Feather River Express
August 7-11, 2014

Don Winter


This trip was to ride the Feather River Express, run in conjunction with the Feather River Railroad Museum's 2014 Railroad Days, in Portola California. The train started and ended in Emeryville, CA. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

The bus from Tehachapi to connect with Train 713 departs at 8:45 am, so we're up, packed, and out of the house by 8 am, stopping at Starbucks on the way over to the bus stop, where I park the car in the K-Mart parking lot and walk back to where Chris sits with the bags. The bus is on time, for once. Sitting across from us is a 19-year old who has just completed Army Basic Training, and doesn't know the ropes on the train. Somehow, he attaches himself to Chris and we're stuck with him for the entire train ride. Because the bus is on time, I collect the consist before the doors open for boarding.


P42         203
Coach    34953    Pacific Grove
Coach       8021    Kings River
Cafe         8808    Coachella Valley
Coach       6461    Pebble Beach
Cabcar     6961    Point Arguello  

Train 713, 8-7-2014



Bakersfield 10:05 am

10:05 am

Wasco 10:31 10:33
Corcoran 11:07 11:16-23
Hanford 11:26 11:46
Fresno 12:03 pm 12:19-31 pm
Madera 12:29 12:55
Merced 1:03 1:37-45
Denair 1:29 2:01-09
Modesto 1:42 2:20-22
Stockton 2:18 2:51-56
Antioch 2:53 3:24-26
Martinez 3:19 3:47-52
Richmond 3:44 4:12-19
Emeryville 4:03 4:29

San Joaquin route description

From 11:04 to 11:07, we wait for Train 702 to clear Corcoran, then spend five minutes (total) reversing from Corcoran Lap into the platform. On leaving, we wait a couple of minutes for the BNSF North Bay to Willow Springs, their hottest train, to pass southbound. In the course of the day, we will meet 11 other BNSF freights, and overtake one, all without us having to stop. At 12:30 pm, we meet Train 712 at Fresno, take siding at Merced for 714, from 1:26 to 1:35 pm, and Train 716 at Bixler, this time without stopping (where usually 713 has to wait). West of Martinez, we meet Capitol trains 534 and 536. (As 712 passes, I note its Comet car numbers, hoping to reduce the effort needed on Monday, but in the event, Monday's 712 is the other set of Comet cars.)

In Emeryville, we walk over to the Hyatt House, where we meet Bill Parks at the check-in desk. Bill will be one of the excursion train staff, the next few days. Later, Chris and I walk down to PF Chang's for dinner.

Friday, August 8th, 2014

At breakfast in the hotel (6:30 am), we again see Bill Parks, with others (including Ken Ratenne), and then Chris Skow appears and chats for awhile. When this group leaves, they mostly do so in vehicles, to head for West Oakland Yard, where the train is being readied. Bill heads over to the Emeryville station, where he is to check passengers in as they appear. It transpires that the coach, Tolani, which should have been at the head of the train has been rejected at the 5 am inspection. (Later conversation says that what is wrong is that the paperwork for last week's inspection of a repair is not available to the Amtrak inspectors.)

As Chris and I check out, we're surprised to find the hotel has a shuttle available to take us over to the Amtrak station at 7 am. When we get over there, there is no sign of the promised truck to carry our luggage, so when we check in with Bill Parks, we ask about it, and he assures us it will come. When it hasn't by 7:30 am, we ask again, and this time he gets Chris Skow on the 'phone, and finds out that it is now the case that there won't be a truck! Outside, Jim Fetchero greets me, and explains that he is accompanying Iowa pacific's full-length dome Prarie View.

The train is delayed coming from the yard, and doesn't come until after Train 712 comes and goes on the outer platform. When it does arrive, I note the locomotives at the front, and then we head for the vestibule of the rear car, Silver Solarium, to which we have been assigned for our dome seating. We sit facing forward at the righthand front table in the dome, where things are quite comfortable under the morning thick clouds. Initially, no-one sits opposite us, but since the seats downstairs in the observation end are open seating for the people who have space in the dome, this is not really a surprise.


