This trip was to attend the 2007 NRHS Fall Board Meeting in Houston. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak.
With an early afternoon departure from Los Angeles Union Station, 120 miles to the south, we plan on leaving Tehachapi at 10 am, to provide time to check some bags and then have lunch at our usual restaurant in Olvera Street. The plan goes off without a hitch (and we actually leave at 9:45 am), and since this is Sunday morning, we take the Golden State Freeway (I-5) and then the Hollywood Freeway (CA 170/US 101) directly in to downtown Los Angeles, rather than our usual traffic-avoiding route via I-210 and the Pasadena Freeway. Even with a short delay due to added traffic on CA 14 approaching the junction with I-5, due to the closure of the latter as a result of a fatal truck collision and fire on Friday evening, we're in Union Station by a little after noon, and eating lunch before 12:30 pm. The train is ready for boarding, on track 10, at 2:00 pm, and as usual there's time to collect the consist before departure.
Coach 34063 ) off at San Antonio, to train 22
Sleeper 32109 )
Train 2, 10-14-2007
|2:30 pm||2:34 pm|
|Lordsburg MT||5:20 am||9:22-24 am|
|El Paso MT||
|Alpine CT||2:20 pm||4:45-56|
|Houston||5:45 am||9:15 am|
Sunset Limited Route Description
We take the Alhambra line out, and at El Monte, we see incoming train 1, about 5½ hours late, on the Metrolink flyover in El Monte, preparing to take the I-10 route into town. Freight congestion is less than it was the last time we left town this way, so progress is good until we get to Rancho, where we stop because a train on the former Santa Fe line crossing on the flat at Colton Crossing has struck a bicycle being wheeled by a trespasser along that line, resulting in the stoppage of all traffic across the crossing until things have been sorted out. Our delay (30 minutes) is not long enough for a coroner's investigation to have been concluded, and we're soon on our way up San Timoteo Canyon to Beaumont Pass and Palm Springs. Dinner, after dark, is alongside the Salton Sea and we're in bed soon after Yuma, with the train about an hour late, which is quite good considering we seem to have met or passed a freight train in every siding on the single track sections of the line.
The train is still about an hour late at Tucson, but somewhere between Tucson and Benson it sits for three hours while intermodal freights pass by in the other direction. I get up somewhere around Dragoon, to see that the work on the second Main Track through here has now been completed. Breakfast is near Lordsburg, with a required crew change (due to our lateness) east of Deming), lunch just east of El Paso, and dinner east of Sanderson. We're still 2½ hours late passing the latter, but the slop in the schedule both approaching and at San Antonio suggests we may catch up time overnight.
Our room is on the north side of the train on this journey, after the last several on this line being on the south side, so I make notes about spurs and lineside industries that are only visible from the north side of the train, and observe things such as there being much more of Alpine, TX, on the north side of the line than there is on the south. Otherwise, I get a lot of reading in my current book done, since on this trip, in this direction, we don't cover any segments of line, in the daylight, for which I don't already have the fullest detail in the route descriptions.
Overnight, the train arrives in San Antonio at about the scheduled departure time of 1 am, but is still on the fuel rack at Kirby at 2:18 am. Some time later, it stops due to opposing freight congestion, so when I awake at 5:45 am, we're not (as I might have thought) approaching Houston, but only passing through Flatonia. We have breakfast (still in the dark) with Mark Lairson, a member of the NRHS Gulf Coast Chapter (but one who doesn't attend meeting and isn't aware of the Board Meeting this weekend, who tells us that he is the person who assembled the display frames celebrating Texas railroading at the Houston Amtrak station, and that nothing similar is on display at the former Houston Union Station now used as the main building at Minute Maid Park.
After several more stops for UP freights, and KCS freights on their route to Mexico using UP trackage rights, to pass, we arrive in Houston 3½ hours late.
Once we get the bags back, it takes a while to get a taxi to take us to the hotel. We individually sue the time to look at Mark's displays inside the station. We're at the hotel, on the southwest corner of downtown Houston, by 9:45 am and, amazingly, in our room by 10 am! We have a 9th floor room looking west-northwest, across I-45 and back towards the way the train had come into the city on the Terminal Subdivision around the northwest side of downtown.
