Christmas came and went with me spending my first Christmas season sober in years. My AA group meets 365 mornings a year and has a good success rate of keeping people sober. Knowing that I had Spring Recess coming up, I looked at the ten day period to work on finishing the Amtrak system. With routes needed in the northeast and Canada still locked up in winter or the southeast where I would be warmer, I chose the southeast. After playing with all the possible routes that I could cover, late one night while I was sleeping I awoke with the plan and wrote it down on paper. The next morning I looked at it and yes that was how I was going to spend my spring break. I called Amtrak and could get all I wanted except into Tampa but to get into Florida I had to get a Slumbercoach which suited me just fine as all the coach seats were sold out. I went down to Santa Ana and paid for it there as I always like to give my home station the business. I then worked at McFadden for two months until the departure date came.San Diegan 583 - 3/28/1996
I boarded the San Diegan for the usual trip to Los Angeles to connect with my first long distance train of this journey. Someone asked me why I do not get off at Fullerton to connect with my train there? Two reasons. In Los Angeles where the train originates I get my choice of the seat and by going there I get an extra fifty two miles. I just sat back and realized that the next Amfleet train that I would be riding would be the Crescent out of New Orleans. It was an uneventful trip and we arrived in Los Angeles on time with me walking down the long tunnel to sit in front of the gate to wait for my next train.Southwest Chief 4 3/28/1996
I boarded the Superliner coach taking my usual right hand large window seat and the car filled up with almost every seat being filled. The guy who sat next to me never said a single word to me but does ask the conductor if he can have a seat to himself? These are the only words that I heard the guy speak until he got off in Albuquerque the next afternoon. I went to the lounge car for a 7-Up and to enjoy the ride to Fullerton where tonight's movie started. I had never heard of the title or of the actors or actress. It is about some middle age lady living in Switzerland either dreaming of or really having an affair who then spots the man of her dreams and .... I had enough of that so I returned to my seat about the time the train had reached Santa Ana Canyon, curled up in my seat with my Amtrak blanket over me and fell asleep.
3/29/96 I woke up the next morning just as the train was passing through Peach Spring, AZ and climbed over my non speaking friend to go to the lounge car to wait for it to open. I finally got to go through the one Santa Fe tunnel in Arizona awake before we reached Seligman. We traveled over the high fills and deep cuts through the low pine forest to Williams and while as I was having my breakfast I saw the Grand Canyon Railroad getting ready for its day's business. We kept on climbing then crossed the Arizona Divide at Maine before passing beneath San Francisco Peak and arriving at Flagstaff.Leaving town the scenery slowly changes back from forest to desert before you know it. You also need to know where to look as the train sped across the Canyon Diablo 225 feet above the wash on a 560 foot steel bridge. To the south you could see the rim of the famous Meteor Crater before we arrived twenty-five minutes later at our next station stop at Winslow. We followed the Little Colorado River east to Holbrook before we passed in between the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. The Santa Fe freight trains are being met at an increasing rate which is always a good sign that business is good on my favorite railroad. We followed the wash into New Mexico with its mesas which I always think are so beautiful. We passed the junction with the Defiance Branch with all of the coal reserves before we arrived at Gallup, the Indian Capital of the World.
We passed Red Rock State Park followed by Pyramid and Church Rocks. The Santa Fe mainline divides here with us taking the shorter route and a long westbound manifest train taking the gentler grade route. We crossed over the Continental Divide and then sailed past two more junctions of coal producing routes. We sped through Grants before crossing through the lava beds followed by the McCarty and later the Acomita Pueblos. Next is the Laguna Pueblo before we ran along the gypsum cliffs and past the Kneeling Nun rock formation. To the north we have been seeing Mt Taylor one of the highest peaks in New Mexico at 11,301 feet. The train crossed over the Rio Puerco before we curved off the Santa Fe double track mainline at Dalies. We descended along a single track main to the Iselta Indian Reservation before crossing the Rio Grande River and minutes later the landscape turned more urban as we arrived in Albuquerque.
The train was serviced, the windows washed and the Indians sold their wares on the platform. The train left heading north up the Rio Grande Valley. We passed by the San Felipe and Santa Domingo Pueblos. Since we were running two hours late from waiting for the Coast Starlight's passengers at Barstow we met the westbound Chief at Waldo siding. We left the Rio Grande Valley and headed up the wash to our next stop at Lamy. We left Lamy then went through rocky Apache Canyon before making the final climb to the summit of Glorieta Pass. It was time for dinner and I had a New York Strip. I was seated at a table with three know it all railfans who were wrong about everything that they talked about. Being the prefect rail rider that I try to be I did not point out any of their mistakes. I sat quietly and had a good laugh inside. Some things have not changed from my last trip as it was dreaded menu number three again. Is tonight's movie "The Firm"?
We are now a night train as we left Las Vegas, NM. I went to the lower level of the lounge car for tonight's showing of Kingfish and since my next train is going to New Orleans I learned a little history on the way there. During the movie we crossed Raton Pass into Colorado and descend to Trinidad. After the movie I hung out upstairs talking to a nice group of people until the servicing stop at La Junta, CO. I detrained to enjoy the nice and cold Colorado fresh air before returning to my coach seat and falling asleep. I could have stayed up a couple of hours and crossed Kansas off the list of former drinking states but I decided that it had been a good day so I deserved a good rest. I will cross it off in the morning any way.
3/30/1996 I woke up in Missouri just as the train arrived in Kansas City and I could now cross that state off my list on a very rainy Spring morning. I detrained and visited the tiny gift shop in the station that hides in the shadow of the massive Kansas City Union Station that is no longer used. We are still an hour twenty minutes late so the St Louis and Chicago bound Anne Rutledge leaves town before we did. We followed the train out of town on a dreary morning through the industries and the many railroad crossings before we are back out into the farmlands along the Missouri River. We crossed it on a high single track bridge in a driving rainstorm. We came off the bridge onto the shared trackage with the Norfolk Southern (ex Wabash) and there was a train waiting for us to clear as we came out of the rain shower.
We traveled along the Missouri River floodplain before we climbed the low hills and minutes later passed the bright red brick depot at Carrollton, MO. We crossed the Grand River as we continued our northeast path across the low hills until we crossed a low laying wetland prior to Marceline, the boyhood home of Walt Disney. We crossed the Chariton River, stopped at La Plata and met a parade of Santa Fe freight trains. Now in northeast Missouri, the train is on a roller coaster of grades crossing over streams that empty into the Mississippi River. We crossed the Des Moines River and entered Iowa for only a few short miles to our only stop in that state at Fort Madison.
