To the Iron Range and Back,
August 6-22, 2009

Don Winter


This trip was to attend the 2009 NRHS Annual Convention in Duluth, MN. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak, stopping to meet with friends on the way.

The Journey East (8/6-8/11)

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Since we have chosen to head north on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles, this would mean a very early start from Tehachapi on Friday morning. To avoid this, we have chosen to drive down to Los Angeles on Thursday, spending the night at the usual hotel across from Los Angeles Union Station. Having made that decision, we then chose to go to the LA Philharmonic concert at Hollywood Bowl on the Thursday night, and after that, we made an arrangement with Steve Strasen (who lives in San Pedro) to meet him for a late lunch in LA on Thursday afternoon.

With the date for a late lunch, we set off from home at around 11 am, stopping at McDonald's in Acton for coffee and soft drink, and taking the route through Pasadena, arriving at the hotel at around 1:30 pm. We get our room immediately, and have time to unpack the necessaries for tonight before we get a call that Steve is downstairs. The three of us walk over to Olvera Street to have lunch at a Mexican Restaurant and an excellent re-union (at least for me) until around 4 pm, when we walk back to the hotel and say goodbye to Steve.

Chris and I then head for the Red Line subway to take the train to Hollywood and Highland, whence we will take a shuttle bus to the Hollywood Bowl. Arriving in Hollywood, we quickly determine where the bus is waiting, but there's a movie premiere going on, and the obvious way to get from here to these is blocked. It takes us three tries to find a way that reaches though all the way to the waiting bus. The bus trip is less than a mile (and would, in the event, have been quicker to walk). At the Bowl, we go through the entrance gates, buy a picnic dinner, and eat in the picnic area nearest to our seats, on a lovely balmy evening.

The concert, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, is so-so, with a Sibelius 2nd Symphony so uninflected that Chris (of all people) comments that the climax "isn't loud enough". The orchestra plays as well as we had expected (which is very good, indeed), and Slatkin meets my expectations of him (which are much lower than my expectations of the orchestra). At the end of the concert, we walk briskly down to the bus parking area, and are on the first bus back to the subway station, but even with the movie premiere having just concluded (and many people thus on the platform), there's a 20-minute wait for a train!

Back at Union Station, we walk quickly to the hotel and go to bed.

Friday, August 7th, 2009

In the morning, there's time for a leisurely visit to the breakfast room at the hotel before moving the car over to the Metro parking garage. We take the checkable bags to the ticket office, and make the required (my error, this time) exchange of tickets, and are then directed to the ersatz 'for the Coast Starlight only' first class 'lounge' in the Traxx bar area, adjacent to the bagel counter. There, we barely have time to provide the tickets to the conductor before it's time to head back to the car for the rest of the luggage, and make our way up to Track 11 where our trainset is just backing in to the platform. I capture most of the consist as the cars pass me, and walk up to the front for the rest of it, with plenty of time before the train departs. Our Superliner I Sleeper has a name because it was the first car to be put through the Superliner I reconditioning program at Beech Grove.


P42                  6
P42                 64
Baggage        1720
Dorm            39019
Sleeper          32054
Sleeper          32009    George M. Pullman
Sleeper          32115    Washington
Pacific Parlor 39975    Willamette Valley
Diner             38040
Lounge          33041
Coach            34113
Coach            34512
Coach            34005
Coach            34022

Train 14, 8-7-2009



Los Angeles

10:15 am 10:16 am
Van Nuys 10:47 10:45-48
Simi Valley 11:23 11:25-28
Oxnard 11:55 12:04-08 pm
Santa Barbara 12:48 pm 12:51-57
San Luis Obispo 3:43 3:34-48
Paso Robles 4:45 pm 4:47-51
Salinas 6:36 6:32-39
San Jose 8:27
Oakland 9:32
Emeryville 10:02
10:12 pm
10:12 pm
Klamath Falls 8:25 am 9:00-11 am
Chemult 9:40 10:46-50
Eugene 12:44 pm 1:38-52 pm
Albany 1:30 2:40-42
Salem 2:03 2:11-16
Portland 3:40
Vancouver,WA 4:36 5:15-17
Kelso-Longview 5:14 5:55-59
Cebtralia 5:57 6:40-42
Olympia-LAcy 6:22 7:02-05
Tacoma 7:11 7:47-52
Seattle 8:45 pm 8:32 pm

Coast Starlight Route Description

In addition to the ersatz First-Class lounge in the station, another part of former Product-Line Manager (and now Amtrak Customer Services chief) Brian Rosenwald's vision for this train is in full evidence on this run: the Pacific Parlor Car, built inside a former Santa Fe High-level Lounge is present, providing an alternative to the Dining Car (in both space and menu items) for those passengers who wish it, and an alternative place to sit outside one's sleeping-car space, for first-class passengers. We promptly reserve our space for both lunch and dinner on the first day, in this car.

As we head out of Los Angeles, we can see that the last vestige of former Southern Pacific infrastructure in Taylor Yard is now gone—the locomotive maintenance shops on the west side of the line near the north end of the former yard have been demolished in recent weeks and months.

A timely exit from greater Los Angeles requires that Train 14 makes successful scheduled meets with four opposing passenger trains: Metrolink Train 212, from Lancaster, must clear Burbank Junction sufficiently early that Train 14 doesn't get an adverse signal; Metrolink Train 112 at CP Raymer; Amtrak Train 774 at CP Topanga (today), and Metrolink Train 114 at CP Santa Susana (today). On this day, Train 212 is just a tad late and gives us a Yellow south of the Metrolink Burbank station, Train 112 requires us to stop for three minutes at CP Raymer, and Train 114 requires us to stop for three minutes at CP Santa Susana, resulting in a negligible five minutes total delay in departing Simi Valley.

At Santa Barbara, the train passes through a parade celebrating 'Old Spanish Days", with people on horseback and in 18th-century costumes. Once west of Montalvo, there can be no more delays due to Metrolink trains, but we do have a delay that can be laid at Amtrak's door—one of the coaches is out of water and we stop briefly at the Pacific Surfliner terminal in Goleta to replenish its supply.

The Pacific Parlor Car has six tables used for meal service, but it doesn't force community seating, so we always have a table for the two of us. The lunch menu has on it one specialty salad, and one sandwich, served on a roll, not on the Dining Car's two slices of toast. The desserts are also different, or in the case of the ice cream, served differently. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed than that in the Dining Car, even though the Parlor Car attendant may have to serve six tables at once, as in the other car.

There is a six-minute wait at Waldorf for southbound Amtrak Train 798. The current schedule requires Trains 11 and 14 to meet between the south switch at San Luis Obispo and the south end of the platforms there, and today that meet is executed flawlessly. As on other lines, the 20% reduction in freight volume has reduced opposing freight train congestion to a minimum, with positive impacts on Amtrak trains' timekeeping. Opposing passenger trains are another matter, as we later have to run slowly for five minutes, and then stop for thirteen minutes, just south of Gilroy, waiting for a southbound Caltrain to clear. Nonetheless, the padding in the schedule is such that we're ten minutes early into San Jose!