Around 11:30, we go out to walk downtown, on this day that's still quite warm (locals are complaining about 'this endless summer'), but not too warm and humid to be walkable, walking east (actually, east-southeast) across Pease Avenue and then north (actually, north-northeast) on San Jacinto Street (pronounced with a 'y' sound, locally) to the shops at the Houston center, where we look in several shops for a new set of notebooks (the one I'm using will be full by the end of the trip), buy some stuff in a drug store, and a cat toy and a doormat in a Humane Society store, before having lunch at a restaurant with tables out on a balcony overlooking the food court. It's 'Boss's Day', and the shopping center is full of stylishly-dressed young women buying gifts for the boss, and slightly older women, no less stylishly-dressed, buying lunch for (and having lunch with) the boss.
After lunch, we continue north and east to the former Houston Union Station, at the northeast corner of Texas Avenue and Crawford Street to check out what Mark had said. Indeed, the former grand hall is filled with Houston Astros and major league baseball signs and displays, but not a single reference to the building's former use. We walk back, heading west across Texas Avenue, reading the many display posters all through the Historic District, as far as the Theater District, where we check out the locations of the opera and symphony halls for this coming weekend, and then south in Smith Street past the tall office buildings containing the headquarters of many of the world's largest energy companies to our hotel just south of the Continental Airlines office tower.
For dinner, we eat in the (expensive) hotel restaurant.
Houston Union Station was opened in 1911 by the Houston Belt & Terminal at the corner of Texas Avenue and Crawford Street towards the northeast corner of downtown Houston. The platforms, with umbrella sheds, and stub-end tracks were on the east side of the station's great hall and concourse, accessed from what is now the UP Houston West Belt Subdivision. The station was used by the owners of the HB&T—Missouri Pacific Lines, Santa Fe, and Burlington–Rock Island Lines, as well as San Antonio & Aransas Pass, an SP predecessor. Additional office stories above the great hall were opened in 1913. The last passenger train left Union Station on May 31, 1975, after which Amtrak moved its then Lone Star service to the former SP depot still used by Amtrak.
The NRHS Gulf Coast Chapter used some of the tracks at Union Station for its museum from 1968 to 1978, when the museum was moved to its present location (see below). The station headhouse is now used as the offices and entry for the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park baseball stadium.
We arise, today, some four or five hours later than on Tuesday, with time for me to drink some coffee in the room before we set out into the bowels of Houston to find some lunch. We had noticed, as we returned from our walk around town on Tuesday, that a sign in the hotel pointed to "The Tunnels". It transpires that the center of Houston is interconnected by a set of underground passageways that function in the same way as the skywalks in Minneapolis and other cities. In fact, the outer reaches of the system are provided by skywalks, as in the connections to and from our hotel. So, we walk north through a skywalk from the Crowne Plaza Hotel's second floor to the second floor of the Continental Airlines offices, then down to the first/ground floor, and then further down to the tunnel level, sufficiently far down to pass beneath Smith Street to its east side, and then cross over to follow Louisiana Street north (the South Louisiana tunnel system), past the former Enron office buildings, several parking garages, the Hyatt Hotel, and Center Point Energy (which has a food court and a restaurant in its basement) to the Downtown Loop, where there are quite a number of fast food places and full-service restaurants located along the tunnels (in the same way there are restaurants along the skywalks in Minneapolis).
After lunch in a Tex-Mex restaurant, we continue around the loop, buying the needed notebooks at an office supply place alongside the tunnels, and passing a couple of bank buildings (including the waterfalls at Wells Fargo) and some more energy company offices along the west side of the loop before retracing our steps to our hotel. Later, we go back north to the vicinity of the Hyatt to eat dinner at Benihana, which doesn't match its advertisements in either food quality of entertainment value.
The pedestrian tunnels in Downtown Houston started as a link between two movie theaters, and has since increased to become more than six miles long, connecting most major hotels and office buildings, and housing 'hundreds' of restaurants and retailers. At some places the ends of the tunnel system are connected to smaller systems of skywalks. Centered on McKinney Avenue and Louisiana Street is the Dowtown Loop, with routes radiating from its in all directions: the North Louisiana and North Travis Tunnels to the north, the Lamar and East McKinney Tunnels to the east, the West Walker and West Dallas Tunnels to the west, and the South Louisiana Tunnels to the south.