We crossed the Mississippi River sharing the bridge with a highway and entered Illinois. We climbed away from the river and then traveled across the farmlands before we arrived at Galesburg. We crossed more farmlands to our next stop at Chillicothe by crossing the Illinois River before we ran over the Holstein Hills and descended around Houlihan's Curve. After Chillicothe we crossed the Vermillion River and then stopped at Streator. Amtrak is planning to reroute the Chief off the Santa Fe to the Burlington Northern tracks between Galesburg and Chicago so I chose to make one last ride to Chicago so I could for the last time say "Santa Fe All The Way". All of the crowd from last night is still sitting in the lounge car so we decide that once we get to Chicago we will all stick together to wait for our connecting trains. It is amazing how strangers can bond on a train and become like family!
We continued heading northeast crossing the Kankakee River then passed a power plant before we arrived at Joliet. Every time I think of Joliet, I think of Joliet Jake of the Blue's Brother fame. We passed that fictional character's home at the Illinois State Prison before we crossed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal followed further by the UPS Willow Springs Facility as we got our first glimpse of the mighty Chicago skyline. We passed by all sorts of industries and through rail junctions before we crossed the South Chicago River. We wyed the train and backed past Amtrak's Chicago Maintenance Facility before we arrived at Chicago Union Station, one hour and twelve minutes late.Chicago 3/30/1996
I got off the train with the bottom of my new bag ripping from the bottom but I found a piece of rope on a baggage cart and used both to my advantage. The other people followed me and they also found two luggage carts as well so we loaded all six people's luggage on them. Were we not supposed to pay a dollar for each cart? You would think that with six people at least one of us would be on the same connecting train but we are all on different trains. We took the elevator to the food court where we got our dinner and sat around discussing our trip together with where each of us is going the main topic. I named mine "The Here To There But Not Everywhere Tour, Southeast!" Everyone thinks it is a great name for my journey. We went back to the waiting room and one by one leave. They left for Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Erie leaving me all alone until my departure to New Orleans.City of New Orleans 59 3/30/1996
I boarded the City of New Orleans taking my usual seat and in a few minutes I was joined by a very young attractive girl from New Zealand. She is on tour of the United States has a USA Rail Pass and traveling all around America. She started in Florida, went up the east coast stopping along the way until she reached Boston then took the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago where she spent the last few days. Next is New Orleans then San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and then up into Canada. While the train was still in the station we talked and got to know each other. When the train left the station she decided that she would go to sleep and was worried about blocking my access to my seat. I told her no problem with being an expert train rider that I am I would be able to get up and over her without waking her. So I climbed over her never touching her to prove that I could do it. I told her to go to sleep and if I would wake her up I would buy her breakfast in the morning if not she owes me nothing. It was my personnel way of welcoming her to America.
The train pulled out of Chicago Union Station into the night time air and passed the Amtrak yard before we backed around the wye onto the BN Aurora mainline. We headed forward onto the Illinois Central's St. Charles Air Line. This gave a perfect night time view of the Chicago skyline. We came off the Air Line and joined the Metra electrified commuter line then passed by the IC Homewood yard before stopping at the suburb station. They made the one and only call for dinner and our lounge car attendant made his call for tonight's movie "Get Shorty" as the train headed down the Illinois Central mainline. I watched all of this movie and gave it a "6" on the Chris movie scale. I returned to my seat to find my New Zealand seat mate fast asleep so I quietly climbed over her, never waking her and curled up falling fast asleep myself.
3/31/1996 I wake up just as the train was pulling up in Memphis, TN. I found my New Zealand friend already awake. "I did not believe what you said you could do could come true! You did not wake me up. It must be magic!" she said. I sing "It is some kind of magic" from the Queen song with the same name. She was blown away by even that. Since last night the City of New Orleans had traveled the length of Illinois, crossed the Ohio River and cut across western Kentucky into Tennessee all while I slept.
I detrained in Memphis and enjoyed the early morning air with a view of the Mississippi River just beyond the waterfront. The conductor came up to me and said "Up a little early aren't you?" "Yes, we are going through Yazoo City this morning?" I replied. "Yes, why?" he responded. "The last time I tried to go through Yazoo City we got rerouted because of an IC freight train derailment so I have never been that way," I said. "Good news, today you are going through Yazoo City, Mississippi!" he says with a smile. "Have to go inspect the train, have a nice day!" he said as he went off to do his duties.
We left Memphis on time and passed through the IC freight yard before we left the original route of the City of New Orleans for the old historical "Dark" freight only line of the Illinois Central. The word dark in this case refers to the lack of any signaling system on this stretch of railroad. When the IC upgraded the line to move all of its main freight traffic over to it, they completed the CTC (Centralized Traffic Control system) in 1994-1995. They moved all the freight traffic to it, downgraded the City's route and then moved the City of New Orleans over to this route. That is why I am on this train today. Best of all riding southbound it is an all daylight trip and I will finally get to see Yazoo City.
We entered Mississippi. The route is anything but straight. It has gentle curves and short straightaways that meander through the countryside just like rivers here do. The communities that we passed through are small and based solely on agriculture. Cotton is the major producing crop of this region and we passed by miles of cotton fields. The landscape is forested and in places rolling. We crossed Coldwater River before we passed through Lambert with its old coaling tower still standing. The line is single tracked with passing sidings spaced evenly down the route. We passed through Gwen and I spotted a rice field. Before I rode trains I had no idea what a rice field looked like. Thank you Amtrak for my continuing education. We crossed the Tallahatchie and Yolobusha Rivers before we pulled into Greenwood. We continued south with the hills to the east. We passed Bee Lake and at Delta I saw a fish farm. We crossed the Yazoo River and have reached the city limits of Yazoo City.
My ideas of Yazoo City go back to what the Yankees did when they invaded during the Civil War. They burnt the town to the ground leaving only the remains of burnt out buildings so that was the image that I expected to see. Reality, appears to be a nice clean town. The homes look nice, Sunday mornings with cars all parked at the churches which I could count thirteen so it is a religious community. It is not what I had expected to see. We pulled up to the station and did our station work. We left on time, went two blocks and there off to the right are burnt out buildings a reminder of history for all to see. Living history is something all Americans should get a chance to see. Thanks Amtrak!
We continued our trek south heading through the hills and oil fields to our next stop and the state capitol of Mississippi, Jackson. I got off for some fresh air thinking about all the new mileage that I got this morning. We continued south to Hazelhurst. The next two stops are twenty minutes apart Brookhaven and McComb, our last stop in Mississippi. We departed McComb passing through Magnolia where I spotted two nice Colonial mansions before we crossed the Tangipahoa River and a few minutes later entered Louisiana. Once into that state I started noticing things. The houses were built above the ground as well as tombs in graveyards due to the high water table below the earth's surface here. We continued through the forests but now have a highway running alongside of us. We pulled into Hammond still running right on time. I was impressed with the IC dispatchers handling of our train who kept all those freight trains out of our way.
