Facebook Page

My Lifetime Dream Trip

by Chris Guenzler

It was now time to book my lifetime dream trip to attempt to see the trees in the northeast in their full fall colors. My research showed that the second week in October would be the ideal time so at first I thought of returning to Vermont to see the trees in all their glory to and from there. With Amtrak's future in doubt (what else is new) a better idea presented itself to me. Why not finish the Amtrak system sober as I needed only the two train segments of Kansas City to St Louis and Winter Haven to Miami to do it. Getting the time off work proved to be no problem so I booked the trip of Santa Ana to Los Angeles to Kansas City to St Louis by rail, then a thruway bus to Carbondale and back to the rails to New Orleans, Jacksonville and Miami. I would arrive in Miami on my 1000th day of sobriety and also complete the Amtrak system sober on that date. Now the celebration would begin. A Miami to New York trip in my first Viewliner Sleeper, New York to Toronto to Chicago then Martinez down to Bakersfield and the overnight bus home. I became the McFadden Varsity flag football coach and with our players winning their first two games, I left the team in the capable hands of my assistant coach Albert Cortes. I packed up and was ready to go on this adventure of a lifetime.

San Diegan 781 10/9/1997

I was sitting on the middle platform at the Santa Ana Train Station as Train 781 pulled in with the very pretty Marisol as conductor of my train. The train left on time with Marisol taking the first ticket of this journey. I just sat back with my headphones on watching Marisol do her duties. With that great smile that she flashes, I can tell that she really enjoys her job. Anaheim and Fullerton came rather quickly before the train swayed and bounced its way towards Los Angeles down the Santa Fe mainline. This section of tracks is becoming the roughest that I have ever ridden over. At least the tracks last summer into Rutland had the excuse of that they were in the process of being rebuilt. These tracks take the constant hammering of freight trains upon them daily and it is easy to tell that it is taking a toll on them. Once past Hobart Tower the ride smooth's out and we made an on time arrival into Los Angeles. I said my goodbyes to Marisol who wished me well on my journey and went down the platform to find a luggage cart for a dollar. I headed down into the station and into one of the large chairs off to the side of the boarding gate. I put my feet up on my luggage, put my music on and started reading "All Aboard with E. M. Frimbo" my book for this trip.

Southwest Chief 4 10/9/1997

The word confusion would best describe the boarding of the Southwest Chief. Announcements were made for passengers to line up at Gate E for coach and Gate F for sleeping cars. The conductors showed up and wanting the sleeping car passengers at Gate E. He then announces that the coach line is only for passengers going to Chicago and those going to Flagstaff and Albuquerque should go to Gate G. I just sat there and watched all this in amazement among all the other passengers who looked lost. I get up and say in a loud enough voice for all my lost sheep to hear, "What about Kansas City and everyplace else?" The conductor said, "I do not know. Let me check. Oh, you are all in the 411 car so go wait by Gate G. They turn us loose and I led my lost sheep to our car which I board first getting my choice of a large window seat thanks to a good assignment by car attendant. As my fellow car 411 passengers board most stopped by to say thanks for getting our car information for them. Despite all of the confusion, Train 4 left Los Angeles on time.

My first seatmate is a man named Ralph going home to Independence, MO who was returning home from a trip to British Columbia which is a favorite place of mine. We talked for about fifteen minutes before I was off to the lounge car to get a good seat for tonight's movie of Father's Day. If I thought that the low level equipment rode rough, riding in the upper level of the empty lounge car proved to be a major thrill ride. I half expected to see Bruce Fenton on the platform at Fullerton to see me off but he did not make it so I stretched out to watch the movie which lasted until we were running along Cajon Blvd. The car emptied out and I was alone for the climb over Cajon Pass through the darkness of the night which only I enjoyed. After we passed through Summit, I returned to my seat to find that I had a new seatmate, this time a women but introductions would have to wait for the morning as she was fast asleep. I climbed up and over her to dream my night away. Other than waking up at Barstow and Needles, I slept the night away. It amazes me that I always wake up at those two stops. It must be that my body senses that movement has stopped and that my subconscious wants to know where we are at. Sounds like a good theory to me!

10/10/1997 I woke up minutes west of Williams and made my way to the lower level of the lounge car for breakfast. Our train is making slow progress east of Williams due to heavy freight train traffic. I returned to my seat to find Junita up and I learned she goes by the nickname of Mouse before I changed into some fresh clothes. At Flagstaff I jumped off the train to get a USA Today newspaper and I start to document this trip with pictures. Picture one is of San Francisco Peak covered with clouds followed by Canyon Diablo, the Red Cliffs of New Mexico, Starvation Peak and the clouds in sunset in Northern New Mexico. As the train proceeded east on this October morning, I read more of the book, listened to the Rolling Stones Hampton Beach Show {I will see them at Dodger Stadium on November 8th} and enjoyed the peacefulness of train travel. The train is an hour off schedule but I didn't even care knowing that I had an eight hour layover in Kansas City tomorrow. We arrived in Albuquerque with not a single balloon in the air even though the festival would start tomorrow. It was one post card for fifty cents or five for the dollar at Cheryl's Bus. I went for the five and filling them out took care of most of the servicing stop. I did notice that it was warm and sunny with a nice breeze blowing. Back on the move again, it was more reading and I got a 9 PM dinner reservation knowing that it would make for a full evening of doing things just before Lamy.

In the shadows of Apache Canyon I spotted my first tree in full Fall colors and it was absolutely beautiful. Later while descending down Glorieta Pass I spotted a handful of more trees as they stood out among the sea of pine trees. At Blanchard I shot the train on the S curve there then waited patiently for Starvation Peak to come into view. The Chief came to a halt at Chapple and it was announced that due to heavy rain in the area that the tracks must be inspected. The Southwest Chief sat for over thirty minutes until a track inspectors truck passed on a siding and we were given the go to proceed. These precautions were in place after Train 3 was derailed by a flash flood east of Kingman last summer. We continued north with no rainfall but plenty of runoff in the streams that we crossed. The rest of the afternoon was a show of clouds up in the sky with a final brilliant performance of the sun setting. With dinner still a long way away, I went to the lounge car and watched Wild America on the lower level. I don't know why when it is pitch black outside that someone has to make announcements about the scenic vistas out in the night when you can not see a thing and disrupting the audio portion of the movie. After the movie, I returned upstairs to enjoy our descent down Raton Pass into Trinidad, Co. I started to watch My Best Friend's Wedding but got called into Dinner at 8:32 having a Prime Rib which was good but why do I always get the piece with the most fat? I retired east of La Junta and slept most of the night away.

10/11/1997 The only time I was woken up was in Dodge City, KS when a tour group riding in my coach detrained. I was up and ready for my day as the train past through Holiday and rode in the lounge car through Santa Fe's Argentine Yard while having breakfast before crossing into Missouri to arrive into Kansas City an hour late. This was the first train that I had ridden that was under the Direct Train Braking System developed for handling mail/express cars and road railers. I noticed no difference in ride quality and the only reason that I learned that our train was using it was listening to the Conductor and our LSA talking about it during dinner last night.

Kansas City 10/11/1997

With a seven hour layover I bought a local paper to check out movie times at Crown Center a short five block walk away. I bought my usual post card writing Day 997 on it before I worked on portions of this story as a parade of freight trains passed outside of the depot. I stored my bags in a locker and went to the main post office followed by a walk to Crown Center. I bought a copy of the Stones Bridges to Babylon since I had forgotten mine at home and a CD 25th Anniversary version of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick before browsing through Crown Books. Across from Kansas City Union Station atop a hill is a war memorial so I took a nice long walk only to find it to be fenced off due to its unstable nature. I returned to the Amtrak Station for a couple hours of photography of the passing trains and I realized just how much I enjoy this part of my hobby. The clouds in the fast moving sky provided additional entertainment as did the workers who were in the process of transforming Union Station into a Science Center. I returned inside to reclaim my bags, have a can of coke and to wait for my next train.

