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Go east, Christopher to Greeley

Another trip over Sherman Hill

by Chris Guenzler

Wanting a quick change of location for the Thanksgiving Holiday I decided two weeks beforehand to go someplace I had never gotten off of a train before and could do it within four days. After I looked through an Amtrak timetable and ruled off all the usual turn around points I looked at the Desert Wind and Pioneer schedules and wanting to ride over Sherman Hill again I picked Greeley, Colorado where I would spend Thanksgiving night. A quick call up to my brother Bruce who booked my reservation and I paid for it at Santa Ana I was ready to spend my first Thanksgiving away from home ever.

San Diegan 571 11/26/1994

Packed lightly for once and with enough liquor to get me to where I was going, I was standing on the platform at Santa Ana waiting for the northbound train to Los Angeles. I found a seat in the Amcafe on this all Amfleet train and purchased my first drink of the trip. I relaxed and watched Orange County fade into Los Angeles County and by the time I had finished my second drink, we were pulling into Union Station in Los Angeles.

Desert Wind 36 11/26/1994

I boarded the Superliner Coach and took a right hand coach seat for my trip to Salt Lake City. There has not been a Desert Wind Trip since my brother Bruce had moved from Pocatello so I was looking forward to it. The Desert Wind left Los Angeles on time and headed out of Union Station to the Los Angeles River crossing it on the way to Fullerton. I bought my first drink from the attendant in the ex High Level Dining Car. I sat back as the train ran under the 710 Freeway We made quick station work at Fullerton and I was on drink number two as we arrived at San Bernardino. Cajon Pass as full of trains but we took the short way up the 3.0 percent grade while a heavy UP coal train went down the less steep north track. We made great time to Barstow where I enjoyed a longer than normal bit of fresh air.

We left the Santa Fe at Daggett, and crossed the Mojave River before making our way through the UP Yermo Yard. Once free of yard limits, the UP had trains in almost every siding as we headed for the beauty of Afton Canyon. The colors were as beautiful as ever in the late afternoon lighting. We crossed the Devil's Playground and then viewed the Kelso Dunes to the south. We passed through Kelso and climbed Cima Hill with no delays. We entered Nevada as I was having a Steak in the dining section of the car. The sun had set as we neared the lights of Las Vegas. We paused for about thirty minutes in Las Vegas allowing me to have luck with the slots. I returned to the train and had the first drink of my supply as the train left Lost Vegas on time. We headed out into the night as I enjoyed an evening of private drinking at my seat in a nearly empty coach. By the time we reached Caliente, I called it a night and slept soundly almost to Salt Lake City.

11/27/1994 I was awakened by the conductor who told me I had five minutes to be up and ready. He told me I would find my bus to Ogden behind the Rio Grande Station. We arrived early so I had time to walk over to the park to see the Union Pacific 833 in the park near the depot. I got back to the bus in plenty of time for my bus trip up to Ogden. As I rode the bus, I still wished that the Desert Wind still ran up here like it used to when I used to go to Pocatello. We arrived with plenty of time before the Pioneer arrived from Seattle.

The Pioneer 26 11/27/1994

The Pioneer pulled into Ogden early and I took a seat in the non through coach which was empty. I had a Screwdriver in my hand as we pulled out of Ogden on time. I sat back and enjoyed the ride as the Pioneer passed through UP Riverdale Yard before starting its assault on the Wasatch Mountain. We passed through Devil Slide as I was enjoying the countryside on this mostly clear morning. At Echo I saw where the Park City Branch left the mainline. We turned to the northeast running below the brightly colored red cliffs to Emory where we climbed the north side of the canyon and crossed over the other mainline at Curvo. We reached the crest of the grade at Wasatch before we descended to our next station stop of Evanston, Wyoming. I was on my third Screwdriver as we passed through the Altamont Tunnel and then across the barren Wyoming canyons. The freight action was heavy with the dispatcher in Omaha routing us around trains headed in both directions. We reached Granger the junction to the Pacific Northwest as we ran fast and hard to Peru where we dropped down the grade to the Green River. After we crossed the lowest spot on today's ride we pulled into the Green River station which was a smoking break for the passengers of Train 26.

We left Rock Springs right on time and headed for the twin crossings of the Continental Divide. The scenery may not be much to look at through here, but the places along the railroad have great names like Point of Rocks, Bitter Creek and Red Desert. We had no delays crossing the basin from where no water leaves on our way to Rawlins which we arrived early so it was another fresh air break. I was drinking my own brew now as we left Rawlins for Laramie. We passed the Sinclair Refinery as we sped eastward down the tracks. Near Hanna there was a bunch of empty coal trains waiting to get onto the branch there. We switched tracks at Medicine Bow to avoid the westbound fleet of nine trains we met until short of Laramie where we crossed back over to be able to use the platform at the station there for another fresh air break of twenty minutes.

