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I Became a Pioneer

by Chris Guenzler

Desert Wind January 1981

I made another trip to Pocatello to see Bruce and Karla in January 1981 at their home in Idaho. I had a nice pleasant and uneventful trip with the highlight being watching my beloved Raiders beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl on a really cold snowy day in Pocatello. While I was visiting, Bruce suggested that he would prefer to make only one trip to Ogden each time I come to visit and if I wouldn't mind taking Greyhound down this time to see what I thought of their service. We made an agreement to try this and then I looked at the Amtrak map in their timetable with a new idea being born. I took Greyhound to Ogden and had a nice Desert Wind trip home to Southern California.

The First Pioneer Trip

I decided to make an Easter Vacation trip to Pocatello and following the agreement with my brother Bruce would drive me back to Ogden because I wasn't coming up via the Desert Wind. I would be taking the Starlight to Portland, overnight there before taking the Pioneer to Pocatello arriving there while my brother would be working as the Amtrak agent at the red brick station. I went to my local AAA office to get a hotel reservation for my night in Portland. Six weeks later I was standing in front of the mission style Santa Ana Depot waiting for my San Diegan to pick me up for the start of this trip.

San Diegan 571 4/11/1981

It was a cloudy windy morning with occasional rain showers as train 571 arrived in my home town. I boarded the all Amfleet train, found my seat and decided to start a new tradition of having a drink on every train that I would ride. This morning I decided to have a screwdriver {Vodka and orange juice} from the Amcafe as the train made its way to Los Angeles. It passed through a few very heavy rain showers arriving Los Angeles Union Station on time.

Coast Starlight 14 4/11/1981

I boarded a Superliner Coach for the first time on this version of the Coast Starlight in the pouring rain. This was my very first look at these cars and I was looking forward to riding them. We left Los Angeles on time and after crossing the Los Angeles River we passed by Taylor Yard, the major Southern Pacific yard in Los Angeles. The train headed out west through the heavy urbanized San Fernando Valley before heading through the rocks and tunnels around Chatsworth before exiting the valley. These rocks were where Hollywood shot many of the old westerns. We entered the fast growing Semi Valley then moved through a more agricultural landscape to Oxnard. I was enjoying the Superliner Sightseer Lounge Car with it's outward facing seats upstairs and cafe downstairs. West of Oxnard we crossed the Santa Paula River prior to reaching Ventura before running along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This is the Southern Pacific Coast Route and even on this very rainy day for the next three hours, I would have a view of the Pacific out my window except briefly while passing through Santa Barbara. Today's rain and clouds added a lot to the character of the route and I just sat back to enjoy our passage through it all. With all of the rain the beaches were empty and all of the surfers were at home doing other things. I went down to the cafe for a hot dog, chips and a coke before we arrived at Santa Barbara. I met two Australian gentlemen Paul and Tim, who are traveling around the United States by Amtrak and the Starlight was their first train. We got to know each other by having pleasant discussions and a few rounds of beer. We passed the oil refinery which a Japanese submarine attacked in World War II. As we rounded Point Conception the talk turned to what they would find in America and they gave me an open invitation to come to Australia for a visit. The train ran across Vandenberg Air Force Base during a really good gully washing rain storm which limited the visibility to about forty feet with the wind blowing the rain at an almost sideways angle. It truly impressed me that the train continued on it's path through all of this weather at track sped. We left the stormy Pacific Ocean, turned up the valley to Casmalia and passed through the coastal hills to the Santa Maria Valley where the rain stopped and the clouds lifted. We passed through Guadalupe before passing through the low clouds to reach Grover Beach prior to cutting through the hills to our next stop at San Luis Obispo which was drying out in the midday sun.

