Exhibition of Amtrak History & Silver Rails Event Center
**Grand Opening Celebration**
In Dec of 2007, the fine folks over at Trainweb.com hosted a Christmas Dinner in Orange Ca for all members and friends of Trainweb. It was here that I first learned about the Exhibition of Amtrak History & Silver Rails Event Center ribbon cutting and grand opening that was to be held Feb 23 in La Plata Mo. Of course my curiosity and excitement would soon grow as I was sure this was an event not to be missed. Just a few months earlier, while in La Plata for my birthday, I would have my first look at the Ex Amtrak Mail Handling Cars (which would be home to the exhibition) and now 4 months later, I would be on hand to witness the Grand Opening of the Exhibition of Amtrak History along with the new Silver Rails Event Center. As I started the planning for this trip, I decided that I would do 2 things that I had not done before on any of my previous trips to La Plata. First, I would stay 2 nights at the Deport Inn & Suites and secondly, I would return to Ca on the westbound Southwest Chief. I was ecstatic that I would not have to see nor step foot on an airplane for any part of this trip.
Fullerton Ca Where My Journey Begins....
I was booked on Amtrak train #4 the Southwest Chief out of Fullerton Ca on Feb 20. Candace would be my excellent sleeping car attendant. After settling into roomette #5 in the 431 car, I decided to walk the train to see if I could locate my friends Bob Manning & Anton Lazarro, who had both gotten on in Los Angeles. They were also on their way to La Plata for the festivities. As I entered the diner, I quickly spotted Bob, his wife Joyce, and Anton who were all having dinner. I sat down and we quickly engaged in friendly conversation. I really wanted to know what they thought of Amtrak’s new menu. Since I had already eaten dinner before our departure from Fullerton, I would not have a chance to try out the new menu until the following day. Everyone seemed happy with their dinner selections and in all honesty the food looked pretty good! You know – having familiar friends and faces around, really made this trip that much more enjoyable. Sometime later I would learn that Jonathan Ortiz, another fellow Trainweb writer, was also aboard the train on his way to La Plata. As our train made its way up Cajon Pass, we all met in the lounge car for more socializing. We all chatted about various things as we rolled past Victorville and into Barstow. Once past Barstow I excused myself and was quickly off to bed. We would reconvene in the morning for breakfast, at which point we should be racing across the Arizona desert.
A Light Dusting Of Snow Blankets The Arizona Desert
The next morning I slept right thru my 7:00 am alarm and if I remember correctly, got up around 8:30 am. After a quick shower I was off to breakfast. As I entered the diner I noticed Bob & Joyce already eating and since their table was full, I was seated at the very next table with Genie who was going to Connecticut. My usual French toast seemed to be fluffier then before. The new breakfast meats were also very good. You now had the choice of bacon or chicken apple sausage. I went with the sausage and it was excellent. It was a perfect accompaniment to the French toast. After breakfast I headed out to the lounge car to take some photos. I had a new camera on this trip and I was anxious to get snapping! We soon entered New Mexico and in a few short hours we would be in Albuquerque. As always, here we are allowed to get out and stretch our legs. Once our train started the approach into Albuquerque I was on the lookout for fellow Trainweb writer, Carl Morrison’s diner car. See, the day before, Carl had come thru town on train #4 on his way to La Plata. Unfortunately, they had to ditch their diner since it had developed some sort of mechanical problem. Well sure enough, right before our arrival, I noticed the diner sitting alone on some tracks right before the station. I made sure to snap some shots so I could show Carl and everyone else in La Plata. Once in Albuquerque, Anton & I decided to check out the Greyhound station, since Amtrak now had its ticket offices in there. I had always seen the Greyhound building before but never bothered to go inside. It was actually really nice. The only other Greyhound station I had been in was the one in San Diego, and that ones a dump. Back over by our train I would proceed to take more pictures and wait anxiously for the arrival of the southbound New Mexico Railrunner train to Belen. Jonathan would also join in on the picture taking.
The Infamous Broken Down Diner Car!
Threatening Skies In Albuquerque
Back aboard a few of us decided to head off to lunch. I tried the Angus beef burger and it seemed to be the same burger as before. I did add bacon to my burger though, something that was not possible on the old menu. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in my roomette. As our train made its way thru Apache Canyon I started to notice a good amount of snow falling. As you can imagine, this made the scenery outside look absolutely spectacular. In Las Vegas Nm, I noticed an old hotel trackside. It was called “La Castaneda” and it was at one time a Harvey House. Since my sleeper was positioned right in front of it, I managed to grab a few photos. Funny thing - I don’t ever recall seeing this hotel before on any of my previous trips thru here.
