I boarded the Chateau Vercheres Via 8224 and found my room 6 was a lower roommate. I started to store my bags on the armrest when my memory kicked in from the last time I rode in one of these cars, "Store your bags under where the bed comes out of the wall in front of you!" my mind said. With me doing just that I was quickly set. I made the bed up after the attendant took my ticket and settled in for a night of off and on sleep. We left Churchill a mere few minutes late and the sleeping car really rocked and rolled for a while as the train headed south on a star filled night on its way towards Winnipeg.
12/19/1999 The next morning, I woke up wondering where we were and just a few minutes after 8:00 am we pulled into Gillam. Now I would get to see the whole Thicket Subdivision in daylight. I had a nice pancakes and bacon breakfast as the Hudson Bay traveled through Nonsuch which is the name of a ship I was told. Outside it was a cold gray storming snowy nasty day with a good freezing breezing wind blowing, a good day to be on a nice warm train in a sleeping car with peace and quiet unlike somewhere else I rode on the train coming up. I sat back in my room listening to music watching the snowy countryside pass by. At Thompson Jct. I shot a picture of our train curving off the mainline and of a freight train curving off the other leg of the wye heading south. I continued to relax the 30 miles into Thompson until we started to go around the wye, I went to the rear vestibule and shot a picture of our train as it pulled forward off the one leg of the wye. The train backed the rest of the way into Thompson dropping off three piggyback cars before going the rest of the way into the station.
At Thompson as I was getting off, there was a man who was going to take a taxi cab in search of some liquor. His plan was either to get back on the train here or take the taxi to Wabowden and catch the train there. The things that some people do for a drink. It was like something I use to do for a drink. I would have given him some money to get me my next bottle. Just think how much money that I saved by not drinking! This sober Chris heads out into the five inches of new snow from the last time I was here and photograph both ends of the train. I waited for a coach door to open up as Via is once more cleaning the train. I reboarded and walked through the train feeling really proud of what I have accomplished, 1796 days of sobriety. The guy who was going to get his demon liquor decided not to do that and we left Thompson at 1:20 PM, a hour and twenty minutes late with me not even caring.
We re-tracked our way back to Thompson Jct and curved back onto the Thicket Subdivision after we stopped to have the snow swept away from the switch points. The joy of winter railroading. With the wind blowing like it is this could have accounted for some of our delays last night. My tape player decided to give up the ghost so there will be no more music until I get to the Radio Shack in the Portage Mall in Winnipeg. With the rest in the room yesterday and the sleeper on the Hudson Bay, I will have five days of rest before my next overnight trip on the Canadian to Jasper. My sleeper is so peaceful and quiet that after Thicket Portage, I decided to walk through the coaches and I am glad that I am out of that war zone. The car has been trashed totally by the locals. The Via Crew is about to start cleaning it up as I started to walk back to my room. I started to think about next summer's trip. Options, options and more options but in time I will put it all together.
Darkness has again started another long night as I played a few word fill in puzzles before going to the Dining Car at 5:30 PM for a repeat of the Grilled Pork Chop dinner, which again was excellent. After a great meal what would go with it better than a nice shower. The shower was free so I decided to use it. The shower on Via Trains are like the one at home. The overhead shower head puts the water on top of you unlike Amtrak's hand held models. VIA gives you a variety of shampoo and lotions to use. As I took this shower it was so good that I forgot that I was riding on a train, that's how good my shower was. Via has a true winner on this train with great food and an excellent shower. I returned to my room for a little more reading and word fill in puzzles before we arrived at The Pas. I pulled out my bed and went to sleep one last night on the Chateau Vercheres.
12/20/1999 I slept late as I had checked for the Northern Lights off and on again with my now famous same results. You can not always get what you want! I had my usual breakfast as we pulled back onto the Canadian National mainline at Portage de Prairie. The sun came up through some mid level clouds that gave the illusion of three suns rising. Now that would be an interesting solar system to live in. It's another clear and very cold day out as we approached Winnipeg. I must say that it had been an amazing trip both to Lynn Lake and Churchill. I learned and saw how man has adapted to life in the Tiaga and Tundra environments. I lived and adjusted to it very well thanks to my good planning and the right selection of clothes. I met so many special people and had so many wonderful experiences. Our female chef stopped by my room for a few minutes and shared some knowledge of Winnipeg with me. This dream trip was completed in a few more miles with a 9:00 AM arrival in Winnipeg after we stopped for fifteen minutes due to a frozen switch. For once in my train riding career, I am ready for a three day and two night stay off of a train in Winnipeg. The chefs last duty of the trip was to sweep off the snow from the vestibule stairs so I could detrain safely proving that Via gives excellent service to the passenger right to the end of their trip.Winnipeg 2 12/20/1999
This time there is no one to stop me from taking a picture on the platform of the Hudson Bay train so I did it and realized just how hard the wind was blowing. I made my way into the warmth of the Winnipeg Depot before I walked outside onto the frozen streets of the city. I walked by the Fort Garry Hotel to Smith Street and then east to the St Regis Hotel. My room wasn't ready as it was still only mid morning so I did my laundry and dried it in a machine that seemed to take forever but since I had nothing but time to kill it did not even bother me. I stored my luggage and went to Radio Shack to replace the tape player. By the time I had returned to the hotel, my room was ready so I watched a little TV before I took a nice long bath. I walked to the Eton Place for dinner before I watched some more of the Tele. Later I walked two blocks in the -25 degree C air to a theater and saw "End of Days" in the smallest theater that I have ever been in. Following an interesting movie I walked back to the hotel on a very frigid night and slept soundly all the way through the night.
