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Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to Sacramento

Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to Sacramento

June 20, 2003

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Smokey informed us that our train would soon arrive, after Train 3, Southwest Chief, which was only about an hour late coming all the way from Chicago, left the Fullerton Station.  Smokey has a shoe shine stand at the Fullerton station and is a self-appointed information booth...with accurate information.  He sells punch cards for $35 good for 11 shoe shines for those who live close enough to Fullerton to drop off their shoes.    He says he used to make $800 a week shining shoes, but makes $25 a week now.  I purchased a card and he said if he was not there, to leave my shoes with Steve at, upstairs above the Fullerton Amtrak Station, or in the Sante Fe Express Cafe at the staion.



No Hassle Travel

We had left home 18 minutes earlier, getting us to the Fullerton Station from home.  We walked about 50 paces to the platform.   With no security check, nor parking inspection of the car, nor fee for parking, we were ready to travel.  Our daughter would retrieve our car at a more convenient time for her the next day.  

For an Commentary by me titled, Trains, Planes, and Automobiles...Why I Choose Trains , click the previous title.

Being a Railfan, I enjoyed watching various Surfliners, Metrolinks, and freight trains pass through this busy station plus the Southwest Chief arriving from Chicago, before our Surfliner arrived to take us to Los Angeles Station where we would board the fresh Coast Starlight for Sacramento.  Smokey's spotting of us on the platform at Fullerton was very precise.  When it arrived, we stepped directly onto the car and found 2 downstairs seats for the short ride to L.A.  Wife, Sue, hadn't been on a Surfliner as recently as I, and commented on how nice the cars were furnished.

Usually the Coast Starlight is at the same platform so you can step down off the Surfliner walk across the platform and board it.  However, the Southwest Chief occupied this spot today so a Red Cap with a cart took us and our luggage to the exact spot at which car 1430 would stop.  (Hint:  Know from your ticket which car you are to board to save walking.  Your 4-digit car number will first include 2 digits for the train number and 2 digits for the car.)  Our car number was 1430 and we had room 3.


Southwest Chief Engine
in Los Angeles Station

Elizabeth boarding her passengers
in car 1430.

Elizabeth, our car attendant, directed us upstairs to room 3 as I left our two suitcases on the lower level in the luggage area.  


Our room was on the land side and now I remember that Steve Grande of had said for the ocean side going northbound you need an even numbered room and southbound an odd numbered room.  We were pleased to see that the Pacific Parlour Car (Lounge car for first class passengers located between the sleepers and the diner) was next door.  Seeing that our room was going to be on the land side when we went north up the coast, we went to the Parlour car and selected a seat on the oceanside and awaited Nanette to prepare drinks for the continetal breakfast that was already ready on the serving cart.  I thought we had to stay in our rooms until our tickets were collected, but they announced we could go on up for the continental breakfast.  It was about 9:45 a.m. and we were shceduled to depart at 10:15 a.m.  There was complimentary coffee, juice, sodas, rolls, and cereal.  Nanette asked, as passengers entered the car, that we have a seat and she would bring us drinks, which she did.  I mentioned to her that I would be writing a story for and left a music CD by the Train Singer from Willits, California, for her to play in her car if she wished and left some business cards in case someone wanted to purchase a CD directly from the Train Singer's website.  Laticha, on only her second train as an Amtrak employee, volunteered to help  Nanette serve drinks at the continental breakfast.  She would later serve us in the diner.


Lounge Section of the Parlour Car

Middle and Back seating in Parlour Car

Nanette mentioned that all trains observe the 'Community Seating' plan and soon a couple from Lancaster, Linda and Randy, took the seats across the aisle.  Linda had arranged for this train trip in secret from Randy as a surprise trip for their 34th wedding anniversary.  As will happen on all train rides, we found things in common during our conversations.  Randy and I enjoy classic cars and Linda and Sue enjoy quilting.  By lunch time, 11:30, we had decided to have lunch together in the diner.   Before the continental breakfast was over, Nanette announced that she would host wine tasting at 3:30 p.m. in the Parlour Car and, because there were many adults in first class today, she would put on a movie downstairs for the children, "Anamaniacs III."  She mentioned that she would have 2 movies tonight, 6:30 would be "Shanghai Nights" and after that, "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days."



