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Lorraine's Adventure on the Coast Starlight



It was the trip I’d wanted to take for quite some time, Amtrak’s flagship, the Coast Starlight, to Seattle Washington then returning to L.A. the next morning on the southbound Coast Starlight. I could hardly wait to view the West Coast scenery, touted as some of the best. My daughter, Tracy, would be my companion on this trip. Her school schedule worked out great. She only had to book off an extra two days, and besides, we hadn’t been on a holiday together for over ten years.

SATURDAY, Dec. 27--SUNDAY, Dec. 28th, 2003.
Our plane departed the Ottawa Ont. airport at 10:00 p.m., and arrived in Vancouver B.C. for a five hour layover until our 7:00 a.m. departure to Los Angeles. Since we both wear contact lenses, our eyes were red and screaming by the time we reached L.A.

My brother was waiting for us at the airport, and in short order he chauffeured us to the TrainWeb office to retrieve our train tickets. While there we met Matt Melzer, one of the reporters at Train Web. He is an experienced essayist, whose style of writing I admire. Back at the house we relaxed and prepared for an early retirement. We were still feeling the three-hour time difference.

MONDAY, Dec. 29, 2003
Arrived at the Fullerton Station by 7:30 a.m. Ray, from the Train Web office, would be riding with us on the 8:15 a.m. Surfliner to L.A. Union Station. It was an enjoyable 45-minute trip with a lovely unspoiled view of the Los Angeles River. The seats were very comfortable with plenty of legroom, and I especially enjoyed the announcer’s sense of humour as he relayed upcoming stations with the opening declaration, “good morning boys and girls”. Everyone chuckled. At the station in Los Angeles Ray pointed out the magnificent cathedral ceilings, and beautiful workmanship and materials of by-gone days. So many Canadian stations had been worked over in the 60’s, modernized into sterile boxes lacking flavour and personality. The past few years have seen a reversal of this trend, but for many of the stations sold or demolished, it is too late. 

An early boarding of the Starlight to stow our luggage, gave Ray a chance to give us a quick tour of the different cars making up this train-set. Our compartment was number nine of the Kansas sleeper car. Ray recognized our car attendant, “Hak”, from previous trips, Ray then proceeded with the tour of the sleeper car, shower room, bathrooms etc. and told us how important it was to book seating in the diner early to obtain time preference. We said good-by to Ray and went to the parlour car to partake of the continental breakfast, and to enjoy the sights before us as we departed the station. There is an ambience that washes over me when I experience that first movement of the train. All the hustle of city traffic, deadlines, airport congestion, custom hassles and bustle dissipates with that first little shunt of motion. The mind slows, and a calm replaces the disorder; a steady, warm feeling of anticipation builds for the adventure that lies ahead. The pace of life had just changed; it was time to exhale. 

Fifteen minutes into our trip we stopped at Glendale, a pretty little place that incidentally was where John Wayne grew up. I was talking to Sandra and Dick from Orange County California who were on their way to San Francisco. They both knew this area well and kept us informed about points of interest and landmarks along the way and Sandra was also familiar with the best malls for us to patronize on our return to L.A. They explained that even though they would be detraining in Oakland at 9:30 this evening, they booked a sleeper to take advantage of the Parlour car; they found it well worth the extra cost to arrive relaxed. 

Announcements by Chris, the dining car steward, welcomed all aboard the Coast Starlight and he reminded us to have our ticket stub on hand at all times. Information about seating arrangements and dinner reservations was provided and we were invited to direct any questions we might have to any of the staff on board. In other words, don’t be shy. Hak put our names on the dinner reservation list, so we continued to absorb southern California from the comfortable seats in the Parlour car. Huge fields of strawberries and cabbages and just about every other type of vegetable imaginable grew in this wonderful sunshine. California Pepper trees grew along the trackside and I was most impressed by the many different species of oak trees. Past Ventura we spotted the first of the Channel Isles, as well as some off shore oil wells. It seemed strange to catch sight of surfers riding the waves in December, but there they were. 

We answered the 12:35 p.m. lunch call, and enjoyed the company of our dinner mates
Ralph and Betty. 

They were on their way home to Grass Valley, a community north of San Francisco. When I was in the Train Web office, Matt suggested I try the Garden burger, which proved to be an excellent choice. Potato chips, coleslaw, lettuce, dill pickle and a slice of tomato accompanied the piping hot burger, a glass of milk and warm apple pie for dessert round out an enjoyable dining experience. At 12:55 p.m. the train pulled into Santa Barbara. I remembered the station from a short trip five years ago, just a day trip, up and back.

