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The First Long Distance Train Trip

by Chris Guenzler

Rail Mileage 0.0
The First Long Distance Train Trip

My brother Bruce has been an Amtrak agent from when Amtrak first started to hire railroad employees to become ticket agents at their stations. Bruce had been hired from the Santa Fe Railroad on November 16th, 1972 and at that time was working at Santa Ana. He bounced around Southern California working anyplace between Glendale and Oceanside. He married his wife Karla on August 20th, 1978 and shortly after they wanted to move to San Luis Obispo which was out of the Los Angeles Seniority District. If he transferred there he would lose his seniority for a period of five years so after he did some research on stations in that seniority district, he selected Pocatello, Idaho a place he felt that he could hold a job for those five years. Bruce and Karla moved from Stanton, Ca to Pocatello and shortly thereafter Bruce started to ask me when I would come up for a visit. He finally asked "Why not take the train up to Ogden and I would drive down and pick you up?" I had Spring Break coming up at Cal State Fullerton and at my job as Master Tutor at Santa Ana Junior College. He made a reservation for me and I paid for it at Santa Ana. So on March 30th, 1980 this first long distance train ride started which would unexpectedly change the course of my life and be the start of a goal which I did not know at the time of riding the entire Amtrak system.

San Diegan 573 3/30/80

I boarded the northbound San Diegan at the Santa Ana Santa Fe Station on 4th Street from a platform which had seen better days. I boarded an Amfleet consist, not the first time I had been in them, as I had taken a number of local trips to Fullerton and Los Angeles. My father had taken me down to San Diego when the Santa Fe run the trains and the very first trip was on a 33 car Del Mar Race train. I was heading to Los Angeles to catch the Desert Wind to Ogden. We ran on time passing through Orange, crossing the Santa Ana River passed Anaheim Stadium through the City of Anaheim before our next stop at Fullerton. We ran past the Fullerton Airport through northern Buena Park before crossing Coyote Creek and entering Los Angeles County. The train traveled through La Mirada, the oil refineries of Santa Fe Springs and Los Nietos. It crossed the San Gabriel River, bridged the Santa Ana Freeway before passing through Hobart Yard and slowed for the crossing of the Los Angeles River. We passed the Redondo Jct. Roundhouse, the Amtrak coach yards before we rounded the corner at Mission Tower passing the Los Angeles Men's Jail and pulled into Los Angeles Union Station right on time.

Desert Wind 36 3/30/80

I went down the ramp and the long tunnel towards the waiting room stopping at Gate D which had a sign that read "Desert Wind" above it. I planted myself on the floor in front of it. I played a game of Solitaire as a line formed behind me. With it now about twenty minutes until departure time, I packed up and moments later they opened up the gate with a mad rush for the train, with me leading the pack down the tunnel, up the ramp and to the Amfleet train. The main difference between this train and a San Diegan is that this train used sixty seat Amfleet cars while the San Diegan used eighty four seat cars plus our train had an Amdinette and not the Amcafe used locally. I boarded the second car behind the engine of this seven car train taking a right hand full window seat.

The Desert Wind left Los Angeles on time and headed out the same way we came in until Mission Tower and we turned north along the Los Angeles River as we entered the Santa Fe's 2nd District to San Bernardino. We traveled the west bank before we crossed the river then the Golden State Freeway and a mile later the Pasadena Freeway. We traveled through the backyards of Highland Park before crossing high over the Pasadena Freeway and the Arroyo Seco. More backyards were then passed before another crossing of the Pasadena Freeway one last time and entered Pasadena, our first station stop. Leaving Pasadena we sneaked out of the downtown between the buildings before we entered the middle of the Foothill Freeway heading east along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. We left Interstate 210 a few miles later, passed through Acadia and crossed the San Gabriel River for the second time today. We ran by the Miller Brewery before Glendora rounded the north side of Lone Hill before we sprinted to our next stop of Pomona, the station on the north side of town. On the move again, we sped through Claremont, Montclair and Upland before passing the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana. We travelled through Rialto, under the SP's Palmdale Cutoff entered "A" yard before pulling to a stop in front of the ivy covered San Bernardino Depot.