This starts out as another lazy day, getting up late, and drinking coffee (for me) in the room, before heading out into the tunnels in search of lunch. This time, we eat at the restaurant below center Point Energy, and then turn the other way around the Downtown Loop, buying some batteries at the same office supply store and then returning to the hotel, where we find the NRHS Registration Desk is already open in the 2nd Floor lobby. We check-in, get our tickets and goodie bags, say hello to Dianne and Braley Pastorino, and buy a booklet on the Houston Belt & Terminal before returning to our room, where I continue reading the book on Santa Fe's Locomotive Developments. Later, we run into Bob and Diane Heavenrich and Wes and Shirley Ross as we head out for dinner. We patronize another Tex-Mex place, at street level, which (a) isn't as good as the one in the tunnels (which is closed at this time of night) and (b) is holding Karaoke Night at deafening levels. We're not impressed.
After dinner, we watch the University of South Florida, mistakenly ranked second in the polls, lose a football game at Rutgers on ESPN, before going to bed later than I had intended.
We have to be up much earlier today, for our 8:30 am bus tour of railroading in the Houston area. The two buses start out by going over to the former Houston Union Station, where we visit a former Southern Pacific (Texas & New Orleans) 2-10-2 steam locomotive that is stuffed-and-mounted nearby, and then visit the former station great hall that Chris and I had walked to on Tuesday. I take the opportunity to ask Tom Marsh, of the Gulf Coast Chapter, why there are no railroad-related plaques here, and he's quite surprised to find there is nothing, but relates a long story of plans that had fallen through over the past decades, before the baseball stadium was built here.
We then head east, passing under US 59, and then passing the former HBT Congress Yard on the West Belt line, the rail-served Maximus coffee plant, the MPI power facility on the former HBT, the former Galveston Houston & Henderson line (later IGN and then MP, now UP's Galveston sub.), the Buffalo Bayou aggregate plant with its own switcher, UP's Strang sub. (former Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio) at Lockwood Drive, the former SP (T&NO) Englewood Yard (intermodal yard to the west, hump yard to the east, across the former SP main on an overbridge, then along the north side of the yard to the flat crossing with the East Belt line that also passes beneath the Englewood hump tracks, with connectors in the northeast and northwest quadrants.
After a couple of u-turns and retracing our steps, we head north on the west side of the former HB&T Settegast Yard, turning east to cross the line north of that yard, and then south on Mesa Road to the Gulf Coast Chapter's Houston Railroad Museum on the east side of that street.
The Houston Railroad Museum comprises a couple of connected tracks on a long-narrow, piece of property, housing a number of pieces of railroad equipment:
AT&SF 1890, a 1928 end-door baggage car serving as the museum's Visitor Center
AT&SF 1344, a 1950 Pullman Standard Lounge-Dormitory, used by Amtrak as their 3395
GM&O 2106 Alton, a 1947 ACF parlor/lounge
MKT New Braunfels, a 1955 Pullman Standard chair car, also used by Amtrak
AT&SF Verde Valley, a 1942 Pullman 6-6-4 sleeper
AT&SF 3401, a 1938 Budd RPO-baggage car
SAL San Jacinto, a 1956 Pullman 5-2-2 sleeper
SP&S 50, a 1915 Barney & Smith baggage car
KCS 54 Good Cheer, a 1940 Pullman diner-lounge, rebuilt 1948-49 by ACF as a buffet-tavern-observation car
GCMX 8526, a flat car (currently holding the body of Good Cheer
T&P 1416, a baggage car of unknown origin
Texas-Mexican 510, a 1949 Baldwin DS 4-4-750 diesel locomotive
AT&SF 2350, a 1945 Alco S-2 diesel locomotive, also owned by GE
HB&T 14, a 1945 Alco S-2 diesel locomotive
US BLM MHAX 1237, a 1955 helium car
CSOX 2198, a 1927 tank car
MP Eagle Chasm, a 1948 Budd 10-6 sleeper
MKT 6, a 1949 caboose built by MKT shops
SP 4696, a 1979 International Car Company bay window caboose
After the visit to the museum, the buses stop for lunch at a Luby's Cafeteria, where we eat with Bob and Diane Heavenrich and John Sweigart. Once lunch is over, we head south, passing the Port Terminal Railroad Association's North Yard (on the east side of the East Belt, south of Englewood Yard) and then following the UP's Clinton Industrial Lead for a short distance before we take I-610 across the Houston Ship Channel and turn east on the Texas Independence Highway (so named because it leads out past the San Jacinto (again, that's pronounced with a 'y' sound hereabouts) battlefield where the Texan troops defeated Santa Ana's Mexican Army in 1836), past refineries (Crown, Phillips, Chevron, Occidental) along UP's Strang sub in Pasadena, TX, and more refineries (Shell, BP Amoco) in Deer Park.
