Southern California was at the end of one of it's wettest winters in it's history caused by El Nino. Santa Ana had received over thirty eight inches of rainfall and the last storm blew through on the night I got up at 11:30 P.M. so my father could drive me up to Union Station in Los Angeles to meet the San Joaquin Thruway bus for Bakersfield and the train, The purpose of this trip is threefold. One; ride one of the last runs of the Rio Grande Zephyr-a non Amtrak run, two; visit my brother Bruce in Pocatello and three; to ride some new routes, San Joaquin, San Francisco Zephyr, Rio Grande Zephyr and the Pioneer. To ticket all this I bought my first All Aboard America Fare which will also allow me to go to Phoenix two weekends later. I boarded the bus not thinking of the bus ride but the train ride which laid ahead. I managed a nap and the next thing I knew I was in Bakersfield approaching our destination the Bakersfield Amtrak Station Trailer.San Joaquin 711 3/26/83
I took the early morning train so I could connect with the City of San Francisco at Martinez. I had ridden the valley route many times but never on a train and never the way the train goes. The highway goes via the straight route to the major cities as does the Southern Pacific line which was built first, but Amtrak uses the Santa Fe's route which provides better track, higher speed and better train handling. I settled in to my Amfleet Coach and we were off on time on our sprint up the San Joaquin Valley.
The valley is a vast garden in a desert with water brought to where the farmers need it. Without the benefits of irrigation this would be just another huge desert valley. Out of Bakersfield the train crossed the Kern River, skirted refineries, passed through through orchards and fields before passing through Shafter to our first stop at Wasco. North of Wasco, the train passed through miles upon miles of flooded fields. There is nothing outside the windows except roads which were built higher than the fields which were covered with water. With all the rain and no place for it to flow, it just builds up in the fields. The train had to slow because water had been lapping up against the right of way causing damage, When the train reached Corcoran it left the lake district of the valley and returned to the more normal fields and orchards.
At Hanford, a large group of people boarded on this Saturday morning with most going to the Bay Area for the weekend. The Fresno stop brings more of the same and we now have a full train. After the stop there, we crawled down the middle of two city streets until we can reach the Santa Fe private right of way. We crossed the San Joaquin River which was running high and returned to the normal valley scenery. This middle portion of the valley was clear and to the east I could see the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada which I will be crossing further north this afternoon. We stopped at the Amshack at Madera which is on the outskirts of town before passing miles of pastures with cattle and through the little towns of Le Grande and Planda.
Upon our arrival at Merced, a group of twenty-five left us for the bus that will take them to Yosemite National Park. I'm amazed by the train's sped at a consistent seventy nine miles an hour except in towns and curves. It's a flat run with the exceptions being the rivers which have cut down into the valley's floor. The Merced River was crossed on high bridges. At Empire, I saw a Modesto, Empire Traction Company train pulling eighteen box cars for interchange with the Santa Fe. Speeding north Riverbank was our next station stop serving Modesto. Between Riverbank and Stockton we met our sister southbound train before we arrived at the station of the latter. The San Joaquins are part of a network of feeder buses which bring or takes passengers from the train adding many destinations beside those only served by the train as in my case Los Angeles as well as Sacramento. These services add a great many riders to the trains.
West of Stockton, the train entered the delta region of California, the point where the San Joaquin and Sacramento River meet. They join together flowing west flowing west forming Suisan Bay, then flows through the Carquinez Straits into San Pablo Bay which the north end of San Francisco Bay. The train crossed the delta on fills and two drawbridges. The fields under normal condition which have been reclaimed from the water are dry but today are underwater from all the excess rain. This is just a reminder that California has just two seasons, a long dry one which I call fire season and a short wet one which I call mud slide season. This year mud slide season lasted a little longer and was a lot heavier than normal. We left the delta and passed through the bay side towns of Antioch and slowed to change railroads at Port Chicago. This was a town according to the stories I've heard that an ammunition accident blew the town up. We switched from the Santa Fe rail to those of the Southern Pacific for the rest of the train's trip to Oakland. The train followed the bay right along it's shoreline but I detrained at the next stop at Martinez. Here I stored my bag behind the station counter and walked across the street to a hot dog stand for an early lunch. I returned to the station, retrieved my bag and waited eight minutes for my next train.The City of San Francisco 6 3/26/83
The City was one of the first jointly operated streamliners in the country running between Chicago and Oakland over the tracks of the Chicago Northwestern (later the Milwaukee Road), Union Pacific and Southern Pacific. When Amtrak was formed on May 1st, 1971 they selected this route for their train service for two reasons. One; the Denver Rio Grande and Western refused to join Amtrak choosing to operate a Denver to Salt Lake City train and two; to serve Reno, NV while east of Denver the train would be run over the rails of the Burlington Northern to Chicago. Now jump twelve years to the future.