As the train continued on, I returned to the Parlour car, unsure of our exact location. I glanced east at soaring mountains rising through the clouds and west at the vast, peaceful looking Pacific Ocean. The captivating scenery and rhythmic progress of the train brought to mind a book I had read some years earlier by American poet Sotere Torregian on his Amtrak journey across America. An unbelievably beautiful ocean view presented itself as the train hugged the coastline. 

I noticed an inland highway which disappeared from view every once in a while, then would reappear, telling me the view from the highway would not come close to what I was experiencing. On the Coast Starlight timetable it proclaims, “There’s a lot to see between Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s a good thing we’re driving.” How fitting. 

The most interesting lady was seated next to me. Lyndsay Munday, originally from Lockerby Scotland, now lives on Salt Spring Island off the shores of Vancouver, Canada. Her wonderful sense of humour shone through during the course of our conversation, and I learned that Lyndsay is past president of the Associated Country Woman of the World. 

The skies had become overcast and grey. Rain was imminent, as the low-lying heavy cloud cover had settled on the mountains. 

It was just past 2:30 p.m. as we passed by Vandenberg Air Force Base, the second busiest air force base in the U.S. for launchings. Of course the overcast skies lent an eerie backdrop to this secretive area and I was sure my mind wasn’t the only one working overtime.

The afternoon slipped by and our 6:50 p.m. dinner reservation was announced. The salmon served for dinner was on the dry side and was accompanied by a barely warm baked potato. The corn with red pepper was tasty, the other vegetable, a medley of yellow, green and kidney beans was bland but I enjoyed a piece of cheesecake with strawberry sauce and a glass of milk. 

Tracy and I were still on eastern time and both tired, so we retired to our room asking Hak on the way by if he would ready the beds when he had a chance. The top bunk dropped down from the wall and the two daytime seats somehow came together to form the bottom bunk. There was little storage room so I placed my bag on the downstairs luggage rack and took out what I needed for the night. The beds were compact but comfortable and an extra blanket was folded at the foot of each mattress. There was absolutely no head- room in the top bunk, but it did have a little mesh catchall, while the lower bunk occupant enjoyed the window. Each floor of the sleeper car had bathroom facilities, one on the upper floor and three plus the shower room down below so I used the downstairs bathrooms, as they were always empty. My first experience using the washroom sink proved disastrous. Not only was the front of me drenched but the counter and floor as well. These bathrooms were extremely small, the standing dimensions being approximately the size of a public telephone booth. I finished mopping up the floor, counter and backsplash and disposed the wad of paper towels into the waste bin then thought I would just rinse my fingers, GGGAAAAAaaaaaa!!!!!!!! There was, however, one bathroom on the lower level that sported a rubber band wound tightly around the faucet spout. This was the ONLY faucet on the whole train that didn’t splash back and whose surrounding counter top wasn‘t drenched in water. Someone came up with an ingenious idea to control the water flow and direction, reminding me of the old saying about necessity being the mother of all invention. The locking device on the doors activated a little amber light above the door warning people that a particular room was in use. We were finally in bed by 9:00 p.m. and after ten minutes, I offered Tracy a set of earplugs, something I knew she would require to enjoy a sound sleep. During the night I was jostled awake by the sudden jerks and yanks of our train, but always sank into a deep sleep within minutes. That extra blanket was needed during the night. 

TUESDAY, DEC. 30th, 2003
Awoke at 5:00 a.m. so proceeded straight to the shower. I was pleasantly surprised with the shower room when I realized it wasn’t as bad as I understood it would be. There was a hand held unit, but it WAS mounted to the wall, I had visions of trying to shower while holding on to the shower wand. The water flow wasn’t the greatest but I was still grateful for any kind of a shower especially with the whole day and part of the evening ahead of me. A check with Hak revealed Amtrak did not supply shampoo, lotion, or earplugs, just the towels, and bar soap, so be prepared. We were seated in the diner at 6:30 a.m. and enjoyed the company of Mary Ellen who was returning home to Seattle after Christmas break. Our server this morning was Leiga, a lively bubbly girl originally from the Philippians. I had no idea what grits were but ordered them and the french toast. The grits were similar to a bland cream of wheat, and the french toast consisted of two thin undersized pieces of bread, and again everything was barely warm. The coffee however was hot and delicious and the view from my seat was fantastic. I made my way to the observation car and claimed one of the few vacant seats. It was so pristine outside with what looked like a foot of freshly fallen snow. It was a very picturesque area we were inching through, with mountains and lakes as backdrop. The train was progressing so slowly, you could easily follow the fresh tracks of cross country skiers as they skirted along the tracks then disappeared among the trees only to reappear again further down the line. It was 8:15 a.m. and we had stopped again, maybe for a freight train but it was a scenic spot overlooking a lake, with milepost 284 outside my window. 

