This is the first leg of my three leg journey, October 26 to November 3, 1996, going from Fullerton, California to Chicago, Illinois on the Southwest Chief, Chicago, Illinois to Oakland, California on the California Zephyr, Oakland, California to Los Angeles, California on the Coast Starlight, and then the short commute from Los Angeles to Fullerton, California on the San Deigans.
Click here for photos & more info about the Southwest Chief.
Live! It is now Sunday in the wee hours of the morning. I've been on this train since 9:35 PM Saturday evening, which is the time that I boarded this train in Fullerton, California.
This trip came as a total surprise to me! I wasn't expecting much train travel in the month of November except for just daytime trips to Oakland and Sacramento for RailPAC meetings and a trip for our whole family to San Jose to visit our relatives as we do each year on Thanksgiving. But here I am! I'm on my way to Chicago once again on the Southwest Chief. Since I have that RailPAC meeting on Saturday in Oakland, I'll be taking the California Zephyr through the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. After the meeting in Oakland, I'll be taking the Coast Starlight back down to Los Angeles and then the San Diegans to Fullerton, California.
My wife and I own our own business. Well, actually, two businesses. We discovered early on that we couldn't work together in the same business and keep peace in the family. Thus, we have two closely related businesses. She owns and operates "MIDCOM Corporation" which is a temporary staffing firm for computer programmers and engineers. I own and operate "Medcom Informations Systems, Inc." which is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) under the name "Liberty Information Network".
My wife's firm expanded its Chicago office and needed 3 computers installed and placed onto the corporate network. This needed to be done before her new employees started work on November 1, 1996. In-house, we have a few very technical people on our staff. These people are shared between my company and my wife's company. Because of a major project that my company is presently implementing, I've got those technical people very tied up for the next several weeks. If they went off to Chicago to install these systems for my wife's company, it would delay projects for my company. Thus, I volunteered to go install these systems myself, as long as I could go by rail, of course!
I would like to have taken some new rail routes, but in order to have enough time in Chicago to do the installation and then get to Oakland in time, I had to take the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr. You might wonder why I just didn't stay home and swap places with one of my other technical people. Although my resume is quite impressive, lets just say that years of admisistering my business instead of being technically involved have "rusted" my technical skills. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to purchase and install three new computer systems. Thus, I thought it would be best for me to handle the Chicago expansion and let my staff with more technical expertise handle the more difficult tasks that they have scheduled.
Having made my reservations at the last moment, I didn't get first pick of Economy Sleepers on the train. With such late reservations, I was lucky to get Sleeping Car space at all! I got room number 10 in Car 430 on the Southwest Chief. The good news is, there is no sleeper in the entire train closer to the Dining Car! I just step out of my room, take two steps to the left, and I'm in the Dining Car! The bad news is that room 10 is at the very end of a train car. The very end of a train car can swing quite a bit and be uncomfortable if you are sensitive to that. It doesn't bother me much, but it is nothing like the smooth ride that you get in Economy Rooms 2 through 6! When you make reservations, try and get the lowest number room possible. It is best if you go no higher than 6 if you don't want a lot of swaying in your room. Otherwise, try and get an Economy Room downstairs which is numbered 11 through 16.
I think I might have the setup of my Economy Room down to a science now! I've put down the top bunk so that I can store my backpack up there. I like to have a desk area to work on my computer, thus I didn't have the Car Attendant make the bed. Instead, I left the downstairs part of my Economy Room as two facing chairs with the fold-out table in the middle for my computer. The upstairs bunk is all set if I want to go up their and crawl into bed. That upstairs bunk has a double thick mattress and bedding since I did not move the bedding for the lower bunk down. That really isn't a problem. It just makes for a really soft and comfortable upper bunk by leaving both sets of bedding on the upper bunk!
I purchased an AC clock radio that glows in the dark. That way, I can see what time it is all night long. I have my short extension cord with 3 outlets. Thus, I can have my clock, my PC and my cellular phone recharger all going at the same time.
