishes that he could drop the connection at Portland, since it is made so infrequently, but Amtrak will not permit him to do that.

As usual, on northbound trips on this train, we go to bed before the train has passed through the urban area. In fact, we’re in bed before the train even arrives at Oakland’s Jack London Square station, this evening., although I stay awake long enough to record the arrival and departure times.

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

I awaken in full daylight at Hotlum, not very far (about six miles) beyond Black Butte, with marvelous views of the Shasta Valley to the west and Mount Shasta itself to the south (even though I’m on the west side of a train that passes the mountain to the west), as the line twists and turns its way over the steep, rugged terrain. As has become typical with Union Pacific lines, in recent years, there seems to be a waiting freight train in just about every siding along this stretch of line. But today, at least, they’re not making Amtrak wait while they run freight trains! L

Not only is our train sufficiently on time today that the connection to the Empire Builder will be made here at Portland, but in fact the incoming Portland section of that train has only been here a little while, and has not yet left the platform to be serviced and turned. However, vindication of our decision to go via Seattle is not whether the connection is made today, but whether it would be made from Saturday’s Coast Starlight to Sunday’s departure of the Portland section. As we will later discover, it would not have been.

In Seattle, we take a taxi to our hotel in the shadow of the Space Needle at the Seattle center, the area and structure created for the 1964 World’s Fair. While Chris is unpacking the things we need for the night, I look up Denis Bousquet’s telephone number and leave him a message letting him know that we’re in town for the next 20 hours, in case he would like to chat while we’re only a local call away. Since Denis isn’t available this evening, we soon go to bed.

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

After I’m awake, but before Chris is, the telephone rings. It’s Denis, who has time to talk on the telephone but not come downtown to visit with us. The previous evening, he had been at a symphony concert at which the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwartz had played Mahler’s 5th Symphony. I’m somewhat envious, but there’s no way we could have attended last night’s concert, or can attend it’s repeat this afternoon. We have a good chat, during which Chris gets up and then has her chat with Denis. We pack away our things and check out of the room not long before the noon checkout time, leaving the bags with the hotel staff while we go off to the Seattle Center for the next several hours.

We walk the three blocks west to the Seattle Center, and head first to the Space Needle where we buy tickets for the trip to the viewing platform at the top, and then ride up in the elevator, refusing to have our photograph taken on the way to the elevator. At the top, we walk all the way around the observation platform on the outside (open) deck, with me taking photographs using my shorter focal length zoom lens, and Chris looking through the binoculars. After we have been all the way around once, I change lenses to the telephoto zoom, and take some zoomed-in photos of subjects of railroad interest. We sit down at one of the tables inside the enclosed area and have some coffee and tea, and walk around reading the signs identifying what’s what. The signs themselves are not amenable to legible photographs, and we can’t find a printed book or pamphlet providing the same identifications, so most of my pictures will forever remain anonymous as to much more than the direction in which they were taken.

Back on the ground, we walk by the monorail station, where the two monorail trains are stopped pending the investigation of the fire that had occurred within the last week or two. After walking around the whole area, we enter the building with the food court, and patronize the fish and chip place for lunch. Our digestion is not improved by the quality of the live “musical” performance to which we’re subjected while in this building. Outside again, we walk over to the area with the large fountain, and sit watching it for awhile, both in the sun and then in the shade, before walking past the opera house on the way back to our hotel.

We take a taxi back to King Street Station, where Chris sits in the waiting room while I walk around the outside of the building and along the street high on the east side of the platforms, taking more photographs. The Mariners game has just ended, and crowds of people are streaming via multiple routes from the stadium to the platforms at the station, to take Sounder commuter trains home in the directions of both Everett, to the north, and Tacoma, to the south. The consist for our departing Empire Builder comes north from the Amtrak yard on the easternmost track and enters the tunnel at the north end of the station. Hen it reverses out of the tunnel on an adjacent more westerly track, passes through the station again, and then reverses again to run forward into the station on the through track next to the depot. I’m on the street to the east when the train first passes, and in the depot waiting room by the time it finally arrives at the platform.

Soon, first class passengers are allowed to board, and we find our Standard Bedroom on the left side of the train, with time for me to walk the train and collect the consist before departure time. On departure, a man walks through the sleeper telling everyone he’s the on-board supervisor, named Erwin. I engage him in conversation, and discover that he’s part of the product line management team, based in Spokane, and that he once worked for Matt Cahoon on the Coast Starlight management team when Brian Rosenwald was running things, before Matt was promoted to his present position..