Listening to the people around me there was some confusion as to our exact location, but everyone seemed to agree that we were behind schedule. I overheard a delay of three to four hours. Along the tracks, sprigs of green foliage poked out from the blanket of snow. I inquired and was told it was Manzanita, a southern Californian shrub that grows in abundance in this area. Small evergreens were bent over with the added weight of freshly fallen snow, and the telephone insulators sported little white caps. Seated beside me was Eun Kyung Lee, (translated means Grace Respect) an exchange student from Korea. 

She and her two travelling companions were enjoying Christmas holidays and were headed back to Vancouver, Canada. We decided to move to the lower level to search out a different photographic viewpoint. Announcements explained our slow progress and the conductors’ dilemma of first having to locate the switches in the snow and then manually changing them as they were all frozen. Sean and Josh, young brothers from Lake Isabella California, informed us that they were journeying to Salem, Oregon to visit their grandmother, whom they extolled as a better cook than their mom. According to them, Lake Isabella is a small, “no mall” town, and on the bus ride, somewhere between Bakersfield and Sacramento, they passed the smallest Amtrak station ever built. “Smaller than an average living room.”

Back in our room, Tracy was relaxing reading a book. The train was creaking and inching its way up the mountains. The Sacramento river alongside the track was sparkling clear and you could easily distinguish the many different coloured rocks and stones lying on the riverbed. I would love a few for my collection.

Hak figured we were six hours late, but everyone took it in stride and before long the “late train” stories began. I understood that if you wanted to arrive on time, this was not the train to be on. It was explained that we now enjoyed no status because we were so far behind schedule. The trains closest to being on time had priority over those running late, and this determined who waited on the siding. The further behind your train was, well, easy to figure out. Someone joked that we were so far down the status list that at level crossings, motor vehicles had the right of way over us. It was announced that we would be stopping in Dunsmuir for five minutes. It was 11:45 a.m.; we were six hours and forty minutes late.

The power went off in the diner for a while but within twenty minutes the problem had been resolved so we scampered on down when our 1:30 reservation was announced. I really enjoyed the beef burger with cheese and bacon for lunch. It was juicy and hot, but I passed on dessert remembering a promise not to eat my way up the west coast.

In the Parlour car I chatted with Mo from Riverside California, on her way to a wedding in Portland Oregon. This was her fourth adventure on the Coast Starlight.

At 3:00 p.m. people flocked to the wine tasting session. Patrons could sample three different wines, with commentary by Evan, and enjoy some cheese and crackers as well. This seemed to be a very popular event. 

We were now in Oregon and had stopped once again for a freight train. Announcements relayed we would arrive in Klamath Falls in fifteen minutes and could detrain for fifteen minutes to stretch our legs. We arrived at 3:40 p.m. a bit late considering we were due in at 8:25 a.m. this morning, and a crowd of people detrained to breathe some fresh air and throw a few snowballs. I walked to the front of the train and took a few pictures of the units as this was my first opportunity to do so, I also recorded the car numbers. 

Train Consist
Lead Unit No. 115

Trailing Unit 507

Baggage 1135

Coach 34081

“ 34030

“ 34109

“ 34508

“ 34106

Observation car ?

Diner 38055

Parlour 39970

Sleeper -Kansas 32084

Sleeper -Ohio 32103

Sleeper -Arizona 32071

Transition car 39031

I couldn’t help but chuckle at two little sisters from L.A. as they frolicked in the snow and exclaimed “look at me walk in the snow daddy”, “no look at me”, “look at me put my hand in the snow daddy”, it was too funny for words, and I noticed that the smallest one was filling a baggie with snow to bring onboard. 