The San Jacinto Battlefield Monument (15 ft, taller than the Washington Monument, built in 1936-39) is visible off to the north, and UP's Strang Yard heads away on the south side before we turn northeast across a large cable-stayed bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, with the Barbour's Cut Container Terminal on the right, and the Exxon-Mobil Baytown Refinery on the left. We then retrace our steps back across the bridge, head west, and turn north to the San Jacinto Battlefield monument and the battleship USS Texas. Returning south from that location, we again head west, past the former Santa Fe South Yards (Old and New) and the former Santa Fe main line between Galveston and Fort Worth, and then parallel the east end of the former SP Glidden sub. (continuation of the Sunset Route east of West Junction), originally built as the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C), past Pierce Junction where the former IGN heads south-southwest to the Metro Rail Operations center, just south of Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome (which looks puny by comparison with its new neighbor).
The Metro Rail Operations Center houses a simulator for training operators, which we visit in groups, where Al Weber and then Joe Williams have great fun driving the simulated taxicab that the light rail operators are supposed to avoid at grade crossings, and the maintenance shops for the light-rail vehicles, which compare well with those we've visited previously in San Jose, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Minneapolis. The control room is also here, but we don't get to visit that. After the visits, most people ride the light rail line north, but there is an option to go back to the hotel, and we take that option because we have tickets for the Houston Grand Opera tonight. We will ride the light rail line on Monday.
From the hotel, we walk north on Smith Street, and have dinner at Massa's seafood restaurant (excellent) before continuing our walk north to the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, where we patronize the shop selling opera DVDs (our laser disc player has died and we need to replace the performances we have on laser disc) before taking our seats in the auditorium, which is early filled with the stylishly-dressed audience (it's the season's opening night). I'm somewhat amused to see a number of women who can be seen (ascending the grand staircase behind them) to be wearing towering heels beneath their floor-length evening gowns.
The Houston Grand Opera Un Ballo in Maschera is set in an indeterminate time, in mostly non-descript surroundings, furnished with little but shiny walls and curtains in red and white. The council chamber, Ulrica's lair, the ballroom (with it's curved walls and multiple doors), and even the execution "room" (as the program insert called it) are variations on this theme, albeit with the hint of snow falling in the latter. Only Renato and Amelia's quarters seemed to be set in a medieval castle.
The libretto used is also ambiguous (is it always?), addressing the chief protagonist as 'Riccardo', but also referring to him as 'Il Re' in the latter part of Act II, when Renato arrives at Ulrica's lair and greets him. In Act III, Scene 1, the execution device appeared (to me) to be a guillotine, for no evident reason.
The size of Ewa Podłes's voice was evident from Ulrica's opening note—the first true contralto voice I've heard in a long time. Ramon Vargas was in good voice, but my ear seems to want to hear Pavarotti's squillo in this role! The entire musical and dramatic performance was excellent, as is the performance space within which it took place.
After the performance, we walked back to our hotel, along Smith Street, being amused at another theatergoer who is walking quite a bit faster than we are, but having to wait at every street corner for the light to change, as we catch up to him.