P42                  88
P42                  14
Baggage           1160
Transition         39036
Sleeper 32006
Sleeper 32009  George M. Pullman
Diner                38028
Coach              34020
Coach              31523
and in the Portland section, from Spokane:
Lounge 33017
Coach              34063
Coach              35006
Sleeper             32065

Train 8, 6-27-2004















Ephrata            (PT)






Libby, MT        (MT)






West Glacier






Glacier Park



Cut Bank















Wolf Point        (MT)



Williston, ND   (CT)









St. Cloud, MN






Empire Builder Route Description

As usual, we have chosen to eat dinner at the latest possible reservation time. This proves to be east of the Cascade Tunnel as the twilight deepens. Our server brings us the carafes of coffee and tea that we have ordered, but fails to bring either of us a cup. Chris tries to bring this to the server’s attention, but is ignored on at least two attempts. Finally, Chris taps the woman on the back, and is treated to an explosion of temper (“Don’t you ever touch me!) in a tone of voice that, as I explain to the on-board supervisor (Erwin) when I find him on the platform at the Wenatchee stop, I wouldn’t have tolerated from someone who was my manager, much less the hired help. The woman then slings a pair of cups, without saucers, in our direction. The dining car staff is careful to arrange that we are not seated in this server’s territory at any meal for the remainder of our trip on this train (and the servers are rearranged at this meal, to avoid her serving us, as well). While I’m on the platform at Wenatchee, I chat with Charles Varnes, who is enthused by finally having seen the inside of the Cascade Tunnel.

We’re ready for bed as the train climbs east out of the Columbia River valley, and asleep long before Spokane. Charles Varnes, however, stays wake to catch the combination of the two portions of the train in Spokane.

Monday, June 28th, 2004

I awake in northern Idaho, just east of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, as the first glimmerings of light appear. Since I haven’t seen this stretch of line in the light, I stay awake as we enter Montana and the light gets brighter and brighter, eventually resulting in dawn somewhat to the west of the Flathead tunnel. We eat breakfast just after leaving Whitefish, Montana, and are back in our room before starting the climb over Marias Pass.

We eat lunch with two men from the Portland area NRHS Chapter that will be running the 2005 NRHS Annual Convention. We have an interesting conversation about how their plans are coming, and what they are doing about distributing 2005 registration forms and collecting completed registrations during the 2004 Convention that we’re heading towards. These people are very interested in what we have to say, because we have now been to 12 conventions in a row, and are about to attend our thirteenth in a row.

We eat dinner with a man from Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, who is traveling with his  teenage (14) grandson who is from Staples, MN. This means that the grandfather will be leaving the train several hours before his grandson does! West of Minot, ND, the train comes to a stand for no apparent reason. Eventually, it transpires (from the radio chatter and the later announcements on the train PA) that a track gang has left its ‘red flag’ in place when it left for the day. Without permission from the track foreman, we’re not allowed to pass the red flag, so we have to sit while the dispatcher tries to track down the track gang foreman. After about an hour, with no sign of the foreman, the dispatcher invokes a procedure for allowing us to pass slowly through the segment of line marked out by the red flag, and enter the station in Minot.

We go to bed while the train is standing in Minot station, sure that the train will be late into Minneapolis in the morning. But there’s sufficient padding in the schedule that such is not really to be the case.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

I awake somewhere northwest of St. Cloud, MN (but east of Staples). It’s full daylight, but for awhile I can’t determine exactly where we are. We eat breakfast as the train leaves St. Cloud, by which time it is clear that we’ll be less than an hour late arriving in Minneapolis.

At NRHS (6/29-7/4)

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004 (continued)

As we arrive in Minneapolis, we see four private cars on a spur on the northwest side of the station, including our old friends Dover Harbor, and Kitchi Gammi Club. At the Midway station, we’re met by a couple of people from the NRHS Convention, with a list of those who have prepaid for a shuttle ride to the convention hotel. We have checked baggage to claim, but it is not until all of the baggage off today’s train ahs been delivered that we discover that our baggage had made the connection at Portland and had already been here for a full day ahead of us. As we meet up with the convention folks, we also see Bob Brewer (from Denver) and Barbara Sibert, both of whom had been traveling on the Portland section of the train, but whom we had not encountered on the train itself. Bob had expected to make the connection at Portland the day after we had been there, but had, instead, (much to his displeasure) had a bus ride from Klamath Falls, OR, to Pasco, WA.

At the hotel by 8:30 am, we’re told (of course) that it’s much too early for us to be assigned rooms and get our room keys, so we leave our bags with the Bell Captain and head off for a walk around town, but not before we run into Jim Compton, who had been on the IRT Switzerland tour with us the month before, who gives us copies of some pictures (of us) that he had taken on that trip.

Downtown Minneapolis has a system of Skywalks connecting all of the major office, retail, hotel and convention facilities one floor above the street. While this is not in any sense a ‘public’ facility (it closes at night and some parts of it are closed on weekends), it is a very useful way of getting around without stepping outside to cross streets, etc. It is especially useful in the winter, when typical temperatures here are below zero, Fahrenheit, but is useful against summertime heat and avoiding gasoline and diesel fumes, as well. Naturally, the Hilton Hotel is connected to this system, so after stopping at an ATM in the lobby for cash we set off northward along the Skywalk, passing through a number of office and government buildings as we go. Because much of the downtown pedestrian traffic during the business day uses these facilities, coffee shops and short-order restaurants have located along the walkways, providing services normally found outside on the street level floors of office buildings.

