This trip was to attend the 2007 R&LHS Annual Meeting in Salisbury, NC. After that meeting, we headed back west to meet up with a Mountain Outin' tour group in Winter Park, CO, to spend a week in the high country with that group, before returning home. Travel out, and from meeting to tour was on Amtrak, as was the last leg of the tour.
Amtrak journeys eastward start in Los Angeles, so we leave home about 10 am and drive down to the MTA parking structure beneath the bus station next to LA Union Station, park the car as if we're taking the Flyaway (so that we can park for three weeks without raising questions), check the bags we won't want until after Washington, DC (unfortunately, we can't check them through to Salisbury, NC), check in for our train, and walk over to our usual restaurant in Olvera Street for lunch. After lunch, we sit in the courtyard area until it's time to board the train, and then return to the car for our carry-on bags before heading for track 10, where we find that the train has two private cars on the rear.
Sleeper 32074 Colorado
Sleeper 800149 Evelyn Henry
Dome-lounge800148 Warren R. Henry
Train 2/422, 6-1-2007
|2:30 pm||2:31 pm|
|Benson PT||2:20 am||5:31-34 am|
|El Paso MT||
|Alpine CT||2:20 pm||4:14-27|
|Train 22, 6-3-2007|
|San Antonio||7:00 am||7:16 am|
|McGregor||11:51 am||12:28 pm|
Sunset Limited Route Description
As usual, these days, the train takes the Alhambra line out of Los Angeles. In Pomona, we have the interesting spectacle of intending Amtrak passengers on the Metrolink platforms, having to be told to go back, and then cross the pedestrian bridge and come down on the correct side of the train. However, this does not delay us at all, because UP is making us sit here while two freight trains clear the single line ahead of us! This makes us 28 minutes late leaving Pomona. We take the bypass track at Rancho (junction with the Palmdale cutoff), and then sit for seven minutes west of Colton crossing for cross-traffic to clear. Progress is them smooth until the east side of Beaumont Hill, where we catch up with a freight that it makes little sense to pass before the Palm Springs 'smoke stop'. At the latter, the wind is blowing hard.
By the time we leave Palm Springs, the train is over an hour late, but another stop waiting for opposing freight traffic at the Bertram siding costs us another 28 minutes, and we're almost two hours late leaving Yuma, by which time we're both in bed.
Overnight, we make a triple-stop at Maricopa (where the crew has to be changed because we won't make Tucson in time), and a long stop in Tucson. It transpires that there's a water leak in the shower in one of the deluxe bedrooms in our sleeper, which means that (a) we have to water the car at every place this is possible, and (b) the car is nonetheless out of water before the next opportunity to refill the water supply. The train is three hours and a quarter late leaving Benson, where I get up.
UP's construction projects on this line have now reached the point where the line appears to be two tracks all the way from Tucson to El Paso, so the UP Dispatcher's can weave the passenger train from one track to the other to meet and pass freights going in both directions, just as the BNSF Dispatchers on the Transcon, further north, do. There are some delays approaching El Paso due to trackwork there. In El Paso, the water leak is fixed, and the tanks refilled, so we have no further problems in that regard all the way to Chicago. The train is only two hours and three quarters late leaving El Paso.
However, UP's freight flows split at El Paso, with more than half the traffic taking the Golden State Route to Kansas City, and again at Sierra Blanca, with another large chunk of the traffic taking the ex-Texas & Pacific line to Fort Worth, so there's no prospect of doubling the ex-Texas & New Orleans line east of El Paso. We eat lunch east of Sierra Blanca, and dinner east of the High Bridge over the Pecos River, going to bed in Del Rio.
During the night, the head-end power goes off twice, as we had been warned, as the cars are first removed from the Sunset Limited and then added, separately, to the consist of the Texas Eagle. As we leave, I'm surprised to find that the sleeping car is adjacent to the dining car, and no longer next to the coach it had been behind the night before.
Sleeper 32074 Colorado
Texas Eagle Route Description
From San Antonio, we start out on the former M-K-T route east and then north from Tower 105, but it seems like we swap from the former M-K-T ('track 2') to the former MoPac ('track 1') just about every time there's an opportunity to do so between San Antonio and San Marcos, where the lines diverge. The train runs between a quarter- and a half-hour late all the way to Fort Worth, with no self-evident causes of delay, and continues that way as far as Marshall, where padding in the schedule makes the train suddenly on time. In Fort Worth, a passenger who has been having seizures since San Antonio collapses on the platform during the service stop, and has to be taken away by the EMTs. (Both north and southbound trains are in the Fort Worth station at the same time, a vast improvement over the old setup where this was not possible.) At Marshall, there's a large group of adolescents waiting to board, which they must continue to do during a lengthy crew change before the train pulls far enough down for them to board the coaches. Even so, the train has not pulled far enough to clear the track circuit for a train heading east on the south side of the wye at the Marshall depot.
We eat dinner north of Marshall and go to bed not long after the train leaves Texarkana.
I awake not very far north of Poplar Bluff, although it takes awhile of capturing the route description details before I can calibrate exactly where we are. The train is almost two hours late into St. Louis, and a bit less than 90-minutes late leaving there. It takes the MacArthur bridge over into east St. Louis, before turning north to Granite City and Alton. The train is again two hours late leaving Springfield, where it has to pull into a spur to let a southbound train pass, after leaving the station, and where it apparently leaves some passengers behind at the station. At Bloomington-Normal, more time is lost in a fruitless wait for a taxi carrying those passengers to catch up. As a result, the train is three hours late leaving Joliet, and almost as late arriving in Chicago.
This means that my plans to ride Metra out from LaSalle Street to Joliet, and back, this evening are in abeyance, since by the time we get to the hotel, between the two stations, it is too late to do so without a two-hour layover in Joliet before we can return. There's time on Tuesday to cover that line as well as the one I'd planned on doing that day, but the change removes the need to stay in downtown Chicago at an exorbitant price. We eat at Elephant & Castle and go to bed, with our time on Tuesday now more compressed than originally planned.
On arising in the morning, we check out of the hotel and take the bags over to the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station before taking a morning Metra train out on the Milwaukee West line to Big Timber Road, and return. We then eat lunch at an Italian Restaurant on Jackson Street, before heading to LaSalle Street Station to take the first Metra train out to Joliet, using the former Rock Island Main Line (between Gresham and Blue Island), and then back again on the same route, in plenty of time to be back at Chicago Union Station to board the Capitol Limited.
Milwaukee West Line route descriptions
Rock Island Line route descriptions
Sleeper 32099 New Mexico
Train 30, 6-5-2007
|7:00 pm||7:04 pm|
|South Bend ET||9:30||10:00-07|
|Pittsburgh||5:45 am||5:50 am|
As we head out for the train with the redcaps, we're held just inside the station concourse for some 20 minutes for unknown reasons. When we get to the train, the redcaps say its in a strange order, and even at trainside, the car attendants won't let us on the cars for another ten minutes or so. I use this time to complete collecting the consist. We are, however, only four minutes late leaving.
Capitol Limited Route Description
At milepost 510, NS is building a new signal bridge. As always, with a train leaving this time of the evening, dinner starts late, and since we don't get in until after 8 pm (CT), and there's a time zone change within a hundred miles of Chicago, it's relatively late (east of Elkhart) before we get to bed.
Nonetheless, I awake during the stop at Pittsburgh, and get up fast enough to be able to capture most of the route description east of there as we take the connector over onto the former B&O line out of the city. The river valleys are quite misty this morning, but that doesn't impact my ability to see route description details, which I capture except for a segment east of Connellsville, where we're having breakfast. The train is less than half an hour late into Washington, so we have plenty of time for our planned activities later in the day.
