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To Bothel and Back Coast Starlight 11 12/1980

by Chris Guenzler

My brother Bruce has a friend called B.J. and he married a woman named Shelly who I sang with in the St Peter Lutheran Church's Knight Choir. B.J. and I were also friends who had shot train pictures over the years together. He had a job and got transferred to Bothel in the state of Washington so they had to move. I got asked if there was any way I could help them move and checking with my College professors my first three finals at Cal State Fullerton would be right away with my last one seven days later so I had a six day window to move them in. I called my brother Bruce in Idaho who booked me a return trip on the Coast Starlight and I was all set.

The trip north

Moving someone out of an upstairs apartment was an interesting experience especially with one long sofa and a piano. Most of an afternoon was spent packing a rental truck. We drove north and spent the first night at Merced arriving in the wee hours of the morning. We were traveling in two vehicles, the truck and their car. The next day we traveled up the Central Valley and the Sacramento River Canyon past Mt Shasta to Yreka where we stayed at a Motel 6. The next day proved to be the most interesting as we had made a rule in case the vehicles had become separated head to the first rest area along the highway and wait. Well after Medford we of course we got separated so B.J. and I in the truck went to the Rouge River Rest Area. After about twenty minutes B.J. decided to go look for Shelly, leaving me at the rest area only wearing a light jacket. It was a cold, moist morning and minutes after he had left snow flurries started to occur and the temperature dropped. I must have looked pretty stupid and strange to an Oregon Highway Patrol officer who pulled up and asked me what I was doing there without a vehicle. Freezing mostly but after I had explained to the officer, it turned out that Shelly was at the Highway Patrol Office at Grants Pass so the officer went to look for B.J. leaving me out in the cold. About twenty five minutes later B.J. pulled up collecting the near popsicle Chris and off we went to Grants Pass. He turned on the truck's heater to thaw me out and at Grants Pass we were reunited with Shelly. That day ended with us at the Motel 6 at Olympia, Washington. The next day we arrived at the new house in Bothel and spent most of that day unpacking the truck before taking a quick look around Bothel. We had a fast food dinner and enjoyed a quiet first night in their new home in Bothel. The next morning we took a quick railfan tour of Seattle.

B.J. thanked me for all of my help and dropped me off at Seattle's King Street Station. I got my boarding pass and when the door opened I was off to begin my first trip ever on Amtrak's Coast Starlight.

Coast Starlight 11 12/20/1980

I boarded a Dome coach and took a right hand side window seat. This was my first full service Amtrak train meaning full lounge and complete meal service in the dining car. The train had six coaches, three of the Dome variety and four sleeping cars. With the two baggage cars it was a fourteen car steam heated train unlike the all electric Amfleet trains that I had been riding since 1976. Amtrak was getting new Superliner cars to replace these low level cars and replace their unreliable steam heated cars with new all electric train sets. The conductor took my ticket and told me to use the Dome seating whenever I wanted.

We left Seattle on time and passed the King Dome where the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks play. We headed through the industrial areas of South Seattle and passed the Union Pacific's Argo Yard. The Boeing Aircraft Plant was next before we crossed the Black River and headed for Kent. We traveled by the Burlington Northern's Auburn Yard as we were on the BN rails until Portland. Mt Rainer was visible to the southeast out of the Dome windows. We sped through Puyallup before we arrived at our next station stop at Tacoma, Washington's second largest city. We departed town along the waterfront and along the Puget Sound passing through two tunnels through headlands protruding out into the sound. We gently curved along the shoreline passing Steilacoom, crossing a few drawbridges with the offshore islands standing guard across the straits. After about twenty miles of shore running we cut inland leaving a marsh for the forest to our next stop of Olympia, the state capitol of Washington. The train slipped through the hills passing the UP and BN freights on this double track mainline to our next stop of Centralia. We left town before passing through Chehalis prior to climbing the grade to Vader before starting the downgrade towards the Columbia River.