Dinner in the Pacific Parlor Car is also an excellent meal, and a good change from the menu in the Dining Car that we've already experienced for at least fifteen times (in Superliner Diners, system-wide) so far this year. The one limitation seems to be that all entrees are accompanied by wild rice, with no potato options available. We finish dinner in time to collect our late-night chocolates from the Parlor Car before retiring, with the train still on time at Emeryville.

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

I awake in time to get a clear shot of Mount Shasta, with the train apparently still running on time (or even early, when schedule padding is taken into account). However, an earlier derailment in the UP Klamath Falls Yard leads to a dead stand from 7:38 to 8:45 am at Texum, within sight of Klamath Falls, resulting in a 46-minute late departure from Klamath Falls. Heading north, a lengthy slow order requiring us to run through a siding, followed by running behind a BNSF train that takes the Bend line at Chemult, results in us being 70 minutes late out of Chemult.

(The Coast Starlight doesn't join a major freight route until it reaches Binney Junction, north of Sacramento, and the busiest freight traffic on the route is here, between Klamath Falls and Chemult, where BNSF's north-south traffic joins UP's north-south traffic for this stretch of line. This is thus the most likely place, south of Vancouver, WA, to encounter freight traffic congestion on this route.)

We eat breakfast in the Pacific Parlor car (with the cooked breakfast again including something not offered in the Dining Car), and make our reservations for lunch and dinner in that car, also. In the Parlor Car, the menu for Day 2 differs from that for Day 1 (and also from the items on the static menu in the Dining Car, where even the "specials" are the same from one day to the next)!

We meet Amtrak 11 at Gervais, north of Salem, at 3:35 pm, which makes him about 20 minutes late at this point. Before reaching Portland, we make an eight-minute stop because we do not yet have the appropriate clearance from a Track Maintenance Foreman ahead. This appears to be Union Pacific's fault, but the reason for the delay isn't clear from the radio traffic..

After this, the schedule padding sees us steadily pick up time, being only 41-minutes late out of Tacoma and 13-minutes early into Seattle. In Seattle we take a taxi from King Street station to our hotel, taking longer than the on-board crew members take for their taxi ride! Denis Bousquet has just called, and calls back soon after we're in the room. Denis is under the weather, but we agree to see how he's feeling in the morning before making any decisions about getting together.

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

By morning (10 am), Denis is feeling good enough to drive into town and join us for a few hours. We've already had the included breakfast by the time he calls, so we prepare to check-out of the hotel, and go downstairs to do so at 11 am, where Denis is already waiting in the lobby. We have the hotel store our bags for a few hours, and go off with Denis, traveling through the Capitol Hill area (where we see a massive excavation for the University extension of the newly-opened light rail line that we will ride on the way home, out to the Madison Park area, where we have brunch and then sit for awhile on a bench overlooking Lake Washington (and from which one can see the Bill and Melinda Gates estate on the opposite shore).

About 3 pm, we head back to the hotel, where we leave Denis and go inside to get our bags, taking a taxi over to King Street station in plenty of time for our 4:45 pm train. I manage to collect most of the consist as the train pulls into the station (missing only the Baggage Car, whose number isn't where I expect it to be, and is thus not visible through the waiting room window). Collecting the consist takes longer than expected, because there are six BNSF Business Cars on the rear of the train (which will complicate adding the Portland section at Spokane, tonight). Our room on this leg (only) is on the lower-level of the Superliner Sleeper.


P42                158
P42                  60
P42                  95
Baggage        1247
Dorm            39042
Sleeper          32068
Sleeper          32118    Wyoming
Diner             38043
Coach            34054
Coach-Bagg.  31009__________________
Lounge           33021        (on at Spokane)
Coach-Bagg.   31031
Coach             34024
Sleeper           32078    Connecticut            
Coach            34012         (on at Twin Cities) 
Coach    BNSF 51    Snoqualmie Pass    800381    (Seattle to Whitefish)
Coach    BNSF 64    Marias Pass            800661
Business  BNSF 6      Topeka                   800648
Diner                          Lake Superior        800139
Sleeper? BNSF 28     Mountain View      800158
Big Dome                    Glacier View        800075

Train 8, 8-9-2009




4:45 pm 4:45 pm
Edmonds 5:17 5:13-17
Everett 5:44 5:40-44
Wenatchee 8:42 8:35-44
Ephrata                                PT 9:42 pm 9:46-47 pm
Whitefish                          MT 7:26 am
7:44 am
West Glacier 8:15 8:46-51
Essex 8:55 9:30-34
East Glacier 9:54 10:29-34
Cut Bank 10:45 11:19-20
Shelby 11:43 11:46-54
Havre 1:12 pm
Malta 2:52 2:48-52
Glasgow 3:47 3:48-49
Wolf Point                      MT 4:33 4:30-33
Williston                         CT 7:09 7:11-18
Stanley 8:11 8:25-27
Minot 9:22
Rugby 10:38 pm 10:38 pm
Twin Cities 7:05 am 7:09 am

Empire Builder Route Description

One of the areas for which I still need to record the details of the route description starts immediately on departing from Seattle, so I settle down to do that until it's time to go to dinner, in the normal Dining Car this time (there is no alternative), somewhere east of Cascade Tunnel. As we pass Edmonds, there's a Washington State Ferry just arriving from across Puget Sound. The route of this train is largely the same as the main BNSF freight route from the Pacific Northwest (at least as far as Minot, ND), so there is a possibility of freight train congestion and we do meet a couple of freight trains as we head north (25 miles along the very shore of Puget Sound) and then east, up the slopes of the Cascades, through the long Cascade Tunnel, and then down the valleys on the east slope.

There are some menu items in the Dining Car that are available only on the Empire Builder, but the choice is still excessively familiar. An Amtrak Supervisor, using the room across from us tonight, assists in serving during dinner. Dinner is over somewhere around the stop in Wenatchee, after which we go to bed.

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I awake as we pass Whitefish Lake, which has a layer of fog this early morning. The overnight delay was probably due to the extra switching needed at Spokane to accommodate the BNSF Business Cars on the rear, which thus prevented simply attaching the Portland section of the train. The BNSF cars are cut off at Whitefish, after the departure from the station, resulting in the extra 15 minutes delay before reaching West Glacier. An "America by Rail" tour group joins the train at Whitefish, taking (among others) the room across from us, causing the Amtrak supervisor to move elsewhere on the train.

I take detailed route descriptions from Whitefish to West Glacier, and again from Two Medicine Bridge to Cut Bank (breakfast and lunch, respectively, on our 2008 trip on this train).