Standing on the Martinez platform, I heard a whistle out of sight, then the sound of a train which finally came around the curve into view before stopping. I headed upstairs into the Superliner coach and found a seat. I settled in, had my ticket taken just as the train crossed the Carquinez Strait Drawbridge between Martinez and Benicia. As the train dropped down the grade from the bridge off to the right I could see the mothball fleet of the US Navy sitting out on Suisan Bay never to see service again. The City next made a stop at Suisan-Fairfield to pick up a single passenger, before sprinting to Davis where my friend Brad once went to school at UC Davis. East of town the train crossed the Yolo Bypass which was full of water for the entire four mile crossing. What this bypass does is take the excess water off of the Sacramento River and let it flow in almost a straight line down to the delta reducing the chance of flooding in the main channel through Sacramento. When its dry, farmers use it to grow crops so this land serves a dual purpose. We picked up speed off of the bypass through West Sacramento and then crossed the Sacramento River on a drawbridge with the California State Railroad Museum off to the right prior to stopping in Sacramento.
We headed up to the Sightseer Lounge Car and had a good laugh about his whole morning. We talked about where we were going and guess what, we are doing the exact thing. The City to Denver, Rio Grande Zephyr to Salt Lake where we will spilt ways, Pat returning to Sacramento and myself on the Pioneer to Pocatello. The train passed through the vast Roseville yard and the snow fighting equipment. They have had a busy year with all the storms that have dumped on California. Rains on me and snow for them. One inch of rain equals six inches of wet snow or thirty inches of dry snow. So with thirty eight inches of rain in Santa Ana, we if possible, would have had two hundred twenty-eight inches of wet snow or one thousand one hundred and forty inches of dry snow. East of Roseville lays Donner Pass, one of the snowiest areas in the United States. The record snowfall for the Summit area was reached at Norden near Donner Summit in 1952 with seven hundred ninety inches of snowfall. With all of the rainfall which we had this year, I was looking forward to my first trip over Donner Pass and seeing my first deep snow experience all from the warmth of the train.
The double track mainline splits east of Roseville and the eastbound train took the newer and longer grade while the westbound trains takes the original steep grade which was built by the Chinese as part of the first Transcontinental Railroad by the Central Pacific. The area it crosses is full of historical information from the early settlers to the Gold Rush, to the building of the railroad. The train will climb to almost seven thousand feet for Roseville to Donner Summit on a two percent grade.
The train curved through Auburn affording me another view of the snowcapped Sierras and my excitement began to build. The countryside had changed from the valley floor to oak trees hills to the pine trees slopes. Climbing a mountain is like traveling a thousand miles to the north from where you started. The further north one travels the vegetation changes just like the higher you climb on a mountain. The two tracks rejoined each other as we arrived at Colfax where a set of helpers wait to push a freight train up the Big Hill of the Southern Pacific. Some trains get their helpers here while the really heavy trains receive theirs at Roseville. The train next curved to cross the bridge over Long Ravine before heading around Cape Horn with the view of the American River far below. Passenger trains once stopped here to let the passengers take in the view. The line was engineered to follow the ridge lines up towards the summit so that the line would always be gaining altitude. It was cut out of the mountain's side with pick and shovel. Chinese workers were hung over the ledges to cut out the railroad's path. Early dynamite was used for blasting out ledges and tunnels with many men giving up their lives for the building of the Pacific railroad. If the terrain wasn't bad enough then add in the weather and the snowfall. They basically built a roof over the railroad (snowsheds) in the heaviest snow areas. These were built out of wood and were susceptible to fire. The railroad at one time had over thirty two miles protected by snowsheds, By 1952 there were only five and half miles of snowsheds left. Today all are concrete and are only where they are absolutely necessary.
The City of San Francisco had arrived at the snow line. We passed through the ex gold mining towns of Alta and Gold Run as the snow got deeper. It's absolutely beautiful the way the snow covers the buildings and trees giving the area a winter wonderland feel to it even in April. Icicles hung down from where the snow had melted and the drips are refrozen each night making them longer. The train neared Emigrant Gap, a low spot of the ridge where the railroad switched from the southside to the north side. We ran for a few miles in the shadows of the ridge before we curved into Yuba Gap, the site of the only train to become snowbound in the history of Donner Pass. In 1952 the City of San Francisco was westbound in a terrible storm. The train pulled by diesels came into Yuba Gap westbound, stuck a slide and got trapped by the snow. It continued to snow harder and if it was only through the rescue efforts of local men and women along with those of the employees of the Southern Pacific that every passenger aboard the train survived. Total snowfall for the 1951-1952 season was seven hundred and ninety inches or enough to cover a five story building. I thought of that story and I was glad to be in a nice and warm Superliner Lounge Car passing the deep snows at that very snowbound spot.
Past Yuba Gap, the train passed through a series of tunnels and then through a few of the remaining snowsheds. The clouds had lowered or had we climbed into them? The snow is about halfway up the sides of the cars so anyone on the lower level got a pure white view. At Soda Springs a road to a ski area crossed the tracks with many skiers waiting for our train to pass by. Just before Norden we came to a road crossing with a high wig wag signal. There's no road visible under the deep snow just the wig wag going back and forth through at least thirteen feet of snow. It's the deepest snow I have ever seen. Now I have a full comprehension of the beauty and reality of winter railroading. At Norden we entered a snowshed complex with a turntable, beanery, train orders office and crew quarters for the snow fighters all protected from the climatic elements. We burst back into the fresh mountain air for several minutes before we plunged into the Summit Tunnel under the summit ridge of Donner Pass. We left the tunnel and descended down the east side of the Sierras via Cold Stream Canyon with Donner Lake off to the left.
