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Southwest Chief, Fullerton, CA, to LaPlata, MO, Feb. 19-26, 2008

La Plata, Missouri, Rail Events on February 23, 2008

Report and Photographs by Carl Morrison.  Comments welcome at

Amtrak Southwest Chief #4, Fullerton, California, to LaPlata, Missouri.

Destination - Depot Inn & Suites, LaPlata, Missouri.

7:20 pm, February 19, 2008, 56 degrees, the Southwest Chief pulled out of Fullerton, California, on time.  I was carrying several large, framed steam train photographs to be put on consignment at the Depot Inn & Suites in LaPlata, MO, when I boarded.  I would have checked them, but there is no baggage service in LaPlata to take them off, so I was a bit concerned how I'd get them all safely stored on the Southwest Chief.  Since I had a roomette, I planned to put my things on the upper bunk, leaving it down the duration of the trip for storage.   Car 430 Attendant, Rene, saw my delima and quickly suggested that I put my luggage across the hallway in Room 7 since it was out of service for passengers because the electrical did not work in that room.  This was a perfect solution, and I tipped Rene for the trip at this time...$10 per day.

Car Problems and Amtrak Comment Cards

There were about 6 rooms used in Car 430 at this time of the trip.  Later, in the diner for breakfast, I was talking with a young man from San diego who was going to Albuquerque in coach, and he said the coaches were not full either.  He did relate a story about luggage that he had observed in San Bernardino.  He said a train attendant would not allow a young lady to take on all her luggage and made her leave some of it on the platform there.  This seemed unreasonable to the fellow who was telling the story, as it did to me.  I gave him an amtrak comment card titled, "You're our guest.  Who made you feel like one?"  I had picked up a handful of these in the Fullerton Station the previous week when I saw a large stack of them in the lobby.  I thought at the time, why aren't these on the train?!  The form number is 02165, and is self addressed and 'no postage necessary.'  It is addressed to AMTRAK, SERVICE STANDARDS, 60 MASSACHUSETTS AVE NE, WASHINGTON DC 20078-8129.  Inside are  lines for:  Name of Employee(s), Train Name/Number or Station, Date of Trip,  Tell us about your experience (6 lines), Your Name, Phone Number.  The last line says, "You may also contact us at  (This is a curious URL.  It is not an e-mail address, so how could someone 'contact' them at a URL?)

I had already filled out a "Recognition Card" myself, because after dinner, my Car Attendant, Rene, could not be called nor found to make up my roomette for sleeping.  I had to flag down a coach car attendant on his way to the Transition Car, to make up my bed.  Also, the call buttons did not work, nor did the toilets.  I was unable to tell this to anyone until the next morning at breakfast where I saw an Assistant Conductor and told him.

The non-working toilets seem to be an ongoing problem.  The previous evening my friend Steve Grande, or, had arrived in California on this same car, and he said the toilets didn't work the whole 2,000 miles of his trip and it looks like today's passengers are fighting the same problem, 'Please go to the adjoining car to use the restrooms.'  This is not so bad for me, an able-bodied passenger, but what about those who are in the handicapped rooms because they cannot climb stairs and for that purpose have a commode in their room?  Also, what about those passengers who spent the extra for accommodations to have a commode and shower in their room, that they cannot use?

Dinner in the Diner

My 8 pm dinner reservation was handed to me as I boarded, and after setting up my "Command Central" with all my electronic gadgets, I made it to the next car, the diner, and was seated at a table by myself...a first.  The menu was different than my last Amtrak trip.  The ID on the back of the menu was AMT DC 1207.

The new Menu had Dinner:  Appetizers (not included in the meal that comes with accommodations); Entrées  Flat Iron Steak, $21; Seafood (Tilapia this evening) $16.50, Roast Game Hen, $13; Vegetarian Special, $11; Marketplace Special, $15 (Beef and vegetables this evening); and Build Your Own Burger for $7.25.  Desserts  included Key Lime Pie (my choice); Cheese Cake; and a couple of other choices; and Ice Cream.

Breakfast:  California Omelet, $9; Scrambled Eggs, $6; Railroad French Toast, $7; Marketplace Special, $8; Continental, $6.75.  Sides bacon and sausage.   I had decaf coffee and orange juice.

Lunch:  Appetizers - Chicken Wings, $5; Chips and Salsa, $4.  Entrées:  Build your own Burger, $7.25; Chef's Lunch Special, $9; Cold Sandwiches, $7; or Salad, $6.  Drinks were: Wine by the Glass, $5; Bottle, $12.

