National Train Day, LA, and R&LHS, Birmingham
May 11-23, 2012

Don Winter


This trip was to attend the 2012 R&LHS Convention in Birmingham, AL. On the way, we also attended National Train Day in Los Angeles and visited the Transcontinental Railroad exhibition at the Huntington Library. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak.

When we booked this trip, the Sunset Limited was still on its previous schedule (of the last few years). Had I known of the new schedule (as of May 7th), I might have made different arrangements.

In Los Angeles (5/11-5/13)

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Having no specific engagements today, the biggest driver on our timing is the desire to get to Los Angeles before evening rush hour really sets in. So, we set off from home early afternoon, go by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription that had inadvertently not been refilled the last time we did prescriptions, and then head east on highway 58 and south on highway 14 into greater LA, taking I-210 from Saugus into Pasadena and then the Pasadena Freeway to Chinatown, where we get off to go to the Metro Plaza Hotel.

Later we go to the Taix Restaurant for an excellent dinner. On our return, we encounter Doug Peterson, who is here to be a car host on the 3751 Grand Canyon excursion, leaving on Monday morning. Naturally, he assumes we're here to ride that train, and is surprised that we're not.

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

This morning, we have breakfast in the hotel before walking over to Union Station for Amtrak's National Train Day festivities. The line to walk around the railcar exhibits is already an hour long, at 10:30 am (an hour before opening time), so since we've already been inside or ridden in the vast majority of the cars on exhibit, we eschew that part of the day and go up onto an adjacent platform so I can record the identities and locations of all the cars on exhibit While I'm doing this for the Grand Canyon train, Chris walks around to the concession car to buy some tee-shirts, and in so doing, encounters the folks from Albuquerque whom we had met at the Tacoma Convention (who are rebuilding their own Santa Fe 4-8-4, and are here to help and observe). Rick informs us that the auxiliary water tender they had intended to use (from the 4449 folks) had been bad-ordered by UP before leaving Portland, and thus will not be available for the excursion. Many additional water stops will thus be required.

Grand Canyon train:
4-8-4        Santa Fe 3751
P40                            809
Baggage        DLMX 5659    Gordon R. Zimmerman
Lounge                   800633    Overland Trail
Lounge                   800380    Royal Gorge
Dome                     800604    Silver Splendor
Dome                     800392    Plaza Santa Fe
Sleeper                   800481    Silver Rapids
Dome                     800149    Silver Lariat
Dome-Observation 800333    Silver Solarium       

Amtrak cars on exhibition:
P42                                66
Diner                           8806    Salinas Valley
Sleeper                      32009    George M Pullman
Pacific Parlor              39975    Santa Lucia Highlands
Diner                          38044
Lounge                       33015
Coach                        34512
Business                        6806    San Simeon

Metrolink cars on exhibition:
F59                                875
Coach                            138
Cab Car                         661

Other exhibits:
GP15-1                 UPY 738
PR30C                    PHL 40

Having recorded the exhibit identities, we walk back into the station, and go around the various stands in several parts of the station. Here we also encounter people we know, including Ken Ruben. Then its time to meet family members for lunch, so we walk back to the hotel to drop off the stuff we have acquired, and then meet them outside to ride in Roger's car up to the Plum Tree Inn in Chinatown, where we have an excellent and friendly lunch.

After lunch, we're dropped off adjacent to a walkway up to the bus depot, whence we go down to the Red Line ticketing area, buy day passes, and then ride on the red Line to 7th and Metro and then the new Expo Line out to La Cienega and back. At La Cienega, one of the trains (the original 1990 cars) fails with brake problems and so we have to take the next later train back to town. National Train Day is now over, and most of the stands have already been taken down.

Later, we walk over to El Paseo for dinner, where we find the menu is now much shorter, and the food quality has degraded. We'll be looking for a new restaurant the next time we visit Olvera Street.

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

At breakfast this morning, we have a leisurely conversation with the folks from Albuquerque before driving out to the Huntington Library to visit their special exhibit on "Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880", which comprises (mostly copies of) photographs and documents detailing the proposals for and construction of the transcontinental railroad. The exhibition celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Union Pacific Railroad, and is divided into segments on Early Visions and Visionaries, Charting the Route 1840-1862, Launching the Enterprise 1862-1865, Spanning the Continent 1865-1869, Creating a New America 1869-1880, and Epilogue: Iron Horse America. Most of the exhibits are drawn from the Huntington's own manuscripts collection.