The St. Louis Mule 306 10/11/1997

The Mule is six cars all horizon fleet except for an Amcafe on the rear. With so few passengers boarding in Kansas City a consist like this my experience told me that something must be going on down line to warrant all these cars. We left KC on time and headed through all the railroad junctions on our way out of town As the Mule climbed the hill towards Independence I went to the horizon dinette car to get my dinner with the attendant playing the guess what I have left game. I got lucky as he still had a hot dog, chocolate chip cookies and Mountain Dew. He informed me that he had four hundred passengers this morning going to Hermann for one of the five weekend Octoberfest's being held there. He advised me to buy anything that I will need before we get there as the crowd can be pretty bad. How will it compare with the Del Mar Racing Crowd back on the San Diegan? In a matter of a few hours I would find out The train stopped at the nicely restored Independence Depot before it ventured out across the rolling landscape of the state of Missouri. That depot sure looks better than it did in my drinking days. Later we passed through California, MO with me thinking that's a funny name until I remember that there's a Mexico, MO as well. In the very last light of day we ran along the Missouri River into Jefferson City the state capital of the Show Me State.

The conductor put up some green tags around the seats in my area of the car for a group getting on in Washington and asked me to keep those seats cleared for him when the mob boarded. As we pulled into Hermann I saw three paramedic units with their light's flashing in the night before we pulled up to the depot with a mob aka like Solana Beach during Del Mar on Train 585 where my good friends Lawrence Dixon and Peter McNamara would face the crowds five nights a week on their job. The Mule took a ten minute hit boarding these people who ranged from totally sober to falling down drunk. I always appreciate a few reminders of my drunken ways. I shooed people out of the green tag seats just as I help keep people out of custom class back home. There is a rather large man shooting his mouth off just like we have on the San Diegan. Once the train is under way, there were the usual people falling into seats on the way to the lounge car, people trying to start singalongs and one guy in the next car swearing at the top of his lungs. Other than that, I sat back and listened to Blondie Live from London. At Washington the green tag passengers boarded and at Kirkwood the suburban stop for St Louis we lose about seven/eight of our passengers of the Hermann Octoberfest crowd with the train almost returning to its quiet state. The large man is now telling tampon jokes to anyone who would listen. They were pretty sick but he then switched to dumb blonde jokes and did not do any better with them before he got into an argument with his group whether or not their Metrolink tickets were still valid. While he was babbling a Metrolink Light Rail Train sped by heading for downtown. We passed the shed and signal bridge of the old St. Louis Union Station before arriving at the still temporary Amtrak Station a mere eight minutes late. My final conclusion while the Hermann Octoberfest crowd was wild and interesting, there not even in the same league as Del Mar Racing Crowds with no arrests, no strip teases and no one throw off the train.

The Van - St. Louis to Carbondale 10/11/1997

Inside the Amtrak Station I checked on the status of the Sunset Limited I would be connecting with tomorrow night in New Orleans and learned that it was six hours late not even to El Paso yet. A good thing that I booked a fourteen hour layover in Jacksonville. I purchased a St. Louis Amtrak mug before waiting for the driver to take me to Carbondale. With just two passengers tonight the company decided to use a twelve passenger van for the trip and we left town passing the Kiel Arena as a St. Louis Blues game was letting out, then drove by Bush Stadium where the Cardinals play before getting on the freeway and crossing the Mississippi River with a great view of the Gateway Arch along with the river boats as the van entered Illinois. My back seat ride was quite bumpy and I was all too happy to escape the confines of that van when we pulled up to the Carbondale Amtrak Station. The other van passenger Jennie and I spent our time talking while waiting for the City of New Orleans to arrive. I learned that she was going to Hammond, LA to see her father in the hospital and to help drive him back home to Jackson, MS. All too soon, the train conductor took our tickets and when the train arrived escorted each of us out to the proper car door to board the train. Now that's what I call service!

City of New Orleans 59 10/11/1997

Waiting at the coach door was an attractive and smiling Marci Toca who gave me directions to come on board and later joined me at my seat to introduce herself to me and asked if there was anything that I needed. She thinks that I have ridden with her before and she looked very familiar to me. Behind her pleasant and smiling attitude though she was carrying some extremely sad news. At Chicago on her northbound trip as she was detraining her passengers someone had gotten into her things and stole her wallet, money as well as her credit cards. She spent her short layover in Chicago on the phone to the credit card companies which I know is not fun as I had lost my wallet on the Coaster two years ago but I was lucky and got everything back thanks to an honest person. I prayed that she also might get lucky and get everything back. I laid down across my two seats and prepared myself to sleep but I still had one matter to take care of this early morning.

The City left Carbondale about twenty minutes late and it started its sprint through the night. I stayed up for within twenty miles I would pass 300,000.0 rail miles and looking out at the darken Illinois countryside I doubt that I would have ever reached it had I still been drinking. I do not think I would even be still alive if I did not make that great decision to quit drinking on January 17th, 1995. Thank God that I did so I can be telling you this story with me living life one day at a time and riding the rails one mile at a time. The train sped through the little sleepy town of Anna, IL and I had attained it. No major celebrations. Just me, a speeding train, the night and a smile on my face was all that was needed. For myself with mission accomplished, I stretched out across my two seats and fell fast asleep.

10/12/1997 Memphis came early on this morning still under the veil of darkness so other than a quick peek out my window I put myself back to sleep. I slept for another hour waking up in very northern Mississippi. I made a quick trip to the lounge car for breakfast and returned to my seat to enjoy the mile after mile of cotton fields ready for the harvest. I wondered how many balls of cotton it took to make the shirt that I was wearing this morning. At Greenwood, MS the train changed crews and in it is a small world department who came walking down the aisle than no other than conductor Alex Popoulopolaus formerly of San Diegan fame. As soon as I heard his first announcement I felt right at home. We exchanged pleasantries much to the amazement of the other passengers who could not believe that we really knew each other. It is truly a small world!

The City made great time down the Yazoo District of the Illinois Central with the train making its next stop in Yazoo City, a personal favorite name of mine. I spent the morning studying the trees as the trees played a major part in this whole trip. At Jackson, I managed a picture of the State Capital Building of Mississippi but at some distance from it. From this point to past Hammond I just sat back and enjoyed the passing of the train through the Louisiana countryside. We stopped for a moment at a red signal at Acela before I clicked off a few shots of Lake Pontchartrain before I returned to watching the bayous. We met the northbound City of New Orleans out by the airport before we backed into New Orleans Union Station only ten minutes off the schedule arrival time. I said my goodbyes to Marci as I walked towards the station already knowing that the Sunset is six hours late. As I walked in a car mechanic Janet who I know said "Chris, are you connecting with the Sunset?" I said "Yes". "Then you better get a hotel room as we do not expect it here until 5:30 AM tomorrow morning." she said with sorrow in her voice. I said "No problem as I will get to see most of the route east to Jacksonville in daylight!" We both laugh with her reply being, "Only you could find something good in everything and that is what makes you so special on the earth!" I said my goodbyes to Janet then I walked into the station.

New Orleans - The Unexpected Stay? 10/12/1997

The Union Pacific had merged with the Southern Pacific and with that a short time later they had major service disruptions on the Sunset Route especially in and around Houston, TX. When I had booked the trip I knew about the Sunset's time keeping problems eastbound so I booked a connection on the Silver Palm with a fourteen hour forty minute layover with the 800 number agent telling me it would not be necessary and kept on insisting that I connect with the Silver Meteor. I won out in the end and it only showed that sometimes the customer is right. Inside I went to the ticket counter with a couple of connecting passengers and learned that Amtrak would put us on an on time bus or we could wait at our own expense. When we further questioned the no named tagged female black ticket agent she tells us to go to passenger services. When we asked where it was, she said "Go find it!" I am amazed by that one and it becomes a joke immediately. We found passenger services and voiced our opinions. I used my being one of Amtrak best customers and why would you treat me like this? It fell on deaf ears but it worked well enough to be able to use their phone and call some hotels whose prices were all way too high for my budget. I decided to walk to the Maison St Charles Hotel where I had stayed before since there was no taxi grab available. My walk took ten minutes with a surprising large number of homeless people wanting to help me with my luggage. I don't think so!

