The California Zephyr will be 7 hours late and will arrive about 2:30
said the recorded message when we called 1-800-Amtrak to see when
it would arrive. We had enjoyed a big breakfast in Denver, with friend
Larry, after staying at his home in Aurora, CO. The joke of the
time in Denver was, "What's that cologne you are wearing?" which the customer
behind Larry asked during our breakfast. It seems the cologne reminded
this person of his Grandmother's house! Larry remembered that his
cologne was 'Woodlands by Body Works.' We visited a quilt store for
Sue and picked up Bob at the Denver airport about 1:30 p.m. Bob had
flown from Chicago to Denver to ride the California Zephyr back to Chicago
with us in 1st Class for his first ever train ride on Amtrak We
returned to Larry's place and spent an enjoyable afternoon sitting on
his porch reminiscing about the years we'd known each other. That
evening we had dinner at the Texas Road house restaurant (home office in
We took naps before our late departure to the train station and received
a call from our daughter, Carla, in California that her boy friend had
given her an engagement ring that day!
At the Denver Train Station, we entered, told agent Guy we needed
help to our sleeper and took our seats. He said to sit on the first
bench, which was completely full, so we sat in the second bench and told
him we'd be there when he was ready to take us to the sleeper car. Waiting
passengers said they had heard that the train had hit a truck on the tracks.
Finally the California Zephyr arrived and I asked departing passengers
what had caused the long delay. One related that the train was 2
1/2 hours late picking them up in Davis, California, that the train had
hit a car and killed a woman which resulted in further delays. Another
passenger said the train had hit an SUV with a mother and baby and killed
them both and they had to wait for the coroner to arrive. In addition
to this, the train crew had to search the area for other victims because
there was older children's clothes in the vehicle. This lady and her
husband were on an Elderhostel trip studying trains, including the Pike's
Peak cog train.
Left on the Platform
Guy told us to wait, that he had to make 3 trips to take out passengers
who needed help, so we waited as we were told. We waited with an
85 year old passenger and her accompanying daughter. Finally, when
all other passengers were out of the station, we walked outside to the tram
stop and saw Guy coming back with station employees and other materials in
the seats of the tram. We started to get on the tram, but an employee
said the TRAIN HAD LEFT! We were overwhelmed! I quickly ran
to the corner of the station where I could see where the train had been earlier,
and sure enough, it had left! A second agent arranged for ovenight
accommodations at a Best Western and for Best Western's van to pick us up
and take us to the hotel. That was the end of the conversation until
Bob asked for money for food for the following day and we 3 were each
given $15. We didn't have the heart to call Larry at 3 a.m.,
so we waited until the next morning to call him. The 85 year old
lady and her very angry daughter disappeared, after shouting sentences
including "I'm suing Amtrak," and did not accompany us to the hotel.
We had remained calm (against our urge to shout the same things).
[Word to the wise train traveler: Always include an extra day
in your layovers so that if your train is extremely late, you can shorten
a layover by a day and still meet your other travel reservations.]
June 24, 2003, A day of planned train travel, but with no train.
We slept well after agreeing to meet in the lobby 7 hours later,
at 10 a.m. for breakfast. We were now in Denver without any reservation
to leave town. I called Amtrak and reserved a 'standard room' since
there were no Deluxe rooms like we had reserved. I suggested that
if a handicapped room came available, we'd take that since it had a bathroom
in the room. Bob had negotiated a late checkout of 5 pm at the hotel,
since our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:30 if it was on time
Stretching our friendship thin, we called Larry asking, "Guess where
we are." Sue suggested we see the movie, "Hollywood Homicide" with
Harrison Ford. Afterwards we had lunch at "Gunther Toody's" a 50s
style hamburger place at 301 W. 104th Ave., Northglenn, CO (303) 453-1956.
It was fun. I called the Denver station again and they
had found a 'special' room for Sue and me, I presumed this was a handicapped
room, which it turned out to be.
We got back to the hotel about 4:30 and learned that the train was
not due in until 8:15, so we further negotiated for a van ride back to
the train station and to stay in our room until 6:30. This gave us
time to type some more of this travelogue and/or nap.
The van ride got us and our luggage back to the Denver Station about
7 and we got tickets reissued from the different ticket agents than yesterday.
Both were very helpful and assured us we'd get on the train this
time. I asked for the employee's name who had released the train
when we were still in the station last night and was told it was 'Guy.'
I also mentioned that I'd like to give Amtrak my version of what
had transpired yesterday and was given Amtrak's Customer Service address.
In fact, when the train did arrive, we were the first load to make
it to the train. Bob made a wise decision to go onboard with the
able-bodied passengers and hold the train until we arrived if need be...we'd
spent enough time in Denver for one trip!
7:10 p.m. on the Denver station clock
looks a lot better than 3:00 a.m.!
Sign inside Denver Station.
Agent Bill even told Debbie Caldwell, our 19-year veteran sleeper
car attendant, about our previous night's disappointment and to treat us
well, which she did. Sue could not navigate the stairs nor the 3
cars to get to the diner, so Bob and I went to the diner for dinner soon
after we left the station. Debbie took Sue's order and delivered it
to her in the room. She also made up our bunk beds when we pushed the
call button. In the diner, Simona was our waitress and we had a leisurely
dinner since we were the last in the diner. Lester Petersen was the
Conductor and he was passing through the diner so I asked him about channels
to listen to railroad chatter and what the real story was about the 8-hr.
delay of the previous night's California Zephyr, and finally to mention
that we and Bob would be getting off in Naperville rather than Chicago
(where Bob's wife would pick us up and take us to their new home in Huntley.)