We don't need the checked bags tonight, so we leave them with Amtrak until the morning. We walk the rest of the bags over to the Phoenix Park Hotel, on North Capitol Street, where we check in but can't get a room yet, requiring us to leave the bags with the bell captain. Back at the shopping area in Union Station, we try to find me a replacement watch (mine has died, and I want a specific type), and fail, before having lunch at one of the fast food eateries. We then buy tickets to ride north on the first northbound MARC train of the afternoon on the Camden line.
There are two MARC trains stacked on the platform, so passengers have to walk down to board the correct one, on a platform adjacent to the one from which Amtrak's Capitol Limited is about to leave for its journey to Chicago. Our train (MARC 846, 4:13 pm) leaves on time, and remains more or less that way all the way to Baltimore's Camden Station, as I capture the route details. In Baltimore, we eat dinner at a restaurant in the Inner Harbor area (although not in the pavilion there). Crab cakes at market price are expensive, but that price pales in comparison with the costs of nights in downtown hotels in Chicago and Washington!
After dinner, we take the light rail north to Penn Station, losing about half an hour before a local clues us in that the routes are not what I thought I'd read, and that getting to Penn Station requires changing to a shuttle at the Mount Royal stop. Once at the station, I use my Amtrak Guest Rewards 'select one-class upgrade' cards in our purchase of rides on an Acela trainset back to Washington, upgrading us to First Class for the trip (Train 2119, 8:09 pm. trainset 2006, arrival in DC about 8:35 pm). Even at Business Class prices, the Acela ride is almost seven times the price of the MARC ride over the same distance! The Acela interior and amenities are nice, but not worth the full price, and the ride is not as smooth as it might have been.
Back at the hotel, we get the last available room, with is a huge suite (at the normal room price, under these circumstances), which would have been great except that its thermostat is set at 80-degrees, and there is no stopper for the drain in the bathtub. It's too late to complain about the latter, so we just go to bed. The room does cool down to our changed settings overnight.
We're leaving on the Carolinian this morning, so we check out and take the bags back over to Union Station, where I use the Guest Rewards Select card to access the Club Acela (First Class lounge), which would otherwise not be available to Business Class passengers on a regular train. Chris then goes and retrieves the checked bags from Amtrak, so that we can drag them with us on the train (since there's no checked baggage service at Salisbury, NC, our destination). We have the redcaps take us to the train, so we're on the platform when it pulls in, late, fron New York City. (It's late because of the scheduled repair work being done on the Susquehanna River bridge, north of Baltimore.) When it arrives (10:58 am), the redcap loads the bags on the Business Class car, and Chris grabs us a pair of seats in that car (which has very few pairs left) while I watch the locomotive change from electric (H-H-24 651) to diesel (P42 189).
Train 80, 6-7-2007
|10:55 am||11:18 am|
Carolinian route description
At Alexandria, the baggage to be loaded is on the wrong platform, and a freight is stopped in the middle track, blocking its passage from platform to platform! The train steadily loses even more time on the CSX portion of the journey, having to wait for opposing freights (and opposing passenger trains) on stretches where CSX is doing maintenance on one of the two tracks north of Richmond, or at ends of the single track sections south of there, including a long delay waiting to pass a signal failure at South Weldon (36 minutes, followed by very slow running through the section, resulting in an overall 90-minute loss of time beyond the existing lateness). This makes us late enough that we then have to wait east of Cary for the Piedmont to clear the single track segment on the NS west of there. As a result, we're three and a half hours late into Salisbury. Along the way, the Business Class car is essentially full (with turnover of people) all the way from Washington, DC, to Raleigh.
On the last segment of the journey, an Amtrak employee, who turns out to be on the R&LHS Board, comes into the Business Class car and starts talking to one of the few people remaining in the car, who turns out to be R&LHS Board Member Jerry Angier, so I walk forward and introduce myself. Jerry seems interested, but the other person (who turns out to be Mark Entrop) not so. It transpires that they have informed the R&LHS meeting managers of their arrival on this train, so transportation to the hotel is being provided for them. We did not explicitly do so (not knowing we should), so when Bill Howes greets us at the Salisbury station, it is to tell us he has ordered a taxi for us (and then has to order another when someone else takes ours).
At the hotel, which is a couple of miles south of the center of Salisbury, we get our room and go to bed, mindful of a relatively early start in the morning.
After we get up, we run into Parker Lamb (with whom I've corresponded electronically) in the hotel hallway, so I stop and introduce myself so he can put face to name. We get our registration packets from Bill Howes, and sign our waiver forms in front of him, and then go out front to board the bus which will take us over to Star for today's excursion. While waiting, we run into Russ Davies, Adrian Ettlinger and a few other people we recognize from previous meetings.
The bus, departing at 8:15 am, heads cross-country, generally eastward, via state highways ?? south across arms of Tuckertown Lake on the Yadkin River, 49 north across the lake/river, 109 south, and 24/27 east, before turning north from Biscoe to Star. The bus can't carry quite everyone, so some people travel in a couple of cars, mostly so they can have small-group meeting prior to tonight's Board Meeting. Our train has a former PRR Congressional two-unit lounge-kitchen-diner, an open car, and a caboose, headed by Aberdeen, Carolina & Western 703, and departs Star at 9:47 am, arriving at Aberdeen at 11:40 am. The AC&W operates a number of routes that once formed part of the original Norfolk Southern, that later became part of the Southern railway before being folded into today's new Norofolk Southern. We travel on just one of those routes, today.
Aberdeen, Carolina & Western route description
At Aberdeen, there's a museum in the local depot between the AC&W and the former SAL main line (now CSX 'S' line), with the western end of the Aberdeen & Rockfish, another regional line, across the way. These occupy us for a little while, during which I run into and spend some time chatting with Jim Fetchero, whom we remember from the 1996 NRHS Convention in Charlotte, but the weather is getting hot, and lunch will be served in the diner starting at 12 noon. Lunch is good, but the air-conditioning in the diner end of the dual unit fails; there's not enough seating in the lounge end, which is very cool, so some of us get overly hot on the way back to Star (1:18-3:10).. The bus gets us back to the hotel at 4:37. Chuck Macklin has his mobile bookstore here, and there will be a book signing by Parker Lamb, Bill Middleton, and others, so we head down and buy some appropriate books on my list) to get signed, and then have dinner in the hotel, chatting to Jim & Peggy Caballero, before the R&LHS Board meeting this evening.
Chris and I attend the latter as guests, partially at Parker Lamb's suggestion, and partially to observe the dynamics of this meeting compared to those we participate in for NRHS. The first thing we notice is that there's a lot of 'processing' of the various officers' and committee chairs' reports as they are presented, with questions and discussion back and forth of a kind that we never see at NRHS. Doubtless, the difference between the 15 or so people participating in this meeting and the 60+ (minimum) at an NRHS Board Meeting has something to do with this, but the seating and table layout shows that R&LHS expects this kind of discussion, whereas NRHS is, at least, discouraging it.
R&LHS is running an operating deficit, and covering this by taking funds from the results of its endowment investments, which seems not to faze any of the directors present and voting. The Membership officer (Bill Lugg, jr.) wants to retire from that position, which leads to a considerable discussion of dues billing and payment handling approaches (separating the handling of credit card versus check, for example), which leads to a caution from Bill Howes about not separating the membership records functions for members using these different payment approaches, lest some previous disaster be repeated.