Having stayed there before and armed with my AAA card got me a great rate over half of what the other places wanted for a night. It is always good to have a friendly alternative in times of an emergency such as this. I checked in, wrote and mailed a few post cards as a group of Sunset sleeping car passengers see me and wondered how I got here offering to get me back to the station with them at 4:45 A.M. tomorrow morning. I had dinner at Shoneys next door, took a ride on the St Charles Streetcar Line with a nice downpour included and returned to the room for an unexpected shower to complete my night in New Orleans. I had a good night rest.

10/13/1997 My day started with another hot shower in the morning and a free taxi cab ride on Amtrak back to the station with my sleeping car friends. The Sunset arrived into New Orleans at five A.M., just eleven hours thirty-five minutes late.

Sunset Limited 2 10/13/1997

Will the Sunset Limited arrive in Jacksonville on day 999 or day 1000 of my sobriety? The conductor said that my connection to the Silver Palm should be a piece of cake. What flavor? We left town still under the blanket of night with Amtrak giving a free breakfast of eggs and hash browns. Since I do not eat eggs they got me a dinner roll, some bacon and a cup of tea. I made a stop by the lounge car for some cookies to fill me up. It was an overcast morning as the train headed east escaping the realm of New Orleans without any more delays and crossed the waterway to Bay St Louis, MS. The Gulf of Mexico is windy and by Gulfport the train is engulfed by a heavy downpour. I am enjoying this trip as I know it should all be in daylight with no further delays almost all the way to Jacksonville. We stopped next in Biloxi with me taking pictures as we crossed Biloxi Bay on our way out of town on the way to Pascagoula where offshore oil platforms are produced. I just sat back and enjoyed the daylight views from the train as it headed through the forests to Mobile, AL. I think that the greatest gift of train travel is that it gives the passenger the ability just to sit back and take the world in as it passes outside your window.

This morning it was all too soon that the Sunset left the forest and ran along the harbor to reach our next stop of Mobile where we made a quick stop and had made up twenty minutes. For the next half hour the train headed out into the watery environment created by the Alabama River and its sister streams including Bayou Canon where the Sunset went off the bridge into the water that had been hit by a barge as I clicked off pictures from the rear of the train of that very spot.

The train returned to dry land and passed through Hurricane, AL with me wondering how this place got its name. The Sunset proceeded northeast through many miles of southern forest to Ardmore our next stop. Outside of Ardmore what would Alabama be without passing a few cotton fields ready for harvest. The train arrived at Flormation and makes a turn to the south to run down into the western panhandle of Florida. I woke up here on a westbound trip so everything from here east is being seen for a first time in daylight and I can't wait to see as much of it as possible today.

Our coach is running like an ice box so on behalf of my fellow passengers I ventured forward to the crew sleeper to find a conductor to take care of the problem and he followed me back to the coach to turn off the malfunctioning air conditioner that needs to be worked on by a shop crew. We entered the state of Florida and half an hour later passed through a CSX Yard before we made a turn to the east coming to a stop a few minutes later at the Pensacola Amtrak Station only to find out that our new crew was given a time an hour later than our arrival to report. Knowing how to use my time wisely, I took out my beach towel, went out onto the station platform and took off my shirt to work on my sun tan. Four other passengers in my car saw me doing this and quickly joined me out in the warm Florida sun. Once I had enough sun, I had nice conversations with a lady from San Antonio and a beautiful lady from Australia before we reboarded with the train backing up two tenths of a mile to depart east. Due to the extra half hour station stop, we left Pensacola ten hours and fifty minutes late.

Leaving town we ran for a couple miles east along Pensacola Bay before we crossed it on an over two miles long concrete viaduct. The Sunset then continued east through the thin pine forest of Florida to our next stop of Crestview which is just a shelter and platform before we traveled past the Skoal Ranch which has fenced the land and cleared some of it. Ranching is a major industry in the state of Florida. In fact the word Cowboy was coined in Florida. We went back into the forest with the train crew announcing that connecting passengers will use the Silver Palm just like me for points in Southern Florida. The Sunset will terminate in Sanford and passengers going beyond there south in the Disney Corridor or to points of the West Coast would be bussed from there. I still wonder if anybody did take the on time bus that was offered to us in New Orleans? Earlier today before Pensacola I did part of the Mrs. Richards Skit from Faulty Towers for some New Zealand Ladies. Well one of them just walked by and said "I will never forget you. Thanks for all the laughs. With me you will always be known as Mr. Faulty Towers!" Someday I must thank John Cleese for my new title. What is really neat is my ability to notice when someone is down and my ability to do something about it. My sense of humor has come in handy many times on just this trip and made that debauchery in New Orleans even funny! Go find it indeed! The countryside has become rolling hills covered with forests as we preceded towards Chipley our next stop. We made it as far as Westville where our brakeman dropped off to line us into a siding to wait for CSX 7813 west which was my first freight train delay of the trip.

Still have not yet met any passenger who can tell me how the train became so late but our lounge attendant said that they did not leave Los Angeles until after midnight and that put them out of their slot in the flow of eastbound traffic. This freight train is the very hot inter modal train 101. We now must wait to receive block authority since we are in Direct Block Authority territory and our crew must receive the blocks for future movements east. For example it is like San Diegan 769 going to Santa Barbara and receiving all the blocks from Moorpark to Santa Barbara and then it can head straight there other than stops at stations and then gives up each block as it passes through back to the dispatcher so other trains can use them behind us like the Coast Starlight. We made it to Chipley and left eleven hour twenty-four minutes late a new all time Christopher Dean Guenzler Late Train Record. The timetable says that it only 255 miles to Jacksonville I wonder what will happen next? I went to the lounge car for a view out the north side of the train there meeting the Australian gentleman and his wife, a woman from Biloxi and another from New Orleans. We joked and laughed with discussion on how corrupt Biloxi is, closing off the town to Air Force personal, President Clinton's sex mess (I hope he cleans it up) and places to visit in the western United States. They announced its complementary dinner time so we ventured into the Dining Car for a choice of BBQ Ribs or a quarter of a chicken which I had. For a free meal it was not bad. I returned to my coach seat as we arrived in Tallahassee, the state capital of the Sunshine State in the last half hour of daylight. I shot the capital building as we left town with it only in view a few seconds. By the time Train 2 reached Madison we were back into night time's mode. It had been a very memorable day of daylight train riding on an all night time's route. I went back to the lounge car and watched most of the movie Selena which was quite enjoyable. We stopped in Madison then backed three tenths of a mile to a grade crossing to refuel our locomotives. While the movie was still going we reached Lake City. Once the movie was over I returned to my coach to listen to the Rolling Stones. We backed into the Jacksonville Amtrak Station eleven hours and one minute late. I said goodbye to everyone in my car, did one last Manuel joke before I detrained into a very nice Florida night. It was a very special and unique eastbound trip on the Sunset Limited. As I stepped off I realized that this is my all time late train so far!

Jacksonville - The Shorter Than Planned Stay 10/13/1997

Waiting for an only thirty minute late Silver Palm should be easy as I am watching Monday Night Football Washington vs Dallas, writing down today's trip and mailing a post card with Day 999 on it. I counted down the minutes to midnight which would start Day 1000 three hours earlier than in California where it will be only 9:00 PM Day 999. When midnight arrived I called my mother, my brother Bruce, Carol in Oregon, Hedy, Jeff and Karen the Amtrak agent in Solana Beach who ticketed the trip. Following all the phone calls I wrote a letter to Amtrak's Customer Service Center about the New Orleans "Go find it!" incident while I wait for the Silver Palm now an hour and a half late. What a way to start Day 1000 but at least I am not at home bored and drinking like in the old days

Silver Palm 89 10/14/1997

Following the arrival of the northbound Silver Palm about twenty minutes the conductor took my ticket inside the Jacksonville Depot and after a short wait the southbound Silver Palm pulled into the light of the station. As the Conductor took the tickets it was "Silver Meteor seats 1 and 2 for you two, Silver Meteor seats 3 and 4 for you two, Silver Meteor seats 5 and 6 for you" and when he looked at my ticket he said "Silver Palm you can have both seats 7 and 8!" on what became a very crowded train. I fell asleep and slept soundly all the way until the train approached Tampa. The good news is that I never once hit the seat reclining button like I did last summer on the Lakeshore Limited. The Silver Palm is wyed prior to arrival in Tampa so it can head straight for Miami on departure. Amtrak in Tampa is just a station as the crew and maintenance base was closed to save money when trains stopped terminating here. There is just a single live track as all others are gathering rust. We departed a little over an hour late with me riding eastbound out of Tampa for the first time. I had ridden over a short new piece of trackage for me on the way into Tampa that being the northwest leg of the wye linking the Ocala Line with the Tampa Line.