Randy and Linda

Conductor Dennis, 'Captain Kangaroo,' collected our ticket while we were still in the Parlour car about a half-hour after departure.

We passed an airport on the south side of the tracks and it looked like they were preparing for an air show.  Randy, who works for Northrup, pointed out a B-52 and an F 117.




Beautiful ocean views from the diner between Oxnard and Santa Barbara.

Promptly at 11:30, we moved to the diner for lunch.  We had the following choices:

Angus Beef Burger, Grilled Chicken Sandwich (with choice to add cheese and bacon), Garden Burger, Florentine Quiche, Ham and Swiss Sandwich, Chicken Pot Pie, Field Green Salad (with choice to add chicken), and the desserts were Chocolate Bundt, New York Style Cheesecake, Lemon Shortbread, or Vanilla Ice Cream.  As you may know, all meals are included with first class accommodations.

Our choice, Choc. Bundt with ice cream!

After lunch, and the Santa Barbara stop, there was a Rails and Trails presentation by the Intrepetive Team of Carla Cabanatuan and Nancy Jonke.


These presentations are sponsored by the National Park System, South Coast Railroad Museum in Goleta, and others.  The presentation was held in the Sightseeing Lounge car past the diner.  All seats upstairs were taken when I arrived, but plenty were available downstairs where I took notes at a table and photographed through the window on the ocean side of the car.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation that Carla and Nancy read from prepared scripts pointing out sights and relating historical events that had taken place along the route.  I recorded the following facts:

The Ellwood Oil Field was discovered in 1928 and was the largest oil field in the world at the time.

February 28, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced and shelled the refinery and pier here.  The wood from the destroyed pier was salvaged and a restaurant was built with it called,  "The Timbers."

The most common birds along the coast here are pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls.

Refugio Bay was the home of smugglers of rum and other contraband.  The park there now has many palm trees.

Walter A. Tompkins named this part of the coast "California's Wonderful Corner."  Here the coast turns from east-west to north-south at Point Conception, thus the 'corner.'

Cabrillo in 1542 sailed two ships near the Channel Islands and was the first look any European had of this area.  Of course there had been many Shumash Indians here for a long time.

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake passed this way on his around-the-world journey, but did not stop.

December, 1602, Visciano passed this way and named Santa Barbara as thanks for sparing them from December storms.  Thus the naming of Santa Barbara Channel.

New Year's Eve, 1900, the tracks from Los Angeles and San Francisco were finally joined for the first time near Gaviato.

Near Gaviato, is the largest bridge between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.  Rail photographers like taking pictures of trains on this bridge across a river right at the coast.

Hwy. 101 and the Southern Pacific Railroad run together along the coast for 65 miles until they separate Gaviato.  Seventy-eight miles of the coastline here is being studied as a possible National Seashore.  Common wildlife here includes mule deer, coyote, and wild board, red-tailed or red-shouldered hawks and turkey vultures.

This area was originally the 14,400 acre Hollister Ranch.  It is now 100 acre private parcels.

"Alta, California" means  Upper California, "Baja" means Lower California.

In 1741, Russians crossed the Bearing Straits and started exploring North America for fur trading ports.  The Spaniards thus started colonizing northward.  In 1769, Portolla of Spain began exploring and eventually Father Serra started San Diego and Monetery Missions to convert Indians to Christianity and thus create a base of loyal Spanish subjects.

Kelp beds along the coast here can grow 18 inches a day.  Kelp is harvested and used as a thickening agent in beer, ice cream, and toothpaste.

Point Conception has 2 currents, warm from the south and cold from the north and is the dividing point for marine and plant life.  The coastline turns 45 degrees here to a northwest direction, then a few miles farther turn another 45 degrees to due north.  South of these two turns. the train and coast run due east-west, only place in California this takes place.

Jafama County Park between the coastline and the tracks is a year-round park which is closed when Vandenberg fires missles.

Vandenberg is the 3rd largest air base in the US, following Edwards and a base in Florida.  It is known as "The US Western Gateway to Space"

In 1941, this was Camp Cook and German and Italian prisoners were housed here and tank training took place at this camp.

In 1959, the first polar orbiting satalite was launched from here, Vandenberg.

