Pacific Railroad Society is taking its 6-4-6 sleeper National Forum on the “western” train of private cars to the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners’ (AAPRCO) Annual Convention in Nelson, British Columbia, and Lake Louise, Alberta. The route from Los Angeles is via the SP Coast Line to Oakland, then the former WP (now UP) Inside Gateway to Keddie and Bieber and former GN thence to Klamath Falls, Bend, and the DeSchutes River Canyon to Wishram, WA on the Columbia River. From Wishram, the BN line is taken to Spokane, the Spokane International to Eastland, ID/Kingsdale, BC, and the Canadian Pacific thence to Nelson. Remaining on CP from Nelson to Lake Louise and then across to Vancouver, BC, the train returns south on the BN to Vancouver, WA and the SP thence to Los Angeles.
Today, the segment of private train originating in Los Angeles travels north to Oakland. It runs ahead of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the SP Coast Line. We take the Metropolitan Shuttle to LA Union Station, meet up with the PRS group, turn over our luggage to them, and walk out to the train to board National Forum. This is grouped with ex-UP dome-diner Columbia River, and ex-Santa Fe 10-6 sleeper Palm Leaf, in the middle of today’s train (but towards the rear of the complete train from Oakland onwards). Palm Leaf is half-owned by Jerry Weintraub, once the concert promoter for national tours by Elvis Presley. Lead by a couple of Amtrak F40PH locomotives, the train departs LA on time. Chard Walker is one of the passengers in Palm Leaf.
Coast Route Route Description (to Oakland)
In Oakland, the train enters the West Oakland Coach Yard, where the cars from Los Angeles are added to those waiting in Oakland to make up the complete ‘western” train, which is then serviced prior to departure around midnight. During the evening, many of the passengers spend time on the ground in the coach yard, looking at the cars and what is going on, before retiring to their sleeping accommodations for the night. I spend time talking to Will Walters and Russell Hogue, and then to Russ Davies and Jim Fulton.
Feather River Route Route Description (Oakland to Keddie)
We eat breakfast in the dome of Columbia River and then spend the morning in the dome, remaining there until after lunch. Four guys from Palm Leaf have tried to reserve themselves a four-seat table as being “theirs”, even when they are not present in the dome. Once we realize what is happening, other people are encouraged to move these four folks’ stuff aside and sit down at that table.
At the confluence of the Middle Fork with Spanish Creek, a highway is seen heading north along Indian Creek, and then a railroad line is seen high on the far wall of the canyon. This is the former-WP “highline” that heads north to Bieber (where the WP met the GN) and Klamath Falls. At the east end of what seems like just another tunnel, the line emerges onto Keddie Wye, which comprises two high girder bridges over the creek, one curving east and one curving north, and a third line through a tunnel in the far hillside. The north line is the highline, and the east line is the mainline to Portola and Beckwourth Pass. Our train curves left onto the highline.
High Line Route Description (Keddie to Wishram)
At Westwood, we catch the first sight of Mount Shasta, which is intermittently visible all the way to Klamath Falls. Arriving in Bend, OR, the train is parked for the night on a siding near the depot. While the train is being serviced, a freight arrives from the north and passes our location on the main track. Russ Davies and Jim Fulton head off into town in search of a liquor store. Chris and I simply go to bed, ready to be up when the train starts away in the morning.
Not long after dawn, the train backs up out of the siding into the depot area, then departs northward on the main track. Today’s run is down the very scenic Deschutes River Canyon, then east along the north bank of the Columbia River to Pasco, and finally across the hills of eastern Washington on the old Northern Pacific line from Pasco to Spokane.
After the train is serviced, at Wishram on the former Spokane, Portland & Seattle line, it heads east along the north bank of the Columbia River. We arrive in Spokane in the early evening, and the train is parked at the Amtrak station. Dinner is on our own, so we leave the train and go down through the station to ground level and into the center of town. We walk around the town as darkness falls, then find a place to eat after darkness has fallen. Once dinner is done, we return to the train and go to bed.
In the morning, the train heads east from the Spokane Amtrak station onto the Spokane International line (now owned by Union Pacific) which it takes north through Sandpoint and Bonner’s Ferry to the Canadian border at Eastport/Kingsgate. After border formalities, the train moves forward a couple of miles along the Canadian Pacific line towards Cranbrook, then reverses at Curzon onto the CP branch to Nelson.
At Curzon, the locomotives run around the train and hauls it backwards onto the line to Nelson. On our mid-evening arrival in Nelson, we use taxis to transfer to the hotel in which our group will be staying for the next three nights. Once in our room, Chris and I go directly to bed.