We meet two opposing BNSF freights even before the Whitefish stop, and another one one arriving at West Glacier. We meet another at Bison as we cross Marias Pass, and two more on the plains before reaching Shelby. Chris and I share a lunch table with a farmer from Wildrose, ND, who talks about the grain business and how it had changed in recent years (as when the local branch line closed and they had to start trucking to an elevator at Stanley. We make a brief stop for an unknown reason about a half hour west of Havre, meet Train 7 at Dodson at 2:34 pm, meet a westbound grain train at Wolf Point, and stop for four minutes at Bainville for a westbound freight.

From Bainville east, I take detailed route descriptions until we reach Minot, where (a) darkness falls, and (b) it's time for dinner (the diner is still operating on Mountain Time). On this stretch, we make a four minute stop at White Earth to meet two westbound freights. We go to bed as soon as dinner is over, mindful of our early departure from the train in the morning.

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

I awake as the train passes Coon Creek, much too close to arrival for us to think about breakfast on the train. In fact, we just have time to comfortably get dressed and pack before a four-minute-late arrival in the Twin Cities Midway station, where we leave the train.

At The Convention (8/11-8/16)

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 (cont.)

As the train pulls into the platform, I see the Amtrak locomotive and, separately, the (private car) stock for the NRHS Inbound excursion parked in the second track out from the station. I'm expecting for us to reclaim our checked bags and then sit around the waiting room until  NRHS activity starts, around mid-morning for our 11 am departure. In fact, I have filled my insulated mug with coffee from the sleeping car in anticipation of just such a sequence of events.

However, as we enter the depot, there's Bill Dredge, the Northstar Chapter's National Director and a member of the convention's operational management team, holding a sign saying "NRHS". We had met Bill in Chicago, in the company of Convention Chairman John Goodman, on the way to the Philadelphia Board Meeting back in January, and had a couple of meals with both of them on the train heading for that meeting. Bill had then sat with us at the Norwalk Board Meeting, saying that he "knew we didn't bite."We had met only one other member on the rain, whom I did not know, and while we are greeted effusively, the other person seems uninterested in even talking with Bill.

Bill is headed out for breakfast now that our train has arrived, and invites us to join him, so we load our carry-on bags into his car, alongside his, and heat out to a restaurant on University Avenue, where we have a breakfast that improves on what we could have got on the train, albeit we have to pay for it! Back at the station, the rest of the operations staff has started its work, and we're soon registered and have our goodie bag, and have turned our luggage over to Joe Williams, who will be driving a truck with the luggage up to Duluth (rather than try to carry the riders' bags on the train).

I head off to collect the consist of the private car train, now that Amtrak (which had departed on time) is no longer blocking access, and encounter Greg Molloy engaged in the same pursuit at the south end of the platform. I enquire of Greg how his trip to Wales and the Isle of Man had gone, and am regaled with tales of Welshmen baring their chests in 70-degree (F) sunny weather! Having seen the locomotive on the way in, I'm able to supply Greg with the number of our P42 for this train, which is still off at the north end of the platform.

Soon, I'm hearing tales of the unexpected rare mileage we will ride this morning, upon departure. It transpires that BNSF has closed the intersection of the former-GN line, on which we came in,and the Minnesota Commercial line on which the station stands, to replace a flat crossing in the sixteen hours between Train 8's passage this morning and Train 7's scheduled passage tonight. Thus, we will have to exit the south end of the MNNR trackage on to the former Milwaukee Road (taking the west and south legs of the wye at Merriam Park so we can head forward), take the west leg of the wye at Division Street onto the former Northern Pacific, and then take that freight-only line all the way to the University Avenue junction where the former NP and former GN come together and the current Amtrak routing will be regained. Since NP trains has used the former GN Minneapolis station for some decades before NP and GN services ended on Amtrak day, there has not been a passenger train over this line for many decades!

Chris is helping with the accumulating luggage, so I wander the crowd, meeting Gary Kazin and Doug Walsch (whom we hadn't seen since Baltimore in 2003; he is now divorced and remarried, and living in Denver). Later, on the platform, Steve Sandberg, with whom we had traveled on the Trans-Siberian trip last summer, comes up to say hello, greeting us by name. Steve is not participating in this convention, even though the special train uses two of his cars (one of which we'll be riding in). He jokes that former SP 4-8-4 4449, which is currently in the Friends of the 261 shop at Minneapolis Junction, while emerge painted in the same Hiawatha colors as these two cars!

At 10:30 am, the locomotive moves back onto the passenger cars, and then the whole consist is moved to the platform track. A boarding call is made for "First Class" passengers, which means those with tickets for the Skytop Lounge and the Super Dome. Chris and I have splurged for Skytop tickets for this Convention, and we manage to get an adjacent pair of parlor seats, and are seated by 10:48 am. Most of the interior of this car is arranged as parlor seats, with numbers above the seats so they could be sold for revenue service, with the skytop area at the rear, where the windows in the roof would permit viewing of mountain scenery high above the rails, arranged as lounge (non-0revenue) seating, facing inwards. The Convention has sold all but the four seats across the round end for these trips. I need to be able to face forward(-ish) and look out the near side, for route detail gathering purposes, so the parlor seats are ideal for us. Besides, there'll be no high scenery to look at on these trips!

Our car hosts are Russ and Martha Isbrandt, and he is said to have detailed knowledge of the area. (Nonetheless, several times I know more about our specific location at the time than he does.) Food service, at our seats, is by Becky Gerstung, Eileen Weber, Carol Jensen, and (sometimes) Mia Mather.


P42                166
Sleeper-lounge Mount Vernon                800708
Sleeper-lounge Kitchi-Gammi Club      800705
Chair              Golden Sand                   800748
Chair              Golden Shore                  800881
Chair              Mohave                           800651
Parlor             Braddock Inn                  800854
??                    NYC 38                         800655
Full-length dome Super Dome                800862
Skytop lounge Cedar Rapids                  800040

The first four cars are not used on this trip.

Twin Cities to Duluth Route Description

The train starts to move, backwards, at 11:07 am, making a short sop to return the switch at the south end of the platform track, and reversing west of the west leg of the Merriam Park wye from 11:19 to 11:21 am. From 11:32 to 11:34, the train stops before entering the appropriate track at Saint Paul Union Depot (where the headhouse and concourse are still extant on the north side of the tracks, but all platforms and platform access have been removed). After curving around the east side of St. Paul and traversing the ex-NP freight trackage past the north side of Bandana Square (site of the old NP Como Car Shops), the train stops at the north end of Northtown Yard to pick up a pilot for the line to Duluth-Superior.