I think it was a full-moon this evening. It was pretty easy to see a lot even in the middle of the night as long as I put all the lights out in my room and closed the curtain. I was hoping to see some of the crossing of Cajon Pass, but I think I fell asleep where we went through that area. It is now 1:08 AM and we are 1 hours and 37 mintues from Barstow. I'm probably going to turn in shortly. I purchased a timer from Radio Shack that is a regular clock plus 2 "count-up" timers and 2 "count-down" timers. This timer has given me a lot of flexibility to keep track of both how far we have gone from the previous station, how far to the next, and how far behind schedule the train is running. Keeping so many counts at once makes it easy to follow books like "Rail Ventures" which indicate how many minutes to each sight.
I got a call from NARP (National Association of Rail Passengers) last Friday, October 25, 1996. Looks like I've made the final cut for the "Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee!" I had sent them a letter indicating my desire to volunteer for this committee. I also listed all the trips I had taken over the last year for both business and pleasure and explained about my web page and that I would be able to also relay messages to Amtrak from those that view my page. I guess NARP liked what they read and are going to forward my name onto Amtrak as one of their finalists. Amtrak is suppose to make a decision over the next week on which people on that final list to use. I just have to cross my fingers and hope that I continue to remain on that final list even after Amtrak makes their decision.
If selected, Amtrak will pay for my transportation to 7 meetings over the next year. The first one will be on December 5th, 1996 in Washington, DC. I guess I could fly, but they would rather see me go by train! That is fine with me! I'll keep you posted on what comes of this.
It is now totally dark outside and 1:18 AM. The moon must have set. This is probably a good time for me to turn in so that I can get up at a reasonable hour tomorrow and maybe even grab some breakfast!
There is snow outside! Either that, or it is two inch deep frost! Figuring out the current time is no simle matter. When I turned my computer on, it asked me if I wanted to correct the time for the end of Daylight Savings Time. I told the computer to go ahead and do that. However, the train has just moved from Pacific Time to Mountain Time. To make matters more complicated, Kingman, Flagstaff and Winslow don't observe Daylight Savings Time anyway! So what time is it, anyway?
Best I can figure, it is now 7:58 A.M. Going from Pacific to Mountain Time moves the clock ahead one hour. At the end of Daylight Savings Time, we normally set the clock back one hour (Spring Ahead, Fall Back). Since, these cities weren't observing Daylight Savings Time anyway, we don't need to move the clock back one hour. I hope that is right!
This Car Attendant has taken one small step to make me happy this morning and one giant leap to earning the maximum tip: Coffee was all prepared with all the necessary supplies at 6:00 A.M. this morning.
I usually sleep pretty good on the train, but last night was an exception. Being so close to the end of the car, it could be all the shaking that kept waking me up during the night. Try and get rooms a bit closer to the center of the car if you want a less shaky ride. Losing sleep doesn't really matter to me. If I get tired, I'll just take a cat nap during the day on the train.
Not feeling like going back to sleep, I got dressed and took about three steps from my room to get into the Dining Car. I thought I was having a pretty early breakfast at 6:00 A.M., but I guess that turned out to be 7:00 A.M. with the time change. The Diner was fairly empty at that hour. I had breakfast with a couple from England. I mis-identified them as being from Australia. I've talked to many Amtrak travelers from Australia and just automatically put their accent into that category. I've not spoken to anyone from England before on Amtrak, which is where they were from. They had come across the country on the California Zephyr and were now just going to Flagstaff to see the Grand Canyon. After that, they were going by bus to Phoenix, Arizona from which they would fly to Houston, Texas and then directly back to England. They heard about this rail trip from an ad in a Sunday paper in England.
With all the snow outside, I guess the Car Attendant is generating more heat than cool air. In addition to turning my air-conditing to maximum and opening the vent all the way, I also opened up the glass door to my Economy Room. Leaving the door open, but with the curtain still closed, usually does the trick of getting enough cool air into the room.
We stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona. I put on my jacket and headed out the door with my camera. I got a number of good shots of the snow covered station, platform area, and even the train and tracks. It was snowing and cold, but very refreshing outside. Actually, it is much too warm in my room. The Car Attendant has the heater working and I've got the air conditioning on Maximum. Of the two, the heater seems to be wining the battle.
My Car Attendant and the Chief of Onboard Services were in the vestibule and I mentioned the problem with figuring out the time. That resulted in a short friendly argument. The Chief thought it was an hour earlier than it really (?) was and the argument ended when the Chief remembered he had already set his clock back an hour!