The whole area was named for the ill fated Donner Party who during the severe winter of 1846 attempted a late crossing of the pass in late October after a snowstorm had already closed the pass. Of the eighty two settlers from Illinois, only forty seven survived. They camped out at the east end of Donner Lake eating twigs, mice, their animals, their shoes and finally their own dead. Fifteen people tried to cross the pass in late December in the hope of bringing back a rescue party but only seven made it through. The rescue party only could save forty people by the time they got to them. So only forty seven people from an ill timed decision reached California alive.
Pulling into Truckee, the lights of the town began to take hold as darkness settled in on the valley. We followed the Truckee River to a point out near Lovelock, NV which is far out in the Nevada desert. The Truckee River is one of the few major rivers in North America that doesn't empty into an ocean. We curved downstream along it's course and it was just an hour later we arrived in Reno. NV, "America's Biggest Little City." There's an area which the train passed through which is all lit up by bright neon lights of the casinos but once away from that it's just like any other western town. My reservation for dinner was called so I went to the dining car and ordered a steak. The train left Reno and traveled the short miles to Sparks a crew change point where the train is serviced and the Reno coach is removed. With the train power cut, I dined by yard floodlight. I've had a few candlelight dinners in my time but nothing could compare to dining like this. I returned to my coach seat after dinner and as the train headed past Lovelock heading out into central Nevada, I called it a night and fell fast asleep.
3/27/83 At four in the morning, I went downstairs and found the conductor standing with the vestibule door window open. He saw me and asked, "Would you like to enjoy the crossing of the Great Salt Lake this morning?" "Sure!" I said so he let me have the window as the train started across the fill that spans the Great Salt Lake. The original transcontinental line ran around the north end of the lake up on the slope of Promontory Mountain so in 1903 the Southern Pacific built the Lucin Cutoff with a trestle right across the middle of the lake. This trestle was replaced with the fill that we were riding on this predawn morning completed on July, 9, 1959 by Morrison Knudsen at a cost of fifty million dollars. As I looked out at the lake's vastness, the wind was really whipping up the waves crashing against the fill. Just as Donner Pass is known for snow removal, this area of the Southern Pacific is a battle against water. With the recent wet years the lake is at an all time high and the SP fears losing the battle with it. Well at least on this crossing of the fill, the City of San Francisco made it across and we arrived in Ogden, Utah fifteen minutes early.
It was the moment before sunrise with the sky brilliant red on the high clouds and the wind still blowing cold as I stepped off to stretch my legs at Ogden Union Station. I grabbed a newspaper while the Union Pacific added a SD-40-2H freight unit to the point of our train. I noticed about twenty five people boarding a bus for Salt Lake City, most of whom will be taking the Rio Grande Zephyr later in the morning, while I'll be taking the quicker route through scenic Wyoming to Denver. I drove across Wyoming as a kid in the back of our family's camper and remember just how wide open it was. Will it be any different from the train?
Leaving Ogden, we were now riding on the rails of the other transcontinental partner, the Union Pacific. They built west from Council Bluff in the late 1860's meeting the Central Pacific at Promontory Point on May 10th, 1869. This was the route of the legendary City trains which UP ran to every major city on their system. The City of San Francisco, with the SP west of Ogden, City of Los Angeles, City of Portland and the City of St. Louis with a Wabash connection east of Kansas City. These trains were some of the finest left when Amtrak took over and just showed the pride the Union Pacific took in the running of their trains.
Traveling east from Ogden after passing through the yard there we followed the Weber River into the Wasatch Mountains gaining elevation in order to reach the Wyoming plateau. The lower canyon is tight with steep sides with one area called the Devil's Slide before it opened up into a nice valley with snowcapped peaks near Morgan. The mountains provide some of the best skiing in the west at Alta and Park City. We traveled through Echo Canyon with it's beautiful red sandstone cliffs. The double track mainline then splits with the eastbound track crossing over the westbound track at a place called Curvo before passing through a long tunnel and reaching the summit of the climb from Ogden at Wasatch. We crossed the state line into Wyoming and arrived at our first station there at Evanston. It's my first time by rail in Wyoming.
So far this morning we had the Interstate 80 within sight but departing Evanston we headed southeast while the highway takes the short way out of the Bear river Valley. To leave the valley we plunged into the long Altamont Tunnel. Upon exiting, three freight trains flew by us on the opposite track a mere few minutes apart. Freight trains will be the order of the day as this is the Union Pacific mainline across America. At the town of Granger, the UP line from the Pacific Northwest joined the route so now the tracks carry all of the UP traffic to the west that it handles. The train descended the long grade to the crossing of the Green River and stopping at it's namesake city in Wyoming. Departing the beautiful Green River Station with it's red brick with white columns we passed through a freight yard and then followed a small steam out of town. Fifteen minutes later our next stop of Rock Springs came and went. Continuing east we encountered the Continental Divide not just once but twice as the railroad descended into a basin with no watery exit with a dry lake in the middle of it before it climbed out of the other side crossing the divide for the second time. In the middle of the basin we passed a large herd of elk and I was amazed at their numbers. Makes me wonder what a herd of buffalo must have looked like when they built the railroad across the plains in the 1860's? I've read accounts of Buffalo herds as far as the eye could see.
