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A Thanksgiving Tale

by Chris Guenzler

Back at home, I started planning my next Amtrak trip. I wanted to go between Chicago and Joliet, out of Chicago to Grand Rapids and Quincy, the City of New Orleans from Centralia to Chicago plus the Empire Builder Chicago to Havre which all would be new mileage. I planned the trip in two segments, a Thanksgiving Segment and a pre 1993 Christmas segment.

San Diegan 585 11/23/1993

It was a chilly November night as I boarded the San Diegan at Santa Ana for Los Angeles which was running right on time on this night. When I arrived at Los Angeles Union Station I just stepped off of that train onto the Sunset Limited's through cars for the Texas Eagle and waited for departure.

Amtrak 2/22 Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle 11/23/1993

We left Los Angeles right on time and within seconds came to a sudden stop. I guessed that someone almost missed the train. We took off again but instead of taking the freeway route we ran through Alhambra. With my ticket taken, I headed to the lounge car for my usual rounds of drinks before I fell asleep in my coach seat outside of Indio.

11/24/93 Waking up an hour from Phoenix, the Sunset was running about an hour late. We must have met some freight trains between Indio and Welton as we were only five minutes late out of Indio. We arrived at Phoenix and I managed to get a morning newspaper. Returning aboard the train, I managed to read the entire paper which had some very interesting local stories and finished it while we were still sitting in Phoenix. I detrained to find the fuel truck just pulling up to fuel the engines. A bus pulled up with passengers from Flagstaff and they were loaded onto the Sunset. We departed Phoenix an hour fifty five minutes late and as we passed through the countryside of Saguaro Cactus we had no major delays but arrived at Tucson two hours and fifteen minutes late but since I had been enjoying the Arizona desert I could have cared less. East of Tucson the Sunset Route was full of freight trains as we passed trains going in both directions at a frequent rate. It was good to see all of these Southern Pacific freight trains which meant that their business must be good and the dispatcher did an excellent job of keeping all of them out of our way. The trip to El Paso was very enjoyable and due to our lateness I enjoyed my dinner of Pork Chops under the station's floodlights. This was my first meal on the train since Amtrak had sent their chefs to culinary school and by the way this meal tasted, I would say that Amtrak made another good choice. Off into the West Texas night we went and before Alpine, a call went out over the PA system for a doctor if one was on board. It seemed a sleeping car passenger was having a medical emergency but the call was then repeated three times to no avail as there was no doctor aboard. The train was met in Alpine by an ambulance and the ailing passenger was removed to be taken to the hospital. I sat in my seat watching the stars in the West Texas sky before turning in for the night.

The Texas Eagle 22 11/25/1993 I awoke to an overcast morning in San Antonio as the Sunset Limited headed for points east and we began our trip two and a half hours late. Starting our trip to Chicago, the Eagle takes a different route out of town than it does when it arrives in San Antonio. We backed out west down the SP mainline to the junction with the former Missouri Pacific tracks {UP} where we headed forward and began our trek out of town. This route was nineteen miles longer and was new trackage for me. In a short while we were at Craig Junction and were back on the normal Texas Eagle routing. The nice thing about taking this route northbound is that I am getting to see countryside that I passed through southbound at night for the first time. This is also my first look at Texas Hill Country. In the haste of boarding in San Antonio all of the passengers were boarded through one door and were now arriving in my coach looking for seats. A gentleman named Bob complete with an ice box asked for my empty seat and after we talked for a few minutes, he offered me a beer. We talked about our destinations, mine of Grand Rapids and his Celbrune before attacking various subjects and he pointed out things in the Texas landscape with the professionalism of a tour guide. Being a native Texan, his information is educational and fascinating. When we arrived at Temple after turning onto the rails of the Santa Fe, we were only thirty minutes late after traveling the one hundred fifty seven miles from San Antonio. The train was given two hours and twenty minutes in the schedule to do that so I guessed the schedule had a lot of padding in it as we were traveling at the maximum allowed track speed. Leaving Temple I looked at the newspaper and realized that it was Thanksgiving Day and I read that the Cowboys were playing the Miami Dolphins at 12:30 at Texas Stadium. The weather called for cold temperatures and a chance of light snow however after traveling up the Santa Fe to Celbrune where Bob detrained out into the snow and north of town snow was falling heavily staying that way all the way to Fort Worth where I took a picture of the Texas Eagle looking more like the Empire Builder in Montana.