It was 4:00 p.m. and the skies were overcast and growing darker. The highway from my window looked perilous as I observed many cars in the ditch and even spotted a transport on its side. The train was now over seven hours late and I honestly had not heard one person voice concern. The regulars seemed to understand that it was all about the scenery and relaxation, but my inner voice kept saying, “at this rate if we stay the course our arrival in Seattle will be 4:00 a.m.” Questions arose such as, “will our hotel reservation be honoured? Should we check in regardless? Will taxis be available at the station”?

At this point I must mention the on-board staff. A lot of them should be nominated for sainthood. Hak had been wonderful, and Evan, bless her heart, always handled inquiries from passengers with a smile. It was a credit to the dining car servers that they kept up a hectic pace with professionalism. 

Our dinner reservation tonight was for 6:00 p.m. Our server was Tom, and our seatmates were Celeste and Drew James. They were from San Francisco and travelling to Seattle to visit their son and new granddaughter. You meet the nicest people on a train, and this couple was no exception. Drew explained that after a thirty year career as an actuary for an insurance company, he had embarked on a new career as a singer, songwriter. When I returned home I checked it out, and was impressed with his web site. drewjames.net 

No stops were made for supplies so some of the entrees were changed. The stuffed chicken became chicken breast, and the salmon became cod. I chose the chicken breast with baked potato and corn with red pepper veggies. It was warm, but the salad was nice and crisp, and the lemon torte for dessert was pretty good. At 7:30 we readied for bed, having no idea when we would arrive, but Hak promised to give us some warning. 

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31, 2003
Awoke at 3:30 a.m., and peered out our door. Hak was busy making up beds, and said that the train would arrive in Seattle at approximately 4:15 a.m. I inquired if he got much sleep during the night and he replied, “not too much.” Most of the passengers on his car detrained during the night so he had to be up to help them off, then clean and ready the rooms for the new passengers boarding later that morning. It looked as though only three or four compartments were still in use. He explained that all crew were based in L.A.. The crew does not change in Seattle, but rather stays the night, then works the train back to L.A. Four days on, six off. Things were a blur after that. We washed up, got dressed, put our luggage together, detrained, hailed a taxi, and arrived at the hotel at 5:00 a.m. In lieu of sleep we opted to take a long, luxurious shower. It felt so good, and our accommodations at the Best Western Pioneer Square were charming, and so clean. It was dark when we arrived, but I only counted two or three blocks from the station to the hotel.

The continental breakfast opened at 6:30 a.m. and we were the first patrons. A wonderful selection of comfort food awaited us along with carafes of different freshly perked coffee. The one food item I missed most on the train was toast, so when I spotted those toasters it was, “out of my way”, I had to have my toast and coffee. Sitting at a table beside us were two gentlemen, one from Mobile Alabama, the other from Mississippi. Idle chatter ensued and we told them of our plans to re-board the Coast Starlight in a couple of hours. We returned to our room to watch some local news, then down to the lobby for check out and a cab to the station. We arrived early, which gave us time to look around at the progress being made on the renovations to the King Street Station. Pictures showing the original condition were on hand for comparison and it was easy to recognise what an attractive showpiece this will be for the city of Seattle. 

At 9:30 a.m. it was announced that the Coast Starlight would not be travelling to L.A. Because of the deteriorating weather conditions it would only go as far as Klamath Falls, and we were “not” to, repeat “not” to board if we were going any further. I stood in line at the ticket counter and confirmed a spot on the Friday Jan. 2nd train, the earliest available, as no train would be leaving tomorrow. Meanwhile Tracy phoned and booked one of the few remaining rooms at the hotel. I must admit I felt let down by Amtrak at this point. We were on our own in a city we did not know, unable to board our train on New Years Eve Day when hotels were at a premium, and they could not offer any helpful suggestions. I came to understand that Seattle was the destination and as long as Amtrak got us there, their contract had ended. A delay anywhere in between and they would have been responsible until we arrived.

While in the ticket line I met a most charming young man, San Jung Jang, translated “top of the mountain” from Korea who was holidaying in Canada and the U.S. Unfortunately the one word of Korean I knew, (an nyung, meaning hello) escaped me; luckily his English was very good. 

A short ride back to the hotel where we checked in, settled into our room then ordered a cab to take us downtown for some after Christmas sales. We spent most of the day shopping, hardly noticed it was almost dark before we headed back. A surprise bottle of Champagne on ice, hats and party favours were waiting in our room for the New Years’ celebration. We watched some local news while eating our take out pizza and double vanilla bean latte. Sleep came early that New Years Eve, I hate to admit it but I was sleeping by 7:30. 

