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Feather River Express EMY to Portola CA Page 1

Feather River Express Private Varnish Train, Emeryville to Portola CA

August 20, 2010
Photos By Richard Elgenson

How would you like to take this "Dream Train" from this location to a heavenly railfan destination?  If your answer is yes, let's go!  Why call this a dream train?.  For this answer, we need to speak with Chris Skow of Trains and Travel.


Dreams can come true.  Just ask Chris Skow of Trains and Travel International.  His 42 year dream came true on August 20, 2010 when the Feather River Express pulled into the Emeryville California station and out with passengers.  About 125 people boarded the 14 private cars for this trip with 200 more expected at Sacremento.  While the dream was to operate a charter passenger train to Portola, Mr. Skow points out that this special train is the first regularly scheduled passenger train for the public in 40 years.  Of note is the four buses which delivered Plumas County passengers from a meeting point near Portola to Sacramento to take the train home.  This train made a positive impact on the 28th annual Portola Railroad Days (August 19-22) and surrounding economy.  All accomodations were booked in and around the surrounding area.  Nice touch to have a special passenger train traverse an otherwise freight railroad route to small town America.  The railroad through the Feather River Canyon and Portola in particular traces its history to one Western Pacific Railroad, which connected Salt Lake City Utah to San Francisco California.  The Western Pacific was absorbed into the Union Pacific in 1983.  Portola was an important location along the railroad through dieselization.  Most recently, the area has seen reduced freight rail traffic since the Donner Pass route was opened to doublestack intermodal trains.  It was a nice story to hear while on the way to Portola of how Chris Skow came to work for the WP.  The story is a hearwarming one told personally by Chris while standing in a vestibule on board the FRX.  As a teenager, he fell in love with the Feather River Canyon area and Portola.  Judging by the number of automobiles following the train, it's not so hard to imagine a kid in the 1950's and 1960's enjoying this area so much, that once he had his driver's license, he visited on his own.  For Chris, the love of the area was so great, that once an opportunity came along, he took it to live and work out of Portola for the WP. We'lll get to the particulars, check out the train and depart for Portola.  Our route will take former Southern Pacific trackage to Sacramento and switch to former Western Pacific tracks to Oroville and Portola.  All Aboard the Feather River Express!

Imagine 14 mostly private cars pulling up to the station for your pleaseure of an 8 hour ride from the east Bay Area of California to the high Sierra Nevada mountains just shy of Nevada.  Aboard the Feather River Express dream train, you will traverse mileage ranging from ocean waterfront to fertile fanmland to major rivery canyons to majestic mountains.


A number of passengers and crew stayed at the Emeryville Woodfin Suites the previous night.  I met a number of car attendents for Trains and Travel as my neighbors.  I met people whose names I recognized from public train posting boards.  Some of these people were active or retired railroaders as well as a local luminary who promotes a large Stockton gathering in March.  Some of the above people were going to board.  The rest were photographers interested to see the train.  About 125 people boarded in Emeryville.



Once aboard, it was goodbye to Emeryville, I happened to be in the Silver Lariat and caught up with some passengers and crew.  This couple had been waiting on the platform where I had spoken to them briefly.  William Hall is a longtime server aboard the Silver Lariat.  Note the passengers  wearing Portola Railroad Days buttons.  If not for the Nikon camera on the table, this photograph could have been taken in the heyday of passenger railroading.  I do belive at least one costume  change took place for the woman.

The Golden Gate Bridge is barely visible from certain locations along the FRX route.  Since it was an overcast August morning, capturing the bridge did not yield good results.

Photos from Pony Express, however, yield all the other domes on this special train.  Four to the rear and three up front.  Who's counting?  The day is young.


Martinez Station is just ahead and there is a large crowd there, many of whom join the FRX.   Check out the signals.  Every single one is red.


Another interesting aspect to taking the train is the time one can devote to studying imposing structures with which the train traverses.  The Benicia railroad bridge  is two tracks in width and has a lifting section which allows large vessel traffic through.  The bridge was open while we were at Martinez loading new arrivals to the FRX.  There are parallel highway bridges on each side of us. 


In bewlow left photo, the bridge operator is visible watching the FRX pass below him.  How exciting, an Amtrak Capitol happens to meet us while we are out on the bridge.


To begin Chris Skow's story, he began "Ever since high school, I fell in love with the Western Pacific Railroad, Portola and the Feather River Canyon.  My first taste of Feather River Country came in February 1966 when my parents allowed me to drive to Portola in order to spend several days taking pictures of Western Pacific trains and most important of all, the California Zephyr."

"Needless to say I was very impressed with the Western Pacific Railroad.  On my first trip to this area I met Bob Larson while taking photos of his train in the Feather River Canyon.  Bob went to work for the Western Pacific in the 1950’s in engine service.   He invited me over to his home in Portola to look at his railroad slides and collection of the WP.  So a lifelong friendship began."

Feather River Express continued

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