Traveling in a Roomette

Closet with a window would be a better description of the Roomette on an Amtrak Superliner.  I would not recommend this for more than one traveler, because the two facing seats in this closet make into a lower bed, along the window, and a narrower upper bunk drops down.  I usually use the upper bunk for my stuff.  There is a retractable table between the two facing seats.

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There is a 3-positon light switch on this side for off, night light, or full light.  A call button to have the attendant make up your bed, and a volume control for announcements.


My "Command Central"  Left is the other, facing seat.  The upper bed can be down and there will still be space for work.  The top bunk comes down to the top of the headrest in the left photo.  There is a closet big enough for 2 coats with room below for shoes.  There is also a shelf for stepping into the upper bunk, and a waste basket.

    Perhaps I should describe my "Command Central," as Rail Friend Andy Smith calls my traveling setup.  Because there is ONE outlet in the room, I bring a power bar and extension cord with 3-hole receptacle so that I can plug the power bar into the extension cord.  Now, into the power bar I plug at least 3 essentials for me:  1.  My laptop, 2. My cell phone charger, 3. My GPS charger.  I also carry a scanner to listen to the railroad talk, but it is battery powered.  I could use the remaining outlets to keep my iPod Touch charged, and to charge my camera battery.  To keep the GPS connected to the satelites, I have an external antenna with a  shelf that suction cups to the window.    On the GPS, which I leave on 24 hrs. to accumulate useless data, it currently tells me that we've gone 831 miles, at a speed of 69.5 mph,  Our 'driving time' is 13:27, our stopped time is 56:21, our driving average has been 61.8 mph, our overall average has been 57.8 mph, and the Maximum Speed was 92.2 mph.  I can look up the mileage to upcoming cities.  For example, Albuquerque, NM, is 32 miles ahead, as the crow flies.  When set at 800 ft., it shows the railroad tracks as well as streets and that we are paralleling I-40.

Drive by Shootings (Photos)

Arizona/New Mexico Border and I-40

Arizona/New Mexico Border
Arizona/New Mexico Border, wider shot
Left:  2-lane road passes through an Indian Reservation and under RR in New Mexico.

Above:  Snow capped New Mexico mountains beyond I-40 north of the BNSF tracks.

To a flatlander like me, the Southwestern Desert is very interesting because the climax vegitation is about waist high, so you can see forever.

A First Time Experience on the Train....No, not that!

We were early into Albuquerque,  I had time to cruise the Indian Jewelry tables that are always present on the platform there.  I purchased a money clip with two buffalo nickels on it from a 20-yr. vendor.  She reminded me that one should always look for the initials of the maker on the back which makes it authentic.

IMG_3617.jpg IMG_3618.jpg

 always enjoy talking to the Amish who often are riding the Southwest Chief.  They tend to be from Pennsylvania, boarding at Lewistown, Indiana, and Missouri, boarding at LaPlata.  The couple I talked with in Albuquerque were returning to Pennsylvania after visiting her brother in Mexico where he was receiving Kemo treatment for cancer.  Amish often purchase drugs in Mexico, being much cheaper than in the US.  The Dr. they see in Tijuana sends a van and driver to the San Diego station to pick them up and take them across the border, directly to the Dr's Office.  Since Amish do not have a picture ID, a written ID is ok for entering both Mexico and reentering the US.  The van driver brings them back, stopping at the grocery store and letting them shop before returning to the train station.

Vendors on the ABQ Platform while the train is serviced and the crew changes.


The vendor, left, had beautiful work, above, done with silver, turquoise and coral.

Much time passed and we still didn't resume our rail journey.  Finally we started cutting out a car, and I learned that a spring had broken on the diner (of all cars!) and it was being cut out of the consist and left in Albuquerque.  And poor little me, I hadn't had lunch yet!

Photo Credit:  Anthony Escarcega the following day.
Photo Credit:  Anthony Escarcega the following day.

Once we were underway, the Conductor announced that sleeping car passengers should bring their ticket stub to the Café Car for a "free" sandwich, and chips.  We were to go to Room A in our sleeper where they had offloaded the drinks from the diner.  Of course, we all rushed down to the Café car  and enjoyed the conversation in the food line as we received our lunch.  One fellow said, "Just like camp!"

Our dinner came from Las Vegas, New Mexico, where chicken fried steak was brought on.  The following morning, at Kansas City, a breakfast  burrito, donut, apple, and banana were delivered to our rooms.