THURSDAY, January l, 2004
Before breakfast I stopped at the front desk to tell Kate about my experience trying to reach anyone other than “Julie” at Amtrak to see if maybe something would be moving today. She would try she said, “just leave your tickets with me”, so I retraced my steps to inform Tracy. Kate phoned to say that the Coast Starlight would be leaving at 11:30 a.m. and she had booked one of the last rooms available. 

The two southern gentlemen looked surprised to see us but we soon explained our predicament. The toaster was beckoning once more, but they also had a nice display of very tasty bagels and muffins with a nice variety of toppings, fresh fruit, tea biscuits, small quiches, sticky buns, fresh cut-up fruit, a variety of cold cereal and a nice selection of fresh brewed coffee. It was one of the nicest continental breakfasts I have ever enjoyed anywhere. We repacked and checked out early. Because this was New Years Day the hotel had a later checkout time of 3:00 p.m. for all those late risers. The cab dropped us off at 10:00 a.m. and we headed straight to the ticket counter to confirm our ticket status. The same gentleman we dealt with yesterday registered recognition and, I think, sympathy as we were informed that we were not confirmed on this train. The only possible chance we might have was to wait at the Coast Starlight sleeper kiosk and inquire of the conductor when she appeared. At 11:40 we were told that one deluxe bedroom was available at an extra cost of $520.00 on top of what we’d already paid for our regular room. “$520.00”!!?? Definitely not worth it! We were beginning to love Seattle and knew the hotel staff, who felt like family, would find a room for us. Once again we checked into the Best Western and went downtown for the day. 

Great sales, great people in Seattle, super friendly sales staff. We ordered pizza again, and watched the local t.v. station. The coverage of cars trying to navigate a hill was most entertaining. 

FRIDAY, January 2, 2004
When we walked into the breakfast room this morning, one of our southern friends mumbled something about getting a mailbox. We were sure going to miss these continental breakfasts. Tracy and I both agreed that this was a great place to stay. The hotel, one of the older establishments in the city, was resurrected a number of years ago and brought back to its original splendor. It featured a beautiful lobby with working fireplace, original woodwork, nice boardroom, spacious, exceptionally clean rooms and very personable staff. General Manager, Jo Thompson, Kate, Carlos and even those whose names I missed were all very professional and competent. We packed quickly and for the third time checked out. Our thanks were genuine; we had enjoyed our stay, and had felt very well taken care of. 

Arrived at the station at 9:00 a.m. Everything was a go, so we found two seats and for the first time in a few days relaxed, content to just stare into space. This was my sea of tranquility, until I overheard a woman quietly inform the lady beside her, “this train isn’t going to L.A. you know, I have a friend who told me”. GGGAAAAAaaaaaa!!!!!!!! Breathing in slowly through the nose, exhaling through pursed lips. I-n----and--- o-u-t, i--n----and----o--u--t--, blink, so your contacts don’t dry, ---blink----blink-----blink.... 

The boarding call was announced at 9:40 a.m., and the train pulled out of the station at 10:14 a.m. a few minutes late. For the return journey we were in the Ohio sleeper and our attendant was David. By the time we stowed our luggage and walked to the Parlour car they were announcing that first sitting for lunch would be 11:30 a.m. This was the same crew we had on the way up so I talked to Evan about the return trip on Dec. 31st. She explained the train made it to Klamath Falls then returned to Seattle after a five-hour layover. Hak stopped by to welcome us aboard and we chatted for a few minutes.

Heading into Tacoma, Wa. the clear sunny skies became overcast and cloudy. It was 11:30 a.m. and we were already 37 minutes behind schedule. Seated in the diner with us today was two and a half year old Marissa and her mother from San Jose, Ca. who were returning from holidays in Vancouver, Canada. 

There were no garden burgers available so I opted for the beef burger. It was a bit on the dry side, not like the one I enjoyed on the trip up, but the cheesecake was very good and coffee completed my meal.

We stopped in Olympia-Lacey Wa. at 12:28 p.m., 49 minutes behind schedule. The observation car was full so I found a seat in the parlour car and enjoyed the countryside roll by in comfort. There appeared to be many manicured evergreen tree farms and swamp land between Tacoma and Centralia,Wa. Just five hours into this trip someone mentioned to me that he heard we would be bussed from Oakland to L.A. Maybe the woman in Seattle wasn’t talking through her hat, but I put the thought out of my mind, as a bus ride wasn’t a very appealing option. 