We left on time and climbed into the green covered hills for the crossing of Cuesta Grade. The Starlight crossed the Stenner Viaduct before rounding the Goldtree Horseshoe Curve. The Superliner Starlight sure looked different than the low level version I had ridden on last December. The train curved and climbed, gaining attitude before passing through the tunnels and under the summit to reach the headwaters of the streams empting into the Salinas River. We traveled down grade to through Santa Margarita to Paso Robles before we trekked the length of the Salinas Valley also known as the Salad Bowl of America. After passing through the oil fields and the miles of fields we arrived at our next station stop of Salinas. Leaving Salinas on time, I went to the dining car for my evening meal. It was not the full menu that I had just four months before and the table does not even have one piece of china on it. Plastic ware had replaced Silverware and the menu is just three items: Chicken, Beef or Fish. I was glad I had that Prime Rib back in December. The waiter explained it as a consequence of President Carter's attempt to cut Amtrak. Amtrak has always been in the hands of the President and Congress for its support and funding. I ordered a steak and baked potato that arrived on a plastic plate. I broke two plastic forks before I got used to the technics of plastic dining. It was a good meal despite the tableware as the train crossed the Moss Landing Slough in the last light of the day as the clouds returned. I returned to my seat and enjoyed an after dinner drink while the train sprinted through Gilroy to San Jose. We left on time and after an hour of night running we travelled down the street of Jack London Square, through the West Oakland Yard to the Oakland Depot and our servicing stop. Once completed, we headed north with me in the lounge having a round of drinks. We made our stop at Richmond before we travelled along San Francisco Bay and the Carquinez Straits with the lights from the boats on the water and the buildings on the shoreline. I returned to my seat at Martinez and following the crossing of the Straits, I curled up across two coach seats to fall asleep. During the night the train stopped at Davis, Orland, Redding and Dunsmuir. I slept a very peaceful night with the train rocking and rolling me like a baby.

4/12/1981 I awoke at the first light of the morning as the train passed through Mt Shasta City, with a magnificent view of Mt Shasta outside my coach's window. I cleaned up and had my first Amtrak dining car breakfast of pancakes and bacon. I still haven't perfected the technics of using plastic table wear as the train passed Black Butte, before travelling through the lava fields and crossed the Hotlum Trestle. There was a great view looking to the north looking down into the valley with the snowcapped peaks beyond with the farthest one being in the state of Oregon on this perfectly clear morning. I was back into the lounge car as the Coast Starlight passed through Andesite probably named after the abundance of that kind of rock found there. The train then climbed the last few miles to Grass Lake Summit where the trees returned to the countryside. The train to takes a lesser grade but more roundabout route to get to the flat valley with no trees but with minor agricultural interests before we sprinted across it to Dorris, Ca. We passed through a tunnel into Oregon. We descended towards the Klamath River for about twenty five miles before we passed the Lower Klamath Lake, entered the SP yard and pulled to a stop at the Klamath Falls, Oregon Depot.

Leaving K-Falls, we passed through the northern part of town before we ran along the shore of Upper Klamath Lake for twenty miles with a great view of the mountains to the west. We travelled across the high plain between the mountain ranges. The train began its ritual meeting of seven freight trains between Klamath Falls and Chemult with the Coast Starlight going into the siding twice. At Chemult we did a double stop before the train started the climb up the east slope of the Cascades. The eastern approach is rather gentle and the train made good time passing the beautiful Odell and Crescent Lakes before entering the summit tunnel at Cascade Summit. Emerging from the western portal it was a view looking down into Salt Creek Canyon below. The train was descending a one point seven percent grade along a ridge through snowshed and tunnels. During the forty one mile trip down to Oakridge we will pass through nineteen tunnels and drop 3,600 feet. Between the tunnels the Southern Pacific has passing sidings with names like Abernathy, Cruzatte, Fraser and Fields all looking down on the canyon below. The Starlight twisted and turned it's way down the grade and after Fields made a reverse turn in a tunnel heading down the opposite direction on the middle level. At Salt Creek trestle we curve once more back in the opposite direction now heading again down the grade along the Salt Creek through Heather and McCredie Springs. We reached Oakridge where the Southern Pacific keeps the helper locomotives to be added to freight trains for the tough climb over Cascade Summit. It is an impressive piece of railroading and a lasting tribute to the men who built and operated over it. Passing out of Oakridge, we followed the Willamette River west travelling along the south shore of Lookout Point Reservoir for about twenty miles. The country side changed from forest to agricultural to industrial as we passed through Springfield before we arrived at our next station stop of Eugene, Oregon fifteen minutes early. This allowed me to get off of the train and see the interior of the station. The train then headed north through the large Southen Pacific Eugene Yard before passing through the agricultural garden of the Willamette Valley. We made station stops at Albany and Salem, the state capitol of Oregon. The train sped across the last miles of flatland before it followed the Willamette River most of the rest of the way into Portland. We traveled past Oregon Falls before reaching the Southern Pacific Brooklyn Yards prior to the industrial area before we crossed the Steel Bridge and came to a stop at Portland Union Station. I detrained, grabbed a taxi cab over the upper level of the Steel Bridge to the Travelodge for the night.