After lunch at the Huntington's cafe, we also visit the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden, at leisure, before returning to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon. As we're checking out, in early evening, we run into Mia Mather, checking in for the steam excursion. Naturally, she too assumes we're riding on that train until we explain otherwise.

The Journey East (5/13-5/16)

Sunday, May 13th, 2012 (cont.)

We drive the short distance to the MTA garage, parking at the FlyAway level. We take one suitcase to Amtrak to check through to Birmingham. Dinner is sandwiches from the Subway in the station, and we return to the car for the rest of the bags and board the train about 9:15 pm. I collect the consist before departure. We discover that the sleeping car attendant has asked the yard not to make up the beds before delivering the consist to the station, so we have a delay before getting into bed.


P42                            16
P42                           138
Dorm                     39041
Sleeper                  32095    Nebraska
Diner                      38062
Lounge                   33034
Coach-Baggage      31002
Coach                    34055__________
Coach                    34102    off at
Sleeper                  32007     San Antonio

Train 2, 5-13-2011



Los Angeles

 10:00 pm

10:01 pm

Pomona 10:41 10:44-46
Maricopa 5:30 am
6:18 am
Tucson 7:28
Benson                       PT 9:15 9:42
Lordsburg                  MT 12:15 pm 12:34-36 pm
Deming 1:20 1:28 stop and go
El Paso                      MT 3:10
Alpine                        CT 8:45 8:10-45
Sanderson 10:36 10:34-36
San Antonio 4:50 am
6:25 am

6:25 am
Houston 11:10
12:10 pm
12:10 pm
Beaumont 2:05 2:05-12
Lake Charles 3:29 3:17-29
Lafayette 5:15 4:53-5:15
New Iberia 5:41 5:38-41
Schriever 7:03 6:58-7:03
New Orleans 9:40 8:35

Sunset Limited route description

Monday, May 14th, 2012

I awake in Maricopa as we make our five-spot stop for the crew change and Phoenix passengers. The entire time we're stopped, some 25 minutes, we're blocking a road that has gone from a local country road to a thoroughfare for housing developments to the south, which we're blocking at early morning rush hour! On leaving, we meet a westbound UP double-stack, then overtake two east bound UP manifests at Casa Grande, where there is also a westbound train of flat cars with loads of ties. Two more westbound UP freights pass during the Tucson stop, where Chris & I are eating breakfast.

After leaving Tucson, the train overtakes an eastbound manifest at 36th Street, and an eastbound intermodal, meeting UP 2305 with a westbound manifest at Vail Crossovers. Our train crawls towards Vail Crossovers, and then takes Track 1 (the old El Paso & Southwestern) east from that location, passing over the long trestle at Cienega Creek, then crossing over at Chamoso for the Benson stop, crossing back afterwards at Sibyl, and crossing over again at Tulley. In addition to whatever trains might have been on the north track while we're on the south track, we meet a westbound UP manifest at 11:07 am, before leaving Arizona and changing to Mountain Time.

There is a westbound UP work train just east of Lordsburg, after which Chris & I have lunch, There is no custom at Deming, so we make only a stop-and-go. Since we run on the south track east of Deming, I don't see any opposing traffic for awhile. Approaching El Paso, the trains stops at Ice House, and gets flagging instructions, also having to flag at Tower 196 before stopping in the station. While we're stopped, UP 2504 west and another westbound head west on the mainline just to the north of the passenger track. Half of the freight traffic on the Sunset Route takes the Tucumcari line east of El Paso, so we no longer see it.

Folks we had met at lunch said that their room in the Dorm car was overheated, and that the problem would be worked on in El Paso. When it wasn't, they called Amtrak, and the train then stopped at Tornillo (for three minutes) for the crew to examine the issue. It couldn't be fixed on the road, so another call to Amtrak got the affected passengers a full refund on their room costs. We meet a westbound UP autorack train at Iser, UP 7501 with a westbound double-stack at Small, and follow UP 5702 east as far as Lasca. East of the split with the former Texas & Pacific at Sierra Blanca, where half of the remaining freight traffic heads for Fort Worth, we meet a westbound UP manifest at Mallie. Later, after we have entered the Central time zone, the train makes an eight minute stop short of Alpine due to a freight train ahead. (We have a long stop at Alpine, another crew change point, so it makes no sense to run us around this freight train west of Alpine.)

