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Taking the Southwest Chief to Pullman for the Symposium

Taking the Southwest Chief to Pullman for the Symposium

Route of the Southwest Chief   Los Angeles to Chicago.


The best part of reporting for, for me, is the journey to the assignment and home, since it is usually by Amtrak. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

“Focus on the journey, not the destination.  Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” 

And if at the end of the journey there is a train-related activity on which I am to report, even better.  Of course I have a wonderful home and family to return to after a rail journey, and, thanks to's Steve Grande, I usually have a future rail-related reporting job to do.  I guess, if you are a rail enthusiast, you'd say I have a pretty good job!


Beware of anything with "ette" attached to it.

Most of my reports involve my traveling to and fro in an Amtrak Roomette, since I most often travel alone or with another male companion and neither of us mind going down the hallway to use the restroom and shower.  The companion has to agree to sleep in the upper (smaller) bunk because I have a bit of claustrophobia. 

However, when my wife travels with me, we get a Bedroom.  I use the upper bunk, but with more room beside the bed, I can look out into the room and I don't experience the claustrophobia I experience in the upper bunk of a Roomette.  I must admit, having a shower and toilet within the room is well worth the extra cost.  So, if I've misled my readers, in previous reports, into thinking that the roomette is acceptable for two people on their first train journey, I apologize.  My wife and I do travel in a roomette under these circumstances:  when we are not traveling overnight on the train.  That's the case for an upcoming trip on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Sacramento for a rail conference.  It is not an overnight trip, but a roomette allows you to have a private compartment with access to the unique Parlour Car and three meals in the diner or Parlour Car are included in the price of the roomette.  Finally, a roomette on a day trip can be a private office on steel wheels.  I often write my reports on the return trip and the roomette gives me the privacy that I could not have in coach.  When I travel on long trips in a roomette I am able to work, more hours while on the train than anywhere else.  I only have to stop working to sleep and eat, and someone else is preparing the food!

More information about the Superliner Bedroom:

Superliner Bedroom

Our Superliner Bedroom is ideal for two passengers (but can accommodate three). Each room has a large sofa with two individually reclining sections, and a reclining easy chair. At night, the sofa converts to a comfortable bed, and an upper berth folds down from above. All Superliner Bedrooms feature private, self-enclosed restores with toilet, sink and shower. All Bedrooms are located on the upper level of our double-decker Superliner train cars.
Details and Amenities

    * Meals included
    * Designed for two passengers
    * Large picture window
    * Upper and lower berths
    * Armchair and sofa (converts to lower berth)
    * Private sink, vanity, private toilet and shower
    * Electrical outlets
    * Climate control
    * Individual reading lights
    * Garment rack
    * Fold-down table
    * Fresh towels and bed linens
    * Soap and shower amenities
    * Personal service (turn-down, coffee, paper, make-up bed)
    * Bottled water
    * Daily newspaper


Better than the drawing above, Amtrak's virtual 3-D tour of this room can be seen at:

Just look at the upper level bedroom.

Southwest Chief


With sunrise about 6:30 and sunset about 7:30 in late April, you can see by the listed arrival times, what we'll be seeing in daylight on this trip.

Southwest Chief 2009 Timetable (Left)

We left Fullerton, CA, (bottom) on our way to Naperville, IL, (reading up the times in the right column)

Our return was from Naperville, IL, (near the top), reading down the left column's times to Fullerton.


Departing Fullerton, CA, 7:20 pm, April 20, 2009, Fullerton to Gallup, New Mexico.

Since the Southwest Chief does not depart Fullerton, CA, until 7:20 pm, we had the whole day to wrap up details at home before we left on this 11 day rail adventure.

Also, Fullerton is the first stop after leaving Los Angeles, it is nearly always on time.  We arrived at the station in plenty of time to meet Steve Grande.  He gave me some Gandy Dancer Music CDs by Kenny Marshall, and Chris Guenzler Million Mile DVDs to give to the speakers at the Symposium.  I packed those away and we located ourselves on the platform, just east of the pedestrian bridge, where we thought car 0431 would stop.  As the Southwest Chief pulled in, there was no number on our car, but Car Attendant, Joe, stepped off and said, "I'm looking for Carl and Sue."  We were in the perfect position to board!