This bought us to the part of the trip that involved Mt St Helens. Back on May 18th,1980 of this year, it erupted or a better phrase might be blasted away 2,000 feet of it's summit. This caused a flood of ash and trees down the Toole River destroying everything in it's path. We entered the area where we run beside the river after crossing it and it looked like a major construction zone. It was all white with the ash mud being dredged out of the river channel and piled into high mounds. Where once forest had stood now nothing except this white ground cover. The trees looked like toothpicks just dropped from above. It's an absolute mess and just proves how much power Mother Nature processes. We passed through that area before we escaped back into a reality of green Washington forest until our next station stop of Kelso-Longview.

We ran with the Columbia River in sight with Oregon on the south side of the waters. The river makes a big bend to the south and with the railroad staying on the east side all the way to Vancouver where the river headed east once more into the Columbia River Gorge. In the late afternoon, the trees are reflected on the still waters of the many sloughs. It was a very beautiful scene and I attempted a few pictures of it. We passed through BN's Vancouver Yard before we arrived at the station located in the middle of a huge wye with tracks heading east into the Columbia River Gorge. After our double station stop due to the length of our train, we crossed the Columbia River on a swinging span drawbridge and entered the state of Oregon. Once on Oregon soil, we quickly crossed another channel with pleasure boats located up stream before saying goodbye to the Union Pacific who had been sharing our route since Tacoma prior to crossing the Willamette River. We traveled along the river front industries before we passed Lake Yard, the BN engine facility and arrived at Portland Union Station as the sun set over the Coast Range. I took advantage of the servicing stop to check out the interior of the station. Anytime I arrive at a place for the first time and have the time, I will explore the stations to see what they have to offer.

The train left Portland on time and crossed the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge under the cover of night. We passed through the Southern Pacific's Brooklyn Yard and will stay on SP rail's all the way to Los Angeles. We passed the waterfall at Oregon City all lit up by their hydroelectric activities. They announced the first call to dinner and since I was right in the lounge car having my first drink of the trip, I finished it up quickly and headed back one car to the dining car to have my first full course rail dining car experience on Amtrak. I was seated in the middle of the car with a forward facing window seat with three German tourists who spoke no English and me speaking no German at all. For my part it was going to be a very quiet dinner but I did have the passing night time scenery to watch go by. The waiter bought us our menus and I ordered a new entree for myself, something called a Prime Rib. I knew that the word prime meant excellent and since it was the highest price meal on the menu I ventured that it must be good. The table was set with white linens and china, with a single rose in a stainless steel vase. The silverware was really outstanding looking and I had not been to too many restaurants with as nice table settings as this. The waiter bought the salad which I passed on and then the rolls which he bought me many extras since I wasn't having a salad. After about twenty minutes after watching the passing lights, the waiter returned with my order of Prime Rib and a baked potato. I cut off a piece of the meat and placed it in my mouth where it melted and tasted so good. I think I found something new that I love to eat. I am a very finicky eater so anytime I find something in my life that I like, I will always have more of it. While I was enjoying my meal, the train continued south up the Willamette Valley making the stops in Salem and Albany. When I was finished I went to the lounge car for an after dinner drink and enjoyed the surroundings of that car. The air was thick from the smokers so at Eugene I detrained for some fresh air. We lost more detraining passengers than we gained but we did pick up a high school wrestling team from Davis, California but they would be located in the car ahead of mine.

Leaving Eugene, I checked on my stuff and realized I still had an empty coach seat next me for sleeping purposes later this evening. I went upstairs into the Dome and took the forward seat. It was a clear, star filled moonlit night. About Oakridge, my car attendant came up to check on the Dome and I asked if he could turn out the lights so we could enjoy the outside world. He left and within a minute the Dome lights were out which increased the view dramatically and once we reached the snow line, the view was almost as good as in the daytime. The ride across the Cascades was incredible and the moonlight reflecting off of Odell Lake was beyond words. It was a very special train moment. I called it a night at Chemult and returned to my seat, curling up and falling asleep with the train heading south. During my slumber, the train stopped at Klamath Falls, then entered California, passed Mt Shasta, stopping at Dunsmuir, traveled down the Sacramento River Canyon, a stop in Redding then sped down the west side of the Sacramento Valley to Willows.