Parker Lamb, who is running the meeting after the first few minutes, in spite of not yet being formally elected President, proposes an interim mechanism for handling dues and membership records, using the services of a former executive secretary he had at the University of Texas, which leads to further cautions about non-members (or employees) handling society funds, and to Ed Graham mentioning what NRHS is doing with Fernley & Fernley, which might also be possible (at some lower cost) for a smaller society such as R&LHS, but no-one else (except us) seems interested in that approach.
Jim Caballero leads a discussion of the conclusions of the Bylaws revision committee that he had led, with no real progress (the suggestion is to bring forth the recommendations for a vote 'a couple at a time'). The results of the recent member survey are described, from which one of the biggest items seems to be the small number of members aged under 50. The Railroad History editor is retiring, and a new one has been selected (Pete Hansen), who will need new publishing arrangements. The 'Resident Agent' (in Massachusetts, where the Society is incorporated) also wants to retire (He's 90+ years old, and has been doing this at least since Charlie Fisher died), and there's a discussion of how to handle this.
The meeting never does get to a discussion of the 'digital society' initiatives, other than an issue of a PC for the Awards Committee chairman to move the operations of that team to e-mail, and Chris and I depart about 10:30 pm, the last of the 'guests' to depart, because we need to get some sleep, not because we're bored with the progress of the meeting. After that, the Board goes into Executive Session and decides on who, among those who have expressed interest, will be the newly-appointed (and elected at the Annual Meeting to come) Directors and Officers.
The itinerary for today shows two daytime events: a visit to the NS Linwood yard, and a visit to the NC Transportation Museum at Spencer, nearby that yard. The plans show the first lasting about two hours, and the second six, which in the predicted heat for the day seems excessive. In the event, the first last four hours, and the second just over two (for the first trip back on the bus), which is much more reasonable.
The NS visit has been arranged by NS Strategic Planning VP, Bill Schafer, who joins us for the visit, as does former NS manager Jim McClellan, 'star' of Rush Loving's book The Men Who Loved Trains about the Conrail creation and dismemberment, who will also be the evening's banquet speaker. For the tour, we are split into groups, and I have the pleasure of spending time chatting with first Bill, and then Jim, during the visits to the Mechanical Shops that follow. The Locomotive Shop services 40 locomotives a day and performs 67 FRA inspections a month It has the only traction motor drop in the southeast (which is 70 years old, and came from old Spencer shops). Full locomotive rebuilds are done elsewhere, generally Juniata Shops in Altoona. The adjacent Mechanical Shop has five tracks, each with a different function. Track 3 handles loaded cars, track 4 is performing a boxcar rebuild program, and track 5 is performing a different boxcar program. The Inspection Tracks perform 400 A6 Inspections per shift. There is no wheel lathe, and no paint shop at Linwood.
We then visit the yard Control Tower, with its operating facilities on the 6th and 7th floors, in groups of five people at a time. Spencer Yard at Linwood terminal was opened in June, 1979, to replace the old Spencer Yard located a couple of miles further south in Salisbury. The new yard is 4.5 miles long, a little over a third of a mile wide, and covers 376 acres. There are 65.55 miles of track in the yard, comprising 46 classification tracks, 8 forwarding tracks, 8 receiving tracks, 5 RIP tracks and 4 engine tracks. Old Spencer yard has 8 classification tracks, 2 auxiliary tracks, and the roundhouse lead, and is adjacent to what was once Southern Railway's largest repair facility for steam engines, and is now the North Carolina Transportation Museum. The old yard still hosts two yard jobs and a local train. Linwood Terminal originates twelve manifests and four locals each day, and terminates the same number of trains. It serves 13 local industries, and has two jobs operating in the receiving yard, one at the hump, one at the shop, and two utility jobs.
By the time we get to the NC Transportation Museum, it's almost noon. We have a group ride on the museum's 'Southern' train, in which Chris and I ride, again, in Pine Tree State, the private car in which we had ridden up the NS Loops and down Saluda Grade at that 1996 NRHS Convention. The car had then been owned by the Piedmont Carolinas Chapter of NRHS, which donated it to the museum two or three years ago. Before boarding this train, I had encountered Alex Mayes, and at a picnic table, after the ride, we sit with Alex and Teresa for a few minutes while they finish lunch and we start ours.
Spencer Shops were constructed at the halfway point between Washington, DC, and Atlanta, beginning in 1896, two years after the formation of the Southern railway. Southern's last steam engine was retired in 1955, and the shops closed in the late 70s. Two donations, in 1977 and 1979, turned over the entire shop facility to the state for the development of the North Carolina Transportation Museum, which, however, was a long time in coming to fruition. Our previous visit, in 1996, coincided with the completion of the exhibits in the restored roundhouse, which was formally opened a couple of months afterwards, in September, 1996. The major development since then has been the restoration of the backshop building, which at that time was just a shell. Restoration started in 2002, and now, it has glazed windows, restored brickwork, and a Piedmont Airlines DC-3 located inside. There are five operable diesel locomotives at the museum, three of which are running trains during our visit.
After walking up to the roundhouse area, on the way back I run into Parker Lamb, who apologizes for the Board not getting to the 'digital society' initiative the previous night, but says that he will be setting up a committee, led by Adrian Ettlinger and including me, to work on this. However, when I mention this to Adrian, he says that Parker hasn't talked to him about it, yet, so we can't start on things until that conversation takes place. Many of the R&LHS members are present on the 2 pm bus back to the hotel.
At 5:45 pm, the bus departs the hotel for the restored Salisbury depot, in whose magnificent architectural space we're having the banquet, to night. Each table has some piece of a trainset on it, and many people sit down and start playing with the toy train components. we sit at a table with Ken and Ann Miller, Russ Davies, David Pfeiffer, and someone else whose name I don't recall. During the table conversation, David Pfeiffer says that he doesn't go to the NRHS Convention because he can afford to ride on only one excursion at such an event, since the excursions are priced so 'only rich people can ride them'. I tell him that I hadn't realized we were rich!
Jim McClellan's after dinner presentation is interesting, but only covers a portion of the events he has participated in in the last forty years.
At 9 am Sunday, the R&LHS Annual Meeting is held, while the audience is eating the provided buffet breakfast. The meeting itself covers the legally required particulars, including a vote of the 'membership' to confirm the officers and directors for the next year, taking up less than 45 minutes. Parker Lamb officially takes over as President. There will be a committee on creating an R&LHS digital data bank system, and another on scanning a portion of the R&LHS Archives into it (and also in dealing with the archives themselves). Parker stresses that he has, so far, only committed to one term as society President. After the business meeting, Bill Schafer gives us a talk on the relationship between his life and railways in North Carolina.
The meeting then draws to a close, and most people depart for home. We're not leaving until Monday morning, so we have the buffet brunch at the hotel restaurant, and then do little or nothing for the afternoon. At dinner time, we finally realize that the hotel restaurant is not open on a Sunday evening, so we walk 'next door' to a steakhouse for dinner. While we're eating, Terry Wells comes over to find out if we can share a taxi to the station for the northbound Crescent at 2:40 am, but we're not taking that train so we can't participate.
We arise in plenty of time to pack, checkout and take a taxi over to the station in time for the 8:25 am departure of the northbound Carolinian.
Train 79, 6-11-2007
|8:25 am||8:37 am|
|WAshington, DC||5:08 pm||6:30 pm|
Tom Lynch, a volunteer train host for the state of North Carolina boards the train is Salisbury and spends some time talking to us. We see him several times before he leaves the train at its last NC stop in Rocky Mount. In Raleigh, where the Business Class car fills up, Adrian Ettlinger, who had come up here on Sunday's Piedmont to spend the might with a friend, boards and sits down in the row behind, on the opposite side of the car. We greet him, but with the car full there's no chance for an extended discussion.
