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Janesville Jaunt

by Chris Guenzler

The period of my life following my trip to Vancouver Island became one of family crisis as first my Father's prostate swelled, blocking off his urine flow and had to be catheterized. After waiting for three weeks for his HMO to get their act together, he finally had his prostate removed. All of this in turn made my Mother cancel their cruise on the Baltic Sea. Next as he was recovering at home, his leg swelled and he was told the cause was retention of water which did not seem right to me. About a week later, it swelled even larger than before so my Mother rushed him to the emergency room. A different doctor discovered four blood clots, two in his leg and two in his lungs. He was given blood thinning medicine and was still on it when I started the trip.

At Fullerton Railroad Days I picked up a new Amtrak national timetable and started to put ideas together for a short one week trip riding the new Amtrak train to Janesville as a goal. Marti, my night time agent at Santa Ana played with dates and came up with a winner. East on the Southwest Chief and west on the Texas Eagle, with new westbound miles between Texarkana and Big Sandy plus Fox Lake to Janesville on the route of the Lake County Limited. All I would have to do is finish the school year at McFadden and continue my daily train riding until the day of departure including riding our new Surfliner train set. Doing all this as well as staying sober, which is the most important thing in my life until the day came.

Surfliner 583 6/18/2000

A new name for the old San Diegan Service. The entire corridor will have new cars within a year and a half. I boarded this train an hour and a half after having stepped off the first new Surfliner set and climbed onto an old set of Horizon cars for the trip to Los Angeles. I will not miss these cars when they are gone one bit. It was almost too quick of a trip to Los Angeles where down in the station I learned the westbound Chief had arrived five hours late today. Makes me wonder how late we will be into Chicago. I started the line to board the train at the closed gate, and later led the "Guests" down to track eleven with the westbound train still on track twelve, and our express cars on track thirteen. I already saw a problem as I boarded the Southwest Chief.

Southwest Chief 6/18/2000

Departure time came and went as we sat in Los Angeles. My seatmate, Max, reeks of alcohol and smoke so I wonder what God has in store for me on this trip. Train 3 was finally pulled out of track twelve, we now had access to track thirteen. We departed from the platform forty seven minutes late and proceeded to pick up the waiting nine cars of express. A thought crossed my mind. Since it was Sunday and there were no Metrolink trains in the station, they could have put that westbound Train 3 on any other track at the station. Go figure! I am settled in and reading "I Am Jackie Chan, My Life in Action," and got through about seventy pages before calling it a night near San Bernardino. I slept off and on. My usual first night out pattern as the train left California for Arizona.

6/19/2000 I awoke just short of the new stop at Williams Jct. and there is a shuttle van connection to the Grand Canyon Railroad Depot. A plan is coming to my mind. I spent the rest of the morning reading with my only interruption being the many freight trains we meet on the fly. We arrived at Albuquerque about ten minutes late and I was off for an ice cream. I took a good look at the Indian Jewelry before reboarding with the all abroad announcement. We sat and sat and sat before an announcement came about the problem with the engines. We would be allowed off of the train until the problem was solved. It was sun tanning time with the occasional joke like "At this rate we will still be here when they open the new station building!" At this point the building is still in the steel frame stage. After they shuffled the engines, we finally departed Albuquerque two hours and five minutes late.

The train made it as far as Nueva where switches were thrown by hand to meet our westbound counterpart. This was followed by having to inspect the next bridge due to a high water alert. When we got there the stream was bone dry. Apache Canyon was gorgeous in the light as we passed through. Later I had an excellent steak dinner and ice cream Turtle Cake for dessert. Joe, who was our dining car steward was once an LSA on the San Diegans. We arrived at Raton when it was announced that our engines would be refueled here, as the fueling station in Albuquerque was damaged by some kind of a construction accident. During the nearly hour delay in Raton, I added this depot to the list of the ones I have been inside. I also tried to catch what became the final NBA Championship Game. The Lakers defeated the Pacers on the radio. I could not pick it up but did manage to get a third period score with Indy ahead by eight. (I learned in Kansas City the Lakers did win game six and are the 2000 NBA Champions). We departed Raton in the dark and by Trinidad I was fast asleep.

