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Southwest Chief from MO to CA, December, 2006

The 10th Anniversary of, December 9, 2006.

Southwest Chief Back to California

Taking the "Sunshine Express" [a.k.a. Southwest Chief] from La Plata, MO, to Fullerton, in Southern California December 10 - 12, 2006.

By Carl Morrison,

(Click any photo for a double-sized copy, click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

Picture%203.pngThe 10th Anniversary Party of, December 9, 2006, was a great success!

Those of us from California, who had been associated with for the first 9 years, attended in great numbers and found our first experience in La Plata, MO, and the Depot Inn & Suites, a most pleasant one!  Even though it was early December, and they had just had an unusually big snowfall of 12 inches, it was no problem for us thin-blooded Californians.

The snow had been cleared from the roads, parking lots, sidewalks, train station platforms, and was still piled nearby so it looked like much more snow.   The  daytime high temperature while we were in town was 42 degrees, and the  latest that I saw a thermometer at night was about 8 p.m. and it was  about 24 degrees (much colder, I'm sure, by dawn, the coldest time of the day.)  With temperatures like that, the snow will be around for a while.  Harold Marshall had said that they had freezing rain before the snow, so that will make the snow last longer.  All in all, I'm glad we had sunny weather, clear skies, cold weather, with snow already on the ground rather than overcast, cold weather without any previous snow.

With the Saturday party over and most of the guests returned to their homes, it was time for the "leftovers" to head back to California on the Southwest Chief.

As you can see from the partial Southwest Chief schedule I've placed at the left, our train was scheduled to leave La Plata, MO, at 8:06 (read down the left column for times of the westbound Chief).

Most of the other Californian's had either flown in and left during the day on Sunday, or had returned on the Saturday night Chief.  We had waited in the station Saturday night with the group since it was about an hour late heading west.  During the day on Sunday, we enjoyed breakfast in the Depot Inn & Suites, and I worked the day away in my Sportsman Suite editing pictures and writing this story.  The Internet connections in the Depot Inn & Suites were perfect!  I was able to upload pictures on one computer and write my story and do Internet desk research on the other, one being on the free ethernet connection, the other on wireless that works throughout the hotel.  Lunch was provided by TrainWeb in the meeting room where we had been meeting and socializing since Friday morning.  For dinner, Richard, Tes, and I walked nearby to the Red Rooster for our 3rd meal of the weekend.  This time I had chicken breast, green beans, and brocolli.  My earlier two dinners had been orange roughy and salmon...all great food.

<>Nearing 8 pm, it was time to get the group to the Amtrak Station in LaPlata.  Ray Burns was kind enough to bring a van to the hotel, and Harold Marshall was there as well, to take us.  Five were in the sleepers, and two started in the coaches, but after one night, upgraded to a roomette, one was in coach all the way.  We were delivered to the station and the westbound Southwest Chief #3 was about an hour late.  My car attendant, Cynthia, said the diner was open if we'd like to have dinner, but we declined since we'd had dinner at the Red Rooster.
<>320/DSC01138-1.jpg<<  The LSA (Dining Steward) was Charley (Charlene), who was very personable.  Always smiling and helpful, she served us each meal between La Plata and Fullerton.
<>At one meal in the diner, after we had passed some wildlife pointed out over the P.A. by the conductor, we passed a herd of goats.  I mentioned that they were not announced by the conductor.  I then began talking about goats wondered aloud if there were different breeds of goats as there are breeds of cattle, some for milking and some for meat.  A lady, Gina, next to our table, with two small girls said, "Yes, there are."  I asked and found out that Nubian goats are for milking and Boer goats are raised for their meet.  We even got into the details of butterfat level of goat milk which is higher than cows' butterfat, causing some dairies to mix goat milkinto their cows milk to raise the butterfat level of their milk and the price.  We even discussed the 'plumbing' of goats as it relates to milking, which is 1/2 that of a cow.  I know I've gone too far with this subject, but my facts can be checked at GoatWeb, really!
<>The consist of our westbound Southwest Chief Train #3 was:  Engines 43 and 61; Baggage 1709; Transition Sleeper 39042 (310); Sleepers 32012 (331); 32090 (330); Diner 38032; Lounge Car 33042;  Coaches 34085 and 34047; Coach Babbage 31007.
<>I discovered something I want to remember about the small bathrooms on the lower level of Amtrak Trains.  Downstairs there are 3 bathrooms on the left side and a shower and one bathroom on the right (from the stairs).  All bathrooms are extremely small and the sinks have no room for toiletries such as a shaving kit.  However, the middle bathroom on the left has a changing table.  If you lower this, you have a 3 ft. by 2 ft. area on which to spread out your toiletries.  If you are concerned about the how sanitary this area is, spread out an amtrak towel, or paper towels, or spray the area with the disenfectant that is usually in each bathroom.  Once I discovered the changing table, I used this bathroom each time I needed to shave.  With the changing table down, of course that eliminated the use of the toilet.  However, this problem was eliminated as soon as you replaced the changing table.
320/DSC01117-1.jpgAt Milepost 603 at 9:15 a.m., I heard on my scanner "Alarm in Unit 2, power out."  We slowly came to a hault, only those with scanners knew the reason.  The conductor said, "We are out of gas and will be here a couple of days."  Then he said, "No, we're running on solar and as soon as the cloud cover moves, we'll be on our way."  (It is good to have a little levity now and then!)  Someone on the  scanner said there was too much power usage in the passenger cars and it blew a breaker which they would reset.  They did this and we were on the move in 4 minutes, in the rainy snow.  I looked at the power bar with all my technology plugged into it (to the right of my computer >>) and I wondered if I was the problem!