The Train Chief announced that as we pass our next town of Ponchatoula "Be on the lookout on the left side of the train for Charlie the Alligator who lives in his cage. Charlie is feed by members of the local community who takes care of him!" All the children came into the lounge car to try to get a look at Charlie. Now I knew that Charlie like all alligators are cold blooded and with the day being as cold as it was I knew that Charlie will be on the bottom of his pond staying warm. The train passes and people looked. I spotted Charlie just where I knew he would be on the bottom of his pond, while all the people looking at him are in heavy jackets. It is not alligator weather today but all the children are crying because they did not see the alligator. After five minutes of nothing but crying, enough is enough. I announced "Ladies and gentleman, if you want to see Alligators go to the New Orleans Aquarium. They have some really nice rare white ones!" Everyone smiles and I hear "Can we go?" "Can we see all those Alligators?" I should be getting a commission from that place as I am good for business.
The train crossed the Pas-Manchu waterway then skirted the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. We passed the International Airport right before we passed our sister northbound train. I saw the Huey Long Bridge off in the distance. The train passed the City of the Dead before we wyed and backed past the Superdome into New Orleans Union Station right on time ending another trip on the City of New Orleans.New Orleans 3/31/1996
I taxied to the Maison St Charles Day's Inn before I bought an all day trolley pass so I could ride the streetcar to my heart's content. I took it downtown, walked down Canal Street before I reached the River Walk. I visited the train store there buying a couple of videos on the Milwaukee Road Electrics. I rode the Waterfront Streetcar before I walked back up Canal Street to wait for a St Charles streetcar to take me to the end of the line. One pulled up when an Asian student on Spring Break 1996 threw up in the aisle of the trolley. Everyone moved away and the operator decided to take the car out of service. The girl who had vomited explained that she only had a little to drink and made an excuse or lied to get out of the situation. It reminded me of all the lies that I had told when I had been drinking to get me out of trouble. That is why I think I love to travel, all the little reminders of my past living everywhere. Everyone exited the car but I talked the driver into letting me stay on because I wanted to see the car barn.
We headed straight to the junction where the operator jumped off and threw a switch before he moved the streetcar off onto a side street. He then relined the switch and the streetcar headed up the side street to the car barn. He went and got some chemicals, sprinkling it onto the vomit then brushed and swept it all up. He then sprayed some disinfectant before we pulled out of the car barn went down another street to where we reentered the mainline and went to the end of the line so the streetcar could be put back in service. It was really nice to finally see their maintenance facility. I rode the car back downtown then back to the hotel. I went to a Subway Sandwich Shop for dinner which was my first time ever eating at one of them before I returned to my room. I watched a movie on HBO before I got a good night's rest.4/1/1996 I was up early and had a large breakfast across the street at Shona's before I taxied back to New Orleans Union Station to wait to board my next train. The Crescent 20 4/1/1996
I boarded a sixty seat long distance Amfleet car taking my usual right hand side seat. This segment will take me the entire length of the old Southern Railway (now Norfolk Southern) to Washington, DC and beyond to New York. This is the first of the four new routes that I will be riding on this trip that I have never ridden over and will allow me to continue to reclaim states for my sobriety. It will even allow me to visit Alabama for the first time ever, adding it to the list of states that I have visited.
The train left New Orleans on time, passing the Superdome before we curved past the City of the Dead to make our way onto the Norfolk Southern. We passed through rail junctions and Northern New Orleans before we reached the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. This train crosses the lake on a 6.2 mile long wooden trestle barely above the lake level. It is where Amtrak goes out to sea. The crossing is really impressive and is a memory maker. Once off the bridge we made our first station stop of Sidell where I went to the lounge car and bought a Southern Crescent coffee mug and got a free cup of tea with it along with unlimited refills for the rest of the trip. At four dollars and fifty cents, it is a great travel bargain. East of town we crossed the Pearl River and entered Mississippi.
We came to our next stop of Picayune, MS but came up to the station on the siding. I got another cup of tea but this time took a table in the Amfleet 2 lounge car. I sat and did a word search puzzle as the conductor came up saying that "We are waiting on a freight train with engine trouble". I said "I bet you it has a Southern Pacific unit on it," and the conductor said "I will take you up on it. You buy me a cup of coffee if it does not and I will buy you a cup of tea if it does. "Thirty minutes later the train appeared with three Southern Pacific units in the consist. "How did you know?" he said. "The force is always with me," I said. As the last car passed a cup of tea was placed in front of me as we pulled forward and went back onto the mainline to continue our trip northeast.
I am discovering that Mississippi is mostly forest with farms cut out of them. We travelled over the rolling landscape crossing over Black Creek before we arrived in Hattiesburg with a steam locomotive Bon & Hat S 2-8-2 300 and railroad cars on display. Leaving town we bridged the Leaf River and thirty minutes later arrived in Laurel. We trestled Tallahala Creek and later Chunky Creek, passed Key Field, an airfield with various types of airplanes before we arrived at Meridan, the junction point of several railroads including the Kansas City Southern. We headed east out of town and entered Alabama, a brand new state for me to visit.
The first town in Alabama is York as we passed all the stores on Main Street. The Tambigbee River is crossed over on a rather large bridge. This river had barge traffic on it as I saw one coming upstream. We were still traveling through the southern forest before we came to a rather large area of cotton production. This is the Black Belt of the South called that because of the very rich dark soil of this area. We crossed the Black Warrior River before traversing a marshland prior to reaching our next stop at Tuscaloosa, AL.
Leaving Tuscaloosa we passed the University of Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide then passed of all things a new Mercedes Benz plant still under construction. It is interesting that they would chose Alabama for their new plant but traveling by train always yields surprises. We entered the fringes of the Rock Mountains before we passed through Bessemer. We entered the southwestern residential suburbs of Birmingham that went from affluent to slums as we got closer to the inner city. Train travel always gives you a safe way to see a city and one advantage of it is that the tracks do not always go through the best parts of a city so you get to see parts of the city that their chamber of commerce would not even admit exist. Plus it offers a view of the life styles of so many unfortunate Americans. I had heard of places like this but today because of the train I am experiencing it. It is a part of American society that does exist and needs to be addressed by our government. After seeing this there is nothing remotely like it in Santa Ana or even close to it. I am so grateful for where I live and all the things that I have. The slums of Birmingham were a true eye opener for me.
We pulled to a stop at the Amtrak Birmingham Station and I detrained while the train was being serviced. The warm sun really felt good on my face. We left town passing the University of Alabama Medical Center and by way of the industrial areas before returning to the forest. The landscape continues to become more rugged as we reached the Beaver Creek Mountains. We crossed the Gahaba River before we went through the tunnel in the Chula Vista Mountain. I went to the dining car and was seated with a lady going from Birmingham to Atlanta. We were having a nice pre dinner conversation as the train passed the northern tip of Logan Martin Lake. While I enjoyed a steak off of the Crescent menu (At least it is not dreaded Menu 3) the sun sets in a beautiful red sky.