From 12:50 to 12:52 pm, there is a stop and proceed at MP 111, and from 12:56 to 1:01 pm, a yellow flag and a banner across the tracks at MP 110. (This usually implies a rules test.) At 2:27 pm, there is a red signal at the north end of Askov, at 2:40 pm, a stop-and-proceed at MP 56.2, and at 2:49 pm another one at MP 51.8. There are numerous slow orders along the way. From 3:54 to 3:59 pm (when the original schedule, pre-detour, said we should already have been at Duluth Union Station), we stop at Central Avenue in Superior, less than ten miles from our destination, to pick up people with the registration materials and keys for the Radisson Hotel, where Chris and I are staying, which are then distributed on the train as it makes its ay at glacial pace north along the "coal runner", west across the Grassy Point drawbridge over the St. Louis River, and then northeast into Duluth., where the train finally stops (even heading straight in, although the crew had been expecting to wye in Rice's Point Yard, first) a little after 5 pm. Because the train came straight in, all of the passengers must walk forward along the incredible rolling brick platform alongside the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in the former Duluth Union Station train shed. (The platform is like this due to decades of annual freeze-thaw cycles in the ground beneath it.)

Chris and I have chosen not to take the dinner-boat tour of the harbor, having had poor experiences with previous dinner-boats, so we later walk northeast along Superior Avenue and find an excellent Indian Restaurant for dinner. Before doing so, we watch from our 12th-floor hotel room window as a large lake boat swings around in the harbor and then heads out through the vertical-lift road bridge across the river mouth into the lake itself. It takes quite a while for the boat to disappear in the distance.

Twin Ports

The Twin Ports of Duluth, MN, and Superior, WI, are located at the west end of Lake Superior, where the St. Louis River, draining into the lake, forms the state boundary. The majority of the loading wharves and piers are in a natural harbor behind what amounts to a barrier island, running eastward from the river (and connected across the river mouth by a vertical-lift road bridge) along the lakeshore side of Superior. Three major types of cargos undergo bulk transloading for onward shipment on lake boats here: iron ore (currently in the form of taconite pellets) from the several local ranges; grain from the northern plains, and coal, from the Powder River Basin. The latter arrives over the former Northern Pacific main line across the southern part of the Dakotas, grain arrives on both former NP and former Great Northern lines from the west, as well as former Soo lines from the grain belt, and the taconite arrives in short hauls, mostly from the Mesabe Range just to the north and northwest of Duluth.

BNSF's former NP Rice's Point Yard is on the eponymous promontory on the northwest side of the harbor, north of the St. Louis River and St. Louis Bay (at this point), and is arrayed perpendicular to the main line heading northeast at this point. There's a large ex-Cargill grain elevator and an AGP elevator on the waterfront, east of the yard, and the St. Lawrence Cement silo on the end of the point, used to bring cement into the facility and ship it out by rail and truck. Also on this side of St. Louis Bay, west of the yard, are the Lakehead Storage Facility for limestone to be used in the pellet-making process, and two ore docks connected to former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range lines that bridge over the top of the BNSF main line, one of which is still in service and one of which is no longer in service.

Along the southwest side of the natural harbor (St. Louis Bay and Superior Bay) are the Midwest Energy Resources Corporation coal storage and transloading facilities, on the south side of St. Louis Bay across from the ore docks (but north of the rail line across the Grassy Point Drawbridge over the St. Louis River southwest of the bay, at the north end of the former NP "Coal Runner" line north from Saunders). Most of the coal is headed for Detroit Edison power plants in Michigan. East of the coal facility is the older General Mills (grain) Elevator, once known as the Great Northern Elevator, and two very large grain elevators owned by Cenex Harvest States (CHS), reached off the Coal Runner and the north end of BNSF's former GN 17th Street Yard (west of the Coal Runner).

The narrows between Rice's Point and the Superior waterfront are bridged by the I-535 arched road bridge, east of which, along the south shore of Superior Bay are the Peavey Connors Point grain silos and grain elevator, also served off the BNSF line which runs along the back of the facilities on the waterfront, northeast of the US 53 & US 2 viaduct. Further east, formerly accessed by lines coming northeast from the Saunders area, are the former Northern Pacific Allouez Ore Docks (the only one of which still operational is the 1977 silo-style dock on the southeast side of the complex, fed from a conveyor system), across from the other exit through the 'barrier island' from Superior Bay into Lake Superior, and the ConAgra grain elevator M. (One ore dock along here was being demolished when we passed it on the bus on August 12th.)  South of the highway and south of these ore docks, are the BNSF Taconite facilities, where taconite trains from the iron range are dumped onto ground-based storage facilities (much like the coal storage facilities at Midwest Energy. Union Pacific's former C&NW Itasca Yard is to the east of the BNSF Taconite facilities.

The main BNSF yards are arrayed to the west of the Coal Runner, with 17th Street Yard and the locomotive facilities to the north, and 28th Street Yard to the south, connecting in to the main line (with the Coal Runner) at Central Avenue. The Canadian Pacific Stinson Yard is east of the Coal Runner by a few city blocks. CN's Pokegama Yard is on its east-west line that runs beneath the BNSF main at Saunders, to the west of Saunders. CN's Former DM&IR Proctor Yard is to the west of Duluth, on the line between the Iron Range and the Ore Docks on St. Louis Bay. The Superior Union Depot was once to the east of the Coal Runner, just south of that line's intersection with the line west to Grassy Point and the line north from 17th Street Yard.

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Today has our only bus trip to a train ride of this convention. When we get to the line of buses outside the Radisson, the first bus is going somewhere else, so while we get on the third bus in line, we're actually on the second bus going to Spooner, WI. There will be a third bus, somewhat later, and some trip riders manage to miss even that and have to be driven to Spooner by the hotel shuttle! The bus we're on takes the I-535 bridge across the St. Louis River, US 2 & 53 across Superior, and US 53 south when the two highways separate. Eventually, we turn west on US 63 into Spooner (or so it seems from the highway signs).

The "Railroad Memories Museum" at Spooner is chock-full of just about every railroad artifact and piece of paper that one could imagine, all nicely grouped and well labeled, but far too much to take in on one pass through the museum. The artifacts outside seem to be divided, as is quite usual, into those that have been 'saved but not preserved' and those that will be running on our train today. The latter comprises four heavyweight cars and one lightweight streamliner that is in the process of being painted and thus has no identification marks on the outside. Greg Molloy walks away, and comes back five minutes later with the identification and a capsule history! It transpires that this is the first class car in which Chris and I will be riding on this trip.

Spooner was on the North Wisconsin Railway from 1879, which later became part of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha (the "Omaha Road"), and later still part of the Chicago & Northwestern. Spooner was once at the crossroads of the Northern Division of the Omaha Road, at the junction of lines from St. Paul, MN to Ashland, WI, and from Eau Claire, WI, to Superior, WI. Passenger service in this area ended in 1950, and main line freight service in 1981, when C&NW moved its traffic over to the (then) BN line between the Twin Cities and Twin Ports.

The depot on the west side of the tracks was built in 1902, and remodeled in 1963 to remove the two-storey portion at the north end and leave the potion now forming the Railroad Memories Museum. The space now occupied by the museum was originally the restaurant (until 1939), and then the dispatcher's office. There was once a major roundhouse, across the tracks east of the depot.

