Business Trip To Chicago With Wife
June 15, 1996 - June 17, 1996
On the train again! It is now Monday, June 17, 1996 at about 9:00 AM
Central Time (CT). The Southwest Chief had stayed on-time, even arriving
early at some stops, almost to Kansas City. There was some unspecified
mechanical problem and we are now about an hour late. Kansas City is
a pretty big rail center and has always been that way since the early days
of rail. We are moving slowly through a huge switching yard and I've
seen many moving freight trains and other rail equipment in just the
last few minutes. But, let's go back to the start of the trip ...
Click here for photos & more info about the Southwest Chief.
I had been looking forward to this trip for quite a few weeks. My kids
just finished school for this school year on Friday. They flew to visit
their grandparents in Florida on Saturday morning and my wife and I were
to leave on a train vacation for just the two of us on Saturday evening.
Everything went just fine until 7 P.M., just two and a half hours before
the train was scheduled to leave.
My guess is that almost every marriage has some unresolved issues for
which there seems no solution. Once in a while they come to a head, but
for the most part, we just avoid talking much about them. Well ... one
of those issues came up just before we were about to leave.
We both became pretty worked up. My wife stormed out of the house. Later
I found out that she went down to our office which is only a few miles
from our home. (We both tend to remain logical even when trying to
demonstate our anger by acting irrational). After I calmed down, I tried
to think clearly what would be the right thing to do next. Whatever I
did, I wanted to make sure this train trip that I had been looking forward
to with my wife could be salvaged.
We had planned to leave our house at 8:20 PM for the station. I decided
to stick with the plan. If my wife didn't calm down, the train was a
better place to sleep than the dog house. If she did calm down tonight,
tomorrow, or whenever, she could always catch up with me enroute.
By 8:30 PM, we had both calmed down and were ready to get back together
and head out on our trip. The only problem was, I was half way to
Fullerton with not enough time to get home and back in time for the train.
I don't think my wife could have driven to Fullerton in time to make the
train either! She called a taxi to take her to the station. They said
they'd be at our house in ten minutes, but it was well after 9 PM when
they got to the house.
This created a serious dilema. She called from the taxi once it was on
the way to Fullerton. I recommended that she have the taxi drive her to
the San Bernardino station instead. As long as the cab driver didn't get
lost and could find the station, I felt the taxi could make it to San
Bernardino in time for the train. The train would not leave San Bernardino
until 10:37 PM. San Bernardino is about 45 miles from our home and the
taxi would have an hour and twenty minutes to get there.
My wife decided to try and make the train at Fullerton station instead.
She had less than 20 minutes to make the train and this train is seldom
late out of Fullerton since it is the very first stop from its Los
Angeles point of origination. The only problem is, if she did miss the
train in Fullerton, there was no chance to make it in time to San
Bernardino! You cannot out race the train from Fullerton to San
Bernardino. I've tried.
I waited patiently for her taxi to arrive. Through my mind went
one of those scenes from movies where a couple lovingly embrace
at the train station, reunited after almost having each gone their
own way. But that wasn't to be. The train pulled into the station
on time, and still no taxi.
I raced to my seat and got on my cellular phone. I figured the only hope
now was to tell her to head for San Bernardino before she lost any
further time driving in the opposite direction. No answer. I got to her
message service and started to leave her the message to head for San
Bernardino. But suddenly, I heard my name being called from somewhere
in the train! She made it! Out of breath, but she was heading up the
stairs on the train. Any loving embraced would first have to wait until
I could explain why I was already on the train instead of still waiting
for her taxi to arrive. Being already on the train placed me at a bit
of a disadvantage since it looked like I was willing to leave, with or
In worst case, I figured she could catch up with me by flying to
Albuquerque, New Mexico or somewhere else along the route. She
understood my logic, but it still would have been better had I been
outside still waiting for her, even if it meant missing the train.
In any case, it did work out and we were on the train together! The
rest of the story of our trip is less dramatic, but I just felt that
I had to write about this incident since it is one of the more unusual
things I've been through related to my train travels.