12/21/1999 My day started with breakfast in the hotel's cafe where I read in the paper about BNSF and CN plans to merger. I dropped some post cards off at the post office before I walked to the Children's Museum to take a picture of a CN F-unit on display there. I walked along the Red River before I ducked into a store to get out of the -25 degree C air. Back at the hotel, I watched TV throughout the afternoon. Before dinner I rented Lost in Space and Rush Hour to watch later that evening. I went to The Keg for an excellent steak dinner along with a Keg Sundae. I visited the Fort Garry Hotel before I walked across the street to the Via Depot where I met Daryl O'Dain who gave me a tour of the Winnipeg Railway Museum on tracks 1and 2 of the station. They have a nice collection something every rail enthusiast should see. I return to my room, watched the movies, called Solana Beach and wished Karen a Merry Christmas then turned in for the night.
12/22/1999 I awoke on my last rest day in Winnipeg still full from last night's dinner. I had arranged a 3:00 PM checkout so I lounged around the room, watched TV and took a long hot bath before I checked out and walked back to the Via Station on a -13 degree C afternoon not even feeling cold. I stopped off at the post office for stamps for my 1800 day of sobriety tomorrow in Jasper. I set my luggage to be first in line to board the train, had a smoke dog from the station cafe and waited for my late westbound Canadian to arrive.Via 1 The Canadian 12/22/1999
The Canadian finally arrived at 7:02 pm and following a forty minutes servicing stop for fueling and cleaning they let the Silver and Blue sleeping car passengers board, then families with small children followed by the rest of us. Being first in line gave me a choice of seats and I took a right hand side full window seat I was joined by a delightful lady whose main hobby was riding roller coasters. Anytime in the future when I hear the Jethro Tull song Big Dipper I will think of her. She was going home to Melville, SA for Christmas with her family. She liked Monty Python and we spent a wonderful evening together up in the Dome waiting for the last and largest full moon to show its face. The moon was spectacular and we returned to our seat for some shut eye. Right before Melville, we said our goodbyes along with Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. At Melville my next seatmate arrived, a gentleman going to Viking to see his ex wife, kids and grandchildren. I twisted and turned by him with the saving grace of a hotel room in Jasper on day 1800 which it now is.12/23/1999
I have my usual breakfast this time in the Skyline Car as we are now a peak consist Canadian. My table mate is an ex Burlington Northern employee on a Canrail Pass who I met in Winnipeg while we both waited for the train. Having a good breakfast always starts the day of train riding off right. At Wainwright, AL I shot the train and the moon which was the last full moon of the century plus at its closest point to the earth in its orbit making it appear to be 10% larger. It is also the first full moon in 120 years to fall on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. I shot a picture of the end of the train against the sunrise out of the dome on the large bridge west of town. I enjoyed music the rest of the way into Edmonton our next servicing stop where I detrained for a picture in air above zero degree C which felt so warm. We departed Edmonton at 11:27 am, an hour twenty minutes late.
I had lunch in the coffee shop of the Skyline of Beef a la Jus (French Dip) as the train crossed a landscape devoid of snow. Since I had extensively photographed this line back in August, today I mainly listened to music and watched the Alberta landscape pass by the window. The two high bridges east of Hinton were crossed with both of their streams in ice waiting for the spring thaw. As I looked out at the landscape, I wondered at which milepost the landscape would return to a full winter scene with no patches of brown. Well on this trip it happened at milepost 167, six miles east of Hargwen, but when we returned out into the sunlight the brown returned. As we closed in on Hinton, I marveled at what a difference of nine days made, with the sub freezing temperatures of Manitoba to the slightly above zero degree C here in Alberta that the warmth of the sun has melted the snow here. I am amazed.
We left Hinton with me having just one more stop to go on this train. The Canadian crossed the high bridge right outside of town and entered Jasper National Park and would follow the Athabasca River all the way to the town of Jasper. At Entrance we took the siding for the first time today to let a CN freight pass by. I have been really impressed with the CN dispatchers on this trip as they have kept us moving across their railroad with a minimal delay. As we neared Jasper, our engineer had to lay on the horn repeatedly to get the Elk, Moose, Deer and Big Horn Sheep to move off of the tracks and out of our way. His great skill resulted in not a single animal being harmed. We arrived in Jasper where I detrained for the night an hour and twenty minutes late.Jasper 2 12/23/1999
I walked to my hotel stopping for film along the way before checking into the Astoria Hotel. After leaving the bags in the room, I went out and bought 15 post cards for Day 1800. I walked to the Kentucky Fried Chicken where I learned that Canadians do not eat mashed potatoes and gravy but chips. The Colonel is probably rolling in his grave at that one. They love their French fries. I guess it was because of their English Heritage of Fish and Chips. I guess that was just another of the small differences between Canadians and Americans. I returned to the hotel for an episode of WKRP n Cincinnati and Wheel of Fortune on the Tele as I filled out the post cards. I mailed them on the way to the smallest theater that I probably see a movie in my life in, that movie being Toy Story 2. I went to bed thinking what a great day 1800 it had been.