Patrick, the Attendant in the Cafe/Lounge Car, just let us know that he cannot serve any liquor until 12 noon today since it is Sunday. Amtrak has to observe the laws of the states in which they travel. Arizona and New Mexico do not allow the sale of liquor until noon on Sunday.
According to the book Rail Ventures , the train is suppose to cross a 560-foot steel bridge 225 feet above the Canyon Diablo creek bed between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. I've been on this route 6 times, have looked for Canyon Diablo and the steel bridge, and have yet to find it! They must have re-routed the Southwest Chief over some other tracks unless someone can answer this mystery for me.
My coffee has not spilled, but this is the most shaky train ride I have ever been on! Even more shaky than the Pioneer! It isn't just because I am at the end of the car in Room 10, though I'm sure that contributes to the rough ride. I have gone up and down the car and found that the entire train seems to make violent lurches. But how violent can they be if the coffee doesn't even spill out of my cup? I guess they just seem violent. I think it is because the train is moving very fast, probably faster than any other time I have been on the Southwest Chief. You can always tell an Engineer that likes to go as fast as he is allowed: (1) you get a very shaky ride, and (2) you end up into each station a few minutes earlier than expected. The shakyness might also be because there seems to be a dozen high-speed cargo cars (probably U.S.Mail) between the locomotives and the first passenger car on this train.
We are passing through an area that I always though of as being desert, mostly scrub brush for miles and miles, surrounded by mesas and platous. However, the plains, mesas and platous are covered in snow!
I know in other reviews I have stated that the route of the Southwest Chief is not very scenic except for some the rock formations through Arizona and New Mexico, but I will have to modify that comment for winter travel. When there is snow on the ground, much of the route turns very scenic! I have traveled in December before with very little snow to be seen, but on this trip in late October, there is snow everywhere!
Right now we are climing the Glorieta Pass, 1000 feet in just 10 miles. We have stopped at a place called "Fox" where there is a sign that says "Santa Fe Pecos Mission - Built about 1617". The sign is very worn and I don't see any mission in sight. A westbound Southwest Chief just passed us. There is snow on the ground and on the tree tops all around the train as well as on the distant fields and mountains. The view is quite spectacular! I don't think it is nearly as impressive when it is all green.
The Car Attendant just handed me a slip that says: "AFTERNOON BEVERAGE SERVICE. This Afternoon We Present The Southwest Chief Afternoon Beverage Service. This Card is Good for One Complimentary Drink of Your Choice from Our Lounge Car. If You Would Like, Your Attendant will Bring Your Beverage or You May Redeem This Card in Our Lounge Car at The Snack Bar." That is nice of Amtrak, but I have a little problem with the presentation of it. The Car Attendant did not make it clear that he would be happy to go and get the beverage for me. Actually, he left me the impression that he was hoping that I would not ask and pretty much ran off as soon as he handed me the card. If he had asked: "Would you like me to get something for you now?", I would definitely have said: "Yes!" I don't think this is something that would make me consider giving less of a tip to my Car Attendant, but a Car Attendant that had asked would be guaranteed the maximum tip from me! These are the little extras that differentiate the best Car Attendants from those that just are dilligent workers.
Just finished breakfast. This is a pretty early breakfast for me considering that it was only about 5:45 A.M. Pacific Time (my home time zone) when I sat down to eat. However, I think we went off Daylight Savings Time after I started this trip, so maybe my stomach still thinks it was 6:45 A.M.
Whoops! Power just went out on the train. Good thing this is a notebook computer. That battery acts as an automatic battery backup and I can continue typing at least until the battery runs out. The train becomes very very quite when all the air-conditioning blowers and other equipment is turned off. No doubt it would become very hot or cold, depending on the outside weather, if the heaters and air-conditioner remained off very long. At the moment I am just enjoying the quiet of the train siting in the Kansas City station without electricity. The only thing I can hear inside the train is my fingers clattering away at the keyboard.