All Lester would tell me was that there had been flash flood warnings
and that a car had been hit by the train. He did tell a fellow employee
about passengers getting off the train to help which had become somewhat
of a problem. As we returned to our sleeper, the last one in the passenger
portion of our train (except for the 4 mail cars), I pointed out to Bob
the older Superliner I car as compared to our Superliner II car. The
attendant in the Superliner I car said the final sleeper was a Superliner
III car, I was unable to confirm this and in fact other Amtrak employees
on the train doubted the existance of a Superliner III car.
The Consist of this evening's California Zephyr was the lead engine
(could not get the number). Second engine 169, mail/baggage car, Transition
car 34081, coaches 39012, 34081, 34047, and 31519, Sightseeing car 33019,
Diner 38010, Sleeper Cars 32064, 32070, and 32113 plus 4 mail cars.
June 25, 2003, "What the heck am I doin' in Omaha?"
"What the heck am I doin' in Omaha?" is a well-advertised line from
the movie, "About Schmidt," spoken by Jack Nicholson's character. that
came to mind as the Calkfornia Zephyr slowed about 6:30 a.m. We had
spent a night of 'rockin' and a rollin' across Colorado and Nebraska getting
short naps through the night hours since we had left Denver.
Omaha, according to the CA Zephyr Route Guide, "was a Missouri River
crossing for westbound pioneers. President Gerald Ford, Henry Fonda,
Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando and Malcom X were born here. Boys Town,
a refuge for homeless and under-privileged children, is west of town.
In the 20-minute stop in Omaha, I took the opportunity and used the
calm in our car to shave and shower in the nearby shower. We were
on the move eastbound when I passed Bob's room to pick him up for breakfast
in the diner. Sue stayed in the darkened room to try and add a few
After breakfast with a Filipino couple who were traveling the USA
via train, Bob and I found good Observation Car seats and watched the overcast
and rainy countryside slide by while having good conversation.
Bob contemplates the
rainy Iowa countryside from the
observation car after breakfast..
It became dryer as time went by heading east. I enjoyed conversation
with a fellow returning to Chicago from Denver. He was riding in coach
for a little more than $100. Debbie got Sue's order and came to the
diner and got it for her.
Proud Iowa small town
still maintains a nice station.
Caboose from the Burlington Route
Country Roads lead me home.
Upon leaving the observation car, we had to pass through the diner
and in the crew section of the diner Bill Francik asked about my 'TrainWeb.com'
shirt. I told him about it, giving him a business card, then talked
with him about Amtrak. He has been working for them for 19.5 years.
His home base is Chicago. He chose to work on the California
Zephyr because his work schedule is 6 days on and a week off as a train
attendant. He was in charge of coach car passengers on this trip,
yet I saw him helping in the diner and making beds for Debbie. He
said many attendants are on the 'Extra Board' after a trip is complete
and they must wait for all others on the board to be assigned a trip before
they get another assignment. He said he recently worked in the training
department training summer employees. They receive 5 days in the
yards learning things aboard the cars, then go on 3 familiarization trips.
The sleeper cars are built in Barre, Vermont. There are 44 beds
per sleeper car to make up.
This California Zephyr has a smoking lounge on the first floor of
one coach car...I could smell smoke when I entered that car on the second
floor. If there is no such smoking lounge, as on the California Zephyr
we were on from Sacramento to Denver, they announce "Huff and Puff" stops.
This train had no such stops so not much time was spent at the stops.
We prefer the Coast Starlight where the whole train is non-smoking.
Mt. Pleasant kids dream,
as I did from my bicycle at their age,
of a ride on a 1st class train someday.
Upper level on a Superliner are 5 Deluxe Rooms
with baths that are about 3/4 the width of the car, plus 10 Standard Rooms
with a restroom in the center of the car.
Lower level has a Family Room, the full width of
the car, as well as a Handicapped Room at the other
end of the lower level. There are 4 Standard Rooms
plus restrooms and a changing room on this level.
Route Guide Comments;
Galesburg is the home of Carl Sandburg, writer
and historian. Abe Lincoln and Stephen Doublas debated here at Knox
College in the building with the copper spire to the left of the train.
Galesburg, Illinois, Station
Our car, Vermont, and Handicapped window.
Our car attendant, Debbie, a 19-yr. vet. of Amtrak
Left and above, seating in half
of the Handicapped Room.
Bath in the other half of the "H" room.
We arrived in Naperville, Illinois about an hour late and were met
my Bob's wife, Kay, and went to their new home in Huntley, IL, where we
spent the night before boarding The Cardinal in Chicago for Charleston,
CHICAGO is the crossroad of American manufacturing and distribution,
and is an important hub of the nation's rail roads. The Sears Tower
(seen in the next segment of this travelogue) dominates the
massive skyline along with the "Gold Coast" high rises along Lake Michigan.
As the train backs into Chicago's Union Station, it parallels the
Chicago River on the left, its flow reversed in an engineering triumph.
And another engineering triumph is the modern Amtrak yards and maintenance
facility, which is the home of the California Zephyr. The train
ends its 2,422-mile run in historic Union Station. Built in 1926,
the station serves over 40 Amtrak trains and 160 commuter trains each weekday.