Regional railroad Wisconsin Central  acquired the C&NW line to Superior, through Spooner, ending C&NW local service in the Spooner area. WC removed the track north from Trego towards Superior, and towards the south, but the line from Spooner through Trego to Hayward Junction (on the former line to Ashland) remained. Wisconsin Great Northern, incorporated in 1997, runs the line today, with line ownership vested in the Washburn County Transit Commission.

The locomotives and heavyweight cars are owned by WGN. The lightweight car, Aristocrat, a Tavern-Lounge built for L&N in 1946, is owned by Charles Barthold, who is present on the car today.


F7A                423        (ex-C&NW)
Coach              34    Presque Isle
Coach              32    Apostle Isle
"Baggage"       112    Richard F. Gilbey
Diner                 28
Tavern-Lounge 302   Aristocrat

Spooner to Springbrook Route Description

Those of us in First class are boarded onto Aristocrat, and later move to the Dining Car for our hot lunch. After we've boarded, Doug Walsch comes through, looking for a convention official, and manages to upgrade to first class. (It transpires that he wasn't sure he could make the time to come to the Convention, so decided to risk only the coach class fares, but once here has managed to upgrade on every excursion so far.) The lounge section of the car is fully-occupied, but in the tavern section, people are generally seated two to a table, whereas John Goodman tells us they sold the seats expecting four people to a booth and three to a curve table.

The train leaves Spooner at 10:24 am, heading north, turns northeast at Trego, makes a stop from 11:26 to 11:44 am at Eazy Springs, and then continues northeast, reaching Spring Brook at 12:39 pm. WGN SW1 862 (ex-Milwaukee) is waiting here, with some oil tank cars attached. (Siding tracks all along the line have been filed with tank cars being stored for their owner until the economy picks up. The SW1 appears to be connected to a few of these tank cars.) The excursion train is spotted for photos adjacent to the SW-1 and its train. From 1:05 until 1:25, a photo runby is held at this location.

A later photo runby is held from 1:40 until 2:07 at the Bee Gulch bridge, with the passenger train being followed by the SW-1 and its tank cars for two separate runbys of each. Another runby is held from 2:30 to 2:50 at Trego. Of these, I only get off the train for the static shot at Springbrook and the photo runs at Bee Gulch. The excursion train arrives back at Spooner at 3:20 pm.

The buses take us back to Duluth immediately. On the way back, I observe that one of the ore docks approaching Superior from the east is in process of demolition. Tonight, for dinner, we again walk east on Superior Avenue to the center of downtown Duluth, and have pizza in an Italian Restaurant.

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Today's excursion covers the one major track segment that we've already been on, when the 2004 NRHS Convention ran an excursion up here, using buses to get to Duluth. This one is different, though, since it has steam haulage, which was not available in 2004. Since this train starts from the platform at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum (Duluth Union Depot), it is just a short walk from the hotel, albeit across two major streets and at least two floors down from the lowest-level exit from the hotel (reversing the uphill walk we had to do on Tuesday afternoon). The excursion will run 25 miles northeast, along the former Missabe Road trackage now operates by the museum, to Two Harbors, where there are still active ore docks..

We were unable to get first-class seating for this excursion, so on boarding we sit down in the coach-class dining car. However, Becky Gerstung asks why we're not in first class, and on hearing why, arranges for us to sit at the table in the dining room of the Northstar, on paying an upgrade fee to Convention Treasurer Bob Bitzer. At this table, we meet Dennis McDonald, from England (but not a member of the UK Chapter). Apparently, since everyone at the table is an upgrade today, the dining room seats were not originally sold for this car, for this trip.


4-6-2            2719
Business        Northland
Combine        W24
Diner             1250    Lord of the Isles
Baggage        1000
Coach            1115    Liz Pebich
Coach            1116
Coach              517
Open                  33
Alco                 316

Duluth to Two Harbors Route Description

As usual for runs on the Two Harbors line, the train starts out from the platform in reverse, this time at 8:46 am, and then pulls forard onto the main line. There is a photo runby at MP 6.1, from 9:15 to 9:45 am, a stop at the "DM&IR at 10:27 am, a stop at Two Harbors Junction at 10:38 am, and a reversal into Two Harbors starting at 10:38 am and completed at 10:54 am.

Greg Molloy comes by, looks at my partially done route description (printed text with notes on it), and exclaims "he's got the description half done already!" I explain what was done beforehand (and how), and then say that this is the sort of content I'm offering to the expanded NRHS website for member resources. Greg says that he understands, but we'll have to wait for the capability to become available, and a decision on the business model to be made. I point out that different business models can apply to different parts of the content and he nods his head before leaving.

Lunch in Two Harbors is at the American Legion Post across the street. Here, we run into Bob Brewster for the first time at this convention. Bob regales us with tales of the difficulties Denver is having with a developer on the Denver Union Station site, and his accidental (but perhaps productive) meeting with Joe Boardman, Amtrak President, at the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago.

Later, we hear that in spite of many announcements about the location of lunch, two riders had sat in the coach-level dining car for the entire Two Harbors stop, wondering when lunch was going to be! We leave Two Harbors with the turned steam loc. on the other end, at 1:00 pm, pulling forward on the museum's line at 1:07 pm. There is a runby at Knife River from 1:35 to 2:23 pm, with two passes. When we arrive for the runby, there is a large group of kids from the nearby beach watching the train. Sheila Dorr starts complaining that they're freeloading, but Barry Smith talks to them nicely and gets them to come and stand in front of, and close to, the photo line so they're not in the shots, and then gets them to be quiet while the train runs by. The kids leave before the second runby.

Walking back to the train, I ask Greg what his reaction had been to Steve Wasby's resignation letter from the Governance Committee. Greg gets a big beaming smile on his face, and then says "I accepted his resignation and thanked him for his services."

At Lakeside siding, we stop from 2:57 to 3:16 pm, to wait for the museum's regular excursion train to enter the siding, stop to throw a switch from 3:19 to 3:24, and pass the other train at 3:29. From 3:49 to 3:54,we stop to reverse into the depot, and arrive at 4:00 pm. Chris and I patronize the museum gift shop (bookstore) before returning to the hotel.

For dinner, we go to the hotel's Italian Buffet, sitting with Ed Graham, and then walk down to the Union Depot's Great Hall for the "Meet the officers" meeting. Bill Chapman is there, and as I tell him about Greg's response this afternoon, Greg appears next to me and tells Bill the story himself. After some banter, he then asks Bill to continue as solo chair of the Governance Committee.

Dianne and Braley Pastorino are holding an impromptu "At-Large Members" meeting, at which nothing of substance seems to be being communicated, so after awhile, Chris and I get up and return to the hotel.