About two blocks from the riverfront, the walkways end and we have to venture outside for the last little bit of the way to the park alongside the Mississippi at the Falls of St. Anthony, passing around the main Post Office and the other buildings that have replaced the erstwhile Great Northern Railway depot on the way. This stretch of the river is the original upper limit of navigation, and as such was the natural place of the development of transshipment facilities and facilities for processing the arriving grain into forms less bulky and more amenable to onward shipment—flour mills. Several major flour milling and baking companies had their origins right here, some of which still remain, and the city has created a historical park featuring the ruins of some of the original water-worked flour mills, as well as the famous Stone Arch bridge that once carried the Great Northern across the river into its Minneapolis station, but is now a pedestrian and cycle way. Nowadays, there is a Corps of Engineers-provided lock permitting navigation further up the river, and we observe a barge tow (actually, the tug pushes the barges on the Mississippi system) heading downstream while we’re here.

The various railroads in the twin Cities serve many grain elevators and flour mills that were built along the Mississippi River in the vicinity of the Falls of St. Anthony, with (in some cases at least) both rail and water transport facilities. Often, the function of the grain elevators is to provide for the buffered transfer from rail feeder lines (of the past) to onward water transportation, as well as the longer-term storage of grain for onward delivery based on market conditions. Some of the grain delivered by rail feeder lines is (or was) consumed by the many flourmills in this area, being transported onwards as coarse of refined flour.

We walk back from the river past the old Milwaukee Road train shed and depot buildings, now adaptively re-used for a skating rink and hotel, respectively, but still happily resplendent in their restored appearance. One of the streets heading towards the hotel is a pedestrian (and bus, unfortunately) mall, and I naively expect this to have coffee shops along it, but as we had observed earlier in the day these are mostly located in the Skywalk and after a few blocks we return to that facility to head for the hotel. The convention registration room is open, and we go to it to get our tickets and goodie bags, and greet old friends. Joe Williams is one of those helping out while we’re here. Our room is now available, so we take the bags to it and unpack. Then, we head back into the Skywalk to get some lunch at one of those fast food places, carrying it back to our room for consumption.

In late afternoon, we and many others gather at the appointed street entrance of the hotel to board the buses taking us to Stillwater, on the banks of the St. Croix River, for the first excursion of this convention, a ride on the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train. The buses pass the former Milwaukee Road station on the way to I-35W, head north on the freeway across the Mississippi River, just east of the Stone Arch Bridge, and turn of I-35W onto a state highway that starts out as a freeway and gradually becomes just a four-lane divided highway as it heads east towards the St. Croix River through rush hour traffic. Eventually, the buses turn off the highway and head north to the small town of Stillwater, where we’re deposited at the depot now used as a bar and restaurant by the folks who run the Minnesota Zephyr.

We’re on a very early bus, so the train is not yet ready to board; the arriving conventioneers crowd into a small corner of the former depot between the door to the parking lot and the door to the train. We board after about a 20-minute wait, at some pre-defined time of importance 0nly to the dinner train staff. Chris and I have tickets to ride in the Grand Dome, a full-length dome car converted to have dining booths with four places each. We sit down on the river side of the train, facing forwards on the outbound trip, and are joined by people we know well who later requested not to be named in this recounting. In addition to our car, at one end of the train, there are several coaches that have been converted for dining that are towards the head end of the train on the outward journey.

The F-unit powered train departs Stillwater at 5:51 pm heading north along the west bank of the St. Crois River, and then, only a little over a mile further north, turns west, away from the river, and climbs out of the river valley, passing through several golf courses on the way to the far end of the track, just east of Duluth Junction, where it once met the erstwhile Soo Line heading northeast from St. Paul, a line that no longer exists. Here, from 7:00 to 7:31 pm, the train reverses (without turning around) and retraces its route to Stillwater, reached at 8:41 pm. The meal that we eat along the way is excellent—quite the best we have on this entire trip. Back in Stillwater, we reboard the buses and return to the hotel in Minneapolis, along roads much freer of traffic than they had been on the outward journey. At the hotel, we go straight to bed, mindful of our early (for us) start in the morning.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

While not our earliest start (that will be on Saturday), we nonetheless arise earlier this morning than I would have liked. There’s time to make coffee in the pot in the room before leaving, so that I start out with an insulated mug full of coffee at the beginning of the bus ride to Duluth. We’re on the second or third bus to depart, leaving in the same direction as the previous night, but continuing north on I-35W and then I-35 after the two halves come back together again. The convention has thoughtfully provided a continental breakfast on the bus, but the only food is sweet pastries, and the only drink is orange juice. Chris is severely allergic to the latter, and I’m not supposed to eat the former (and don’t like the latter), so we’re glad we brought our own drinks onto the bus. As usual, it doesn’t seem to have done any good to fill in the ‘special needs” section of the ticket order form with an indication of Chris’ orange allergy! L

As we head north, the bus host keeps us apprised of the railroad lines, and former railroad alignments, that we cross or pass. About two-thirds of the way to Duluth, all of the buses stop at a highway rest area for a bathroom break. One of the two men’s rooms is closed, so the rest stop takes longer than had been anticipated. Eventually, I-35 turns away from its northward heading to head east into Duluth. As we crest the watershed above the twin ports of Duluth. MN and Superior, WI, the view of the ports and Lake Superior beyond them is quite grand. Descending into Duluth, we leave the highway at the right place, but turn one block too soon and have to retrace out steps to reach the very cramped drop-off area at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.