We spend the morning in Nelson, looking at some of the buildings and finding a place to buy a certain kind of battery. Eventually, we have to go to Wal-Mart for the latter. In the afternoon, the “eastern” train arrives, so we walk over to the yard and spend some time photographing the exteriors of all the cars on each train. The “eastern” train had come from Chicago to reach Keddie from the east, a day behind the ‘western” train, then followed the same routing from Keddie to Nelson. It was delayed reaching Spokane due to problems with a car that was removed from the train there. In late afternoon, we watch the daily freight make its eastward passage through the yard. We eat lunch at the hotel, but dinner at another restaurant in town.
Today is full of seminars and meetings for those involved in AAPRCO. For the rest of us, a bus tour north into the Kootenay region has been arranged. This starts out eastward from Nelson, on the north side of the arm of the lake, across from the line we arrived on two days before, then turning north alongside this very long mountain lake, on a ledge below very steep mountains sides. Mid-morning, north of Balfour we stop at a hot springs spa, with indoor and outdoor pools. Later, we stop for lunch at Kaslo, a town which has on display a lake ferry that once was the town’s connection with the railroad at the foot of the lake and the towns at the head of the lake. After lunch, we leave the lakeside and head into the mountains to cross to Slocan Lake the next lake west. On the way, after observing the ruins of a former narrow-gauge railroad along the way, we turn up a side canyon to visit the ghost town of Sandon. Here, we visit a number of the remaining buildings, including the museum and store, and a powerhouse using one of the earliest hydro-generators still in operations, using a Pelton waterwheel.
Leaving Sandon, we continue west to Slocan Lake, reached at New Denver then south alongside the lake, following the route of a former railroad line that once served a ferry slip on the lake, until we reach Slocan, at the foot of the lake, and the active rail line through Nelson at South Slocan. We then return east through the narrow valley and into Nelson past the yard where the trains are parked.
In the evening are the AAPRCO-traditional car parties. Passengers (and townspeople, in this instance) are invited to pass through all of the cars, viewing their interiors, and accepting the hospitality of the hosts. Each car, in turn, hosts other passengers walking through. The variety of car types and interior modifications is fascinating. Many cars have been rebuilt by their owners into (vacation) homes on wheels, although at least one (Dante Stevenson’s gaudily ornate heavyweight Pullman The Survivor) provides its owner’s actual home, even when parked in his home town. Among others, we meet Clark Johnson, Jr., owner of Caritas and manager of the eastern train. (His son Taylor Johnson is manager of our train.)
We again spend the first part of the day at leisure in Nelson, after checking out of the hotel. In mid afternoon, we reboard the train, which leaves eastward (the trains running few minutes apart) the way we came, back to the main line north from the border, then turns north to reach Cranbrook, where we stop for the night.
Many of us manage to photograph the head end of the train on the trestle at the south end of Lake Kootenay from our dome near the rear of the train. At Creston, the train makes a photo-runby. After arriving at Cranbrook, and parking the train alongside the marshaling yard, we visit the adjacent railroad museum, which has an almost complete set of the 1927 Canadian Pacific transcontinental luxury train cars. These are quite fascinating to visit. As usual, in such circumstances, we patronize the museum shop, to the detriment of our bank balance. After dinner in the dome, we go to bed in the sleeper anticipating another early morning start.
Today, we run north past the headwaters of the Columbia River and alongside a couple of lakes through which that river passes, to Golden. After a long servicing stop, during which the other train arrives, the passengers on that train join those on our for the trip up Kicking Horse Pass, through the spiral tunnels, and into Alberta as far as Lake Louise.
The train leaves Cranbrook to the northeast. It soon passes the junction with the line to Kimberley, which goes off to the northwest. This line is now in such poor condition that it precludes taking our trains up there, as had been mooted originally.
The train stops for servicing in the yard south of the junction at Golden, and waits for the “eastern” train to pull alongside so that its passengers can transfer over to our train, since only our train will be running over Kicking Horse Pass to Lake Louise. During the stop at Golden, Canadian railroad author Adolph Hungry Wolf comes by to visit Chard Walker. Dante Stevenson is one of the eastern passengers, who travels in the dome of Columbia River with us. (The car is having quite an encounter with the eponymous river on this trip.)
In Lake Louise, passengers are bussed over to the CP’s Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, adjacent to the beautiful eponymous mountain lake. Here, the AAPRCO Annual Banquet is held. Jim Larson, the Amtrak Special Trains Manager, gives a fascinating after dinner talk on, among other things, the difficulties of arranging to run these trains. Amtrak finally had to force at least one railroad to operate the train(s). Until the last minute, the trains had been intended to run from Oregon Trunk Junction to Spokane over Union Pacific rails through Hinkle. There is also a showing of a CP Rail video on the construction of MacDonald Tunnel. After dinner, we ride buses back to our waiting train at its servicing location at Field, BC, just on the western side of the spiral tunnels. Those on the eastern train are bused to their train waiting at Golden. We will not meet up with them again.
