Domes over Donner/Virginia & Truckee
October 11-15, 2013

Don Winter


This trip was to participate in the Central Coast Railroad Club's "Domes over Donner" and "Virginia & Truckee" excursions over the Columbus Day Weekend. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak (in this case, bus and San Joaquin).

Friday, October 11th, 2013

We rose early (for us) on Friday, packed, and drove over to the Amtrak bus stop in time for the 8:45 am bus down to Bakersfield, which connects with San Joaquin Train 713. We check the luggage to Emeryville, and board the train, sitting at one of the tables in the rear car. (The train is one car short today. with no information on why.) We're continually told the train will be "full" and that this is "make a friend friday"), but this car is never close to  being full.


B32                    2051
Coach                8034
Coach                8032
Cafe                   8803
Cab Car             6963       

Train 713, 10-11-2013




10:05 am

10:05 am

Wasco 10:31 10:31
Corcoran 11:07 11:30
Hanford 11:26 11:48-51
Fresno 1205 pm 12:23-27 pm
Madera 12:29 12:54
Merced 1:08 1:25-33
Turlock-Denair 1:29 2:00
Modesto 1:42 2:12-15
Stockton 2:18 2:42-48
Antioch-Pittsburg 2:50 3:17-19
Martinez 3:15 3:41-44
Richmond 3:44 4:10-12
Emeryville 4:03 4:23

San Joaquin route description

We meet a bare-table train at Wasco and a double-stack at Elmo. At Angiola, we take the siding and sit for 18 minutes to meet Train 702, a deficit from which we never  recover. We meet a manifest at Corcoran, run around a track gang at Guernsey, meet another manifest at Conejo, and Train 712 at Bowles, all before reaching Fresno. We then meet a manifest at Kismet, overtake a double-stack at Sharon, meet a double-stack at LeGrand, take siding at Planada for Train 714 (two minutes), and meet a double stack at Denair. West of Stockton, we meet Train 716 east of Holt, and an autorack train at Bixler, and then after switching to the former SP, meet Train 534 at Martinez, a UP local at Ozol, and Train 536 at Pinole.

At Emeryville, we walk over to the Hyatt hotel, where we get a room overlooking the station. Later we have dinner in the hotel, and then run into Scott and Leslie Mayer (who came up on Train 715), before heading back to the room.

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

As with all of the days on this trip, we again rise early (for us), and have a smattering of the included breakfast, before heading back over to the station. Here, we meet with Chris Skow and get our boarding passes for Silver Solarium. (At this point, we still expect Silver Lariat to be right up against the rear Superliner, or we would have chosen it. We've never ridden in the other dome, however, so it's an interesting change.)

 When the train pulls in, I collect the consist while Chris (my wife) heads for the train with the bags. Burt Hermey takes them from he to put in the Silver Rapids, while we board the rear car and get our desired front forward-facing seats. Some of the folks we have met in the station (such as Carl Gustafson) head for the coaches, where Jeff Ferrier is the "car host". By the time Scott and Leslie board, they find that the only remaining dome seats are across from us, rear-facing.


P42            117
P42             161
Baggage     1717
Dorm        39036
Coach       34117
Coach        34085
Lounge      33044
Diner         38059
Sleeper      32054
Sleeper       32110
Private        Silver Rapids
Dome         Silver Lariat
Dome-Obs Silver Solarium

Train 6, 10-12-2013




9:10 am

9:15 am

Richmond 9:22 9:30
Martinez 9:54 9:57-10:08
Davis 10:36 10:40-42
Sacramento 11:09 10:59-11:09
Roseville 11:35 11:36
Colfax 12:21 pm 12:22-26 pm
Truckee 2:38 2:45-51
Reno 4:06 arr. 3:50

California Zephyr route description

We follow Train 524 out of Emeryville (as required by the schedule), and run slowly, following it, as far as Stege, where we cross over. At 11:45 am, we meet our first opposing train, UP 7745 on a double-stack between Elvas and Antelope, crossing over to run around it, and then back to meet UP 4718 with another double-stack. On the way up the pass, we observe that the old SP tri-lights are being replaced by new hooded signals, some already installed, and some still turned sideways, awaiting installation.