The train is 12 minutes late at Salisbury, and 20 minutes late leaving Raleigh. There are no massive single delays once on CSX north of Selma, but the train loses an additional hour by the time it leaves Petersburg (in part due to the need to stop the train for the single person in the locomotive to copy "EC1 forms", and in part due to the limited speeds at specific locations implied in complying with the instructions conveyed in those forms), and another 25 minutes to Alexandria, which is recovered by the schedule padding on arrival into Washington, DC.
In Washington, we drag all the luggage over to the Phoenix Park Hotel for the night , and eat at the Irish Pub that forms the restaurant at the hotel.
We're still looking for a replacement watch, so we ask the bell captain at the hotel, after we get up. We're directed to a Radio Shack near the Gallery Place metro station, but when we find it, it doesn't carry watches. We've already purchased all-day passes on the Metro, so we take the Yellow Line south from Gallery Place to the Pentagon City Mall, where we find what we're looking for at a cart after failing at two stores. We take the Yellow and Red Lines back the way we had come, walk back to the hotel, retrieve the luggage from the room, checkout, walk back to Union Station, stash the bags in Club Acela (we can't check anything, because Fraser, CO, doesn't handle checked baggage), and have lunch at the Thai restaurant in the upper level of Union Station. Then, with some time still to spare, we ride the Red Line's Silver Spring end out to its terminus at Glenmont (beyond Silver Spring), one station further than we've been before, and return the way we came.
Back at Union Station, we have the redcaps take us out to the Capitol Limited on its low-level platform in the stub-end part of Union Station, where we find that Mark Sublette, whom we've ridden with twice before on this train, and who is a known railfan, is to be our car attendant for the trip to Chicago.
Train 29, 6-12-2007
|4:05 pm||4:08 pm|
|Warerloo, IN||6:24 am||6:56-7:02 am|
|South Bend ET||7:35||8:06-09|
|Chicago CT||8:40 am||8:51 am|
The new signals at the west end of Rockville station are still turned away from the track, as they were in November, 2006. We are delayed by CSX Q.400 from Cherry Run to Orleans Road, where we crossover to pass it, crossing back at Mexico. In honor of David Halberstam, who was killed in a car crash in April, Mark is finally reading The Best and the Brightest, which leads to some interesting conversation. Mark isn't sure he can stick around for another 12 years of being a car attendant on Amtrak to reach retirement age. He hasn't done any railfanning in a couple of years!
We're almost on time into Chicago. After stashing the bags in the Metropolitan Lounge, we walk across Adams Street to Grant Park, where we idle away an hour or two, then visit the Symphony Store at Orchestra Hall, where we spend money on CDs and DVDs featuring Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink, the latter being the orchestra's Chief Conductor since Barenboim left. We then have lunch at Elephant & Castle, before returning to Union Station to board our train. Once again, I mange to capture the consist during the boarding process, due to getting out on the platform early with the redcaps.
Train 5, 6-13-2007
|1:50 pm||1:58 pm|
|Fort Morgan MT||5:10 am||7:57 am|
California Zephyr route description
From 3:12-3:45 pm. we're stopped at Earlville, because there is trackwork occupying one line ahead. At 3:43 pm, Amtrak 4 goes by, and we can then proceed. At Galesburg, we're delayed in the station due to an 'unaccompanied minor' issue. We're then delayed meeting Amtrak 6 at Monmouth, and waiting for barge traffic to clear before we can cross the Mississippi River bridge into Burlington. The dining car crew manages to get an hour late on their reservation timing, so we don't get to bed until west of Creston, IA
On the train, we meet the young woman in the room across from ours on the sleeper, who has an educated English accent, was born and raised in Nuneaton, and is currently a TV Producer living and working in San Francisco. She expresses considerable interest in the railroad radio chatter coming over our scanner.
I awake not long before dawn, in far western Nebraska, and start capturing the route description details, all the way into Denver. As we cross into Colorado, the time in the Mountain Time Zone is a little after 5 am! There are a few slowdowns on the BNSF line into Denver, but no more significant delays. As we leave Denver, on the UP, we are stopped for nine minutes before crossing the Joint Line northwest of the station. Later, we're delayed five minutes at the west end of Crescent siding meeting an eastbound loaded coal train, and six minutes at Tolland before entering the Moffatt Tunnel.
At Fraser, we drag the bags across the street to the wooden depot building, and call the taxi using the 'phone number supplied by Rolland Graham, and take the taxi three miles east to the hotel that will be used by the Mountain Outin' group when they get in on train 6, tonight. We eat lunch at a local bistro, walk around the 'town' (without ever finding the railway line), laze around in the room, and go out for dinner, going to bed as darkness falls before the rest of the group has actually arrived. (As we leave, around 8 am on Friday, we hear people saying that they were only in the hotel ten hours.)
Arising in the morning, we get our tour packet from Rolland Graham, and greet old PRS friends Barbara Sibert, Dave Abbot, Russell Hogue and Ted Creveling (who joined the group at Green River, the day before), along with Doug Peterson and Jim Erdman, whom we'd met on the 2004 Montana by Steam trip. The group has a new bus this morning, so its equally new to all of us, but of course those participating in seat rotation have assigned seats.
We head north on US 40 out of Winter Park, past Fraser and Granby, where we turn north on US 34 to Rocky Mountain National Park, which we cross eastward at high altitude on Trail Ridge Road, stopping to take vista photographs at Farview Curve, crossing the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (10,758 ft.), stopping to take photographs at Alpine Visitors' Center at 11,796 feet (the Visitors' Center is closed) and the Gore Range Overlook, passing the highest point on the road at 12,183 ft, and stopping to take photographs down into Forest Canyon (and the mountains to its southwest) and at Rainbow Curve. The weather is beautiful, with not a cloud in the sky.
Rocky Mountain National Park, created in 1915, contains three ecosystems: Montane, the pine forests and mountain meadows below 9,000 ft.; Subalpine, the forests between 9,000 and 11,400 ft.; and Alpine, the area above the treeline at 11,400 ft., comprising nearly one-third of the park. The park has 72 named peaks above 12,000 ft., culminating in Long's Peak, 14,259 ft., northernmost 14,000ft.+ peak in the Rocky Mountains. Trail Ridge Road crosses the park's highest region from east to west, between the Colorado River Trailhead, on the west side, and Deer Ridge Junction, on the east side. This area was last uplifted between 70 and 65 million years ago, saw volcanic intrusions between 29 and 34 million years ago, and was glaciated starting 2 million years ago, and especially from 300,000 years ago to 130,000 years ago, with a more recent glacial period between 30,000 and 21,000 years ago.
From Farview Curve, the prominent feature along the Never Summer Mountains on the west side of the Colorado River valley is the 'Grand Ditch', a water project from the late 19th-century dug by Chinese laborers that collects water from the never Summer Mountains for agricultural use near Fort Collins, on the east side of the Rockies. The Never Summer Mountains themselves are made of Tertiary Granite, while the overlook is located on the side of some Tertiary Volcanics. The valley between is a major fault zone among Early Proterozoic metamorphic rocks, and was sculpted by the largest glacier in the park. The peaks of the Never Summer Mountains include Mt. Nimbus, Red Mountain (a volcano), and Mt. Cumulus.
