Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Independence Limited 1974

In 1966 I enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to begin an undergraduate program in Mathematics. When I arrived in Pittsburgh that fall I noticed the trolleys that went right by the school and even rode them to and from downtown Pittsburgh a few times, but I was busy getting acclimated to college and did not spend much time thinking about them. Alas, just four short months later, in late-January 1967, all of the lines that went past Carnegie Tech and a lot of others were shutdown in favor of buses. All that remained were lines that served the South Hills, and at the time the South Hills might just as well have been Mars (a Northern suburb of Pittsburgh, though I didn't know it at the time) to me.

By 1974 I was a graduate student in the Computer Science Department. One day, probably in April, I was reading the May issue of Trains Magazine and came across this advertisement:
May 25-26, 1974: Pittsburgh Traction Weekend will be sponsored by Central Electric Railfans' Association. ... Sunday: Entire rail system of Port Authority of Allegheny County will be covered in a day-long trip using three differently painted PCC cars in sequence. Photo opportunities will include work equipment.
I decided that this would be a great way to learn about the trolley system that I had so far ignored and signed up. (There was a Saturday trip to the Arden Trolley Museum, but since I had been there I did not participate.)
Mod Desire at South Hills Junction
May 26 came around and I took a bus to downtown Pittsburgh and boarded the first of their chartered trolleys. It was a beautiful day, and we had a lot of photo opportunities throughout the system. During a lunch break downtown, I walked a few blocks to Bill & Walt's Hobby Shop at the corner of the Blvd. of the Allies and (I believe) Smithfield St. After looking at the merchandise I went outside and noticed a flyer in the window advertising the 1974 Independence Limited, a steam train excursion that would take place over the 4th of July. Up until this point I had never ridden any sort of rail excursion, but this one piqued my interest and I wrote for more information. The posted flyer is lost to history, but here is an ad that ran for that same trip in Trains:
July 4-7, 1974: The Independence Limited runs again! Southern steam locomotive 4501 will head special through Ohio, W. Va and Va. July 4: Cincinnati to Williamson via N&W mainline. July 5: Williamson to Roanoke via former Virginian trackage. July 6: roundtrip between Roanoke and Buena Vista on N&W Shenandoah Division. July 7: Roanoke to Alexandria via Southern mainline. Intermediate stops. Overnight accommodations. Return transportation from most points. For information write Roanoke Chapter, NRHS.
I ended up buying a ticket that included:
  • All of the above mentioned train travel
  • One night in one of the finest hotels in Williamson, W. Va.
  • Two nights in the Hotel Roanoke (a historic hotel that was--and still is--indeed the finest hotel in Roanoke)
all for the price of $120 inclusive (about $600 today).

Of course I had to get from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati on July 3. Flying was an option as was, I suppose, a long bus ride, but it turned out that a fellow grad-student, Paul Knueven, grew up in Cincinnati and he and his wife were going to be driving there for the holiday weekend. They invited me to hitch a ride, and Paul's parents even put me up for the night in a guest bedroom. We all went out for my first taste of Cincinnati-style chili that night and they gave me a grand tour of the area. (Not a fan of Cincinnati-style chili though.) The next morning Paul and his dad drove me to the train and I had my first glimpse of 4501, a locomotive I would see many times over into the 21st century. The first sniff of coal smoke from the old Mikado brought me immediately back to being four years old and picking my Dad up at the Chicago & North Western's Ravinia station as he got off his Pacific-pulled commuter train.

As a through passenger (that is, riding all the way from Cincinnati to Alexandria) I was entitled to ride in the air conditioned combine "Man O' War". A combine is a half baggage - half coach and this one, a staple on Southern steam excursions, was named after a train of the same name that ran on the Central of Georgia and still lettered for CofG, which in turn was named after one of the greatest thoroughbred horses of all time. The Man O' War ran at the front of the train (behind the gondola they used to transport coal for the locomotive, and the Norfolk and Western business car 500, Claytor Lake). The doors in the baggage portion of the car made for a great place to take pictures. (These sorts of pictures are becoming increasingly harder to get because of railroad policies prohibiting open vestibule windows, etc.) , The Man O' War was also the place to make (audio) recordings of the 4501 in action. I also had access to the rest of the train, and could have ridden anywhere else I wanted.

