Private Cars on the Coast Route plus Napa Valley Wine Train
October 7th-October 10th, 1994

Don Winter

Pacific Railroad Society is running a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, using its private car National Forum, in which we’ll ride, along with private car Colonial Crafts, to get there and back. While there, we’ll have a free day on Saturday, and on Sunday we’ll take the ferry to Vallejo to ride the Napa Valley Wine Train for a lunchtime outing. We’ll travel north and south on the back of the Coast Starlight

Friday, October 7th, 1994

This morning, we start our journey by driving to Los Angeles Union Station, where we will board our private cars when the Coast Starlight backs into the station. Chris and I are riding in the front two roomettes (across the corridor from one another) in National Forum, which is a 1950s 6-4-6 (6 roomettes, 4 bedrooms, 6 sections) Pullman-built sleeper operated by Union Pacific until 1971. It has been restored to its 1950s operational condition, except that it now has Head-End Power (HEP) capability for operating on Amtrak trains. Meals will be taken in Rod and Ellen Fishburn’s Colonial Crafts, which has both a kitchen and a lounge section with tables for dining, as well as several bedrooms still in original layout.

Coast Starlight Route Description

As the trip progresses, including eating lunch at one of the tables in Colonial Crafts, we meet many of the other people on this trip. Will Walters is the traveling mechanic for National Forum. Marti Ann Draper and Dave Abbott are the Pullman Porters on National Forum, with help from Barbara Sibert. Other passengers include Ted and Marion Campbell, Ted and Frances Reveling, Stan Ames, Stu Spencer, Rob Markowitz, Irwin Markowitz (Rob’s dad) and his lady friend, Russell Hogue, Wayne Saunders and a number of others. As we approach Guadalupe, I move just forward from my roomette to the vestibule, to prepare to photograph the Santa Maria Valley Railroad’s train if it happens to be in town. While I’m getting ready to do this, Ted Campbell appears, and wants to know if I’m going to let him have a turn at the Dutch door. I tell him that I will, once I’ve taken my shot. We eat dinner at one of the tables in Colonial Crafts. Darkness falls somewhere around Salinas, so we don’t get to see the wildlife going in this direction.

We leave the train at Oakland. The two private cars are taken off the train by a switcher, and will be parked in West Oakland Yard. Our group is bused over to the Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Saturday, October 8th, 1994

We’re using the free day to travel over rail routes in the Bay Area that we didn’t cover either during the NRHS Convention in 1992, or previously. These include the routing of Amtrak’s Capitol between Newark and Oakland, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line between Richmond and Oakland, and the two San Francisco Municipal Railway (‘Muni’) routes that we didn’t cover in 1992. We start out by taking the Muni trolleybus line that passes the hotel to the Caltrain depot at 4th and Townsend. Even though we will be buying Muni all-day passes later in the day, there’s no way to do so before the trolleybus ride, so we have to pay for that separately.

Caltrain Route Description

At the Caltrain depot, we buy tickets to San Jose, get some coffee and other potable liquid) and snacks, and board the train of gallery cars with its F40PH up front. This train soon leaves for San Jose, making the big left-hand turn to head southward immediately at the end of the platforms. In San Jose, we get some more coffee and buy Amtrak tickets to Richmond. The Capitol is waiting at the platform, so we board.

Capitol Corridor Route Description

In Richmond, we leave Amtrak and cross under the tracks to the BART station, where we buy tickets to Market Street (San Francisco). The BART line curves away from the SP line, going further inland through Richmond and Berkeley before joining the BART line from Concord in the middle of a freeway and continuing underground through the center of Oakland. In Oakland, there is an underground junction permitting trains to go either south along the east bay or cross under the bay to San Francisco. The train we’re on is going south, so we transfer to a train heading for San Francisco at the MacArthur station. West of Oakland, the line emerged from its tunnel, rises above West Oakland, then descends again into the transbay tunnel. On the San Francisco side, it passes through the Embarcadero station, then reaches Market Street, where we detrain.

At street level, we find the Muni office and purchase our all-day passes for the remainder of the day. Then we go back down, but only one level to the Muni tram subway. Here, we board a westbound tram on the ‘L-Taraval’ line, heading for the zoo. On this line, the tram subway merges directly into the Twin Peaks tunnel, emerging only on the west side of Twin Peaks, where it turns directly west. A block or two from the ocean, the line turns south and terminates across from the main entrance to the zoo.

In the zoo, we find a place to buy some lunch (it’s now mid afternoon), then make our way to the newly revamped big cat exhibit that has been reported on so extensively in the media. We find the exhibit fascinating, but are disappointed that most of the cats are asleep in their private spaces and thus not visible from the public viewing areas. We leave the exhibit, and take a different route back to the entrance so that we’ve been exposed to all of the areas in the zoo. Outside, we take a bus (after quite a wait) north to the west end of the N-Judah tramline and transfer to the tram. This route goes around to the north side of Twin Peaks, through an area full of hospitals and other medical facilities, and enters the Market Street Subway east of the east end of Twin Peaks tunnel. We leave the tram at the stop adjacent to the Transbay Terminal, and take a bus back to the hotel.