I switched to a left hand window seat because I always had right hand side Slumbercoach rooms and have never seen the view. Between Lakeland and Auburndale there are two nice lakes on the north side of the tracks. We took the southwest leg of the wye at Auburndale to join up with the route of all the other Silver Class trains to Miami and minutes later pulled into my old friendly Winter Haven Station. From here to Miami is new sober trackage for me to reclaim for my sobriety. I drank heavily on that first cross country trip back in 1990 with my private bottles in my Slumbercoach rooms. I have come a long way baby but the final miles of my goal has finally begun.

Leaving the citrus groves behind, ranching took over being man's main use of the land here that is except where water has invaded and in Florida there's a lot of water on the landscape. This part of Florida is flat as a pancake with very little gain in elevation except for the fill that the tracks are on. I walked the length of my train. We had two P-42-8 locomotives, a material handling car, two Viewliner Sleeping Cars, a diner, an Amlounge 2, four 60 seat Amcoaches and a baggage car on the rear. We arrived at Sebring where the station is undergoing a major repair job. Miles of orange groves are past so here is where all the orange trees from Orange County, CA came to retire. We went into the siding at Bassenger to let the northbound Silver Meteor pass by doing 79 mph. Arriving in Okeechobee we passed the Okeechobee Livestock Market with trucks lined up to bring them tons of business. About fifteen minutes out of Palm Beach an elderly gentleman sat by me and told me his whole life story without me asking to hear it. During the war he was the foreman for trucking at the Bethlehem Steel Ship Works and said that they built 440 ships during the four year war, launching one every three days. He lived in York, PA for four years and the rest of his life in West Palm Beach.

As the Silver Star closed in on Miami, the stops got closer together. We stopped in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood which was the destination of that first transcontinental Sunset Limited trip when I got tossed off in New Orleans for being too drunk. There is no chance of that happening today on my 1000th day of sobriety. Outside of Deerfield Beach we waited for a northbound eleven car Silver Star to go by on its way to New York. Way off to the northwest I caught a glimpse of Joe Robbie Stadium home of the Miami Dolphins. The Silver Palm then passed by the CSX Yard and Amtrak's Hialeah Maintenance Facility before it pulled into Miami's Amtrak Station one hour fifty-five minutes late with me completing my goal of riding the entire Amtrak system sober, every route and mile of it on my one thousand day of my sobriety. As I detrained I felt extremely proud of myself.

Miami - The Quest 10/14/1997

First thing to remember about Amtrak in Miami is that they do not stop in Miami but in Hialeah which is a good distance from the downtown area. I walked into the station to find the first class lounge was under construction so I went to the ticket counter and they stored my bags for my visit. Since this was Day 1000 of my sobriety I had promised to send a whole lot of people post cards and being a man of my word I set off on a quest. Nobody sold any at the station so I walked over to the TRI Rail Station to see about riding it but our tardiness on the Silver Palm killed off any chance of that. I tried to call McFadden but they were having more troubles with their phone lines again so I then asked a few people if anyone in Hialeah sold post cards with a strong answer of "No!" I went back to the TRI Rail Station and asked the Metrolink Transit Police Officer if he knew where I could buy some. "Take Metrolink to Government Center and you will find all you need there" he said. He showed me how to use the system and within eight minutes I was riding my first Metrolink Train. The system is all elevated so there are no grade crossings or trespassers to deal with. It rides smooth, fast and provides great vistas of the greater Miami area plus a striking view of downtown. Orange County could use a system just like this for some of our transit needs. I got off at Government Center and with the help of a nice gentleman, I was pointed the right way to the shop. I bought the sixteen postcards pack and retraced my path back to Hialeah where I went to the post office to write and mail the cards. Quest complete! I returned to the Amtrak Station and managed to get through to McFadden and Mrs Angle with the kids in the class amazed that I was talking to her from Florida. My phone call was interrupted by an over impatient conductor who thought that I was going to miss the train. You got to be kidding, me miss a train?

Silver Palm 90 10/14/1997

After I was off the phone, I gave the conductor my ticket and then made the long walk down the length of the train to my Viewliner Sleeper 62046, the Tranquil View. This was my first experience with this kind of cars and my gift to myself for the 1000 days of sobriety. The most striking thing that I noticed was the two rows of windows which let the natural light pour in. If traveling with a partner, when the upper bed is lowered from the roof they have a full window which is a vast improvement from the darkness of the upper bunk in a Superliner Sleeper. Since I am traveling alone, I would enjoy the natural light that came in through my two windows. The hallway door has a three quarter window to the right of it. Unlike all the other sleeping cars that had curtains the Viewliner uses shades which I like better giving the room a more open feel to it. The seats are like those in a Superliner economy room and make into the lower bunk. There's a folding table but the cup holders are located in the armrests which are padded. There are two air adjustment levels that can be adjusted by sliding the handle. The side windows have the usual curtains. Luggage space is located above the hallway and is easily reached by standing on the commode. The commode is seat height with a sink that folds down complete with an ice water faucet. Above the sink is a panel that has a red light that tells you that the sink is down. Up over the mirror light switch is the toilet out of service light, toilet flush button and the 120 volt outlet. Above all this is the mirror, a cup dispenser and a coat hook on the right rear side wall. Located above both seats are reading lights, music and video controls along with the room light switches. On the far end wall to the right of the seat is a video monitor with air vents above and below. The TV/Audio controls are located on a panel below the monitor. Up over the TV is the room thermostat controls with the room speaker controls next to them. Above where the upper bunk comes down are the controls for that area of the room. On the hallway wall is a coat hook and a strap to hold garments in place. There you have it, the Viewliner Sleeper as I first experienced it. Amtrak could we please have Superliner cars with this room style.

The northbound Silver Palm left Miami on time just as the southbound Silver Meteor arrived from New York. We proceeded north making all the same stops but in reverse order and we met a southbound TRI Rail Commuter train just after Delray Beach. The videos then started the first being an episode of Coach followed by an Andy the Panda cartoon before the movie Liar, Liar. Walking to the dining car, I noticed that the end doors are really two doors that split apart when you press the control button and are unlike any other door on the entire Amtrak system. My dinner was a steak sandwich with a very nice lady who had survived an airline crash. Near the end of dinner we discussed my alcoholism and the goal that I reached today. I enjoyed a piece of Key Lime pie before I returned to my room to watch McHale's Navy. At Winterhaven, I turned off the movie and made the lower bunk. I then prayed thanking God for my 1000 days of sobriety, all the opportunities that I have been given and the freedom to live without the bonds of alcohol, as well as for my friends and family. With that last deed done I was off to dreamland.

10/15/1997 I had wondered how sleep would be in a Viewliner Sleeper and when I woke up I had the answer. Almost twelve hours of solid sleep with great dreams included. I had slept from North of Winter Haven to south of Dillion, South Carolina. I would have to say that I did what a traveler in a sleeping car was supposed to do. I went to the diner for a breakfast of waffles and bacon. The Dining Car 8509 is a former Northern Pacific dining car built in 1957. I returned to my room to shave and found the attendant so I could take a shower. This would have been the first shower of the trip but thanks to the late Sunset, I had two in New Orleans. Like I always say, everything works out if you let it! I enjoyed the shower on rail experience before I returned to my room to take in the scenery of South Carolina for the first time in daylight. Now if I took the Silver Meteor south of here I would get to see the whole route in daylight, just my mind working again. As the Silver Palm departed Dillion it began to enter a weather front that started to deposit light rain on the train as we sped north through miles of forests in the remaining miles of South Carolina.