The Man O' War
As the trip began I settled into my seat and took note of the other passengers in the car. I remember most, an old man (probably younger than I am now) named Lex who was from the Cincinnati area and pretty much an "expert" on everything. One of the things he was an expert on was beer, and he was raving about Hudepohl beer and how he planned to have some during the lunch stop in Portsmouth. He was a real character. Another was the late Bob Bixler from Orrville, Ohio, who became a friend. He was an ex-Pennsy fireman and was traveling with his very young daughter and her friend. Bob and I kept in touch over the years, and I would occasionally see him in Pittsburgh when he would come to town on an Orrville Railroad Historical Society excursion that he had organized. Once when he ran two back to back excursions to Pittsburgh he let me ride the trip in reverse (from Pittsburgh to Brewster, Ohio one train, and returning on the next day's train), he even lent me a car for the evening I was in the Brewster area. Then there was a pretty young woman, Aleatha Brock, daughter of Paul Brock, who was working in the cab of 4501. Finally, I remember that this is where I met Bruce Heard, another person who became a good friend. Bruce worked for Amtrak in various capacities, at corporate headquarters in DC when I met him, but retiring as Senior Director of Special Projects (read--interfaced with Hollywood I believe) in California. My good friends Dave and Carol Ingles were aboard, but I was not to meet them until the following year.

This was really near the beginning of when I started to get serious about railroad photography. In those days I traveled with two Canon FTb 35mm SLRs. One held black and white Tri-X (usually) and the other color slide film Kodachrome 64 (usually). I spent a lot of time in the baggage section of the Man O' War taking pictures. It wasn't until much later that I realized that I (mostly) did not like the pictures that resulted from shooting the train in this manner. One really has to be pretty far back in a long train for this to be worthwhile. Another thing I learned about this first day of the trip was cinders, and how they enjoyed finding your eyes. Luckily the concession car (Carol E. Jensen) in the middle of the train had safety glasses for sale along with ample amounts of food. The car, by the way, was named for the wife of Carl Jensen who was a leader of the Roanoke Railroad Historical Society. I met both of them on this trip along with other members of the group who I would come to know better over the years including David Helmer and Dorr Tucker.

Continuing on with photography, this trip also introduced me to the photo runby. The trolley trip a few months earlier had provided photo opportunities in which we could all get off the trolley and take pictures of it in various locations and with various sign boards showing. For a main line train excursion a photo runby is much the same...only more so. The train stops, the passengers who are interested (most everyone) get off the train and find a good position for taking pictures, the train backs up out of sight and then comes forward at high speed with lots of smoke and whistling. It may do this again (a double runby) or it may just back up and pick up the passengers and continue on its merry way. The pictures obtainable at a runby are generally vastly superior to those obtained out a vestibule window. We had several runbys each day of this four day excursion.

Because the train was pulled by a steam engine, there were lengthy mid-day stops each day of the trip. This was for watering the locomotive, adding coal to its tender, lubrication, etc. It allowed passengers an extended time off the train. The first day this happened in Portsmouth, and used the time to look around, get a bite to eat, and have a Hudepohl. (It was ok.)

Note the Claytor Lake ahead of the Man O' War
Late in the day we crossed into West Virginia at Kenova and the territory became more rugged. People came through the train and passed out hotel room assignments and keys, and told us that dinner options would be limited in Williamson but that a restaurant, The Lock Stock and Barrel, would remain open for us and serve a special buffet. The restaurant was founded by some anti-poverty activists and was part of a rehabilitation effort in Williamson. But in order to eat there, we first had to get to Williamson. We were chugging along nicely until all of a sudden the train came to a complete stop. It seems that the 4501 had developed a clinker. This was the first I had ever heard of a clinker -- a hard deposit that occurs when ash and sulfur fuse together. This happens when the firebox is at a lower temperature than normal. In order to proceed the clinker had to be broken up (using a tool called a clinker hook). In due course it was, and we eventually pulled into Williamson.