12/24/1999 The next morning, Day 1801, also was Christmas Eve and it started with me sleeping late before I had a full filling breakfast in the hotel's coffee shop. I took a long walk and ended up at the west end of the yard for some picture taking. It was a beautiful clear day. I returned to the room for a great shower, more WKRP with a Christmas Episode throw in before I checked out and walked back to the Via Station to wait the departure of my next train.Via 5 The Skeena 12/24/1999
I shot a picture of my two car train, a lone coach and a Park Car the Assinibone Park which is a sleeper buffet lounge dome observation car. I boarded the coach, had my ticket taken before I was off to the Dome just as the Skeena departed Jasper on time. Unlike the Skyline's Dome that has table seating at the forward end of the dome, the Park Car's Dome is all forward facing seats. I took a right hand forward seat, hoping that Mt. Robson would be visible today. The train headed up Yellowhead Pass on a beautiful clear winter December day.
At Tete Juane Cache, the Skeena rolled onto the rails of the Fraser Subdivision of the CN for the rest of our trip to Prince George. This is dark territory just like the Lynn Lake and Churchill lines were. The railroad entered the Rocky Mountain Trench, a valley with the Canadian Rockies to the north and the Cariboo Mountains to the south with the Fraser River and the railroad running in the bottom between both ranges. The mountains are absolutely beautiful adding to my first snow covered Christmas Eve of my life.
Passing through Dunster, I spied the combine post office/general store in one building, an oddity for Canada so I was told. We crossed the Raush River on a bridge that was the second largest on the Skeena's route and later the curved Eddy Bridge before we arrived in McBride, BC where I detrained for a quick picture of my train. Eighteen miles west of town, the Skeena passed through the only tunnel on the Fraser Sub as we continued to follow the Fraser River northwest. The peaks were in an almost silvery sunlight and were awe inspiring especially Mt Rider. This area reminded me of the views that I had on the Alaska Railroad when I rode it. We managed to avoid hitting the moose who had become active nearing dark. As the sunlight left the peaks the clouds in the sky to the southwest turned an amazing reddish tone which I caught on film before the long night took hold.
I went downstairs for a hot dog for dinner and later again to ask if the Dome Light could be turned off for better viewing. The response was "No problem!" and by the time that I was comfortably seated, the dome became dark and great night time viewing could take place. Listening to the Eagle's Take it to the Limit now has a special memory in my heart. There was no other experience like riding a darken Dome where the only light that is seen is the locomotive's headlight and the stars above overhead in the night.
We passed through Crescent Spur, Loos and Dome Creek before we paused at Penny. Once on the move again, out in the middle of nowhere there is a block signal that went from yellow to green and about a mile another one at the bridge where we crossed the Fraser River on the Hansard Bridge. This bridge is a joint railroad/highway crossing of the Fraser River. When a train has a green signal, crossing gates go down and the train crosses. When the highway gates are up that means there are no trains and cars can cross. It was truly one of the most unusual uses of a bridge that I have come across in my travels. The train passed through the brightly lit sawmills of Upper Fraser before we crossed the Fraser River one last time and pulled into the Prince George Via Station twenty-five minutes early. All in all a great day of train riding and the joy of knowing that I will be back in the Dome of the Assinibone Park tomorrow Christmas Day 1999.Prince George 1 12/24/1999
I walked the five blocks from the depot to the Downtown Hotel where I found the door was locked with a sign saying the person went home for Christmas Dinner and would be back at 8:00 PM. Since there was nothing I could do about it and thankful for the warmer temperatures of this Christmas Eve, I planted myself by the door under the hotel's car port and waited using my time to write about today's trip. It was funny that just as I was getting up to walk around, the manager showed up saying "I do not know what time the train gets in!" and I told her that we were twenty five minutes early. She apologizes and gets me a room with a 6:45 AM wake up call. I slept soundly after a phone call home.
12/25/1999 In the morning I walked back to the Via Station to continue my journey on the Skeena.Via 5 The Skeena 12/25/1999
Since its Christmas Day I must confess that this whole trip is a Christmas present to myself. It was my first Christmas ever away from home and my first White Christmas of my life so now I know what all the fuss is about. As I stand on the icy platform waiting for the train to back in, I think about the fact that this is my fifth sober Christmas and what a waste all of those other Christmas were. To quote Tull, "The Christmas spirit is not what you drink!" I am totally grateful to God for my sobriety and thankful for every sober day of my life and that includes today, Day 1802 Christmas Day 1999.
We left Prince George a few minutes late and I went straight to the observation area turned a chair facing the rear window and enjoyed a cup of tea along with the rear view for the next hour as twilight ended. I finished the last of those chocolate chip cookies that I had bought in Jasper going east. The ride bought back memories from my first Trans-Canada trip when on the return west due to a CN derailment near Sioux Lookout, the Canadian was rerouted from Long Lac Jct to Winnipeg via Thunder Bay on the CP Rail and I sat in the same way from Kenora to Winnipeg. I listened to Blackmore's Night as the train started its climb from the Fraser River Valley along the Nechako River for ninety miles to the divide near Houston and then down the Skeena River's drainage to the coast.