On the grade, we meet Train 5 at Cape Horn, and UP 8553 with a westbound manifest between Fulda and Yuba Gap. The detector hereabouts is misbehaving, since both that train and ours get erroneous axle counts. We make a three-minute stop for a red signal at Yuba Gap. On the east slope, we meet a westbound UP double-stack in Coldstream Canyon, and then UP 3822 with an autorack train at Truckee. The hotel business manager boards the train at Truckee, and hands out the room keys to everyone in the private cars as we run along.

On arrival in Reno, there's a long walk from the rear car to the entrance to the depot, where the escalator is closed. At the street, we're invited to ride to the hotel in the hotel vans which are here to collect the luggage, and Chris & I elect to do so. In the hotel, we spend some time relaxing in the room before going down to the main floor for dinner, where we encounter the world's slowest waitress. (Even the hostess and the manager seem to know she's slow.) Carl comes over to ask if we know anything about breakfast, and we collectively conclude we will have to go to the far end of the hotel, to Mel's Diner, to get it.

Mindful of our even earlier arising in the morning, we then go to bed.

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

We're up at 6 am, and walk the length of the casions to Mel's Diner for breakfast. For me, that's just a large mug of coffee, with another "to go" when we leave. Our two buses are out on the street (where the temperature is just above freezing, before sunrise), waiting, with a total of sixty people spread between them for the day. They leave at 7:20 am, heading to I-80 and then I-580 (US 395), south to Carson City.  On these buses, and at various stopping points, we see people who had not ridden in our dome the day before, such as Jim Maurer, who had ridden in the other dome, and Ken Rattenne, who had driven up to Reno. Chris Skow is supposed to be leading the pack in his SUV, but in fact he barely gets in front of us before we reach the US 50 exit, which we take eastward. In the intersection of I-580 and US 50, we note various metal sculptures representing railroad items, such as a steam locomotive and doors to the roundhouse with a steamer poking out. Somewehre hereabouts, the new highway (I-580) has obliterated the former right-of-way of the Virginia & Truckee.

On US 50, we climb eastward, out of town, noting the plume of white smoke off on the ridge to the right. Soon, we turn off in that direction, and pull up to the V&T facilities at Eastgate, the current south end of the line. The first train of the day has arrived, empty, from Virginia City, and is now switching off the rearmost of its three cars to make a two-car consist for our special trip further south, on a segment of line that has been rebuilt, but is not yet used by the general public. On this segment of track, after everyone has boarded, the train backs down around some sharp curves to a siding at Eureka, where the locomotive runs around and we have the first of our photo runs for the day. Heading back towards Eastgate, we have a second photo run at a location where the train continues around a sharp curve and comes back into view above us, for additional shots. Then we return to Eastgate, where the third coach is reattached for the first public train of the day, and we reboard the buses.

2-8-0            29
Coach          102    Silver City
Coach          101    Gold Hill
Coach          103    Carson City*
*Not on the train for our first ride.

Virginia & Truckee route description

The buses head east on US 50, under a bridge carrying the railroad, and then turn left onto a side road just west of Mound House. They stop just before reaching a grade crossing with the railroad, and many of us get off, to photograph the train as it comes by, while the buses pull past and turn around, up ahead. From our vantage point, along the west side of the side road, we can see the line almost all the way to Eastgate, and especially we can clearly see the bridge over US 50. I use my long zoon lens to capture the train as it crosses that bridge, and then switch back to the shorter zoom lens for the nearer shots as the train approaches.

Once the train has passed, the buses come back across the crossing, and the passengers reboard. Back on US 50, heading east, we pass through Mound House, and then turn north onto the road to Virginia City, and then left off that road onto the road to Silver City and Gold Hill. After passing through the largely vacated Silver City, we again turn left onto a road towards some more-modern gold mining facilities, and then right off that to climb up to a water tank, adjacent to the line at Donovan. The train is visible across a flat area, on a ledge adjacent to the far hillside, and is, Chris Skow says, stopped to take water.  The preferred photographic area is up a rocky road that reaches track level, which I climb somewhat more slowly than the most agile, and somewhat faster than some others.