At the museum, there’s just about enough time to patronize the gift/book store and take a very quick walk around the museum before we have to line up to get our train tickets and box lunches on the way to boarding our excursion train for the ride up to Twin Harbors. No announcements as to what is going on are audible in either the bookstore or the main part of the museum, so only those who had stayed in the waiting room are fully informed. We have first class tickets, but as we and Bob Brewster board the first class section, the first car we pass through is full, and we’re told the far car is also full, leaving us sitting at a wooden table in an open baggage car. Although this might conceivable be acceptable for our lunch location, it is quite unacceptable for ‘first class” seating.

Eventually, we’re informed that the group of us at the table could all be accommodated in the Drawing room of the first class car ahead, and this proves to be the case. However, there’s essentially no view out from this room, so Bob (and Smoke Shaak, who had joined us) elect to stay at the table in the baggage car, after blistering the ears of the convention folks who had used the same table for their lunches. Nina Lawford-Juviler joins us to talk for awhile, once we’re in the drawing room.

North Shore Scenic Route Description

Our train is headed by a Soo FP7 and Erie Mining F9 duo, and has a number of coaches behind the first class cars. The train leaves the museum at Duluth at 12:32 pm. About halfway out to Two Harbors along the north shore of Lake Superior, we stop at Knife River from 1:25 to 1:49 pm for a photo runby, which comes of quite well. Nearing Two Harbors, we reverse at a spot where there are many ore cars standing in the sidings alongside, and back down to the station/museum at Two Harbors, reached at 2:25 pm, and adjacent to a massive operational ore dock, which I photograph at some length. There is a former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range 2-8-8-4 “Yellowstone” articulated locomotive on display here (as there is at the museum in Duluth), with this one being in much better light for photographs. We patronize the gift/book store here, also, while the locomotives are run around the train. The store has only two people taking money, so the line grows to massive proportions, and as a result the train is quite late leaving for the return trip. As we wait in line, we have a nice chat with Gary Kazin, after which I go back out to the train to make sure it doesn’t leave without us. Later, in the dining area of the car we’re riding in, I meet Daniel Chazin, who is riding with Gary, We leave Two Harbors at 3:17 pm.

As we reverse direction at the top of the hill, again, a heavy downpour starts, and for awhile it seems that the second photo runby will have to be canceled. However, the rain stops and the runby, at Palmer Lake siding from 3:45-4:15 pm, is even better than the one on the way out. Back at the museum (after reversing in at 5:04 pm, as we had earlier reversed out), there is plenty of time to walk around the museum before our departure for the return to Minneapolis. Now why hadn’t we been informed of that, earlier? I use the time to talk to Greg Molloy about the letter than National NRHS had sent out to Associates about the representation of Associates on the NRHS Board of Directors. While I’m talking to Greg, both of us walk up two flights of stairs to view the great hall here at the former Duluth Union Station that had become the museum.

Before boarding the buses for the return trip, we’re all given water and box dinners for the return trip. The only rest stop on the return trip is only about one fifth of the way south, because that’s the only rest area there is! Although the trip is accomplished in a timely manner, our driver seems to have trouble remaining within the painted white lines indicating where the roadway ends and the shoulder begins. However, the bus host has thoughtfully provided a video of the Minnesota Commercial Railroad for us to watch while we head south the same way we ahd come north, so perhaps we pay less attention to the driving than we otherwise would have.

Back at the hotel, we go directly to bed after a rewarding, if exhausting, day in Duluth.

Thursday, July 1st, 2004

This should have been the day with the UP excursion train on some former C&NW (or other UP predecessor) line hereabouts. However, UP had decided to send its locomotive and train to Texas to help celebrate George H W Bush’s 80th birthday instead, leaving the convention to scramble to fill the day (but fortunately before the packages had been sent out). The solution was that half day visits to the new Hiawatha Light rail Line’s shops and a ride on the line, and half day visits to two locations of the Minnesota Transportation Museum would be offered, each offered in two shifts in the morning and two in the afternoon, so that four different groups could be accommodated at each location.

We have opted for the light rail visit in the morning, and the museum in the afternoon, and are on the first group out in the morning. Vintage buses (1950s) belonging to the museum come by to take us over to the light rail one’s shops on the site where the Milwaukee Road’s locomotive facilities used to be. This light rail line is only a few days old, having started service on the previous Saturday (June 26th), so everything is clean and new, but not everything is yet quite settled in. (The area’s previous trolley lines had closed on 19th June, 1954, almost exactly fifty years earlier.)

By and large, the equipment, fitting, and operations at the light rail shops strongly resemble those we have seen previously at the Los Angeles Blue Line shops in the late 1990s, at the heavy rail and light rail shops in Baltimore in 2003, and at the Rhätian Railway’s shops in Chur, in June 2004. Our guide made a particular point about the in-line wheel lathe, which may have been unusual in the shop visits made by the Hiawatha Line folks during their shop planning phase, but isn’t unusual in our experience with shop visits! After the visit to the shops, the vintage buses take us over to the adjacent Franklin Avenue light rail station (well within walking distance, as far as I’m concerned, but a safety issue according to the bus host). Here the convention folks use the ticket machines to buy tickets for everyone on this section of the tour, while the rest of us mill around. The convention folks want us all to travel on the same train, but it becomes clear that the trains are too full for that to be possible, so some of us get on the next inbound train, while others depart on the next outbound train.