Our Train Snakes Thru Apache Canyon
The Lizard House Off In The Distance
La Castaneda : Las Vegas Nm
Cold Out? I Think So...
After our fresh air stop at Raton Nm, we began our trip up Raton Pass. Half way up the pass darkness started to fall as we entered the state of Colorado. I don’t remember ever going thru Raton Pass in the dark. As our train chugged along thru the cold Colorado night, we soon came to our station stop of La Junta Co. This is our next chance to really get out and stretch. I spent most of the time playing with my cameras settings. I still have yet to master the “night shot” so I was up front snapping away at our trains consist. After La Junta I joined Bob, Joyce & Anton for dinner. I decided on the flat iron steak which was ok. I’m really glad that’s its free for us sleeping car passengers because it’s not worth the $21 you have to pay, if you’re in coach. After dinner I called it a night and retired back to my roomette. My plan was to get up early the following morning and be outside taking pictures after our arrival into Kansas City.
My Attempt At A Night Shot : The Southwest Chief @ La Junta Co
Well the next morning, I managed to once again sleep thru my alarm. As I peeked out my sleeper’s window, I noticed our train already stopped in Kansas City. I also noticed that we had no electrical power. I quickly ran downstairs to take a shower, but with no power, that was not happening. Turns out we were cutting a locomotive out of our consist and lending it to the adjacent Ann Rutledge, which is an Amtrak regional train to St Louis. We were now down to one locomotive and once it was re-connected, power was restored. First thing I did was shower, then head off to breakfast. There I was able to join Bob & Joyce who were eating alone at one table. By this time we had also departed Kansas City about 20 mins late. After spending about an hour in the dining car, I headed back to my roomette to ready my things for our arrival into La Plata Mo.
As we pulled up to the station, our lovely conductor had forgotten that she had sleeping car passengers bound for La Plata. Since we had missed the station, we ended up detraining in the snow/mud mess that was way down pass the platform. It almost felt like we were getting dropped off at Chris Guenzler’s Lookout Point. Once outside, the 23 degree temp felt, well like 23 degrees and luckily for me, I was wearing about 5 layers of clothing. As always, Harold Marshall of the Depot Inn & Suites was there to meet the train. We then proceeded to pile into the Depot Inn shuttle for the short trip over to the hotel. There was a ton of snow all over and it really made the trip for me that much more exciting. I have no problem with snow & cold weather. Mexicali summers = 110 degree days. No Thanks!
Our Arrival Into La Plata Mo
The Depot Inn & Suites!
Harold Marshals Old School Chevy Truck!
I have said this before and I will say it again. It sure felt nice being back at the Depot Inn & Suites. They really go out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. Once we were all checked in Jonathan & I ventured out into the cold to take numerous photos. The Ex Amtrak cars were sitting behind the hotel. Workers inside were still in the process of getting things ready for the following days unveiling. As we continued taking pictures, Carl Morrison drove up and quickly said “hello”. Or course I had to tell him that his dining car was safe and sound back in Albuquerque. Most of this day was spent down at the Chris Guenzler Lookout Point or for me anyway, in the in-door pool. For dinner later that night, a few of us went down to the near by Red Rooster. This place never disappoints! During dinner, Chris Parker, another Trainweb member, joined us as he had just arrived in his rental car from Kansas City. For those that could not take the train into La Plata, most chose to fly into Kansas City, and then rent a car for the drive over. After dinner Chris would drive Anton, Jonathan & I over to the Amtrak station to await the arrival of train #3 the westbound Southwest Chief. Temp outside had dipped to about 18 degrees. Most passengers wisely chose to wait for their train inside the station. This was the coldest it would get on the trip. After #3’s late arrival we decided to go for a drive around town. We drove right by the new Silver Rails Event Center where inside, workers were doing some last minute preparations. After that we headed off to Casey’s Convenience store where I would buy water and assorted junk food. Here we would stay for about an hour talking to one of La Plata’s local police officers. Some interesting conversation ensued and little did we know that getting to know him would play a small role in our adventures the following day! Once back at the hotel I decided to call it a night. I wanted to be well rested for the following day’s big events.
(L to R) Chris Parker, Anton Lazarro, Jonathan Ortiz
The following day a few of us decided to meet in the lobby and head off on a little tour of La Plata. The Exhibition of Amtrak History ribbon cutting was the first event of the day and it was not scheduled till 1:30 pm. This would give us plenty of time to venture out for a little sightseeing. Since Chris Parker had his rental car with him, he offered to drive Anton, Jonathan & myself around. Most of us wanted to check out the near by Amish farms. I also wanted to pay another visit to the Amish Country Store. This day ended up being a lot nicer then the day before. There was still plenty of snow on the ground, only difference was now there was plenty of sunshine to go with it. We spent most of the morning driving down various back roads. At a few spots, we would cross over the BNSF mainline. I had mentioned to the others that I would love to grab a shot of today’s eastbound Southwest Chief as it fly’s on by towards Chicago. Since we still had about an hour or so until that trains appearance, we headed off to the Amish Country Store which was not to far down the road. I spent some time walking around but ended up not buying anything. Outside I made sure to visit with my favorite Amish Cat who always seems to be hanging about.