We arrived at Anniston, AL as the night took its hold and forty five minutes later the train entered Georgia with me crossing it off the list and setting my watch to that of the Eastern Time Zone. I sat at my seat listening to music and doing word fill in puzzles which passed the time until the train entered a world of lights as we approached Atlanta. I saw the skyline all lit up and ready to host the Olympic Summer Games. We pulled into Atlanta an hour late and I detrained while the train was serviced with two coaches and a sleeping car added. We left town exactly an hour late to the second and I curled up and fell asleep in my seat. Tonight the train will travel through South Carolina, North Carolina and part of Virginia with me crossing them off the list as I dreamed abroad Amtrak's Crescent.
4/2/1996 The next morning I awoke in central Virginia with the train leaving Lynchburg and after a few minutes of my eyes not focusing for some reason, I put on my glasses and the world became crystal clear as the train crossed over a high viaduct. I went to the lounge car for tea and cookies which sounds definitely like a breakfast for a Chris. The conductor is doing magic tricks and is really good. I am always amazed at people who can pull that sort of thing off and I sometimes wish that I could, but is not what I am doing a little magic in my own way? I heard that Queen song in my head again. We crossed the rolling countryside until we passed the University of Virginia before arriving in Charlottesville, VA.
We have been traveling through the lands of the Civil War and all along the northern end of the Old South there are battlefields and other important historical areas. The conductor continued to do more magic tricks and I asked him to do one for me. With us being two hours late, get me to New York in time to catch the southbound Crescent. He leaves to do his work at Culpepper and Manasses as I continued to drink my morning teas before he returns with an answer. "If we get into DC before ten thirty you can take Train 84 which will get you to New York with forty minutes to spare. I will give you a note to explain to the conductor on that train what you are doing." Part one of the magic trick complete, part two now rests in the hands of our engineer and the NS dispatcher.
The landscape is becoming more urban as the train approached our next station stop of Alexandra and it looked as if time was on my side. We passed the old Potomac Yard before passing through the glass high rises of Crystal City. We crossed the Potomac River and with me on the right side I finally see the approach to DC on this side. We ducked into the Capitol Tunnel and pulled into Washington Union Station at ten thirty. I detrained and went up the stairs to give the note to the conductor on Train 84. He said "That is ok. Get on board." "Ok. Let me go get my luggage off the other train" I responded. "That is fine, I will see you on my train." I walked back to the escalator going down against it and went back onto the Crescent. I gathered my bags, said goodbye to my fellow passengers from the last twenty-seven hours and detrained, headed up the escalator this time going my way and boarded my magic trick to New York thanks to a conductor who pulled it off.Northeast Direct 84 4/2/1996
This train started out its trip in Newport News where I will be in three days and runs the entire length of the Northeast Corridor to Boston. This will be my first daylight ride north along this route as far as New York. My first southbound run was on my first trans America trip back a few short years ago. The Zephyr was late so I was rerouted onto the Broadway Limited to Philadelphia then down the corridor to DC to continue that trip. My southbound Crescent will be about the same time in the afternoon as that other southbound trip was. I settled in to my usual right hand side window seat which has become second nature to me to take that seat.
The train left Washington Union Station right on time and accelerates out of town. We passed the Amtrak Ivy City Engine Terminal before we got up to Northeast Corridor track speed. We passed a train going in the opposite direction at speed and it is the neatness feeling when you do that at over one hundred miles per hour. We were a ten car train pulled by a single AEM7 electric locomotive. We made a brief stop at New Carrollton, Maryland so I can cross that state off the list. We zipped quickly to BWI (Washington Baltimore Airport) before we sped up only briefly until the B&P tunnels before pulling into Baltimore Pennsylvania Station right next to a MARC commuter train bound for DC.
We left Baltimore past the lines of row houses and now the train is really up to it is top speed of a hundred and twenty miles an hour. It is impressive to be going that fast. We crossed the Gunpowder River and within minutes crossed the Bush River. We continued our high speed dash over the long bridge across the Susquehanna River before we entered Delaware with me crossing it off the list to our next station stop of Wilmington, the only Amtrak stop in that state. Quickly back up to speed, we passed the Amtrak Northeast Maintenance Base before crossing the Christina River and Brandywine Creek. We passed a very large steel mill off to the east before we entered Pennsylvania with another state off of the list. We passed through Eddystone where Baldwin Locomotive Works built steam, electric and diesel engines. We entered the industrial areas as we approached Philadelphia. We passed the convention center and the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field before we arrived at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, right on time.
We left Philadelphia, passed Zoo Tower then crossed the Schuylkill River before we traveled through North Philadelphia and crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey. Time to cross off another state with one more to go today. We passed the sign over the river that reads "What Trenton Makes The World Takes." We made our quick station stop at Trenton before we continued our dash. We flew through Princeton Junction before passing by large industrial developments. We passed through Metropark and skirted Elizabeth before we arrived in Newark. We crossed the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers as we sped across the New Jersey Meadowlands. The New York skyline stood out impressively against the blue sky before we headed into the Hudson River Tunnel and once under the middle of the river I entered the state of New York crossing off the final state of the day. The next new one will not be until Florida. We popped into the sunlight briefly before we pulled into New York Penn Station ten minutes early with the magic trick completed. Thank you conductor on the northbound Crescent for some great magic.New York City 4/2/1996
I had forty five minutes in New York City with too much time for my liking. It is not a place that I care too much about. Anytime here is too much time. I took the escalator up into what I thought was the Amtrak station but I came out on the Long Island Railroad level a floor below Amtrak. I started walking with my bags and noticed that there was a guy following me. If I weaved right, he weaved right, to the left, the same thing. As I already have a shadow and did not need a second one I needed to do something. I asked a guy which way was Amtrak and he pointed to some stairs. I said "Thank you!" but got no response as this is definitely New York City. So as I headed to the stairs with him still behind me, I noticed a security guard closing in on him so I decided it was time to make my move. I dropped my bags, turned looking him right in the eyes and said "Make my day!" He turned and ran away with a security guard chasing and catching him. Another guard then came to me and asked "What did you say to make him run away?" I answered "Make my day!" and he said "You are not from around here." We discussed the incident and he took a report. He then escorted me to the Crescent before anyone else was allowed to board. He left me with "You had quite a New York experience for just twenty minutes, no wonder you do not like New York." I clarified that by saying "Make that just New York City." We both laughed as we shook hands before I boarded my next train. (I have since come too really like New York City).The Crescent 19 4/2/1996
I boarded the right coach and was met inside by the attendant who asked "Charlotte" and when I said "Yes", he said take any seat that you want sir and it is yours all the way there!" This reclaiming states for my sobriety is really pretty fun. If I ever started drinking again would I start a goal to go back through them all drunk? I do not think so. Once you get controlled by the bottle it totally controls your life. You lose your free will and you are a slave to it. A guy came staggering through the car falling into seats as he struggled to get to the next car. I asked him where he was going and he slurs "Albany." I tell him that he is on the wrong train but he thinks that I am kidding. When I showed him my train ticket with the number of the train on it he finally believed me and stumbled off as he detrained. He was definitely under the control of the demon liquor while I sat back defiantly sober and free but he was a good reminder of my past.