The Gulf Coast Chapter says Houston is "where seventeen railroads meet the sea", and lists them as:
Dayton–Goose Creek Railway
Houston East & West Texas Railway
Houston & Texas Central Railroad
San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway
Texas & New Orleans Railroad
Beaumont, Sour Lake & Western Railway
Houston North Shore Railway
International–Great Northern Railroad
St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway
Sugar Land Railway
Galveston–Houston Electric Railway
Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad
Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway
Houston Belt & Terminal Railway
Missouri–Kansas–Texas RR Co of Texas
Port Terminal Railroad Association
Trinity & Brazos Valley
Today, all of the Southern Pacific Lines and the Missouri Pacific Lines, along with the Galveston, Houston & Henderson, the Missouri–Kansas–Texas and the Houston Belt & Terminal are part of the omnivorous Union Pacific, while the Kansas City Southern now reaches Houston over trackage rights between its own properties further east and in Mexico.
The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado was chartered on February 11, 1850, changed its name to the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway in 1868, and built west from Houston, through San Antonio a connection with the Southern Pacific building eastward from El Paso, later become part of that line's Texas & New Orleans Railroad. The original part of the BBB&C now forms part of Union Pacific's Glidden Subdivision in the Houston area.
The Dayton–Goose Creek Railway was built between 1917 and 1918 between Dayton and Baytown, east of Houston, and was acquired by SP in 1925. The Houston East & West Texas Railway was a narrow gauge line built from Houston to Shreveport, LA, converting to standard gauge in 1894. The Galveston & Red River began construction in 1853, and changed its name to the Houston & Texas Central Railroad in 1856. This line built 80 miles of track northwest from Houston before the Civil War, later extending to Dallas in 1872 and Denison in 1873, and also became part of the Southern Pacific Lines.
The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway built lines between Houston, Victoria, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. Much of its is now abandoned. From Houston, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad built eastward to Orange, TX, with the line opening in 1861. This line later became part of the Southern Pacific Lines, and gave its name to all of that railroad's lines in Texas.
The Beaumont, Sour Lake & Western Railway was a B.F. Yoakum line that reached Houston in 1907, and later became part of the Missouri Pacific Lines. The Houston North Shore Railway built a line between the HB&T's East Belt Line just south of Englewood Yard and Baytown, serving areas on the north shore of the Houston Ship Channel, north of the areas served by the PTRA. It is now UP's Baytown Subdivision.
The Houston & Great Northern began building northward from Houston in 1871, merging with the International Railroad to form the International–Great Northern Railroad, which reached a connection at Longview with the Texas & Pacific, and later became part of the Missouri Pacific Lines. The St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway, also built by B.F. Yoakum, began service between the lower Rio Grande Valley and Houston in the spring of 1908. It also later became part of the Missouri Pacific Lines. The Sugar Land Railway ran between Cabell and Anchor, TX, via Sugar Land, all west of Houston, and later became part of the IGN. It is now all abandoned.
The Galveston–Houston Electric Railway was an interurban electric railway that began serving the eponymous cities in 1911. It is entirely abandoned. The Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad started in 1856 on the mainland opposite Galveston, and built northwest to Houston, reached in 1859, and later became part of the Missouri Pacific Lines. It is now UP's Galveston Subdivision.
The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway built northwest from Galveston in the 1880s, with its main line bypassing Houston to the southwest, passing through Rosenberg and reaching north to Fort Worth. It later became the Santa Fe's surrogate in Texas, and is now part of BNSF.
The Houston Belt & Terminal Railway was formed in 1905, at B.F. Yoakum's instigation, by predecessors of the Missouri Pacific, Santa Fe, Burlington Northern and Rock Island railroads to provide both passenger and freight terminal facilities in the Houston area. It owned and ran Houston Union Station and the lines now known as the Houston West Belt Subdivision and Houston East Belt Subdivision of UP, including Settegast Yard. The HB&T became part of the UP in the late 1990s.
The Missouri–Kansas–Texas RR Co of Texas, the Texas surrogate of the MKT, reached Houston from the northwest in 1893. The Port Terminal Railroad Association took over existing operations by the Public Harbor belt in 1924, and is today still the port area's switching railroad. It's line lie generally east of the main part of the city, and east of the former HB&T lines. The Trinity & Brazos Valley, also a B.F. Yoakum line, reached Houston in 1907. Joining Houston and Dallas, the line eventually became the Burlington–Rock Island joint trackage, and is now part of BNSF.