Now the moment I have been waiting for, my first rail trip over Cajon Pass. I have photographed in Cajon Pass for years and now I will get a chance to ride across it. We headed north along the Interstate 15E before we ran along Cajon Blvd through Ono and Verdemont where to the west the Palmdale Cutoff was closing in. We crossed over Cajon Blvd and the Palmdale Cutoff ran right alongside of us through Devore where we crossed Cajon Creek and ducked under Interstate 15. We ran by the nudist colony where volleyball was being played as we entered Cajon Pass with a steep ridge to the west, the creek below us on the east with the San Andres Fault running along the far slope as we were climbing a 2.2 % grade. We made a large sweeping right hand turn to enter Blu Cut and our crossing of the San Andres Fault leaving the Pacific Plate for the North American Plate. The SP Palmdale Cutoff was high above us with a long drag freight heading west. The funny thing is that we were heading in the same direction over Cajon Pass as that train was but our train is eastbound. We curved around the corner by the old campground and met a westbound UP freight heading towards Los Angeles. We came up to Cajon and stayed on the north track as a Santa Fe freight was heading down the south track. I was thrilled to be routed around Sullivan's Curve as an eastbound SP freight appeared. We traveled by the Mormon Rocks and looped back to the Davis Ranch. We passed under the freeway, by Alray Siding, over what is left of old Route 66 and went through the two short tunnels. We continued the last few miles of our climb as another Santa Fe westbound freight descended. We rounded a curve as the down track rejoined us before we curved through a massive cut and reached the top of Cajon Pass at Summit. We passed a westbound UP coal train waiting for us at Summit as we crossed over so it could go down the north track with the easier grade. Our train made a couple of turns to reach the Summit Valley meeting several other trains around Lugo as the scenery turned to that of the Mojave Desert. We passed the Hesperia Airport before reaching Hesperia. We continued our descent and crossed over the other mainline on a bridge before we reached Frost and the Mojave River. We passed through the Upper Narrows before Victorville and minutes later passed the large Southwest Portland Cement Plant. We entered the Lower Narrows where we crossed the Mojave River prior to Oro Grande. We stayed along the east side of the river beneath the bluffs and few miles later old Route 66 returned as the river valley is used for farming. More trains were passed nearing Lenwood before we skirted the north side of the huge Santa Fe Barstow Classification Yard arriving at the Barstow station located past the east end of the yard across from the Santa Fe diesel shop.