I never thought I would take a picture of the Texas Eagle in the snow at Fort Worth. As we backed out the snow was falling at a more rapid pace as we crossed the ex Mopac mainline. We were all set to run forward to Dallas but could not due to the switch being frozen and not being equipped with a switch heater. After about a ten minute delay, the operator of Tower 55 decided to route us in a way that had switch heaters. This involved five different forward and back up movements before we were finally headed east for Dallas. With all the snow the train was kicking up there was really little of interest in the outside world on the way to Dallas.

Arriving in Dallas it was announced that the connecting train from Houston would not arrive until about four thirty so we could go explore Dallas Union Station. I saw a TV with the Cowboy-Dolphin game on and the announcers were using the word "Blizzard" to describe the weather at the game. It did not look like fun football to me. I walked up the street to an ATM, put my card in and the screen read, "Can not function. Too cold!" and out came my ATM card I guessed someone forgot to turn on its heating unit. With my card back in the warmth of my wallet, I walked back to the warmth of the train. About four forty five, the Houston section finally arrived with a tale to be told by the attendant of the coach to me. It seemed there were no switch heaters and at every switch the crew had to climb out and hit the switch points with a sledge hammer to free it up. He thinks that they had to do that eighteen times in order to finally get to Dallas. With the trains now combined as one, we now had a full lounge car being an ex Santa Fe Hi-level diner converted into a lounge car. With a light passenger load, the Steward announced that there would only be one seating for dinner tonight with the choices being Turkey or Prime Rib. I chose the Prime Rib for my Thanksgiving Dinner sharing the table with a gentleman named Scott. He also avoided the Turkey. The Prime Rib was the better choice of the two and we both enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal.

Following dinner Scott suggested we go to the lounge car for a drink so we ordered at the far end of the car before sitting in the opposite end at a table. At the tables in front of us were two groups playing cards on each side of the aisle. On the left side there were four white people, two men with two women and across from them were four people, three black men and a lone black woman. The game on the right had stopped as the lady and dealer were arguing back and forth as she accused him of cheating and he denied it. They almost got into a fight over it before a third party at their table held up a bottle of Tequila and asked everyone if they would like to play a drinking game. Both tables agreed to play with Scott and I abstaining knowing Amtrak's rules about personal liquor and that it will lead to some kind of trouble. Amtrak's policy on Alcohol reads: "Passengers are not permitted to consume their private stock of alcohol in a public area." After my experience on the Sunset Limited, I wanted no part of this so I just sat back and watched.

The way this game was played was that they dealt all of the cards until everyone playing had a stack of cards in front of them facing down. When it was your turn, you turned over your top card. If it was a face card, you had to drink a shot of Tequila. The game started going in a clockwise direction, with the players turning over their cards one at a time. No, no, no, no, yes, the arguing lady turned over a Jack and took a shot, announcing, "It does not taste good. Can I add orange juice? "The response was a resounding, "No!" The game continued. No, no, no, yes, with one of the white women downing it like it was nothing, then no, yes and one of the white guys downing his even faster than she did. The black woman turned over a Queen and stated, "I do not want to play anymore." The group starts chanting, "Drink ! Drink ! Drink ! Drink !" and she finally again asked, "Can I add orange juice to it?" Again she gets the same group response, "No!!!!" then, "Drink ! Drink ! Drink ! Drink !" She finally drinks it and the game continued on with more cards being turned over. No, no, yes, the dealer turned over a King and exclaimed, "I don't want to play anymore!" The chorus started over again echoing throughout the entire car, "Drink ! Drink ! Drink ! Drink !" Just as he did, an older woman was walking by as he took his shot, could not keep it down and regurgitates all over the lady's legs and shoes without saying a single word of apology or for that matter even caring. She stormed out and then the group broke out in laughter but I found nothing funny about this situation.