The Crescent pulled out of Penn Station on time with me thinking "Why would anyone want to live in New York City." I sat back as the Crescent headed out of New York and entered the Hudson River Tunnel which took me back to New Jersey. I am enjoying the scenery on the opposite side of the train as I travel south on the Crescent. I had my headphones on and was doing word fill in puzzles as the train sped south with only an occasional glance out the window at the track side scenery. We made all the stops to Washington except for BWI. We ran on time all the way down the corridor but at a slower speed than I would on an Amfleet train. We had an E-60 electric engine pulling our train as these engines pull all the long distance trains while they are under the corridor overhead wire. South of Wilmington they made the first call to dinner and I wanted to enjoy a meal at high speed. The dining car rode extremely smooth at corridor track speed and I had steak again and it was prepared very well. It was an enjoyable experience to be eating a meal at one hundred fifteen miles an hour. Once past Baltimore we passed the outbound MARC trains from DC before we arrived at Washington Union Station, eight minutes early.
I detrained and went upstairs into the station to pick up some MARC and Virginia Rail Express schedules, stopped by the train shop for some reading materials before I visited the post office to mail a post card then returned to the train. We left Washington, DC on time passing all the sites before we crossed the Potomac River to escape the urban landscape out into the Virginia countryside and the sunset. As the Crescent headed out into the night, I did word puzzles for about an hour before I curled up and fell asleep because of my early morning arrival in Charlotte.
4/3/1996 I slept soundly until the conductor woke me up at four in the morning with "Charlotte in fifteen minutes." I turned on my reading light, brought my bags down from the overhead rack and packed up. Twenty one minutes later we pulled into the station in Charlotte, North Carolina, one hour thirty two minutes late.Charlotte 4/3/1996
I walked into the Amtrak station in Charlotte, a rather modern and efficient facility. What does one do from four thirty until eight in the morning? I wrote post cards, read a whole newspaper, listened to music and did my word puzzles. At seven when the Amtrak agent arrived, I upgraded my ticket to try Carolina Class Service for my trip to Richmond, VA.The Carolinian 80 4/3/1996
I boarded the Carolina Business Class Car located behind the engine at the front of the five car train. Four other passengers joined me in this car and the lounge car attendant came into the car handing out morning papers to each of us and told us the features of this Carolina Class. There were TV monitors set up in the overhead luggage racks that will show two movies during the trip. The seat is where the headphone jacks are located with one channel for the movies and another channel which is linked to a five CD playing deck on which only one CD at a time can be heard. Our complimentary beverages are located in the lounge car behind our car. Since I am not sleeping on this train I chose the left hand side mainly to keep the bright Carolina sun from blinding me.
We departed right on time and I was riding over the same section of ex Southern track for the third time on this trip but this time in full daylight as far as Greensboro. We headed up the Norfolk Southern main passing a southbound freight as we were leaving town and entered the hills and forest of North Carolina. The tracks more or less curved its way to our first stop at Kannapolis. We departed continuing north up the double track mainline while I listened to the first of the CD's which was very middle of the road rock which was enjoyable to my ears. We stopped next in Salisbury and three miles later passed the railroad museum at Spencer which is located in the old Southern Railway Spencer Shops. They have quite a collection of equipment outside with more tucked away in buildings. The train crossed the Yadkin River before we made our next station stop about twenty miles later at High Point. We passed another NS freight before we crossed over to meet yet another southbound NS freight. We continued through the forest to our next station stop of Greensboro where we left the NS double track mainline for the rails of the North Carolina Railroad. At the first siding we met the North Carolina State sponsored train the Piedmont on its Raleigh to Charlotte daily run. The CD player now was playing Phil Collins.
We had been traveling through the Piedmont portion of North Carolina which is a plateau that stretches from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west to the Atlantic Coastal plain in the east with the boundary between the two called the Fall Line. It has been a name that has interested me since my days at Willard Junior High in 8th grade in Santa Ana. It is literally where the rivers fall off the Piedmont and onto the coastal plain. Because of taking this train I will get a firsthand look and understanding of it as the train descended the Fall Line.
The train was passing through the heart of the tobacco growing country as we passed many major cigarette plants on this morning. A little further on the train passed the textile industries in the town of Burlington, one of three towns on the Amtrak system with the same name. The other two are located in Iowa and Vermont. From Burlington the train drops and winds its way past the Haw River with the Cone Fabric plant located right next to the tracks. Next we passed through Mebane and Hillsborough in the midst of the forest before we passed by more tobacco companies and entered Durham where we made a well patronized station stop. Leaving town we passed the Research Triangle Park then back to the woods until we passed the North Carolina State University and then the Central Prison before we entered the rails of CSX and pulled into the Raleigh Amtrak station.
I detrained for a picture of the train and almost got left trying to buy a T-Shirt because nobody made a boarding call. We headed due east back into the woods and passed more tobacco farms. They started the movie "Angus" as the train headed for our next stop at Selma and Wilson before we passed through the CSX yard and arrived at Rocky Mount. I was enjoying the movie so I was not paying much attention to our route. We crossed the Tar and Roanoke Rivers where I do glance out my window because of the different sound the train makes when it is on a bridge. The movie ends and I gave it a nine on a scale of ten on the Chris train riding movie scale. They started the second movie while I was in the bathroom so I do not get the title. It is about four ladies who relive their childhood and teen years. I gave it a two on the movie scale.
We entered Virginia as we crossed the Meherrin River. The train slowed for the CSX yards before we crossed the Appomattox River and arrived in Petersburg. From here on the forest continued with the odd farm thrown in for a mere diversion. We passed a large military base and reached the southern suburbs of Richmond, VA. The Carolinian crossed the James River before passing through the CSX yard and arrived at the Richmond Amtrak Station. Richmond is the state capitol of Virginia. I detrained, bought and mailed a post card, bought a newspaper and sat out in the warm Spring sunshine.
I photographed the Tropicana Juice Train while I waited for my next train which was forty minutes late. Before it showed up the Silver Star did a stop at the train station on the overnight trip on the way to Florida.Northeast Direct 95 4/3/1996
I boarded a very crowded train that had traveled the entire length of the Northeast Corridor and I managed after walking two cars to find a window seat on the right hand side. The train is a buzz about a lunar eclipse and that the Japanese satellite will be visible. What Japanese satellite is this? From reading the Richmond newspaper it said that during the height of the eclipse the comet Hyakutake would be at its best visibility ever. The light went on in my head. These people are talking about the comet as if it were a satellite because of its Japanese name.