More than half of the currently open stretch of the line uses the former Milwaukee Road alignment (closed main line into town, branch still in use by Canadian Pacific, Milwaukee’s corporate successor, a bit further out of town). Once across the bridge over I-35, heading into town, the line departs from the former railroad alignment, curves past the Metrodome, and heads across downtown Minneapolis on 5th Street. Here, it becomes clear why the inbound trolleys are so full: the Twins are playing a day game, and large numbers of people are coming to the stadium using the light rail line! We continue to the end of the line in the warehouse district (Hennepin Avenue) just northwest of downtown, and then take the same train outbound a few moments later (10:30 am). For this leg, Chris and I are in the front seats of the front car, looking thrugh the operator’s compartment

The still operating leg of the former Milwaukee Road has a number of large grain elevators alongside it (between the line and the river bank), and we see a switching turn servicing them as we pass by in both directions. At the current outer terminus of the line at Fort Snelling, reached at 10:57 am, we all have to get out of the train we’re in (which is going into the storage tracks here) and join another one that is waiting to go into town, leaving at 11:06 am. At the station adjacent to the light rail shops, we’re all ‘supposed’ to get off and ride the bus back to the hotel. Chris and I elect, instead, to ride in as far as Nicollet Mall (the car-free street), reached at 11:32 am, and walk out to the hotel. The vintage buses carrying the rest of our group pass us in the last block before reaching the hotel! We enter the adjacent office building and have an excellent Chinese buffet for lunch at a restaurant that caters to the business traffic in the office building and the skywalk.

After lunch, we board modern air-conditioned motor coaches for a visit to a remnant of an earlier style of electric urban railway—the Lake Harriett branch of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, restoring and preserving in operational condition a small segment of the erstwhile Como-Harriett streetcar line. Lake Harriett is a leafy southwestern suburb of Minneapolis, adjacent to the eponymous lake, and with a much larger lake just to the north. A cemetery adjacent to the latter contains the graves of many famous residents of the area, including Hubert H Humphrey. The museum has a small depot adjacent to the shore of Lake Harriett, at which tickets for rides on the operating preserved streetcars can be purchased, and a small carbarn at the end, a short distance to the south, where the three operational streetcars are kept.

The general public can ride streetcars north from the depot through a cutting and then turning northeast to run between the cemetery and its adjacent lake. There are no turning facilities on the restored section of line, so the streetcars must reverse (they’re all singled-ended) to return to their starting point. The NRHS groups ride additionally the segment of track down to the carbarn and then visit the museum’s restoration facilities—somewhat minimal in nature—at that location. There is a history of the Como-Harriett streetcar line, written by one of the volunteers, of which I purchase a copy. While here, we ride on two out of the three streetcars at this location (265, a reconstructed car, and PCC 322, but not 1300, the all-original Twin Cities Lines car).

In mid afternoon, we reboard our buses for the trip back into downtown Minneapolis, across the river, and then east on I-94 to St. Paul. Turning north of that highway at a location that affords good views of the Cathedral of St. Paul and then the Minnesota State Capitol buildings, we head to another location of the Minnesota Transportation Museum—the Jackson Street Roundhouse. This preserved ex-Great Northern Railroad locomotive servicing facility is home to much of the museum’s collection of “steam railroad” locomotives and cars of both the steam era and the diesel era, including the first production EMD ASD 45—GN 400 named “Hustle Muscle”. Cab rides are being offered on the latter, but since the weather is quite warm (if not hot), and there are many people evidently much more eager than I to ride in the cab, I choose not to partake. After all, I had ridden in the cab of more than one operating passenger train in Switzerland, just a month or so earlier!

The ex-GN main line across the twin Cities runs along the north side of the facility, with a convenient balcony for photography, providing some additional interest. The stock at the gift/book store in this museum is aimed much more at the general public than had been the case in Duluth the day before, so I find much less of interest here. However, the static collection of rolling stock is interesting, especially those locomotives in the restoration shop. The return to the hotel is again across I-94, this time at the height of the rush hour. One interesting facet is the buses running, quite legally, along the shoulder of the highway, and thus operating at at least twice the speed of the vehicles in the normal traffic lanes.

We eat dinner at the Irish Pub over on Nicollet Mall, just a block north of the hotel.

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

We sleep in this morning, having chosen not to attend any of the seminars. By late morning (after 10 am), we’re at the railroadiana show, where I purchase a number of books on the railroads of this area, making up for what I had not found at the museum the previous day. After lunch from one of the fast food places in the skywalk, we attend the last part of the NRHS Board Meeting and all of the NRHS Annual Meeting. It is quite a surprise at the Board meeting to hear that no proposals have been received for holding the annual convention in 2006!

At the banquet, we sit with Bob Brewster as well as Martin O’Rourke, Ken Brooks, and several other members of the Washington DC Chapter and Dover Harbor operators. It is quite a surprise to hear Martin say that he and the people we had sat with on the dinner train on Tuesday night are “enemies”, since she had once been a strong supporter of Dover Harbor. After the banquet, her husband follows us up to our room, to request that they not be named in this accounting. (We had wondered why he was in the elevator with us, when they weren’t even staying in the convention hotel!) Perhaps there’s a connection between Martin’s comment and their desire to be anonymous?