According to Wikipedia: When dignitaries such as President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and celebrities such as Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams came to the area, they stayed at the Mountaineer Hotel. Oh, and me too! This was (and is now even more so) an OLD hotel with smallish rooms, but reasonably clean.  The first thing I did was to take a shower, whereupon I learned the reason that railfans often wear hats -- to avoid cinders in their hair. I hardly ever wear a hat because usually they are too small for me, and besides, I had (and have) a good head of hair. It must have taken me a good 10 minutes to wash all the cinders out of my hair. (I bought and wore a hat the next day.) Oh, and riding behind a coal powered locomotive and hanging out the window is dirty work. I used up a lot of water. So did everyone else in the hotel. I heard that latecomers had a real problem with both hot water and water pressure by the time they got to the shower.

Another Runby
After changing, it was off to the Lock Stock and Barrel for dinner. The only thing I really remember about the dinner is that most of us felt that we had been taken lock stock and barrel by eating there. It turned out that there were other options that proved more satisfying to those who partook of them. On the way back to the hotel some of us stopped to admire the Coal House a building made entirely of coal that housed the chamber of commerce.

Bright and early the next day I arose, walked to the train and resumed my seat in the Man O' War. Today was the highlight of the trip for many, though for me it was no more or less special than any other day of the trip. That's because I wasn't into collecting "rare mileage" at the time and did not realize that our route, using the ex-Virginian line was extremely "rare" (in the sense that, unless you were operating a train over the line, you were unlikely to be able to ride it.)

1776 Leading us to Mullens
The scenery became even more rugged and we were helped along by Norfolk and Western SD45 diesel locomotive 1776, all painted up for the US's bicentennial two years hence. As we approached Elmore Yard and Mullens, W. Va. someone on the train mentioned that the Regency Room at the Hotel Roanoke was the place to dine well in Roanoke, especially to savor their famous peanut soup--but only if you wore a jacket and tie. I have no idea why I had a jacket along (I wouldn't these days), but I did not have a tie. So I used part of the time we were in Mullens walking around the downtown area and bought myself a cheap ($5 as I recall) tie at the Mullens G.C. Murphy.

We pulled into Roanoke at an early hour. As they had the afternoon before, the Roanoke Chapter people had distributed hotel room keys on the train, so it was simply a matter of getting of the train, walking by the Raymond Lowey designed passenger station and up the hill to the Hotel Roanoke and finding my room. Again an old hotel, but an elegant one. After a shower (with much fewer cinders because of my nice and shiny new hat) it was time for dinner in the Regency Room. It was as elegant as promised with white jacketed waiters and great food -- particularly the peanut soup.

The next day I could leave my stuff in my room, because the the train was doing a round trip to Buena Vista on the Shenandoah line. This was a pleasant journey punctuated by a picnic on said vista looking down upon the city and the train below.

The last day of the trip was a shot up the N&W to Lynchburg and then up the Southern all the way to Alexandria, Va. As usual there were runbys and lots of high speed running and it was a grand old time. Throughout the trip I had been eyeing the Claytor Lake, the business car running ahead of the Man O' War. At some point I mentioned my interest to Bob Bixler who pointed to another gentleman who was spending time in the Man O' War, Jim Bistline, and said that he'd probably be willing to take me up to look around. Jim, it turned out, was the General Counsel for the Southern Railway and also one of the leaders of the Southern Steam program. He was delighted to give me a tour and we became good friends in the ensuring years as we got to know each other better. It was a sad day when he passed away.

Eventually the train pulled into Alexandria, and I had to get back to Pittsburgh. Again, I could have flown, or waited a day and taken the train, but I had a better idea. It turned out that several fellow grad students including my Norwegian friend Amund Lunde (who we used to call a "damn Swede" because it annoyed him so and who was one of my few non-native English speaking friends who could pun in English) wanted to visit DC over the holiday. I gave them the use of my Volvo as long as they agreed to pick me up in Alexandria. They did, and I was home that same evening, a confirmed train-riding railfan.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Saga of Roll 99

In the April 1988 edition of Trains Magazine (The Magazine of Railroading), this excursion, to be run by the 470 Railroad Club, was advertised:

May 28-29, 1988: Excursion on Bangor & Aroostook Railroad from Bangor, Me to Fort Kent, Madawaska, and Van Buren with possible side trip to B&A yard in Canada. First generation diesel power with three ex-DL&W coaches. Fare is $170 which includes rail trip, lodging, two box lunches, and breakfast.