Eventually, the train starts away again, and we watch it run around the edges of the basin below, until it finally comes around a curve approaching us directly, and the mass photography begins. Once the train has passed, we climb down the steep road again, and reboard the buses. Returning to the road to Virginia City (two junctions back), we turn left and head north on that road, which has lots of sharp curves on hillside ledges, but only two curves with guard rails. Virginia City comes into sight, and nearer to us, so do the V&T Shops. We turn down a steep side road to get to the latter, crossing the railroad after the train has gone by, and spend a half hour exploring and photographing the shops, including the 2-8-0 as she comes in from the depot. Also at the shops is former McCloud River 2-8-2 18, now owned by the V&T, along with an 0-6-0 with no tender, a Burlington RPO car, diesel switcher D-2, and various elderly passenger cars, in various stages of repair or decay.

The buses then take us into Virginia City, where crowds have assembled for lunch, and where we are given just an hour to find places in one of the number of restaurants open for lunch, to get our own lunches. Following lunch, and with the apparent assumption that we have all reboarded the buses, the two buses head back down the same road we came up on, all the way into Carson City, taking us to the Nevada State Railroad Museum. Here, we're ushered onto the museum's steam train for our ride of three times around the loop line encircling the museum, and then given guided tours of the newly-restored McKeen Car, V&T 22, before being turned loose to explored the museum's shops and the exhibits in the museum itself, including 44-4-0 V&T 22 Inyo.

4-6-0            25
Coach    V&T 8
Open      V&T 57
Coach    V&T 10
Caboose  Nevada Copper 3

The time allowed at the museum is really too long for most of us, but there's no real hurry to leave, since our next engagement is with the 4:30 pm departure from Eastgate to ride the length of the V&T to Virginia City. Eventually, we leave the museum at 4 pm, and head back up the hill on US 50, reaching the station in plenty of time to board the last train back to Virginia City today, mostly ourselves, but with a few regular passengers. Along the way, we make a photo stop just after the water stop at the same location we had seen it in the morning, on a ledge where the sun has already dipped behind the ridge to the west. Once the photo run is complete, we reboard, and head on into Virginia City, where there's a few minutes to visit the depot before we get back on the buses and head back to Reno in the moonlit darkness, making a twisty climb and twisty descent back to I-580, and then returning to the hotel the way we had come some twelve hours before.

Chris and I have dinner with Carl Gustafson and Paul Kassen, in the same restaurant as last night, but avoiding the slow waitress. Then we go back to the room to pack and go to bed, with another very early morning ahead of us.

Monday, October 14th, 2013

The bags have to be outside the room before 7 am, so we again get up at 6 am, complete the packing put the bags out, and then head to Mel's for breakfast. Today, I actually have a small amount of food with my coffee! Back in the room, dawn is breaking outside, and just before we have to leave the room, I manage to photograph the view west from the hote room window. Then, we go down to the lobby, return the room keys, and go outside to board the hotel van for the run over to the station, scheduled to leave at 7: 45 am. The train is know to be a bit late, so it's of no concern when we don't leave exactly on time.

At the depot, passengers and bags are taken off the vans, and the bags are taken out to the end of the platform using one of Amtrak's baggage carts. Passengers huddle inside the waiting rooms, since the temperature is just on freezing outside. Two westbound double-stacks and a westbound manifest go past while we're waiting.  The expected time for the train (to depart) is shown as an hour late, then 75 minutes late. Somewhat after 9:30 am, passengers start to move out onto the platform, where the air is no longer quite so cold, and eventually, the train shows up. Meanwhile, the outgoing conductor has demanded a passenger manifest for the private cars, and has been pointed at Jeff Ferrier, who doesn't have one. Chris Skow is not here this morning.  The conductor says that without the mainfest, he won't take the private cars when the train leaves.

When the train arrives, initially too quickly for me to collect all of the consist as it goes by, with the private cars added at Sparks, it transpires that Burt Hermey has the manifest, and has already given a copy to the incoming conductor. The bags are loaded on the private sleeper, while we climb on Silver Solarium (and others climb on Silver Lariat. Then there's an issue with the air brakes on the private cars, which delays the train some more. Finally, we depart, 1 hour and 40 minutes late.


