Pacific Railroad Society is running an excursion from Los Angeles to Bakersfield and back in celebration of both the PRS 75th Anniversary and the 40th Anniversary of the last wildflower excursions over Tehachapi that ran until Amtrak was formed. We drive down to Los Angeles to participate in this excursion, which passes our house on Tehachapi Pass.
Not long after lunch, we set out driving south, with no incidents along the way, making our usual biology stop at Acton, and reaching the Metro Plaza Hotel around 4 pm. At this stage, things are mostly quiet at the hotel, although we run into Greg Molloy shortly after our arrival. Later, we go to dinner in Olvera Street.
The instructions from PRS say to be at the registration desk by 8 am, so we get up before 7 am, have breakfast at the hotel, where there are many familiar faces in attendance or heading for the station already. We check out and drive over to the MTA garage, where we will leave the car for the duration of the excursion. We walk through the tunnel to the station, where we find that the registration desk is at the entrance to the old ticket hall. By now, we're seeing many old friends and familiar faces, including Bob & Diane Heavenrich. We quickly get our packet at the registration desk, and take out our name badges. I have a quick conversation with Ken Ruben, and then we sit down in the main hall to await boarding time. Judy Decker and her service dog come by to say hello. Joe Maloney also comes by, and Jeffrey Mora waves from a distance.
At 8:30 am, the PA announces that our train is ready for boarding, so we set off back down the tunnel to Track 11, where our assigned Premium Class car is near the rear of the train. On the way out, I say hello to Dave Arthur, who is not, apparently, traveling on the train. Although we have a seating plan for the car showing our assigned seats, the floor plan doesn't seem to match the car, so mass confusion ensues. One group of five that had been assigned seats together never does get to sit together. Joe Maloney, Mia Mather, and Bob & Laura Drenk are also in this car, a former Santa Fe full-length dome that has more recently been an Alaska-based cruise car for Holland-America, and is now owned by Ed Ellis' Iowa Pacific. Clark Johnson, whose High-Iron Travel is now owned by Iowa Pacific, is also on the car.
156 (in the heritage red-nose paint scheme)
Baggage 800320 Pony Express
Full Dome 10031 Ocean View
Full Dome 511 Nenana (aka 800124 Scenic View)
Dome 800190 Silver Lariat
Sleeper 800204 National Forum
Southern California route descriptions
The train departs Los Angeles at 9:09 am. Not long after departure, Chris walks the train to collect the consist and stop to chat to friends. Among those we see in the course of the trip, not including those already mentioned, are: John Anderson, Mike McGinley, Chris Parker, Rick Davidson, Marti Ann Draper, Rolland Graham, Rich Copeland, Russ Davies, Dave Abbott, Ted & Frances Creveling, Robert Stanley, Russell Hogue, Doug Peterson, Tom & Carol Sulanke, and Bill Crawford. The train passes Pomona at 9:50 am, and stops for more passengers at Ontario, from 9:56 to 10:14 am. At West Colton Yard, the train stops to pick mup the UP Pilot for the trip to Kern Junction, and a job briefing among the entire operating crew, from 10:29 to 10:37 am.
Shortly afterwards, we make a big left turn at rancho, onto the Colton-Palmdale Cutoff, the major "rare mileage" of this trip. Depending on whom one talks to, there have been either one or two previous excursions over this route, in various years between 1979 and 1988! Chris and I have not ridden this line (or Kern Junction to the Bakersfield Amtrak station) before.
As the train climbs Cajon Pass, to the west of the BNSF triple track, the folks responsible for serving lunch to the Premium Class are trying to match the number of passengers with their available number of table spaces. Two different waiters make the count, and then Burt Hermey (owner of Silver Lariat, source of the kitchen) comes by to make his own count. Some of us sitting at seat pairs with only tray tables will be asked to go downstairs in the full dome, while others will go to downstairs seating in Silver Lariat, one car behind. We do the latter, both days. We're asked to go down there while the car is still climbing Cajon Pass, thereby removing some of the purpose of riding the dome! As usal for food coming from Burt Hermey, lunch is excellent, even though the service is amazingly slow. Nonetheless, we're back in the dome seats before reaching Mojave.
The train passes Palmdale Junction as 12:28 pm, stops just south of Oban siding from 12;41-44, stops again in Marcel siding from 1:48-55, to meet an eastbound BNSF freight, passes Rowen at 2:14, with another eastbound BNSF freight, Caliente at 2:43, four eastbound BNSF freights between Sandcut and Magunden, stops momentarily at Kern Junction and again before reaching the Amtrak station (to throw a handthrow switch?), which we enter from the east, and stops at Bakersfield at 3:37 pm. We did not meet a single UP freight anywhere over Tehachapi Pass.