Newly painted Metrolink 860 without "Metrolink"

At Fullerton Station, some cars are being stored and refurbished, including the Silver Splendor.


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A new Metrolink Locomotive pulled the next train through.

BNSF freights pass through the Fullerton Station often, on Track 2, so any day or time is train watching time.

Soon the Southwest Chief arrived on Track 1 and Joe (right) stepped off saying, "I'm looking for Carl and Sue Morrison," and we had spotted ourselves right next to our car, 431.

Joe lifted 2 of our 5 bags aboard, but I had to put the two largest bags in the lower luggage area of our car.  We proceeded upstairs to our Bedroom "C" where we found that Joe had gotten us an 8 pm dinner reservation.  We left town at 7:25, and enjoyed having 35 minutes to settle into our bedroom before dinner, as opposed to rushing right to the diner upon boarding as I have had to do in the past.  When 8 o'clock reservations were called, Joe asked when we'd like our bed made up.  I said 10 pm, and he said, "How about 9:30."  We agreed, and I told Sue that he probably gets to retire to his room once all the beds are made up, so the quicker the better.

We discovered that the new Route Guide had been expanded and was printed on larger paper.  Joe came in to try and keep the sliding door between C and B from opening.  These two rooms are used as a Suite, but when they are not a Suite, the door should be securely locked.  The lady in B had found the door was already opening on its own, so Joe tried locking it from our side.  (The next morning it had jarred open again, so Joe duct taped it shut.)

At the evening meal, we discovered that the LSA was Ardis, and the lone waiter was Richard Williams.  Richard had been a waiter his 20+ years with Amtrak and had "slipped through" without having to take LSA training.  He seemed happy to be a waiter and not have the additional LSA duties.  I did notice the next day that the two coach car attendants were helping Ardis set up tables, so I guess that duty has been added to the coach car attendant's duties.

We had a very enjoyable dinner, seated with a nice couple from Newton, Kansas.  He had retired after 40 years on the Santa Fe Railroad.  He had started as a telegraph operator, then transitioned to teletype, then computers.  He said that with each transition, there were less and less employees needed as technology increased.  I asked him how the train orders that he received were given to the engineer and conductor (having seen this when I was a kid in Southern Indiana).  He verified that they were put on a stick and string so that the train did not have to stop to get its orders.  One thing I didn't know was that a duplicate of the the orders was given to the conductor in the caboose.

Newton, Kansas, was a cattle train destination from Texas in the Spring and returned the cattle to Texas in the Fall.  Every 16 hours, all cattle had to be taken off the train and watered and fed.  This was a big business for Newton since this was such a stop.  It provided employment for many Newton area folks since it took many people to care for the cattle, either moving them to and from pasture in the area, or feeding and watering them in the lots.

In my day, I remember a telephone booth next to a siding behind our farm along the B & O at Hayden, Indiana.  He said it could have been used to phone back to the dispatcher if there were equipment problems, like hot boxes.

This dinner time was VERY interesting learning about the Old School Railroading.

Day 2, April 21, 2009, Gallop, NM, to La Junta, Colorado.

As usual, the night's "sleep" had been a series of short naps for both of us.  The tracks were very smooth ribbon rails throughout the night.

I awoke at 6 something, used the downstairs bathroom and shower, and we went to breakfast.  Our breakfast mates were Sully and Jim, from  Norco, CA, who were heading for New York to visit their daughter through Mother's Day.  I had a cheese omelet  with pork patties, croissant, coffee and orange juice.  There had been juices and coffee in our car as well. 

We made good time and got to Albuquerque early, on this warm and sunny day.  We walked to the nearby ice cream store, which has changed hands, but is still an ice cream store.  I walked on down to Route 66 and then back to the Indian Jewelry vendors on the Amtrak Platform where Sue bought a nice onyx and silver necklace.

Acoma Indian Reservation, NM, church.

Sue enjoys the newspaper in the single chair in our Bedroom "B" (Right). 

Half of the Diner set up for a meal.
Out west, the railroad tracks run to the horizon.  I imagine this photo is timeless and if in black and white, might have been taken a century ago.



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Gassing up in Albuquerque.
Typical consist:  baggage car, transition sleeper for the crew, two sleepers, diner, sightseer/lounge, and two coaches.

