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Chicago, IL to Emeryville, CA On Amtrak's California Zephyr
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013:

 Shortly after returning to Union Station from the nearby CVS/Pharmacy to pick up some pop and bottled water for the next leg of the trip, I picked up my luggage that was stored in the Metropolitan Lounge and had a couple free glasses of Diet Pepsi. Before the first boarding call was made for the train, the conductor made an announcement asking that one person from each party have their boarding passes scanned, aka have their tickets electronically lifted as Amtrak does electronic ticketing now. I simply had the conductor scan my phone as I had the reservation PDF file saved to it. Around 1:30pm, the first boarding call was made for the California Zephyr. As sleeping car passengers, we are among the first people to board. I boarded Roomette #5 in the 0531 car which would be Superliner I Sleeping Car #32006. After putting away my luggage, I returned outside to the platform to take down car numbers and get a few quick photos of the train. The consist for today's train is shown below:

  Yes, don't adjust your monitor, the train only had 2 coaches in it which really makes no sense considering the time of year and how scenic this route is. This may be just because the train is detouring over a less scenic but still very nice route, but I don't know for sure. We departed Chicago Union Station on time at 2:00pm. I took pictures as we left and we arrived at our first stop of Naperville, IL and departed at 2:34pm, on time. I picked up a bag of Fruit & Nut Trail Mix and some Peanut M&M's in the cafe car and headed back to my sleeping car. At Bristol, IL, we had to stop to let eastbound Southwest Chief Train #4 pass us there. This would take 30-40 minutes to complete. As a result of that delay, we arrived at our next stop of Princeton, IL and departed at 4:30pm, now running 46 minutes late. I spent this time just relaxing in my sleeping car since the sun was shining into my side of the car which made photography very difficult and I was tired anyway! Our next stop was Galesburg, IL where a brief smoking break would be permitted. We arrived at Galesburg at 5:20pm and departed at 5:26pm, now running 48 minutes late.
  I had a 5:30pm dinner reservation for the dining car so shortly after departing Galesburg, the announcement was made for people who had such a reservation to head for the dining car now. I was seated with a young couple from Ohio who were on their honeymoon (they weren't railfans though), along with a passenger from Michigan. Conversation was all good! I had the Amtrak Signature Steak with Wild Rice and a Vegetable Medley with a Diet Pepsi, and Cheesecake for dessert, all were excellent!!! During dinner, we would cross the Mississippi River and into the state of Iowa and would make our next stop at Burlington, IA where we would depart at 6:17pm running 52 minutes late.
  The next stop would be Mt. Pleasant, IA where we departed at 6:46pm, running 47 minutes late having made up a little time! We then had to stop in Fairfield, IA for our engineer to copy down a track warrant. Our next stop would be Ottumwa, IA which we arrived at 7:41pm. After taking some pix on the platform (they were only high-ISO photos since I didn't have enough time to set up the tripod), as a smoking break was permitted, we departed Ottumwa at 7:52pm running 59 minutes late. We had to stop again in Albian, IA for another track warrant before proceeding to the next stop of Osceola, IA where we would depart at 9:18pm now 1 hour and 9 minutes late.
  By now, I was back in my sleeping car writing this travelogue and backing up photos. We made our next stop of Creston, IA and departed at 9:51pm now running 1 hour and 10 minutes late. I eventually set up my room for sleeping. I know how to do this myself and let my attendant know that I would take care of this myself so he could focus on assisting passengers who have less experience riding Amtrak. I hung out in my room until our next stop of Omaha, NE where we arrived at 11:36pm. This would be a brief service & fueling stop as well as a crew change point for the train. A smoking break was permitted and with the limited time, I took some high ISO night photos of the historic Omaha Station which is not currently in use, as well as photos of the train and Amtrak's small station here. At 11:58pm, now running 53 minutes late, we departed Omaha, and this would complete for me, a very long, busy, but otherwise very successful day on this trip! I quickly went to bed after leaving Omaha and so ends today...