The passengers slowly disembark, and most of them walk to their selected hotels, within a couple of blocks It takes a few minutes to get our suitcase back from the room it had been placed in on National Forum, so by the time we get to the Marriott, there's a long line waiting to check in. Chris goes to join the line, while I sit down in the lounge area for a good chat with Mike McGinley. Chris is back some 45 minutes later. Before going to the room, we make dinner arrangements with Mia Mather.
Our room is on the track side of the hotel, so I watch as the special train moves up in the platform, probably to water the second half of the train, and them moves back and forth several time before parking on the third track (no platform) for the night, so as to clear tracks 1 and 2 for the Amtrak San Joaquins that will stable there overnight (three of them). The hotel has provided a list of restaurants, but no street map, and the street map has been ripped out of the telephone directory in our room, so it takes some discussion with the front desk to locate those restaurants within walking distance. Eventually, we settle on going two blocks north, to 18th Street, where we find a passable Chinese place at which much good conversation ensues.
We go to bed relatively early, so we can arise in good time to check out and walk back to the train by the time it's ready for boarding.
I'm up in time to watch Train 701 leave the station at 7:15 am. (Train 711 had left at 4:55 am.) This leave Train 713 sitting in track 2. About 7;30 am, our train pulls out of its storage track and heads west, to turn on the wye west of the BNSF yard. I observe a photo line starting to build on the west end of the main platform, before we leave the room. We check out using the TV facilities, head downstairs, drop off the room keys, and walk out the back of the hotel, to the back of the parking lot, and across the footbridge to where teh photo line is standing, just as the train returns. There are too many people bunched up here for its to make any sense trying to take a photo of my own (and I have several taken from the hotel room window).
A few minutes later, the train is ready to board, and those on our car are told to take the same seats as on Saturday. The train departs at 9:05 am, makes a stop from 9:08-09, along the way to Kern Junction, and then from 9:15-23 at Kern Junction, to board the UP Pilot and have a job briefing for the crew, for which the Amtrak conductors walk forward and then come back again afterwards. (They appear to be riding in National Forum.) At 10:18 am, at Rowen, we meet our first UP freight of the trip over the Tehachapis (there were several between LA and West Colton). From 10:58 to 11:03 am, we make a "media" stop at Tehachapi depot. (John Anderson come by to ask if I want to get off here!)
At 11:46 am, we meet another UP freight at Ansel, and then stop again at Oban from 11:56 to 11:59 am. At this point, we head downstairs and back a car to be seated for another excellent lunch. We're done with lunch by the time we start down Cajon Pass. From about Blue Cut to the separation of the tracks south of Devore/Dyke, we slowly overtake a BNSF manifest that is running on the triple track beside us, almost getting to the front end by the time we separate. This train has two GEVOs on the rear, and four GEVOs up front. The former conductor riding behind me estimates that this train is heading from Barstow (naturally, since its a manifest) to Watson Yard near the harbor.
Bob and Laura Drenk join those getting off at Ontario, with the stop from 2:18-24 pm. We then have a steady run into town, until we get to Aurant, where we stop from 3:09-19 for Amtrak Train 2 to pass us on its (somewhat late?) departure from Los Angeles. We stop again at Yuma Junction from 3:28-32 pm, waiting for Metrolink's River sub. to line us up across the Los Angeles River bridge into the station area. We stop at LAUS at 3:39 pm, and the passengers disperse. We get the car from the MTA garage, and find six cars in front of us at the pay booth. By the time we get to the Metro Plaza (we had had to plan for a 6 pm return), there is a line of people checking in, although nowhere near as long as the line at the Marriott in Bakersfield the previous afternoon. We chat with some of the train riders in the line, before getting our room, which proves to be one of the largest rooms in the hotel, at the other end of the hall from our usual room (which Doug Peterson has).
Chris and I walk back over to the station for more to drink, chatting with Greg Molloy in the hotel lobby at both ends of the trip. Later, we return to the same restaurant in Olvera Street as Friday night, for more Mexican food. While we're at the restaurant, John Caesternaecke, owner of Silver Splendor, stops by to say hello, as does Doug Peterson.
Arising after 8:30 am, we have breakfast with Doug Peterson, and then check out and head home, stopping at Bristol Farms on the way. The drive back north is completely uneventful, in beautiful sunny weather (unlike two weeks before, when there was a downpour in Santa Clarita, and snow after we got home).