P42                                137
P42                                203
Lounge          Overland Trail
Full Dome         Prairie View
Sleeper-Lounge     Silver Iris
Sleeper                  Palm Leaf
Sleeper              Silver Rapids
Dome-Lounge  Plaza Santa Fe
Dome Coach       Silver Lariat
Dome Obs.     Silver Solarium

Train 940, 8-8-2014




8:00 am

8:22 am

Martinez 8:40 8:55-9:00
Davis 9:30 9:38-41
Sacramento 10:00
Oroville 11:55
12:01 pm
12:18 pm
Portola 5:30 4:40

Emeryvile to Haggin route description

Haggin to Portola route description

Immediately after departure, Train 11 meets us, waiting for its turn at the inside track at Emeryville. We also meet five Capitols on the way to Sacramento. The clouds burn off before we reach Martinez, which does not at first seem to have any impact on us. Breakfast is served soon after leaving Emeryville. At both Davis and Sacramento, additional passengers come into the dome.

The train turns north at Haggin, onto the old Western Pacific line, the original route of the California Zephyr from 1949 to 1970. On this line, we meet a BNSF Inside Gateway train at Marysville, and then after Binney Junction (where we leave the current route of Amtrak's Coast Starlight), we stop at Mitchell Avenue, adjacent to the Oroville Yard but not yet at the Oroville boarding point, where we sit for 45 minutes while two UP freights and one BNSF freight go past. While we're sitting here, the air in the dome is starting to get noticeably warm. It will transpire, eventually, that the motor driving the air compressor has failed. (It also transpires that the A/C in Plaza Santa Fe has also failed.)

When we pull forward to the erstwhile Oroville depot, where the passengers for the missing coach will finally board, those passengers are squeezed into the other two 'coach" cars up front, forward of the sleepers. We're later told that this makes those cars uncomfortably full. (Fortunately, those passengers are only riding one way, today.)

The crew of our car starts trying to re-arrange the passengers in the dome so that everyone can be sated at a table for lunch, but while those of us who have been sitting here all along are not yet leaving due to the heat, boiling frog syndrome causes those who are being asked to move into the dome to refuse to do so. As a result, people who have moved to our table move back to where they had been sitting. The other folks apparently eat lunch using tray on their laps. We finally are joined by a man named Dave, who stays through lunch and then leaves.  After the entree, Chris leaves because the heat is getting to be too much for her, and comes back later for her dessert, only to depart again and sit in one of the sleepers to cool down.

During the afternoon, a man who had been sitting across from us, and had left (with his wife) due to the heat, gets into an argument with Chris Skow that nearly results in fisticuffs. This man, although he is a registered professional civil engineer, does not understand what it means to ride in a train comprising historic cars, and says that Chris Skow is not providing him the environment promised in the offering. (Of course, it is the private car owners who are not providing the promised environment, but that escapes the complainant.)

On the way up the Feather River Canyon, we meet one more UP freight and one more BNSF freight. Kirk Baer, a former WP/UP engineer, provides tour commentary from time to time throughout the rear end cars. Kirk's wife and her friend are also on the train, dressed in WP Zephyrette outfits that they made themselves. As time passes, our dome gets emptier, and Silver Lariat gets fuller and fuller. The train, however, is making good time, and arrives in Portola some 50 minutes early. This helps the folks who boarded at Oroville, but not the rest of us.

About 4:15 pm, Bill Parks appears in the dome and tells us that those with either "premium" or "First Class" on their tickets will get dinner on the train. Since we are now approaching Portola, this seems a little odd, but we are explicitly told that the shuttles to the local hotels and to Reno will wait for us. Dinner is served after the train stops at Portola, and continues to be served and eaten for the next two hours. This means the passengers from the front two cars (other than those from Oroville) have to wait for us to finish eating before their shuttles head for their hotels.

As the folks from the Oroville stop leave and board their bus for their return home, the train operating crew are discussing what to do with the train. It is understood that the sleeping cars will be moved into the Feather River Railroad Museum for the night, so that their passengers might sleep better, but the Amtrak and UP crews and disconcerted to discover that this means that all but the first two cars will be disconnected from the train and its locomotives, and shunted into the museum by a museum locomotive. This happens, very slowly, while we are eating in the dome, this time with new companions, an Australian couple named George and Linda (who happen to live in Reno). He is a chemical engineer and a supplier to the mining industry.