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013:

  I woke up around 6:15am and immediately went to the dining car for breakfast as I wanted to eat before we got to Denver and I'll explain why later. I would have those awesome Amtrak Pancakes for breakfast with Pork Sausage patties and Breakfast Potatoes with Orange Juice and my morning battery charger, Diet Pepsi! I was seated with a couple from Connecticut and we had good conversations over breakfast. Our next stop would be Denver, CO where we arrived at 7:38am having made up some time overnight, now running only 23 minutes late. This is a major service/fueling/watering stop for the train as well as a crew change point. I wanted to finish breakfast before we got here because I wanted to do what else? Take pictures!!!
  If you've read my travelogues in the past you'll know, I use the service stops to get photos because I don't smoke and one big way I'm trying to tell this story is via the use of a lot of photos! I would walk up Wewatta Street which parallels the station platform and get some photos of the train being worked on during the station stop. Amtrak is using a temporary facility that includes a station building located at the corner of 21st and Wewatta Streets in downtown Denver. The station building is located such that you need to cross Wewatta Street to get to the platform. This arrangement will only be in place until sometime in 2014 when the renovations at Denver Union Station are completed and Amtrak will once again use that station for this train. I couldn't help but notice how well constructed this supposed temporary platform was! I hope they can find some use for it once they go back to Union Station! One other thing I couldn't help but notice was the fact that as soon as I started running up Wewatta Street, that I felt very winded and very quickly so! I know I'm outta shape but this made no sense until I had to remind myself that I'm in the "Mile High City" whose elevation is more than 7 times as high as it is back home, so the thinner air was making me feel winded a little quicker! At 8:16am, we departed Denver, now running only 11 minutes late.
  With our new crew aboard, the big announcement was made that our train would be taking a detour route through Wyoming as the normal route was damaged by flooding back in September which caused a severe washout west of the Moffat Tunnel. So today, we would ride Union Pacific rails north out of Denver through Greeley, CO then eventually cross into Wyoming just west of Cheyenne and continue the journey west on what is part of the original Transcontinental Railroad (and here's the brief history lesson for today) which was completed on May 10th, 1869 at Promontory Point which is near Ogden, UT. The Central Pacific Railroad raced east from Sacramento, CA and the Union Pacific Railroad, starting from Omaha, NE, raced west to build the railroad which was completed when the 2 railroads connected with each other and drove in the golden spike! And with that, let's go back to the travelogue shall we?
  Once the train gets to Salt Lake City, it will continue on the normal route to Emeryville, CA which is where I'm headed. Passengers who were to travel through the cities and towns that temporarily lost service were "bustituted" (that's probably not a real word but you get the idea!). In other words, a chartered bus drove them to their respective stops with the exceptions of Fraser and Granby, CO where due to circumstances beyond Amtrak's control, there would be no alternate transportation. It was announced that the train would run essentially non-stop to Salt Lake City, stopping only in Green River, WY to change crews and that's it. Knowing that, I'm sure glad I don't smoke!
  Once we departed Denver, we had to stop at the end of the Union Pacific North Yard for switches to be lined for our continued journey. We would pass through towns such as Greeley, Eaton and Ault, CO before crossing the state line into Wyoming. One Amtrak conductor told me that Amtrak crews were actually qualified all the way to just outside Cheyenne where UP pilots were picked up once we connected with the old Transcontinental Railroad. I spent some time in the lounge car taking some photos as we moved towards Wyoming, then I spent some time in my sleeping car relaxing and taking more photos as we traversed across southern Wyoming, going through towns like Speer, Buford, Tie Siding, and Laramie.