This was my third overnight trip on the Southwest Chief. The first was
just a quick trip to Flagstaff, Arizona. The second one was all the way
to Chicago and back on business last December (1995). I took one of my
daughters along on that trip. I enjoyed the time with my daughter, but
it almost would have been worth flying.
My children can only take so much, which is not very much, looking out
the window before they become bored and want to play games. I must have
spent most of the trip playing games. My previous impression of the
trip on the Southwest Chief was that it was a dull trip with nothing but
farmland for scenery.
I couldn't have been more wrong! I just must have
been distracted away from the scenery by trying to keep my daughter
entertained on the trip. On this trip, I had already taken over 100 photos
by Kansas City! (Don't expect to see that many on-line. I always shoot
4 to 5 times more photos than I actually use. I'll often take 2 or 3
photos of the same thing just to get different angles and ensure I get
one that I'm going to want to post on-line).
Let's start in Fullerton. Our Car Attendant is Ron Harris. He came to
our room immediately as the train left Fullerton. He gave us our meal
pass along with a little "Welcome Aboard!" slip that read "Thank You For
Traveling With Us! As your sleeping car attendant, I am here to make your
trip a pleasant one. Please call me any time if I may be of assistance.
Your Attendant, Ron Harris." In the room we found a gift "Southwest
Chief" deck of cards, and a "Southwest Chief" sundry kit with shampoo,
body lotion, and traveling toothbrush.
I was also very please to find two "Route Guides" for the "Southwest
Chief" and a schedule. As far as I know, the only place to get these
"Route Guides" is onboard the train, and even there they aren't always
available. Just yesterday I asked an Amtrak ticket agent that is a
friend of mine if he knew where I could get "Route Guides" for the
train routes that I have not yet experienced. He never even knew that
these "Route Guides" existed! Thus, I consider these "Route Guides"
as my "Certificate of Achievement" for each trip that I travel. Since
you can only get them onboard, it is like proof that you took the trip!
Just a side note: If you board the Southwest Chief and notice that the
"Route Guide" says the train goes through Pasadena instead of Fullerton,
don't panic! The "Route Guide" is out of date. The Southwest Chief has
not gone through Pasadena since 1994. They just haven't published a new
Southwest Chief "Route Guide" since then.
Ron told us that we could get finger sandwiches and champagne if we
hurried to the Dining Car. We did that and there was also fruit and
cheese in addition to the finger sandwiches. We asked for the champagne.
They gave it to us but said they normally close up the Diner as they
pull into Fullerton. If they've always had this treat on the way out
of Los Angeles, I wasn't aware of it before since I've always left out
Usually I stay in my Economy Sleeper with all the lights turned out so
that I can see outside between Fullerton and San Bernardino. I'm
familiar with many of the cities and streets along those tracks and
always find it entertaining to be traveling by familiar sites from
the unusual vantage point of the train. With all the lights turned on
in the Dining Car, it was difficult to see anything out the windows at
I got out to walk a little when we reached San Bernardino. You can do
that at many stops as long as you stay close to the door so that you can
re-board with little warning. The train held there for a few extra
minutes while the Conductor tried to determine what happened to the
connecting passengers from the Coast Starlight. I was a bit surprised
at this. Ever since schedules changed on April 14th, the Coast Starlight
no longer officially connects with the Southwest Chief!
The Coast Starlight used to be scheduled to arrive at 7 PM and the
Southwest Chief used to leave at 9:30 PM. The Coast Starlight would
be delayed by frieght trains so often that they officially rescheduled
it to arrive at 9:15 PM. Since the Southwest Chief no longer had to wait
for the Coast Starlight to arrive, they rescheduled it to leave earlier
at 8:55 PM.
I image that the Coast Starlight often does arrive well before 8:55 PM,
but Amtrak no longer sells tickets where a connection between the
Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief is expected. Under the old
schedule, if the Coast Starlight was running very late, they'd have
passengers connecting to the Southwest Chief get off at Santa
Barbara. Amtrak would then bus them to San Bernardino where they could
easily get ahead of the Southwest Chief by bypassing in and out of
Only thing I can guess at is that this Conductor did not realize that
the Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief no longer have connecting
timetables. Other than that, I don't know why he was asking about
connection Coast Starlight passengers in San Bernardino. My reasoning
does explain, however, why there weren't any!