Falling snow was beginning to cover the ground by 9:40.  At 9:56 - 9:57 we were in Trinidad, CO. 

<>Trinidad, Colorado.  Trinidad is home to coal mining operations.  Historically, Trinidad is remembered for a battle between the Sapnish and U.S. settlers on Christmas Day 1867.

My first shot of the day was at Trinidad.  We'd passed through Trinidad after dark on the eastbound leg.

...DAD had "A" falling out in Trinidad.
Ponds were frozen over here as well.

We contunued toward the CO/NM border, paralleling I-25.

We had a glimpse of the ghost town of Morley, NM.  We'd have missed it al together if it had not been ofr the alert conductor announcing the sights.
The Old Santa Fe Trail went this way and, at Raton Pass, NM, the Trail reached its highest elevation at 7,588 ft.

This is "High Country Colorado" and lightly inhabited to this day.

The track circled most of the Dick Wootton Ranch buildings.
Looking back east is a high peak.
The train moves slowly up the grade, with many sharp curves, making an opportunity to shoot the engine out your window.
As you can see, I almost missed the Raton Tunnel, the highest point on the Santa Fe Train at 7,599 ft. elevation.

All I could photograph from my window was the concrete work around the tunnel entrance.
Heading downhill to the west, we began to see wide, high altitude valleys.
I took this valley picture and wondered at the time what those brown objects were on the right of the far brown grass next to the tree line.  Do you know?  (Click the picture for a double-sized version.)

Can you tell yet what those brown objects are?

About this time, the Conductor excitedly announced, "Look on the right!  There is a herd of about 100 elk!"  I kept shooting as we circled the opposite edge of the valley, never spooking the elk.


The curves were so sharp, you could see both ends of the Superliner.
As we progressed southwest, the low sun began illuminating the insulators along the right-of-way, making them appear as lights. 
I don't think I've seen so many wires and insulators used at once before.
The song, "I am a Lineman for the County..." by Glenn Campbell came to mind.

With a possible 40 insulators per pole, how many insulators were made and used by railroads?!

320/DSC01091.jpg 320/DSC01095.jpg
These Llamas were not pointed out by the Conductor, perhaps because they were domesticated.
With a hill and sign that looks a lot like Trinidad, we arrived at Raton, NM, at 10:56 - on time.

Raton is the Gateway to the 13,744-acre Philmont Boy Scout Ranch.  If Washington Politicians ever eliminate funding for Amtrak and the train connection to Raton is lost, politicians can count out the Boy Scout and Scout Parents vote!


Southwestern styled Raton, NM Amtrak Station
What do you make of this?

The shadow of our RR bridge and a creek below.
Nice Farm buildings, above.