Now I was ready for the climb over Sherman Hill. We ran via Colores to Hermosa where we plunged into the Hermosa Tunnel. We passed through Dale before cresting the grade at Sherman. We passed the ballast pits at Burford as we made our way down the eastern flank of Sherman Hill to our stop at Borie for those passengers being taken by bus to Cheyenne. We ran down the Borie Cutoff to Speer before we left the UP transcontinental line and descended the hills into Colorado. We made a quick trip of the miles through Nunn and Ault and arrived at Greeley right on time. I walked over to the hotel, found a liquor store that was open, called home wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving before going out to dinner and having a sirloin steak wrapped in bacon. I returned to my hotel room for a night of drinking before I called it a night.

11/28/1994 The next morning after a good hearty breakfast, I watched some television before checking out and going to the station to wait. Train time came and went so after a while I called Amtrak and found out the train was running forty-five minutes late out of Denver. I waited patiently and about thirty-five minutes later the train came into view.

The Pioneer 25 11/28/1994

I boarded the same car as yesterday and after my ticket was taken I was off to the lounge car for a Screwdriver. We headed north into Wyoming and at Borie the passengers boarding were battling a strong northwest wind. I knew they were glad to be on this nice warm train. We climbed Sherman Hill and I totally enjoyed the crossing of this historical route.

I wondered when I would get the chance to ride over the Sherman Hill on the new line. We arrived in Laramie ten minutes early having made up all of the lateness of the morning. I drank my way across Wyoming and at Rawlins met a couple who were going to Las Vegas. We talked and became friends with then buying me drinks. It seemed as if it took no time to get to Green River as we were having a great time. We had the early seating for dinner and I enjoyed another steak dinner along with ice cream. Dinner and the sunset took us to Evanston and we laughed all the way down the Wasatch Mountains. We arrived in Ogden half an hour early and the bus driver insisted that we leave for Salt Lake City right that minute. The Amtrak agent told him not to worry as the westbound California Zephyr would not be arriving into Salt Lake City until about three-thirty in the morning. He laughed and said, "I will make them wait longer if I get them there faster." We drove down to Salt Lake at some record speed and arrived there thirty minutes before we were scheduled to arrive with the driver laughing as we got off.

Salt Lake City 11/28-11/29/1994

To kill time the three of us played cards on the depot floor surrounded by locals waiting for the train sitting on all of the benches. After about two hours, the roach coach pulled up outside and they said, "Chris, go buy some Orange Juice and ask for some cups as we have Vodka to share with you if you do!" So I got up and went outside to buy enough OJ to kill the rest of our wait. I went back inside and we sat on the floor playing cards and drinking Screwdrivers. From the looks we were getting from the locals I would say we were going to be sent straight to hell. I went to the bathroom and a woman stopped me to tell me that I was sinning and I would be sent to hell for doing what I was doing. I said, "Are you not to judge others and only judge yourself!" She asked," How did you know that?" I said, "I know quite a lot but I would never judge you!" She smiled and told me, "God loves you just as you are!" I made it to the bathroom and returned to the looks and stares from all but one as we all waited for our trains in all of our different ways.

The Desert Wind 36 11/29/1994

The train was due now at four thirty but they finally let all the Desert Wind passengers board the cars that sat there all day about three forty-five. I boarded, the conductor took my ticket and I went to sleep. The California Zephyr finally pulled in at four-fifteen and I slept through all of the switching to make our train. I woke up at five-thirty as the Great Salt Lake was fading from view. Twilight had grasped that morning and it would be a daylight ride all the way back to Los Angeles. This will mean I will have ridden every mile of the Desert Winds route in light good enough to see. I learned that the CZ was caught by a mud slide east of Glenwood Canyon and had to wait for the tracks to get cleared. We made our way south passing Freight trains in about every third siding. I had breakfast as the train ran through Lynndyl and started drinking Screwdrivers by Black Rock as we crossed the barren valley. We stopped in Milford to change crews before the high desert turned to trees as we neared Zane. We ran on the line relocation at Crestline before starting the descent toward Caliente. We went into the siding at Islen for a double stack train and again at Islen for an empty coal train. A couple people boarded at Caliente before we traveled down Rainbow Canyon going around a westbound coal train at Boyd and waiting for a freight at Elgin. We ran down the Meadow Valley Wash with no further delays and passed the Farmer John Hog Train at Dry Lake. We met an eastbound piggyback train at Apex and made our way around freights at Dike and Wann before finally reaching Las Vegas at eleven fifteen. I ran inside to the liquor store to replenish my supply and said goodbye to the couple from last night wishing them well.

We left Las Vegas at eleven-thirty and headed west towards California. The Union Pacific had everything now out of our way as we climbed Cima Hill and then descended to Kelso. We went into the siding at Crucero for a stack train before we ran through Afton Canyon. We slide through Yermo and the Santa Fe took us with no delay at Daggett. We slipped into Barstow then made one of the quickest trips over Cajon Pass ever.

We were gaining time on our lateness and I was looking at the San Diegan schedule as we left San Bernardino for a possible connection at Fullerton to get me home. I would have fifteen minutes to wait if nothing else would happen. We escape delay at Colton Crossing at the San Bernardino Sub which was void of trains so we arrived at Fullerton with twenty minutes to spare. I took the next southbound train to Santa Ana ending a very fun but interesting trip on Amtrak.