  I headed to the dining car for lunch which was served first-come first-served just like at breakfast. For dinner however, Amtrak does take reservations for dining car meals. We would pass our eastbound counterpart, Train #6 somewhere in Laramie while I was in the dining car for lunch. I would have the Angus Steak Burger with Bacon with Kettle Chips and a Diet Pepsi along with Cheesecake topped with Blueberries for dessert, all the food was excellent!!! After lunch, I headed back to the sleeping car and relaxed and took more photos, passing more towns including Hanna, Sinclair, Rawlins, Wansutter, and Rock Springs, WY. I went and got a Snicker's bar from the cafe car just before we stopped just outside Green River, WY at a red signal with a freight train ahead of us. Once we got our signal, we were off to Green River and would enter the UP yard and get our new crew. We arrived there at 4:27pm. Because we were in a busy yard, no smoking break could be permitted there. We departed Green River at 4:33pm.
  The dining car attendant now walked through the sleeping cars to take dinner reservations. I opted for the 6:00pm time slot. At 6:00pm, I headed to the dining car and was seated with passengers from Oregon, Alabama, and Colorado. We all had good conversation and now we would be crossing into Utah from Wyoming and would parallel I-84 for a bit, having paralleled I-80 for a good portion of this trip so far! For dinner, I would have the Amtrak Signature Steak once again, but this time with Rice and Mashed Potatoes with a Diet Pepsi and more Cheesecake for dessert, all were delicious!!! After dinner, I would head back to my sleeping car now that it was well past sunset, and would continue writing this travelogue. While I was writing, an announcement was made that we just passed through Ogden, UT and were now heading south towards Salt Lake City. The transit time between Ogden and Salt Lake City was about an hour which would put us there a good 2 hours early, and the train cannot leave there until 11:30pm! We would the stop at Clinton, UT to let a freight pass us. I would just continue to relax until our arrival at Salt Lake City where I very much hoped to get in some great night photos!!!
  As time would pass before out arrival in Salt Lake City, we eventually came to another stop and an announcement was made that a freight train was set to pass us. This stop lasted close to 30 minutes and a few FrontRunner trains (FrontRunner is Salt Lake City's commuter railroad) passed us and eventually the freight in question as well. We eventually were on the move again and at 10:13pm, running 52 minutes early, we arrived at Salt Lake City, UT. A smoking break was permitted as we were gonna be here for awhile. This meant it was time for some night photography since I had the time to do so. I ended up taking photos of the train along with the station and some interesting looking signal lights. I had a brief chat with the engineer who was getting off the train here as well as the new engineer who was boarding here. The new engineer was familiar with this web site! After getting some good pictures and chatting a bit with my sleeping car attendant on the platform, we departed Salt Lake City on time at 11:30pm. I would call it a day after leaving here, and what a day it was! Whoever said there was no scenery on this detour route was sadly mistaken!!!

Thursday, October 10th, 2013:

  I woke up around 6:30am, now in the Pacific Time Zone, and headed to the dining car for breakfast. I was seated with 2 passengers, one from England (other's hometown escapes me). We had some excellent conversations on a variety of topics especially with the passenger from England who was originally born in the U.S. and moved there years ago. I had Pancakes (no surprise here, they were delicious and I love Pancakes!) with Pork Sausage Patties with Orange Juice and a Diet Pepsi. I wanted to get breakfast out of the way before we arrive at Reno since it was a smoking break/fresh air stop and I wanted to get another picture of the train from there.
  Two docents from the California State Railroad Museum boarded the train in Reno and would provide narration along the route between Reno and Sacramento where the museum is located. I visited this museum in 2011 and it is nothing short of phenomenal! If you love steam locomotives, you need to see this place! Our next stop was coming up in Truckee, CA which is only 35 miles west of Reno. We departed there at 9:39am, 2 minutes late after spotting the train 3 times since Truckee has a very short platform. My sleeper attendant was hard at work changing bed linens and cleaning up the car starting shortly after departing there. Apparently, things need to be just about complete before the train arrives in Emeryville in terms of having the car cleaned. We were now in the Sierra Nevada mountains and this is by far, one of the most scenic parts of the ride! The tracks were now twisting and turning their way through the mountains. We eventually go over Donner Pass and enter a long snow shed (similar to a tunnel) which is designed to channel snow over and away from the tracks in the winter as they do get a serious amount of snow here, something I'm all too familiar with living in Western New York! At the end of that shed (there are actually a few the train goes through), sits beautiful Donner Lake!!! The views from the train of this lake are so hard to describe since they are so beautiful! Since we left the Truckee Station, we've been riding through the beautiful Tahoe National Forest in these mountains with evergreen trees from as far as the eye can see mixed in with some deciduous trees of the maple and poplar/cottonwood variety, many of which were at peak fall color!