In addition to the line radiating in all directions, downtown Houston is encircled by a loop of railway line, none of which any longer reach any further into the city. The loop comprises the UP Terminal Subdivision to the west and north, the UP West Belt Subdivision to the east, and the east end of the UP Glidden Subdivision to the south.
Houston area Route Descriptions
On Saturday, our buses leave even earlier, at 8 am, and head southeast on I-45, through the suburbs of Houston and across the flat marshes to the Galveston causeway, where we observe different rail lines converging on the single rail causeway, and then separating again once on Galveston Island. I'm surprised to discover that Galveston's built up area is located on the north side of the island, adjacent to the ship channel, and that we thus won't be seeing the waters of the gulf itself. Our buses take us to the Galveston Railroad Museum, where our access has already been paid for, and many of us head directly for the small train that takes us on a ride a mile or so along the right-of-way back towards Houston, across from the cruise ship terminals.
The Galveston Railroad Museum is located in the former Galveston Union Station, and has five remaining tracks along the platforms and umbrella sheds, comprising:
UP 410, a 1954 F-M HD20-44 diesel locomotive
Santa Fe "American Flyer", 1928 Business Car
SP 1303, a 1949 EMD NW-2E diesel locomotive
MP 13895, a 1980 short bay window caboose
Private car Anacapa, a 1929 Pullman business car, ex C&NW
UP Woodland, a 1930 Pullman 14-1 sleeper
CB&Q Robert E. Lee, 1924 Pullman sleeper-lounge
CT&C 100, 1954 Budd RDC
ex-SP F-7A (2)
ex-Santa Fe 1938 Pullman chair cars, now known as Chimayo and Michelob
MP 112131, a 1942 caboose, history unknown
SP 347, 1942 T&NO caboose
AT&SF 1642, a 1927 ACF caboose
Union Tank Car 83699, a 1963 giant tank car
AT&SF 403, a 1925 Budd business car
Nickel Plate 125, a 1930 Pullman Diner-Lounge
NYC Glen Fee, a 1926 6-3 sleeper
IC 100, a 1934 Pullman RPO
ARRX 116, a 1923 8,000 gallon, 40-ton oil tank car
Union Tank Car 31589, a 1918 10,210-gallon (40-ton?) tank car
KOTX 879, a 1941 8,000 gallon, 40-ton oil tank car
Hand car (2)
SP 314, 1892 Cooke 4-6-0
C&TC 1001-3 and 1103-4, 1919 and 1936 baggage cars
Southern 3305, 1949 Budd dining car
L&N 1205, a 1914 baggage-express car
FW&D 107 1898 wooden caboose
D&RGW 63457, a 1919 ACF 40-foot box car
Western Fruit Express 66354, a 1938 ice refrigerator car
SP 34828, a 1917 40-foot steel frame box car
AT&SF 2065, a 1948 Pressed Steel 50-ft. box car
CRI&P 95014, a 1904 steam derrick
CRI&P 95015, 1942 tender for same
CRI&P 95016, boom car for same
Display cars 1002 and 1204, baggage and mail cars built 1919 and 1936
CB&Q 302, a 1940 Budd Diner-Observation Car
CT&C 555, a 1922 ALCO 2-8-0
USAF 1673, Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton 80-ton diesel locomotive
AT&SF 100221, a 1915 10,618 gallon, 40-ton tank car
Milwaukee Road 105031, a 1928 stock car
NP 28975, a 40-ft. box car, history unknown
MKT 15143, 1896 built flat car
D&RGW 2158, a 1909 50-ton flat car
SLSF 85279, a 1919 50-ton gondola
Artrain USA heavyweight car
Waco, Beaumont, Trinity & Sabine 1, a 1920 Baldwin 2-6-2
The museum's shop is disappointingly light on books covering local railway history, so we don't buy anything. Outside, in front of the old headhouse, it transpires that the Galveston trolley isn't running today, so a group of us head off down the street until Greg Molloy spots a restaurant with an outdoor terrace that serves acceptable food and, for him, beer! We eat with Greg, Mia Mather, Joe Williams, and someone I don't know, with Wes and Shirley Ross, and Al Weber, at an adjacent table. Elsewhere, Barry Smith and the Heavenriches have found a place with the afternoon's football games on television. After lunch, a smaller group visits the art fair, patronizes a curio shop, and revisits the coffee shop and ice-cream parlor we had been in earlier, where one can watch taffy being pulled.