Last sighting of our Diner as it was left in Albuquerque.  My 430 car was next to the diner, so a group of us from the sleeper watched out the back window and wished the dining car a quick recovery.  The next day, friends on the Southwest Chief #4 said there was a large spring unloaded from their car.
This maneuver took 3 tracks since we came in on #1, we left the sightseeing lounge and coaches on #2, and set off the diner on #3.  This, of couse took some time to get permission for such a maneuver.
A number of electrical lines, air hoses, and couplers had to be connected once we rejoined with the Sightseeing Lounge and coaches.

We resumed out journey and met the the westbound Southwest Chief #3 before Lamy.

Boarded up church in Lamy, NM.
Lamy Station, NM.
The Assistant Conductor, who began his shift in Albuquerque, pointed out the sights from the Sightseeing Lounge north of Lamy.

The creeks were frozen.
Curves are so shape you can see the locomotives pulling the train.
Before we got indoor plumbing, my Dad used to describe our home as "Five rooms and a Path," which became "Five rooms and a Bath."  This photo shows what appears to be "Two Rooms and a Path."
The BNSF parallels I-25 before turning east, while I-25 continues north to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Denver.


This bridge is said to date back to the Civil War Era.
I always look for this unusual structure which appears to be a desert lizard to me.  It has recently received the mid-section roof.
A waterscape painting on an abandoned rail car in the New Mexico desert.

Right:  Las Vegas, New Mexico, Station where we had a fresh air break while the crew loaded our chicken fried steak dinners.

It was a grey winter day in Las Vegas, with recent snow still clinging to the station's eves.


For the first time, I had time to take a few shots of the:

La Castaneda Hotel
524 Railroad Avenue; Built 1898
Built to be a jewel in Fred Harvey's famed chain of railroad hotels, La Castaneda is one of the early Harvey Houses to be built in the Mission Revival Style. Its main facade and courtyard face the railroad tracks. La Castaneda was a sister hotel to Albuquerque's Alvarado Hotel, which was demolished in 1970. A visit to La Castaneda should include a walk through the hotel's once grand lobby and dining room, both remarkably intact.



At the Las Vegas, NM, Station, the state flag flew proudly in the winter wind below the Stars and Stripes.

The yellow field and red symbol colors are the colors of Spain. First brought to New Mexico by Spanish explorers in 1540. On New Mexico's flag we see a red sun with rays streching out from it. There are four groups of rays with four rays in each group. This is an ancient sun symbol of a Native American people called the Zia. The Zia believed that the giver of all good gave them gifts in groups of four. These gifts are:
  • The four directions - north, east, south and west.
  • The four seasons - spring, summer, fall and winter.
  • The day - sunrise, noon, evening and night.
  • Life itself - childhood, youth, middle years and old age.

All of these are bound by a circle of life and love, without a beginning or end.

Enjoying our chicken fried steak dinner in the comfort of our roomette, we rode the Southwest Chief north eastward as the sun set in the west.

We arrived in La Plata, Missouri, near our scheduled 9:57 a.m. time, after our only other Missouri stop, Kansas City.  In K.C., a crew change stop, we took on breakfast for the sleeping car passengers.  The two hour ride from K.C. to LaPlata was consumed with morning shower, breakfast, and packing for my departure from the train, and arrival at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata.

My confirmed reservations at the Depot Inn & Suites in LaPlata included being met at the Amtrak Station by hotel staff.  In this case, it was Sally, who immediately said, "Hello, Carl."  It warms your heart to hear welcoming words like that when you're over 2,000 miles from home.  The Depot Inn and Suites always says their guests are part of their family, and they sure make you feel that way!  Sally took me to the Inn and I got settled in my room with 2 queen beds.  Not having been in much snow since I moved from Indiana to California in 1968, I took a walk around the property:

Depot Inn & Suites,  A New Railroad Themed Hotel

1245 North Brown Street, LaPlata, MO  63549

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Even the playground is railroad themed!
Antique luggage cart.
IMG_3687.jpg IMG_3680.jpg

"Fast as Lightning"
Wonder it that's white lightning in the barrell?

"I'm a little 'tied' down now."
The Historical Exhibition of Amtrak is also on the Depot Inn & Suites property in former Amtrak Express Cars 1429 and 1451.

The bank sign, a few yards away, kept blinking 17 degrees, probably to remind me to get inside before I froze to death!
The Missouri flag flies proudly farther down the road at Casey's.

These stripes represent valor, purity and vigilance and justice. A circle is centered on the flag surrounded by a band of blue enclosing the Missouri Coat of Arms on a white background. The blue band displays 24 white five-pointed stars representing Missouri as the 24th State.

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