The speech at the banquet is given by Andy Selden, an advocate of an alternative approach to long distance passenger train operations in the US. Andy’s “matrix theory” has been discussed for years on internet lists; while sounding interesting at first hearing, it contains a lot of ‘simplifying assumptions’ to make the matrix tractable. When those assumptions are replaced by reality, all of the advantages that initially appear to accrue to Andy’s approach seem to vanish in the glare of the unfortunate facts of reality.

After the banquet and our unexpected hallway conversation, we go directly to bed, anticipating our very early departure in the morning.

Saturday, July 3rd, 2004

Early this morning, we all stumble sleepily towards school buses for a ride over to the location of the erstwhile St. Paul Union depot to board the excursion train being operated by the folks who operate Milwaukee 4-8-4 261. The NRHS Convention has secured exclusive use of several first class cars and several coaches on this train, with others whose seats have been sold by the 261 folks. When we get to the parking area at the former station, it becomes clear why schools buses have been used—there’s a ramp up to the parking area that a school bus can negotiate but a luxury motor coach might have trouble with. (This location is actually further away from the hotel than the Jackson Street Roundhouse, so the choice wasn’t based on short distance alone.)

We leave the school buses and join a long snaking line of people waiting to enter the ‘platform’ area. There is no train in sight as yet. Not long after we arrive, I spot Bruce Anderson walking past out location, and call him over. He was looking for us, and had failed to spot us. We have an interesting chat. Bruce had ridden the 261 excursion on Friday that had covered both sides of the river to and from La Crosse, WI. We are nominally only going to La Crescent, MN, on the normal Amtrak routing down the river, but we will have two steam locomotives: Canadian Pacific “Empress” 4-6-4 2816 as well as 261. Bruce rode coach on the Friday excursion, but is riding in the ex-Milwaukee Skytop Lounge Cedar Rapids today—a premium class space that we mere ‘first class’ people will not be allowed into even to look at.

As Bruce leaves, we hear a steam whistle, and the train is seen heading south on the BNSF line past Hoffman Avenue on the east leg of the wye. Once clear of the southern junction of the wye, the train backs into the boarding track on the line along the river, west of the wye. We board the train, and after passing through one completely full first class car, we decide to sit in the wide-open space of two adjacent bedrooms in Clark Johnson’s Caritas, a car on which we have ridden (overnight) previously, sleeping on one of these bedrooms. It turns out that these two rooms are open so that passengers can use the toilets therein, but since we have seats next to the windows, and tables for our books and cameras, we decide that these seats will do just fine. There are two other seats in theses open bedrooms, which are taken by Donald Bishop and Nina Lawford-Juviler, whom we know quite well from these conventions.

The loaded train sets off southward at 7:49 am, past Hoffman Avenue and passing through or by both the BNSF (former CB&Q) and CP (former Milwaukee Road) yards below Dayton’s Bluff, on tracks owned by BNSF. The train crawls slowly, with intermittent stops, through this area, eventually reaching the spot where the CP tracks separate from the BNSF tracks and curve towards the openable bridge across the Mississippi. Here we stop for awhile, since the bridge is open for river traffic, including at least one of the steamboats that are celebrating (along with the 261 excursions) an important anniversary of a long ago series of trips called the Grand Excursion. Eventually, the river traffic passes, the bridge closes, and we move across it, getting a good view to the north of the bridge of the boats that have just passed through it.

Empire Builder Route Description

During the southbound run, Bruce Anderson comes by for another chat. At Winona, MN,  11:44-11:51 am, many of the passengers leave the train for three-and-a-half hours, since this is the only way to get good photographs of the steam locomotives (that is, whatever you can grab as the train leaves, and a single approach as the train returns). The car owners, Clark Johnson and Nona Hill, as well as Donald and Nina, are among those who leave the train. We elect to stay on board. (I have been taking pictures towards the head end of the train from the rear platform of Caritas (a long way from the locomotives) and will take more south of Winona, but none are useful photographs of the locomotives themselves.)

At La Crescent, the train heads off the CP main onto the line that was sold to the IMRL (and is now operated by yet another regional carrier), where it stops so that the locomotives can be serviced (12:35-1:14 pm). When that is complete, the train pulls ahead down the line that continues along the west bank of the Mississippi until it has completely passed the switches connecting in the south leg of the wye. To the surprise of many of us on the rear platform of Caritas (which is, of course, not at the rear of the train), there appear to be two ‘south legs of the wye’. The train reverses down the furthest south of these, and again to the surprise of many of us, backs clear across the recently replaced bridges across the Mississippi on the main CP River subdivision into the very western edge of La Crosse. When the train pulls forward, it is already on the CP main, not on the ‘IMRL’ as many of us had originally expected it to be. (Dave Ingles, it seemed, had already known about this configuration, but not necessarily about which track the train would take on this occasion.)

