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First Pacific Parlour Car Trip

by Chris Guenzler

I still had one more series of tickets on "My Dream Come True" trip and that was a round trip to Eugene to see Carol in Cottage Grove, OR. We had met on the northbound Coast Starlight when I went to Seattle to ride the Talgo and had kept in contact by letters and the telephone. The day before I was going to leave, my dear friend, Bob had decided that he had enough of Southern California and wanted to move someplace else to live. He came over and asked if he could ride north with me which I said was fine as we always had wanted to take a train trip together. We went down to Santa Ana and found the only space left on the train was a lone sleeping car which Bob paid cash for and I had my ticket switched to the room so we would be riding together. This suddenly became my first opportunity to ride the new Pacific Parlour Car service on the Coast Starlight.

San Diegan 759 11/27/1997

A bright and sunny Thanksgiving Day morning in 1997 found me back down at the Santa Ana train station where I met Bob along with his mother and father who had come to see us both off. The Bi-level train of California Cars pulled in a few minutes late and we both found a pair of seats for the trip to Los Angeles. I made a trip to the cafe car where Linda Paul served me a cup of tea and I purchased a pack of chocolate chip cookies. Bob and I enjoyed our trip over the tracks I know like the back of my hand to Los Angeles where we arrived on time and detrained to a waiting Coast Starlight.

Coast Starlight 14 11/27/1997

Bob and I boarded the 1430 car and found room 14 on the lower level which was fine with me as I always enjoy riding the lower level. After we got settled, we decided to explore the Pacific Parlour Car. This car had been an ex Santa Fe Hi-level lounge car which was gutted in Amtrak's Beach Grove Shops near Indianapolis and rebuilt into a Pacific Parlour Car. Funny thing is that I had ridden in this same car back on the Sunset Limited and now this car does not look anything like it did back when I rode in it before. Back then it was all tables with a bar in an enclosed area at one end of the car on the upper level. Well, that was then and this is now. By where we entered there was a glass book cabinet which has books and games inside which only sleeping car passengers get to use. We walked in and found big plush lounge chairs two on the right and four on the left. On the side which had the two chairs is a warming table that had fresh pastries and muffins on it for our use. Beyond the warming table are the stairs that leads to the movie theater on the lower level which we will see in a few minutes. Walking further into the Pacific Parlour Car we came to the remaining tables which have table clothes and a vase with ferns with a rose. At the far end of the upper level is the wooden bar which the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant works. It is an incredible car and I was glad to finally get a chance to ride this car. Bob and I went downstairs to look at the Pacific Parlour Car Theater. It is in an all enclosed room with a large screen television, a great sound system and theater style seating. I could not wait to watch a movie in this theater. With our tour complete, we went upstairs where I got a cup of tea to go along with my cinnamon rolls. We sat down and enjoyed our snacks as the train still loaded before we returned to our room to await departure.

Back in the room, the Coast Starlight departed on time and a few minutes later the conductor came by and took our ticket. Next the Train Chief came by and was impressed by all the places I had been. Bob and I then went to the Parlour Car where we enjoyed the features and the view that the Parlour Car provides as we played monopoly. We stopped at Glendale before traveling through the San Fernando Valley. We passed through the tunnels that led us to Simi Valley before we headed west to Oxnard and the Pacific Ocean at Ventura. We went and had lunch as the train left Ventura and I was having a Beef Burger as we reached the water's edge at Ventura. For dessert I enjoyed a Caramel Ice Cream Turtle Cake. Bob and I returned to those comfortable chairs as the Starlight cruised the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Above Gaviota, we left Highway 101 for the trip to Point Conception and across Vandenberg Air Force Base. We made our way north to San Luis Obispo where we detrained for some fresh air. Leaving San Luis on time they did wine tasting in the Parlour Car which of course I did not take part in. Instead, I enjoyed the climb over Cuesta Grade. I visited the Superliner Lounge Car for just a few minutes to see if I knew the attendant.

We made our way up the Salinas Valley and we had dinner at the first seating. I enjoyed a Beef Tenderloin which was excellent and a Turtle for dessert. After dinner, I went to the Pacific Parlour Car Theater on the lower level and watched Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz, which I really liked. I had a night cap of Ginger Ale, way different from my drinking days. I returned to the room which I made up with Bob in the lower bunk and myself in the upper as the Coast Starlight left Oakland heading into the California Night.

