This is the travelogue of my journey with my children and one of their friends on the Amtrak Sunset Limited from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida, Sunday, September 20, 1998 through Wednesday, September 23, 1998.
Select one of the following sets of photographs:
I heard that the Engineer missed the train and is going to drive his own car to Ontario to catch up with it there. If the Engineer missed the train, then who is in the cab? I guess they must be planning on having more than one on the first segment of this trip.
"Looks more like a freight train than a passenger train." "Rides like one too, but doesn't pay like one." I guess there must be a lot of express or freight cars on this train. I haven't had a chance to view the entire train from the outside yet.
I went to the snack bar to get some drinks and snacks for the kids. As I was heading through the Dining Car, who did I see but Ashley Woullard! Ashley was the Car Attendant in the very first trip that we took on Amtrak. We've run into each other about once each year since then and greeted with a hug! The last time was on the Coast Starlight at Thanksgiving when she was substituting for some staff on holiday. Normally she is with this train, the Sunset Limited.
Ashley said she was just thinking about me and my kids the other day and asked if the whole family was with me. I told her that my kids were with me but not my wife on this trip. She asked what room we are in and said she would come visit my kids tomorrow. I told here they were still up and watching television, so she could pop in on them this evening if she wanted to.
My kids had recorded a number of movies onto the small Video8 tapes in planning for this trip. During the day I'm recording with the camera, but at night when it is too dark to record, I let them play movies on the videocamera. The videocamera has about a 4 inch screen, so it isn't too hard to watch movies on it.
We came to breakfast while we were in the Tucson Station. We were served pretty quickly ordering an assortment of eggs, pancakes, cereal, toast, sausage, bacon, juice, milk, coffee, etc. One passenger came into the Dining Car that seemed a bit upset. I guess the person was a vegetarian and a Dining Car staff person was explaining that they don't have any vegetarian dishes onboard unless it is special ordered in advance. Looks like the Sunset Limited is not like the Coast Starlight which always has a vegetarian selection available for each meal. Not only does the Coast Starlight have such a selection available at each meal, but that selection is almost always excellent! They don't expect that only vegetarians will order it and I usually order the vegetarian selection myself on the Coast Starlight. The Dining Staff person explained that unless a special order was made in advance, then they would not have known to pick up the meals from the commissary and thus would not have the proper meals on the train.
After the Dining Car was full, many people continued to come in for breakfast. To each the head of the Dining Car would say: "Please wait in the Lounge Car. I will call you when I have seats available." People would try to put their names on a list, but she would answer: "I'm not taking names anymore. You will have to wait for "Last Call." I think they should have posted some notice on the entrance to the Dining Car so she didn't have to repeat these instructions to each person that came into the Diner.
We arrived into Tucson almost on time, but had to wait for a freight train going the other way to pass before we could go on. That delayed us until 8:30 AM and put us 50 minutes behind schedule.
This is a Superliner I Sleeping Car, but I noticed that the walls have a new textured shape to them. Evidently Amtrak has had some refurbishing done to this car and applied wall panels. I like the look! The addition definitely looks more classy! They have also applied new panels to where the wall curves up to the ceiling. I took a picture of what this looks like and you can see it in the first set of photos above. It also appears they have added similar panels to the bottom of the fold-up beds and the ceilings inside the bedrooms.
Another change I just noticed is that they have changed all the fabric to be blue and purple just like in the Superliner II Sleeping Cars! I like the blue and purple color scheme a lot better than the earthtone orange and greens from the 1970s that is in the unrefurbished Superliner I Sleeping Cars.
Lordsburg is a flag stop. I'm not sure whether we stopped there or not. If so, they didn't announce it. A bit further down the rails the train had to stop when the Hot Box Detector at milepost 1165.0 said that we had an overheated axle. The crew walked the train checking for any problems. They communicated with each other on Channel 8 (160.230). This train got stopped by the exact same Hot Box Detector on its previous trip east. Turns out that the Hot Box detected the problem on the exact same axle as before. The crew suspects that the problem is with the Detector since this is the only one reporting a problem. That axle is probably running a bit hotter than the others, which in itself should be some reason for concern, otherwise the Hot Box Detector would not have picked up on the exact same axle in both directions. However, since no other Detector has picked this up as a problem, it is something to just keep an eye on rather than set a car out.
I noticed that the train seems pretty full. All of the Standard Bedrooms, even on the lower level, are full. I asked the Car Attendant about this. He said the train was quite full but agreed that is a good sign for Amtrak.