We curved off the CSX mainline to Florida and onto new trackage for me as we headed through an older part of downtown Richmond. I saw the old Seaboard Station off to the right as the train climbed up onto a viaduct before passing the remains of Main Street Station. We crossed high above two other rail lines in a unique triple crossing. It looks more like a model railroad but are not most model railroads based on something in the rather large world? The train crossed over a drawbridge and returned to ground level at CSX Fulton Yard.
Once out of Richmond proper we passed the Nabisco Bakery followed by the runway of the Richmond Airport. We traveled out through a marshland in the last light of the day before we passed through Providence Forge. We ran by a very large tree farm and passed the boats docked on the Chickanominy River before we arrived at our next station stop of Williamsburg. Leaving town we passed the Bush Gardens Theme Park then travelled through Lees Hall and crossed over part of the city's reservoir prior to running through more miles of forest to the outskirts of Newport News and arrived at the small but functional Newport News Amtrak Station with another segment of rail traveled across and completed. I had seen some new and interesting countryside which I enjoyed. If I ever had to move back east I could enjoy living in North Carolina.Newport News, Virginia 4/3/1996
I detrained and went straight to the taxi cab for a return ride back up the highway into town to the Relax Inn. The cab driver gave me his company's card so that I could call for a cab for tomorrow morning because he said that the cab companies here were very busy in the morning hours so I will call later tonight. I went to my room and took a very well deserved shower and washed my hair before I went to my door to watch the total lunar eclipse. At the height of the event off to the right of the darken moon was the brilliant view of the comet Hyakutaka with its tail showing nicely. I watched the special show that the sky was performing for me tonight. I thought how I wished that I could be sharing this with Maureen Angle that most wonderful science teacher at McFadden Junior High School in Santa Ana where I work. She would be loving this whole event. Tonight I felt like one of the luckiest people in the whole universe as I had taken the train to this place for the first time and witnessed this. Thank you Amtrak. I stood in the hotel's doorway for over an hour and a half enjoying the event before I called for the cab for the morning and home to Santa Ana. I watched a few more minutes of television before I turned in for the night.
4/4/1996 I got a good night's sleep before awakening for a walk to McDonald’s for breakfast. I returned to the room to watch a little morning TV before the taxi arrived and I checked out. I had the cab driver drop me off across the street from the Amtrak Station.
In the park there was a Chesapeake and Ohio steam locomotive, a 2-8-4 2756 on display. I took a few pictures of the once mighty engine then had to cross that very busy street to the station to wait for my train to arrive. It came down the far side of an abandoned rail yard before it backed into the Newport News Amtrak Station. It was the exact same train that had bought me here last night.Northeast Direct 94 4/4/1996
I boarded the train on a bright sunny morning for the trip to Washington, DC taking my usual seat. The train is fairly crowded with quite a few passengers ticketed all the way to Boston. We departed Newport News on time and would travel the same route that we did last night but this morning's trip will be all in the daylight. When I am on a route that I had been on in a reverse direction within a short period of time, I always just sat back, relaxed and watched the countryside pass by through the train's window. We made our next station stop of Williamsburg where the train filled up and followed our path back to Richmond where we deposited a large number of passengers for that stop. I had my headphones on for the entire trip and looking out of this Amfleet train for a moment I felt like I was on a San Diegan train back in California but I am on the wrong coast and Virginia looks nothing like California.
At Richmond my entire car detrained to enjoy a smoking break. It seems that they are all under the spell of the demon tobacco companies and are slaves to the demon cigarettes just as I once was the slave to the demon alcohol. It amazes me that I can relate so many things to my former past but they are always a good reminder of what I used to be. The car's passengers return seemingly happier than before and are now extremely more talkative than before their break.
Leaving Richmond on time, the train sped up the double track CSX mainline through the small Virginia towns and forest. My new seatmate is a talkative fellow heading to Philadelphia and discovering that I am from California he dubbed me with the title of the "Bringer of Good Weather." I asked him to explain to me why he is calling me that. It turns out that until my arrival here three days ago to this part of the country that they were still embracing the nasty wet weather of winter and that my arrival to the northeast changed all that. I explained how I have no powers over the weather and that my only claim of fame is the fact that I am a train rider not a Weather God. He just laughed at that for a few minutes before we discussed sports, the government, music and other trivial matters. We spanned the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers before we arrived at Frederickburg. We continued our dash north crossing another inlet from the Potomac River before stopping at Quantico, home of the huge Marine Base. We went over more inlets of the Potomac River before we slid into Alexandra. We passed Crystal City, crossed the Potomac, entered DC, passed through the Capitol Tunnel and arrived at Washington Union Station on time.Washington, DC 4/4/1996
I have a plan for my just over two hour visit to DC. I stored my bags in the new and improved lockers since my last visit here before I headed over to the US Capitol building to do a walk around it again. As I walked out of the station building and looked towards the Capitol I noticed that all of the Cherry Trees are in bloom with white blossoms which fulfills one of my secret personal dreams that I have had. As I walked through the parklands just admiring these most beautiful trees and thinking about just how lucky I am to be seeing all of this. Last night a total lunar eclipse of the moon with the comet Hyakutaka and now the cherry trees in bloom. Thank you nature.
I got my walk in around the Capitol building and took an extended walk back to Union Station walking under these beautiful cherry trees. I went downstairs to the food court and after studying all of my options, I decided on a roast beef deli sandwich, plain of course and found a table to enjoy it. I went back upstairs to the Grand Hall before I bought and mailed post cards to various people then retrieved my bags from the locker. On the way back to the gate for my next train I spotted a luggage shop and decided to replace that bag that had ripped in Chicago and that I had been carrying around with me ever since. I purchased a new bag, deposited the old one in the trash where it deserved to be after just three days of service and went to wait patiently for my next train, the Silver Star.The Silver Star 91 4/4/1996
The Silver Star arrived from New York City and they boarded the sleeping car passengers first. Since I am in a Slumbercoach I got to board early. My car is the last car of a fourteen car train but I enjoyed the walk not knowing how much longer Amtrak will be keeping these unique cars in service. I boarded my car to find Room 3 was a lower on the west side of the train. Three Slumbercoach trips on this route and I am always in west facing rooms, what are the odds of that? I am traveling to Winter Haven Florida and tomorrow I can cross that state off of my list.
We departed Washington Union Station on time and now having been over this route from here to Raleigh there really is not much of anything to add. Passing Lorton the Autotrain is preparing to leave and this time at Richmond I do get off to stretch my legs. I had dinner in the dining car which was fried chicken and was prepared excellently. Something new is the Dinner To Go service that the train provides to the coach passengers. Your car attendant takes your order and you are given a time to go and pay for your order then take it back to your seat to eat. This service allows the dining car staff to serve a greater number of passengers on a trip. I saw that several coach passengers used this service.