Later, we walk back to the trolleybus stop, intending to take the trolleybus to the stop closes to Chinatown. Instead, a bus appears (with the correct route indicator), so we board it. It transpires that the trolleybus route is being used as a staging area for a parade through Chinatown, but the bus actually drops us off at Grant Avenue directly. We walk south on Grant Avenue, enjoying the parade going the other way, until we find a restaurant that looks acceptable and can take us before midnight. While there, we continue to watch the parade passing outside. After dinner, we walk over to the trolleybus route, then walk north along it. We reach the hotel before any kind of bus comes along, and soon go to bed.

Sunday, October 9th, 1994

The departure point for the ferry ride to Vallejo, on the north side of San Pablo Bay, is within walking distance of the hotel. Group members leave the hotel individually, and make their way over to the specified pier. We have some difficulty identifying the actual correct pier for the ferry departure, but we all do so with comfortable time to spare before departure, having acquired coffee, etc., in the process. On boarding the ferry, Chris and I take seats on the top, open, deck, the better to watch the scenery pass by on this gloriously clear day. As the ferry departs, we watch the sea lions basking in the sun on wooden platforms near the end of the pier.

The ferry sets a course north-northeast across the bay, moving almost immediately from San Francisco Bay into San Pablo Bay, to the north. The Golden Gate Bridge is wide open to the west of us as we leave the pier area, followed by Alcatraz Island just to our left. Further north, we can see Mount Tamalpais to the west, and Mount Diablo beyond Richmond and the coastal hills behind it. We pass under the Richmond Bay Bridge and off the shore of Pinole, then start to cross San Pablo Bay towards the north shore, passing Mare Island Naval Shipyard and heading up an inlet to the ferry dock in Vallejo.

In Vallejo, we’re met by a couple of medium-sized buses that transport us north to Napa, crossing the route of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in the process. At the Napa Valley Wine Train’s depot, there’s a gift shop as well as the ticket office, and an array of painting and artifacts displayed around the walls of the waiting area. Outside, we can see the servicing area just to the south. An earlier train has returned from the north, discharges its passengers, and heads for the service tracks. A half-hour or so later, our lunch train appears from the service area and draws up ready for boarding. Special arrangements have been made for our group, so we board first.

Napa Valley Wine Train Route Description

The Wine Train runs over the Napa Valley Railroad, north of its terminus in Napa. The railroad is a single track with passing sidings. This is a glorious autumn day, full of sunshine with visibility approaching the maximum and temperatures rising into the mid 80s (F.) At Saint Helena, the train reverses adjacent to the old depot, with the locomotives running around the train, but no passengers are allowed off due to the town’s opposition to the operations of the Wine Train.

The train itself is powered by a pair of ex-CN Alco FPA-4s, and comprises a lounge car, diner, kitchen, diner and lounge car. Each locomotive has a television camera hidden in the nose, which records what happens at road crossing so that blame for accidents can be placed on the appropriate parties. (Groups in the valley opposed to the Wine Train have tried to blame all such accidents on the railroad.) Half the passengers start out in the diners, then move to the adjacent lounge cars for dessert. The other half starts out with appetizers in the lounge cars, then move to the diners when the first group is done. We’re in the first group, in the more northerly diner (closest to the engines, heading north), seated with Will Walters and Marti Ann Draper. Will remarks to Marti that Chris and I are the “only real railfans” on the trip. He bases this on the array of scanner, railfan timetables and rail atlases in my roomette on Friday’s train, not just a camera for photography.

We return to Napa with a lot of time to spare before our return ferry will depart from Vallejo. So, instead of heading directly to Vallejo, our buses take us to the west side of the Napa Valley, where the Christian Brothers have a facility that produces brandy. Here, we enjoy an interesting tour of the facilities, including the aromas of the different kinds of casks involved. After we’re done with the tour here, we return to the ferry dock, still with about an hour to spare before the ferry is dues to arrive, much less becomes available for boarding. Eventually, as the sun starts to set behind the mountains to the west, we board the ferry for our return trip to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Most of the trip, over the same route as this morning, takes place in darkness. Again, we take seats on the top deck, which we expect (correctly) to be cooler than the enclosed lower decks. Our unalloyed pleasure in this is marred, however, by a large Hispanic family that seems to think the whole deck (perhaps even the whole ferry) is their own family room.

Monday, October 10th, 1994

We’re returning to Southern California the same way we came north. A chartered bus takes us back across the Bay Bridge, in daylight this time, to Oakland 16th Street where we’re to board our private cars after they’re attached to the southbound Coast Starlight. During the wait, outside because the depot buildings are closed due to their earthquake damage, we observe the activities in nearby Desert Yard. Eventually, a switcher appears with our cars, which have been turned during their stay in the area. Soon, the train arrives from the north and stops in the station. Our cars are added to the rear and coupled up. Once the connections have been made, we board and Chris and I return to the roomettes we had occupied during the trip north on Friday. The train heads south from Oakland via the Centerville line! It seems that we probably came in that way on Friday, as well.

The route south is the reverse of the route north, and we again eat meals at tables in Colonial Crafts. At one such meal, I exchange information on building dates, etc., at Oakland 16th Street with w fellow-passenger who had been asking about these while we waited for the train. I had since acquired further information from someone else on the train.

Arriving in Los Angeles in late evening, we drive home to Hermosa Beach and go to bed, ready for work in the morning.