"I just cant seem to get this Monkey uh, I mean Cat off my Back..."
As we all piled back into Chris’s rented Dodge Charger, we drove on back to our previous spot to await the appearance of Amtrak #4. I was determined to get a shot of it! Sure enough a few mins later we could hear the horn of the approaching train. Since we all had cameras with us we all picked out spots in the snow and patiently waited for the train to pass. I decided to climb a small hill near the tracks to position myself for the shot. Half way up the hill I lost my footing and started to slide down the slope. I then decided I better choose a more level vantage point. As the horn grew closer we all readied our cameras. We then saw the train coming out of a curve. #4 was flying so it did not take long for it to scream past us.
Amtrak #4 On Its Way To The Windy City!
Footprints In The Snow!
BNSF Eastbound Hurries Thru Town!
After that we decided to head on over to Santa Fe Lake. This is one place I had never been. This lake is located across the main Hwy from the Depot Inn & Suites. The BNSF mainline passes right beside it and I had heard that many years ago, Santa Fe steam engines used the near by lake for water. The location of the lake is very nice and the way the tracks curve off into the distance makes for some great train photo opportunities. I can’t believe I had never thought of coming here before. We spent about 20 mins there and did manage to see one BNSF train heading east. Back at the Depot Inn it was now time to get ready for the Exhibition of Amtrak History Ribbon Cutting. I also noticed a good amount of people starting to gather in and around the hotel building.
Me Snapping A Shot Of A Westbound UP Stack Train By Santa Fe Lake!
photo by Dutch Myers
The Ex Amtrak Mail Handling Cars Seen Here Before The Ribbon Cutting!
The Exhibition of Amtrak History is a display of anything and everything relating to Amtrak. The exhibit will be housed in 2 Ex Amtrak Mail Handling Cars. As of now only 1 car would be ready for the 1:30 pm unveiling. As the time approached we all gathered in front of the cars, as a number of speakers were getting ready to say a few words. I noticed the Amazing Chris Guenzler standing near the entrance platform. Joining him where Tom & Kelly, owner of the Depot Inn & Suites, also Steve, Barbara, Shivam and Ray from Trainweb. There was also a representative on hand from Amtrak as well as numerous other vip’s, including La Plata’s major, Larry Herron. After a few words and a few short presentations, it was now time to cut the ribbon and officially open the exhibit to the general public. Chris Guenzler & the Amtrak Rep, Anne McGinnis did the honors. There were a ton of people taking pictures and I think I even noticed a camera crew or two. We were now allowed to enter the exhibit and I must say I was quite blown away with what they had on display. They had pretty much everything Amtrak that you could imagine. These included things that had been collected and/or donated over the years. Schedules, posters, menus, old photos, books, t-shirts, key chains, uniforms. I’m telling you – they had it all and it was all available for you to see. We all took our time walking thru the exhibit, taking photos and since the exhibit was now open for good, I would take the time to return the following day to really soak it all in.
Time For The Grand Opening!
Tom Marshall Says A Few Words!
Next Up To Speak - The Amazing Chris Guenzler!
It was now time to head on over to the new Silver Rails Event Center. Their ribbon cutting was scheduled for 3:30 pm. The Event Center is something that was sorely needed in La Plata. Most events (weddings, senior proms, quilting conventions etc..) always had to be planned in neighboring cities. Now La Plata had its own place, an event center like no other. For this ribbon cutting, the honors would go to Steve & Barbara from Trainweb. Most of the vip’s from the previous ceremony were once again on hand to officially unveil the new event center. Once the ribbon was cut, we were allowed to enter the building for our first look inside. To say the inside was nice would be an understatement. The folks that worked on this really did an incredible job. The event center displayed the familiar train themes of the Depot Inn & Suites. The thing that I liked was that it was not over done. In other words, you could walk around and see train related décor here and there, but it was not too “over the top”.
Silver Rails Event Center!
Tom Marshall Once Again Speaks To The Crowd!
Steve & Barbara From Trainweb Cutting The Ribbon!
Inside The Silver Rails Event Center!