The buses get us back to the hotel in Houston in comfortable time for the beginning of the Board's working session, which at this meeting is taken up by members of the Strategic Planning Task Force presenting the results of their July meetings, in the absence of the group's facilitator who is stuck in Philadelphia due to air travel difficulties. Greg ends the meeting by suggesting that Board members form small groups to discuss these ideas prior to the next Board Meeting. Some of us have more discussion on this subject, with Greg, before the start of the evening's banquet.
The At-Large Directors who are present sit together at the banquet, where the speaker is Bob Holzweiss, an archivist at the George HW Bush Presidential Library and a member of the R&LHS Board of Directors, who gives us a timely talk on brining various organized groups together in the railway history area.
Sunday's Board Meeting is rather tame—no chapters have withdrawn in the wake of the dues increase, although some have held votes on that notion with their leaders being defeated by their members, no-one has filed to run for election to the officers' position against the incumbents, and there's little discussion of the proposed budget before it is approved. Even the notion of a late January working Board Meeting is easily approved by voice vote. Perhaps this is because there's barely a quarter of the National Directors present at the meeting, with none of the 'dissenters' present.
After the meeting is over, Chris and I say our goodbyes to those who are leaving right away, then change into our concert clothes and walk north to the Theater District, finally managing to have brunch at a somewhat expensive restaurant before going to Jones hall for the afternoon's Houston Symphony Concert. Jones Hall is a circular building with an open stage for the orchestra and well spaced seating. The auditorium is only about half full for this Sunday afternoon concert conducted by the orchestra's former Associate Conductor, with Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg as soloist in the Barber Violin Concerto. The opening Appalachian Spring is somewhat subdued, and the concert soporific, since Salerno-Sonnenberg apparently can't play above mezzoforte, and the conductor keeps the orchestra down so that she can be heard above them. After an intermission in which we're amused at the other audience members gushing about the soloist's performance, Copland's Third Symphony is given a rousing performance that shows what the orchestra can really do. Clearly, it isn't now as good as it was when Stokowski and Barbirolli were here forty to fifty years ago. In fact, based on this weekend, this is at best the second-best orchestra in town, at present.
We walk back to the hotel in the sunlit afternoon, and later go south of I-45 to the 'midtown' district for dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant that is much better than the one we had patronized a few nights earlier.
Monday morning shows a distinct weather change, with heavy overcast, strong winds, and intermittent rain. We arise late, and again use the tunnel system to walk north to the Downtown Loop for lunch at a pizza place, thence heading east into the McKinney Avenue tunnel to a building on the northeast corner of McKinney and main, where we go up to street level and walk to the adjacent light-rail station. We take the train north to the end of the line at University of Houston Downtown, ride south sitting at the front of the car all the way to the station adjacent to the Operations center we had visited on Friday, and then ride back, through the Medical Center where Doctors Cooley and DeBakey once ran competing pioneering heart transplant operations, to the Museum District.
In the flyers that we had picked up at the Metro Rail Operations Center were a couple with discount tickets for the special exhibition on Ethiopia, featuring the bones of 'Lucy', one of the earliest human ancestors known (the actual earliest, for several decades since the late 1960s). This exhibition is at the Natural Science Museum, which is located in a park on the east side of the light rail line. Sharp gusts of wind propel us towards the museum, where we're fascinated by the exhibits of the bones of 'Lucy' and other early human ancestors (and less so by the adjacent exhibits on Coptic Christianity, which we have to walk through to get to Lucy). We could also have done without the commentaries of the loud-voiced (and smaller-voiced) teachers taking small groups of high school students around the exhibits.
We already have the book on "Lucy' featured in the special gift shop, so we take the light rail back to the transit center near the hotel, and walk back to the hotel, in the now dry, but still cool, air. Later, due to the weather, we eat another over-priced meal in the hotel restaurant.
