Happy Leap Day! (I unforchunately only have Amtrak tickets dated February 28 and March 1)
Greetings from Portland and Hi-Hawthorne where I arrived almost an hour late due to signal trouble from last nights snow in the Southern Cascades. I am typing this listening to and Aussie and a Texan complaining about the grey 37º weather. Those connected to the Empire Builder made their connection but walked straight onto that train.
The rest of my time in San Jose was a bit eventful. I went back to Whisman and then back to Downtown Mountain View where I bought a one-way ticket down to San Jose Dideron. I got on the 6:36 train and rode it Santa Clara to visit their depot museum (open Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoon). It was mostly a model railway and volunteers working on the layout but had some interesting artifacts. What comes to mind right now are the Amtrak Matches in a cabinet showing a collection of those from other railways as well. I got distracted by one who started telling me about other historic railway stations in the region and I didn’t make the next CalTrain but the one after it 7:47 which got my into Dideron at 7:55. I still needed to pick up dinner in my 45 minutes and just missed the light rail into downtown and decided to walk instead. This turned out to cut things really close. I spent too much time dithering picking up dinner, ended up with a Subway Sandwich and found myself making it back to the station at 8:33 by jogging. I grabbed my bag and got out to the platform and barely managed to negotiate my way into a window seat with a surly attendant. I am just settling into my aisle seat (but only until Emeryville) as the train leaves and a new Amtrak passenger is arguing with the attendant, not understanding the seat assignment situation. The three coaches are relatively uncrowded except for mine, the last one for everyone going to Eugene, Portland, or Seattle, my seat mate is the only one getting off in the Bay Area.
I go up to the sightseer lounge car and eat my not very good sandwich as we run north through the dark. We make it to Oakland-Jack London Square with just six extra minutes and I don’t bother getting off. Next is are good night announcement and how none will be made until morning. At Emeryville I lose my seatmate, we leave 1 minute late at 10:08 and we stop just beyond the platform (I think the edge of my car, the last is just hitting the northern end of it I see from the back window). We sit there until a southbound Amtrak California train passes and are moving at 10:52, a 40 minute delay. We finally pull into Richmond at 11:00. I would hate to be boarding the train at that unstaffed station knowing it had left Emeryville wondering where it was at. Then it started to rain.
We finally arrive in Martinez at 11:28 entering, passing the lights of the C & J Sugar Refinery and I get another seat mate for the rest of the ride to Portland. I manage to fall asleep a bit and awake in time for our stop in Davis at 12:12. We finally arrive in Sacramento at 12:25 and I decide to step off for a moment on a wet platform not from the rain but from the bery leaky houses being used to water our train. I take more of a walk and notice that they’re plenty of two seaters in the other two coaches. Content with my window I decide not to test today’s crew on falling asleep across other seats and decide not to move. We leave at 12:53, that many minutes late, at 1:00 I curve onto new trackage north away from the Zephyr crossing the American River. The terrible attendant comes through asking us for pillows. I fall asleep fairly decent for we awaking as we enter Chico at 2:19 with a nice yellow SP depot, we finally depart 2:24 and I watch the lights fade of this town fade away falling asleep. At 3:38 I awake briefly again for our stop in Redding. I fall asleep again and have a dream about a possible murder mystery involving a run away road designed to kill. This is the first time I remember a dream on Amtrak. I rarely remember my dreams at at all. We’re in a forest climbing up a pass I realize near Dunsmur.
At 5:38 pull into Dunsmure there is untracked snow along the platform. We leave at 5:42. I wake up at 6:26 in daylight with snow and mountains just north of the town of Mt Shansta. I try and keep a policy of not sleeping during the day on routes I’ve never ridden and make my way to the Lounge car. Were shown as still on time for Klatamoth Falls and then just stop somewhere. At 6:50 start moving again and see Mt. Shansta mostly lost in the clouds. I decide it’s time to go to breakfast and get fully awake for the day on caffeine and get wired on 3 cups of coffee chatting with two men from the Bay Area (one traveling to a conference in a sleeper planning to spend the day having uninterrupted work time) about sports mostly and hear about how even when the As we’re really good you could just go up and buy a world series ticket in the 70s. We go through the mountains of rural northern California blowing some snow. They’re quite a few Amish/Mennonite families on the train (not surprised) but I am surprised that many are going to have breakfast in the diner. I enjoy the scramble eggs, biscuit, and breakfast potatoes, which are okay, but I got spoiled by the made to order fried eggs on the Empire Builder.
We lose some more time stopped for 9 minutes waiting for a freight to pass and at 8:30 we go through Dorris, the last town in California and two tunnels. At 8:34 I look at my iPhone and notice we have officially entered the state of Oregon, and see some cattle chasing after a tractor trailing hay. The scenery stays mountainous and we slowly pass more lakes. At 8:58 we arrive in Klamath Falls, OR, a crew change a fresh air stop. I quickly start my photo essay. Too quickly at 9:03 the all aboard comes while I am up by the sleepers and the attendant is let’s me hop on there giving me a chance to walk through the Pacific Parlor Car. It looks like a worthy reason and experience to upgrade on the Starlight, we keep sitting in the station and pull out at 9:15 and pass through the town and then pass the lake wide and marshy.