During the night we stopped in Victorville. You won't find that on your
"Route Guide" either. The "Route Guide" isn't accurate until you get to
Barstow and Needles. They had to "double spot" in Victorville. That
means the train is too long to fit into the station so they have to stop
once to let people off and on of the front cars and then have to move
the train up and stop again to let people on and off of the rear cars.
In the morning, Ron Harris had coffee and juice waiting for us. There
was also plenty of cream, sugar, sugar substitutes, and cups for the
coffee and juice. You might think I'm making a big deal of nothing,
but I've been on a lot of train trips where one or more of the above
items have been missing. Ron kept coffee and the additives available
for most of the entire day. That really places him high on my list
considering the number of attendants that close up the coffee service
after the first pot is empty.
Just after Flagstaff, Arizona, I spotted a deer right by the tracks.
There were two sets of tracks inside a depression that was dug through
the terrain to keep the tracks level. The deer was up near the wall
across from the other set of tracks. He didn't seem to be frightened.
He just stood and watched our train go by!
The train stops in Albuquerque, New Mexico to refuel so it is there
for about 25 minutes. Indians sell jewelry from stands on the platform.
There used to be a grand old station in Albuquerque, but it burnt down
a while ago. Now there is just a small newer station there, but a very
large platform that used to go with the old station. If you are
looking for a place to buy a few items, try the Greyhound Bus Terminal
that is almost across the street from the Amtrak station building.
They carry a few items like film, batteries, sundries and souveniers.
After lunch, Ron brought us a certificate that was good for 2 free
beverages of our choice from the Lounge Car Cafe or we could have our Car
Attendant bring them to us. I asked Ron if they were good for wine.
He replied "Anything you want!" So, I asked him to bring us two White
Zinfandels when he got a chance. Ron had them up to our room in about
10 minutes, chilled and with clear plastic wine cups.
I goofed with the time for which I made dinner reservations (6:20 PM).
That was exactly the time we started going through the scenic Raton Pass.
I wasn't able to get to many good photos from the Diner table. I've made
a mental note to take this trip again during the longest days of Summer
so that I can get pictures of this segment while there is still good
daylight during these late hours.
After Kansas City, there was a lot of green scenery: forests, fields
and farms. Though it was very scenic and relaxing, I didn't take too
many photos of this segment as one photo would look much like another.
There were a few interesting sights, especially in La Plata, Missouri,
where horse drawn carriages waited at railroad crossings. Unfortunately,
there were many scenes like this that came and went faster than I could
get my camera ready.
Long before I embarked on this journey I would occassionally stop by the
Fullerton Station and watch the Southwest Chief come and go. I noticed
that the last sleeping car was always a "Transition Sleeper". I've seen
"Transition Sleeper" cars on trains before, but they were for the use of
the train crew. This "Transition Sleeper" was being used by passengers.
I should have asked at the start of the trip for a tour of the "Transition
Sleeper" car, but instead I waited until almost the end of by trip on the
Southwest Chief before asking about it. As it turns out, the "Transition
Sleeper" is being used as sort of a Lounge Car for Sleeping Car Passengers.
The Car Attendant said that more Sleeping Cars were needed on the
Southwest Chief (I noticed that there are always 3 on each train set now)
and Amtrak just plain ran out of equipment. Thus, Amtrak is using some
of the Transition Sleepers, which were designed as dormitory cars for the
crew, to be used by passengers. The crew have instead been given an
older car to be used as the dormitory. The bathrooms on those older cars
are not suppose to be used since they are still style that just dumps onto
the tracks instead of going into a tank on the train.
The Transition Sleeper is very similar to other Superliner Sleeping Cars.
One big difference is that there are no Deluxe Bedrooms and no Family
Room in it. It was actually designed as a dormitory for the crew members.