The Alpine Visitors' Center is located at 11,796 ft. on Fall River Pass, Early Proterozoic metamorphic rocks above the glacial Cache La Poudre River Valley to the west and the deep Fall River Valley to the east, shaped by a glacier 15,000 years ago.
From the Gore Range Overlook, just west of the highest point on the road, and at an elevation of 12,010 ft., also located on Early Proterozoic metamorphic rocks, the most distant feature is the eponymous mountain range, some sixty miles to the south. Closer, across the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, are the Divide Peaks, with the features visible from Forest Canyon Overlook to their east. To the west are the Cache La Poudre Valley, Specimen Mountain beyond it, and the Never Summer Mountains to its left.
Forest Canyon Overlook looks down on the forested canyon of the Big Thompson River, with the major mountains laid out behind it, including Long's Peak at the furthest east point on the range. Forest Canyon was also sculpted by a large glacier in the most recent glacial period. Looking around from Long's Peak, on the eastern end, the features are Stone's Peak, Terra Tomah Mountain (directly across to the south), the Gorge Lakes valley, and Mount Ida, with the Never Summer Mountains far away to the west.
Rainbow Curve, on Middle Proterozoic Silver Plume granite and pegmatite, provides a look in the other direction, northeast into the Fall River Valley. The floor of the valley is bordered by lateral moraines to the north and south, and a terminal moraine to the east To the north are MacGregor Mountain, on the east, and Bighorn Mountain, towards the west, both exfoliation domes of Silver Plume granite, and up to the north is Mummy Mountain.
On the way down the east slope, we have to stop twice for highway construction, causing a total delay of about 20 minutes. As the bus heads down the twisting mountain road, Rolland gets on the microphone and tells a story about having a neophyte bus driver, on her first visit to mountain roads, driving on a narrow back road in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and having a nervous breakdown with half the day's drive still to go (at night), leaving Rolland's tour group with a bus but no driver!
We stop for individual lunch in Estes Park, and then after lunch tour the MacGregor Ranch, on the north side of town below MacGregor Mountain to its north, seeing the Root Cellar, Horse Barn (up and down), Chicken Breeding House, Wagon Shed, and other outbuildings, as well as the museum in the old ranch house. We then head for Golden, via SR 7, SR 72, SR 119 into Boulder, SR 93 and US 6, to a hotel which seems almost closer to Denver (the center of which can be seen from the highway) than to our destination for Saturday, the Colorado Railroad Museum.
This hotel has people on the second floor (including us), no elevator, and no luggage assistance. It seems a constant on the group part of the trip that hotels ignore Rolland's instructions, and put those requesting "no stairs" on the second floor of hotels, and make little or no attempt to co-locate those who have requested adjacent rooms. However, other than this one, most hotels do provide luggage assistance.
On Saturday, we arise, put the luggage outside the room door, eat the included breakfast, checkout, and board the bus, which drives over to the Colorado Railroad Museum, in a roughly northwesterly direction, confirming on the way my suspicions that the hotel and museum are about as far apart as they could be and still be listed as "golden'. The Colorado Railroad Museum was founded in the 1950s by Robert Richardson and Cornelius Hauck (who was at the R&LHS Annual Meeting, above), both of whom have museum buildings named after them, and was initially located in Alamosa, moving to its present location in the 1960s. The group enters the museum without being given identifying tickets, and without being given the museum booklets that visitors are supposed to get. (Chris and I get our booklet later, when we ask if there's a book to buy that described the collection.) We also purchase books at the gift shop, particularly those published by the museum itself.
A docent who happens to be entering when the group does volunteers to give the group the docent talk, but doesn't tailor it to railfans, so it communicates little or nothing to those of us who have any familiarity with railroads (not just with those in Colorado). Walking around the museum, I take photographs of D&RGW C-28 2-8-0 683, "Royal Gorge" 2-8-0 40, Rio Grande A&B F-units 5771 and 5762, Rio Grande Southern Motor ('Galloping Goose') 2, GB&L diesels 130 & 140, Argentine Central Shay 14, a roundhouse group including D&RGW 2-8-0 346, the oldest locomotive in Colorado, Rio Grande K-37 2-8-2 491, Shay 12, CB&Q 4-8-4 5629, Manitou & Pikes Peak 0-4-2T 1, and Coors SW-8 C988, as well as various passenger and freight cars, some of them narrow gauge. The museum also owns a former Standard Oil 0-4-0 saddle tank, RGS Galloping Goose 6 and 7, an 8-ton Plymouth gasoline locomotive, RGS 4-6-0 20, D&RGW diesel-mechanical 50, Denver, Leadville & Gunnison 2-8-0 191, D&RGW 2-8-0 318, Union Pacific 0-6-0 4455 and D&RGW GP-30 3011.
We ride the museum's demonstration train behind 2-8-0 40, three times around the track for a one-mile ride. Then, after going through the museum area, it's time to repair to the picnic benches for the lunch of salads and deserts that Rolland has bought at a nearby grocery store. At noon, we all board the bus and head off, taking US 6 up the Clear Creek valley, and then I-70 the rest of the way to Georgetown, where we ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad with 1926 Baldwin 2-6-2 12, a recent acquisition from a sugar-cane railroad on Maui. After the train ride, we visit the 1875 Hotel de Paris in Georgetown before reboarding the bus to continue along the highway.
From US 6, twisting along on the north side of Clear Creek, we can see the right-of-way once occupied by the Colorado Central Railroad, along the other side of the creek. Construction of this narrow-gauge line began in 1872, as a result of the discovery of gold in the higher reaches of the creek in 1859. The line up the north fork of Clear Creek to Central City was completed in 1878, while the line up the main fork reached Georgetown in 1877. The line beyond Georgetown, through the famed loop and over Devil's Gate Bridge to Silver Plume was completed in 1884, by which time the quality and quantity of gold being mined had dropped to the point that there was no reason for building further.
The Colorado Central was one of several lines that, having fallen into bankruptcy, were combined into the Colorado & Southern in 1899. Tourist trains ran on the line between that time period and 1932, but by 1939-41, the line had been closed and dismantled. Today's Georgetown Loop tourist line is the result of a rebuilding effort initiated by the Colorado Historical Society, initiated in 1973 after the construction of I-70 through the area (but not without an intensive effort to ensure that the highway was not constructed right through the remains of the old railroad. The new Devil's Gate Bridge was completed in 1983, with train service over the entire Georgetown Loop beginning in 1984.
Georgetown Loop route description
The two-storey Hotel de Paris is located on the south side of 6th Street in Georgetown. It began life as a bakery, but in 1875 it was rebuilt into a hotel by Louis Dupuy The ground floor comprises the kitchen (at the rear), which incorporates the relocated facade of the bakery, the dining room and entrance lobby, with original decor and moldings, directly in front of the kitchen, the owner's library and bedroom on the east side of the dining room, and the salesmen's rooms (which included specially-constructed combination beds and sales desks, some of which are still present). Up the steep stairs on the west side of the dining room are the guest bedrooms for all except the salesmen. The decor and moldings upstairs are all replicas, created from those still extant in the dining room. Cabinets and dining tables in the hotel contain 210 pieces of original Haviland Limoges tableware matching the dining room decor.
On the bus, we head west on I-70, up the steep slopes of Loveland Pass, past where US 40 diverges to the north to cross Berthoud Pass to Winter Park, and then through the 1972 2-mile long Eisenhower Tunnel through the mountain at over 11,000 feet. (Loveland Pass on US 6, up above, is at least another thousand feet higher.). West of the pass, now in a valley of a tributary to the Arkansas River, we descend in a south-southwesterly direction until we meet a fork in the valley, where we (and I-70) turn north-northwest to climb up over another high mountain pass, this one crossing the Continental Divide again and turning west past the fashionable ski resort at Vail and picking up the route of the mothballed Tennessee Pass line at Minturn, at the western edge of Vail.