The Pioneer 4/13/1981

I was back at Portland Union Station the next morning as the Pioneer pulled into the station. It consisted of a low level sleeper, a coach-dorm ex Santa Fe Hi-level car, a dining car used as half a lounge and half dining seating, a coach baggage and a coach. We departed Portland on time with me sitting in the coach baggage. Everyone else's hat checks were for Pendleton with me being the only "POC" for Pocatello. I walked back to look into the Through Coach for Chicago with a lot of Denver hat checks above the seats. The train crossed the Steel River Bridge then ran along the side of the freeway still under construction. I was sitting on the left hand side so I would have the Columbia River right outside of my window for the next three and a half hours. Once we exited the Portland metropolitan area, the Union Pacific's freight main from Seattle joined our route at Troutdale and off we went down the Union Pacific's mainline which once hosted the City of Portland and the Portland Rose.

Across the river in Washington standing out against the clear Northwest sky was Mt St Helens. It still amazes me what that mountain did on May 18,1980 and makes me wonder how many more of the peaks in the Cascade Range will come back to life. We entered the south shore of the Columbia River Gorge sharing the path with Interstate 84. The forest here is almost a rain forest as the clouds back up against the mountains here and drop their moisture here. We passed Bridal Veil Falls on our side of the river but the north side of the river had all of my attention as a BN freight headed west down the river with the rock walls behind it. We passed Bonneville Dam, the first of a series on the Columbia River before we pulled into our next station stop of Cascade Locks. Locks are located today at every one of the dams that had been built across the river. Cascade Locks on the other hand was built so boats could navigate around a waterfall on the river back before all of the dams. River traffic today on the Columbia River was very heavy with many barges carrying all sorts of things. The gorge was at it's steepest point through the area beyond Cascade Locks with a huge monolith that can be seen for miles on the Washington shore of the river. It's an amazing sight looking out at the river and it's surroundings that the Pioneer passes through. We made our way upstream to our next station stop of Hood River where if you look at the right time and the weather conditions are right you can catch a glimpse of Mt Hood. We passed through a short tunnel and the scenery changed to one of a drier environment or a rain shadow with the rock strata becoming more visible and impressive. We passed a large sawmill at Crates before we arrived at The Dallas, where Mt Hood could be seen again. East of town we passed The Dalles Dam which created another large lake on the Columbia River. A few miles up the river, we passed under the railroad bridge of Burlington Northern Inside Gateway heading down to Chemult, Klamath Falls and California. Across the Columbia River was the BN yard at Wishram before we crossed the Deschutes River as the gorge opened up and became even more arid. We next ran on a causeway between the highway lanes of traffic, a rather unique location as we approached the John Day Dam. We slowly pulled away from the Columbia River but did keep in within sight of it as the train passed the Umatila Army Depot before we pulled into Union Pacific's large Hinkle Yard and came to a stop for a crew change and a few passengers.

The Pioneer left Hinkle on time, travelled up the Umatila Valley and even though a tunnel in the middle of the vast ranch lands before we arrived at Pendleton. All of the passengers in my car left except for two people, a woman going to Boise and a man going to Salt Lake City and myself heading to Pocatello in this empty coach while right in the next car back the passengers are packed in. We had already traveled along the scenic wonder of the Columbia River now in the midafternoon it was time to start the scenic crossing of the Oregon's Blue Mountains. The Pioneer travelled up the rest of the Umatila Valley and at Huron ran along the Umatila Indian Reservation. Here the railroad started it's steep climb over the Blues. There are no highways here, just the railroad and the stream sharing a rather steep sided canyon wall. The stream was really rushing really good from all of the winter's snowfall. The canyon walls were covered with pine trees and we passed four UP freight trains waiting for us in sidings. The train twisted and turned to get elevation as we continued to climb reaching the summit at Kamela at 4,205 feet. Kamela is the watershed divide with waters to the west flowing to the Colombia River and those to the east into the Snake River. From Kamela the Pioneer descended down a two point two percent grade on the east side slopes of the Blue Mountains. We were held to a speed of thirty miles an hour down the steep grade with Interstate 84 sharing the canyon with us. We reached a section of double track where two freight trains were waiting for our passage with their helpers pushing hard. I can finally now understand why the Blue Mountains are a bottleneck to the freight operations of the Union Pacific now that I have ridden across them. We arrived at La Grande fifteen minutes early a allowing me a chance to get off, enjoy the fresh air and to have a look around the station.