9:42 – get the threatening do not smoke on the train announcement, I later befriend the culprit who isn’t taking the threat seriously and start moving again and slowly leave the lake behind. I consider some back window time but it’s totally fogged over from the snow and hard to look out of. I did the nice guy thing and told my seatmate he could use both seats. At 9:50 we stop again because of signal problems from the weather.
At 10:09 we pass the town of Chiloquin and slowly rise into the Cascade Mountains surrounded by trees. The snow is blowing everywhere.
10:19 – annoucement from the Parlor class describing her lunch menu and wine and cheese tasting after Salem. In coach you used to be able to pay $10 for it but that unfortunately has ended. I road the train once with that option but I was only 20 at the time. Then the dining car crew comes over the PA next to say there doing lunch reservations as we pass a canyon.
We arrive in Chemult at 10:40 and I take a photo essay from the train of the recently modernized station. I amazed how many people are getting on and off; all seem to be transferring to and from a mini-bus to Bend, Oregon.
The line keeps running through dense forests and trees, the snow blowing. My notes from the trip at this point become less frequent as we gradually go down the snowy pass into the Willamette Valley. I get distracted chatting with the conductor giving me and a few other passengers a private narration of all the top photo spots along the route, he also realizes I am a railroad enthusiast and starts talking about railway museums mostly those concerning historic locomotives. He started his carrier on the SP Commuter, the predecessor to CalTrain, then the Cascades and with seniority has been doing the Starlight for six years. The most interesting fact I learn is that in the 1950s ACF had designed bi-level DMU self-propelled galley cars for the SP Commuter Service but they didn’t listen and bought conventional galley cars and diesel locomotives instead. The line had been run with steam until then, last in 1957. Other fun facts are 20400 degrees of curve from California to Springfield going through the southern Cascades on this trip and we cross the Willamette River 5 times, 3 times before Eugene on our way just to Portland.
11:36 – catch a quick glimpse of a lake through the trees and just miss a picture
12:09 – pass the former landside in 2008 that closed the railway for four months back in 2008. The train continues it’s downward mountain trek in the snow.
1:02 – finally out of the mountains speeding up through the town of Oakridge, the snow is gone, now lush green hills.
1:05 – another faster tunnel trough the green hills before we cross a river and start passing more lakes.
1:45 – enter Springfield then Eugene and we make maybe a five-minute smoke/fresh air stop. The conductor warned us it will be quick but I didn’t think so quick. He says it’s the most frequent stop they leave people behind at. The main reason I believe the stop is made quick is to save the connection for everyone getting on the Empire Builder. We slowly leave Eugene passing houses.
2:14 – see a rainbow, the first scenery announcement over the PA and go over another small bridge and keep going through the rain.
2:26 – pass Alfred and its small town and keep going through fields of the Williamette Valley and then snow geese as the clouds deepen
2:35 – pass what I think is a hoop house (chickens a stick living inside) and spell the shit
2:40 – go through the town of Tangent and slowly pull into Albany passing some modular buildings. We arrive 2:47 and I see a Montana Daylight and Portland and Western car and leave at 2:57
3:06 – cross another bridge and pass through Jefferson with its houses.
3:17 – Turner a decent collection of houses with lumber
3:23 – We slowly start passing a freight yard in the rain and slowly enter. We stop in Salem and I notice the station is across from a tarp covered baseball/softball field for the Willamette Valley college team.
The rest of the ride is a bit of a blur getting some last conversation in with the interesting conductor and other twenty-somethings like me with no preset futures. We also quickly pass through Oregon City and at 4:16 pass a light rail loop in Clackamas County. This warrants a ‘What’s that?’ from an older gentleman sitting next to me and I try and explain. I go back to my seat to pack up and at 4:28 I take the back window entering Portland. At 4:32 slowly enter the steel bridge and start to really enter. At 4:34 the platform and 4:35 our official arrival time, the short Portland section of the Empire Builder up ahead of us, we stopped on the farthest track from the depot. This is the only one that can handle a longer train without blocking access inside. The Coast Starlight is the only train here that has any issues.
I get off and call the HI-Hawthorn where I am thinking of staying the night. I am told of tons of space and take the free light rail ride down to City Hall. I look at my iPhone and realize it is only a two-mile to the hostel. After a day on the train it is just what I need and decide to do it. I get there around 6:00 check in and have a lazy evening trying to type this up, and chatting with the few other travelers. I go out for a simple quick dinner and spend far too long in a neat used bookstore looking at their small collection of railroad books and finding something else to read for the road.