Our train starts out not long after all passengers are aboard. During the night, it passes through Golden, then climbs into the Selkirks and passes through CP’s new MacDonald Tunnel. It then descends through Revelstoke, where it again crosses the Columbia, (which is now headed south rather than north) and on across more mountains to Kamloops. We awake approaching Sicamous, on the shore of Shuswap Lake. After a service stop in Kamloops, we proceed down the Thompson and Fraser River canyons an on into the Via Rail Canada station in Vancouver, BC.
From Field to Golden, we retrace the route of our arrival, the day before. Unit grain trains run on this line from the Canadian prairie wheat fields to export terminals near Vancouver, BC. Unit coal trains from southeast British Columbia (on the Crowsnest line, east of Cranbrook) run to the coal transloading terminal at Roberts’ Bank, southwest of Vancouver, BC. The single track railroad is CTC-controlled from CP Rail’s dispatching office in Calgary, Alberta. The train does not cross the Stoney Creek Bridge, however, since that is on the old line over Rogers Pass, not the one through the new tunnel beneath the pass. The lights are on in the MacDonald tunnel especially for the passengers on the AAPRCO trains. After a service stop in Kamloops, we continue west along the Thompson River and a string of lakes, the CP line we’re on running on the south side of the river and lakes, and the CN line sometime visible to their north.
At Cisco, south of Lytton, the railroads exchange sides of the Fraser River, the CP moving to the west side and the CN coming to the east on an arch bridge at a much higher level, with their bridges almost above one another. Jim Gerstley sprawls across the serving area of the dome (running in reverse) to get his shot of the bridges at the crossing. At the junction with the line to Sumas, we diverge from the route taken by the “eastern” train some hours earlier. Not long after arriving in Vancouver, we go to bed in the train, but not until we have visited the stately depot to use the facilities since we can’t use the direct-drop facilities in the sleeping car.
This morning, a tour of the center of Vancouver has been arranged for our group. We board the buses at the north side of the station buildings. The buses take us through Chinatown and the gaslight district to the Canadian Pacific station where we get off to walk into the beautiful main concourse. Then we head further west to Lion’s Head Park, where we spend some time walking through the park, using the facilities, purchasing ice-cream (and, oh yes, something to feed to the squirrels), as well as walking along the scenic walkways providing views of the Lion’s Gate between Lion’s head and North/West Vancouver and the suspension bridge that crosses it. This narrow waterway protects the entrance to the natural harbor here at Vancouver.
Continuing, we drive through the zoological gardens and past an ornamental lake, then pass through downtown Vancouver then stop again in Chinatown before returning to the station. Some of us walk over to the adjacent lakeshore, where there is an interesting museum. Back in the station, I acquire a Via Rail Canada timetable before returning to the train for lunch. In early afternoon, the train leaves for Seattle. It crosses the US border and then runs alongside Puget Sound for much of the journey, through Everett, and into the coach yard south of King Street Station in Seattle.
North of Mount Vernon, the line from Sumas, traversed by the “eastern” train a full day earlier*, comes in from the east. King Street station. We don’t stop there, however, but proceed into the Amtrak coach yards where the train will be serviced overnight. A fleet of taxis takes us to our group’s hotel, near the Space Needle. We eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and go to bed.
Today, we return to the train to start the journey down the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles. Today’s trip will take us through Washington and Oregon, using the same route as Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Leaving Seattle King Street station, the train is assembled from the two segments in the stub-end platforms. In Portland, we have a lengthy delay, while a problem with the brakes on the rear car, Intrepid, is worked on. This same car had been cut out of the eastern train earlier, in Spokane on the outbound run, and has joined our train today in Seattle. There will be more trouble with that same car’s braking system during the night.
We climb the west side of the Cascades at dusk, due to the delay in Portland. Chris and I are in bed by the time the train stops for its service stop in Klamath Falls.
We awake in the Sacramento River Canyon, just north of Lake Shasta, where a repeat brake problem is being worked on. We travel south through the Sacramento Valley in daylight, continuing on to Oakland, where the train pulls into the yard in late afternoon instead of mid-morning.
In West Oakland yard, the train is separated, leaving only the cars to go on to Los Angeles. There is then a lengthy service stop. While this is going on, Stan Kistler comes by to visit Chard Walker. We leave heading south in early evening, retracing our route of the first day.
The train arrives in Los Angeles at about 5:30 am. We’re not up, and no-one tells us we have to get up. About 6:30 am, the train pulls out of the station and transfers to Amtrak’s Redondo Coach Yard. Here, we detrain and taxi back to LAUS, from which we take the shuttle home. We’re home by mid-morning, after which I change clothes and go to work. It has been a wonderful trip.
* The “eastern” train is returning to Chicago via the Empire Builder route across the northern US.