Within minutes the Train Chief, a rather large black man stormed in demanding the bottle and told the groups that, "If I see you out of your seats I will throw your asses off of the train." He was quite upset then went to the serving area to chew out the attendants there for letting this happen with all of us hearing every word. He returned to our end of the car and announced, "If I see anyone else on this train drinking alcohol on this train, I will throw your asses off of the train as well." We all simultaneously lifted our plastic glasses with the Amtrak symbol on them which meant non verbally, "You mean us?" It reminded me of the scene in "Indian Jones and the Final Crusade" when Indy threw the Nazi off of the blimp and all the passengers looked at him and he said, "No Ticket!" they all raised their tickets with Indy having a puzzled look on his face the exact same look the Chief had on his face when we raised our glasses. About ten minutes later the four blacks returned to the car and one stated, "If he does not give me back my bottle, I am going to kill him!" they went off in search of the Train Chief. Within minutes the conductor came walking through, stopped and said, "What's that smell?" I said, "I will explain it to you later but right now you better go save the life of your Train Chief because they are going to kill him!" He took off in the direction of the way they all went. In Marshall, TX the train was met by the local sheriff who took the four blacks off of the train. How appropriate, passengers removed by the Marshall in Marshall. Being that we were two and a half hours late, I returned to my coach seat and went to sleep across two seats on a light passenger count night train.

11/26/1993 About three o'clock in the morning I went downstairs to use the bathroom just as we were arriving in Newport, AK and as I came out of the bathroom, a little old lady boarded the Texas Eagle. The conductor said, "Highball, train 22" and as he closed the door we heard, "Wait ! Wait !" The conductor ordered the train to stop and a Hispanic gentleman boarded the train before we high balled Newport, Arkansas. The conductor asked, "Do you have a ticket?" Silence with a blank stare. "Do you have any money?" Absolute silence. Suspecting the man may speak Spanish I asked him in Spanish where was he going? "Chicago!" Do you have a bolero? "No, senor!" Now the question we all had been waiting to hear, how much money do you have? "Twelve dollars and twenty six cents." He then told me that he was from Guatemala, in this country illegally and was trying to get to Chicago to see his relatives. The conductor thanked me and told me he would put him off in Poplar Bluff. As I went back upstairs to go back to sleep, I wondered what would happen to our illegal passenger.

It was overcast as I woke up as we were passing along the Mississippi River where I got my first look at the flood damage caused by the summer of flooding. It amazed me how much damage Old Man River had caused. We passed through the industrial areas outside of St Louis. I was surprised that we were still only two hours late and that nothing else had happened during the night to delay us further. We passed the old train shed of St Louis Union Station, now a hotel, shops and a small railroad museum. We pulled into St Louis where it was announced that this would be a quick stop on account of our lateness. Wrong! After adding two Superliner coaches for local traffic to Chicago we departed three hours late. We passed by Bush Stadium and veered to the left right before the Eads Bridge and ran along the Mississippi River with the Gateway Arch towering overhead off to the left. As we passed through the tunnel to the north of the Arch, I saw the high water mark from the Mississippi River Summer Flood of 1993 high up on the wall. It is amazing considering how high we were at this point above the river waters below. As we approached the Merchants Bridge to take us to Illinois, a Norfolk Southern coal train was running alongside of us before it crossed over right in our path. Our train crossed the bridge before coming to a red signal coming to a stop on the east approach to the bridge. We had a wonderful view of the St Louis skyline to the south of the train and a junk yard to the north. As we sat, the junk yard became far more interesting as I could see how many different cars I could spot. They announced the reason that we were sitting here was because we were between railroads in no manís land and the next railroad was not ready to take us yet so with the views we sat for an hour and twenty five minutes and by the time we had reached Alton, IL we were now four hours and fifty three minutes late.

I decided to get some lunch but because of the delay all I could get was the last hot dog and had to drink Jack Daniels with coke because they we were running out of liquor and mixes but my attendant said he would hide some away for me because I had been such a good customer. I sat in the lounge car watching the rural Illinois countryside outside the train. I witnessed the last of the cookies, chips, beer, soda and even the final deck of playing cards. After Carlinville I had another Jack with the last of the soda. When we reached Springfield and saw the capitol building of the state of Illinois I got the last bottle of liquor on the train, one last Jack but this time mixed with tap water. I had never been on a train when they had run out of everything before and had at least three and a half hours to go to Chicago. The LSA will have no time turning in his stock in Chicago and I hope that everyone who boards down line bring their own goodies.