Friday, August 14th, 2009

For those of us on the Board of Directors, a Convention Friday is "Official Business" Day, the more so with the Board Meeting starting at 8:30 am. There seems to be nothing contentious on the Agenda, since Jeff Smith isn't here for us to discuss the Improved Website, and the Governance folks distributed their material in advance (what I refer to as "The Idiot's Guide to the Current By-Laws"), but have nothing they want to discuss at this meeting. Some more defunct Chapters have their charters withdrawn. Fernley & Fernley has listened to the society's complaints about performance, and perhaps as a result has replaced our primary contact with the previous deputy. Steve Wasby tries to bring up the same performance issues as in April, but without getting his previous motion removed from the table, and is roundly told off by Greg Molloy. Last, but by no means least, the 2011 Convention will be in Tacoma, run by the Tacoma Chapter.

The Board Meeting adjourns in time for lunch, but first Chris and I take our trip around the tables at the "Flea Market". I buy some books and Chris buys a piece of Chessie Railroadiana. Lunch is in the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel (the Board Meeting was on the ground floor). The Governance committee holds a meeting in the restaurant while we're in there. Nothing untoward happens at the Annual Meeting.

The Banquet is over at the Duluth Convention Center, a short shuttle bus ride away. We sit with Dave Ackerman, Alex Mayes and Theresa Renner, among others. The after dinner speech is by historian Don Hofsommer, discussing the Railway Post Office between the Twin Cities and Duluth, and illustrating it with a well-sequenced set of photos from both on and off the trains/RPO cars.

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Today's excursion uses the trainset we came up on (with all of the cars in use, today), with the addition of the museum's ex-GN SD-45 "Hustle Muscle" on the front. It starts from the same place as Thursday's train (and Tuesday's arrival), with the distinction that First Class passengers don't have to negotiate the rolling brickwork on the platform. Chris and I manage to secure the same two parlor seats as on Tuesday, and Eileen and Carol come through serving pastries almost immediately.


SD45                  GN 400
P42                            166
Sleeper-lounge Mount Vernon                800708
Sleeper-lounge Kitchi-Gammi Club      800705
Chair              Golden Sand                   800748
Chair              Golden Shore                  800881
Chair              Mohave                           800651
Parlor             Braddock Inn                  800854
??                    NYC 38                         800655
Full-length dome Super Dome                800862
Skytop lounge Cedar Rapids                  800040

Duluth to Grand Rapids, MN, Route Description

Departure is 14 minutes late, at 8:44 am rather than 8:30 am, stopping almost immediately to throw a switch, and as on Tuesday it takes an hour's running time between the depot and Saunders. Taking the west fork at Boylston, about 9:50 am, the train is finally running reasonably quickly, and we're on track that is new (to us). There's a five-minute stop at East Swan River, from 11:43 to 48, and then a two-minute stop to return the switch we've just passed through. We reach the old depot (now the Chamber of Commerce) in Grand Rapids, MN, at 12:31 pm. The man (David Wilson) sitting directly opposite from me has a contraption in which he has installed two 'identical' cameras for taking slides intended for 3D reproduction, and at lunch time he sketches for me the projector and semi-silvered mirror arrangement that he uses to display them in 3D.

Here, the passengers unload for lunch, which seems to be sandwiches from the nearby Subway, and today's major glitch appears. There is one picnic table in the vicinity, and its seats are quickly taken by the first few people to leave the train and get in line, most of whom seem to be from the seats around us. Once Chris and I have eaten, we vacate the picnic table to make room for others, but most people have to settle for sitting on a curb or some such. This is most unsatisfactory.

After unloading, the train is gone for an hour to turn on a wye a few miles up the line, returning about 1:45 pm. After loading, we're able to depart at 2:05 pm. The folks around us swap seats for the afternoon, so the two women can spend the return trip discussing their brand of certainty politics. Joe Williams comes in to chat, and looks askance in the direction of this conversation.

There is an excellent high-speed runby at Brookston, from 3:14 to 3:44 pm. The train backs up beyond the next signals, to make sure that it can have a clear signal rather than a "delayed-in-block" run past the assembled photographers. The rest of the return run is as before, with the by-now-expected hour in transit from Saunders, except that this time the train does reverse at Rice's Point Yard, taking at least an extra six minutes to run the train (5:49 to 5:55 pm), and arriving at the depot at 6:09 pm. For many people, the Convention is over when the train arrives at the station.

For dinner this evening, we go down to the nearby Bowling Alley, where we chat with Russ and Martha Isbrandt before returning to the hotel in a light rain. Back in the room, we pack for departure in the morning. This includes getting the hotel to return Chris' Chessie sleep shirt, which had inadvertantly made a trip to the laundry on Friday.

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

This morning, we finish packing, check out of the hotel, give the bags to those who will drive them to the Twin Cities, and walk down to the train. As on Saturday, our cars are accessible at the rear, without navigating the incredible rolling sidewalk.


P42                166
Sleeper-lounge Mount Vernon                800708
Sleeper-lounge Kitchi-Gammi Club      800705
Chair              Golden Sand                   800748
Chair              Golden Shore                  800881
Chair              Mohave                           800651
Parlor             Braddock Inn                  800854
??                    NYC 38                         800655
Full-length dome Super Dome                800862
Skytop lounge Cedar Rapids                  800040

The first four cars are not used on this trip.

Today, we get away almost on time, at 9:30 am, pass the Grassy Point Drawbridge at 10:04, and Central Avenue (just north of Saunders) at 10:34 am, just over an hour from the start! By now, we've been well supplied with pastries and drinks. We sit for a few minutes at Saunders, meeting three northbound trains (CP, UP and CN/EJ&E), and then taking the west fork south. We meet BNSF 5169 north at Hinckley, where we stop from 12:00 to 12:08 pm tp load the lunches.

We stop at Northtown at 1:46 pm, to drop off the BNSF pilot, stop at St. Anthony or Park Junction from 2:03 to 2:06 pm to throw a switch, and come to a stop at Midway at 2:14 pm. This is the official end of the Convention for the rest of us. However, the truck with the bags isn't here, yet, so there's a short delay while that arrives and the bags are distributed. Many of us are staying at a hotel at Bandana Square, nearby, but it's van isn't running today, so we have to rustle up a large number of taxis from wherever they're roaming around, since this isn't a time of day when taxis expect custom at Amtrak. Meanwhile, Doug Walsch has collected his car from the parking lot and is ready to head for Denver.

The Best Western Bandana Square is built into a portion of the former NP Como Car Shops, along with a number of medical facilities and light industry. The full interior construction of the shops is still in evidence, with the hotel, etc., being constructed free-standing inside the interior space. In fact, our room has no exterior window, and at first this seems a problem, but we soon find that there are adequate bench seats outside in the space once occupied by the transfer table (of which there is an exhibit still in place, where we can sit, and from which we can observe (but not photograph) the passing trains on the former NP main line (one which we had left the Twin Cities the previous Tuesday). There is a former GTW 0-8-0 stuffed-and-mounted out front, and a caboose on a short piece of track out back. We find out that there is a Model Railroad Museum in the adjacent shop building only after it has closed for the day (and it doesn't open on Mondays).