Our new train crew has been pointing out the scenic highlights as they abound everywhere and any of the recently built Union Pacific projects. It seems like the UP has built projects all over the place and the scenic highlights are no place to be found. Of course historical information was given so the train's PA system chattered all afternoon. Passing Tipton it was revealed that here was the last train robbery in Wyoming by the Hole in the Wall Gang of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame. Now I know the location of the robbery against the Union Pacific, I wonder where the other one was that they had talked about? The train arrived at Rawlins and after a brief stop we continued our trek east. At Sinclair we passed the refinery of the same name with it's "flare off" burning against the wide Wyoming sky. The remains of Fort Steele were passed a little later on the left, followed by Walcott. Walcott was the other location where the Hole in the Wall Gang pulled off what became the largest train robbery in the Union Pacific's history. We passed the boom town of Hanna with it's strip coal mines and down the tracks fifteen miles we flew through Medicine Bow. The North Fork of the Platte River which we had been following since Rawlins heads north as we turned to the southeast passed the snow fences and within an hour we arrived in Laramie, ten minutes early.
East of Laramie is a piece of track I've always wanted to ride over. Sherman Hill is the highest point on the Union Pacific mainline and was also the first difficulty the westward builders faced. They wanted to build west as fast and as cheaply as they could so they surveyed the same route that the Indians had been traveling for centuries. The climb over Sherman Hill could have been avoided if they would have just followed the North Platte River. Although it was a longer route, it would have all been at water level around this ridge and rejoined the present route at Medicine Bow. But what if they would have done this? Would all of the great historical battles of the Union Pacific verses Sherman Hill would have never taken place? Would I not be riding this way today? Thank God that they made that mistake all those years ago.
Leaving Laramie, the tracks split and our train starts it's ascent on the shorter grade of the two. We were climbing a 0.82 percent grade and began to pass rock outcroppings. At Colores we passed the usual cliff-like formations followed by the many snow fences. The trees I saw were all stunted in their growth by the high winds that blow here. The train continued to climb until it reached Hermosa where the two lines rejoined before they plunged into the twin bores of the Hermosa Tunnels which is the only tunnel on Sherman Hill. We crossed Dale Creek on a high fill and passed through Dale, the junction with the newer westbound line built with a lower gradient in 1952 from Cheyenne. Passing more odd rock formations, off in the distance I could see the Ames Monument, a pyramid to the memory of Oaks Ames in recognition of his services in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. A little further the climb ends at 8,013 feet at Sherman, the highest point on the Union Pacific mainline.
As we descended the east face of Sherman Hill, we passed the large ballast pit at Burford and continued down the one and a half percent grade to our next stop at Borie fifteen miles away. We followed Lone Tree Creek which will take us down to the Colorado border. Borie is the stop for Cheyenne about ten miles away and was nothing more than a wind swept platform out in the middle of nowhere. I would hate to wait for a train there in a Sherman Hill Blizzard. We swung off of the UP mainline, taking the Borie Cutoff in order to reach Denver. We met the low grade line at Speer, then head south into Colorado. The sky was turning red as sunset arrived giving the snow a reddish tint. I went to the dining car and had chicken as I watched the sun set over the Rockies. Greeley arrived in the darkness and was followed by an on time arrival in Denver. A quick taxi cab ride to the Travelodge, a nice long hot shower and then a good night's sleep.The Rio Grande Zephyr 17 3/28/83
I woke up and the first thing I did was to open the door of the hotel room and looked out at a beautiful clear sky. It was clear and cold with me caught up in the excitement, for today I was riding the last non Amtrak train in the United States, the Rio Grande Zephyr. This train is a remnant of the California Zephyr one of America's premier passenger trains. When Amtrak was formed the Rio Grande didn't want daily passenger trains running over their tracks so they elected to keep running their train three days a week between Denver and Salt Lake City. The train ran west on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays and east on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays. It never ran on Wednesdays.
A quick taxi ride downtown to Denver Union Station and I was greeted by a mob in the waiting room. Most of the passengers would be going to Glenwood Springs as it is the most popular destination on the route. They loaded the Salt Lake passengers first and I walked with thirty eight other people to the coach named Silver Pine. The train consists of an A-B-B set of F-units, a steam generator car, a combine (baggage/coach), a dining car (Silver Banquet), four Dome coaches, two flat top coaches and the Dome/Observation car (Silver Sky). My coach had forty-four seats and I took a left hand seat. I didn't plan on sitting here not with five Domes to ride in. The conductor took my ticket and told me the whole train was mine to enjoy. I walked back to the Silver Sky, just as the business car Wilson McCarthy was added to the rear of the train thus blocking the rear view the Silver Sky would normally offer. At precisely 7:30 the train whistled off and my journey on the last great non Amtrak train in the United States began.
Returning to the Silver Pine, I sat back first to enjoy North Yard, the Rio Grande main Denver yard and then the suburbs of the mile high city. The car had large windows so I could look out both sides. The train quickly passed through Leyden and then slowed as it climbed to Rocky where we met a eastbound freight. Knowing that the Big Ten Curve is next, I returned to the Dome in the Silver Sky and knelt in the aisle at the front of the Dome.