North of Springfield we went into the siding to let a southbound Amtrak train pass by. Now just a few weeks ago, the Texas Eagle became a triweekly train south of St Louis running with an Amfleet consist running on the same schedule on the days the Eagle does not run through from Texas, Amfleet cars can run push-pull at great rates of speed when they back up while Superliners cars are extremely limited in back up mode when it comes to speed. Once the train had passed, we backed out of the siding at what I thought was too fast and once we reached the mainline, the power went out as the train stopped fast. I knew what had happened that we could lose head end power by either engine failure or cable separation which I knew was the problem in this case. Now it would only be how much time it will take to fix this problem. Outside I saw the crew walking the train searching for the problem so we sat again in non-moveable limbo but we, the passengers, were already used to it so that no one was upset.

On the move again, we were now five hours and fifty nine minutes late and the conductor announced that Amtrak service personal would board in Normal to help all passengers with their connections in Chicago. Would they taxi me from Joliet to Hammond-Whitning to make train 370 or bus me to Grand Rapids? Only time would tell as the sun set and we continued our trek to Chicago in the dark. At Normal the representatives boarded and called us into the dining car by train number starting with my train number to Grand Rapids. I got told, "When you get to Chicago, go to lounge "D" and check in as you will be taken to Grand Rapids by limousine. Well that sounded really good to me. Within an hour we pulled into Joliet and I was back in my coach seat riding the new mileage to Chicago. We pulled straight into Chicago Union Station coming to a stop six hours and twelve minutes late, a new personal record on one of the most interesting segments that I had ever ridden.

The Limousine Ride? 11/26/1993

Upon arrival at Lounge D {Is "D" for disaster?} the seven destined for the route of the Pere Marquette were gathered up and led downstairs to a waiting twelve passenger Ford van and our group sings out a chorus of, "You call that a limousine?" I know that limousines come in normal and stretch, mostly black in color and are really nice inside. Apparently Amtrak or its personal does not know what a limousine is and should have used the word "van" to describe my transportation to Grand Rapids. I have never seen a limo with a side sliding door. I took the back seat and found this van had no heater working so I threw on my heavy jacket. We drove out of Chicago and the most interesting part of the trip was listening to a radio program from Indiana dealing with body piercing. I guess it was the local rage of people thinking it all started in Indiana. About the fifteenth caller set the record straight, "When I was out in California about thirty years ago that was the first place I saw where people had their bodies pierced." The announcer, "Well, ok, we got that one straight. Call up the station and tell us what parts of your body have been pierced?" I must say that the program got pretty graphic. I thought why would anyone get pierced there and would not that get in the way of good sex.? Well you never know where you are going to learn something and thanks to Amtrak I learned something about body piercing. We made two stops along the way, the first at Benton Harbor, MI where we dropped off two passengers and at Holland where we lost two more. As we approached Grand Rapids, the girl in front of me asked me where I was staying. I told her the name of my hotel and she offered me a ride there after hearing I was going back to Chicago on the 7:30 A.M. train in the morning saving me at least twenty minutes or twenty minutes more sleep. It made me think just how lucky I have been meeting nice and helpful people wherever I go and with her help I was in my hotel bed by twelve thirty with a six thirty wake up call for the morning train.