Upstairs are all Economy Sleepers. Downstairs there is one Special
Bedroom for handicapped use and the toilets. Where you would normally
find four more Economy Sleepers and one Family Room, there is a good size
lounge area instead!
I took a number of pictures of the lounge area in the Transition Sleeper
and they will be posted in the photo section when they are ready. That
Lounge area had four "Captain Seats", big comfortable chairs with arms that
swivel and also two full tables similar to what you would find in the
Dining Car or the cafe in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Most of the space in
that lounge area is pretty open. There are windows on both sides that you
can see out from every seat. The captains chairs will swivel around to
either directly face the closest windows or can be made to face each other
and the windows on the opposite side of the car.
I asked the Car Attendant if many people use that lounge as it was empty
when I went down to take pictures of it. She said it depended on what
type of passengers were on the train that trip. If there were a number
of card players or talkers, they would often spend most of the trip in
that lounge. She said that the Transition Sleeper was empty for most of
this trip since the people on this train didn't seem to be either card
players or very talkative.
I have another explanation for the lack of use of the Transition Sleeper
Lounge Area. I don't think that most passengers even knew that it was
on the train! And those that were aware of it, didn't even know they
had the right to use it unless there room was in the Transition Sleeper
Car. I earlier had heard two people talking about that car. One was
very disapointed as her travel agent had promised her that her room was
in the Transition Sleeper Car. Evidently she believed she wasn't allowed
to use that lounge unless her room was in that car. Two Car Attendants
made it clear to me that it was available to ALL sleeping car passengers
in any of the sleeping cars!
I would have mentioned something to those people myself, but at the time
I overheard the conversation, I didn't know what was in the Transition
Sleeper nor who was allowed to use it. The fact that the Transition
Sleeper existed, what it was, and who was allowed to use it was never
mentioned or explained by any of the staff to the passengers! I had to
specifically ask about it to learn about it.
Click Herefor updated information about the Amtrak Superliner Transition Sleepers.)
Here is a little tidbit that I discovered that probably isn't useful for
much: The car number that you see from outside the car can be accessed
from behind the baby changing table in one of the downstair toilets.
When changing clothes, I like to use the baby changing table as a
convenient place for some extra room. When I put it down this time, a
panel that was hidden by the table when it was up was hanging loose. I
thought I would probably be able to see outside the train by looking
behind the loose panel. Instead, I saw a glass panel that was sort of
frosted. On the back of the loose panel itself was all these strange
roller like things. I thought it was something electronic and was
curious what it was for. On closer inspection, I noticed it had our car
number showing out toward the frosted glass panel! The rolls contain
the digits 0 through 9 and can be rolled to show whatever is the car
Once you get to Chicago, how to you get where you are going? We were
on our way to Oak Brook and decided to take one of the many "Metra"
commuter trains. Elmhurst looked like the closest station to where
we were going and made plans for someone to pick us up at the station.
What we didn't realize is that only some of the Metra trains depart
from the Chicago Union Station where the Southwest Chief pulls in!
The train we wanted departs from another Chicago station two blocks
north of Union Station. That wouldn't have been two bad except that
we had two pull suitcases and two very heavy carry-on bags. After
much exercion and many short rests, we made it to the other station.
We purchased our tickets and were able to immediately board the train.
These trains were not built for people carrying luggage! We had to
lug our luggage up four steps and then blocked the aisle for any
other passage! Fortunately, this was an express train and we would
be getting off at the second stop!
Later, we found out that we could have taken a different train
directly from Chicago's Union Station to Western Springs. This would
have been just as convenient for the person picking us up at the
station. So, if you plan to take a Metra commuter train to get to
your final destination once you arrive in Chicago, either find one
that leaves directly out of Union Station or be prepared to hike
two blocks with your luggage! Also avoid the rush hour if you can.
That way you won't have rush hour commuters trying to get around
your luggage and you might even find a seat on the train!
Just as a side note: Metra has their own site on the web with all
their schedules, fares, and maps!
Click here to get to that web site.
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