Once the Denver & Rio Grande won the battle (literally) for the Royal Gorge route, taking over the Santa Fe's construction (including the famous 'hanging bridge') in the gorge itself, and opened the 3ft. gauge line heading west from Pueblo to Salida around 1880, the narrow-gauge railroad built both directly west, over Marshall Pass (see below), and north to the hot mining town of Leadville, in the early 1880s. Having beaten the Colorado Midland to Leadville (the latter did not arrive there until 1887), the Rio Grande built on to the north over Tennessee Pass, descending the gorge and then valley of the Eagle River, north to Minturn, and then west past Eagle to the confluence of the Eagle River with the Colorado River, and southwest, through Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs, continuing west thence to Grand Junction where this second narrow gauge through route met up with the 'narrow-gauge transcontinental' from Marshall Pass and the Gunnison Country.
The arrival of the standard-gauge Colorado Midland in Leadville essentially forced the Rio Grande to convert its Leadville line to standard gauge, to remain competitive, and by 1890 the entire Tennessee Pass route had been converted to standard gauge, thus superseding the Marshall Pass line as the main line of the Denver & Rio Grande west to Utah. The 1934 construction of the Dotsero Cutoff along the Colorado River to the Moffatt line meant that the Tennessee Pass line had, in turn, been superseded as the main line across the Rockies, but it soldiered on as a secondary passenger line (until 1967) and heavy freight line, latterly for coal trains from western Colorado and southeastern Utah, until the Union Pacific takeover in 1996 rendered the line superfluous to capacity, and it was closed (but not removed) in 1997.
I-70 and the mothballed rail line continue westward along the valley of the Eagle River until the latter joins the Colorado River near the railroad's Dotsero. We stop for the night before reaching that spot, in Eagle, where Chris and I are again on the second floor, but this time luggage assistance is provided. We eat in a Mexican Restaurant just east of the hotel.
We leave Eagle headed west on I-70, past Dotsero, where we pick up the operational rail line used by Amtrak's California Zephyr, and head through Glenwood Canyon, desecrated by the construction of I-70 in the 1980s, but in fact much less of a disaster than the original plans would have been before the 20-year legal fight between the environmentalists and the highway developers. (US 6 and the railroad line did very little damage to the canyon, especially compared to what the Interstate has done.) In Glenwood Canyon, we see an eastbound loaded coal train.
At Glenwood Springs, we leave I-70, cross the Colorado River, and head south up the valley of the Roaring Fork to Carbondale, where we turn south-southwest up the Crystal River valley, once occupied by the Crystal River Valley railroad, and its connection further up the valley, the Crystal River & San Juan railroad. The Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, in Pueblo, had an insatiable demand for both coal and coke, for use in its steel mills. CF&I built the Crystal River Railway in 1893, and operated it to bring down coal and coke from the many coke ovens in the Redstone area, until 1910, with a gap in the later 1890s. After 1910, the railroads in the valley continued in operation carrying out marble from the marble deposits in the upper (southern) reaches of the valley, including the huge block of marble used for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (as it was known then), brought out in 1931. Both the marble mills and the railroads were closed and dismantled in 1941.
We stop for a mid-morning break at Redstone, where the town's developer—a man named Osgood—built many coke ovens served by the railroad along the valley. Osgood also built himself a castle along the riverside on the south side of the town. From Redstone, we climb up over a mountain pass and descend, turning westward, into the valley of the North Fork of the Gunnison River (also known as the Peonia River), in which there are rail-served coal mines at Somerset (Hawksnest Mine and Bear Mine) and Bowie (Bowie Mine). One of these mines would have been the source of the loaded coal train that we saw earlier, and while descending the valley we see a unit coal train being loaded at the Bowie Mine, and another on its way down the valley west of Hotchkiss. These coal formations, like those at Crested Butte to the east, are part of the Mesa Verde Formation, deposited as an inland sea receded from Colorado, before the uplift that created the modern Rockies.
The Denver & Rio Grande Western line between Montrose and Grand Junction, through Delta, was constructed in 1882, as a narrow-gauge line, and the line from Delta to Somerset built as narrow -gauge in 1902, with both widened to standard gauge in 1906. In the 21st-century, the line from Grand Junction through Delta to Hawksnest is operated as the 95-mile North Fork Subdivision, treating the former 45-mile branch from Delta to Hotchkiss, Somerset and Hawksnest as the main line, and the former main line south as the UP Montrose Industrial Lead, to Montrose.
West of Hotchkiss, we pick up the valley of the Gunnison River itself, which we follow west to Delta, turning south up the valley of the Uncompaghre River. We follow the Montrose Industrial Lead up that valley to Montrose, where we stop at our hotel for the night, for the luggage to be unloaded, and to give us time to eat lunch (which we do by having full breakfasts at Denny's).
After lunch, we reboard the bus, which heads east out of Montrose for our visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Black Canyon was created by the Gunnison River cutting into the rock of the Gunnison Uplift, which resulted in the abrupt rise in the landscape east of Montrose and north of US 50, beneath the volcanic overlay in which it had started (in the last 2 million years). The eastern side of the uplift is a gently sloping ramp. The depths of the Black Canyon expose some of the oldest rocks on the planet Earth, some almost 2 billion years old. What can be seen on the walls of the canyon are two types of metamorphic rock: schist, in the upper regions; and gneiss down in the depths. The river drops 2,150 ft. in altitude over the 48 miles of the overall Black Canyon west of Blue Mesa Dam, 1300 ft. in the segment of the canyon within the National Park, and 480 ft. in one two mile stretch within the park (through the Narrows).
At the canyon's deepest spot, the rim is 2,250 ft. above the river, and at its narrowest, the rock walls at river level are only 40 ft. apart (and 1,300 ft. apart at the rim). Looking east from Gunnison Point, into Curecanti National Recreation Area, the cliffs near Cimarron, Poverty Mesa, Coffee Pot Hill, and Black Mesa can all be seen. The water flow in the National Park today is quite a bit lower than it was prior to 1909, when a tunnel diverting water from the vicinity of the park's East Portal (which is why the eastern boundary is where it is), for irrigation in the Uncompaghre River Valley around Montrose, was opened. The three dams opened above the tunnel diversion dam, in the 1960s, have reduced the flow still further.
In the National Park, the bus stops for us to take photographs at Tomichi Point, Gunnison Point (where the Visitors' Center is located), Pulpit Rock Overlook, Chasm View, and Sunset View, where we eat the rest of the desserts left over from the picnic the previous day, after which the bus returns to the hotel. For dinner, we return to Denny's, with much less success than at lunchtime, since the restaurant is out of soup for the whole dinnertime period, and is short one waitress (on Father's Day), making for a wait before being seated even at 7:30 pm.
After the included breakfast this morning, the bus again heads east on US 50, past the turnoff to the National Park and over Cerro Summit (over which parts of the erstwhile narrow gauge right-of-way are still visible), the watershed between the Uncompaghre and Gunnison river valleys, into Curecanti National Recreation Area, at which the Park Service maintains a museum for the narrow-gauge transcontinental at Cimarron, where the line left the canyon of the Gunnison River via Cimarron Creek Here, there are some reconstructed stock pens with appropriate preserved rolling stock, and down in the narrow canyon cut by the creek is a section of trestle holding D&RG 2-8-0 278, a boxcar, and a caboose. We buy books and a computer jigsaw puzzle of #278 at the museum store.