6/20/2000 The next morning I awoke to a rainy morning as the train had just departed Newton, KS. I walked to the dining car for a breakfast of hot cakes and sausage which really hit the spot. I returned to my seat, finished the very interesting Jackie Chan book, before just sitting back and enjoying the rainy morning. My seatmate Max had passed me on my return from breakfast and was heading to the lounge car. He was going to Kansas City then on to St Louis. As we pulled into Kansas City there were no signs of Max. I detrained to get a newspaper. I went into the station and bought a USA Today, learning the Lakers won last night. I reboarded and was sitting in my seat reading the newspaper to a lady when my coach attendant came and asked if I was going to Kansas City only. I said "Max is the one going to Kansas City and his cigarettes are still here so he has to be on the train!" The attendant went to look for him. I went back outside as the Centennial Postal Train was outside on display behind a fence and I got to meet the owner of the Scottish Thistle private car. His car was on the rear of the Postal Train. I then walked the train in search of Max. When I returned to my car I found out that our attendant did not find Max either. We left Kansas City three hours and four minutes late.

A major change has taken place since my last trip through here. The BNSF now has a flyover over every major railroad junctions they used to contend with so the Southwest Chief leaves Kansas City uninterrupted. We crossed the Missouri River at Sibley and after a while I went to the lounge car to get lunch and found Max sitting there. With his limited English he couldn't tell me what happened to him. That great mystery may always remain just that. At Galesburg he was taken off, taken by a van to Normal,IL and then put on the Texas Eagle arriving St Louis two hours later than he would have if he had gotten off in Kansas City in the first place. Lets hope I do not find him on the Texas Eagle in three days from now! For the rest of the trip to Chicago I just sat back, listened to music, and enjoyed the passing scenery. The Sky was alive with the mid level clouds racing northeast while their high cloud brothers stood still above. Made me think about how long I stood still on this trip. We made our way through the outbound Metra fleet and finally backed into Chicago Union Station two hours and twenty five minutes late. I went up to the food court, got two Char Dogs to go and went to the north waiting area to wait for my new route on Amtrak to Janesville.

The Lake County Limited 343 6/20/2000

I boarded a two car train, a rebuilt Horizon coach and an express car. We have thirteen passengers aboard who are all going to Janesville. Once under way, and following the collection of tickets, the conductor turned out the lights so the passengers could enjoy the darken countryside better. We ran fast out to Fox Lake over Metra tracks and after a brief stop there, we headed out onto the Wisconsin Southern tracks and new mileage for me. The train rocked and swayed at about thirty miles an hour. We paused at a new stop at Zenon before going into the siding at Avalon for a one hundred car Wisconsin Southern freight train. We arrived at the Janesville Amtrak stop which was a dirt parking lot, an asphalt ramp leading up to the tracks, portable lights, and no phone in the middle of nowhere. Once more I have completed riding the entire Amtrak system. Thank heaven for Gene Poon's article in Rail Travel News that said call the hotel from Chicago which I did, so I was picked up by a car from the Baymont Inn, my place to stay the next two nights and a welcome arrival shower. This way I get a chance to look around town instead of just leaving on the morning train without seeing anything of the town after I came all the way here.

Janesville 6/22/2000

Sleeping in late, and after a breakfast at Denny's, I embarked on a walk of about two miles into town where I found the GM plant and walked back via the Ice Age Trail. I returned to my room and rested until the late afternoon. After looking at a map I went off on about a four mile walk and found the Wisconsin Southern Roundhouse with a nice assortment of engines to photograph. I used the Ice Age Trail both ways. Although I do a lot of walking at home, my body was reeling in pain so much so I used the hotel sauna for some pain relief which helped temporarily. It felt like a hip pointer and during the night I awoke in severe pain. A quick prayer and I slept the rest of the night until the wakeup call came.

The Lake County Limited 342 6/22/2000

Following being driven down to the train, which was the same equipment, plus two road railers on the rear end. We left on time on this bright sunny morning across a low rolling landscape with water in every low spot. It's just what you think of Wisconsin. Red barns and silos. Only a few of the twelve passengers are enjoying the sights, as most are sleeping. I am in my rolling along mood very happy to be going thirty where I would not miss a thing. The scenery in from Fox Lake sparks my memory to life. We went into the siding at Grey's Lake for twenty minutes to wait for a Metra train which allowed for a picture of our train. Once on the move again we made a fast trip to Chicago picking up one passenger at Glenview and arriving at Chicago Union Station four minutes early. My trip to Janesville was really special, and I enjoyed my first overnight visit to an American small town.