11/28/1997 Waking up short of Dunsmuir, it was a quick trip to the Parlour Car for a quick cup of tea before having pancakes for breakfast in the dining car as the Starlight climbed out of the Sacramento Canyon. A beautiful sunny clear Northern California morning had Mt Shasta standing out high above the train. This section is one of my favorite on the Starlight Route and this time I was enjoying it from one of those comfy Parlour Car chairs. The train made its way into Oregon and enjoyed the outside air in Klamath Falls. We rode the Parlour Car to Chemult and over Cascade Summit taking in the views from both sides. The train descended to Oakdale before running by the lowest that I had ever seen Lookout Point Reservoir. We made our way to Eugene where Bob and I detrained after I got an umbrella as a parting gift. It was a great first trip riding the Coast Starlight's Pacific Parlour Car.

As Bob and I walked away from the train, a man walked up to us, flashed his DEA badge and asked our names which we gave without hesitation. Remember Bob had paid cash for his ticket which alerted the Drug Enforcement Agency who watch for people doing that thinking that they are trafficking drugs. He wanted to take us someplace to check our luggage but I insisted he check it with a whole train of witnesses. As he did that, the Train Chief carrying another umbrella for Bob said, "What are you doing! Chris is one of our best passengers!" He finished and let us leave with me being quite upset over this whole situation. Bob and I parted company as Sage, one of Carol's friends who had come to pick me up did not know what to make of what he had just seen. Would you really want to pick someone up after the DEA had detained them?

Bob's take on the whole above incident: "First off I believe that it is a terrible way to run a business by singling out people who are smart enough to never start using a credit card, and then assuming that because they choose to pay for things by means other than credit that they must be criminals. Had I the means I would have filed a discrimination lawsuit against Amtrak including the train chief and any and all Amtrak employees that may have been responsible for this fiasco (i.e. violation of my civil rights). What you may not know is that I saw the train chief gleefully pointing at the two of us as the DEA stiffs came up to the train. So I would have taken great pleasure in kicking that ass hole in the balls all the way across the entire country. I vowed right then and there to never ride on Amtrak again and that is a vow that I will never break". Hmmm let me see I should be up to about 1700 days of sobriety {train detox}!"

Cottage Grove 11/28-30/1997

Sage drove me down to Cottage Grove where I spent time with Carol. Highlight was Main Street in Cottage Grove which was in the parade scene in Animal House and taking me along the Rails to Trails that once was the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad made famous in the film, "Emperor of the North." "No one rides on my train without a ticket!" We also walked through a forest in the rain which might have been one of the most peaceful things that I had ever done in my life. We watched a little football my last day as Carol is a big Denver Bronco Fan and you all know me as a lifelong Oakland Raider fan. Sage drove me back to the station where I waited for the southbound Coast Starlight.

Coast Starlight 11 11/30/1997

Since I was only traveling to Sacramento on this segment, I was boarded into an empty coach car and after settling in I was off to the Dining Car for a repeat of the great Beef Tenderloin dinner. I enjoyed the near empty lounge car for the climb over Cascade Summit and watched the movie just to kill time. I turned in after Chemult and slept all the way into California.

San Joaquin 712 12/1/1997

It is that favorite bus-train-bus combo to get me back to Los Angeles and a San Diegan back to Santa Ana. The bus filled up and our Thruway Bus made the quick trip to Stockton where during my wait I picked up a copy of USA Today. Train 712 arrived right on schedule and I was off south down the San Joaquin Valley. Funny thing on all the other trips I would have been drinking Screwdrivers as we made our way south but since I have been sober, a good cup of tea does just fine. This line I know so well like the back of my hand that I always on the lookout for something new to see. We made an on time trip to Bakersfield where I jumped on the first Thruway Bus to Los Angeles. We made it up the Grapevine fine but coming down the south side the brakes on the bus began to fail so our driver pulled off the road and radioed the following buses to stop and pick up his passengers. This made for one of the most interesting bus rips yet over the Ridge Route. We arrived in Los Angeles late but since San Diegan 782 was not leaving for thirty minutes, I still had a ride to Santa Ana without a long wait.

San Diegan 782 12/1/1997

Up on the platform I was greeted by Conductor Woody and his assistant conductor D.D. Carlson. The train came in from Santa Barbara and I took a seat in the Amcafe. We left Los Angeles on time and fifty minutes later I detrained in Santa Ana ending a very interesting trip.