Chris and I eat dinner, scheduled on Mountain time, during the Alpine stop. As we get ready for bed, the train meets UP 7402 west at Emerson.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I awake in time to look at my watch as the train leaves San Antonio. It then stops for almost half an hour to refuel at the fuel rack in Kirby Yard, leaving there at 6:57 am. After breakfast, the train passes an eastbound intermodal train that has derailed a well car at Weimar; the usual contractors (Herzog or Hulcher, I didn't note which) are well in evidence, resolving the issue. The train stops for 36 minutes at the east end of Eagle Lake, awaiting UP 7495 west with a double stack and UP 8085 west with a manifest. (This sort of dispatcher behavior is encourage by schedules with lots of padding approaching major terminals, and lots of apparently unneeded dwell time at those terminals; it always seems to happen approaching Houston, so perhaps the schedule is defending against delays that would happen anyway.)

After the stop, we pass a rock train, and then have a 14-minute stop at Harlem to meet KCS 4030 west, a trackage rights train headed for south Texas and/or Mexico. Our train makes another five minute stop before arriving in Houston, where nonetheless, it manages to leave on time. There is a signal suspension (due to replacement of signals, no doubt) on the former MP line normally used by eastbound trains, so our crew persuades the dispatcher to run us on the former SP line past Englewood Yard instead of the normal routing. This earns us a ten-minute stop at Tower 87 (where the East Belt line crosses, and the  passes under the Englewood Yard hump), but we're still only a few minutes late at Beaumont.

There are numerous slow orders along the Lafayette subdivision, especially on the segment now owned by BNSF, but the schedule is so slack that the train has to wait for time at every station along the line and is over an hour early into New Orleans. With a tighter schedule, it could easily have been another half hour ahead of that time. Also, the train reverses (as do all others arriving at New Orleans) on the passengers' time, not Amtrak's time, before arrival in New Orleans.

The redcap takes us out to the taxi area, and we take a taxi over to our hotel. Due to the street construction for the new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, we have to go some five blocks further south than usual, and come in the back way at the hotel! Hotel staff are surprised that we're only staying nine hours, and seem offended on the part of New Orleans tourism.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

We're aroused by the alarm clock at 5:30 am, checking out at 6 am and taking a taxi back to the station. We wait in the minuscule first-class lounge until the boarding call for sleeping car passengers at 6:35 am, after which the redcap takes Chris and the bags out to the sleeper, while I walk the train to collect the consist. I get there first!


P42                       124
P42                        138
Baggage                1705    (ex-4728, formerly 4863, from ATSF 2851)
Sleeper                62040    Summer View
Sleeper                62007    Colonial View
Diner                     8530    (ex-8702, ex-3321, ex-3643 Molly Pitcher, from PRR/PC 7143, same name)
Cafe                    28004
Coach                  25011
Coach                  25085
Coach                  25068
Coach                  25036 

Train 20, 5-16-2012



New Orleans

7:00 am

7:00 am

Slidell 7:57 7:58-8:01
Picayune 8:22 8:22
Hattiesburg 9:30 9:23-30
Laurel 10:05 10:00-05
Meridian 11:02
Tuscaloosa 12:44 pm 12:41-57
Birmingham 2:15 2:14 (arr.)

Crescent Limited route description

Last night's westbound Crescent arrived at 11:30 pm, so some of the usual overnight preparations have not been achieved this morning, the call for breakfast is thus later than usual, and some of the breakfast items are not available. The train makes a six minute stop at X Tower for a westbound NS manifest. We meet two NS manifests south of Hattiesburg, eat lunch near Tuscaloosa, stop for two minutes for signals at the Warrior River bridge, and wait 11 minutes at Coaling for Train 19.

At Birmingham, there are no passenger-operated facilities for getting off the platform, other than the stairs, so we have to go down in the freight elevator with the baggage cart. We reclaim the checked bag, and get a taxi driver to help move the bags out to his taxi, which then takes us to the Tutwiler Hotel, the first luxury hotel in Birmingham, built in 1914 and most recently refurbished in 2006. It is now a Hampton Inn.

We're basically a full day ahead of most other meeting attendees, due to the realities of three-day-a-week trains (west of New Orleans), so we hang out in the room for the rest of the day and eat in the overpriced (but excellent food) restaurant.

At the Convention (5/17-5/20)

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Expecting not to do much with today, we get up in time for the included breakfast, and are surprised to see Howard Brown and Ken & Ann Miller in the breakfast room. Howard had come down on Train 19 on Wednesday, and the Millers had driven 900+ miles in 16 hours from Phillipsburg, NJ, coming down yesterday because they weren't sure how long the drive would take. Howard is going to spend the day exploring Birmingham, on foot, while Ken & Ann have some specific destinations in mind, picked off a local tourist folder, by car. Chris promptly ask if we can invite ourselves along, and is told 'yes'. Ken says we'll meet in the lobby at 11:30, as we're ejected from the breakfast room because it's 10 am.