As the train climbed up to and around the Big Ten Curve, cameras were clicking off pictures at a feverish pace as people tried to catch the moment. As the train approached Clay siding, I was off in search of an open vestibule window and I found one in the Dome Coach Silver Pony so I could enjoy the climb to the Moffat Tunnel in the fresh air.
The top of the vestibule was open so I settled in to my new found home. Now this is the best place to ride on a train with the fresh air on you, the wind blowing through your hair and the unobstructed view looking out of the train. When the train curves you get a great head end view and then you turn you see the rear of the train negotiating the same curve. In every vestibule there are people with cameras clicking off pictures or just enjoying the view. I do both, as this to me is the heaven of train riding and something not permitted on Amtrak trains but then this is the Rio Grande.
The sun shone brightly across the snow covered landscape with the train climbing higher and higher, looping around Coal Creek Canyon and then headed into tunnel number one. Exiting the first of the twenty-nine tunnels on the Front Range, I looked back viewing the Denver skyline through the early morning haze before it's back to the train as the climb continued. At Plainview siding, we met another freight train in the siding waiting for us to pass by and then we traveled through two cliff lined tunnels as we continued our two percent climb along the Front Range to reach South Boulder Creek with it's access to the Continental Divide. Turning west along South Boulder Creek we popped into a tunnel, round a curve, a tunnel, a curve and then had one last view of the Great Plains far below. At Crescent siding there's enough room for a brief piece of straight track before returning to the twisting, turning and tunnels of this morning's run. Continuing west we passed through the Granite tunnel with a group of photographers high above taking pictures. This must be one of the most photographed trains in history.
Climbing past Pinecliffe siding we passed a waiting helper set to continue west. We went up a tight valley, passing a few cabins before reaching Rollinsville.
I could see the divide up ahead with it's snowcapped peaks as we twisted and turned like a silver snake heading for it. The brakeman walked by reminding me to close the vestibule before reaching the Moffat Tunnel in order to keep the diesel fumes out of the train. He noticed that my upper lip was bleeding and told me he had an old fashion cure he'll give me to fix this problem after we exit the Moffat Tunnel. He went on about his duties as the train arrived at East Portal siding making a slight curve before heading straight for the tunnel. At the west switch, I closed the vestibule and stepped into the Silver Pony for eighteen minutes of darkness while the train passed through the Moffat Tunnel at the highest point on today's route and under the Continental Divide. I walked up into the Dome and enjoyed the train's passage through the tunnel before we exited the third longest railroad tunnel in the United States.
Bursting out into the bright mountain sunshine we passed the Winter Park Ski Area where skiers are busy practicing their skills on this late March day. The brakeman returned with a shot glass of whiskey and tells me to hold it up to my bleeding lip and then stick my head out into the wind. I did this and my lip sealed. I asked him how did he know this would work and he said his grandfather had worked on the Rio Grande and this happened all of the time. This was the quickest way to fix it was to follow this procedure. With this all done, I asked "What should I do with the whiskey?" "Drink it if you want to," he said. I sure do like this railroad!
The train followed the Fraser River into it's valley to where it meets the Colorado River which we will follow for 238 miles. We made a scheduled stop at Granby right on time and were met by three cowboys on horseback. This must be the Wild West. Heading west we headed into Byers Canyon with US # 40 on the opposite side and the friendly photographers getting a few more shots of our train. Being it's Easter Vacation and the Rio Grande Zephyr had three more weeks to live, I think that accounts for all the photographers. We entered another small valley and I decided to go to the dining car for breakfast. I walked through three Dome coaches and entered the Silver Banquet to wait to be seated. Each table had white linen, a real flower, china and silver. The place setting is finer than at any restaurant I've ever eaten at. The Steward seats me on the left side of the car along a window facing forward. He handed me a menu card and I studied it looking for the right choice. I ordered the Rio Grande Special which included Chilled Orange Juice, French Toast with Country Sausage Patties and a cup of tea. The Steward finished taking my order and returned with a cup of tea. Meanwhile the train had entered Gore Canyon with it's steep sides, slide detector fences, and short tunnels. The river has a series of rapids thus descending well below track level. My meal arrived and I savored the enjoyment of the partaking. I was still eating as the train passed through Yarmony and Radium with me paying the check as the train passed the State Bridge. I returned to my vestibule still enjoying that most wonderful breakfast I just had. This was the finest breakfast experience I've had so far in my travels and will be a hard one to top.
The canyon opened up a little at Orested where the Craig Branch took off and was going to be the original line to Salt Lake City but the builders ran out of money. The train headed down the Dotsero Cutoff with our next stop at Bond. We followed the Colorado River with the tracks switches sides of the river back and forth as it heads to Dotsero. Since no one was sharing the vestibule with me every time the train crossed the river I just crossed to the other side of the vestibule always putting me on the river's side. We passed the siding at Dell, met a freight train at Range and traveled through Red Rock Canyon passing several deer along the way. Just before Dotsero we ducked under Interstate 70 and arrived at the junction with the line to Pueblo via Tennessee Pass. Heading again due west, we started our passage through Glenwood Canyon. Entering Glenwood Canyon, the railroad and the two lane highway with the river in between in it's bottom with it's extremely high walls making for a very narrow passage. They are going to put the Interstate Highway through the canyon and I don't see how they are going to do it without destroying the beauty of Glenwood Canyon. Many people must agree with my sentiments as right before we entered the canyon there was a sea of signs most reading, "Save the Canyon!" At least I'm going through it in it's undisturbed form. I stared into the beauty of it all. The river. the train, the highway and those walls. It leaves an image in my mind that I will never forget. What a canyon and what a train !