The Skeena's first stop of its continuing adventure to Prince Rupert is at Vanderhoof, BC where a family I met on the train was going but via a car from Prince George. They are there waving at me and the train as we left town. The train proceeded west through Fort Fraser than along frozen Fraser Lake as the train is crossing the Nechako Plateau as far as Houston. We played hop scotch with the Endako River crossing it eight times before Burns Lake. Since Vanderhoof I have been sitting up in the Dome and our F-40PH locomotive is spitting up oil anytime that it's run above run 8 so the Dome windows are being dotted with oil. Outside the train in a field a farmer is rolling out the hay for his cows so I guess there is someone else working on Christmas Day besides Via as the Canadian National has shut down this piece of their railroad for the holiday. The Skeena passed Burns, Decker and Rose Lakes before it left the path of the Endako River, crossing over the watershed divide and followed the Buckley River west crossing it eleven times. The train stopped in Houston which has the World's Largest Fly-Fishing Reel in a park viewable from the station stop. Off to the west is the beautiful Eagle Peak while the train runs northwest towards Hudson Bay mountain and Smithers our engine crew change point and refueling stop for the Skeena which gave the passengers a stop for fresh air and pictures which I took advantage of.
Leaving Smithers the two glaciers Kathlyn and Twin Peaks came into view. The sun was behind the train brightly lighting up the scenery into an unbelievable post card scene. Blunt Mountain dominates the north as the Skeena passed through Moricetown. The tracks run along the side of the mountain crossing Boulder, Porphyry (curved bridge) and Mudflat Creeks all on high trestles as the Buckley River loses elevation far below in the valley to the right. The Skeena passed Buckley Canyon siding before entering the canyon with the same name. The train runs through three tunnels here with the first one 2069 feet in length which is the longest on the Skeena's route. The train stopped in New Hazelton for a moment before it turned towards the southwest in its journey to Prince Rupert.
The Skeena crossed over the Seely Gulch Bridge 200 feet above the stream then came to a sudden stop just short of a snow filled cut. Our engineer got out and starts looking at one of the axles of our locomotive. The Hot Axle Alarm must have gone off and since he must work under the train, he turned off the Head End Power. I sat and patiently waited meeting Mark from Terrace who for the next hour had conversations with me about railroading, political topics, medical plans, British Columbia and the local area. While all that was going on, our train manager contacted the Canadian National who had to get someone away from their Christmas Dinner before he could call Via to get permission to move the train. As the sun finally sets, we got moving again with the Seven Sister Peaks silhouetted against the brilliant backdrop of the sky. The train crossed over the Skeena River on a long bridge with the village of Gitseqilka all lit up. It was another evening of the headlight view from the darkened Dome. The Kitselas Canyon with its four short tunnels was even impressive in the dark. The train dropped off all but three of its passengers at Terrace where I bought a Totem Class Polo Shirt to remember my journey by. Totem Class is the first class service on this train in the Summer Months. It is a reserved seat with breakfast, lunch and dinner plus access to the Dome Car. Since I am riding off season, I got the best of it all, the seat in the dome.
I got asked if I would like to have a turkey dinner from the lounge attendant. The engineer's wives had prepared them dinner and made extra for everyone left on the train since they knew that nothing would be open in Prince Rupert when we would get there. I sat at a table in the lounge area and while I waited wrote the tales of today's trip down. I had a large plate of turkey with gravy, a dinner roll and a can of Coca Cola. It was an excellent Christmas Dinner on the first White Christmas of my life. I thanked everyone involved with my meal and wished our engineer Merry Christmas over the radio. It was a Christmas that I will never forget. I returned to the Dome for the rest of the trip to Prince Rupert. Looking out into the darkness I wondered what I will behold on my return on the train in the light of day tomorrow. As the Skeena passed the industrial shoreline of Prince Rupert, the Dome lights were turned back on and I went to sit in the beaver tail section of the car as the train is wyed in the CN yard prior to our on time arrival into Prince Rupert. Our lengthy delay was all made up due to the lack of freight trains on Christmas Day.Prince Rupert 12/25/1999
As we pulled into town a CN yard worker told me of a BC Rail strike that might be taking place, so as I dragged my bags up the hill to the Crest Hotel in a very heavy mist with a strong smell of salt in the ocean air. I started to think of my options of getting back to Vancouver if the strike was true. I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the top of the hill. I checked in and received a harbor side room which would have been nice if my stay was not all under the cover of the night. I called home, showered and tried to sleep but I had so many ideas racing through my head that I could not sleep. I got up and looked at the Via Timetable which showed that Train 6 got into Jasper twenty minutes after Train 1 left for Vancouver. If only Train 1 could be an hour late like it always is when I ride it through. I prayed to the Lord putting it all in his hands and asked for rest which I received as a solid eight hours of sleep. Deep inside my mind I knew that everything works out if you let it.
12/26/1999 I woke up, showered and packed before I checked out. I had a very easy time with the hill on this foggy morning and at the Via Station I discussed options with the agent. I could take the Skeena tomorrow towards Jasper. If Train 1 was on time I would get off at Tete Jaune and take a taxi ten miles to Valemont where I would board the Canadian to Vancouver. Good news is that I would get more rail miles and save a hotel night's charge in Vancouver. The bad news was no BC Rail, no reclaiming it for my sobriety and no RDC ride. At this point only God knew. I walked outside around the CN Depot from Kwinitsa which is on display here and looked at the statue of a whale with its baby laying across its tail. Returning to the station, I boarded the eastbound Skeena for Prince George.Via 6 The Skeena 12/26/1999
The train left Prince Rupert on time still in the darkness of the long winter night and passed the Ferry Docks where all the cruise ships dock on their journeys along the Inside Passage. The train passed Ridley Island where coal and grain trains empty their cargo for ocean bound voyages to Pacific Rim Countries. Smith Island came into my twilight view as we ran along the Chatham Sound in an area called Telegraph Pass before we began running along the Skeena River up what I would call a fjord. Skeena means "Water of the Clouds" from native Tsimshaind or "River of the Mists" from the native Gitksan.