Simple enough, right? Get yourself to Bangor by plane or car and ride the excursion and return home? Well not for us. In the words of Daniel Burnham, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood". Nor, might I add, those of little boys who still like to play with trains. The "us" in question for this trip were myself and friends Rick and Phil Moser from the Chicago area and Dave Ingles from Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Looking at a map of Maine, you'll notice that Madawaska is right at the tip. In fact you can't go any further north and still be in the US. Right across the river is Edmundston, New Brunswick. Also, looking at the map you'll notice that the trip was basically a round trip from Bangor to Van Buren. This meant that if "getting the mileage" was your main goal, riding one way would be sufficient -- either boarding or "escaping" at Van Buren. A few calls to the trip operator ascertained that this would not be possible because of border issues at Van Buren, but boarding or leaving the train in Madawaska was a distinct possibility. Riding one way gave us the flexibility to do "other things" -- the other things involving riding other trains.

Eastbound Atlantic (our train) at Saint John
Eastbound Atlantic at Saint John
How to get to or from Madawaska? Well it turns out that Edmundston had rail service at the time. It was also where the passengers on the trip would be spending the night of May 28. Traveling with the group to the hotel and leaving from there the next morning was one possibility. Getting to Edmundston on our own, riding from Madawaska to Van Buren and return on the 28th and then riding from Madawaska to Bangor on the 29th was the other. Our decision was made for us when we discovered that an overnight stay in Moncton was necessary to get from Edmundston to Montreal, but not when getting from Montreal to Edmundston.
Eastbound Atlantic (our train) after leaving Moncton

Since the train from Moncton to Edmundston only ran on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, that meant we needed to get to Moncton in time to catch the train to Edmundston the evening of the 27th. There were two trains from Montreal to Moncton in 1988. One was the Ocean (still in service today) which ran on the Canadian National route. The other was the Atlantic (annulled in service cuts in the mid-1990s) which ran on the Canadian Pacific.

While awaiting the Atlantic we caught a CN freight at Amherst

Westbound Atlantic in Amherst, Nova Scotia
I flew to Montreal on May 26 (in those days you could do nonstop from Pittsburgh) and met up with Rick, Phil (who had flown in from Chicago) and Dave (who had flown in from Milwaukee via Detroit). The Atlantic left Montreal at 1840 that same day. The route crossed Maine in the middle of the night, bisecting our route on the BAR at Brownsville Junction at 0245 on the 27th (assuming we were on time). By the time I awoke we were safely back in Canada and were probably approaching Fredericton Jct. at 0745. We went through Saint John, New Brunswick at 0900 (Dave's sister and brother-in-law lived there at the time), and we arrived in Moncton at 1100.

In Amherst, Nova Scotia
A CN freight with a strange rear car
The train to Edmundston left at 1815 (arriving at 2255) giving us about nine hours to kill around Moncton. We, what else?, rented a car so that we could do some railfanning in the area. We headed off to Amherst Nova Scotia, taking pictures enroute including the westbound Atlantic. We drove back to Moncton, turned in our car, and had dinner prior to the departure of our train to Edmundston and eventual transfer to our hotel.

A Via Rail Canada RDC set similar to our train to Edmundston (at Marsh Jct)
On Saturday, May 28 we had most of the day to kill before the BAR train reached Madawaska. We, what else?, rented a car and did some railfanning in New Brunswick. Coming into town the previous day we crossed a really high and long trestle east of the city (actually east of Great Falls). We dubbed this the BFB (or Big Bridge). That was one of our destinations for photography. One thing I particularly remember besides the impressiveness of the BFB was a swarm of bees nearby. I have since learned that this is the Salmon River Trestle and it is the second longest bridge of its type in Canada (the first is on the Canadian Pacific at Lethbridge--I've also ridden across it).
On the BFB

Entering the BFB

On the BFB

We then drove back to Edmundston and photographed trains all around the area, crossing back and forth across the border multiple times. We had lunch on the US side of the border. By the time we had crossed the border to catch the BAR train to Van Buren the border control people on both sides just waved us through.