Back in the room, I'm surprised to get a call from Ken in only half an hour, but we head downstairs and the four of us head out to visit the "Arlington" antebellum house, out to the west-southwest of downtown. Finding such a house in this vicinity is somewhat of a surprise, since Birmingham wasn't founded until 1871, and thus the house predates the city. We head south on 20th Street, through the financial center, and then west on 1st Avenue North to Cotton Avenue in Elyton, three miles from the center of Birmingham, where we soon see a fenced grassy area with a house behind it, and turn in what transpires to be the back gate.

The two-storey house was built in the early 1840s, in Greek revival style. It survived the Civil War, and had four owners before the City of Birmingham purchased it in 1953, as a house museum. The ground floor has an entry in the center, two rooms to the east, and one (originally two) to the west. The placement of windows and doors provided cross-ventilation in the pre air-conditioning era. Present-day furnishings, while generally of appropriate eras, are not original to the house. The upstairs has a central hallway, four bedrooms, and two bathrooms (added at a later date, along with plumbing that reuired adjustments to the floor level in the hallway and the back bedrooms). The kitchen was outside, accessed from the rear porch, and has been moved to make way for a garage at some stage in the 20th century. Representative kitchen equipment is present in the relocated kitchen.

We buy tickets for the house tour at the office in a rear building, and get a good guided tour of the house, initially for the four of us, and alter with three additional people. After the tour, we head back into Birmingham, looking for an ATM for both Chris and Ken, and then someplace for lunch. Finding nothing along 1st Avenue North, we turn south on 20th Street, and find the appropriate resources in the University area of south Birmingham. We eat lunch at a Greek restaurant called Makarios, and while there discover the source of the earlier time confusion. Ken had not noticed the passage into the Central time zone, and is still operating on Eastern time!

After lunch, we head further south, to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where we while away several hours walking very slowly around the northerly half of the gardens, as befits the walking difficulties experienced by some of us. The weather, in the low 80s, is delightful for such an afternoon. The gardens, along with the city's zoo, are located in a wooded area on the south slope of Red Mountain (named for the red iron ore which gave rise to the area's steel industry), which runs along the entire south side of Birmingham. The Conservatory is closed, so we can't go into it, but we walk through the Hill Garden, the Dunn Formal Rose Garden (an interesting contrast with the rose garden at Huntington Memorial Library that Chris & I visited on Sunday), the Forman Garden, the Bog Gardens, the Thompson Enthusiasts' Garden, the Bruno Vegetable Garden, with its large rabbit sculpture, the Herb Terrace, the Hess Camellia Garden, the Fern Glade, the Curry Rhododendron Garden, the Abroms Rhododendron Species Garden, the Jemison Lily Garden, and the Ireland Iris Garden.

Lastly, on the way back to the hotel, we visit the Vulcan statue and viewing site, where Ken and I walk around the base of the statue support (up flights of steps from the parking area), reading the signage, and Ann goes up to the viewing platform. We don't yet know it, but we'll be back here to start out the convention, on Friday morning.

Back at the hotel, we all stop at the R&LHS registration desk, and get our meeting materials. Among the people we gret here are Bob and Diane Heavenrich. Chris and I then visit the local chapter's sales area, where I buy a couple of books on local railroads. While we're there, Ken comes by to say that, since the Board Meeting this evening has been canceled (Bob Holzweiss is having trouble getting here from Texas, and will eventually arrive at 1;15 am by way of Charlotte), we can have dinner together this evening. So, the four of us, plus Howard  Brown, go to a seafood restaurant on the south side of the city, where we have excellent dinners, and see several other meeting attendees.

Friday, May 18th, 2012

At breakfast, we see that Bob Holzweiss is here; his family, however, will sleep in and will not be on today's excursion. Roger Simon stops by to say hello, and relates that his dad, whom we've seen on previous such trips, is still with us at age 94, but is not on this trip. This year, the entire R&LHS Convention seems to fit on a single bus, which makes it easy for those giving the commentary. Marvin Clemons introduces himself, and then hands the microphone over to John Stewart, whom he dubs "Narrator #1". Marvin will later be "Narrator #2". We start out by going south on 22nd Street, and then on 20th Street, back to the Vulcan statue site on Red Mountain, where the bus pulls all the way up to the museum, obviating the need to climb the steps. We start with a narrated tour of the museum, which covers the life and times of steelmaking in the Birmingham area, with a room devoted to the presence of Greek immigrants and their descendants in the area