As the train pulled into Glenwood Springs, my vestibule filled with people ready to detrain. The crowd forced me off of the train but I needed some fresh Rocky Mountain air anyway. The platform swelled with the masses from the train so I took a walk up to the front end of our train to look at the vintage power. Since we arrived fifteen minutes early I was in no hurry to return to the near empty train which now had Dome seats for the taking. I took the front seat in the Silver Sky giving me a view overlooking the train. From the look of the other Domes, it seems that all the rest of the passengers on the train are now riding under the glass of the Domes. Emerging from a short canyon west of Glenwood Springs, the train sprinted across the Grand Valley. Here the train was running at the maximum track speed and soon we made a quick stop at Rifle. With a name like that, it only conjures up images of the old west in my mind. The Grand Valley is quite agricultural in nature and occupies the entire valley floor. The cliffs and mesas are just like steps leading to the sky. The train entered De Beque Canyon and the train passed through it quickly, arriving at Grand Junction twelve minutes early. No one boarded and twenty six people detrained so that left a mere thirty four people aboard the train. While the train was being serviced, I visited the Rio Grande Company Store in the depot. I purchased a Rio Grande Hat before I returned to the Silver Pine to put my newest hat in my suitcase. I returned to the Silver Sky with several of the passengers inviting me back to the under the Dome lounge for a round of beers. We sat back and talked about what else, trains, as we departed Grand Junction.
The train sped through the western end of the Grand Valley and near Fruita we all returned to the Dome. We passed through a tunnel, rejoined the mighty Colorado River and for the first time my eyes view the incredible Ruby Canyon. It was love at first sight. The high mesa like cliffs with their multicolors and their shapes, the river wide and curving and the train of course. Most importantly no roads, just a few ranches. The train is a small piece in the grandeur of it all. It's one of the totally unspoiled places on earth and from my Dome seat I stare up along the canyon walls to the sky, thinking about how God had made all of this. It's an incredible feeling. A line on the cliff marks the train's passage into Utah and after a few more miles the journey through Ruby Canyon is over. We left the Colorado River at Westwater and headed out onto the Utah desert. The Book Cliffs came into view and will be on our north side all the way to Helper on the far side of the Desert. There's several reverse curves in order for the train to gain altitude from the Colorado River to the watershed divide with the Green River. This is the racetrack of the Rio Grande as it reaches it's maxim track speed across the desert. Thompson, Utah was passed at high speed since no one flagged the train to stop it at this flag stop today. This is a wasteland in the true sense, a place where you can see the erosion caused by time right before your eyes.
Continuing our late afternoon desert trek, we came to a siding with the perfect name, Solitude. To me there couldn't be a better name for this place because if I would step off the train here, that's where I'd be. It would be me, the desert, the wind, mother nature and God. Funny how this trip has got me thinking of my Heavenly Father. Leaving Solitude to the wind, the Zephyr approached our next flag stop of Green River and flew right through it onto the bridge over the Green River and the lowest point on today's trip. The train now started to climb towards Soldier Summit over eighty five miles away. The Zephyr continued it's westward trek passing the sidings at Sphinx, Desert, Vista and Woodside. Passing the west switch at Grassy, the train made a hard left hand turn to gain more elevation. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was turning a bright red giving the stainless steel of our train a reddish hue. The train was twisting to gain more elevation and joined the Price River for it's climb to Soldier Summit. The train was ascending the east flank of Utah's Wasatch Mountains and the train had entered coal country. Coal from here is sent down to Southern California some for export and some for other uses. We passed a facility at a place called Wash where the mined coal gets a bath. The Rio Grande has a branch up to Sunnyside, a major coal producing region which ships trains to Kaiser Steel in Fontana, CA. Further west at Helper, the Utah Railway serves mines south of town. We passed a string of loaded coal cars and I remembered one other place the coal goes and that is to US Steel in Geneva, UT.
The train passed through Price as the sun showed it's last rays of the day and we stopped on time at Helper, Utah. The train crew made one last crew change and the four of us in the Silver Sky decided it was time to eat dinner. The Silver Sky Four made our way to the final meal we would ever eat in the Silver Banquet. Walking in I thought if the tables had looked good for breakfast, the crew really out did themselves for dinner. The Steward bought us our menus and we all decided what we wanted the Rocky Mountain Trout, but since we decided to eat late they were all out so we all ordered Baked Young Turkey. The waiter returned with a bowl of Consomme soup and a bottle of California White Zinfandel wine to have with my meal. After the soup which was served in a china bowl, we all talked about our trip today with everyone saying their favorite part. For me it had to be Ruby Canyon hands down. My Baked Young Turkey arrived sharing a large china plate with whipped potatoes and broccoli spurs. The train left Helper, passed the Utah Railway Junction, Castle Gate and Kyune while we were eating our meals. I finished my meal, which was another excellent entree served by the dining car crew of the Rio Grande.