I walked most of the length of the train to get the numbers of all the cars. I did not get the numbers on the last 2 express freight cars as there were service trucks and people working around them. I watched as they disconnected all the freight cars as well as one Sleeping Car and on Coach Car to be transferred to the Texas Eagle. I did not get a chance to see if they put any of the express freight cars back onto the Sunset Limited or if they were all transferred to the Texas Eagle.
The train backed into the New Orleans station.
We decided to go into the station. I knew they had a Subway plus other eating places and snack machines in the station. However, when we got to the station, everything was closed except for one eating place! The Subway and the Gift Shop was closed and both snack vending machines were out of order! Even the vending machine that dispenses stickers was out of order! At the snack shop, one of my daughters got a hot dog. Her friend wanted a slice of pizza, but they were out of slices and more would not be ready for 15 minutes. We were worried that might be too long to wait and that we might miss reboarding the train. My other daughter wanted ice cream, but they were out of that too! This seems like a very strange station where all the eating places are closed or out of most food and all the vending machines are broken!
The one nice thing about New Orleans was The Magnolia Room, the lounge for first class passengers. There were couches, a rocking chair, a television, free coffee, and even free paperback reading books that you could take with you on your trip! We took a number of pictures of this room as well as the rest of the station and those photos are posted above.
One thing to keep in mind about this station is that they are very strict about not allowing passengers onto the platform nor back onto the train until official boarding of all passengers. So, plan to have to stay in the station until reboarding of your train is announced.
After pulling out of the station, we backed up to the station again into a different track to pick up two more express freight cars.
I was just checking on some Amtrak history and just realized that the schedule of this Sunset Limited comes closest to the fifth anniversary of the worst disaster in Amtrak history! It happened right here when an eastbound Sunset Limited plunged off the drawbridge over the Mobile River on September 22, 1993 at 2:50 AM. Two barges had broken loose from their tugs, hit the bridge, and severely misaligned the tracks, just moments before the Sunset Limited reached the bridge. Over 47 passengers died in that tragedy, most of whom were on the lower level and died from drowning. We are crossing the same bridge on an eastbound Sunset Limited on September 23, 1998 at about 3:05 AM. I assume we will have better luck at getting across the bridge than that unfortunate Sunset Limited of 1993.
Engineer inquired: "Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches aren't in our diner, are they?" I don't know why he asked that, but they are! On the children's section of the menu. Maybe somebody brought him some food up from the dining car and he was wondering how a peanut butter & jelly sandwich got into the assortment.
Delayed 10 minutes to put water into the Dining Car.
We spent a few minutes in this station and I was able to take a few photos of the outside of the train and the Jacksonville station. I noticed that we had picked up two express freight cars in New Orleans. From the slack in the schedule and reducing our layover time in Jacksonville, we were able to reduce our lateness from 4 hours and 25 minutes to 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Although the eastbound schedule shows that we are 4 hours and 30 minutes late, the westbound schedule shows that the train only takes 1 hour and 1 minute to get from Orlando to DeLand! Thus, there is a bit of slack built into this schedule. Without further delays, I assume we will make it into Orlando around 7:30 PM, 4 hours and 10 minutes behind schedule.
I was hoping to get some photos of the Auto-Train, but because of our lateness, we had to pull into a siding to wait for it to pass. All we saw was the bottom of the train go by our window! Much too close for photographs.
One of the sets of photographs above shows the Disneyworld Monorail going through our hotel, the Contemporary Resort. The station is actually on the fifth floor of the hotel.
On Wednesday evening, September 23, 1998, we were treated to a rehearsal for Disney's Rock 'n Rockets show that is to be held on Thursday and Friday evenings. The rehearsal included a tremendous fireworks display. We listened to the music and watched the fireworks from our balcony in the Disneyworld Contemporary Resort.
On Thursday evening, September 24, 1998, we were treated to the actual live performance of the Disney Rock 'n Rockets show which we again experienced from our balcony in the Disneyworld Contemporary Resort. You can see a number of photographs that I took of these fireworks above.
Disney's Rock 'n Rockets was promoted as "The most spectacular fireworks show in the history of the United States ..." I can't disagree with that promotion. From 10:00 PM until 10:30 PM dozens of rockets were launched simultaneously and continuously. I've seen quite a few fireworks shows, but none could hold a candle to this display! Part of the reason for such an extensive display was that this was also to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) whose convention was being held at our hotel.