The first Houston Metro Light Rail line runs south-southwest from its northern terminus at the University of Houston–Downtown, along Main Street past the Main Street Square in the center of downtown, and the Downtown Transit center at the south edge of downtown to Mai and Wheeler, where it edges east of Main Street to run on Fannin (with a short spell of one-way running on San Jacinto) through the Museum Distirct, past Rice University, through the Medical Center, past the Texas Medical Center Tranist Center and Reliant Park to its southern terminus at Fannin South, adjacent to the Metro Rail Operations Center.
While we were in Houston, the Metro board voted not only for a new east-west University light rail line with part of its route on Richmond Avenue and part on Westpark Avenue, but also to reinstate light rail for all 4 of the other lines that had once been slated for Bus Rapid Transit. The route approved for the University line runs west from Main on Richmond Avenue, crosses south over the Southwest Freeway at Cummins and continues west on Westpark to the Hillcroft Transit Center. The eastern leg would go east on Wheeler and turn north on Ennis, but then—instead of continuing on Elgin to the Eastwood Transit Center—would turn east on Alabama and end at Scott and the University of Houston. From there, it would piggyback north on the Southeast line tracks along Scott, and turn east on Elgin, cross the Gulf Freeway and into the Eastwood Transit Center.
Our arrival and departure schedules in Houston are the result of the three-days-a-week schedule of the Sunset Limited into and out of Houston. We had arrived on Tuesday, because the next arrival was Friday morning, and would likely not have got us to the hotel in time for the day's events. The first scheduled departure after Sunday's Board Meeting is this evening, just before 10 pm, and with the prospect of lateness (such as the exceptional 12 hours at this point, in late August), we've kept the room for Monday night.
Amazingly, the train is projected to be almost on time at Houston, after its departure from Beaumont, so we check out a little after 9 pm and take a taxi over to the station. The train actually shows up a little after 10 pm, but we're aboard and in bed at a reasonable hour, and the train is only about a half hour late departing Houston.
Sleeper 32118 Wyoming
Coach Bagg. 31040
Train 1, 10-22-2007
|Del Rio||8:35 am||10:34-40 am|
|Sanderson||11:10||pass 1:28 pm|
|El Paso MT||
|Palm Springs PT||6:37 am||7:26-38 am|
I had wondered if the light level would be high enough when we got to where I needed to start making detailed route description notes, but on awaking and turning on the scanner, I soon find that we're a hundred miles short of that location, and, just like the last time along this stretch of line, trundling along at 40 mph behind a UP freight with too many opposing freights for there to be a free siding at which we could overtake the freight ahead. In the event, there's plenty of time to eat breakfast before I start the detailed note-taking.
Once we're beyond Shumla siding, I no longer need to take detailed notes (since I had done that along this stretch last year), and can revert to reading my current book. We eat lunch east of Sanderson. Today, the train is acting as a long-range taxi for UP, picking up a deadhead crew at Mofeta siding to go to Alpine, and dropping off a crew it had brought from Del Rio at Longfellow siding. Due to the wonders of padding in the schedule, our two hours late at Alpine becomes only 35 minutes leaving El Paso. Just before we go to dinner, there's no exit message from the detector at MP 1256.1, so the crew has to get off and do a roll-by. We're at dinner at the Deming stop.
The train would have had to be 2½ hours late at Yuma for the light level to be high enough for note-taking between Yuma and Niland. However, when I awake in the pre-dawn darkness, a glance outside shows that we're already running along the Salton Sea. In fact, we're only an hour late leaving Palm Springs.
There's heavy smoke in San Timoteo Canyon from the forest fires near Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains just to the north of us. Shortly afterwards, we make the first of several stops (at Loma Linda, at Ice Deck, and at Pepper) due to freight trains needing to change crews on the main at West Colton, or to make slow entries to the West Colton Yard, causing us to lose almost another hour before Ontario. We stop for another 25 minutes at Marne Crossovers, adjacent to the City of Industry Yard, due to freight congestion and construction crews ahead, but the padding in the schedule means we're only an hour and 18 minutes late into Los Angeles.
We take the carry-on bags down to the car in the MTA garage, and then walk over to Olvera Street for lunch before collecting the checked luggage. We then stop at Bristol Farms in South Pasadena for meat and cheeses before heading for home, where we arrive late afternoon.