Birmingham was founded in 1871, located at the junction of what later became the L&N and the Alabama Great Southern (Southern Railway), which intersect and cross between 27th Street and 14th Street, along the so-called "railroad corridor" between 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South, where today's Amtrak station platforms (formerly those of the L&N) lie. Birmingham, the industrial city, is where it is because of the close proximity of deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone, the three major ingredients of iron and steel making, that fueled the furnaces of the area until further mining became uneconomic in the early 1970s. South-southeast of Jones Valley, the location of Birmingham, Red Mountain is one of several parallel ridges at the southwestern end of the Appalachians which form the southern outskirts of Birmingham, and is composed largely of the red iron ore that give the mountain its name. Following to the south-southeast are Shades Valley, where the Botanical Gardens and Zoo are located, Shades Mountain, and the Cahaba (River) Valley, with additional ridges beyond. To the north-northwest, there are additional short ridges and the land slopes generally towards the Warrior River.

The platform below the Vulcan statue, accessed by an elevator, provides a view to the north encompassing all of the major steelmaking sites in the area. The statue itself is the largest steel statue ever created, some 57 ft. tall. From the museum, the bus returns north to First Avenue North, and then turns east, passing over the rail lines north from the 27th Street junctions, where there is a view into the area once occupied by Birmingham's Terminal Station, demolished n the late 1960s, and then passing the Sloss Furnace site that we will visit later in the day. Continuing east of US 11, the bus reaches Irondale, and then takes local streets to reach the office buildings at Norfolk Southern's Norris Yard. Here we get coffee and donuts, an overview and safety briefing before we can proceed into the yard.

Norris Yard originates/terminates 14 trains per day, including trains to/from Elkhart, Bellevue, Allentown, Macon, New Orleans, and Houston via UP. Intermodals call here, but do not originate or terminate. Intermodal patterns will change wehn the new McCalla Intermodal Yard, west of Birmingham, opens. Some intermodals use the Meridian Speedway to get to/from Dallas-Fort Worth.

The first thing we pass when the bus enters the yard is the former steam shop where Southern's (and later NS') steam program restorations and maintenance took place. We visit the control room at the top of the hump tower. Everything here is now automated, so the other towers visible around the yard are no longer used.

Lunch is at the Irondale Cafe, a buffet famous for Fried Green Tomatoes. The cafe is adjacent to the Irondale Viewing Platform alongside the NS tracks west of the yard. After lunch, we return west to Sloss Furnace, where we first visit Frisco 2-8-2 4018, and get a briefing on the locomotive and its removal from the Alabama State Fairgrounds from Terry Oden, who rescued the locomotive when it otherwise would have been scrapped. This locomotive is of particular interest to Chris and me, since we have a large electrostatic halftone print of sister locomotive 4012 on our living room wall, resulting from early halftone printing experiments in the 1970s.

John Stewart then leads the group on a tour of Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark itself. (A few participants go around by themselves.) Sloss only ever made pig iron, so there are no steelmaking facilities here, just the accoutrements of a couple of blast furnaces and the ability to cast the resulting iron. The groups tours the Spray Pond, Stock Trestle, Pig Caster, Ladle Car, Stock Tunnel and Skip Hoist, the exterior of No. 2 Furnace, Boilers, Power House, Blower Building, Hot Blast Stoves, Pyrometer House, and No. 1 Furnace and its adjacent Cast Shed. At times, John's commentary is amplified by another group member who used to work in the ironmaking business.

The plaza near the Hot Blast Stoves, and the amphitheatre end of the Cast Shed are set up for a wedding, and somewhat divert our progress. At the end of the tour, I purchase a book in the gift shop before boarding the bus. From Sloss, the bus heads east again, with commentary from Ron Mele ("Narrator #3") on some Birmingham Southern lines near Sloss, and then using I-20, to Leeds, where we visit the refurbished former Southern depot, now used as a meeting place by the Mid-South Chapter, who have turned the agents office into a replica of its former glories. In the depot, we're treated to a wine and cheese party (with other drinks for those who prefer). Unfortunately, no trains pass while we're at the depot. There is also a bay window caboose on the grounds that the Chapter plans to restore.

On the way back to the hotel, Crew Heimer grabs the microphone to tell us all the story of how the Tennessee Coal & Iron Company, which owned many of the furnaces hereabouts, became part of US Steel in the early 1900s. In the hotel, we pay Larry Goolsby for the book of his which we had picked up the day before. The Board Meeting is now this evening, so Ken and Ann are occupied. There is also a big wedding taking place at the hotel, so Chris & I eat a small dinner in the bar.