We entered North Carolina passing through forests, by cotton fields and the small towns including a stop at Fayetteville on the way to Rocky Mount with its large CSX Yard. The Silver Palm has made excellent time on this trip so far as we had to dwell for five minutes in Rocky Mount to wait for our scheduled departure time. As the Silver Palm continued its dash north, I was off to the dining car for a lunch of a hamburger and dined with the same lady as I did last night. We discussed how well we both had slept and she told me more about the airplane crash that she was in when in Japan after I had told her about the suicide of the man hit by the Capital train south of Oakland that I had ridden.

The train entered Virginia and I started to notice that the non-pine trees were beginning their transition into Fall colors. It is a good sign of what should lay ahead tomorrow if my expectations are correct. We left Petersburg on time with me impressed by the running of our train over the CSX after I had heard how poorly CSX handles passenger trains. CSX handling of the Silver Palm on this trip was one single word, excellent! I just received my morning paper and read that the Marlins had clinched by beating Atlanta so if Cleveland could come through now that would be a unique World Series. I always love USA Today especially the weather page when I travel so I know what to expect later today in New York and tomorrow in Toronto. We crossed the James River then outpaced a CSX freight through the Richmond Yards before we arrived at the Richmond Amtrak Station early. Here we would lose one of our locomotives so I had time for a picture of our train also getting one of the Tropicana Juice Train passing by and to buy a "Hug and Kisses from Richmond" post card. We left Richmond on time and quickly returned to the forest of mostly pines with the non-pines showing leaf color of various brightness.

The Silver Palm passed the first of the many Virginia Rail Express Stations which means we are fast approaching the Washington, DC metro area. With my east side facing room this is the first time that I had approached DC this way. It did not dawn on me until now that all my other trips had been on the west side of the train. I really enjoyed the view as the train crossed the many inlets of the Potomac River. We pulled into the Alexandria Amtrak station with the Tropicana Train pacing us into town while across in the distance a Washington Metro Train headed for town. We departed right on time ending our journey over the CSX Railroad. I saw my first glimpse of the Capital Building to the northeast right before we crossed the Potomac River and the a few minutes later entered the Capital Tunnel and went right under that building before we arrived at Washington Union Station. I stepped off while they changed our motive power from diesel to electric for the run up the Northeast Corridor to my final destination of New York. Our new engine is the E-60 606 but our train had some kind of a delay so we departed thirty-seven minutes late. Right before we left the Southwest Chief/Capital Limited arrived on the next track four hours late with me thinking that it's a long way from Los Angeles to Washington, DC via Chicago with a lot of things that can happen to a train over that great distance.

I have been waiting for this test all day to see how well a Viewliner Sleeper rides at speed up the Northeast Corridor. The car rides extremely smooth at high speeds and thus has passed every one of my tests. It was a super car to ride in. Try one if you have not! For dinner I had another steak sandwich with a Key Lime pie dessert. There is nothing like dining at high speed. I returned to my room and listened to the new Stone's tape while I enjoyed the ride up the Northeast Corridor at speed in my Viewliner Sleeper. It's been a well deserved treat to myself for staying sober. I pulled the hall shade down and turned off the light at Wilmington, DL and just watched the passing scenery go by as there is no other experience in the world like it. My mind wanders from plans for future trips to how was my football team doing against Sierra right now and how they did verses Lathrop yesterday. A phone call to Albert from NYC should answer that one. We arrived in Philadelphia eight minutes early and since we are now a "D" train in the timetable we left ahead of schedule. I just relaxed, enjoyed the rhythm of the rails and the night time scenery. Just past Newark, New York City came into view and then was blocked out by the hill that Hoboken is on giving these hills a great back lighting by the City's light. We plunged into the Hudson River Tunnel and my sleeping car attendant came to say that the gift that I was to have received as a passenger was a bottle of wine but he knew that I would not want it. Now what would a guy with 1001 days of sobriety want with a bottle of wine? We arrived in Penn Station New York forty minutes early thus ending my first Viewliner Sleeper trip. I was most impressed. What a car!

New York 10/15/1997

I made my way to the Southgate Towers and checked in, receiving a room on the 19th floor. I tried to take a hot shower with me thinking "If I am paying this much for a room where is the hot water?" I called Albert about the team learning that the Lathrop game was canceled due to high winds and pollution (Smoke) from the Lemon Heights Fire fanned by the Santa Ana Winds also sometimes referred to as The Devil's Wind. They played Sierra and lost as none of my orders were carried out. My defense did play its usual excellent game as we lost by having an interception ran back. I would like to get back for the makeup game but Amtrak's rules do not allow for any changes so they will have to play without my services. I called it a night wishing that I could have been there to make a difference but life must go on without me there!

October 16, 1997 I awoke to the sound of a clock radio blasting and took another cold shower. I watched the Weather Channel as I packed up before I checked out and walked to McDonald's for breakfast. I went into Penn Station and watched the departure board for the Maple Laef for Toronto. Yes, Maple Laef was how they spelled Maple Leaf on the departure board.

Maple Leaf 63 10/16/1997

The Maple Leaf left New York City on time and headed up the Westside Connection on a dark and overcast morning. We came to a stop at Spuyten Duyvil due to a reverse commute Metro North train. There was a colorful view across the Hudson River now if only the lighting would improve. I went to the lounge car where I helped clean up a mess that the coffee maker leaking had made then showed Bruce the attendant how to elevate his stock to keep it dry in the future. I am an expert at this after helping Linda Paul several times on the San Diegan take care of the same problem. Could this be the same car? I told Bruce to call me if it happened again. The trip along the Hudson was beautiful with the trees across the river in various stages of color with the reddish ones standing out the most. It is hard to get good pictures as the growth of the vegetation along the riverbank is so high but it is still an incredible view. I really did pick the right week to visit this area. The upper Hudson Valley above Poughkeepsie, NY is clear with a steady north wind blowing making it a drop dead gorgeous fall day. With it now being bright and sunny out, the sun brings out the colors even more than before. I switched to my sun glasses which enhances the colors even more. Near Hudson the clouds returned but the scene is still beautiful. At Albany-Rensselaer I photographed our train before they did the engine swap. I bought and mailed some post cards including one to Linda to tell her of this morning's coffee maker story. I bought a D&H magazine before I reboarded the train for Toronto.

We left Albany on time and crossed the Hudson River with my camera sitting ready on my lap. I shot trees in all sort of various colors. At Schenectady we met the eastbound Lake Shore Limited with the privately owned dome-observatin car Silver Solarium bringing up its rear markers. We made our stop at Amsterdam at the perfect time as I needed to change film and that allowed me to do it without missing a single thing. The trees became fantastic and I shot thirty-six pictures in the next five minutes. This must be what a Kodak moment is! We stopped further west in Utica and then made the quick fifteen minute run to Rome followed by a thirty minute sprint to Syracuse which is also a smoking stop. I ventured outside in my shorts and T-shirt while everyone else is bundled up. The cool air really felt good to me. I stood there thinking of all the beauty that I just witnessed and just how quickly a lifetime dream can pass.

After an on time departure from Syracuse, I put down the camera knowing that all the good trees were now behind us, did one word search puzzle and sat back to enjoy the upper New York countryside. We've been running under a clear sky since Albany and were now heading into a sky of broken cumulus clouds which made for a real nice looking sky. Rochester was another smoking stop which allowed for a picture of the train, some fresh air and a walk through the station. I think that I will try to figure out how many station buildings that I have set foot in my rail journeys so far. Seventy-six is the number that I came up with if my memory is correct. Customs documents were passed out but I would wait until Buffalo-Depew to fill mine out when our train is stopped to do its station work there. The countryside had taken on a more agricultural appearance to it as we closed in on Buffalo. There's been a lack of Conrail freight trains today as we only have past one freight train on this trip today. We arrived in Buffalo nine minutes early which gave me plenty of time to fill out the forms. Since this is an official document the neater the better rule applies before I detrained for some fresh air. Five minutes after departure we past the remains of Buffalo Union Station in its present state of decay. It was still an impressive building.