We returned back to the Silver Sky first for a nightcap, then a toast to the Rio Grande Zephyr and it's memory. We went upstairs into the Dome for the rest of the climb under the stars of the night. The only lights seen are of those few passing cars on US Highway 6 before we returned to the shadows of the canyon where the only light is the twinkling stars overhead. We reached the summit of Soldier Summit and started our westward descent leaving the summit to the cold night mountain air. Twisting and turning down the west side the train's headlight showed it it's way. The highway is down below taking the shorter way along the valley floor. We negotiated the upper Gilluly Loop making an one hundred and eighty degree turn as the moon rose over the Wasatch Mountains shining brightly in the night time sky as we dropped down the middle level. At the bottom we made another one hundred and eighty degree turn ducking under the highway bridge to continue our descent. The conversations turned silent as we all listed to the sound of the train in the night. The train whistles for a crossing and it's sound just echoes off of the canyon walls. There is no better place to ride a train at night than in the top of a Dome car. Its a totally fantastic experience.
We slide by a grouping of lights and someone said that it was Thistle, a small town at the junction of the canyons with a Rio Grande branch taking off for Marysville. Thistle was forever changed less than two weeks later. On the night of April 14th, 1983 right after the Rio Grande Zephyr had passed through west, the unstable mountain just to the west of Thistle slid down into the valley covering up the Rio Grande Railroad and the highways into town. Since it had been a very wet winter season the blockage of the natural drainage caused a flood the engulf the valley behind the natural dam and flooded Thistle. Houses were literally floated to the eastern shore of the new lake. The Rio Grande Zephyr trapped to the west of the slide returned to Denver on April 15th via the Union Pacific across Wyoming. The Rio Grande Zephyr then finished it's career running to and from Grand Junction with a bus connection to points west. The railroads only recourse was to run it's trains over the Union Pacific and began drilling tunnels through the adjacent mountain along with a new route above where Thistle once had been. Eighty three days after the last run of the Rio Grande Zephyr, on July 16th, 1983 the first Amtrak train The California Zephyr traveled the new Thistle line and plunged into the first of the twin bores to be completed.
We sped through the narrows and burst out into the valley where Provo is located. It's a sea of lights ahead of the train and we headed into the brightness they provided. In twenty minutes we arrived at Provo, our second to the last stop on this train. While the train was in the station at Provo, I walked back to the Silver Banquet to thank the entire crew for the great meals and I received a complete set of Denver and Rio Grande Dining Car Menus. My Rio Grande experience was almost complete. We passed the bright lights of the US Steel Mill at Geneva on the east and Utah Lake on the west side of the train. From here we followed the Jordan River through a narrow passage into the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley with it's increasing lights as we continued north. We were traveling at maximum track speed heading north up the valley. The train slowed for Roper Yard, the Rio Grande's main Salt Lake facility prior to entering an industrial area. We then headed down the middle of a street at the slowest speed of the whole trip and pulled into the Rio Grande Salt Lake City Station ten minutes early. My Rio Grande experience was over. I walked from the Dome of the Silver Sky, thanked the lounge attendant for his great service, returned to the Silver Pine to get my bags and then I headed for the vestibule. I stepped off the Rio Grande Zephyr and just stared at the glory of it all. For in three weeks it would cease to run, ending a glorious railroad tradition. I took one last hard look, then I turned and walked away.
I walked through the Rio Grande Station and one of the Silver Sky Four asked if I wanted a ride over to the Amtrak Station and I accepted. Within five minutes I was in the Union Pacific Station waiting for the Pioneer. Standing in the waiting room I stared up at the Murals of the Promontory Meeting of the Builders of the Transcontinental Railroad high above the waiting room. I was the only passenger from the Rio Grande Zephyr tonight for all the other through passenger opted for the van to Ogden. I preferred the all rail route. I boarded the Pioneer with the train leaving Salt Lake City on time and then crept through the Union Pacific's North Yard and piggyback facility. The Pioneer picked up speed as it ducked underneath Interstate 15 and then paralleled the roadway along the western face of the Wasatch Mountains. My Amfleet coach had a slight rattle to it as the train sped north up the UP's double track mainline. Off to the west in total darkness is the Great Salt Lake and to the east were the snowcapped peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. We slowed for the curve around the wye into Ogden Union Station where the City of San Francisco was waiting to give us their passenger heading to the Northwest.