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

The Holzweiss family are all up and about this morning, but the meeting complement still fits in just the one bus. At 8:15 am, the bus leaves, passing the locations of the former L&N station buildings (which are not the same as the present dingy Amtrak facilities) on the way to Railroad Park, which is just south of the railroad corridor, on 1st Avenue South, just west of the Amtrak station platforms. Here, many of us get out, read the mural depicting the railroad history timeline, and then take the path on bridges over a street and then alongside the trench that once held the Seaboard Air Line tracks, running prallel to the NS tracks heading west-southwest from downtown. The big signal bridge at 14th Street is well displayed from here. We walk alongside the rails for a couple of blocks, and then take various paths back across the green areas of the park to the Pavilion, part way along the park, where the bus is waiting.

The bus then gets on I-65 to head south, climbing over Red Mountain, Shades Mountain, and then the various ridges beyond the Cahaba Valley, past the intersection with I-459 (the ring road around Birmingham), and south to Calera, some 24 miles from the center of Birmingham, the intersection of the CSX (former L&N) and NS (former Southern) lines south from Birmingham, and location of what the program calls the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, but which some of us know better as the Heart of Dixie Chapter of NRHS, which includes a five-mile tourist line on the former Alabama Mineral Railroad. Here, we have an hour to look around before taking the morning ride on the excursion train along that line.

The museum appears to have only a few more operable cars than are needed to run its excursion trains. The rest of the cars fall into the "saved but not preserved/restored" category, and many are gradually rusting away where they stand. Among those cars needing only a little care to run again is the dome "Heart of Dixie", which once ran in the NS Steam Program trains. There are several buildings on the grounds, many of them moved from other locations.

The excursion train comprises SW-8 2022, a Head-end Power car, Chair Car 'Silver Maple', Coach Frisco 1062, two open-air cars, and a Southern Caboose. R&LHS meeting attendees get a briefing from Heart of Dixie in the Frisco coach before general boarding. Chris & I then sit in the former California Zephyr chair car. At 11 am, the train heads east on the former Alabama Mineral, later owned by the L&N, turning northeast, southeast, northeast, and east again to the end of track. This line used to continue eastward, but was severed by the construction of a dam on the Coosa River and the filling of the lake behind that dam. The locomotive runs around at a siding near the east end of the line, and the train returns to Calera, where the R&LHS members have an excellent barbecue lunch in the small pavilion at the museum.

After lunch, the bus takes us back north, turning west onto I-459, and then onto local roads to follow the route of the original Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic across Red Mountain and then down into Bessemer, where it crossed the Alabama Great Southern (today's NS) on a through girder inclined and curving bridge to reach ground level on the northwest side of the AGS adjacent to the latter's Bessemer Depot. Larry Goolsby ("Narrator #4") provides a detailed commentary on this part of the trip. In Bessemer, we visit the Bessemer Hall of History, located in the former NS/Southern/AGS depot, which is well done but not big on railroad history, and the adjacent model railroad of the lcoal area, located in a historic Pullman freight car. While we're here, I chat with John Stewart, who provides me with the URL to his website on Birmingham area railroad history.

The bus now takes us on a tour of the rails and steel industry locations in Bessemer, Fairfield, and Ensley, with some of the commentary from Ron Mele, as well as from John and Marv. After crossing over a Birmingham Southern branch, the bus drives up the Bessemer Super Highway, a four lane divided road that once provided the best way to drive through this area. Then, it turns north, and heads up to a company driveway (this is Saturday, so the driveway is empty) that provides a great overlook of the still operational US Steel Fairfield plant, an integrated steel mill having all the processing steps from raw material input to finished steel output. Prominent in the view from our overlook is Blast Furnace #8 (the numbering included furnaces at other locations in the area).

A great circle of railroads serving the past and present steel mills extends from (roughly) Bessemer in the west, through Woodward and Fairfield, to Ensley, with parallel lines from the L&N, Southern, Frisco/IC and Birmingham Southern (all now having different names), each serving all of the industries. This set of lines is visible in the valley below our overlook, between our location and the Fairfield works. East of Ensley, this circle fragments into different routings of the different railroads, heading for their different Birmingham facilities.

The bus tour continues east from the ersatz overlook, down onto I-20, and then off again in Ensly, taking the 36th Street road bridge over the circle of tracks, just west of Birmingham Southern's (now Birmingham Terminal's) 34th Street yard. There had been plans for us to visit that yard, but they were eventually rejected by the railroad. The bus lingers on the bridge while the track layout is explained, and then pulls forward into Wylam, turning around on a loop of streets, and then coming back across the bridge, lingering a second time. Just to the north of the group of tracks is the site of the erstwhile Tennessee Coal & Iron Ensly steel plant, now a vacant wooded area with a couple of abandoned diesel switchers down among the trees.