As we head north, rain starts to fall, and what had been an overcast day turns into a downpour. Back in Winona (2:22-2:30 pm), Donald and Nina rejoin us, having avoided the rain while outside the train. Donald shows me his digital photos of the returning train, and I’m confirmed in my decision to stay aboard, since the angles he was able to get on the locomotives were inadequate for good pictures. As we head north in the heavy rain, Greg Molloy passes by, and drops in to chat for awhile (with Donald and Nina, initially). When he arrived, a political discussion was underway, and to our surprise, Greg expressed opinions far from those we would normally expect from someone of his socio-economic status in Cincinnati. As Greg gets up to leave, Bob Brewster drops by, and is surprised to hear that Greg seems to share his political opinions (and those of the other people in the room). When I chat later with Joe Williams, he seems both surprised and disappointed by the positions that Greg had taken.

Rain is still falling heavily when we arrive back in St. Paul (5:55 pm), so I eschew the opportunity to walk up to the front of the train for photographs of the locomotives, and we jump on the first available school bus back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, all of the restaurants close to the hotel seems to have 90-minute waiting lines, so we eventually eat in a bar that serves Italian food (quite good, actually), and then find out the hard way that not all of the skywalk is traversable at 8 pm on a Saturday evening.

Sunday, July 4th, 2004

The final excursion of the convention will also be our first official visit to Wisconsin during the convention. We will travel on the Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Osceola & St. Croix Valley over Soo Line track from Withrow, MN, to Dresser, WI, behind MTM’s ex-RI GP9 in Soo colors. While waiting for the buses to arrive at the hotel, I take the opportunity to chat with Bob Heavenrich, whom I’ve seen from afar but haven’t been able to speak to so far this convention. We won’t be traveling in the same bus, since Bob and Diane are going directly to the airport after the excursion, to fly home. They will be back in this area on Tuesday night, because they’re taking the multi-day excursion northwest on the CP (ex-Soo) line across Minnesota and North Dakota with 2816 that will depart on Wednesday.

We’re back to luxury air-conditioned motor coaches for our transportation today from the hotel across the region using the same route as to Stillwater, but turning north a little earlier, crossing the route of the dinner train, to a grade crossing in Withrow, MN, which is the closest point to its former junction with the current Canadian National line (ex-Wisconsin Central, and original Soo Line) to Stevens Point, WI, that the museum can operate its former Soo Line route. When we arrive, there is no train in sight, so we’re asked to remain on the bus until it does. However, other bus hosts are not so circumspect, and those who had ridden on later buses start lining up at the crossing before we’re allowed off the bus.

The first-class car that we’re riding in today is at the rear of the train, and is furnished with loose tables and chairs of a distinctly Spartan variety. By the time we board, there’s only one place with any kind of view out of a window still available, so we grab that. Bob Brewster joins us, and then John Bawden, from Philadelphia, joins us as the last person to take a seat in this car. Bob isn’t sure he belongs in this car, since although he has a receipt showing he paid for first class, his ticket doesn’t say so. Eventually, the car hosts contact the registration desk back at the hotel and confirm that Bob should have had a ticket for this car.

Osceola & St. Croix Valley Route Description

Once we’re all boarded, the train departs heading northeast, and crosses over the St. Croix River into Wisconsin. Not far to the east of the river, we stop for the first photo runby of the day, in an area that needs a little garbage pickup before it’s deemed photo-acceptable by some passengers on the train. Later, just west of Osceola, WI, the normal boarding point for excursions on this line, our train comes to a stop with some kind of engine trouble. After awhile, this gets ‘fixed’ and we proceed eastward to the end of the line at Dresser, WI. Here, the train is to be turned while the passengers are all off eating at a hall in the village, ready for departure and another phot runby on the way back to Osceola.

We walk from the train to the lunch location, where we exchange lunch tickets for excellent box lunches that we eat at tables inside the hall. When we return to the depot, it is obvious that something is still wrong with the locomotive, since the train has not been turned in the intervening time. It seems that some kind of hose has failed, and another is being brought from Osceola. Once the problem is fixed, our “runby” will occur while the train is on the way to and from the wye for turning, rather than somewhere along the way as had been planned. Bob and I cross into a park on the sunny side of the line to prepare for the runbys, but as luck would have it, Bob runs out of film (with his stock on the train) before the main runby and has to simply stand and watch. (This is not a problem I face, this year, since I’m not close to using all of the storage space on the memory cards for my digital camera, new since the previous year’s convention.)

We do make the planned stop at Osceola, to allow the passengers to visit the museum and (crucially, for MTM) gift shop, but we’re given a strict dealing today, since the airport bus has to make a specific time at the airport. After this stop, those in first class are given drinks in souvenir champagne flutes, which we’re invited to keep. Chris gives on of ours to John, who then has a pair, but I manage to get mine all the way home in one piece by carrying it in my day bag, rather than packing it in our luggage. From Withrow, the buses return us to the hotel, where (having already checked out of our room) we have to sit in the lounge awaiting time to go the the Amtrak station for our late evening train.

After some time spent reading, and more spent watching the antics of the Elks (whose convention at the hotel is just starting up), we meet up with Bob who accepts ours suggestion that we all have dinner together. We go over to the Nicollet Mall, and after examining some other possibilities, eat at the Irish Pub again. Bob regales us with stories of his recently found Irish relatives, who turn out to be staunch Unionists—a position he deplores— as we enjoy our meal sitting at the outside tables. After dinner, we say our goodbyes before boarding the prepaid shuttle over to Amtrak’s Midway station.