The Coast Range peaks play hide and seek with the low clouds of this morning. We ran along the water's edge Tyee siding where the highway cuts between the water and the tracks with the mountains right outside the train's windows. The train passed through Kwinitsa where that depot in Prince Rupert came from. There are many waterfalls along the cliffs until the Pacific tidal zone and the river narrows as the Skeena goes from an inlet stage into a river stage of development. At this point I would like to say that this is the most beautiful train ride along an inlet in all of North America. It has the best of Anderson and Seton Lakes on BC Rail and of Knik Arm on the Alaska Railroad. It was a run that every train rider should make and be amazed by. Via's Skeena is one of the best train rides in North America.
The Skeena passed through the lone tunnel on the CN Skeena Subdivision before it lived up to its name as we traveled thought the mists at Exstew siding. With all the clear days that I have had on this trip this is a nice change as I enjoy all types of weather when I travel. The sun made an appearance after we left Terrace with the coach filling up about three quarters full. The Kitmat Branch leaves the mainline in Terrace for its namesake city. A few minutes out of Terrace, the Skeena entered Kitselas Canyon with its four tunnels. From the observation area of the Park Car, you can see through the last one then the tracks made a little curve and after passing through the other three, you can look back and see through all three. It's pretty neat. Later, the Seven Sisters made a brief appearance with five of the Sisters exposed out of the clouds. At Kitwanga I saw the Totem Poles the town has displayed in a park with another one by the station building which had been graffitied. A few minutes later we passed by Gitsegukla across the river before the train stopped on the Skeena River Bridge giving everyone abroad a great view of the train's only crossing of its namesake river. A little after noon, the train stopped on the Seely Bridge for another viewing period after which it passed through New Hazelton and entered Buckley Canyon. We retraced the route of yesterday through the tunnels then crossing the bridges to Moricetown followed by another tunnel and straight out onto a bridge.
Hudson Bay Mountain escaped the clouds long enough for a single picture before we arrived in Smithers. I called BC Rail and the strike was on with an offer of a twelve hour bus ride to North Vancouver. I told them of my disappointment and that I would give Via my business for the rest of the trip. The BC Rail would be in my future plans sometime.
The Skeena continued its trek east and soon we arrived in Houston where I took a picture of that Fly-Fishing Rod. A thought then occurred to me, why not take a bus directly to Vancouver from Prince George. It was a realistic option and the cost should be within my budget. It would give me almost two days in Vancouver. I did a ten hour bus ride being bussed from Tucson to Los Angeles off of the Sunset Limited due to a freight train derailment near Yuma and I survived that. That's an option that might work. As we retraced our route back to Prince George we passed the frozen Rose and Burns Lakes in the last light of the afternoon. The sun set with a magnificent pinkish sky before the Skeena waited on time at Endako. More options were given to me. "Why do not you take the bus to Jasper and catch the Canadian there for Vancouver!" Ok, let's see what time the bus runs tomorrow when we get in. A woman suggests, "Take West Jet, they are having an $88c sale one way to Vancouver!" Now that would mean no changing hotel plans, getting a full night sleep and being in Vancouver in two hours. So many choices. Which one will I choose?
Back to railroading reality. We have been moving so well all day only passing one freight way back at Andimaul on the Bulkley Sub this morning, that we got stabbed by a slow moving drag freight at Encombe which caused our fast moving Skeena to cool her wheels for ten minutes. After it passed, I returned to the rear and watched the signals fade in the distance for the rest of my trip to Prince George. I said my goodbyes to my crew of the last three days of Lorne Luster, the senior service attendant and Van Johnson our service manager, thanking them both for a great three days on the Skeena and sorry that it could not be four. I detrained off the on time Skeena ready to make a decision on how to get back to Vancouver. Even with all the problems that the BC Rail strike is causing me, I take the time to think that I would do the Skeena again in a heartbeat. What a fantastic train ride it was.Prince George 12/26/1999
Inside the Via Station I called Greyhound and for $48.69c they could get me to Jasper on a 7:15 am bus out of Prince George. Jill the Via Agent sold me two more extra days on my Canrail Pass for $66.64c. It was wise of me only to use the pass for ten days keeping the extra two I could buy in case of an emergency such as this. I would recommend that everyone keeps at least two days in reserve because you never know what can happen to you. Look what happened to me. I called the Day's Inn toll free number and they could not cancel my reservation in Vancouver. I taxied to the Downtown Hotel, went to the Keg Steakhouse a block away, called home to my mother who would call the Day's Inn direct for me and returned Christina's phone call. She is my good train riding friend that commutes home four nights a week from Solana Beach to San Juan Capistrano on the San Diegan. I had a decent steak dinner as the portions were a lot smaller than in Winnipeg and returned to the hotel for a good night's rest.