Chicago 6/22/2000

With my hip hurting I stored my bags in a locker for the day. I then stopped by the needing assistance in boarding area to sign up for the first time ever to be assisted. I would use this service when I board the Texas Eagle tonight. I walked east on Madison Street until I found the Metra Randolph Street Station. My new Metra riding would be on two of the electric lines on this trip. I started out by taking Train 317 to South Chicago. This was my first ride on a bi-level electric car. It was a quick trip which allowed me to see another part of Chicago plus the new mileage. I detrained long enough for a picture and to get a return ticket from the machine. It amazes me I can get a ticket out of a machine never having used them, yet the local people who live here can not and are buying theirs from the conductor. I took the return Train 320 only as far as 59th Street where I walked across the platform to Train 120 from University Park which is an express train back to Randolph Street Station. After a short break, I took Train 121 to University Park which follows the route of the City of New Orleans for most of the way. I enjoyed the route at a much slower pace than the City's race in from Homewood in the morning. I returned to Chicago on train 126. I walked back to Union Station for a Char Dog, my bags, and to wait for a mechanically delayed Texas Eagle.

Texas Eagle 21 6/22/2000

I waited in the need to be assisted area and I was the first one called. The Red Cap carried both my bags to his cart and after doing the same thing for three other passengers, we were all driven out to the train past eight roadrailers on the rear of the Texas Eagle. He stopped at my car first, carried my bags upstairs, let me select my seat. I gave him a tip for his outstanding service. The Texas Eagle left Chicago forty minutes late and lost more time on the way to Joliet. I had a subpar prime rib dinner with a Texas Turtle which is the same Turtle dessert from the other trains which improved the meal substantially. There were no salt and pepper shakers to be found anywhere on this train. Thank you Chicago commissary. I enjoyed the sunset on the longest day of the year before listening to music. I started reading "Star Wars, Episode 1 The Phantom Menace" and called it a night after Springfield on my way to St. Louis.

6/23/2000 I woke up on my brother Jon's birthday prior to the Texas Eagle passing the North Little Rock Shops of the Union Pacific Railroad, and moments later detrained at the Little Rock Amtrak Station for a newspaper and a quick look around the depot. A thought occurred to me. This would be my first sober southbound trip on the Texas Eagle. It will all be seen through my sober eyes! We left Little Rock about an hour late and made meets with seventeen freight trains with only two delaying us. Not bad considering we were running against the northbound traffic on the ex Mopac mainline while the old Cotton Belt is the southbound mainline. This is like driving the wrong way on the freeway, so between Little Rock and Texarkana we were going the wrong way on UP's directional mainline system. Thank you dispatcher for getting us across it with very few delays. I went to the lounge car for a hot dog. It didn't have any catsup. I had to go to the dining car to get some. Thank you Chicago commissary, again!

At Texarkana we had to go over hand thrown switches to enter the ex Cotton Belt line and the new mileage to Big Sandy for me. Bill Compton and I railfanned this line years ago so I was familiar with it and my memory came right back with a view from the train not the highway as before. I remembered all the towns and was especially interested in Pittsburg where the Kansas City Southern line crossed ours. There has been talk of a Crescent Star service from Meridian to Dallas off of the Crescent's route. If they ever do it I will be back here but riding on the KCS line for new mileage. We ran at a good pace but were delayed at Gilmer, TX. We stopped at Eagle Transfer which is really just a grade crossing in Gilmer and the passengers with EA x on the hat checks detrained. This is the stop for Longview and Marshall since they are not on the westbound route anymore as well as Shreveport. We curved back onto the ex Mopac at Big Sandy and ran delay free to Dallas where I got a seatmate, David, who was also going to Los Angeles.

David and I hit it off right away. His eastbound train was seventeen hours late. It did not leave Los Angeles until seven in the morning and the Sunset Limited went stop and go so badly they were rerouted from Sierra Blanca to Fort Worth over the old Mopac (T&P).This will be the future route of the Sunset Limited if Amtrak makes Fort Worth a hub for its southwest service. We talked sports, ball parks, music, and concerts until Fort Worth where we both detrained to look at the damaged high rise windows from the tornado which hit town earlier this year. Leaving Fort Worth it became dinner time with us having the meal with Valerie from New York, Bob from St Louis, David from Downey, and myself from Santa Ana. I had Catfish with a Turtle for dessert. I watched the movie The Muse. I dosed off before San Antonio where the fireworks would start after the conductor announced the westbound Sunset Limited would not arrive in San Antonio until eight in the morning. That news set off a couple of passengers who raved all the way to San Antonio and went on after we had arrived. I went to sleep just wanting a good night's rest.