Leaving the downtown Buffalo station, we passed the east end of Lake Eire followed by a mile of running along the Erie Canal and the Niagara River with Fort Erie, Canada visible beyond. About twenty minutes later, we came to a stop in the middle of a large field with no announcements, no nothing. I believed it was to change tracks but three gentlemen looked really worried. I noticed that the trees here are in the early stage of color changing but less than a mile west they are not. Must be a micro climate. We stopped in Niagara Falls, NY for some more fresh air and with a sudden drop in outside temperature I returned inside to dawn on the right clothing to enjoy the much cooler outdoor air. The Maple Leaf left right on time, passed a Norfolk Southern freight train on the International Bridge and entered Canada. The train stopped right in front of the Via Niagara Falls Station where Canadian Customs Officials were ready to board the Maple Leaf.

First the drug sniffing dogs were bought abroad and checked the entire train before the agents started their work. Customs went well for me as I had all my documents out and ready. She looked at my driver license's signature and my work card than asked "Have you ever been denied entrance into Canada before? With my answer being "No!", she then looked at my luggage tags on my bags and said "Have a nice stay." The poor guy in front of me wasn't so lucky, as he had his bags inspected and it looked for a while like they weren't going to let him into Canada. When the agent asked if he had a return ticket with an answer of yes being given, they then left him alone. We were there for an hour and thirteen minutes before the officials were done and our new Canadian passengers were allowed to board. The Via Conductor took all the tickets but that poor guy in front of me had his ticket kept by customs but he was on the trains manifest so it was not a problem.

I went to the snack car now stocked by Via with a Via attendant and ordered four items for the price that I pay for three on Amtrak. I was back in my seat at St Catherine, ON to enjoy my evening meal. The hot dog with a soft sesame seed bun far outdoes its Amtrak counterpart. Lays BBQ Potato Chips, a Mirage Chocolate Bar and a Coca Cola Classique bought up the end of an excellent meal. Coca Cola is something you can not get on Amtrak since Pepsi underbid Coke and won the contract for the entire Amtrak system. Thank God I gave up drinking when I did before all this happened. Rum and Pepsi? Yuk! Seagram Seven and Pepsi? Yuk!

The Maple Leaf past through an agricultural area next with orchards and vineyards. Canada does produce wines in several areas of its country. At one point I could see Toronto across Lake Ontario. Our route swings around the west end of the lake. The clouds have taken control of the sky as we stopped at the shelter at Grimsby before heading out across the Ontario farmlands once more. The train sped through Hamilton and I don't understand why this train stops in a small town like Grimsby but not a city like Hamilton. We passed the forlorn station before we joined the Canadian National mainline at Bayview Jct. We proceeded to our next stop at Aldershot which is a joint Via/Go Transit station. We passed a Go Train and my mind flashes to Metrolink back home who had some Go Transit cars on lease. We did Via corridor track speed and have not gone this fast since before Albany this morning. While the sun had set a while ago there was still a red hue in the sky which was very beautiful.

We pulled into Oakville and it is a good time to recap my day. On this date, October 16, 1997 I full filled a life time dream of seeing the trees of the Northeast United States in their true fall colors. It was as beautiful as I ever could have ever imagined. Everyone should get a chance to see them once in their lives. It was something so wonderful that I will never forget it and thanks to Kodak I will always have images of this important day. We departed Oakville and it was only twenty miles to Toronto and a night at the Royal York, a hotel that I always wanted to stay at. The Maple Leaf sure lived up to the name on today's trip. As the train passed the Sky Dome and CN Tower I feel so lucky to be alive and sober arriving in Toronto on one of the best days of my life.

Toronto 10/16/1997

I detrained and went in search of a tunnel leading from the station to the Royal York Hotel. I found the GO Transit Counter wanting a system timetable but all they had were single line timetables so I got a set. I cut through the subway station and found a tunnel lined with stores that led me to the Royal York. It seems that downtown Toronto is laced with a system of underground tunnels to keep the residents out of the fierce cold temperatures and harsh weather. I stopped along the way to buy a couple of post cards before I went to the front desk and checked in. I took the elevator to the third floor and when I opened the door I found a suite so much larger than the one I stayed in at the Le Meridian in New Orleans. It was the best room that I have ever stayed in. I took a nice long hot shower then called down to the States. I watched a quarter of Thursday Night Football of San Diego verses Kansas City then turned to the Canadian Weather Channel. With everything in the Metric system I had to convert in my head temperatures to Fahrenheit and wind speed to miles per hour so I could relate them to what I know. I love working my mind. I then turned in for the night and had a great night of sleep in the best suite that I have ever had.

October 17, 1997 The wakeup call came and soon after the TV was on to the Weather Channel where a temperature of 2 degree C was announced for Toronto's current reading. No problem as I would only be out in it for a few moments at track side while waiting to board my train. I took another hot shower. What a joy after New York City! I checked out and returned by the tunnels to Toronto Union Station where I had a McDonald's breakfast of hot cakes and sausage. I bought one more Canadian post card and mailed it out in front of the station with the air really feeling crisp to me before I returned inside to head up the line to wait for my next train.

The International 365 10/17/1997

I walked up to track ten to find a Superliner train to take me to Chicago. We are a Via train to Port Huron and a Amtrak train beyond that to Chicago. I am looking forward to the trackage from London to Port Huron, MI through the international rail tunnel as that was something I missed last summer due to a CN freight train derailment and being bussed eastbound between the two points. The train left Toronto on time and while I have been on this track before, this will be my first daylight trip over the Canadian portion of the route. The International made the first stop of the morning at Brampton which is also a GO station so I know that I'm still in the Toronto sphere of influence. In the parking lot they have a kiss and ride section which sounds like a good idea to me. Now if we could only have a kissing on board section! Oh, to dream. At the city's limit we head out into the Ontario countryside passing through miles of fields. We arrived in Georgetown the last of the GO stations on this line and once out of town we have left the Toronto sphere of influence for this trip. The countryside has taken to slight rolling hills with the trees on them in their beautiful Fall colors. Now bring on the sunshine! Coming into Guelph we passsed a CN 4-8-4 6217 on display before we came to a stop there. Minutes later we went into the siding at Mosborough for VIA 84 The Huron running almost on time. He had to throw the switch by hand so after we meet 84 we backed onto the main and then picked up our rear brakeman. The joys of Canadian railroading.

We arrived at Kitchner just a mere eight minutes off schedule and off to the right is a nice old brick factory of the H Krug Furniture Company Limited. I always like to see old buildings still in use in the present days. We crossed more miles of fields before our next stop at Stratford. I just sat back and did some thinking as the train traveled across the landscape. St. Marys was a fifteen second stop. Through most of these small towns the tracks run right through some folks backyards. West of town there is a rather large cement plant on the north side of the train. The landscape has returned to a more flat surface with the train making good time across it. We arrived in London early and I use the time to fill out my US custom forms while we are stopped.

From London to Port Huron was new trackage for me which I will add to my Canadian route map of routes to be ridden in Canada. This new mileage will be my first trip through the St. Clair River Tunnel. When I pass through that I will have crossed into Canada on dry land on the Mt. Baker International and the Adirondack, across a bridge on the Maple Leaf and now through a tunnel on this International. We left London on time and came to a quick halt waiting for a CN eastbound freight to clear. We got about another eight miles out of town only to go into the hole for another CN freight. At Komoko we had a slow order and on a telephone box there was a white teddy bear sitting atop of it. Things you notice when you keep your eyes open! We paused at a shelter at Strathroy before we began our forty mile sprint to Sarnia across the open farmlands. We passed through a place called Wyoming which seems like a strange name for a place in Ontario. We arrived in Sarnia and sat for fifteen minutes while a westbound CN freight cleared the tunnel ahead of us. With our conductors permission I walked to the rear door of the train to enjoy the ride through the St Clair Tunnel. When we reached the west portal I clicked off a picture and we past the Amtrak station before we backed into it on the original tunnel grade line. Now we would do US Customs.