  After going over Donner Pass, I headed to the lounge car for a bottle of Orange Juice and chatted briefly with the 2 docents from the museum as they were taking a break. At that museum is a former Southern Pacific "cab forward" steamer on display, and one of the docents actually operated that locomotive when he worked for the SP back in the 1950's!! An announcement was eventually made that the dining car was open for lunch though it would be a limited seating as we were making great time and the crew needed time to shut the car down after lunch before our eventual arrival in Emeryville this afternoon. I decided to have the Marketplace Special today which was Penne Pasta with Meatballs in a Tomato Creme Sauce with a Small Salad and Roll with a Diet Pepsi and more of that delicious Cheesecake for dessert. Everything was delicious!!! I was seated with a couple from San Francisco and a passenger from Connecticut. The couple was looking at this web site from their iPad before lunch was served, something unheard of back in the "glory days" of passenger rail in America! When the original California Zephyr operated, there was no such thing as "the internet"! The passenger from Connecticut also shared some good stories about his prior train travels and I also chatted with one of the San Francisco passengers about sports! We made our next station stop at Colfax, CA while at lunch and departed at 11:51am, now 3 minutes late.
  After lunch, I just headed back to my sleeping car to just relax and take more pictures. We arrived at our next stop of Roseville, CA and departed quickly at 1:03pm running 6 minutes late but by now this didn't matter anymore because all remaining stops on this train to Emeryville are drop-off only and there is a serious amount of padding in the schedule between Roseville and the next stop of Sacramento. UP has a huge yard in Roseville which was very interesting to see and ride through. Just before the Sacramento stop, an announcement was made that Sacramento would be a brief smoking/fresh air stop. We arrived there at 1:26pm. I got off the train and took a few pictures of another train sitting on the platform there with California Cars and at 1:33pm, now 40 minutes early, we departed Sacramento. As I said before, all stops now are drop-off only and the train can leave as soon as station work is completed. Once out of Sacramento, I could see we were now on flat land, no more mountains, paralleling I-80 and we were flying!
  We made our next stop at Davis, CA and departed at 1:50pm, running 54 minutes early! I headed to the lounge car to get photos of the U.S. Navy's "Mothball Fleet" of ships that are sitting in the middle of Suisun Bay. Several retired ships are sitting there and are within view from the train, albeit they are a distance out in the water! After going by the Mothball Fleet, we passed by a big Union Pacific automobile transload facility where there were lots of new cars being off-loaded from autorack cars! We would then cross the Benecia-Martinez bridge and make our next stop at Martinez, CA where we departed at 2:44pm, running 42 minutes early. The train would now hug San Pablo Bay for a distance before turning south and heading for our next stop of Richmond, CA where we quickly departed at 3:10pm, now 49 minutes early! I started getting my stuff together (though I had most everything packed earlier), and the train crew made a very nice announcement thanking all of us for riding Amtrak and the California Zephyr. They also apologized for having to take the detour route through Wyoming though if you ask me, there was little reason to do so as it was a great ride nonetheless. At 3:20pm, running 50 minutes early, we arrived at Emeryville, CA which is the final destination for this train. After saying goodbye to my attendant (he got a good tip from me, he did a great job!), I grabbed my 2 suitcases and walked up to the head-end of the train to get photos of it before it left. There were a few other people throughout the trip who were doing the same as well! It was here that I was able to get good roster photos of every engine and car in the train as it eventually departed Emeryville for Oakland where it will get serviced and turned to become tomorrow's Train #6 and head back to Chicago. Capital Corridor Train #564 arrived at Emeryville just before the Zephyr departed as well. After both trains left, I headed inside the station and eventually outside and across the street again to catch the Emery-Go-Round Bus.