Leaving La Grande, the train crossed the valley to Union then started it's climb up Telocast Hill, a twisting turning affair that leads down into the Baker Valley. After we crossed it's valley we arrived in Baker where I decided it was time for dinner. I went to an empty dining car where I ordered a steak dinner. Ten minutes later, the waiter brought it and placed it on the table in front of me. Just as I was about to take my first bite of it, the car lifted up, my steak flew off of the table and onto the floor as the car landed back on the rails. The Pioneer went into full emergency then came to an abrupt stop. Outside the window on the ground I could see the train crew inspecting the train. The waiter came to the table to ask if I was alright which I was. Seeing the steak on the floor he said he would bring me a fresh one. I asked, "What did we run over?" His response, "A cow!" My comeback, "I'll have another steak please, but not as fresh as the one we had just run over." We both had a good laugh at that one. The conductor came on the PA to tell us what had happened and that anytime we lost here will be made up by Boise. My second Steak was a whole lot more impressive with a much larger baked potato and a whole basket of rolls. They even threw in a bottle of wine and dessert at no charge. The meal was excellent and my use of plastic ware had improved dramatically.

Once we were under way again, we climbed out of the Baker Valley to Encina then descended the east slope's two point two percent grade and around the horseshoe curve at Oxman. We passed through several tunnels near Durkee before we arrived at Huntington, for a crew change. We crossed into Idaho over the Snake River before it plunged into Hell's Canyon. Darkness took hold before we recrossed the Snake River back into Oregon where I bought a round of drinks before I called it a night after the train stopped in Nampa and Boise.

4/14/1981 I curled up and slept soundly until the conductor nudged me awake at the Simplot plant at Don, Idaho saying, "Ten minutes to Pocatello!" We passed the Union Pacific's Fruit Express repair facility before entering the UP's Pocatello Yard and came to a stop at the very nice red brick station. I stepped off and was met by my brother Bruce to start another visit to Pocatello of three nights there.

Desert Wind 35 4/17/1981 My First Sleeping Car

Before I left Pocatello, I got myself my first sleeping car ticket to go from Ogden to Pomona. Bruce suggested that it might be a good idea since the coach section of the train was going to be packed and this would give me an opportunity to try this kind of service. I boarded a Greyhound bus for Ogden which this time went straight down the freeway over Malad Pass not via Preston, Id. and Logan, UT. like I went the last time. I arrived at Ogden's bus depot and walked down the three worst blocks in the state of Utah with bars, tattoo parlors and the homeless wandering around aimlessly. I was glad I made it to Ogden Union Station alive to wait for my departure of the Desert Wind.

I boarded the Pacific View, a ten roomette/six bedroom car of Union Pacific heritage and found roomette number one in the center of the car. It had a seat on one side of the room and a toilet on the other. The bed comes out of the wall behind the seat and takes up the entire length of the room covering up the toilet when the bed is down. Learning point number one: You can't use the toilet when the bed is down. If a crisis arrives in the middle of the night you are forced to go to the Amcafe in the next car to use the bathroom there. My attendant stopped by to explain the features of the room before the conductor stopped by to collect my ticket. I went to the Amcafe for a few nightcaps and was back in my room as we backed out of Ogden Union Station on time after having the through cars from the San Francisco Zephyr attached to our rear. We backed to the junction with the Salt Lake line before we ran forward heading for Utah's capitol city. I had the lights in my room out so I could enjoy the passing night time scenery as I enjoyed my drinks. At Centerville I pulled the bed down and fell asleep in my first sleeping car bed.

4/18/1981 I awoke to a bright sunny morning with the Desert Wind closing in on Las Vegas. I had my breakfast of milk and chocolate donuts before returning to the peace and quiet of my room after I put the bed away. The only drawback to a sleeping car room is that your view is limited to only one side of the train that you are sitting on. I thought that if this train had a Superliner Lounge Car I would be sitting there all daylight hours and back in my room after dark. I decided to enjoy the rest of this trip in the quiet of my room. The only thing which was driving me crazy was not being able to see the other trains that we met and passed that were not on my side. For example, as we passed through Barstow, I never saw any of the yard because my room was on the wrong side. All in all, as I detrained from the Desert Wind at Pomona, I was the most rested that I had ever been after riding the Desert Wind. My first sleeping car trip was an outstanding success.