12/21/1980 I awoke just as the train was passing through Woodland and ten minutes later we made our stop at Davis where the train was met by the Davis Police. I learned later that some of the wrestlers had been up on the roof of the train last night and then bad mouthed the conductor hence the law authorities were called to the station. We had arrived twelve minutes early so this whole incident didn't cost us any time. Leaving Davis, this part of the Sacramento Valley was covered in a dense Valley Fog with visibility near zero. I went to the lounge car for my milk and donuts before I returned to the front seat of the Dome where I had found that someone had loosened the glass panel and it was partially open so I closed it all of the way. The Coast Starlight cut through the dense fog as we passed through Dixon, Cannon and Fairfield-Suisan City prior to the fog lifting to the east where I saw the US Navy's Mothball Fleet. We climbed the grade to the bridge over the Carquinez Straits before dropping into Martinez, our next station stop. We traveled along the shoreline twisting and turning ducking under the Interstate 80 Bridge before passing through a tunnel. We then had a great view of the San Pablo Bay and the Marin Headlands. The train passed a refinery and then the picturesque setting of Pinole before cutting across another headland to our next stop at Richmond. We continued south through Berkeley with a view of San Francisco across the bay, passing through Emeryville and into the Oakland Amtrak Station on 16th Street. With a long servicing stop, I got off and explored the station finding the elevated platforms from the old electric trains that once served the community.

Leaving Oakland on time, the train went through the West Oakland SP yards, down the street of Jack London Square before later passing the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland A's. The air conditioner then shut down and I was told that this is a common occurrence in these older Dome cars. The Dome emptied out and with my last final tomorrow in Air Photo Interpretation I used this opportunity to study and study and study. The train passed the large salt plants, the Alviso Ghost Town and Santa Clara before arriving at San Jose. Continuing south the Starlight followed the route of the El Camino Real. We passed through the Garlic Capitol of the World at Gilroy before heading through the Pajora Gap where we crossed the San Andres Fault Zone. The Gap is a passage through the Coast Range to the coast. The Starlight ran through Watsonville prior to crossing a coastal estuary before reaching Moss Landing where we turned to the southeast to start our long trek up the Salinas Valley. The temperature in the Dome was nice and toasty so I removed my shirt to enjoy the sauna. This having a sauna on the train has become a regular feature of my trips. I really concentrated and by the oil fields near San Ardo I felt as if I was ready for Dr Lee's final. The only thing I missed really looking at while I studied was miles of irrigated fields, hills with ranching, the Coast Range to the west and more mountains to the east. The Salinas Valley narrowed as we passed through Camp Roberts, Paso Robles and climbed into Santa Margarita. We curved out of town to the tunnel that allowed the train to pass under Cuesta Pass. Once out of that tunnel there were two more right away to go through as the train started it's descent. Highway 101 takes the steep and straight way to San Luis Obispo while the railroad takes the long but steep two point five percent grade on it's route. It was a great view looking down off of the mountain. The train made several horseshoe curves to reduce elevation before another tunnel was plunged through prior to the train rounding the famous Goldtree Horseshoe Curve, a tight affair where you can see both ends of the train with a slight turn of your head. We crossed the high Stenner Viaduct before passing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, our next servicing stop.