The 470 Excursion Train in Madawaska
In due time the BAR train arrived, and we found seats in one of the coaches for the ride to Van Buren where the train was turned and backed out across the bridge, crossing the border. Although we couldn't get off the train on the Canadian side, we were allowed off on the US side for photo opportunities. After this the train ran back to Madawaska and the passengers were transferred to the hotel we had been staying at in Edmundston. We, having a rental car, made the trip on our own.

The 470 Excursion Train on the Van Buren bridge
We had just crossed back into Canada when Dave announced that he had lost a roll of exposed film. This was the (now) infamous roll 99. We retraced our path back to the train and spent some time looking around the car we had been riding in, without luck. So we went back across the border into Canada in our rental car one last time, turned it in, and had dinner with other friends from the train. (I believe this was the first time I encountered seafood pizza.)

Short consist means more photos!
The next morning we transferred to the train along with the rest of the passengers going back to Bangor. It wasn't long after we sat down that Rick found roll 99 on the floor near his seat. He handed it to Dave who, to this day, still believes that we had hidden it from him overnight. (His words when shown an early draft of this article were "And yes, I still think you guys hid Roll 99 from me!") (We hadn't.)

At Eagle Lake
One of the joys of traveling with the 470 Railroad Club was that the trains were small (three cars in this case) and the passengers were reasonably knowledgable. This means that it was easy for the club to set up a large number of photo runbys on the way down to Bangor giving us ample opportunity to photograph the train.

At Twin Lake
We arrived in Bangor (actually Northern Maine Junction) at 1623 and started for home. Dave was making a presentation to the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts in the Boston area and drove down there. I believe Phil flew home from Bangor, while Rick and I arranged to ride to Portland with another passenger, had a New England shore dinner, and flew to our respective homes the next morning.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Great Rental Car Shuffle: from Maryland to Georgia using four cars and a handful of trains

Prologue

On April 27, I had dinner with friends Dave and Carol Ingles and Neil Lang at Maxims at the Depot, in the former Milwaukee Road passenger station in Oconomowoc, WI. As is often the case we talked about one of our friends behind his back. Unfortunately, the friend this time was John Arbuckle, who had been scheduled to be the fifth at that dinner, but he passed away unexpectedly of complications from a lung infection on April 15 at age 63.

So instead of talking with him about many of our frequent past trips that included him, we toasted a longtime close friend lost . . . and still told stories about our trips together. One of them was really about multiple trips on consecutive weekends, in Maryland and in Georgia, and a series of complex moves only travel-weary mileage collectors could come up with, perhaps the epitome of complexity, which is saying something!

In Summer 2003, the SAM Shortline announced a three day excursion from Cordele, GA to Savannah, GA, leaving on October 17 and returning on October 19. Shortly after that, the Washington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society announced an "Autumn Colors" excursion running on October 12 from Washington, DC to Martinsburg, WV and return. The train would go outbound via the Baltimore & Ohio's Old Main Line and would return via the normal Amtrak route. And if all of that wasn't enough, the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum announced a "fall foliage" excursion running on October 11 from Hagerstown MD to Oakland, MD and return over the route of the former Western Maryland Railroad.

The emails started flying around the internet with various people interested in various combinations of trips. When the dust settled, five of us had made plans to travel together in various combinations. The players included myself, John, Dave Ingles from the Milwaukee area, Rick Moser from the Chicago area, and the late Murrell Hogue from Texarkana.

Map of the first part of the rental car shuffle

Thursday, October 9 and Friday, October 10

On Thursday, October 9, Dave Ingles left Milwaukee on an Amtrak Hiawatha, and transferred to the Capitol Limited to Cumberland, MD, arriving there on the morning of the 10th, late enough that he canceled a local Enterprise Rent-a-Car that he had planned to use to explore the area while waiting for me to show up from Pittsburgh. He then walked over to the nearby Western Maryland Scenic Railroad ticket office and, leaving his luggage in the ticket office, took a one-way ride to Frostburg.