P42                186
P42                  96
Baggage         1206
Dorm            39003
Coach           31005
Coach           34107
Lounge          33055
Diner             38049
Sleeper          32026
Sleeper          32084
Private        Silver Rapids
Dome         Silver Lariat
Dome-Obs Silver Solarium           

Train 5, 10-12-2013






Reno 8:36 am 10:17 am
Truckee 9:37 11:10-15
Colfax 11:48 1:24-28 pm
Roseville 12:57 pm 2:38-40
Sacramento 2:13 3:04-10
DAvis 2:44 3:26
Martinez 3:26 4:13
Richmond 3:59 4:40
Emeryville 4:10 4:40

One of the first things we hear on the scanner after boarding is that the outgoing engineer is Matt Klink, a member of the CalRailfans group and a Facebook friend of mine. We meet very little eastbound traffic initially, finally meeting a ballast spreader east of Soda Springs, and then an eastbound hi-railer at MO 130.75 just after noon. Then, we meet an eastbound BNSF trackage-rights manifest just west of Switch 9, and Train 6 at Gold Run. Down on the valley floor, we meet an eastbound UP double-stack at the east end of Roseville Yard. West of Sacramento, we meet Train 532 east of Davis, Train 534 at MP 45.x, the UP Local at Ozol, Train 536 at MP 28, and Train 716 at Richmond.

Off the train, I collect the rest of the consist, and we then walk over to the Hyatt. Later, we walk down to PF Chang's for dinner, going to bed as  soon as we're back in the room.

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

This morning, we arise at 6 am for the third day in a row, eat the included breakfast, finish packing, check out and walk back to the station, where we check to bags to Bakersfield (with a bus transfer). Train 712 is in on time from Jack London Square, and we have no trouble finding seats at a table.


Cab Car        6863
Coach            8026
Cafe              8803
Coach            8022
Coach            8021
B32               2051 

Train 712, 10-15-2013




7:40 am

7:39-42 am

Richmond 7:49 7:50-52
Martinez 8:18 8:17-19
Antich-Pittsburg 8:39 8:39-42
Stockton 9:17 9:26-30
Modesto 9:45 10:00-02
Turlock-Denair 9:58 10:15
Merced 10:31 10:41-50
Madera 10:59 11:19
Fresno 11:35 12:17-23 pm
Hanford 12:08 pm 1:53-58
Corcoran 12:25 2:22
Wasco 12:56 3:22-24
Bakersfield 1:41 3:51

We meet Train 525 at Crockett, and Train 11 at Howard (an hour or so late). After crossing to the BNSF, we meet a westbound double-stack at Pittsburg, and then stop at MP 1130 from 9:04 to 9:16 for Train 711. After Stockton, we meet a nb BNSF manifest at MP 1102, overtake a southbound BNSF manifest just north of the Modesto & Empire Traction, take siding at Fluhr for Train 701 (only a minute or two loss of time), and meet a westbound BNSF autoack, a westbound BNSF double-stack, a westbound BNSF manifest at Kismet, and BNSF 7571 in north Fresno.

At 11:43 am, we make an emergency stop because a woman is sitting between the tracks, stopping only 25 feet from here. She tells the conductor she wants to commit suicide, so the crew calls the police. At 12:10 pm, an office has here on the side of the track and is talking to her, so we crawl past. We then meet Train 713 as we arrive at Fresno station, and he leaves. After leaving Fresno, the train makes an unexpected (to the engineer) brake application just south of Calwa Crossing, and we stop from 12:32 to 12:45 while the crew investigates. From 12:50 to 1:18 we stop again, with what is apparently the same problem. A 'phone call (by the engineer) to the Oakland Maintenance Base suggests the problem is with the PCS (Push-Pull Control System?) on the pushing locomotive.

While we're stopped, the BNSF manifest that we had overtaken earlier, now overtakes us, and then a BNSF double-stack overtakes. We meet Train 715 at East Corcoran (seven minute stop). The PCS problem recurs from 2:34 to 2:41.We take siding at Angiola for a nb BNSF double-stack, meet another at Allensworth and a northbound BNSF manifest at Wasco. We finally reach Bakersfield 2 hours and ten minutes late. The bus driver collects our checked bags, and we reach home just after 5 pm.