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Stack train at Winslow

A westbound BNSF stack train enters the Winslow yards as dawn breaks.

THE EASTBOUND SOUTHWEST CHIEF rolled into Winslow at 6 a.m., 20 minutes late. Once we boarded and were settled in by our attendant, Rene (“Everyone calls me Mr. Miyagi,” he said, and he does bear a resemblance to the actor Pat Morita), we headed to the dining car for breakfast.

Eastbound Chief at Winslow

The eastbound Southwest Chief calls at Winslow at 6 a.m. to pick us up for the trip home.

There our tablemates were a congenial bank examiner from Minneapolis and his wife, a journalist with the newspaper in Iron Mountain, Michigan, where they have just bought a retirement home. We exchanged cheerful tales about the Upper Peninsula, where we have a seasonal cabin as well.

Early-morning mesa

Mesas in the early morning west of Albuquerque.

Stack train in the desert

A stack train speeds past ranchers at a corral west of Albuquerque.

Morning rolled on across the New Mexico desert
, and we rolled off the train again in Albuquerque, Debby to hike the platform and I to catch up on e-mail. Albuquerque station proper does not have free wi-fi, but the transportation center next door does, and I was able to access it with an iPod Touch while standing on the platform. The signal apparently is not strong enough to penetrate the stainless steel hulk of a Superliner.

During our hour-long stop at Albuquerque a crew washed the windows as usual. That made photography from the train much better as the Chief ground eastward under a brilliant blue sky, and as we climbed beautiful Golietas Pass we lunched with a friendly but unusual couple from Glenview, Illinois.

He wore an Army Ranger pin, told us he had retired from “a government agency” and added with considerable bonhomie that he had been a soldier, a helicopter pilot and a psychotherapist, and “had been in intelligence all my life.”

I have encountered plenty of charming poseurs in the dining car, so when I got home I tried to check him out on the Internet—and came up with nothing. He probably had been a super-efficient spook who had managed to avoid leaving an electronic trail.

Traditional home

(Above): A traditional Southwestern adobe home in Golietas Pass east of Albuquerque, and (below), a decidedly non-traditional house a couple of miles farther on. We doubted that there was a right angle anywhere in it.

Nontraditional home

In any case, the spy and I were both delighted with the dog-eared Saint Bernard snapshots Sam, the hardworking lead service attendant in the dining car, proudly displayed to patrons at the drop of a spoon. Sam, a tall, stooped man, shows champion Saints all over California and is a fine ambassador for the breed.

Our sleeping car was a later Superliner II in good shape, and Mr. Miyagi kept it spotless the entire trip. We noticed that he was especially good with small children as well as senior citizens (he addressed us as “Mr. Henry” and “Ms. Debby”).

There were a couple of unforeseen delays. Somewhere in eastern New Mexico a  passenger suffered a seizure, causing the crew to dash through the lounge car to the victim’s coach to apply first aid. The train stopped in a small town and waited twenty minutes for an ambulance and a deputy to transport the patient to a local hospital. He was lucky, the conductor said, because east of that town there was only open desert for many hours.

Our ten-minute stop at La Junta dragged into half an hour because the local cops dithered and negotiated and finally removed a panhandler from the train and an Amtrak training car was coupled onto the rear.

Mr. Miyagi and passenger

"Mr. Miyagi" and one of his sleeping-car charges at La Junta.

We slept well as the Chief rolled across Kansas during the night.

At breakfast the last day we collected the biggest scalp of all for our You-Meet-Such-Interesting-
People-in-the-Dining-Car belt: Gino Schiavone, a sundial sculptor from Taos, New Mexico.

He was on his way to Bowie, Maryland, to install a sixteen-foot-high sundial made of bronze, glass, stainless steel, marble and tile at the brand-new city hall.

Voluble yet humble and down-to-earth, Schiavone showed us photos of his work on his iPod Touch—but this warm and humane man was more interested in the stories of his companions than in boasting about his considerable reputation.

A beautiful photograph of one of his sundials in Albuquerque is here, and you can see a bit of biographical detail here.

Despite the delays of the day before, the Southwest Chief arrived in Chicago half an hour early. Amtrak pads its schedules well to make up for unforeseen events, but we also benefited from the absence of Metra traffic on the suburban approaches. It was a Saturday, when there are few commuter trains to slow things down for a late transcontinental, and we raced at speed up the triple-track corridor, tying up at the bumping post in Union Station at 2:45 p.m.

If you go:


Fares on Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL or vary wildly, depending on availability, just like the airlines.

A coach seat from Chicago to La Plata runs from $61 to $120 per person (there is a 15 per cent discount for seniors, servicemen and the like, and a 50 per cent discount for children 2 to 15. Infants under 2 ride free).

Coach from La Plata to Winslow costs $138 to $173 exclusive of discounts.

A roomette for two from La Plata to Winslow runs from $226 to $532 in addition to the lowest coach fare for each passenger. Bedrooms (with toilet and shower) for two are $473 to $1082 plus lowest coach fare for each passenger. Family rooms for two adults and two children cost from $397 to $897 plus lowest coach fare for each passenger.

AmSnag ( will help you snag the lowest fares and sleeper charges. You need to know the station codes, but you can find those on

As you will discover, you will save the most money by booking your tickets months in advance.

Depot Inn and Suites, La Plata, MO

1295 N. Brown St.
La Plata, MO 63549
Reservations 888-814-3669 or 660-332-4669

Room rates run from $94 to $139 (for jacuzzi suites) plus tax and fees, and discounts are available for members of AARP and certain other organizations.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car, 10 miles north of La Plata

2611 S. Franklin St.
Kirksville, MO 63501-6508

The agency will pick renters up at the hotel or the La Plata station.

La Posada, Winslow, AZ

303 E 2nd Street
Winslow, AZ 86047
Reservations 928-289-4366

Room rates run from $109 to $149 plus tax and fees, depending on amenities such as number of beds or whirlpool bath.

Dollar Rent-a-Car, 3 miles east of Winslow

1001 N. Minnatonka
Winslow, AZ 86047

The agency will pick up renters at La Posada.


Please visit my blogs:  The Reluctant Blogger  and The Whodunit Photographer

Also see my books website,

First Part of This Report | Other Reports By Henry Kisor | | Silver Rails Country