Just over the bridge in Vancouver, Wa., we waited fifteen minutes for a freight train to pass, then proceeded to back up over the same bridge again, or so I thought. Half an hour later, to my astonishment, we arrived in Portland. Tracy and I maintained we were backing up and even joked that this train travelled faster in reverse. That was the only time I have ever lost my sense of direction on a train. We detrained in Portland at 3:30 p.m. and fifteen minutes later the train pulled out of the station. I wondered if any of the people who boarded in Portland were told this train wasn’t going to L.A. We’ll have to wait and see.

Evan announced the wine tasting session would start at 4:00 p.m. Even though I don’t partake, I’m sure the wine was the same as offered on the trip north. The selection of cheese and crackers on this train going south was much superior to the variety offered going north from L.A. The parlour and observation car was full so Tracy and I retired to our room to play a few hands of cards. There seemed to be a number of children on board, probably returning home from Christmas holidays. It doesn’t take them long to find the games cabinet in the parlour car, but I did notice they were pretty good at returning the games when finished. They also have a movie theatre on board with two screenings a day.

At 7 p.m. it was announced that this trip would terminate tomorrow in Emeryville. Because the only dinner reservation left was 7:45 p.m. (we were usually in bed by then) we sat in the parlour car and before long were conversing about travel in different countries. There were so many well-informed people on the train, I was but a novice compared to them. They inquired how I would compare Canada’s Via Rail, to Americas’ Amtrak. Well, they are actually more similar than dissimilar. A few areas are different, eg. the sleeper compartments, I really like the private washroom in each compartment of Via sleepers’ cars. Via has the Park car, while Amtrak passengers can enjoy the Parlour and Observation car, but I’ve always maintained that the heart and soul of a train was the onboard staff, and I had nothing but admiration for the personnel on this train. Throughout the trip they had done their best to keep everyone informed of our location and had apologized repeatedly for the delays, which were beyond their control anyway. Everyone realized they were simply the messengers and I had heard only the highest praise for all staff.

Our dinner companions were a lively couple from Klamath Falls. They admitted to being the ones that held up our train’s departure in Seattle. As they returned from a family visit in Vancouver their bus broke down, causing the delay. We had a very pleasurable dinner conversing with this young retired couple. They were the Bakers, and he had retired seven years earlier from the BNSF line. I enjoyed my steak dinner with baked potato and mixed vegetables, again it was just warm, but filling. I enjoyed a lemon torte for dessert, nice and tart. The servers do a wonderful job, and Casey our waiter had a wonderful sense of humour. 

Just as we finished dinner a gentleman came in from the coach car asking (signing) if he and his family could get something to eat. The family was deaf and obviously had not heard any announcements for dinner. It was explained to him by Chris (he wrote it down) that he could go to the canteen, but the diner was closed. I could not help but feel that there was a glitch in the system, and Amtrak had let this family down. There should be a safety net in place for a situation like this, perhaps the ticket agent should have relayed the information to someone on board that the people who would be sitting in a particular car in certain seats are deaf and would need help when it came to announcements. I would be curious to know if Amtrak does have a policy.

It was nine p.m. when we finished dining so we immediately prepared for bed. None of the toilets were working in our sleeper car so we used the ones on the Kansas sleeper. Poor Hak. I awoke a few times overnight, but it seemed to be an exceptionally smooth ride. 

SATURDAY Jan.3, 2004
Straight to the shower at 5:00 a.m. What a treat! The train must have been on a siding, as we weren’t moving, so I finished my shower in record time. Just after six a couple in the parlour car informed me that we had not moved for over seven hours. (No wonder I slept so soundly. People were lined up for breakfast at 6:30, I think because everyone slept so well, they awakened earlier than usual. Our table companions were Marguerite from California and Samuel from San Francisco who was returning from Germany where he spent Christmas with his mother. We talked and laughed during the whole meal. I ordered quiche and a bowl of oatmeal. The oatmeal was excellent, piping hot, just the way I like it, the barely warm quiche was quite flavourful, however the accompanying croissant was unfortunately brittle and fossilized. It was the butt of more than a few jokes. I overheard one of the servers say that when the northbound Starlight passed, he was going to jump train. “Not without us” his table replied.