We arrived at Barstow early so I had time to step off of my Amfleet coach and enjoy the cool Spring sun on this afternoon. Our train crews switched from a young Santa Fe crew to an old veteran UP crew for the trip to Las Vegas. We left Barstow on time and sprinted to Daggett where we left the rails of the Santa Fe for those of the Union Pacific for the rest of the trip to Ogden. The train crossed the Mojave River before we passed the Union Pacific's Yermo Yard. It was slow going to escape its confines before the Desert Wind could get back up to track speed of seventy nine miles per hour. We ran within sight of Interstate 15 until Dunn where we followed the Mojave River into Afton Canyon. We crossed the river twice in the west end of Afton Canyon and again at the east end of the canyon. We entered a multicolored, very rugged but beautiful scenic canyon. I was in awe as the Desert Wind passed through it and I began to wish that I had started to ride trains years ago. Crossed the Mojave River at the east end of Afton Canyon where it empties into the Mojave River Sink. The water flows into this basin never to escape. The desert here is extremely sandy with the UP planting Tamarack Trees to keep the sand off of the tracks. The Desert Wind entered an area called the Devil's Playground where sand is everywhere with the UP even having a siding named Sands. Off to the south side of the train are the Kelso Dunes, a large and beautiful feature of the area. We passed the Kelso Depot, a unique Spanish architectural station out in the middle of nowhere. The train started its climb up Cima Hill as the excitement of this trip waned long enough for hunger to set in so I opened my bag, pulled out some fried chicken and cokes for a meal. I had been warned by my brother Bruce not to expect any kind of decent food service on this train except for hot dogs. It is a steady climb up the hill and our engineer was making real good time. I asked our conductor about this and he said that today we were lucky to have the engineer off of the LAX, the UP's hottest freight train so he expected us to have a very early arrival in Las Vegas. We crested the hill at Cima with a view back down to Kelso and the dunes. The train passed through a large Joshua Tree forest and I noticed some range cattle wandering around aimlessly. We descended the east slope of the Cima Hill at a good rate passing freight trains at Joshua, Brandt, Moore and Nipton. We headed out across a dry lake passing through Calveda siding and entering Nevada with State Line over on the highway to the west and Nevada's Women Prison to the east. We crossed over Interstate 15 after Jean before winding around the hill near Eire passed the large cement plant and by an abandoned railroad tunnel. We got our first view of Las Vegas before we curved off of the hill and headed straight for Sin City. We passed all of the hotels along "The Strip" before coming to a stop next to the UP's Las Vegas Yard in front of the Union Plaza Hotel which houses the Amtrak Station.

At Las Vegas the train emptied and two cars were cut off to be put on the westbound in the morning. The Desert Wind had arrived forty five minutes early so I had time to play some slot machines losing of course and to stop at a liquor store for some Kesseler and mix before I returned to the train to mix a few drinks. We left Las Vegas on time and after about fifteen minutes we were back out into the empty desert. We climbed out of the valley that Las Vegas lays in before we topped the grade at Apex prior to heading into the siding at Garnett to meet a westbound piggyback train. Darkness overtook us as we met the Farmer John Pig {hog} train at Dry Lake where they were watering the animals. The Desert Wind headed out into the night up the Meadow Valley Wash as I finished the bottle, then curled up across two seats to spend my first night ever on a train. I fell asleep as the motion of the train rocked me to sleep.

3/31/80 The next morning the PA announcement said we were fifteen minutes away from Salt Lake City, Utah. I cleaned myself up and went to the cafe to get some donuts and milk. We pulled down a city street past the park with the Union Pacific 4-8-4 838 in it, passing within a block of the Rio Grande Station and I got a view of the Mormon Temple before the Desert Wind arrived at Union Pacific's Salt Lake City Depot. Here we lost most of the passengers and gained only a few for connections to the San Francisco Zephyr at Ogden. We left Salt Lake City on time passing through UP's North Yard with a view of Utah's State Capitol Building on the hill east of the train. We headed north up he UP double track mainline through Kaysville and Centerville meeting many UP freights along with an early morning view of the Great Salt Lake off to the west of the train. We pulled into the railroad junction at Ogden where we headed east around the wye before we backed into Ogden Union Station completing my first ever segment of a long distance train trip on time.

On to Idaho and Pocatello 3/31-4/3/80

The San Francisco Zephyr pulled in and I did some photography of it and a high nosed UP SD-24 the only one on their railroad. My brother Bruce showed up and we headed north stopping first for gas then later at a cafe at Termonton. We traveled up US 91 until it turned into the freeway Interstate 15 for the trip over Malad Pass. We entered Idaho and traveled by Downey, Arimo and McCammon before we reached Pocatello. He drove me around town showing me the UP Yard and the Depot he worked in, a grand red brick building that houses the ticket office. We drove up the hill to their house on the south bench. It was a beautiful two story home that overlooked Pocatello, the UP yard and the Snake River Valley. The view was incredible. On a clear day you could see a hundred miles to the continental divide on the Idaho-Montana border. I spent the next four days visiting Bruce and Karla, shooting train pictures around the yard, getting to know Pocatello and a day at Craters of the Moon National Monument. I helped Bruce work on a couple of projects around the house. He is very good at that kind of thing while I am only ok but I need a lot of guidance to get a job done. One night we all went and saw "Romancing the Stone", a very enjoyable movie. I enjoyed my first day of snow flurries. Bruce took me to the Union Pacific's Company Store and by the school Karla was working at. On the way out of town to Ogden to catch the train, I shot a picture of a freight train with the best lash up of power that I had ever seen up to that point. It had a UP DD-40AX, a BN SD-45, a Conrail SD-40-2 and a MKT SD-40-2 and shot many pictures of it. Bruce then drove me down to Ogden to meet my train for home. At Ogden I had time to walk around the station and I counted how many tracks this once busy station had. It must have been quite a place in the heyday of passenger railroading.