The bus now takes us past the former Tuxedo Junction night club, the subject of a 1930s popular song, and then gets back on I-20 to return us to the hotel. The banquet on Saturday night comprises dishes made to former railroad dining care recipes. After dinner, Eric McFerrin, ranger at the Red Mountain Park that is preserving many of the iron ore mines and facilities in that area, gives us a talk on the subject of the red ore mining and smelting business in the Birmingham area, with many interesting photos. All attendees are given a small piece of red ore as a keepsake.

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

The remaining actual business of the meeting is on Sunday morning, with the society's annual meeting, conducted over an excellent buffet breakfast. The biggest news is that four long-term board members are retiring (Keith Bryant, Jim Caballero, and Parker Lamb), and will be replaced by a  smaller number of people, Mike Walker is resigning as Treasurer, and future annual meetings will be in Madison, WI (2013) and Ely, NV (2014). Bob Holzweiss will survey attendees by e-mail on the actual arrangements for the latter.

After the official meeting, Larry Goolsby gives us an illustrated presentation on the Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast (replacing a presentation by Lyle Key, who was unable to attend.) DVDs of the move of Frisco 4018 are made available to all attendees.

The Journey West (7/2-7/5)

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 (cont.)

After th meeting, the attendees begin to disperse. Chris and I take a taxi over to Amtrak, where we check a bag through to Los Angeles and prepare to take Train 19 to New Orleans. Terry Wells and wife are taking that same train one stop, to Tuscaloosa, to vist an old friend of hers, while Howard Brown and John Atherton arrive early to wait for Train 20, heading for the northeast, later in the afternoon. When Train 19 is announced, the station agent takes several of us and our bags up to the platform in the freight elevator, depositing us at our respective cars. I note the consist of the front of the train, and will collect the rest later, after arrival in New Orleans.


P42                        98
P42                          9
Baggage                1252    (ex-1166?, from 1105, from ATSF 3655)
Sleeper                62021    Morning View
Sleeper                62045    Tower View
Diner                      8512    (ex-8335, from PC 4563/NYC 463)
Cafe                    28016
Coach                  25120
Coach                  25005
Coach                  25089
Coach                  25103

Train 19, 5-19-2012





11:50 am
12:08 pm

12:05 pm

Tuscaloosa 1:07 1:24-30
Meridian 2:58
Laurel 4:01 4:19-22
Hattiesburg 4:38 4:54-58
Picayune 5:42 5:59-6:03
Slidell 6:07 6:26-30
New Orleans 7:32 7:30

Right after leaving Birmingham, we see the Railroad Park on the left side of the train, and then after we have gone to lunch, we see the Bessemer Hall of History on the right side. Then, we see the new intermodal yard under construction on the south side at McCalla. The train stops for four minutes at Woodstock. I'm expecting to see Train 20, but it doesn't appear. In fact, the train takes siding for Train 20 at Tuscaloosa siding, after the Tuscaloosa station stop. The train runs slowly approaching the Warrior River bridge, apparently waiting for the bridge to lock in, then meets an eastbound NS manifest at McClure. The train overtakes a westbound NS double-stack (with UP power) at Livingston, an eastbound "UP" at Toomcooba, and an eastbound manifest at Breyer.

After leaving Laurel, the train stops at the south end of the siding to copy Track Authority (needed west of Meridian), after which it meets an eastbound "UP" manifest at Shows Field, and overtakes a westbound NS manifest at Droyes. At Hattiesburg, a woman in a wedding dress is laying on a concrete picnic table, being photographed. We decide against going to the diner for dinner at 4:30 pm, since it appears we will be in New Orleans in plenty of time to eat dinner this evening. Approaching New Orleans, the train meets an eastbound UP autoracks at Oliver Junction, and then (as always) reverses before reaching the platform for deboarding. We ride into the station with the redcap, and I collect the rest of Train 19's consist and the consist of the trainset which will be our Train 1 tomorrow, in an adjacent platform.

The cab that takes us over to our hotel has another rider, going much further, who gets quite upset at the necessary diversion around the street work to get to our hotel. We eat dinner in the restaurant at the hotel, which features Cajun food, and then go to bed.

Monday, May 21st, 2012

We're up at 7:30 am for our 9 am train, check out, take a taxi over to the station, spend a few minutes in the Magnolia Room (with two guys in their 30s who had come down on Train 19 yesterday), and then ride out to the sleeping car with the redcap. I had already collected the consist the night before. The two guys, going to San Francisco, are in the next room to ours.