For myself Customs spent less than a minute with me before they moved back to the last four people who had not been checked. Next they told us to exit the train but changed their minds once we were on the stairs before finally letting us exit. We now made a single file line placing our luggage out in front of us. We were directed to remain still and then to turn when told to do so. Next the dog sniffing dog sniffed everyone's bags. The dog then sniffed us all from behind and when the dog got to me it jumped up my back and licked my ear. I was then told to remain when they were done. We were told to turn one more time and the dog sniffed us again but this time did not jump. We were then told that we were free to reboard. I stayed and got told the reason why that the dog did what it did. If it thinks that the person is really honest then it responses in that way. Well I think that I am a really honest person, that is for the last 1003 days I have been. I learned that two of our passengers had been detained. The rest of us were all on the train ready to depart when it was announced that due to track work ahead that we would not depart until 2:30 PM. I detrained, bought an Amtrak Michigan Service T-shirt, photographed our train and took a half mile walk to nowhere. I returned for a picture of a CN freight exiting the tunnel. I talked to a few people and sunned myself aka Pensacola. All of that wasted enough time that we were told to reboard and at 2:45 PM we departed Port Huron.

The International headed southwest into a cloudy sky and within twenty minutes we were crawling through the Grand Trunk Western track project. The sky was growing darker as we made our next station stop of Lapeer. The trees in this part of Michigan were in the very early stages of Fall color changes. The countryside had returned to farming when I decided to take a nap. While I slept we met two freight trains and lost thirty minutes due to them. I was awoken by another freight train right before Flint which we departed two hours and sixteen minutes late. I sat back, listened to music and did word search puzzles. We made our next stop at Durand home of the Michigan Railroad Museum. We were warned that 140 people would be boarding at our next stop of East Lansing. There we boarded many Michigan State University students fleeing town on a Friday night.

The sky had an appearance of a jigsaw puzzle with the clouds arranged like pieces. Outside of Battle Creek in a field I spotted five deer with white spots something I did not expect to see. Coming into town, GTW has put in a new mainline fueling facility and once into town a new recreation center had been built complete with indoor and outdoor pools since my last visit through here. Leaving town we headed to Kalamazoo which I think is a great name for a city. South of town we turned off the GTW main onto Amtrak owned tracks for a sprint to Niles as the night began. We passed through Michigan City before we turned onto the Conrail mainline to Chicago. The shoreline of Lake Michigan really looks great at night all lit up by the smoking steel mills along with the casinos. Right before Hammond-Whiting the Chicago skyline was visible across the lake. With all the padding in the schedule and not wyeing the train, we pulled into Chicago Union Station two hours and seven minutes late.

Chicago 10/17/1997

Detraining from the International I walked through the station, down a north platform, up the stairs, crossed the streets and entered the CNW Station. I bought my Metra ticket and called my brother Bruce before I boarded Metra Train 659 for Harvard with my destination being Arlington Heights. I enjoyed a peaceful ride in the cab car prior to detraining at the Heights. We had passed the Best Western Inn about a mile back so I carried my two bags through the cool crisp night air to the hotel where I checked in, watched an episode of the Simpsons before calling it a night.

10/18/1997 After over ten hours of sleep with my batteries fully recharged, I enjoyed an episode of Brisco County JR. which had the Fillmore and Western steam locomotive in it followed by On the Road with the NFL to Denver. I checked out and walked back to the Metra station on a beautiful clear crisp Fall morning. As I sunned myself on a bench waiting for the train to Chicago, "Sitting on a park bench" from the Jethro Tull song Aqualung kept going through my head. Metra Train 618 arrived five minutes late and I boarded the cab car for the Windy City. I stored my bags at the front door then listened to Queen while I enjoyed an engineer's view into Chicago. I took the short walk to Union Station for a couple of Gold Coast Char Dogs and a shake which have now become a Chicago tradition for one Chris Guenzler. I bought and mailed some post cards, hit the ATM and then waited for my next train. I had figured out how they board the trains in Chicago, so when I got on the California Zephyr this time I even had time to return my luggage cart for a quarter. Every cent saved counts up towards buying something else!

California Zephyr 5 The Lucky Train 10/18/1997

With me sitting in my usual right hand full window seat, the CZ departed Chicago right on time with me feeling like I know this route like the back of my hand. As we traveled through the western suburbs, I can spot places that have gone out of business with new business in their place. Out in the country only the seasons change and the crops adjust themselves to it. For example, the green corn planted in June is now either brown decaying stalks or have been plowed under. The wheat has been mostly harvested with winter wheat planted in its place. I must say that I am receiving a full education on this trip. At Galva, we came to a halt due to signal problems as they called the 5:30 PM dinner reservations in. This night I choose to eat later at 7:30 PM. The PA came alive again with a change in our problem to freight train interference and that we should only be here twenty minutes. Where have I heard that before? Thirty-three minutes later, we resumed our race towards the setting sun. Leaving Galesburg we were routed down the Quincy Line to Waterman then turned onto some unexpected new trackage for me. We curved up and over the Quincy Lines yard leads with a hump set pushing cars underneath as we pass over then traveled west until we reached the BNSF mainline. We passed the Cameron Connection used by the Southwest Chief and speed off into the night with me having gained a more complete knowledge of the yard in Galesburg by our routing on this trip.

I listened to about half an hour of Van Halen before I went to the lounge car to watch the beginning of the Selena movie that I did not see on the Sunset. I got called into the dining car and had a New York Strip Steak and an ice cream sundae for dessert. I ate with an older lady returning to Omaha and two guys going to Salt Lake City on business. Glaciation was the surprising topic at dinner and it amazed me how much I remembered about it after all these years. Mr. Hannon you were sure a great Geography teacher at Santa Ana Collage when I had you. Thank you! Leaving Ottumwa, IA forty-seven minutes late I was back in my seat doing word search puzzles and listening to "The Meeting" an album by Martin Barre of Jethro Tull. I think of how lucky I am to be here doing all this sober, meeting all these great people, having so many great experiences and making all these great memories that I am receiving on this trip. I am one lucky guy. Once The Meeting was done I called it a night as the train sped across western Iowa.

10/19/1997 I woke up under cloudy skies in eastern Colorado and changed into my LA Kings Wayne Gretzky jersey then headed to the lounge car got my breakfast of milk, cookies and tea. I met Mary and after we talked I made her a map of the Bananafish Copper Canyon Trip which she definitely wants to go on. She told me of the Green Tortoise Bus trip that she took to Alaska. Mary is retired and loves to travel. She is right now on the end of a Via/Amtrak trip to Quebec. She went to Boston and Stuanton, VA and now is on her way home to Portland. She is really enjoying her trip just as I am mine. We pulled into Denver on time with me off the train to buy and mail another post card before I returned to the train to stake out a seat in the lounge car and read the Denver Post that I had bought.

We left Denver on time and headed west for the Rockies. Near the Big Ten curve I spotted a lot of mule deer. At Coal Creek Canyon the Zephyr entered the clouds and I wondered how much of this morning would be in limited visibility. Once into the tunnel district of the former Rio Grande more deer were spotted along the curving route. The clouds do give our climb a totally different prospective before we burst out into the bright sunlight at Rollinsville. The view became striking and in minutes the Zephyr plunged into the Moffat Tunnel the forth longest in the western hemisphere. Emerging from its darkness into the bright morning sunshine we were greeted with a view of the Winter Park ski area with very limited snow. We made our stop at Winter Park/Fraser before we passed through Tabernash the ice box of America at times and continued on to Granby. The train past through Byers Canyon with me taking pictures and I repeated the process a little later in Gore Canyon.

At Azure the Zephyr came to a halt due to signal problems. I had this same problem at the exact same spot on my last trip through here. We resumed and in Little Gore Canyon, you know what I did.