Desert Wind 25 4/4/80

Ogden was a busy place for a few minutes each night as the San Francisco Zephyr, the Pioneer and Desert Wind all called upon the station within a few minutes of each other. I boarded the Desert Wind, ordered a couple of nightcaps as the train departed on time. I enjoyed the drinks as the train traveled south through the night from Ogden to Salt Lake City. At Salt Lake City the Amfleet train filled up pretty good but once we were under way again I still had two seats to myself so I curled up and fell asleep as the train headed south down the former Los Angeles and Salt Lake Route of the Union Pacific.

4/5/80 Morning finds the Desert Wind just exiting the Meadow Valley Wash of Nevada. I went off to the lounge car for some mini donuts and chocolate milk. I returned to my seat for the wonderful early morning desert views as the train closed in on Las Vegas. It was a beautiful clear morning with unlimited visibility. The wind was kicking up the tumbleweeds but the train continued speeding through the early morning arriving in Las Vegas early. I ran into the casino, put three dimes in a slot machine and out came five dollar's worth. I left with a pocket full of winnings rattling as I walked. While I was inside, they added three more Amfleet cars to the train for a rather large Las Vegas boarding crowd but these additional cars should handle them fine.

We left Las Vegas on time and got about twenty minutes out when the entire train's air conditioning failed. A stop was made to fix the problem but the veteran UP crew could find no solution to the problem so off we went out into the desert morning with no cooling system. The Desert Wind had become the Desert Wound. The laws of nature and matter about an hour later began to take control. Sunlight came into the car through the windows and cannot escape through the glass of the window, I.E. the Greenhouse Effect had taken over. So here I was living out a science experiment on the greenhouse effect. Adding to this was the natural body heat given off by the passengers and slowly but surely the inside of the car turned into a sauna. As the heat went up in the Amfleet car the desert remained about seventy five degrees outside the train.

As the inside of the car was reaching into the high ninety degree range a male passenger in front of me took off his shirt and several other passengers including me follow suit removing our shirts. I felt much more comfortable in these conditions as I was already wearing my shorts. What happened next even surprised me. A rather large breasted blonde announced, "If you guys can sit like that so can I" and she removed her blouse sitting there with a big grin on her face. The guy who started it all off, then stood up and said, "Watch this!" and peeled off his pants standing there in his underwear. Several other males followed his lead with me being cool enough as I was. The blonde if on cue stood up and announced for all of the women to take off their blouses before going one step further by removing her pants before standing in the middle aisle in just her bra and panties. The rest of the women followed her example as did the rest of the guys. While the temperature of the car was approaching a sauna the passengers were surprisingly happy and I was quite amused. I was thinking I should have tried this train travel thing a long time ago as it is really interesting and fun plus you never know what is going to happen next.