I enjoyed watching the daylight slowly seep through the windows, and as I observed the trees filtering the early morning light, thought there surely couldn’t be a more beautiful spot anywhere on this earth. Huge pine trees laden with snow appeared to be at arms length from our seats. It looked as if someone had uniformly deposited built up layers of icing on the tree limbs. Between Eugene-Springfield and Chemult the view was most spectacular. We were all glued to the windows trying to absorb natures wonder, mile after mile of pristine, unbroken wilderness. I noticed a snow-stick that registered at the five and a half foot mark. Impressive.

A 9:50 a.m. announcement informed us we were ten minutes outside Chemult. The skies were now blue, blue, and for the last fifteen minutes the speed of the train had accelerated considerably. A gentleman who worked these rails confirmed this. He said that this main line was actually controlled from an office in Omaha, Nebraska. (up.com). He talked about how the slide detectors, warn of falling debris, and how sometimes a car skids off the highway above and comes to rest on the track. He explained about hotboxes and trackside computers that check the different safety concerns of a train. The most interesting one I thought was the one that counted the wheels. That had me baffled, as I could not comprehend a train loosing wheels. Every trainset had a recorded number of wheels, he explained, too many and you know you’re hauling extras cars you shouldn’t be, and too few, well, maybe a few cars uncoupled. Ahhh, made sense.

Every once in a while a little branch toward the top of a tree would give way dumping its snow onto the branch below, which would start a ripple effect, and in turn the snow would cascade off the whole tree giving the appearance of it shaking the snow off, then the branches would snap back to their original position. The consistency of the snow was changing. Back a little way it was milder and the snow was the good, sticky, snowball kind. Now I could tell it was colder outside as the snow hitting the train and the snow being churned up under the carriage sounded different, kind of like sand. It was in these colder areas it looked like the trees were shaking themselves.

We arrived at Klamath Falls at 11:50 a.m. and departed the station at 12:15 p.m. For lunch today I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich which was quite tasty. While enjoying dinner the announcement came that the trip would terminate this evening in Sacramento. Our dinner mates were Bob and Mary Ann from California. Bob was so knowledgeable about anything to do with trains and he admitted to being a foamer.

The afternoon passed pleasantly in the parlour car enjoying some great conversation and commentary from Gerry who knew the landscape well. There wasn’t as much snow on the ground as we neared Mt. Shasta. Our bags were all ready when we went to the diner for the last time. We were seated with Dori and Gerry from California, who had been visiting Victoria B.C. We gabbed and chatted like old friends. Well, Gerry did most of the listening. Dori explained that their son had inherited his grandfathers’ old train set a few years back and wanted to put it to use again but didn’t know where to start. A suggestion that he try the model rail forum at TrainWeb and ask around in there was noted as a good place to start.

I tried the pasta dish for dinner, and had some vanilla ice cream for dessert. Announcements told us we would be arriving in Sacramento shortly after 8:00 p.m. and there would be (I think) nine buses to different locations; three express to Los Angeles. I for one certainly wasn’t anxious to take a 560-mile bus trip to L.A., then another trip to Fullerton. 

We arrived in L.A. about 5:00 a.m. and transferred to a Fullerton bus. While waiting for the two other buses, a passenger I remembered from the train was voicing her dissatisfaction with Amtrak and this whole busing affair. She told me when she boarded the bus in Sacramento she commented to the bus driver that it must have been difficult to muster up nine busses on such short notice. “Mamm, these buses were ordered two and a half days ago”, he replied. 

In summation, it was exciting to be snowbound a few extra days in Seattle Washington, and I cannot think of a nicer place to be stranded. The people were super friendly and the shopping was great.

What a bonus on the way north getting to spend extra time on the train. On the return journey, I felt somewhat cheated because of the trip cancellation, but sometimes “things” just happen. 

The onboard staff, the heart and soul of a train, were marvelous. Every single one of them was professional all the way. 

Overall the food was disappointing, but I have come to understand it was not prepared on board, but rather pre-cooked, then put on board to be re-heated as required. On the plus side, there was plenty of it.

I noticed a few people using scanners. They enjoyed listening first hand to the on-board radio communications. Others relished the solitude of eating meals in the privacy of their room and never venturing forth until they reached their destination. Conversing with the most interesting people imaginable and being mesmerized by passing scenery are what delight me about train travel. Though everyone has individual reasons for traveling by rail, the common bond is that we all love the train.