With nearly an hour in Albuquerque, you have plenty of time to look at the Indian Jewelry always available on tables on the platform.

Some interesting folks ride the train.

Joe, our car attendant.

"S" Curve above Lamy, NM
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Starvation Peak

Starvation Peak
I seem to have been fascinated by the many windmills along the route.  Perhaps by their long-time use to pump water for cattle by wind power.
I noticed a lot of empty container cars along the way,  sign of the times.

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The Harvey House still stands beside the Las Vegas, NM, Station.

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"Where the Centerline Ends"

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Wagon Mound


A long line of telephone poles were along the track and each had one or more hawk nests.

Looks like a relic from Dodge City.
Big Sky Country

We reached La Junta, CO, soon after sunset.  Sue watched from our bedroom as I asked if the adjacent highway was US 50.  It was and I recalled driving the full length of US 50 from CA to Maryland, 3,073 miles, in a 1956 Chevy in 2004.  I would have been here and followed these same track for many miles in this part of the country.
IMG_3039.jpg IMG_3040.jpg

The next morning, we crossed country roads lined with Spring blossoming trees.

Sleepy Missouri towns, like Elmer, still exist and are unaffected by the passing Amtrak and BNSF trains.
Arriving at La Plata, MO, Station. 
Volunteer Amtrak Agent, Bob Cox, puts gifts for the Symposium's Presenters from the Depot Inn & Suites and The Railroad Winery onboard for me to deliver to Matt Melzer at the Conference.

I said Hello to Bob (below left) from inside the sleeper vestibule.  The Conductor stepped off and respotted the train for coach passengers to board, while I ran through our sleeper, the diner, the Sightseer Lounge car, and half of the next coach  then downstairs to continue our conversation.  Bob has been proactive in getting the platform in La Plata improved for better accessibility, and perhaps only one spotting of  future Amtrak trains.


I spotted Bob's 'work truck' at the depot for his full-time job:  DJ and Photography Services


Across the street in La Plata is
A few yards farther, on the former Wabash RR bridge over the BNSF tracks, is the Chris Guenzler Overlook built by the nearby Depot Inn & Suites so guests can watch passing trains.  It is now enclosed with Internet and train tracking electronics.
Check out the web address for more information about the overlook.

The last landmark in La Plata you can see from the train is Santa Fe Lake, originally used to water steam locomotives on the Wabash and Santa Fe RR.

Rare Santa Fe cabooses along the tracks, at Ft. Madison, IA.
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Not far east of Ft. Madison, IA, we cross this bridge to Illinois.
Catfish Bend Casino sits at the edge of the Mississippi.

Ft. Madison reconstructed at River's edge.


A large historic steam locomotive sits along the river as well.

Ft. Madison is known for this auto/train bridge over the Mississippi.


From Wikipedia:  The Fort Madison Toll Bridge (also known as the Santa Fe Swing Span Bridge for the old Santa Fe rail line) is a tolled, swinging truss bridge bridge over the Mississippi River that connects Fort Madison, Iowa and unincorporated Niota, Illinois. Rail traffic occupies the lower deck of the bridge, while two lanes of road traffic occupy the upper deck. It is widely considered the longest double-deck swing-span bridge in the world. Completed in 1927, it replaced an inadequate combination single-track / roadway bridge completed in 1887. The main river crossing consists of four 270-foot (82 m) through truss spans and a swing span made of two equal arms, 266 feet (81 m) long. In 1999, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places under the title, Fort Madison Bridge, structure #99001035. It was also documented by the Library of Congress Historic American Engineering Record, survey number HAER IA-62.

The bridge is privately owned by BNSF Railway. Amtrak's Southwest Chief crosses the bridge with one eastbound train in the afternoon and one westbound train in the evening. The station is two miles (3 km) to the west of the bridge. 75 to 90 trains cross the bridge in a typical day.

Per Coast Guard regulations and the BNSF Fort Madison River Bridge operations manual, river traffic has the right-of-way over train and vehicle traffic on the bridge. The length of time for an opening varies due to weather, river current, size and number of boats, and occasional mechanical problems. A typical opening for a tow with 15 barges will take 15 to 20 minutes. The bridge logs over 2000 opening per year.
We continued to Naperville, IL, then on the the Symposium

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