12/27/1999 I woke up at 5:45 AM, watched all the sport scores, Rocky and Bullwinkle and CNN prior to the taxi taking me to the bus station. I bought my ticket to Jasper and waited to board the bus. Why could not the rail connection be better in Jasper? I should be on a train to Jasper not a bus but if all the ifs and buts came true, Christmas would be early this year. I am thankful that there is a bus taking me to a train, Thank God!Greyhound of Canada 12/27/1999
At least this is a bus in Canada and not the states as everyone is friendly not the usual bus crowd. We left Prince George on time and headed east on the Yellowhead Highway passing the Via Depot with the Skeena out front and the road to the airport both options which I passed on. A mere forty minutes out of Prince George we made what the driver called a drink stop or a better term a smoker's stop. When I came out of the store I noticed that there was an express trailer being pulled by the bus. I grabbed my camera for a picture of something other than Amtrak hauling express and of the bus for historical purposes.
The sunrise was getting interesting so I shot a couple of pictures of it out of the front of the bus as we were motoring down the highway. Music and the puzzles along with the scenery filled my time and near McBride the railroad came into view. We stopped in McBride for fifteen minutes which was long enough for a picture of the train station and a trip to the store for donuts along with chocolate milk for breakfast. We continued our merry way east before we made a side trip south to Valemont a stop on this bus route and where I would have ended up doing the Skeena/taxi plan. The bus then made its way over Yellowhead Pass with no chance of seeing Mt. Robson as it was buried under the clouds before we made our way down the east side under clear skies to Jasper which we arrived at ten minutes early. All in all, not a bad bus ride but seeing the tracks along the way had me thinking that I should be on them and not the highway.
Well, everything works out if you let it!Jasper 3 The Unexpected Visit 12/27/1999
To say that I was glad to be back in Jasper for the third time on this trip would be an understatement. Who would not want to keep coming back to one of the most beautiful spots in the Canadian Rockies? I locked my bags in a two dollar coin locker and then called home to make sure that the Vancouver hotel room for tonight was canceled. The 800 number that they gave me was the wrong number but my mother being the smart lady she is went into my room, found the Vancouver Hotel Guide I left out and used that number to take care of things. My mother is one of the most resourceful people that I know and that must be where I got my resourcefulness from. I bought the now usual post card and mailed it before I went rock shopping for Mrs. Angle. I had lunch at the A&W since there are no A&W's in Orange County where I reside. It was a nice comfortable winter day with me having my jacket unzipped due to how warm it feels. I walked over by the grade crossing hoping for a train when from the trees I hear a snort and I looked over in the direction that the sound came from and in the shadows of the nearby trees I see a herd of Elk contently sitting in the shade. I took a few pictures but kept my distance as these are very wild animals. A CN freight showed up and after it cleared the crossing I walked back to the station where I got my bags back, repacked then for customs tomorrow and waited for the westbound Canadian, the final Via train on this Canrail Pass.VIA 1 Again The Canadian 12/27/1999
I was boarded early onto the Canadian and took a left-hand side window seat that would take me to Vancouver and Amtrak. Today has taken a lot out of me and I did not feel that well so I pulled my blanket on and napped while the train was being serviced. The cleaning crew cleaned in a quiet manner and they added three sleepers onto our consist. I awoke when I heard a train coming and it was the Skeena. I spotted Lorne in the Park Car who waved and exchanged greetings from a distance and Van at the rear door who did the same thing. They were on their way to wye the Skeena and then would pull in behind us. With them seeing me they knew that I had made the Canadian as we all had hoped. It is nice having friends look out for you when you are so far from home.
We left Jasper twenty minutes late and something told me to pay good attention to our routing. I went back two cars to the Skyline Car and had a Grilled Pork Chops dinner once more in the coffee shop under the Dome. While I was eating, the Canadian took the Robson Sub the same way the Skeena goes to Taverna where it stayed on the Robson Sub to Charles where it returned to the Albreda Sub and its usual routing. In simpler terms, we went the lower grade routing which was first for me and new mileage as well. Maybe there was a reason why God wanted me on this train and BC Rail on strike! With that little bit of new trackage I feel so much better and happy about everything. That great meal could have helped too.
I met a guy from my eastbound trip and we talked about where we had each been along with all that we had seen. He went east to Ottawa so he gets the furthest east award. I won the furthest north and west awards plus the bonus cold temperature prize with that -42 degree C in Lynn Lake. He really enjoyed his trip and we all know that I enjoyed mine. Now if we only could have seen the Northern Lights in full force. One last thought here. If BC Rail was not on strike I would never had gotten to see him or gotten to hear about his trip. Makes you really wonder about it? We made a lengthy stop in Valemont and after Pyramid Falls I turned in sleeping next to an ex CN conductor going to Kamloops. I always wanted to be on a twelve hour late Canadian to see the countryside to Kamloops and beyond in daylight. I guess that was what the Rocky Mountaineer is for and someday soon I will take that trip to Calgary. I twisted and turned to Kamloops where forty people left my car and I got a set of seats to myself the rest of the way to Vancouver. By the way, this was the first time that I have ever been awake in Kamloops on the Canadian. I stretched out across the two seats and fell into a deep sleep for the rest of the night.