P42                       125
P42                        151
Baggage                1855    (ex-1225, former 1045, from ATSF 3531)
Dorm                   39003
Sleeper                32011
Diner                    38031
Lounge                 33036
Coach-Baggage    31011
Coach                   34099__________________________
Coach                   34136                        (on at San Antonio)
Sleeper                 32073    California

Train 1, 5-21-2012



New Orleans

9:00 am

9:00 am

Schriever 10:30 10:24-30
New Iberia 11:56 11:52-56
Lafayette 12:24 pm 12:19-24 pm
Lake Charles 1:35 1:41-55
Beaumont 3:48 3:10-48
Houston 6:19
Sanderson 8:24 am 8:17-24
Alpine                         CT 10:38 10:09-38
El Paso                      MT 1:22 pm
2:53 pm
Deming 3:18 4:58-5:00
Lordsburg                  MT 4:13 5:51
Benson                       PT 5:18 6:53-58
Tucson 6:45
Los Angeles 5:35 am 6:17 am

On the way out of New Orleans, we see a very faded unpatched Cotton Belt locomotive in Avondale MP yard. We overtake a westbound BNSF manifest at Schriever, have to stop-and-proceed at the Bayou  Boeuf drawbridge, overtake a westbound UP manifest before New Iberia, and overtake a westbound BNSF manifest west of Lake Charles, stop for four minutes at Toomey due to a derailed MoW vehicle, meet an eastbound manifest at Echo, and overtake a westbound UP autoracks at Ames. In the middle of this, Chris & I had lunch west of Lafayette. Then the "fun" starts: approaching Englewood Yard in Houston, site of previous UP meltdowns, the train stops for ten minutes at Mesa X-Over, then for nine minutes at East  Settegast Junction, and then for 27 minutes at Tower 87, where a manifest train takes the northwest quadrant connector towards Settegast Yard for 18 minutes. Then we stop briefly at Tower 26 because a train is crossing on the West Belt in front of us. Note that after all this, our train is still early into Huston. This sort of schedule padding just encourages a Dispatcher to let the passenger train wait!

Chris and I have dinner with the two guys we met earlier, who are on their way from Macon, GA, having boarded Train 19 at Atlanta. At Houston, the conductor said San Antonio is about four hours away, which would put us in there at 11 pm. We will have to stop at Kirby Yard for fuel before pulling into the station. The last train I see for the night is UP 5500 at Flatonia siding, about 9:15 pm.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I'm up at MP 461. Chris & I have breakfast before Sanderson, where there's no business. The first train we meet is UP 4310 with eastbound autoracks at Paisano siding. Approaching El Paso, and while Chris & I are eating lunch, the train hits a car at a grade crossing just west of Belen. No-one is hurt. After the police are done with their paperwork, UP wants to inspect the locomotive, and sends a repair truck out from the El Paso roundhouse. The front brake pipe connection is now bad ordered, meaning that end can't connect to anything else, and the left-hand ladder is bent and must be rebent to get it back into gauge. Even then, it can't be used by the crew. At 2:30 pm, we resume movement, slowly. Six minutes later, we meet an eastbound UP double stack that has been waiting for us to remove the "track breach protection" for the last two hours.

At El Paso, where the air outside is very hot, I walk to the rear of the train to record the identities of the two cars that joined our train at San Antonio. There's a track gang from MP 1280 to MP 1270, apparently working on the new Union Pacific yard in this area. Crossing New Mexico, there's a large cloud of smoke off to the north, as if from a  forest fire (the Whitewater-Baldy fire, apparently). The train stops for five minutes at Gary to meet UP 5402 east, a double-stack. East of Lordsburg, our train crosses over several times to run around other traffic. At dinner, the two guys ask how late we will be into Los Angeles. I tell them that at this point we've lost just enough time not to be early! Before arriving in Tucson, the train makes a five minute signal stop adjacent to the Tucson Yard.

The Tucson roundhouse does more work on the lead locomotive, causing us to lose more time. I go to sleep before we actually leave Tucson, some time after 9 pm.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

As it turns out, we're about 45 minutes late into Los Angeles, where we take the carry-on bags to the car and then collect the checked bag, taking it to the car separately, as arriving rush-hour crowds pervade the tunnel at the station. It's too early to go to Bristol Farms, so we have breakfast in Pasadena before going there. The drive home is less than pleasant after we get into the Antelope Valley, where heavy winds are blowing. Nonetheless, we're home safely before noon.