There is a HUGE passenger station here in Kansas City. Unfortunately, it is no longer used. This station looks like it could easily be a match for the big stations in Los Angeles and Chicago. There are probably at least a dozen tracks going right inside the station building. The building itself is massive. There are at least 2 more levels above the tracks and the main concourse might be five levels. At one time, this train station had to have been one of the major hubs for the midwest. Now, only the Southwest Chief, Kansas City Mule (a local to St. Louis, Missouri), and the Ann Rutledge (a local to Dwight, Illinois) stop here. There is also a bus connection to the California Zephyr. There is a very large rail yard in front of the old passenger station, but all the tracks have been removed.
A curious thing at breakfast. The menu of the Southwest Chief only listed a half order and not a full order of French Toast. French Toast is an item that is highly featured as a famous Amtrak special on many trains. This menu made no note of that. Not only that, but when I tried to order it, the Dining Attendant said the item was no longer available on this train and was suppose to be removed from the menu. When I asked if they had wheat toast available, he said: "Yes, but not for long. The toasters are scheduled to be removed from the train." I thought that was very very strange! Why would they remove the toasters from the train? I always felt that toast was almost a necessary part of any complete breakfast, or is good even all by itself! This is disappointing news. One of my daughters is a very fussy eater. The only things she will eat on the train usually is the hot dogs and the toast, and even she doesn't like hot dogs for breakfast!
When I went to sleep last night we were running about 15 minutes late. The train moved real fast last night. I could certainly tell by how much the train was shaking. I even had difficulty trying to write with pen on paper it was so bad! Evidently, by going so fast, we made up our lost time and then some! We arrived into Kansas City about 7:15 A.M. when we weren't even scheduled to arrive until 7:33 A.M. That gave us a 43 minute stop in Kansas City since the train isn't scheduled to leave until 7:58 A.M. I got out and walked around a bit. There wasn't much to see. I got off onto a platform between our train and another heritage fleet Amtrak train. I would have had to walk a long way to get around either train to see what was around other than that platform between trains! Instead, I just took a couple of pictures down each direction of the platform. That captured some of each train and the platform along with some of the Kansas City skyline. After I had my fill of walking around, I stepped back on board, but we still had another 30 minutes to wait before it would be time for this train to leave.
I got my first newspaper on the train today. Usually there is one waiting for you under your Sleeping Car door when you get up in the morning. That hasn't been happening too often lately. In Kansas City, they put a bundle of USA Today into each car and the Sleeping Car Attendant handed me one.
There are two afflictions that I suffered as a child which fortunately have been totally absent from my adult life: (1) boredom, and (2) headaches. When I was a child, I was bored quited a bit of the time and I also suffered from headaches.
I mention this because the topic of boredom often comes up on the train. I'm going to talk about my dealing with headaches first because it is a short topic and not really related to train travel.
When I was in Junior High School, I became convinced that most sickness was psychosomatic. I do not still hold this view today, but I do believe that our mental attitude can weaken our defense system and allow our body to become more suseptable to disease. Or, once infected or injured, one's mental attitude can hinder the body's recuperative powers. I'm not saying everyone that is sick or injured remains that way because of their attitude, but it certainly doesn't help to have a sour view of life!
At that time, I thought: "What could be more psychosomatic than a pain in the head?" I felt that I must subconsciously be the creator of my own headaches. I decided that I wouldn't have headaches anymore. Well, to demonstrate my own theory, I had to "pretend" I didn't have any headaches at first. I still got them, but decided they weren't really headaches but just a little annoyance in the head. It wasn't long, however, before I really did stop having headaches, ever! Oh, I can drink too much at a party and wake up with a hangover in the morning, but even those I forget about after a morning cup of coffee.
Back to boredom. I haven't been bothered with boredom since childhood. I have a list of things, some written down and some in my head, of things "I must do", "I would like to do", and other things that I can fall back on that I enjoy. I can't remember the bottom of any of these lists ever being in sight. I just have to remember to have with me enough stuff from one or more of the above!
If I have my notebook PC with me, I automatically have an endless amount of things to keep me busy. I've got many work projects that I enjoy and that need to be done. I have many ideas about these Amtrak pages that I never seem to have the time to implement. With or without my PC, I am always in the middle of two or three good books. As long as I have one of them with me, I have plenty to do that I enjoy doing! I get totally baffled by people that can actually run out of things to do and seek "things to fill their time!"