The narrow-gauge transcontinental, west from Salida, across Marshall Pass to Gunnison (reached in 1881), through the deep valley of the Gunnison River, across Cerro Summit to Montrose, and then north via Delta to Grand Junction (reached in 1882), was completed throughout to Salt Lake City by 1883. The rails through the Black Canyon (the part now covered by the Morrow Reservoir, not the National Park, where the line never ran) and over Cerro Summit were taken up in 1948, almost twenty years prior to completion of the dam creating the reservoir. The line over Marshall Pass was closed and dismantled in 1956. Since the line between Montrose and Grand Junction had earlier been converted to standard gauge, this removed the last remnants of the 'narrow-gauge transcontinental'.
The bus heads east on US 50, and then turns north on SR 92, across Blue Mesa Dam, and then west along the north side of the upper reaches of the Black Canyon, to the Pioneer Point overlook from which we can see the Curecanti Needle in the canyon walls, that once formed part of the logo of the D&RGW. Returning to US 50, we continue east, through a section where the Gunnison canyon has been flooded by a Corps of Engineers dam (resulting in the National Recreation Area, rather than a continuation of the National Park), before turning south on SR 149 to climb over a minor watershed and then head up a narrowing valley to Lake City, where we stop for lunch.
There was a narrow-gauge branch built in 1889 to Lake City, that lasted until 1933. The line left the main narrow-gauge transcontinental at Lake Junction, near Sapinero, which today is covered by the Blue Mesa reservoir, and ran south, up the Lake Fork valley, through Madera, Gateview (aka Barnum) and Youman. The line had a high bridge some eight miles north of Lake City, whose abutments are still visible on the west side of the valley from SR 149.. A curving bridge on US 50 crosses the arm of the reservoir in the lower Lake Fork valley, today, but none of the former right-of-way is visible. The Lake City Fire Department headquarters is built to look like the erstwhile depot once did, on the same plot of land. A memento of that era is the caboose at the museum, Rio Grande 0588, built in Burnham Shops, Denver, in 1900.
After lunch, we have a walking tour of the town, hosted by Grant Houston, the publisher and editor of the local newspaper. Summer tourism started in 1912. In the mining era, the population was around 5,000, and then dropped to 100 by 1950, but has since grown back to over 200. The area now occupied by the park was the original business district that burned down in 1915 and was never rebuilt. The western-style (false-front) buildings west across the street date to 1876. Two blocks north is the oldest Protestant church on the western slope, dating to 1876, built in wood with stained glass windows. (In common with most other Colorado mining area, Lake City is located in the Colorado Mineral Belt, an area running northeast to southwest, where most of the igneous intrusions that resulted in economic mineral deposits were concentrated. Georgetown and Silver Plume are also in the Colorado Mineral Belt.
After the guided tour of the town, we head south on SR 149, up a steep grade to Slumgullion Pass (el. 11,520 ft.), watershed between two streams that both flow to the Pacific Ocean, then through a relatively shallow valley past Powderhorn, and over Spring Creek Pass (el. 10,980 ft.) that crosses the Continental Divide back to its eastern side (water flowing to the Gulf of Mexico), before descending into the valley of the Rio Grande, which at this point is flowing due east. The road turns northeast, east, and then north into the former mining town of Creede (el. 8,852 ft.), terminus of an original narrow-gauge branch from Alamosa that was converted to standard gauge and lasted as an operational line into the 1980s. Much of the track is still in place, and the operator of the La Veta Pass line has visions of making it a tourist line. The depot is still standing, and in use as the town's museum, but we don't make a stop here!
When silver was discovered in the mountains northwest of Alamosa, in 1890, the Rio Grande soon built a branch west from Alamosa, up the valley of the Rio Grande, past South Fork (reached in 1882) and Wagon Wheel Gap, reached in 1883, to Creede, reached in 1891. Narrow-gauge at first, the line was converted to standard-gauge by 1900. The last passenger train to Creede ran in the 1960s, and the last mine closed in 1985, but the track is still in place to Creede and the company now running the tourist trains over La Veta Pass (see below) is now considering running tourist trains between South Fork and Creede.
We continue south and southeast, to South Fork (el. 8,169 ft.), still in the Rio Grande valley, where we turn southwest on US 160, up the South Fork valley to another 11,000+ ft. crossing of the Continental Divide, Wolf Creek Pass, whose wonderfully-engineered highway descends on a 7% grade on the western slope, which we take down into the valley to our night's stop in Pagosa Springs, where once again we're on the second floor. This hotel actually hands out a copy of Rolland's guest list and instructions on "no stairs" and "adjacent rooms", all of which it has clearly ignored!
We walk back into town and have dinner at an excellent Mexican Restaurant.
Departure from the hotel is slightly earlier this morning than the last two days, since we have a train to catch! We head south on US 84, into New Mexico, crossing over the Continental Divide along the way. As the road turns eastward for the last stretch into Chama, the old right-of-way for the line between Chama and Durango becomes visible on the south side of the road (it's a slight embankment, approaches and then crosses the road, and then runs on the north side of the road, sometimes near, sometimes across a field or meadow, all the way into Chama, with embankments and cutting indicating tis location.
After we turn north to enter Chama, we cross two legs of the Chama wye at grade before reaching the yard and depot area. There's plenty of time to wander the yard before departure, viewing the old coaling tower and water tower, the rolling stock, and a couple of steam locomotive, one in steam (K-36 2-8-2 487 (and one not, inside the shed (K-37 2-8-2 497). Our train has K-36 2-8-2 484 at its head, with several coaches, an open car, and two parlor cars on the rear. All of these are reconstructions or recreations from the 1980s or later.
The parlor cars are now on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad this year, and seat 20 people. Rolland has purchased all the seats in one of them, and an equal number of coach seats for the entire one-way trip to Antonito. Half the group (there are 38 people plus Rolland) will ride in the parlor car between Chama and Osier, and the other half between Osier and Antonito. Those in the coaches have assigned seats and must yield their tickets (to Rolland) after they have been punched. Chris and I ride in the coaches for the first half of the day (which is good, since our assigned seats are in a coach close to the locomotive for the 4% climb to Cumbres Pass), but the assigned seats are on the north side of the coach, which is not so good on most of the line (but is the correct side for Tanglefoot Curve).
Before the Rio Grande had turned west into the Royal Gorge to reach Salida, it had already reached down the eastern front of the Rockies, past Walsenburg to Trinidad, all in narrow gauge. From Walsenburg, a line headed west to Alamosa (see below), from which the San Juan extension, begun in early 1880, headed south down the Rio Grande valley to Antonito, and then west, over the mountains, to Chama (reached by the end of 1880) and Durango (reached in 1881), with branches north to Silverton (reached in 1882) and south to Farmington. The San Juan extension soldiered on until after WWII, and was saved from closure in the 1950s by its use to transport construction materials for the development of oil finds near Farmington into the early 1960s. Passenger trains ceased service in the early 1960s, except on the scenic line between Durango and Silverton, and freight trains ran until 1968.
Since the most scenic part of the line, crossing Cumbres Pass east of Chama, NM, crosses the state line between new Mexico and Colorado eleven times in its run to Antonito, the next possible staging point along the line, this section of line was purchased jointly by the states of New Mexico and Colorado, and has been run as a scenic passenger line since 1970, by a succession of operators hired by the states acting together.