The Pere Marquette 371 11/27/1993

Following my usual traveling breakfast of juice, toast and bacon at the hotel, I taxied down to the Amtrak Station for the 177 mile trip over this new route for me to Chicago. The one good thing about the van ride last night was since the train was scheduled to Grand Rapids at night I didn't miss a thing and I was looking forward to riding this new route. I had no idea of what kind of cars I would be riding in on the unreserved coach train which means it could be whatever Chicago decided the consist to be. At 7:35 A.M. a three car Superliner train backed into the station blocking both streets on either side of the attractive wood panel depot. I was boarded in the first coach for Chicago passengers and we departed right on time. The second car was a snack coach which has a counter where the seats were on the lower level where I got my morning screwdrivers. We passed through an industrial area followed by residential areas then out into the fields which led the train to Zeeland, one of the only a handful of towns in the United States starting with "Z". It is interesting to me that this part of Michigan is rolling and but remembering my geography lessons dealing with glaciation and where it took place this all made sense. We made our stop at Holland and departed back into the forest crossing streams, the Kalamazoo River and as the terrain flattened out as we crossed the Black River and entered Bangor where our coach picked up twenty passengers. Continuing our trek south we crossed the Paw Paw River twice, passed the large electric plant on the right then crossed the St Joseph River on a drawbridge which gave me my first unobstructed view of Lake Michigan and the lighthouse that guard's Benton Harbor. The train pulled into our next station stop of St Joseph-Benton Harbor. We ran along under the bluff for a few minutes before passing factories and heading back inland. I saw hills off to the right which look geographically like sand dunes and I remember reading about Indiana Dunes State Park so this must be the Michigan version of this feature. We crossed Amtrak's Chicago to Detroit mainline before we stopped at New Buffalo. Within ten minutes we were back in Indiana and at Porter Tower we left the rails of CSX for the Conrail mainline to Chicago. We passed the steel mills of Gary. I got some more views of Lake Michigan before we stopped at Hammond-Whitning. We crossed the Calumet River and saw the skyline of the great city of Chicago on a very clear day. We passed Comisky Park and within minutes we went by Amtrak's Chicago maintenance facility and pulled straight into Chicago Union Station ending my first trip on the Pere Marquette five minutes early.

Metra 615 11/27/1993

Knowing I have a long layover in Chicago until 5:00 P.M., I decided to try Metra commuter service for the first time and since I had never ridden on any Chicago Northwestern tracks I chose to go to their station and take the first available train to anywhere. I mean all trips are lessons in discovery and going to new places is always one of my favorite things to do. I left Union Station and walked through the busy streets of Chicago in the shadows of the tall buildings to where I found the Northwestern Station. It did not look like a train station from the outside just another office building with shops on the lower level. Once in the middle of the building I took the escalator to the second level, walked to my left, past the train gates on my right to the ticket counter. I looked at the departure board for the next train and they have one going to Harvard in twenty minutes. I picked up a schedule and it would get me back in plenty of time to catch the Southwest Chief. I went to buy a ticket expecting to pay $6.50 one way. The agent said, "Since it is a weekend, you can buy a Weekend Pass for only five dollars, good on any Metra train." Mental note, plan future trips to Chicago so layovers are on weekends.

I boarded Metra Train 615 which was a five car train of bi-level commuter cars and found a seat on the upper level to be provided with a better view. I noticed a clip on the support for the seat above the lower aisle so I put my Weekend Pass there. The train began to move and we were out in the bright sunlight on elevated tracks, crossed over the Milwaukee mainline and curved to the west getting a great view of the skyline of downtown Chicago before we turned north at Clyborn. After a quick stop, we headed directly northwest towards Harvard. I wondered if this northwest direction was how the Chicago Northwestern got its name? I will have to check on that one. Out of the windows were row houses typical of the northwest side of Chicago. I had my timetable open so I knew what each of the stops were and I could follow our progress, The conductor walked through and noted the wrong date was stamped on my Weekend Pass on the back, smiled and said, "Have a fine ride sir!" At Mayfair we crossed the Milwaukee mainline at grade before stopping at Jefferson Park, Norwood Park and Edison Park. This route reminds me of a streetcar line with a stop every three minutes. The train's route has three tracks to maximize the traffic flow and so a train can pass other trains which are making stops during rush hour without tying up the busy mainline. As I travel from Chicago, the land opened up with trees on lots not built upon. Past Arlington Park the station stops were more spaced out and we lost the middle track at Barrington and crossed the Fox River, passed through Crystal Lake with the junction of the line to McHenry, passed through Woodstock and came to the end of the line at Harvard.

Metra 640 11/27/1993

I detrained as the crew took the train down the line to switch ends before returning to Chicago. The train was now in the push mode as I reboarded the train sitting on the opposite side of the train and the time passed really quickly and I was back in Chicago in no time. Thanks Metra for a great experience on my first ride on your system. The wind was blowing strong and cold as I exited the Northwest Station. I crossed the street almost losing my hat and noticed an entrance to Union Station diagonally from the CNW Station and I took the steps down to the north platform and I was out of the wind. I walked the length of several Metra trains in Union Station and I went into the south departure waiting room to wait for my next train.