Those that take the train only because they are afraid to fly often need to find activities to fill their time. This is seldom something that one that loves train travel needs to worry about, except maybe when it is dark outside and their is no view. Even then, for train lovers, there is a trick that will work quite often if you are in a sleeper. Just close the curtain and shut all the lights in your private room to make it as dark as possible inside. If there is any light outside, especially if there is a decent amount of moonlight, then you can see quite a bit outside even in the middle of the night!
Sometimes there is no light outside at all, or the scenery has become very repetitive and boring. That isn't a problem for me since that is when I write many of these comments and work on the photos and other aspects of these web pages. My biggest problem is when there is real interesting things to be seen outside. Then, I'm trying to enjoy the view, take pictures, and write comments all at the same time!
The train just lurched to a stop at the La Plata Amtrak Station in Missouri. As soon as the train stopped, the power in this car went out. I don't think it was suppose to do that! All is quiet again. The lurch probably pulled out a loose electrical connection somewhere and the Conductor is probably out there trying to hunt it down right now!
Once again, I'm very glad that notebook computers have their own battery backup. I also have a digital clock with a lighted face that operates off of AC. I keep that plugged into the trains power also. It lets me keep track of the time in my room in total darkness without having to turn on a light. If you buy one yourself, make sure it also has battery backup to keep the time while the power is off. Mine does. The battery doesn't have enough power to light up the clock face, but that is O.K., just as long as it remembers the time when the power is turned back on.
We seem to be stuck here for now. It is now 11:01 A.M. and we've been here for 11 minutes already. They must be having problems finding the problem or fixing the problem. I've got my scanner turned on in an attempt to get more information about the problem. I haven't found the channel being used at this location yet.
Power is back! Found the channel and frequency in use: Channel 2 (160.560). Evidently the hoses and connections blew out at the front end. There was some mention of having hit a deer a while back and there was speculation that might have cause the problem. Once the power was up, they had to inspect all the brakes to make sure they were released and that we were ready to roll. We are finally under way, but so much for having made up lost time! We are almost an hour behind schedule now. I suppose that means that the Engineer will probably continue to run this train at the maximum speed allowed to try and make up lost time again! I'm ready for more of a shaky ride.
The Engineer and the Marceline Dispatcher are now discussing the problem of the air hose over the radio. It was the air hose to the second unit (locomotive) that blew out. They could not repair the hose so they had to replace the hose. They said they "had a heck of a time trying to replace it."
Sure enough, we are going real fast to try and make up that time! The train lurched enough to knock my clock off the arm rest of the seat opposite me and I felt like I was about to be tossed out of my chair. Over the radio, I heard the Engineer call the Dispatcher to report a real bad piece of track. The Engineer then continued to try and reach the Track Inspector over the radio, I'm sure to check that piece of track and get it repaired. The Track Inspector finally answered over the radio, but then the train lurched again, but not as badly as the first time. Although the Track Inspector answered the Engineer, the Engineer made no further transmissions. Someone said: "Train #4 Engineer, I think he answered you." I think it was the Marceline Dispatcher that said that. Still, there is no further transmission from our Engineer.
Someone must have fell against my door or that lurch described above had more effect than I thought. My door was off its slider! When I went to close my door, it was dragging along the floor and didn't meet up with the latch. After a few tries, I was able to lift the door back into its slider and it is working fine again. Let me tell you about an event that shows how smooth train travel can be in contrast to this one. When my family rides the Amtrak Coast Starlight, one of the things my kids like to do is to build a "house of playing cards" on the floor of our room! They like to see how high they can build it before it falls down. Surprisingly, they can often build it up to 3 or 4 levels before a minor shake of the train brings it down! I don't think they could even lean two cards together on this train and expect them to stay up more than a few seconds. So, it really does matter which route you travel and the condition of the tracks. Some routes are smooth as silk and others feel like you are in a bumper car ride.
This is it! Anything you read below this is going to be from memory. It is now time for me to close up my laptop computer and pack it away. My cameras are already packed away, but handy. If anything else happens interesting, I'll try to put it to memory to type it up later.