San Antonio 6/24/2000

Most of the passengers had gotten off and our attendant Charles woke me up to tell me the train would not be here until eleven and alternate transportation (a bus) would be made available. I told him that I would stay with the train! David and I made plans to explore San Antonio in the morning. He found a seat at the end of the car and we both attempted to get some rest. One of the men who had been complaining exploded again and an old man exploded as well. All of the complainers detrained for the bus and silence returned to the car. Their actions have sentenced themselves to a long bus ride a fitting punishment for their crimes. I was laughing inside with just the thought of them being on a bus. Any wait on a train is always better than being on a bus any day. I went back to sleep and a while later Charles woke me up again to ask if I wanted to take the alternative transportation. I gave the exact same answer, "I will stay with the train!"

With most of the car's passenger gone, the few of us left were sound asleep. Charles, at 4:00 AM, decided to turn all of the seats so they would be in the right direction upon departure. What on God's green earth was this man thinking, waking us all up to do this? To get it over quickly some of us helped him turn seats. All but fifteen seats turned before a mechanic turned the rest, including the one in front of me. We all went back to sleep only to be woken up again this time at 5 A.M. to the sound of a vacuum cleaner as Charles now was vacuuming the car. I think this attendant had truly lost it. He finished and we all tried to get some more sleep. At six thirty David and I walked over to the Alamo which opened at nine and the Riverwalk which we would see later. Back at the train the free breakfast was Mexican, so we walked to Denny's for an all American breakfast.

We returned to the train to retrieve a few items before we took a different route to the Alamo. The grounds are most impressive and the buildings themselves hold a lot of historical materials. Being there made me feel like I was living history. At the gift shop I bought an Alamo cup with my name on it and some stones for Maureen Angle, my most wonderful science teacher I work with at McFadden. I always keep an eye out for stones, minerals, and rocks for her when I travel. We made a short stop at the Hyatt for David to get some bottled water before we enjoyed a walk along the Riverwalk. You really do not feel like you are in the city when you are along the water's edge with all the trees and cafes. We walked over to the Tower of America, and for three dollars I went up 579 feet in an elevator in a minute's time to a spectacular view of San Antonio. The view looking down at the train station with our two through cars sitting there made me realize just how lucky I was to be delayed here. I called Solana Beach and talked to Eunice asking her to check the status of the Sunset. I learned it left New Orleans at One AM this morning. It would have been nice had someone here told the truth to the passengers. I spotted a route over to the Alamo Dome and once reunited with David, we walked over to it and with a little good luck found an open door. We entered this huge building as there was a Christian Youth Meeting with 15,000 people going on and one of the leaders closing prayers had a special meaning to me. It was like God wanted me there to hear that message. We walked around the outside of the Dome spotting Bill Millers BBQ which just happened to be what they were serving us for lunch. I ran into two ex San Diegan LSA's, Edwin Byrd and Shirley Robinson. They both just happened to be working the Sunset Limited back to Los Angeles. We went and found a store where I had an ice cream before I helped pass out sack lunches back at the train cars.

The Sunset arrived at 1:40 PM in the afternoon, almost eleven hours late. Our fourteen hour San Antonio experience was over. I was glad that I had lived it all! I had never visited this town before and thanks to Amtrak, I was given the opportunity.

Sunset Limited 1 6/24/2000

The Sunset pulled out of San Antonio ten hours and forty two minutes late. A lady came back from the Sunset section of the train and told me the whole story of why the train was so late. It started with track work at Sanford, FL which delayed the train two hours. West of Atmore, AL they lost five hours as the CSX freight train in front of them had a broken wheel. They lost another hour and a half east of Mobile waiting on a CSX freight train. Thirty more minutes were lost at Mobile as they had to restock the train. At New Orleans, a coach with electrical problems and the lounge car both had to be replaced so it all just kept adding up. All of these factors led to our extended stay in San Antonio which I will never forget.

We sped out of town not stopping again until our next station stop at Del Rio. What was really nice is seeing all of the usual scenery in a different light of day, being late afternoon on this trip. West of Del Rio the Rio Grande River stands out much better than in the early morning as does the Amistad Dam and reservoir. I had BBQ Ribs for dinner and Chocolate Cake for dessert before settling in for a late summer day of train riding. The countryside and the Pecos River High Bridge crossing are more spectacular in the late afternoon light. I spent the rest of the daylight enjoying the countryside, listening to music, and reading the Phantom Menace. After Sanderson the Sunset Limited headed west into the night after a brilliant orange and red sunset. Sunrise should be in Arizona if all goes right during the night. It has been a very good day in my life. Prior to me calling it a night, I detrained at Alpine for fresh air before a car load of Boy Scouts detrained who all forgot the third law of Scouting; which is to be courteous. I got to see the inside of the Alpine Station before I reboarded and went to sleep.