Leaving San Luis Obispo we passed the SP helper engines waiting to push a freight up over Cuesta Grade. We passed through the gap in the hills to Grover Beach and by the sand dunes at Pismo Beach. The Coast Starlight climbed a short hill that led it into the Santa Maria Valley where we crossed the Santa Maria River right before Guadalupe. We climbed the hills to Casmalia where we then followed a creek down towards the Pacific Ocean. From here the Coast Starlight would follow the coastline all the way to Ventura. We crossed the Vandenberg Air Force Base with it's missile launching complexes. Miles later we crossed the Santa Ynez River at Surf. This is the only public access to the ocean for many miles along the coast due the base. We climbed up onto the bluff for the rest of the trip across the air force base. Once off of the base, we crossed the privately owned lands used mainly for ranching. We crossed a high trestle at Jalama Beach County Park. Any place from here to Santa Barbara where you cross a major stream you will cross one of these trestles. The coastline is really rugged along here as the Coast Starlight rounded Point Conception and headed east along the Santa Barbara Channel. The Channel Islands were seen far offshore and the massive kelp beds are located just off the shore. Offshore oil wells were seen occasionally and the train runs through Gaviota, Refugio and El Capitian State Beaches before reaching Santa Barbara, our next station stop. We pulled out of Santa Barbara on time as the sun set in the western sky. We traveled under the cover of darkness to Oxnard and Glendale, before we pulled into Los Angeles Union Station right on time. I detrained from a wonderful and interesting first trip on the Coast Starlight. I went down into the station and sat in front of the gate for the San Diegan playing round after round of solitaire.

San Diegan 584 12/21/1980

I thought this would be a quick thirty six mile trip home to Santa Ana. What I got in reality was a four hour trip. We left track 8 on time and got to the end of the platform where the engine died. They tried to restart the thing but it was dead to the world. We sat and waited about forty five minutes when another engine was added to our train and this time we departed getting only as far as the 8th Street Coach Yards where our new engine died. After several more attempts to revive the sick patience it too was declared dead. We sat and waited as our engineer walked down to the roundhouse in the dark to secure a locomotive which would be capable of pulling our train and bring it back to our train placing on the point in front of the other two dead engines. We departed for Fullerton and points south two hours and twenty minutes late and after Fullerton the train lost all HEP {Head End Power}. I arrived home at Santa Ana three hours late and I watched the train pull from sight wondering what awaited it out in the night. I ended the trip getting home for five hours of sleep before going to Cal State Fullerton for a final I did not even need to take. It had been a great first trip on the Coast Starlight.

Starlight and a Barstow June 1982

I boarded a San Diegan and the Coast Starlight after graduating from Cal State Fullerton for a trip to Bothel to visit B.J. and his family. The most interesting thing about the northbound trip was meeting a young women named Helen from of all places Helendale near Barstow. I nicknamed her Barstow. We just had a casual conversation between Oakland and Martinez while I was enjoying my nightcaps. She was destined for Martinez with her mother visiting Walnut Creek. We said our goodbyes and I figured I would never see her again but I would always have a memory of her nice smile.

Following a nice visit with B.J. and family, five days later I was heading home on the Coast Starlight. After the station stop at Salinas, I was sitting in my coach seat when I saw a beautiful young women smiling so nicely at me. I said, "Barstow?" and she said, "Chris!" Her eyes lit up and she jumped into my lap. That started a make out scene that lasted for forty five minutes and was a far nicer way to spend my time going up the Salinas Valley than looking out the window at the passing countryside. When her fingers started to go walking, we went to a more private location on the train without a view but out of the public's eye. We had a very enjoyable trip the rest of the way to Los Angeles. When we detrained at Los Angeles Union Station it was like a scene out of a movie as we embraced for one final long passionate kiss while our fellow passengers all watched. When we were done, a round of clapping for us by all who had watched that event. As I watched her walk away I had been so preoccupied with Helen I failed to notice that I had stepped off of the train into a heat wave. My best solution was to take my shirt off and I felt better once having done that. My friend, Bill Compton, had come up to meet and ride back to Santa Ana with me. Helen ran back into my arms for one last kiss and off she went to board the Southwest Limited. I went to board the San Diegan with a big grin on my face but the conductor told me to put my shirt back on in order to ride the train. We made a quick trip back to Santa Ana with the thought of "Barstow" on my mind for many months to come.