Oakbrook is about 30 miles west of Chicago. I'm sitting at one of the three new computers that I installed in our office here over the last couple of days. Chicago is one of the busiest Amtrak Stations in the entire nation if not the very busiest. There are many trains departing and arriving at all hours of the day and night. Chicago serves as a central hub to many Amtrak routes from the west, the east and the south, as well as a route north into Canada to connect to VIA RAIL. The Chicago station is also the central hub for many local METRA commuter trains. I took a number of photographs of trains as we were pulling through the Chicago Amtrak yard.
I arrived into the Chicago Amtrrak Station around 4:00 P.M, but by the time finally stopped backing in, adjusting itself into the station, and then unloading passengers, I didn't actually get out of the station till almost 5:00 P.M. Enterprise Car Rental is the only car rental place that I know picks up from the station. If you use either Hertz or Avis, you have to take a taxi between the rental office and the station. Enterprise also had lower rates than Hertz or Avis. Enterprise does close at 6 P.M. where Avis is open until 9 P.M. So, if your train is scheduled to arrive any later 5:30 P.M. or is late, then you may need to use either Hertz or Avis.
I drove to our office in Oakbrook and arrived about 6:00 P.M. After checking some measurements, I went to CompUSA and picked up some ethernet cables. I drove to my hotel, the Oakbrook Terrace Comfort Inn, which was about 5 miles from CompUSA. They had a pipe burst at the hotel and, unfortunately, all usable rooms were already all booked! The appologized for the inconvenience and told me that they had gone ahead and booked a room for me at another nearby Comfort Inn. As a coinsidence, the other Comfort Inn was so close to the CompUSA that I just drove from, the CompUSA and that other Comfort Inn share the same parking lot! So ... I had to drive the 5 miles all the way back to the CompUSA that I had just come from! Actually, that wasn't too bad. I had to stop into CompUSA a couple of times for supplies and that was real convenient being right next to my hotel. I might decide to start staying in this Comfort Inn instead of the one in Oakbrook Terrace. The rates were lower in this one anyway.
Train schedules are certainly a motivating factor! I knew that I had to have all three computers built and installed within 48 hours so that I could make by train today at 3:05 P.M.
We purchased three Compaq 133 MHz Pentiums from CompUSA. We weren't able to order enough in advance to give them time to build our requested configurations. Thus, we obtained the systems still in the original boxes from the factory along with all the add-on peripherals that we want. The add-ons included an SMC EtherEZ Network Card and an 8X CD-ROM Drive for each system plus a Sound Blaster for just one of the systems. When I scheduled the amount of time that I would be in this Chicago area, I didn't know at the time that I would have to assemble these systems myself! I figured 48 hours (including sleep and meals) would be enough time to put up the network and install some software, but not build three systems!
Iknew the situation could be tight depending on what problems I might run into. Once our office in California closed, I continued to work as long as I could on getting these systems working until I reached a point where I couldn't procede any further without help from our California offices. I reached that point at 6 A.M. Central Time (4 A.M. Pacific Time)! I had all three systems up and working, but was still having problems with the Sound Blaster card. I also did not know how to procede with installing and checking out the network nor some of the special network software. I now had the computers in the state that I expected them to be in when I arrived at 6 P.M. the previous evening. I originally expected to be at this point with almost 48 hours ahead of me, including time for me to sleep. But, here it was, 6 A.M. instead of 6 P.M., none of the work that I had originally planned to do was even started yet, and I already used up most of my time scheduled to sleep!
I went to the hotel at that point and slept for a couple of hours. I arrived back here at about 11:30 A.M. Central Time. I didn't see any point to arriving earlier. I needed help from our California office and the people there wouldn't be to work and settled in to help me until about 9:30 A.M there time which would be 11:30 A.M. here. I worked all through that day until past midnight without even any breaks to eat. I finally did grab some food at a Taco Bell on my way back to my hotel at about 1 A.M. and didn't get to sleep to almost 3 A.M. On the bright side, everything was built, installed, tested and working! I would be able to rest easy, even if I wouldn't be able to rest for very long.
So, here it is, Wednesday morning. The only task I had left was to run the ethernet cables over the ceilings instead of running down the middle of the floor. That went real easy and I'm all done with that now, too! All I had been waiting to do that task was for maintenance to bring us a ladder to reach the ceiling.
Photos taken during the journey:
Click here for the next leg of the journey which is on the California Zephyr!