Since the clouds of this morning there has not been a cloud in the sky just a peaceful Fall day in the Rockies. We passed through Bond before we came to a halt at Dell about twenty minutes later. The head end power went out but returned two minutes later. About thirty-five minutes later after no announcements had been made and with my fellow passengers wondering why we are sitting here, I went and found the Train Chief asking him to make an announcement about why we are delayed. He had no idea so he called the conductor on the IC. We learned that there had been a mud slide that was blocking the tracks and that a crew with equipment had been called to clear it. No telling how long we would be here. Funny, a mud slide on a perfectly clear day. About an hour later help had arrived in the form of a high rail truck with a crew. Thirty minutes later we crept forward stopping along the way to remove objects that had fallen under the train and they managed to get the train by the slide which was a car length long and five feet deep. I got asked "What if we would have hit it?" I replied "Derailed the engine maybe but I see no risk to us." The whole incident took more than two hours and proved to be very interesting.

The Zephyr passed through the beautiful Red Rock Canyon heading west on a flashing yellow signal. At Range we had a yellow over red signal with DRGW 5349 east sitting in the siding. Range lives up to its name as ranching is the main form of business in the valley. Amtrak Train 6 waited behind him who we normally meet at Dell when both trains are on time. Minutes later we passed some beautiful aspen trees right along the shore of the Colorado River before we met a BNSF freight at Dotsero. The PA system came alive with music as the train made its passage through Glenwood Canyon enhancing the scene. The river is running at its normal level through the shadows of the canyon. We departed Glenwood Springs two hours and twenty minutes late.

Twenty-five minutes west of Glenwood Springs they called us in with 5:00 PM dinner reservations. I am seated with a husband who runs a correctional institution in Oregon along with his wife and women who is a nurse. She has a son who would not admit that he has a problem with alcohol. When she found out in our conversations that I was indeed an alcoholic she asked me all sorts of questions about myself with me giving her answers. I never mind talking about what I truly am or about anything on that subject. If I can help someone understand about alcoholism I am performing a service and that is what a part of AA is, service to others. It also allows me to talk about my book and the experiences that I have had riding Amtrak. I had a nice steak dinner through all of the talking before the servicing stop at Grand Junction where I got a nice after dinner walk in. We left town and I watched my Best Friend's Wedding as the train passed through Ruby Canyon on a moonlit night. We stopped briefly at Green River, UT leaving there two hours and eight minutes late as I decided to call it another sober night ending Day 1005.

10/20/1997 Walking briefly on the Salt Lake City platform with no activity taking place I returned to my seat and fell back to sleep waking up east of Elko, NV. I freshened up and put on the final set of clothes for this trip and went to the dining car for breakfast with three elderly women who were traveling from Ottumwa to Salem, OR. They make the trip every year and used to take the Pioneer saving a whole extra day on the train. Hearing them talk, I just realized how much I truly miss my old friends, the Pioneer and the Desert Wind both of which I had great memories on. During breakfast the Zephyr stopped in both Elko and Carlin with us still running two hours and thirteen minutes late.

I returned to the lounge car for a daylight trip through Palisade Canyon and the westward run along the Humboldt River across central Nevada's sage filled valleys. The Valmy Coal Fire Generating Station was at full work on the north side of the valley with the Jethro Tull song Valley playing in my mind. The truckers on I 80 are having no problems with pacing us meaning that they are all speeding. I do not remember the highway speed in Nevada as being seventy-nine miles per hour! I took a nap as Nevada is so exciting to look at and slept through both Winnemuca and Lovelock. Just tiredness I guess on the last day of a long trip. The Humboldt River Sink had water in it and the train made good time to Fernley. West of Fernley I got a surprise as the trees along the Truckee River were in full Fall Colors and stood out beautifully against the desert backdrop. The Mustang Ranch was pointed out before we made our servicing stop at Sparks. I picked up a USA Today finding out that Cleveland defeated the Marlins in Game 2 of the World Series. We departed Sparks one hour and fifty-five minutes late.

We made the short run to Reno and then departed west to California. Outside of Reno the Aspens were wild in their golden fall colors and provided quite a show through Verdi and Floriston to just before Boca where the show ended. We returned to the more traditional colors as the train climbed the east side of Donner Pass as I sat back and enjoyed the views. We made our station stop in Truckee before heading up Cold Stream Canyon to the Summit Tunnel and then descended the west slope of Donner Pass.

Our Train Chief announced that due to a mistake in communication that our narrator from the California State Railroad Museum had been told that our train was ten hours late so he had taken a bus back to Sacramento. It was our sister train the eastbound California Zephyr Train 6 that we had passed yesterday at Range, Co who was ten hours late. The slide came down after our train had passed blocking their route until it could be cleared they sat as one unlucky train for ten hours. I think that it would be safe to say that our train, the Westbound California Zephyr Train 5 was the "Lucky Train!"

West of Yuba Gap the trees on the west slope started their Fall color showing. Totally incredible colors! The American River Canyon was absolutely beautiful in the mid afternoon light. What a view! We rounded Cape Horn and pulled into Colfax for a double stop. With all the trees that I have seen on this trip it was nice to see some in their normal state of being. As we entered Tunnel 18 and came to a stop, my total eclipse joke was well received. We sat for two minutes before we were on the move again with no distant views of Sacramento today as the air was way too hazy. We made our stop in Roseville then passed the Roseville Diesel Shop and where the SP Roseville Yard was. Since the Union Pacific merger the UP has started a major improvement project to completely rebuild the yard from the ground up. It is a project that will take a couple of years but when they are done the Union Pacific will have a brand new yard.

The Zephyr stopped in Sacramento before it crossed its namesake river heading to Davis over the Yolo bypass. The Davis Depot looks extremely good before we continued our dash across the freshly plowed fields on our way to Suisan-Fairfield our next brief stop prior to crossing the marshlands, passed the mothball fleet over the Carquinez Straits and into Martinez where I detrained off the California Zephyr two hours and twelve minutes late.

San Joaquin 718 10/20/1997

I was off the Zephyr and on to the phone first to call Hedy to see how our class had been doing and secondly to Albert to learn how our team did in the makeup game against Lathrop which we won. I called Karen in Solana Beach thanking her for all the hard work she does with my tickets. Once I hung up Train 718 pulled into Martinez. I boarded the coach baggage California car and took an end single seat since they are five inches wider. In front of me are two Mexican girls with a baby and across from them a large man who has a cooler and is drinking his own beer that he bought onboard. He offered beer to everyone around him. This guy became the guy to watch when two women with one missing her teeth joins him. He offered them beer and I overhear that both women had been recently battered. They were telling their stories which I must say would make for one hell of a sad song. The conductor came by to collect the tickets and spotted the guys own beer and tells him that bringing your own beer onboard is not permitted. He tries to tell the conductor that he bought the beer on the train but our conductor was too smart for that trick. He warns him that his actions may cost him making it to Turlock.

After the conductor left to continue his duties, the guy announces that "This son of a bitch is spoiling all our fun!" then he starts to make out with the toothless women while the baby screamed at the top of its lungs on top of the table as I enjoyed my dinner and listened to Yes. The guy opens another beer and pours it into another container. I could smell his cheap beer from where I was sitting. The conductor walked back through smelling the beer and warns the guy again. The guy now swears that he hasn't been drinking. Who is this guy trying to fool. Sounds like how I used to be.

Stockton came and went as did the women so the guy is left alone. He then tried to pick up some more women. We made good track time to Turlock-Denair where the drunken guy left and the train turned quiet. I switch to a two seater and slept the rest of the way down the valley to Bakersfield waking up just as the train pulled in on time. I switched to the bus for the ride to Santa Ana and slept all the way to Los Angeles. From there to Santa Ana, Caltrans was doing night time freeway construction on every freeway our driver tried to take so our arrival at Santa Ana was thirty minutes late. I was in bed by four fifteen with the clock set for six to return to work after finishing another fantastic Amtrak adventure.

Rail Mileage 307,001.0