The Journey West (7/4-7/7)

Sunday, July 4th, 2004 (continued)

Barbara Sibert is one of those who ride over to Amtrak with us. Once there, we check our luggage and take seats in the First Class waiting area of the station.  During the wait, I spend some time chatting with Joe Williams and some NRHS Directors from the Pacific Northwest, in the general waiting room. As our train pulls in, I manage to record the entire consist while it is passing our location.

The conductor comes into the First Class area to take tickets and send people along to their assigned spaces. For those of us who will be traveling in the Portland sleeper, our rooms are not yet available, since the attendant has to make them up following the vacation of those spaces by passengers leaving the train here. However, after 15 minutes have gone by, no attendant has appeared, so I walk out on the platform and back to the rear of the train, where the sleeping car attendant is lounging against a pole on the platform, taking a break. He says that our rooms are ready, but that it isn’t his responsibility to come and get us, so he won’t. After dropping my stuff off in our room, I walk back and tell the others to come on over to the car and board the train. We go directly to bed.

Monday, July 5th, 2004

I awake between Grand Forks and Devil’s Lake, ND. Our room is just the second from the rear of the train, and there are not boxcars behind us, so the view straight back from the window in the rear door of the car is free and clear, and readily available from our room. I take advantage of this to photographs the view along the tracks, and as many depots and lineside industries as possible, during the daylight hours from North Dakota into Portland, OR


P42                  95
P42                  83
Baggage           1172
Transition         39041
Sleeper 32051
Sleeper 32056
Diner                38038
Coach              34046
Coach-smoker 31509
and going to Portland from Spokane
Lounge 33004
Coach              34045
Coach-baggage 31044
Sleeper 32053

On Monday, I miss photographing Wolf Point and Glasgow, MT, because the former is right after we’re called to lunch, and the latter right before we get back from lunch. The train stops for eight minutes with the locomotives being fueled on the fuel pad east of Havre station, before pulling ahead for the passenger stop. I miss photographing Whitefish, MT, because that stop occurs during dinner. West of Whitefish, light levels are too low for photography from a moving train, even though it’s light enough to see out as far as the east portal of Flathead Tunnel. We eat with Barbara Sibert at more than one meal on the way home, discussing matters of mutual interest to the (usual) consternation of the fourth person at the table. We go to bed not far west of the Flathead Tunnel’s west portal, after more conversation with Barbara at the rear of the train..

Train 7/27, 7-4-2004









Devil’s Lake, ND












Williston           (CT)



Wolf Point, MT  (MT)















Cut Bank



East Glacier Park






West Glacier



Whutefish         (MT)






Wishram, WA (PT)



Bingen-White Salmon



Vancouver, WA



Portland, OR



Tuesday, July 6rh, 2004

By morning, we’re alongside the Columbia River, heading more or less due west. I continue taking photographs out of the rear window of the car, and with the passengers from the room opposite ours having left the train in Spokane, I have access to both sides of the train as well, all the way into Portland Union Station. In Portland, we stash our bags in the Metropolitan Lounge and take a walk into the city, and over to Powell’s bookstore. We also have lunch at a restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown before returning to the station in time to board our southbound train in mid afternoon.

With the train reasonably on time, and with midsummer sunset times, we have good light for looking at the scenery over the Cascades for much of the way up the hill, to well beyond Salt Creek Trestle. We eat dinner as the train crosses the summit and descends through Chemult, going to bed before the train reaches California.


P42                  117
P42                  113
Baggage           1203
Transition         39024
Sleeper 32086  Louisiana
Sleeper 32118  Wyoming
Sleeper 32094  Montana
Pacific Parlor    38922
Diner                38058
Lounge 33028
Coach              34117
Coach              34504 (Kiddy Car)
Coach              34101
Cpach              34014

Wednesday, July 7th, 2004

I awake as the train turns the corner from the former WP line up onto the former SP line for the last couple of miles into Sacramento. Later, as we pass across Carquinez Strait and curve into Martinez, I take a number of photographs of the railroad bridge, the highway bridge under construction just to the east of the railroad bridge, and the oil refineries to the south of the line along the bay. As we approach Suisun-Fairfield, we move from bright sunshine to thick coastal clouds

Train 11, 7-6-2004



Portland, OR















Klamath Falls
























San Jose






Paso Robles



San Luis Obispo



Santa Barbara






Simi Valley






Los Angeles



South of Oakland, we take the line directly south through Hayward to Niles Junction, and then west to Newark, rather than the Mulford line directly to Newark. Approaching Niles Junction, we stop and watch while a UP intermodal comes off the Altamont (Niles canyon) line heading west and passes through the junction in front of us. When that train has passed, we turn west to follow it, and come alongside it as it turns north at Newark, and we turn south at that same location. There is no obvious reason why the UP Dispatcher put that train ahead of ours!

Further south, we lose almost another hour between Salinas and Paso Robles due to UP dispatching decisions, including waiting for a Track Warrant and a meet at which the Amtrak crew must stop to throw hand-throw switches at both ends of the siding. We arrive in Los Angeles 80 minutes late, collect our checked baggage, and drive home to Hermosa Beach, the last time we will do that. Our next trip will start from our new (to us) house in Tehachapi.