The Southwest Chief 3 11/27/1993

I was back in a coach seat waiting for the departure of the Southwest Chief after the chaos of loading in Chicago. It gave me a chance to think back about the last few days of late trains, the van ride, new miles and my new friend Metra. We left right on time heading straight out into a stormy night. I had a New York Strip Steak dinner before I sat in the lounge car watching the Illinois countryside passing in the dark with the rain pounding the windows of the lounge car. I enjoyed a few nightcaps in this setting before I retired to my coach seat for the night.

11/28/1993 Waking up as the train was pulling into Emporia I discovered we were three hours late so the good news was all this Kansas scenery we would normally pass in the dark would be seen by me in board daylight. The bad news was that it was Sunday morning in Kansas and I can not get anything to drink until the train reaches Colorado. More good news though is that Kansas is far smaller in size than crossing Texas was. One by one the towns of the Great Plains came and went, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City. After six hours of travel on this bright Sunday morning we entered Colorado and I went downstairs to the bar for a couple of screwdrivers which I enjoyed until right outside of our next servicing stop of La Junta. I stepped off for some fresh air and noticed our baggage car was missing from our train. I asked my car attendant about it and he related, "We were hit by a hot box detector in Missouri last night and the baggage car had to be set out. We had no place to do that so the dispatcher said that after we visually inspected it which was done in the pouring rain to proceed at 50 mph until we got to Kansas City where you will set out that car." That explained the three hour delay nicely and now I have to live through the effects of a delay which I had only read about before.

At La Junta they added another engine for the train's climb over Raton Pass and the rest of the trip to Los Angeles. We made fast miles parting the semaphore signals at a rapid rate before we arrived at Trinidad and started our climb up Raton Pass. We twisted and turned our way up the pass with all of the landmarks from the Raton Pas book I read right before the trip coming into view. I love Raton because with every turn of the train you either see the front or back ends of the train and sometimes both. Every trip over Raton Pass reminds me of why the Santa Fe built their southern mainline to divert traffic away from the grades of Raton. Right before the summit tunnel we passed the marker of the New Mexico/Colorado state line. At the Raton stop we lost half of the passengers in my car as it had a group going to Taos. I returned to my now half full coach and stretched out enjoying the speed of the Santa Fe mainline as we sprinted down the tracks hoping to make up lost time as we headed for Las Vegas, New Mexico. We passed the battlefield at Wagon Mound and within fifty minutes pulled into the station built as part of the chain of Harvey Houses serving for the Santa Fe. This hotel and restaurant served the passengers meals and gave them lodging in the days before dining cars and sleeping cars. The whole train would get off here, eat at the establishment then reboard their train to continue their journeys. Before sleeping cars passengers would spend the night there after a long dayís journey getting a good night's sleep before continuing their trip the next day. All of this made a passenger's trip far longer than the trip today.

At the first siding outside of town at Ojita we met our eastbound counterpart running right on time. Off to the left a few miles further was Starvation Peak which is where 35 Spanish settlers met their doom from the Indians. We descended through the double "S" curve allowing me a shoot a few pictures of the train out of the vestibule windows followed by our crossing of the Pecos River, the ascent of Glorieta Pass and a twilight journey through Apache Canyon with the leaf coloring very intense. We left Lamy heading into the darkness of the night and I had a five thirty dinner reservation which allowed an after dinner stroll on the platform during the servicing stop at Albuquerque. The Chief sped west into the New Mexico night with the Indian guide giving out a lot of new information about the tribes and a much more complete history since we could not see anything out of the window. After about two hours of high speed running we arrived at Gallup where our guide detrained and within twenty minutes the Southwest Chief was back in Arizona running two and a half hours late as I returned to my coach seat for the night.

11/29/1993 Waking up just as the train was leaving Barstow we were now running only two hours late as we sped through the high desert, passed through Victorville and climbed Cajon Pass. For a Monday morning, Cajon was very busy with trains and the dispatcher did an excellent job of weaving us in and out of traffic. We headed west down the Second District from San Bernardino through Pomona and Pasadena and arrived at Los Angeles Union Station at 10:00 A.M.

That gave me enough time to catch 774, the next San Diegan for Santa Ana and back to McFadden for half a day of work.