The coach passengers who are staying locally are shuttled to their local hotels while we're eating, but the bus driver fro the Reno motor coach thinks he has his full complement of passengers after the two cars near the UP depot are unloaded, and starts to leave, getting onto the road bridge over the tracks before a 'phone call summons him back to wait for those of us now in the cars at the museum. The driver then has to deal with forty or so very unhappy passengers while they wait uncomprehendingly.

Eventually, we've all eaten dinner and dessert, and leave the train with our luggage, walking over to the waiting bus (and the returned local shuttles), finally leaving for the fifty mile trip to Reno at 7:15 pm. Chris and I have selected the nearest hotel to the bus dropoff point (across from Amtrak), so we're checked in by 8:30 pm, and after getting cold drinks, in bed soon after nine.

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Our shuttle back to the museum in Portola is at nine am, so we get up at seven and have breakfast before walking back to the boarding point. We're the first one's there, and while Chris sits in the sun across the street, I'm somewhat surprised when Mike Bedford walks up and asks if this is the boarding point for the shuttle to Portola. It turns out that he is here only to ride tonight's dinner train (which Chris and I are not doing), which explains why I hadn't seen him the day before.

As time passes towards the 9am scheduled departure, more people arrive: Judy (Julia) Decker and her daughter Pamela (who came up with us yesterday, but is going back on the two-hour-late Amtrak today), George and Linda (who spent the night at home), for a grand total of ten people. Not surprisingly, the vehicle that shows up is not a luxury motor coach but rather a stretch limousine. After some discussion, it is agreed that this is our conveyance, and that this is the total passenger list. So, we all board, and set off for Portola. An hour later, we're deposited at the museum, which is just opening for its Railroad Days, and further discussion follows as to the return arrangements for later in the day, at which it transpires that the return for those of us not riding the dinner train is at 2 pm.

Walking past the cars that we had ridden up the canyon on Friday, the group enters the museum, and we all go our separate ways. Chris and I visit the gift shop, and then the contents of the maintenance shop (WP< 1953), before I start walking up and down the lines of exhibits, taking photographs in groups to show the ambience of the museum, not as roster shots. For the latter, the museum has a website at:


which lists the entire collection. There is one, disassembled, steam locomotive (WP 165), five switchers, ten GPs (or SDs), at least one of which is operational, four F-units, one of them a B, a GE 70?-tonner, and a US Army Baldwin. There are eleven passenger cars, including four from the erstwhile California Zephyr (one of which is currently shrinkwrapped), six types of freight cars (including copious numbers of box cars), a rotary snow plow, some other maintenance-of-way cars, and many cabooses.

By about noon, I'm done walking around and taking photos, and we're both ready for lunch. The cars from our train have now moved up about five car lengths, and are stopped with the first sleeper blocking the footpath to the museum exit. Museum personnel are there to lead people around the end, however. There's a "shuttle" to and from town, which we ride to Sharon's Cafe, where we find Mike, George and Linda, and Bill Hattrick, with whom we chat for awhile. Lunch is excellent, and we return to the museum to await the arrival of our 2 pm transportation.  In front of where we sit is a historic fire engine, and a visitor examining it is greeted by a docent, which results in a useful exchange of contact and resource information between the visitor, a fire engine mechanic, and the appropriate museum personnel.

The limousine shows up a bit late, with a different driver, and there appear to be only three of us to go to Reno, one of whom had not ridden out this morning! We're back at the hotel by 3:15, and have dinner around 6 pm, mindful of our early departure on Sunday morning. By dinner time, rain is falling steadily outside the hotel.

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

With the departure time for our transportation set at 6:30 am, we get up around 5 am, pack, check out, acquire coffee and juice, and walk slowly over to the bus stop, with the luggage. By 6:30, there are fifteen of us, all with bags. At 6:40 am, the same limo. and driver as Saturday show up. The driver looks at the assembled people, and makes a 'phone call. He then tells us that, indeed, this is our transportation to Portola, and somehow, we all cram ourselves and the bags inside.