The assistant conductor came into the car's door took about two steps and his jaw dropped open. He stood there staring into the car of undressed people. I bet he had never seen a car load of passengers like that before. Once he came out of his state of shock, he said something about FRA rules and a few other things basically telling people to put their clothes back on. That was met with a resounding "No!" and "Cool down the train!" became the chant He tried again to get people to put their clothes back on and got an earful of negative response. He walked away looking quite disturbed while the car broke out in laughter. While all of this was going on the Desert Wound continued across the dry lake into California, up and over Cima Hill before passing through Kelso. As the train was crossing the Devil's Playground, the conductor walked into the car shaking his head and he tried to get us to put the clothes back on only to get the "Cool down the train!" chant. In all of his years of railroading, I doubt that he had ever seen anything like this before but it will make for a good story for him to tell about the car load of scanty clad passengers. He turned and walked out of the car. The train traversed Afton Canyon, sneaked around the other traffic at Yermo before rejoining the Santa Fe mainline at Daggett for the quick trip to Barstow.

At Barstow we switched crews from the UP veterans to the Santa Fe kids. The youthful assistant conductor walked into the car and asked very nicely that we all put our clothes back on. He got the same response as the other crew, "Cool down the train!" He added something new to entice us to follow his instructions. "We will give you free soft drinks in the lounge car because of the heat but you will have to put your clothes back on to get them!" Same old response, "Cool down the train!" He then took a good hard look and went off to find the other members of his crew. Minutes later he came on the PA system, "Ladies and gentleman. We have come up with an idea to cool off the train. If everyone will please remain seated we will attempt to cool this train off!" The crew members each took a vestibule at the end of the cars and set the doors in the open position. I looked down the aisle where I could see the engine up front and Lenwood out the rear door. We now had a little draft blowing through the train. The air movement felt really good. Next the side doors were opened and with the train doing track speed of seventy nine miles per hour we had a really strong breeze blowing through the train. Everyone stayed seated and people who began to feel a chill put their clothes back on. About Victorville, they closed the doors with the temperature near normal and the crew thanked all for following their directions with us now free to move about the train. I would like to thank the Santa Fe kid crew for solving a problem in a safe and quick manner. The head conductor came into the car maybe a year older than the AC. He survived the situation and then said, "Ladies and Gentleman, I apologize for the condition of this train set and I think you have all made the best of it up to now. I have an idea but to do this I will have to ask you to remain seated while we try my plan. I will open every door on this train starting at the rear working forward. With the train running at top speed this should blow all the hot air out of the train and it should cool off the train. He then walked back to open the side door as well as the end door and with the AC opening the doors in the forward end of the train suddenly a nice cool breeze came blowing through the train and people could not put their clothes back on fast enough. They then closed all the doors and thanked us all for remaining seated and said the free drinks could now be given out.

I took this opportunity to get my free coke and to get back to my seat for the run over Cajon Pass. We passed several freight trains before we crossed over to the down track at Summit for our descent down the three point three percent grade down the west side of Cajon Pass. As we headed west away from Summit, a thought now crossed my mind. Now that I had done both the Santa Fe tracks over Cajon Pass, I wondered if I would ever get to ride over the Southern Pacific's Palmdale Cutoff? Just then I saw a SP freight climbing towards Hiland. Below Cajon, we passed three more freights climbing the pass heading east. We arrived early into San Bernardino and right before departure I saw my good and dear friend Jeff Hartmann walking down the aisle. He wanted to ride part of the Desert Wind route so he got on the eastbound this morning to San Bernardino so he could ride back home with me. It seemed to him that the car was a little warm and I said with a good laugh that he had missed the sauna that Amtrak had provided. "Oh by the way," I said, "This train is not the Desert Wind but the Desert Wound!" and I told Jeff the story. He went off to get his free soda while I just kicked back having a good laugh about this morning's activities with a smile on my face watching the San Bernardino Valley outside the train's windows. Jeff returned and we discussed my trip to Pocatello with him saying that someday he would like to go there with me. We made our station stops at Pomona and Pasadena before we arrived at Los Angeles Union Station fifteen minutes early. We detrained straight off the Desert Wind onto a waiting San Diegan for the less than an hour trip back home to Santa Ana having completed my first and a most interesting Amtrak round trip on the Desert Wind.