12/28/1999 I awoke to the east of Matsqui and had my usual breakfast, the last one on Via of the trip. I enjoyed the rest of the ride from the Dome into Vancouver. We curved off the CN main line onto the CP Rail Mission Sub which took the Canadian across the Fraser River to Mission City where we waited for a West Coast Express commuter train to head west. Once he had cleared, we headed west down the CP Rail Cascade Subdivision to Port Coquitlam where we made a brief station stop. I thought back to yesterday morning and being in that taxi cab going to the bus station and what a difference twenty-four hours can make in your life! On the move once more, we headed west to MacAuly where we curved onto CP's Westminster Sub which we took to Sapperton where we were lined onto the BNSF New Westminster Sub for the rest of the way to Vancouver. The Canadian was wyed prior to our on time arrival at the Pacific Central Station in Vancouver on the very tracks that we had departed from to start this whole Canrail Pass Trip in December to also end it all on those same tracks.
Fifteen days of great memories and many new friends. My lowest temperature ever, great mixed train rides to and from Lynn Lake, the show of my great patience on the Hudson Bay in coach and my wonderful fore thought with that sleeper coming back. Great train rides on the Canadian with the meteor shower going east and the last full moon of the century going west. Clear weather in the Rockies with Mt Robson being cloud free, what a sight! The most special Skeena with its magnificent views from its Dome along with the unexpected Canadian to end the trip. The dining cars on both the Canadian and Hudson Bay trains with all their wonderful meals. The Skyline Domes on the Canadian and the Park Car Dome on the Skeena. Add in the ex CN Combine and the cab ride on the Lynn Lake Train, all this proves just how special Via truly is in the creation of life long memories.
The only negatives were the strikes with the Skytrain when I arrived in Canada and later the BC Rail. I learned later that the Skytrain has been without a contract for some time so I can understand that but how can an automated system go out on strike. What, the machines did not have a contract? I am just kidding with that one but why did BC Rail have to go on strike when they did? They could have picked any other time of the year to do that, could not they? Oh well, that bus did get me to the Canadian. Thank heaven that I carry music with me on these trips as Aerosmith's "A Little South of Sanity" did truly help. When you travel you take the good right along with the bad. On this trip, the good won out by an enormous amount of truly positive memories. What a trip!Vancouver 2 12/28/1999
As we were coming in, I saw the Skytrain was running so that option was once again available to me on this day. I photographed the rear of the Canadian before I had my first McDonald's breakfast of this trip as I was still hungry. After Via had returned all the passengers checked luggage to them, I stored my bags for the day in their baggage room. I headed out to find the Heritage Trolley on the south side of False Creek. Within ten minutes I had found the Car Barn which had BCER 1207, a 1905 interurban double truck, double ended car which was locked up inside. I walked the whole length of the line under their overhead wire looking for any information on the line that I could find which was nothing but at least I got a good long walk in. I returned to Science World to check on movies but they were playing the same ones that I had already seen. I went across the street to the Skytrain Station and bought an all day pass and rode to the Waterfront. I strolled over to the Canada Place and visited the CN IMAX for two 3D movies of Sigfield and Roy followed by the Nutcracker. The first one was fantastic. What a pair of magicians with great animals in 3D. I had never seen the Nutcracker before so seeing it in 3D for the first time made it more special. They were the best 3D movies that I have ever seen. I went back on the Skytrain, rode one stop to Burrito and took a three block walk to the Virgin Records Mega Store. I returned to Skytrain and rode out to King George at the end of the line in the front of the car. We went through some pea soup fog and the crossing of the Fraser River was done in zero visibility which was very eerie. I went back to Central Station, reclaimed my bags and upgraded to Business Class on the Talgo for that experience. I went through pre customs check and then out into the caged area where they keep the Talgo during its layover in Vancouver.Amtrak 763 The Mount Baker International 12/28/1999
I boarded Car 1, seat 3c which is a single seat before I went back to the Bistro Car to see what was on the dinner menu prior to settling on a hot dog. I got caught up on my writing while listening to Rod Stewart and reading the local Seattle paper. We left on time with me riding on the inland side of the train for the first time. This trip was very peaceful, quiet and relaxing as the Business Car seat is wider and can sway. The crossing of the Fraser River was in dense fog and later I got a great view of the Peace Arch at the border. At Blaine, customs got on the train and took thirty seconds with each passenger in my car. I had expected it to be more intensive and bags searched with all the problems that I was hearing about at the border. After Bellingham the movie came on which was "I'll be Home for Christmas" with Jonathan Taylor Thomas which was enjoyable and played to Everett after which the Talgo got me the rest of the way to Seattle following a delay at the drawbridge at the Ballard Locks. We arrived in Seattle five minutes late.Seattle 2 12/28/1999
Off the Talgo to a luggage cart then out to a taxi which took me to the King's Inn. It is on the same street that the monorail runs down out in front of the building. My room was ready and with a nice hot shower I was ready for a good night's rest.
12/29/1999 Started with a wakeup call. a shower, an episode of Three's Company, checkout and a taxi back to the King Street Station to wait for the last long distance train of the trip, the Coast Starlight.Amtrak 11 The Coast Starlight 12/29/1999
I received the first boarding pass after having a nice chat with our conductor before starting the line at door number one and I was of course the first coach passenger on the train. My car attendant was Phil Garcia who was an ex Custom Class Attendant on my San Diegan trains. He gave me one of his seats so that tonight I can have both seats to stretch out in when it's time to sleep. We left Seattle on time and I relaxed talking with Phil, the conductor and Adam the attendant from the next car back almost to Tacoma. I went for a cup of tea in the lounge car only to find Steve Shum another ex San Diegan LSA working the lounge. I headed upstairs and watched the Tacoma Narrows pass by while waiting for the first call for lunch which I had a Mt. Shasta Steak Sandwich and ice cream with chocolate syrup. The Starlight crept through the two tunnels as there was some kind of track problems and the rest of the trip to Portland was uneventful with me catching a thirty minute nap from outside of Vancouver, WA to almost Portland. As the Starlight crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, I was one state closer to home. I detrained at Portland for a walk and snacks while the train did its station work.