We passed Pt. Arguello Rescue Station, built in the 1930s,  A two-story red-roofed building still stands here.  It's breakwater has been improved to launch ships to retrieve booster rockets from space shuttle launchings...which never took place here.  Now Boeing uses this port to bring in vehicles for space launch from 'Slip 6' for polar orbit.

From the train, east of the tracks inside Vandenberg, one can see the Rocket Assembly Building with a large American flag painted on its side.  Also, one can see the 15,000 foot long runway constructed for space shuttles to land, but none ever landed.  The runway is longer than the longest LAX runway.  In 1959, the first Atlas missle tower was built here.

September 8, 1923, fourteen destroyers returning to San Diego got into dense fog.  Seven ships ran aground and 23 sailors died.

During the presentation, a father and 14-year old son, Andrew, from San Leandro, CA, were seated near me.  Andrew has a garden train (G-guage) and buys cars on E-Bay.

North Vandenberg tests ICBMs by firing them at 17,000 mph toward targets in the Pacific Ocean.

Along this coast is a Least Tern (black and white) shore bird sanctuary.  A similar refuge is in Camp Pendleton Marine Base near Oceanside, California.  

We turn inland away from the coast.  The track turns inland here because of unstable sand dunes north of here.

In 1901, the Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo section of the San Francisco to Los Angeles tracks were completed.  The difficulty in getting this section completed was the long bridges and earth fills required to cross the broad rivers which empty into the Pacific Ocean.  Also difficult was bulding the roadbed through the mountains north of San Luis Obispo as noted by the many tunnels on this section.

This was Southern Pacific right of way until Union Pacific, the builder of the eastern part of the Transcontinental RR, bought SP in 1996.

Eventually we enter the Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County where 'cool-weather crops' are raised.  Strawberries are the number one crop here now, passing grapes.

In 1923, the silent film, "The 10 Commandments" was filmed in the dunes west of Guadalope by Cecil B. DeMille.  These dunes go up the coast past Morro Bay.  When we cross the Santa Maria River, San Luis Obispo County starts.

Eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia in the 1800s and planted here.  However, they proved too brittle for telephone poles and railroad cross ties.  They are now used for fire wood, wind breaks, and for landscaping.

As we neared San Luis Obispo, the Conductor called it a "Huff and Puff" stop for the smokers.  We were in the station approximately 30 minutes, until 3:43 when we departed.  As we heard "All Aboard," the southbound Coast Starlight pulled into SLO Station.

I noticed I had missed a call from daughter, Carla, so I returned her call.  Her concern was that she'd heard about a lumber train derailment in Los Angeles County and wondered if we had been affected by it.  We had not, and in fact this was the first we had heard of it.

Smoke Break at San Luis Obispo while we awaited the southbound Coast Starlight.  

The consist of the Coast Starlight at this point was:

Engines 117 and 113, Mail/Baggage 1721, Transition Sleeper 39041, Sleeping Cars Arizona/32071, Kansas/32084, and Delaware/32076, Pacific Parlour Car 39975, Dining Car 38056, Sightseeing Lounge 33033, and Coaches 34093, 34515, 34034, and 34064.

About 3:30, after departing SLO, Nanette in the Parlour Car conducted complimentary wine tasting of Savignon Blanc by Montevina,  Reisling by Mirassou, and Shiraz by Clos du Bois with cheese and crackers.  My seat partners were Gerry and Dick from Palm Desert who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

We made 6:30 dinner reservations in the diner and enjoyed our steak and baked potato dinners with a couple from Atascadero, California, who were heading, by train, for Glacier National Park.  They will change trains in Portland and head East to the Park.


Central California near Salinas from the diner at dinner.

At 8:30 Sue went to the theatre in the lower level of the Parlour Car for a movie and I used my laptop in our room to download digital pictures and type our travelogue to this point.

We arrived in Sacramento around midnight and took a cab to the nearby Vagabond Inn.  Tomorrow, we would board the California Zephyr about 11 a.m. for Denver.


Route Guide for the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Gaviota (Click to get 4-times enlarged copy)


Route Guide for the Coast Starlight from Oakland to Pt. Conception (Click to get a 4-times enlarged copy)
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