3/30/93 After ten minutes of station work we were off into the Utah night onto more new trackage for me. I dozed in and out of sleep in my seat for the next forty minutes until our next stop at Brigham City. A family boarded sitting in front of me and talked for the next hour. I knew the Bear River Canyon was coming up so I walked back to the sleeper and opened the vestibule to enjoy the night time air. The conductor showed up expecting to find me someplace nice and quiet. The train slowed to ten miles an hour for the curved bridge above the Cutler Reservoir and entered a tunnel high on the ledge above. This made for a great night time train riding experience. I closed the vestibule and returned to the now quiet coach and caught some sleep all the way to outside of Pocatello crossing into the state of Idaho as I dreamed. A gentle nudge from the conductor woke me and informed me that we would be in Pocatello in five minutes. We entered the Union Pacific's large hump yard, pass eastbound freights waiting their turns at the mainline to points east and south before we overtook a westbound freight entering town for a crew change and inspection. Right on time we pulled up to Pocatello's handsome red brick depot and I stepped off of the train for the first time ever in Idaho only to be greeted by my brother Bruce in his Amtrak uniform. He performed his station work and on his lunch break (2:30 A.M.) he drove me up to the house to start my five day visit with Bruce and Karla. I had arrived by rail so he didn't have to drive down to Ogden to get me. It was the end of a perfect day in my life as I laid down on a king size waterbed to sleep.The Bus 4/3/83
To save my brother a trip down to Ogden, I decided to take Greyhound. It followed US # 91 going via Preston, ID and Logan, UT far off the interstate that Bruce always took me on. This trip basically passes through the same countryside the train passed through at night. It was a good trip to Ogden but it made me realize why I enjoy the train so much. One word. Freedom! The freedom to move about and not being required to remain in one's seat. Bus passenger are a different breed of people than train riders. They sit there never saying a word, trying to occupy two seats when someone tries to seat next to them then responds with a dirty look trying to scare the would be seat mate off. They are a rude bunch. If they bump you they never say they're sorry and if you get up to use the bathroom everyone gives you a dirty look like "What are you doing out of your seat!" I think it is easy to see why I prefer the train. I arrived at Ogden's bus station before walking down the two worst blocks in the whole state of Utah with bars, bums, drunks and homeless. It's everything you wouldn't see in a Utah State Tourism Magazine.The Desert Wind 35 4/4/83
Arriving early at Ogden Union Station gave me a chance to look around this old building. I walked out and counted how many platforms there once were by the remaining cement slabs. Inside there are some pictures of the station in it's glory days. It must have been a very busy place. My train the Desert Wind was sitting out on track two waiting on it's departure time. Thirty minutes before departure time the conductor led us out to board the train while we waited for the City of San Francisco to arrive which had been running thirty five minutes late. That train only got later as the Pioneer arrived on track one. Finally, fifty two minutes late, the City of San Francisco arrived on track three being pulled by two freight locomotives with one of the Amtrak engines dead. The passenger transferred to their trains quickly and we were first to depart Ogden forty minutes late. The coach lights stayed on a all the way past Salt Lake City keeping us all awake. The conductor didn't collect any tickets until after Salt Lake City so anyone going from Ogden to Salt Lake got a free ride. The lights finally were turned off and I fell asleep across two Amfleet coach seats.
Awakening found the train in Meadow Valley Wash as we were in Nevada heading for Las Vegas. The Amfleet window are too small so they don't do justice to the scenery. The route is becoming familiar to me having traveled it enough and I began to know where the scenic highlights are instinctively. By Las Vegas, we had made up all of the lateness of last night so it was a nice treat to step off the train into the nice dry Nevada morning air. We left Las Vegas on the advertised schedule and headed for California on the Union Pacific mainline. The cafe car was busy serving Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers to all the new passengers, mostly gamblers who had boarded at Vegas. The line stretched back into my car and I listened to their tales of how much they had lost at the tables. There's not a winner among them but I think back to my Rio Grande experience and proclaimed myself the Grand Prize Winner. I was getting hungry so after the line disappeared. I went to the Amcafe and ordered lunch. My hot dog was all shriveled up, the bun was as hard as a rock, potato chips and soda. I guessed I was the loser in the end having to eat this after the excellent meals on the Rio Grande Zephyr. Did this ever bring me back to the reality of train travel on Amtrak.
I sat back and let the high desert pass by this morning without noticing too much as I was reading the new issue of Trains Magazine. By the time I was done with several articles we were entering Afton Canyon and I stopped reading to enjoy the passage. I went back to reading and the next time I glanced up we were passing through the yard at Yermo and ten minutes later we were back on the double track mainline of the Santa Fe at Dagget for the quick trip to Barstow. Passing through the Barstow yard it was a quick trip to Victorville passing many freight trains along the way before we climbed the east slope of Cajon Pass. Emerging the cut at Summit, the air below had the brown Southern California haze (smog) and I remarked, "I feel so much better now being able to see the air that I'm breathing!" We made a quick trip down the west side of Cajon Pass and arrived at San Bernardino right on time. The Desert Wind sped west down the 2nd District to Pomona where I detrained saving me from having to go into Los Angeles then to Santa Ana. My parents drove to get me after calling Amtrak's 800 number to find out if we were on time out of Las Vegas. It's a forty minute trip by car to my home in Santa Ana where I would be home for two weeks before the next segment of this All Aboard America Fare.
4/15/93 Jeff Hartmann, my good and dear friend and I took our first trip on the Sunset Limited overnight to Phoenix to visit my brother Duane, his wife Lisa and their new daughter Stephanie.
Steve Fredson took us to McCormick Railroad Park in Scottsdale and to Tucson to see some trains before we overnighted it west on the Sunset Limited on 4/17/93 to Pomona where Jeff's dad picked us both up so we could get into work.