Cumbres & Toltec route description
It is great to hear the locomotive working hard up the 4% grade from Chama to Cumbres! Lunch at Osier is excellent as usual (and we run into a permanent way volunteer that Chris had met at the Colorado Railroad Museum the previous Saturday). At Osier, K-36 2-8-2 488 proves to be the locomotive going the other way. (Locomotives go through, trainsets return to their place of origin; the latter has something do do with which stock can be hauled up the 4% grade.) There's a delay getting into the Antonito-based parlor car as we board the train after lunch, since its previous passengers have left stuff behind, but the attendant clears that away and then comes back to let us in. There's open seating in the parlor car, so those of us in the know grab seats on the south side of the car for Toltec Gorge.
On the final stretch into Antonito, various pronghorn antelope race the train. One races along the west side until it can get in front, and then crosses over the track ahead of us. The speed attained by these animals is outstanding!
In Antonito, we reboard the bus and drive north to Alamosa. There's no 'acceptable' restaurant anywhere near the hotel, so we have an included dinner in town. However, the restaurant has forgotten to put on the buffet it had promised Rolland, and has to scramble to accommodate the group (although a long table for us has already been arranged). Rolland apologizes to the group for the delay, and gets a funny look on his face when I say that some of us wouldn't normally eat for another couple of hours! After dinner, the bus takes us west to the hotel on the far edge of town.
In the morning, we get up and take the bus back to the center of Alamosa. There's an accident on US 160 that makes it hard to get out of the hotel to head east. Road construction makes it difficult to get the two blocks south to the station in the town center, but we eventually get there. The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad's steam locomotive, former SP 2-6-2 1744, is parked west of the station, facing west. Our train has the concession car, a roofed open car with longways bench seats, a former LIRR commuter coach, and a parlor car (extra fare) at the rear, headed by a former Amtrak F-40 now numbered 456.
As the Denver & Rio Grande built south from Pueblo to Trinidad, in a vain attempt to build over Raton Pass, it simultaneously built to the west to enter the San Luis Valley. The lines split at Cuchera Junction, east of Walsenburg, and the line towards the west passed through Walsenburg to reach La Veta as a narrow gauge line in 1876, continuing as a steeply-graded narrow gauge line over the mountains, to the north of the present alignment, through Placer to Garland City (Fort Garland) in 1877, and thence westward across the valley floor to Alamosa in 1878. The narrow-gauge line southward to Antonito, splitting there into routes to Chama and Santa Fe, was completed in 1880
The line into La Veta from the east was converted to standard gauge in 1890. A new standard gauge line was built on a new route, curvier but less steeply graded, between La Veta to Wagon Creek Junction (west of Placer but east of Garland City), in 1899, and the existing line from Wagon Creek Junction to Alamosa was converted to standard gauge, also in1899. The line from Alamosa to Antonito was converted to dual gauge in 1901, and to standard gauge only in the 1960s. Most of the old narrow gauge line over the mountains, from La Veta to Placer (east of Wagon Creek Junction), was removed in 1902. After Union Pacific took over the lines of the former Denver & Rio Grande Western in 1996, the line from Walsenburg to Alamosa (and also onwards to Antonito and South Fork) was sold to the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, in 2005?
La Veta Pass route description
There is a problem with the adjustment of one of the brakes on the locomotive, so several miles out of town, we stop while a maintenance truck drives out and swiftly fixes the problem (21 minutes for the truck to arrive, three minutes to fix the problem). At the return loop just west of the summit, a passenger, not in our group, comments that this looks like something one would find on a model railroad! Before the line moves away from the highway, we see our bus going by, having been back to the hotel and loaded the luggage before heading east. We make a ten-minute stop where there is a siding, for maintenance of way equipment to clear the line ahead into that siding. The excuse is that we 'got here faster than they had anticipated'. We're thus 35 minutes later than expected into La Veta.
Our group walks across the park and adjacent street to the La Veta Inn, where we have an included sandwich-buffet lunch. We then board the bus and head south on SR 12, to the west of the Spanish Peaks, nothing along the way various places where high, relatively thin, rock walls, known as dikes, have resulted from geological events (igneous intrusions) in the distant past. Eventually, the road turns east and descends a valley that was once a rich source of coal for both the railroads in the area and the steel mills at Pueblo. We turn off the main road to take a quick look at the town of Cokedale, owned by a coal company from 1907 to 1947, at which time there were 350 coke ovens nearby, and purchased by its residents in 1947, for $100 per room of each building, and $10 for the lot on which they sat (and with the buildings little changed since). the area is notable for the various slagheaps that line the main road.
Like those in the Crystal River Valley, the coal mines and coke ovens in the Purgatoire River valley were developed by, or on behalf of, CF&I. The Southern Division of the Colorado & Wyoming Railway was built in 1900 to service the coal mines being developed in the valley, at a string of mines at Wilder, Primero and Segundo, and then up the south fork of the river at Tercio, Quatro, Quinto and Sexto, with the line completed by 1908. To meet its need for coke, CF&I also developed those coke ovens at Cokedale. Most of these mines were closed during the Great Depression, although some re-opened in WWII, and the track in the south fork valley was lifted in 1951. Later, mines were developed in the North Fork valley, near Stonewall, and unit coal trains ran for awhile starting in 1971, but these mines had all closed by the end of the 20th-century, and the track was lifted in 2003.
However, the route taken is still visible along the valley, on the south side near the western end of the north fork, then along the north side, with trough truss bridges still present where the line once crossed watercourses. A further stretch of visible right-of-way along the south side of the valley, leads to another stretch along the north side near Cokedale.
Reaching Trinidad, we turn south on I-25 and cross the state line and Raton Pass into New Mexico, stopping for the night in Raton at the southern foot of the pass. Here, we have another included dinner at a steakhouse, and then a large fraction of the group attends an included performance at the local theater. Chris and I are among those who return to the hotel instead. (When one prefers reading to watching actors, a motel room is a preferable environment to a theater!)
There's an option this morning—to depart relatively early to visit the local museum, or to depart later when the bus departs the second time with the luggage to take it to the Amtrak station (former Santa Fe depot) in Raton. Chris and I opt for the latter, and when we get to the station see that those others are already waiting there. Luggage can't be checked here, so it must all be loaded onto the cars people are traveling on. The train is actually ten minutes early into Raton, but four minutes late leaving due to the time taken to load all the luggage onto the sleeping cars.
Train 3, 6-20-2007
|Raton, NM||10:56 am||11:00 am|
|Las Vegas, NM||12:38 pm||12:46 pm|
|San Bernardino||5:27 am||6:57-53 am|
Southwest Chief route description
On boarding, we're given a lunch reservation for 2 pm. This is fine with us (since we had breakfast after 9 am), but leads to complaints from a number of people in the group. While we're stopped in Albuquerque, where Chris and I go into the Greyhound bus station to buy batteries for the scanner, since the set we bought with the scanner in Greenville proves unusable, we see our first operational RailRunner commuter trains—one in each direction during the period we're stopped, between Belen to the south and Bernalillo to the north (soon to be extended to Santa Fe).
We've taken 8 pm dinner reservations, and since the dining car crew gets an hour behind in their service, this means we end up eating between Winslow and Flagstaff! We go to bed before the train makes its stop at Williams Junction.
As expected, the train is late at San Bernardino, Riverside, and Fullerton, but well ahead of the padded arrival time in Los Angeles. Here, the lack of checked baggage is an advantage, as it means we can go directly to the MTA parking garage at the same end of the station the train arrives at. We stop at Bristol Farms for English cheese and butcher meats, and at McDonald's in Acton for coffee, etc., and are home before 10:30 am.