6/25/2000 I woke up right after Chochise, AZ and went to the lounge car to enjoy the trip across the Dragoon Mountains, then down to Benson, up and over the Mescal Divide to Tucson. We left Tucson eleven hours late which was just fine with me as the rest of the trip into Los Angeles should be in daylight. We have had not been delayed by the dispatchers so far, so it will be interesting to see how long we can go without taking a delay. At Casa Grande a crew change point took longer than normal as some supplies were brought onboard for the dining car staff use. The climb up the Shawmut grade always is interesting due to the Saguaro Cactus that inhabits the area. We passed through Gila Bend and I saw the rails of the old Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad heading off into the desert. They used to run mixed trains as late as the seventies. We ran fast across the desert and passed many freight trains, especially around the Gila River Narrows. We finally got stabbed just before Yuma where we incurred a delay as there are not enough tracks for all of the trains. At the station at Yuma I detrained to enjoy the noon hour heat.

We crossed the Colorado River. I am back in California! The wind was blowing really hard so there was a sandstorm as we neared the Glamis sand dunes and whitecaps out on the Salton Sea. The sky was overcast with occasional drizzle from the monsoon moisture that flows up from the Sea of Cortez. We reached Thermal where we took a major hit having to pull into the siding to let two freights pass before we backed out onto the mainline to continue west. We made it to Palm Springs where I detrained along with the smokers. This Sunset does not have a smoking area, it must have been left in New Orleans so we had been making smoking stops along the whole route. We zig zagged freight trains as far as Cabazon where we took another hit. We then zig zagged our way up and over Beaumont Hill, even passing a westbound sugar beet train. We made it across Colton Crossing and through West Colton Yard without any delay. I detrained at Ontario, a double stop, where I called home for a ride and to have a meal waiting when I arrived.

Since San Antonio our car's end door did not shut so David, Darcy and I made a game out of closing it each taking turns. I made the game even funnier as I used my body parts to close it much to the amazement of our car's passengers. The biggest laugh came when I tried to close it with my rear end. My shorts just slide off of the door. My solution, a little BA, and it shut the door just fine. David and I got the biggest laugh when the woman who wrote the note to keep the door shut started not doing it. Our biggest point getter was a tiny black child who closed it every single time without ever being asked to. Why can a child do something simple when an adult can not? Even the conductor who stopped and read the note could not follow the note's simple instructions.

We sprinted to Pomona and had no more delays until we reached El Monte where we didn't switch onto the Metrolink route but stayed on the traditional SP Sunset Route via San Gabriel into Los Angeles Union Station. We arrived twelve hours and fifty four minutes late, a new personal all time late record at 7:04 P.M. Even with all of this, it was still one of the most interesting rail adventures I have ever had! Janesville was great and the surprise stay in San Antonio really made the trip. I hopped off, walked down the platform, down the tunnel, made a right and up the stairs to Surfliner 584 for a quick trip to Santa Ana, after we waited for some late Bakersfield busses or so I thought.

Surfliner 584 6/25/2000

As we waited on board for the late bus, a gang banger was trying to start a fight with another passenger of his type. The assistant conductor John Kennedy was very polite with this person on two occasions, telling him to move to another car and not to return to this car. If he did this he would make it to his destination. Well of course he could not do this so on his third attempt to start something, they asked him to leave the train. As he was leaving he picked up someone's suitcase and threw it out of the train. He followed it out, and started pounding on the side of the train. John, the platform manager, who is one of the nicest and most helpful people in this whole world came up to him to see what was wrong. The guy turned around, swung, and hit John right in the nose breaking it and sending blood everywhere. All of the passengers in the car were watching this through the windows. A group of passengers jumped the guy, held him down and the crew went to get some duct tape to bind his hands and feet with. We departed Los Angeles an hour ten minutes late. Fifty minutes later, I was stepping off the train Surfliner 584 about twelve hours later than I should have if I would have been on time into LA and connecting on Surfliner 568. This ends my unique adventure called the Janesville Jaunt.