On this night the event center would also hold its first official event. A Grand Opening Gala was planned for anyone that was interested in attending. 500 or so tickets were sold and a packed house was expected. Since this gala was a suit & tie affair we all had to dress accordingly. I must admit, I don’t often dress up but it is fun to do it once in awhile. This was going to be an all night event complete with speeches and a presentation that showcases the future Silver Rails Resort. Chris Parker, Anton & I had taken a table at the front end of the building. By this point, the place was pretty packed. Once all the speeches were complete the call was made for dinner, which was set up buffet style. A person in charge would come to each table and one by one release that table to go stand in the buffet line. I thought “well we have quite the wait in store for us” since we were in the last row of tables up front. Finally the person, in charge of sending us off to eat, appeared at our table. With a huge smile on his face he looked at us and beamed “You all hungry?” We quickly got up and headed off towards the buffet line. Ok. - Long story even longer - By the time we had reached the buffet, the food had run out. There was a good amount of people standing there anxiously waiting for more food to be brought out. We were then informed that unfortunately there was no more food. Luckily for me I had a slice of coconut cream pie waiting for me in my hotel room fridge, so that ended up being my dinner/dessert. To their credit, Tom & Maria from the Depot Inn offered us their sincere apologies over this whole matter. They even went as far as to offer me a refund, which I declined. To top things off, on our way back to the hotel we managed to get pulled over for speeding. Anton was at the wheel and apparently we were going a tad to fast. Luckily for us, the same La Plata cop who had spent time talking with us the night before was on duty. He basically smiled, told us to slow down and let us go. No jail time for us and a perfect way to end an exciting day!
Anton, Myself & Chris Just Back From Our Secret Service Interviews..:)
The following day would be Sunday Feb 24. Most people in attendance chose this day to return back to their homes. I was booked on that evenings #3, the west bound Southwest Chief. Both Chris Guenzler & Jonathan Ortiz had returned to California the night before. Chris Parker & Anton were booked to fly out of Kansas City that night so they had a bit of a drive ahead of them. Around noon time most of us gathered in the Depot Inn lobby to say our good byes to those leaving. I on the other hand still had pretty much a whole day to relax and sightsee. In addition, my friend and fellow Trainweb member, Dutch Myers from Pennsylvania was not leaving until the following day so we spent most of the day out at the Lookout Point.
(L to R) Anton, Carole Walker, Myself & Bob Manning Hanging Out In The Depot Inn Lobby!
I really wanted to spend this day shooting trains, since after inspection of my photos; I noticed that I really didn’t have too many shots of trains running thru town. I also wanted to go back to the Exhibition of Amtrak History and really take the time to look around. I spent about 20 mins doing that.
The Exhibition Of Amtrak History On The Inside!
Once outside, Harold Marshall offered to drive me out to the Amtrak Station where I would proceed to just hang out and wait for trains. I must have spent about an hour there and I did manage to catch a good number of freights as they rumbled past in route to their final destinations.
UP Westbound Autorack Crawls Thru Town!
The Same Train Crosses Owensby St Near The Amtrak Station!
BNSF Westbound Intermodal Roars thru La Plata!
As night began to fall Dutch, his wife Joyce and I decided to have one more dinner over at the Red Rooster. After that it was time to go over to the Amtrak station to await the arrival of train #3. For the return trip I was booked into roomette #5 in the 331 car. Fred would also be my sleeping car attendant. First thing I noticed was that our sleeper was a refurbished Superliner I car. Since I had only read about these cars before, this would be my first time actually riding in one. These cars have really nice wood paneling that goes down each side of the hallways. In addition all the bathrooms are updated with a new modern look. It really looks nice compared to the Superliner’s I’m used to. I just wish Amtrak would hurry up and do this to all their Superliner cars. Carl Morrison, who was also on his way home, was riding in the sleeper directly behind mine.
Time To Board #3 For The Trip Home..
photo by Dutch Myers
Now at this point I have to say that the trip home was pretty uneventful. I was pretty tired and I spent most of the trip relaxing in my roomette. In Albuquerque we lost about an hour and a half, when our train hit a crossing gate arm that had fallen on to the tracks. This did cause us to be so delayed that we ran thru Cajon Pass in the daylight, so I wont complain to much.
One Of The Few Pictures I Took On The Way Home!
#3 In Albuquerque w/ Amtrak P-42 # 40 Sitting Idle!
Inside of My Refurbished Superliner Sleeper!
San Bernardino Ca : Almost Home....
We arrived into Fullerton Ca, Feb 26 at 8:30 am, about 2 hours late. I hoped off and said a quick “good bye” to Carl Morrison. As I walked to retrieve my car, I thought about how exhausted I felt after this trip. That’s something I have not felt before and guess what – I still had a 4 hour drive in front of me back to Mexicali. FUN! FUN! FUN!
**All Photos By Tony Escarcega unless otherwise noted.**
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