Las Vegas, NM

The scene, above left, was what we had to look at starting at 2:30, when we stopped for a disbled freight at Cañoncito, NM.  We sat in this spot until 3:35 when the BNSF train of empty trailer rollers (above right) went uphill past us.  I thought it was a good sign.  Next was Southwest Chief #4 which had been stopped behind the disabled freight. 

During our extended stop, Cynthia brought everyone in her sleeper a coffee drink!


I had time while we were stationary, to walk through the diner for a few pictures
The middle of the diner, with Diner Light, has become
... a place for "AmTrash."

One booth, next to the "AmTrash" area, is devoted to silverware, tablecloths, condiments, etc.  Not very attractive

We had a remodeled lounge/cafe car in which tables replaced a few seats, a good move allowing for more seating and better workspace.
Sally, Worcestor, Mass., made good use of the table and worked on a counted cross stitch, while husband Bob had his railroad maps laid out across from her.  They were headed to San Diego County, CA.

The other half of the lounge/cafe car upstairs has seating facing the side, but better arranged without wasted space.

The downstairs Cafe seems to have more items than before the remodeling.

The Cafe Attendant had been a Parlour Car Attendant on the Coast Starlight when I had ridden it.
Booths downstairs.
Cute tables between seats upstairs.

At 4:30, we went west only a few 100 yards to Lamy Station.  We left Lamy at 5:05.  It was now a "Night Train"  We stopped again north of Albuquerque, for 20 minutes for the New Mexico Road Runner commuter train to do its work, then we proceeded to Albuquerque for an estimated 6:35 PM arrival, about 3 hrs. late.

The Greyhound Station adjacent to the BNSF tracks at Albuquerque Station.

Dinner, more report typing, and 8 hrs. sleep took up my time until we decended Cajon Pass.  Last evening they had said we only had a chance at breakfast from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m.  I got there for my last fresh Tuscan Omlette.  It wasn't long until we heard over the P.A. that the diner had lost power, so they were about to finish their work before L.A.

The first smoke break after sunrise on December 12, was San Bernardino.  I stepped off onto California soil for the first time in a week! I and others photographed the station.

San Bernardino, California.  This was the site of California's first inland European Settlement.  Here, the train parallels U.S. Route 66, as it has since Albuquerque.

It was also the warmest air we'd felt for a week!
All the Metrolink trains were at work carrying commuters, and none were in the waiting area adjacent to the .

Jonathan was taking pictures before his feet even hit the platform.
It wasn't long before we heard "All Aboard" and the double-horns for High Ball.
Richard Hamilton proudly wore his new Depot Inn & Suites shirt from La Plata, MO.
Tess was telling her kids that we were'nt far from journey's end.

When we entered the car, and I returned to my roomette, I finished packing my bags for my departure in Fullerton.  I enjoyed, but did not photograph, the final stop in Riverside, and the familiar scenery back to Fullerton, my home station.

As I walked by the diner, after getting off the train, the Chef was looking out his kitchen window.  I complemented him on his work and said the had improved Diner Light since its inception.  He said it all depended upon the Chef.  I mentioned that his broasted chicken and omlettes were very good.  He appreciated the comment.  I asked what else was fresh (not delivered to the train already cooked) and he said the the broasted chicken and chicken breast sandwiches...I'd had that for lunch!

Steve Grande unexpectedly met us at the train in Fullerton and we caught him up on our trip and the personalities on this train. 

We had been delivered to the train in La Plata, MO, by Staff, and met 1,932 miles later at the Fullerton, CA, Station!  Now that's taking care of the group if you ask me.

As fellow field reporter, Chris Guenzler, says, "Every Train Ride is an Adventure."  Well, that's true for this round trip AND what an adventure we had in La Plata. 

My wish is that Steve, Barbara, Ray, and Shivam have another 10 years of success with TrainWeb and TrainParty and all the other domains they manage.  Thanks for a great decade!  Let's do it again on December 9, 2016!

Carl "Hobo Mo" Morrison,
Carl "reflecting" on his snowy trip to LaPlata, MO, with a Christmas tree in the window.

Thanks for reading this report, and please click "Links" below to see some good references and further reading. 

1. Sendoff Party | 2. Going to La Plata |  3. Arriving in LaPlata and the Depot Inn & Suites  |  4.   La Plata, Missouri | 5. Anniversary Party and Ribbon Cutting | 6. Returning to sunny Southern California  7. Links