Also new on this trip is that the coach cars all are set up with TV monitors like on the Carolian Business Class. They are showing cartoons and movies to the coach passengers who care to view. They wear headphones to hear the sound so ideally if you do not want to hear anything from the program you just do not put the headphones on. At least that is how it is supposed to work. What I noticed that when people take them off that they do not unplug them thus anyone can hear the soundtrack. I am glad I am not riding coach on this segment. I returned to my room with a couple of ginger ale’s but this time I enjoy my room dark with the view of sunset turning into that of the night. I love the peacefulness that this room gave me as I listened to music as the train traveled in the night. The train entered North Carolina and I realized that tomorrow morning I will be in Florida but I still have the rest of my night in my Slumbercoach through South Carolina and Georgia. I made my bed and fell fast asleep slumbering in my Slumbercoach.
4/5/1996 The next morning I woke up in Jacksonville and I can now cross off that last state of the trip off of my list. We lost the first half of the train that departed first to go to Tampa via Orlando. When he pulled out our train is put back together again. I learned that we had freight train problems as I slept and we left Jacksonville an hour and a half late. The offending freight train pulled a drawbar and we waited behind him at a siding for a local engine from Savannah to pull the rear of his train into the siding to set off the offending car before the front of the freight train backed onto his train and off they went with some time sensitive cargo. We then followed him all the way to Jacksonville.
We rounded the Honeymoon Wye then passed through the CSX yard. The countryside turns into pine forest with the occasional palms thrown in with the low areas being marshy. Once away from the coast, the landscape became rolling with ranches and dairy farms. We made our stop at Waldo which is located near Gainsville and the University of Florida. We passed through the intermittent forest and since I am on the rear of the train I spent some time riding the back platform of the car. It is a straight single track railroad. We crossed many streams and off to the right I saw Lake Lochloosa. We passed a horse farm with a full size race track before we arrived in Ocala. Leaving Ocala behind, we sped down the middle of the Sunshine State to Wildwood. Continuing south we got into the Florida citrus belt passing Dade City in the process before we came to the junction with the Tampa line heading west while we turned east heading to another junction at Auburndale to turn south and head for my stop at Winter Haven where I detrained from my Slumbercoach and the Silver Star. As the Silver Star pulled away, I wonder if that was my last Slumbercoach ride that I will ever make?
After I shot a picture of the Silver Star leaving, I spot an engine sitting on a siding so I put my bags down and went to investigate. It is a CF-7 ex Santa Fe Railroad being one that I had shot back in the 1970's in Santa Ana in its younger days now working for the Florida Central Railroad, a shortline that operates some ex CSX branch lines. With a two hour wait in front of me, I headed into the station on a somewhat overcast Spring Day. This station sells Amtrak T-Shirts so I bought a Florida Service, Silver Service and a Sunset Limited shirt. I did my word search puzzles while the station agent cleaned around me and a major downpour took place outside. It did not last long and the sun popped back out warming the air to a very comfortable temperature so I sat outside in the Florida sunshine to wait for the train that would take me all the way across the United States and North America back to Los Angeles.Sunset Limited 1 4/5/1996
From Winter Haven to New Orleans I should have already covered twice but due to my drinking, a freight train colliding with a car, Sunday in Texas and my own drunken actions all combined to get me thrown off that first eastbound Transcontinental Sunset Limited trip I was on in New Orleans. That was then and forever left in the past and this is now. I board the Sunset Limited stone cold sober bound to Los Angeles from Winter Haven my 26th state that I have reclaimed for my sobriety since I gave up drinking alcohol on January 18th, 1995.
We headed north passing through the junction at Auburndale this time turning east passing through the orange groves before we arrived at Kissimmee, the closet stop to Disney World. We left the station passing through more orange groves before arriving in Orlando. Leaving Orlando we passed a warehouse door where there was a man with his pants down around his ankles holding one of the largest male sex organs in his hand hoping that everyone on the train saw his masterpiece. If this guy so wants to be seen, maybe he should get into the X rated movies where he can put his X in sex.
We proceeded to our next station stop of Winter Park which is near Lake Tahopekaliga. Next stop on what seems to be a trolley run up the east side of Florida is Sanford where Amtrak has its southern terminus for its Auto Train. We crossed the St Johns River between Sanford and Deland then recrossed it once more before Palatka. I went to the dining car for dinner off the Sunset Limited menu ordering steak. We crossed over a tributary of the St Johns then passed a coal firing generating station and a large dairy farm with farm smells. We bridged the Ortega River as night took control of the sky before we viewed the skyline of Jacksonville from the lounge car.
We backed into the Jacksonville Station which is a few miles from downtown and came to a stop. I detrained to enjoy the outside night time air of the Sunshine State. The Sunset left on time and tonight's movie is Father of the Bride part II. I enjoy this movie while the train headed west for the Florida panhandle through the night. Rating, I gave it an eight. The movie ended west of Madison but I decided to stay up until Tallahassee the capitol of Florida before I returned to my seat and slept peacefully as the train continued its westward journey on this
4/6/1996 I woke up to an overcast misty morning in Alabama just before the train stopped in Atmore. We continued through miles of southern forest interspaced with the odd farm here and there. Our next station stop was Bay Minnette where we found a CSX freight waiting for us. I learned that during the night we waited for three CSX freights which would explain our hour and thirty minute tardiness on this morning. We crossed the Tensaw and Alabama Rivers on drawbridges while I made my way to the dining car for breakfast. We crossed the Mobile River on another drawbridge and my breakfast arrives (that was quick) just as the Sunset crossed the Big Bayou Canot Bridge, the same bridge that the Sunset Limited went off of in 1993 after the barge had hit the bridge supports. It was Amtrak's worst accident in its existence with 47 deaths and I am here this morning eating my breakfast to continue my life as we crossed over it.
We crossed Bayou Sara, the Chicasaw River and Three Mile Creek before we arrived at Mobile. Leaving we passed the airport on our way out of town and twenty minutes later we entered Mississippi and five minutes later pulled into Pascaqoula. We trestled the Pascaqoula River then sprinted through the forest to where we bridged Biloxi Bay prior to arriving in Biloxi, which like all the gulf towns in Mississippi are now all into gambling. We passed by Kessler Air Force Base on the way to Gulfport where we made a brief stop and fifteen minutes later the Sunset Limited headed out onto the two mile long trestle over the waters of the Bay of St Louis and I could see out into the Mississippi Sound which is really part of the Gulf of Mexico. We stopped at Bay of St Louis and after passing the elevated houses over the bay we crossed the Pearl River and entered Louisiana.