Unlike most of the other Conventioneers who are here, we're not leaving on Train 8 at 7:50 am on Monday, but have chosen to have a down day before riding Train 7 west tomorrow night (rather than tonight). There's only one real restaurant in the area, down at the next traffic light to the east on Park Drive, so we walk down there for dinner after 7 pm. On the way, I notice that the nearby apartment development is named "The Burlington", and wonder if the CB&Q once had a facility here.

The Journey West (8/17-8/22)

Monday, August 17th, 2009

After the included continental breakfast in the hotel, and a walk around the former shop, including some time on the upper floor of the parking structure adjacent to the rail line and overlooking Como Park north of that line, we again spend the daylight hour sitting in the garden, reading and watching the trains go by, walking down to the same restaurant for both lunch and dinner.

At about 10:00 pm, after checking with Julie that Train 7 is on time, we check out (to the surprise of the desk clerk) and take a taxi back over to Amtrak, where we check two bags through to Los Angeles, agreeing that it's OK for the bags to go via Portland (rather than Seattle) and get there a day before we do. I collect the consist as the train arrives (on time), and when we board the train, a few minutes later, we go directly to bed.


P42                  18
P42                 167
Baggage        1237
Dorm            39042
Sleeper          32068
Sleeper          32118    Wyoming
Diner              38030
Coach            34054
Coach-Bagg.  31009______________
Lounge            33014     (to Portland)
Coach-Bagg.   31031
Coach             34014
Sleeper            32067______________
Cpach              34024      (off at Twin Cities)

Train 7, 8-17-2009



Twin Cities

10:31 pm
11:15 pm
10:31 pm
11:18 pm
Devil's Lake 6:13 am 6:59-7:02 am
Rugby 7:07 am 7:59-8:01
Minot 8:34
Stanley 9:57 10:18-19
Williston                            CT 11:07 11:22-27
Wolf Point                         MT 11:41 11:56-59
Glasgow 12:26 pm 12:42-45 pm
Malta 1:25 1:49-52
Havre 2:39
Shelby 5:22 5:11-22
Cut Bank 5:51 5:53-54
East Glacier Park 6:45 6:50-55
Essex 7:41 7:51-52
West Glacier 8:23 8:32-34
Whitefish 8:56
9:16 pm
9:32 pm
Wenatchee 5:35 am 5:21-36 am
Everett 8:33 8:40-44
Edmonds 9:05 9:22-25
Seattle 10:20 am 10:05 am

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I awake just after dawn, and get a handle on where we are at MP 31.5—only 31.5 miles west of Grand Forks. I scramble to get dressed, taking route detail notes as I do so, and even though the train is somewhat late, we get into Minot (where we meet the eastbound route detail notes) in time to go have breakfast. This is the Empire Builder, so that means eggs the way one wants them, rather than the other trains' choice of omelet or scrambled. The schedule-padding is such that we're on time by Shelby, but then various little things mean we're a quarter-hour late again on departure from Whitefish.

We meet quite a number of eastbound BNSF freights, but these are easily accommodated in the scheduled time, as is the first stop at Havre to fuel the locomotives before we even pull into the platforms for the inspection and smoker-stop. The "little things" west of Shelby include six minutes for taking the siding at Browning at Restricted Speed, and an eleven minute stop just east of Whitefish (eating up the schedule padding at this point) for an eastbound BNSF freight to clear. The BNSF Business Cars that we dropped on the way east are still sitting at Whitefish.

At the end of dinner, the lead service attendant announces that breakfast in the morning will be from 5:30 amd to 6:30 am. I stop and ask him why breakfast needs to end so far ahead of arrival in Seattle, and he gives me some lame excuse about the FRA and fumes in Cascade Tunnel.

Dinner is done by the time we leave Whitefish, so we go right to bed.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Although it's still dark when I awake this morning, the clatter tells me we're crossing the bridge over the Columbia River, and that I had better get up if I'm going to take route details out of Wenatchee. Although we were late last night, with the schedule padding and the copious amount of time allowed fo splitting the train in Spokane, we're on time this morning. With the route details captured up to the point where I had to quit capturing them heading east, we go to breakfast as the train enters the Cascade Tunnel, when a last call is made (at 6:45 am!), and almost a full dining car's worth of people head to breakfast. Breakfast service concludes around 7:40 am, which while still early makes much more sense than 6:30 am.

Approaching Everett, we stop at PA Junction from 8:26 to 8:39, so there's no interference with the northbound Vancouver, BC, Cascades which is due out of there two minutes after our scheduled departure. Then, our station work done, we sit in the station from 8:44 to 8:59 to await a northbound (to become eastbound) BNSF freight. This is a clear example of the BNSF Dispatcher taking advantage of the padding in the schedule into Seattle, since he knows that even with this delay we'll be ahead of time at King Street Station! From 9:58 to 10:01 am, the train stops south of the station, and then reverses into a stub platform. This is unnecessary now, but would be helpful if Train 7 arrives before the 9:45 am departure of Train 11 for Los Angeles (as it would have if it had left Everett at 8:35 am).

We leave the carry-on bags with the baggage counter in the station, and head out onto Jackson Street, walking over the bridge and past the former Union Station, stopping to inspect its beautiful former great hall on the way, and then buying the tickets and descending to the platform in the "bus" tunnel to ride the new Seattle Link Light Rail line.  The spacious platforms handle buses as well as the light rail trains, and we board a southbound train for the run out to Tukwila. (The line will go on to SeaTac Airport starting in December, 2009.) After passing various bus and light rail shops, and then turning east and running through a tunnel under Beacon Hill (complete with underground station), the line turns south to run in the open air along the center of Martin Luther King Way, through an area with many Vietnamese Restaurants, and then along the sides of SR 599 and of Interstate 5, until it turns west on SR 518, towards the airport, but not yet reaching there, to what will be the last intermediate station on the line when it is completed.

Since the time is not yet 11 am, we take the same train back north, this time continuing in the bus tunnel through to the current northern terminus of the line at Westlake, and then return south to the Pioneer Square area, where we leave the train and exit the system at the surface, finding a restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we walk the few blocks back to King Street station and take a taxi north to the hotel, where our room is available immediately. We have a room on the top floor, with a view west of the Seattle center and across Puget Sound (which is not, itself, visible) to a mountain in Olympic National Park.

Denis Bousquet arrives to have dinner with us at 7 pm, and we eat at a nearby restaurant. After dinner, we return to our room for conversation until about 10 pm, when Denis leaves and we go to bed.

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

This morning, we get up and have the included breakfast before checking out and taking a taxi over to King Street station for our 9:45 am train, for which the sleeping cars board about 9:15 am. I manage to collect most of the consist as we walk forward along the platform to reach our sleeper (and then walking forward to the locomotives), but Chris has to go back in the train to get the rear coach, after we depart.