  The Emery-Go-Round bus is a free shuttle that runs to different places in the Emeryville area including the "BART" (Bay Area Rapid Transit) MacArthur Station. I would need to use BART to get to the San Francisco International Airport so as to pick up my rental car before driving out to Vacaville where my hotel is located. I picked up a Diet Coke inside the Subway restaurant located next to the bus stop while waiting for the bus to finally arrive. The talk of the San Francisco Bay Area was the fact that BART is ready to go on strike if they don't get a new contract negotiated before midnight. If BART doesn't operate, traffic in the Bay Area will be horrendous!!! The shuttle bus filled up very quickly and by the time it arrived at the BART station, it was filled to capacity and most of us got off the bus there.
  I paid the $8.60 fare to ride BART and eventually made my way to the platform and boarded the next train which I would find out was the wrong train! It was not going to the San Francisco International Airport but I was on the right line, so I got off that train at Balboa Park Station and got on the right one a few minutes later. Once I arrived at the airport, I was in the International Terminal so I needed to use the tram at the airport to get to the rental car facility. I had a small SUV reserved through Enterprise. Once I got to the rental car facility, they checked me in and I headed to the proper floor of the building which houses most of the rental car companies that serve the airport. My rental car for this leg of the trip would be a 2013 Chevrolet Captiva LTZ. If you're not familiar with this car, you actually might be, as it's a Saturn Vue with a Chevy badge on it! This is a small crossover SUV that is sold only as a fleet vehicle so the only way you can buy one is if it's a former rental. General Motors phased out the Saturn brand after 2010 but kept selling this vehicle as a fleet vehicle only under the Chevy brand. I set my Garmin Nuvii 50LM GPS for my hotel in Vacaville. After checking out of the rental car facility, I was on my way to what should have been an uneventful drive to Vacaville, or so I thought!!!
  As soon as I got out of the airport and got on I-380, I became stuck in a massive traffic jam where I would see things like motorcycles making their own lane between the cars (something I don't see back home)! I also witnessed a car driving without headlights and even saw a pedestrian walking on the side of I-80! This traffic jam went on even as I eventually made my way to the San Francisco Bay Bridge which is I-80. I figured things would let up once I got over the bridge, nope! This traffic jam ran all the way to Richmond before it finally let up and finally, I had a relatively uneventful ride from there to Vacaville. My hotel this year is the Courtyard By Marriott in Vacaville which is the same hotel I stayed at back in 2011 on my last trip here. The room is very nice and recently renovated and the staff is super friendly. I am a Silver Elite Marriott Rewards Member (for this year anyway!), so I like to stay at Marriott properties! After checking into the room, I walked across the street to Carl's Jr. for a late dinner. And with that, this interesting day came to a close.
   Included below are a set of links to the photos, one of the biggest reasons I make these trips! Because there are so many photos (and trust me, it was no easy task determining which photos make it into the travelogue and which ones end up on the virtual "cutting room floor") I have broken them up into four sections by day and part of the country I covered. Just click any blue link to see a group of photos. The plan for the next day was to drive out to Portola, CA to visit the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. That would be the next destination on this trip. I'll be completely honest when I say I was so insanely tired when I finally got to the hotel Thursday night that I was planning on just sleeping in on Friday. Thankfully, I ended up getting such a full, and great night's sleep that I was fully rested the following morning, so I decided to make the trip, and I'm so glad I did as you'll soon see! So check out the photos from this train ride and then see my visit to the museum! Enjoy...