Off in the Gulf I could see the offshore oil rigs then traveled through a grassy yet very wet lowlands. The area that drains Lake Pontchartrain is off to the right with Lake Borgne and the Gulf to the left. With all the low clouds I could not see across Lake Pontchartrain but it is still a truly impressive sight. We crossed the Chef Menteur Pass which is a ship canal that connects both lakes. Once we were on terra firma again we ran along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain passing a large building with NASA painted on it and then the New Orleans skyline came into view. We circled around the northern part of town, through various railroad junctions before we passed by the City of the Dead (the above ground cemetery) and we wyed the train and backed by the Amtrak maintenance facility. While backing in we passed the Superdome before we came to a stop at New Orleans only twenty minutes late, thanks to heavy padding in the schedule.
During our nearly three hour layover, I detrained to buy and mail post cards, got a sandwich with cookies for lunch before returning to an empty train. The on board crew switches here so my car attendant gave the car a quick cleaning and I took an hour and a half nap. I figured that I was just in town a week ago and did all that I had wanted so I wisely decided to use my time here in New Orleans to my advantage and besides I still have 2033 more miles to go until Los Angeles and I had just completed 618 totally new miles so a rest was in order. I woke up and refreshed myself and my new car attendant introduced herself to me and asks "Where did you board?" "Winter Haven" I said. "I will take good care of you all the way to Los Angeles" she said with a smile. Once the new passengers boarded, the train left New Orleans with me thinking a lot can happen to a train in 2033 miles and that is the reason that I ride trains because every trip is an adventure!
We left New Orleans on time and headed out of town by way of the Huey Long Bridge that took us high over the Mississippi River giving me one last fantastic view of the city's skyline. We passed high above a traffic circle before we reached the ground in SP's Avondale Yard. From here we crossed the Atchafalla Basin, which is series of streams that allow the excess waters of the Mississippi River and its side rivers to the west a way of reaching the Gulf of Mexico without flooding the urban areas in and around New Orleans. This system is the reason for most of the bayous that we will cross over in the next three hours. The first one we came to was Bayou Lafourche then passed by its swamps before reaching the sugar cane fields then over Blue Bayou before we reached our next stop at Schriever.
West of town we crossed the Chacahula Swamps prior to reaching an off shore oil rig assembly plant. We pulled into Morgan City before we got stopped by a red signal at the bridge over the Atchafalya River. No one ever came on the PA to tell why we were delayed forty five minutes. Once on the move again, we trestled over the Bayou Teche, passed by the usual above ground cemetery before we reached New Iberia. We travelled by miles of sugar cane fields before we crossed the Vermilion River and arrived in Lafayette. West of town we passed by the fields of rice before we bridged the Bayou Cannes and Nezpique as they made my call for dinner and the Sunset Limited arrived in Lake Charles. I ordered steak sitting alone at a table in the dining car as the train crossed the Calcasien River and I watched the countryside pass by in the last light of the day. I was enjoying my meal as the train went over the Sabine River and entered Texas under the cover of night. We should leave Texas tomorrow midafternoon if all goes right. I watched a rerun of Father of the Bride Part 2 then returned to my coach seat knowing that I would fall asleep in Texas and wake up again in Texas, God willing!
4/7/1996 I woke up outside of Del Rio and by the time I was functioning we had left town with the Rio Grande River off to the southwest and on the other side of it Mexico. We crossed a branch of the Amistad Reservoir. The lake is caused by the damming of the Rio Grande River which flooded the adjacent canyons. We slowed for a slow order which was due to the cleaning up of a derailment of a Southern Pacific freight train. The scenery is nothing but desert but will exhibit slight changes in vegetation as we climbed into the mountains to the west. We made a long "S" curve before we crossed the Pecos River High Bridge, 321 feet above the impressive canyon. We passed through Langtry of Judge Roy Beam fame before we followed a canyon to Sanderson, TX.
The train left Sanderson two and a half hours late and our Train Chief stopped by to give me a personal update. "Well, that bridge yesterday cost us forty minutes then last night three freight trains got us between Houston and San Antonio for an hour and a half and that last slow order nailed us for fifteen but fear not we should make it all up with the padding in our schedule," he said with a smile on his face. "Unless the unexpected happens!" I said with us both laughing at that. The scenery has changed to more mountains as we continued to climb passing freight trains headed in both directions before we reached Alpine where the dining car gets watered. The name Alpine is deceiving here but just to the west is the highest point on the entire Sunset Route at Piasano Pass at 5,074 feet. The train twisted and turned up the narrow canyon to reach the summit before we descended down the west side and once cleared of the mountains, I returned to my seat for a well deserved nap after watching so much exciting West Texas scenery.
I woke up and looked out my window to see the ex Missouri Pacific tracks joining ours at Sierra Blanca. The mountains to the north are also called the Sierra Blanca as the train's route turned due west towards El Paso. We passed cotton fields and groves of Pecans. As we reached the eastern areas of El Paso we passed a Mobile Refinery and then other industries before we passed through the SP yards and followed the trench through downtown to the Amtrak Station, one hour thirty three minutes late.
I detrained to mail a post card then enjoyed the warm West Texas sun as the train gets its servicing done. We left El Paso with Juarez across and up the hills beyond the Rio Grande River. The Sunset splits between the massive Southwest Portland Cement Plant and the Asarco refinery before we crossed the Rio Grande River and entered New Mexico. We climbed through the hills and within fifty feet of Mexico with a cardboard city within a stone’s throw of the border. We finished our climb before we sprinted to Deming, while the Train Chief plays the trivia game and I won another Sunset Limited T-shirt for answering the following question, "How many states does the Sunset Limited go through on its trans-continental trip?" Eight is the correct answer.
We passed the old coaling tower and arrived in Deming. Once underway again, my reservation time for dinner is called so I ordered my final steak of the trip and ate at sunset with the train living up to the name Sunset Limited. After dinner the third showing in three nights of you know what which I passed on and returned to my seat to do word search puzzles and listened to music as the train entered Arizona. I fell fast asleep after Benson and did not wake up until I was back in California.
4/8/1996 I awoke as the train passed Banning, CA and when the train reached Apex a few minutes later which is the top of San Gorgonio Pass we started to descend through Beaumont and San Timitoe Canyon as the sun rose in the sky. At the bottom of the canyon we emerged into the San Bernardino Valley and crossed the Santa Ana River before we climbed the short hill to West Colton Yard. We sped west making station stops at Ontario and Pomona before we ran through Industry and right down the middle of the San Bernardino Freeway. We curved along the Los Angeles River before we crossed it and pulled into Los Angeles Union Station ending my transcontinental trip on the Sunset Limited a little under two hours late.San Diegan 772 4/8/1996
We had arrived in Los Angeles in time for me to take San Diegan 772 home to Santa Ana. It was an uneventful trip to Santa Ana which got me home in time to work a half day at McFadden. What a great trip it was and I completed several new routes. The next trip which I am already thinking about should allow me to finish the entire Amtrak system. If all goes right I will do that this coming summer.