P42                  67
P42                  75
Baggage        1717
Dorm           39007
Sleeper        32117    Wisconsin
Sleeper        32086    Louisiana
Sleeper        32042
Pacific Parlor39974    Sonoma Valley
Diner            38046
Lounge         33032
Coach          34138
Coach          34538
Coach          34507

Train 11, 8-20-2009




9:45 am 9:45 am
Tacoma 10:31 10:28-33
Olympia-Lacey 11:21 11:12-20
Centralia 11:45 11:40-45
Kelso-Longview 12:29 pm 12:29-35 pm
Vancouver, WA 1:08 1:24-37
Portland 1:50
Salem 3:37 3:47-50
Albany 4:10 4:21-25
Eugene 5:10 5:17-26
Chemult 8:05 8:36-40
Klamath Falls 10:00 pm 9:43-10:10 pm
6:35 am
5:35 am
Davis 6:50 6:50-54
Martinez 7:34 7:35-41
Emeryville 8:10
Oakland 8:35
San Jose 9:55
Salinas 11:48 11:32-48
Paso Robles 1:38 pm 1:36-39 pm
San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara 6:17 6:16-24
Oxnard 7:05 7:12-16
Simi Valley 7:30 7:52-53
Van Nuys 8:05 8:51-53
Los Angeles 9:00 pm 9:18 pm

While on her walk through the train, Chris asks Greg, this trip's Parlor Car attendant, about reservations for lunch and dinner, and he says that the person who does the Dining Car's reservations will do the Parlor Car as well. So, when Moses from the Dining Car (who is not the Lead Service Attendant) comes around, we make a lunch reservation for the Parlor Car with him.

Approaching Tacoma, we first overtake a southbound BNSF freight, then meet the Loram Rail Grinding train and a northbound BNSF freight, all without delaying the train. At 10:57 am, we meet a northbound Cascades at Steilacoom, and at 11:03, a northbound BNSF grain train, north of Nisqually. At 11:37 am, we meet another northbound BNSF grain train, north of Centralia, at 12:32 pm, a northbound BNSF manifest at Kelso, and at 12:58 pm, a northbound Cascades at Ridgefield. From 1:13 to 1:20 pm, we stop at Fruit Valley, MP 133, for UP8258 north, another grain train, delaying our arrival at Vancouver, WA. (Just like yesterday at Everett, this is an example of the BNSF Dispatcher taking advantage of the padding in our schedule, in this case into Portland; there is more to follow.) On the way in, there is a boxcar on fire in the Vancouver Yard, to the east of the line, and we then have to wait for a northbound BNSF double-stack to clear the wye south of the Vancouver station, before pulling into that station.

The meal menus in the Parlor Car on the southbound run are different from those on the northbound run, and are again a nice change from those in the regular Dining Car, which seem to be almost the same as those on the Empire Builder. I overhear Greg telling someone else in the Parlor Car about the history of the car, and am please to hear an employee who actually knows about these things!

In spite of the delays approaching Vancouver, we're on time into Portland (as opposed to 25 minutes early). While we're there, th empty cars from Train 27 (today's Portland section of the Empire Builder) head south to turn on the wye at East Portland, making me wonder how late they were arriving. At 3:15 pm, we enter the siding at Gervais to meet Train 14, stopping from 3:21 to 3:24. We get caught by the detector at MP 726.9, and have to stop from 3:33 to 3:36 to fix dragging equipment at the front of the locomotive. We again make dinner reservations for the Parlor Car with Moses as he comes by. At 6:06 pm, we have a 15 mph speed restriction from MP 657.25 to MP 657.30 (Rule 33.12).

The train stop from 7:20 to 8:00 pm at Cascade Summit, for no apparent reason. After dinner, during which the ambience in the Parlor Car becomes even more interesting as darkness falls outside and the antique-style lamps take hold inside, we get our after dinner chocolates. Once again, the schedule padding gets us back almost on time at Klamath Falls, as we go to bed.

Friday, August 21st, 2009

I awake as the train stops in Sacramento, with an hour to go to its scheduled departure time. Some of that time is needed for the inspection and servicing, but some of it is simply the padding in the schedule, not taken up due to the fall-off in freight traffic due to the recession. We eat breakfast in the Pacific Parlor Car. Chris loans Greg her hand cream after breakfast. The train keeps scheduled time through San Luis Obispo, albeit making a four minute stop just south of Oakland. A northbound Capitol passes at 9:03 am, just south of Melrose.

When Moses comes around taking lunch reservations, he says there is only one space left for lunch in the Parlor car, and that "they rushed Greg right after breakfast and he had to take their reservations". Well, he didn't do that for us the day before! Greg still has Chris' hand lotion, so she goes to get it back and, as I expected, comes back with lunch reservations for us at 1:30 pm. She then gives our Dining Car lunch reservation back to the Dining Car folks. Lunch in the Parlor Car is a very good macaroni and cheese, and we have a good chat with Greg about the way things are on Amtrak in different parts of the country. Later, Chris goes to see Greg again, about dinner reservations, and comes back with one of the teddy bears that they give away at the afternoon wine tasting (which we will not attend).

Right on schedule, we meet Train 14 at the switch at the south end of the double track at San Luis Obispo. Around 4:30 pm, the crew starts discussing what will happen as we approach Santa Barbara, since the railroad doesn't like the train to arrive early at the station, due to blocking a crossing at Montecito Street. In the event, the Dispatcher holds us at Ellwood from 5:30 to 6:09 pm, meeting a northbound Surfliner that we could easily have crosses in Santa Barbara. This actually makes us seven minutes late out of the latter.

Dinner in the Parlor Car follows shortly after Santa Barbara. At 7:42 pm, we meet Metrolink Train 119 at Strathearn, and at 7:45 pm the radio crackles with the news that northbound Amtrak Train 785 has hist a trespasser at MP 750.2. Since that is on a single-track section in the San Fernando Valley, it seems certain to delay us once we get there. Sure enough, from 8:10 to 8:36 pm, we stop at Benson, the south end of the Chatsworth siding, to wait for things to clear up ahead. Train 785 goes by at 7:34 pm, and the padding in the schedule means that we're only 18 minutes late into Los Angeles.

We take the carry-on bags down to the car, and then go to the baggage claim area to get our checked bags (which arrived yesterday). Taking them back to the car, we move it to the hotel across the street and check in. In the elevator on the way up to the room, the man with us says "Train Shirt! Did you just come in on Eleven?" When we say yes, he says "I drove it!" (from San Luis Obispo, and we have a short chat about the incident in the San Fernando Valley, as we walk to our respective rooms.

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

We get up in time to have the included breakfast, check-out, drive to Bristol Farms in South Pasadena for cheese and meat, and then drive home, stopping at Acton for coffee and drinks, Mojave for Kentucky Fried Chicken (to eat at home), and the Tehachapi Post Office (to get the mail), arriving home, where all seems well, before 1 pm.