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California Zephyr 2008

Amtrak from the East Coast to the West Coast; 

from Sea to Shining Sea.

By Robin Bowers,  Comments Welcomed.


For many long years it has been a dream of mine. At least since I was a teen and saw them at the state fair. They were big and beautiful. Modern and state of the art. Passenger rail cars.  Coaches and sleepers.  But it was the Pullmans that stole my heart. To take a train trip and spend the night sleeping in a berth and seeing the country side pass by. Shades of Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.”

But by now it was time to work on my bucket list. Those things to do that have been on the back burner of life. Time to move the train trip up near the top of that list. And then events started to happen. By chance I came upon info of a group of people who like to ride trains. And they meet in Fullerton CA on the fourth Monday of the month. Wow, someone with similar interest. And Fullerton is only a hour drive away. After attending meetings for a year, listening to stories of train travel, I was definitely hooked. I had to do it. Especially when after every meeting we all would walk over to the Fullerton train station and meet the eastbound Southwest Chief. All of us would stand drooling wanting to jump on the train as it left. A bit of the vagabond sprit in all of us.   The itch was getting stronger in me as time went on.

Now my dad’s sister lives near Annapolis, MD. The drinking town with a sailing problem. It is always a treat to visit her. She lives by an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay with a boat dock in front of the house. A very restful and quiet place. Next door is the estate that belonged to the British governor of the colony. When he was called back to London he gave the house and land to his secretary. The land is still in the same family. I am seeing an opportunity here. Fly one way and train the other.

At the train riders meet ups I would quiz everyone as to routes and combinations of them. I asked Carol Walker, travel agent and fellow train rider that if I could only do one trip what would she recommend. Without a moment’s hesitation her answer was the California Zephyr. I had been torn between the Coast Starlight or the Empire Builder or Southwest Chief. Now the decision had been made as to the route, it was when. I told Carol that I need to set a date because without one I would procrastinate and never get on the train. She said the best time to travel would be in the spring or the autumn. Winter days are too short and the summer too crowded. So we decided on the end of September, 2008 for my first cross country train trip. And what an adventure it will be.

My travels will take me thru five state capitals and our nation’s capital for a total of 3,147 miles. I will visit three railroad museums. I will ride on the Acela, then an overnight coach to Chicago and a sleeper from Chicago to Sacramento. From the east coast to the west coast. From sea to shining sea.




Chapter: I

Our Revisit to the Mt. Clair Shops

Sep. 22, 2008 Monday

Damn!!  I knew, Two seconds after passing the turnoff that I had missed my exit. O well, no problem. I’ll go to the next exit, make a u turn and come back. Just a short detour. Well not so fast. This isn’t So Cal and not all exits are the same. So, exiting off the Interstate lead to a county road. And then with no way to return to the freeway. Lost and without a local map. Baltimore is still north so I headed in that directions. Found the Annapolis-Baltimore road and figured this should go where I wanted. Had same problem the last visit by getting lost but somehow did find the museum. I am again with my aunt Betty on our second visit to the B & O Railroad Museum at 901 W. Pratt St in Baltimore MD 21223. The 40-acre indoor/outdoor museum’s extensive collection of locomotives, both originals and replicas, dates from 1829. The shops that once surrounded the station built thousands of cars and engines and were known as “The Railroad University.” The station’s focal point is the roundhouse dome covering a wooden turntable surrounded by 22 stalls that contain cars and locomotives.

This is my first of three stops across country at railroad museums. After my aunt and I first visited here, the following winter there was one big snow storm with a huge accumulation of snow on the roof. And then after 100 years of keeping the roundhouse dry the roof let lose and the snow fell. Inside the museum was full of snow and roof timbers and exposed to the weather. Much damage was done to the collection and displays. Now rebuilt it was time to revisit and see the new and improved roundhouse.

It was 11:30am when we arrived at the Mt. Clare shops located among Baltimore City’s historical southwest neighborhoods.

(Click any photo in this report for a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

W. Pratt St. view


Roundhouse at B&O Museum
Hours of Operation
Inside of roundhouse

The inside of the roundhouse is looking mighty fine.  Several damaged equipment are on display but otherwise there is no other evidence of the storm damage.

Wooden floor of turntable
Display caboose
Worm drive Loco
Inside Cab

Remembering this was the start of the railroad business in America and B & O followed close to the National Road which started in Baltimore and drove west to the wild west of Ohio and beyond.  My close feeling for the National Road is that I crossed it twice a day going to high school in Ohio. And here I am at the birthplace of American railroading and of US Route 40.

Early Loco
One hourse power loco
Early Amtrak bi-level
Stage coach


Equiptment damaged from roof cave in
Window in center looks down on gear to move turn table
Scale gauge
Model Railroad

After finishing a docent lead inside tour, we went outside to explore. New to us this time was a very nice garden railroad. Push the buttons to start action figures

Garden model railroad
Model Railroad


Model street  car
Garden model railroad

Below are four Garden Model Railroad videos at the B&O Museum.   Click the center of each video to view:

Garden model railroad


Aunt Betty
Outside display
Outside display

Outside on display were many carriages, cars and locos. One car I found was a WWII troop car. At the time I was unaware of the significance this would mean in the future of this trip.

Troop sleeper
Inside troop sleeper
Inside troop sleeper
Rest area

Another treat was touring the car shop which is in a very old building. The repair shop walls have heard many voices and a cacophony of machine sounds and whistles while standing there for nearly two centuries. Enclosed inside are several locos. We were in the cab of an old powerful steam loco where we met a knowable docent. He told us how the engine worked, the freight it hauled and the routes it ran over.


Outside display
Cars on left used for train rides
Outside display


Outside display

As it was nearing 2:30pm we still had much more to see but decided to start heading back home to beat the traffic. We went back thru the roundhouse and a quick look in the museum store. I must have something to remember this visit. I finally settle on a B & O logo cap in blue. Last stop was at the receptionist for directions to the freeway.


Mural across street from museum

Simple turn right and head toward the harbor. W. Pratt St. is one way so just follow the street for about mile to M.L.King Blvd. Hang a right and then we went by both the football and baseball parks, on either side of the freeway. We headed for the Bay Bridge and arrive in Annapolis a little after 3:15pm. Home safe and missed the DC rush hour. A good trip except it was Monday and train rides are offered Wed-Sun. This is another reason for a return visit.

This is a fine railroad museum in association with the Smithsonian Institution.    For more information:

For information on ballpark tours of the Oriole Park at Camden Yards:

If you come to Baltimore be sure to visit Fort McHenry National Monument. After the dawn on Sept 14, 1814, the British guns ceased firing, and the sight of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag defiantly flying over the fort inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem   “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The 15-minute movie offered in the visitor center is not to be missed.

Fort McHenry


Fort McHenry

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