South of Portland along the Willamette River the sun finally breaks through on what has been a totally overcast day up to this point. It finally made at the river south of Oregon Falls really pretty. South of Salem, the Coast Starlight returned to the dense fog so I went to the lounge car and watched the end of Bowfinger for a few more laughs. I had a five o'clock dinner reservation and dined with a pair of Sisters going to Klamath Falls. I had a Willamette Valley Tenderloin and a Caramel Turtle Ice Cream Cake for dessert. The meal was excellent and most full filling. Jeff Byron our Dining Car Steward runs the most constantly fine dining car on the whole Amtrak system. To eat in a car run by him is one of the true pleasures in life. With night underway, I picked a star in the sky to the south and would use it to know my location and direction in the night. So as long as the star was in view I knew that we were going southeast. When we looped back northwest at the Salt Creek Bridge, the star would vanish from view so I knew which direction we were headed. When the star returned, we were at the top of the elongated "S" curve and headed southeast once more on the way to Cascade Summit. It was a beautiful star filled Oregon night and after Chemult, I laid down for my last night of sleep on a train on this trip.
12/30/1999 I awoke in the Sacramento River Canyon as I am officially back in California with an even more spectacular winter sky for me to gaze at. I fell back to sleep and woke up again as the train went around the new connection south of Marysville onto the old Western Pacific route to avoid the nightmare passage of Roseville Yard that played havoc with my last trip south. The Starlight's on time performance has dramatically improved since the rerouting in October. I enjoyed the ride on tracks that I had ridden previously on Union Pacific Steam Trips. At Haggin we turned off the ex WP and resumed the normal route into Sacramento where I detrained for a USA Today and to see my brother Bruce who was a no show this morning. We left Sacramento on time and went to Oakland without delay on this beautiful sunny December 30th morning along the Carquinez Straits and San Pablo Bay. It was foggy enough across the bay to block out San Francisco and Golden Gate.
At Amtrak's Oakland Yard two cars of express was added to the rear of our train prior to our arrival at Oakland's Jack London Square Station where I met Steve Donaldson of the Orange County Railroad Historical Society who was going to ride with me to San Jose. Steve and his wife moved up to San Carlos in August and planned to meet me on this train by taking a Capital train up from San Jose. We had a nice ride together down to San Jose with us getting caught up on things with him pointing out historical points along our route. "Time flies when you are having fun!" is a true statement as all too quickly we arrived in San Jose and I had to bid Steve goodbye as he detrained and the Starlight continued the on time journey.
As the Starlight headed south, at Gilroy I decided to take another nap and woke short of Salinas. The train was oversold today so passengers are having to ride in the lounge car. A slow order south of Salinas cost us time but we will have to wait to see what kind of an effect it will have on our on time performance down the line. The Salinas Valley is a good place to put on the headphones and I listened to Rush's Different Stages while they showed Run Away Bride in the lounge car. This was one part of the Starlight's route that I did not like when I was drinking just like West Texas on the Sunset's route. Now sober and relaxed I can always enjoy any view from a train, although I like some better than others. The Coast starlight left Paso Robles thirty minutes late so now we will see if the padding of the schedule comes into play. We have been passing under a dry front one of the problems that California had with La Nina which is the same thing that caused the Polar Bears to leave Churchill many weeks late. We all live in one interconnected world. Our trip down the Cuesta Grade was swift as we met the northbound Starlight at San Luis Obispo where I caught some fresh air as they watered the train.
Leaving San Luis Obispo a mere twenty minutes late a historic moment took place in my life. At MP 256.9 which is a tenth of a mile east of the track side detector, I passed 500,000.0 rail miles in my train riding career since 1980. I feel that I have accomplished something that a few human beings have done in their lives. With that done, I continued south on my way towards a million miles, one tenth at a time. I had a 4:30 PM dinner reservation so I could have the Pacific Ocean at sunset outside my window. I had the same meal as the night before and it was just as good. As I ate, I met Lee Jackson who was working the sleepers. He is another ex San Diegan Custom Class Attendant and a dam good one. I was treated to a beautiful red Pacific high cloud sunset. I returned to my coach seat for the music of Journey as the Starlight made it's eastward turn at Point Conception on its way to Santa Barbara where I hopped off for my last fresh air stop on the trip. We left there a mere twenty minutes late and we passed through Seacliff without any delays. We made our stops in Oxnard, Simi Valley and Glendale before the Coast starlight arrived at its final stop of Los Angeles eighteen minutes early.San Diegan 586 12/30/1999
While I waited to board San Diegan 586, I ran into Lawrence Dixon one of my favorite Amtrak conductors who was here to cut off the express cars off of the rear of the train. With his quick work, train 586 left Los Angeles on time and took me home to Santa Ana ending my "To the Land of Ice and Snow Trip."