Two Coasts. 7,300+ Miles. 9 Days.
The Southwest Chief -- On The Train
The engine for my train in Chicago's Union Station
Upon being shown my room I immediately fell in love with it. It was perfect and so much more than I expected. I found it to be quite spacious and roomy (I am a lone traveler, of small girth). The room was on the lower level which I would eventually come to prefer. There are numerous reasons for this: fewer neighbors, more bathrooms, immediate access to the shower, quick access to windows facing both sides of the train (when we got to the red rock country I spent about 2 hours running back and forth between windows!). As the train began to depart the dining steward came around for reservations. I got a 6:45 reservation.
These are a few shots of my sleeper "pod". I was able to store all my luggage on the shelf that you can see in the pictures. The last photo is of me laying down in the converted bedroom.
For the first night, and every night thereafter, I had the "twin medallions" which is basically two 4 oz of beef filets. They were delicious! It came with potatoes and a veggie. For desert I had, again I had this just about every night thereafter, a very decadent "chocolate pyramid". One of the people I sat with this night was to be on the same trains as me all the way up to Portland. After dinner I did some exploring and then settled into my room. As I was pretty tired from the first day of travel I had Joan set the bed up for me around 10pm. It was quite an impressive sight to watch my spacious sitting room be converted to a sleeping room! The bed was more comfortable than I expected and all in all was quite cozy. The best and most memorable parts of the trip would come when I was lying in the bed with the lights off and watching the scenery and stars pass by me. It was a very beautiful sight, that I miss already!
I awoke fairly early and made my way to the dining car, that was quite empty. I only had one table mate and I decided that I would try the french toast. It was a good decision, as it quickly became my favorite breakfast! I learned that over the night we had managed to make up about 90 minutes in time, so I was happy about this and the prospect of arriving in LA on time. Sadly at around 10am the train began to crawl and then stopped, in the middle of nowhere. There was a problem that required lots of train people to run around outside the train. After about 20 minutes or so we were moving again, albeit at a crawling rate. We finally limped into a station and were told it would be at least an hour wait. I later found out that there was a broken brake line. Thankfully they were able to fix this and we were back on track again, though by now, of course, we had given back all the regained time and were running late again. As there was nothing I could do about this, I settled into the day and to a routine that would soon become pattern.
These are pictures I was able to take while we had a long stop to repair the train. This offered me an opportunity to really get an up close view of the components of the train, particularly the engines. As you can see this train required three engines. That is me standing in front of the engine!
I found I enjoyed walking the train and hanging out in the lounge car. I had my books, though I have to admit I didn't do nearly as much reading as I planned, and would spend a few hours in the lounge car and then walk back to my room. My day quickly was segmented into small moments: lunch, reading, napping etc. I was amazed at how enjoyable this aspect of train travel was. To be forced, if only on occasion, to slow down is wonderful! On this first full day on the train I was so relaxed that I didn't hear (I am convinced the speaker in the lounge car was broken) the dinner reservation announcement and ended up getting a 5pm reservation. This actually turned into a blessing as we were running late, so I finished eating just as we arrived into Albuquerque. Had I gotten my desired time I would have missed this station stop (though I don't smoke, I made it a point to exit the train at every smoke stop, if only to poke around the train station and get a feel of what that particular town/city values). During the afternoon we passed through red rock country which was my favorite -- i have always wanted to see this type of terra firma, and was not let down! I took a shower also, and was very surprised with how "good" it was! Water was smoking hot and the pressure was wonderful! This quickly was added to my leisurely, daily routine!
The shower was very comfortable once I got the hang of how to use it. The bathroom was excellent and the ones on the SWC flushed automatically when you closed the seat.
Besides these highlights, the days were pretty carefree and moved along at their own pace. I began to realize what a blessing it is to travel for the sake of travel, and not having to be concerned about getting somewhere etc. The release of this pressure is wonderful!
If you look really carefully at the first picture you will notice a tree house/hunting stand. The last picture is of the vestibule where I spent a few hours on 1/18.
Most of the pictures I took through the windows came out pretty good. I didn't use a flash. The object in the middle of the second photo is a house. Along the New Mexico portion of this route I came across many bizarre houses -- this one being the strangest!
Yes, that is a barbeque at a station we passed through. I kept wondering about it: no train station I have ever been to has felt compelled to BBQ. I wonder how often it gets used!
Those are trucks being transported by rail in the second photo. Prior to this trip I had no idea that trucks were transported like this! The last photo is one of the nicest stations we pulled through. Actually, most of the stations along this NM-AZ-SoCA route were all very nice!
My sleeper car, at one of the last station stops before LA. It was always weird, and a little embarrassing, to be passed by a car (this was approaching LA).
My last morning on the SWC I had breakfast with a couple from CA who were coming home from skiing. They were on the east bound Zephyr that got stranded in the snow. Their train came in 30 hours late. They didn't seem to bothered by this. Along the way we managed to make up some time, and the train pulled into LA only about an hour late. I said goodbye to the people in my sleeper and to Joan. I had a weird sensation that I was saying goodbye to more than just fellow travelers: I began, and would continue, to develop a sense of "community" with my fellow long haul travelers. Since we were late, it would leave my
time available for sightseeing at only 3 hours.
3 hours in LA, enough for a life time...