We're at Portola a little after 7:30 am, and after some dithering, the driver drops us off next to the UP depot, just behind Sharon's Cafe, where there are crowds of people waiting (mostly to board the two "coaches"). The premium cars have left the museum track, but are not yet over at the depot. Jim Fetchero, standing on the full-length dome, doesn't know much. Neither does "Dave", who left his sleeper, and then wasn't allowed back on. Eventually, the Amtrak loco motives hook onto the front car, and move the two of them down the track. Then, slowly, the round-end obs. is seen backing down the track, with the other cars, pushed by a museum locomotive. It departs, and the front of the train hooks on. Only then are we allowed to board.

In the dome, where it's clear that the air-conditioning has been repaired (as of 3 am, we hear), people who had slept on the train are already in seats, but I still grab forward-facing seats on the side of the train that I want.


Same as Friday.           

Train 943, 8-10-2014




8:00 am

9:02 am

Oroville 12:25 pm
2:42 pm
Sacramento 2:15
Davis 3:00 4:45-49
Martinez 4:00 5:29-57
Emeryville 4:40 6:32

After departing, just over an hour late, we stop at the siding switch for four minutes. As breakfast is served, more people appear in the dome, including the couple who had nearly come to blows with Chris Skow on Friday, who sit across the aisle from us. Later, at lunch, those who have been sitting in the round-end of the car are asked to move to the dome to eat, and a couple from somewhere back east sits at our table.

From 12:06 to 1:14, we stop at Merlin, while a "rock" is removed from the track ahead. We then run at restricted speed to the Intermediate Signals at MP 242.1. This makes us two hours late into Sacramento, where the conductor is changed successfully, but the locomotive crew does not change (even though the Dispatcher thinks it has). At Martinez, the loco. crew dies on the law at 5:30 pm, so we sit there until the new crew arrives from Sacramento on Train 745 (departs 5:46 pm), during which time two eastbound Capitols have come and gone.

In Emeryville, I say goodbye to Burt Hermey and to Ken Ratenne, who promises to post photos, and we walk over to the Hyatt, along with Judy Decker, who will hang out there until it's time for her train home. After checking into the room, we eat at the hotel with Judy and also Bill Parks, who have known each other longer than we've known either of them.

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Another early morning, since we have to catch Train 712 at 7:40 am.. After breakfast and check-out, we again take the hotel shuttle over to the station, where we check the luggage to Bakersfield. The train is "delayed in the yard", and arrives about 15 minutes late. This is the single-level "Comet" set, and we board the car behind the cafe, finding a table as usual.


Cabbage                90218
Coach                      5007
Coach                      5011
Cafe                       53504
Coach                      5014
Coach                      5013
Coach                     5002
F59PH                    2001                      

Train 712, 8-1102014




7:40 am

7:53 am

Richmond 7:49 8:02-04
Martinez 8:19 8:29-32
Antioch 8:39 8:52-54
Stockton 9:17 9:27-32
Modesto 9:46 10:00-04
Denair 9:58 10:21
Merced 10:31 10:58-11:08
Madera 10:59 11:37
Fresno 11:35 12:01-11
Hanford 12:09 pm 12:41-49
Corcoran 12:25 1:05-07
Wasco 12:56 1:38
Bakersfield 1:41 2:05

We meet Train 523 at Berkeley, Train 11 at Pinole, Train 525 at Crockett, and Train 711 before Stockton. We follow two BNSF freights south of Modesto, meeting a BNSF freight at Denair, overtaking one south of Denair and the other at Merced, then meeting three more before Stockton (as well as Train 711, somewhere). We meet Train 713 between Fresno and Calwa and a BNSF freight at Calwa Time is lost using the wheelchair lift at Hanford, and we meet Train 715 after reaching double track before Bakersfield.

The Victorville bus departs as soon as the checked baggage (including ours) is transferred, and makes good time up the hill. We're home before 4 pm.