That same morning, I left Pittsburgh at 11am and drove my car to Frostburg, arriving soon after Dave did, around 2pm. We grabbed some lunch at a Wendy's, picked up Dave's luggage in Cumberland and then drove to the Hagerstown and checked into a Hampton Inn for the night.

The train from Hagerstown in Cumberland
Earlier that same day, John flew from Kansas City to Baltimore arriving at about 8pm and rented a car (we'll call this car #1). I am not sure how Murrell got to Washington but he caught a MARC train from Washington to Frederick, MD (the last portion of which being a short branch I still needed at the time). John picked him up and they drove to the Hampton Inn in Hagerstown arriving after midnight.

Saturday, October 11

That morning we drove both cars to the Roundhouse Museum location in Hagerstown, and after making sure that our cars would not be "parked in", we boarded the train. The train left at 7:30am and was heading to Oakland, MD, but we got off at Cumberland at about 10:30am (none of us needed the mileage beyond) and, after taking some pictures of the train, walked a few blocks to a gas station to rent a Ford Taurus one-way to Baltimore (we'll call this car #2). We paid the full excursion fare and told the sponsoring group's representative what we were doing so they would not worry about us disappearing. Murrell had walked to the Western Maryland railroad station and was able to get on the sold out train to Frostburg. John, Dave, and I drove the car to Helmsetters Curve and took pictures of his train as it went past and then picked him up in Frostburg.

Murrell's train at Helmsetters Curve
Dave posing at Helmsetters Curve
All four of us rode in this car back to Hagerstown where we picked up my car and car #1 and caravanned all three vehicles to the Martinsburg Amtrak station. Luckily we found two occupied police cars near the station and were able to verify that we could park two of the cars overnight at the station both safely and legally. Then we all got back into car #2 and drove to Romney, WV to take pictures of the Potomac Eagle, a train that ran on the South Branch Valley railroad. From there we drove to Winchester, grabbed lunch, then to Harpers Ferry to take some more pictures, and finally to a Best Western Motel in Dorsey, MD, a suburb south of Baltimore. After a nice dinner near the motel Dave and I took car #2 over to BWI to turn it in and, after a long delay dealing with Hertz (a strong letter followed) we caught a taxi back to the motel.

The Potomac Eagle near Romney

Sunday, October 12

The five of us taxied from the motel to the nearby Dorsey MARC commuter station where we boarded the Old Main Line special from there to Martinsburg. The old main line is the original line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad out of Baltimore, the first section of which dates back to 1830. Now freight-only except for the small portion on the west end for Frederick branch MARC trains, it joins the current main line and Amtrak route at Point of Rocks, MD. In spite of it being around virtually forever, none of us had ridden it at the time.

Strangely enough there were two cars waiting for us in Martinsburg where four of us detrained! (Murrell stayed on for the return trip via the current main line via Rockville.) At that point I drove home to Pittsburgh in my car (getting caught in a "Whoopie Days" parade at Berkeley Springs, WV), while John and Dave set off in car #1 on the next phase of the adventure, visiting Grafton, WV at dusk and then checking into a motel in Weston, WV for the night.

Monday, October 13

(I'm back at work.)

John and Dave spent the day riding the New Tygart Flyer on ex-Western Maryland trackage from Belington, WV through Elkins to High Falls, WV and then checked into an Econolodge in Elkins, WV for the evening.

Tuesday, October 14

(I'm still at work.)

John had never ridden the Cass Scenic Railroad (in Cass, WV) a logging railroad that climbs to great heights via as much as an 11% grade using Shay (steam) locomotives. The railroad wasn't running that day, but they spent time looking around before overnighting in Lexington, VA after a stop in Clifton Forge and a visit to the C&O Historical Society’s street-front store downtown. Dave chose the Lexington motel for their free guest laundry, mid-week on his long trip. He and John found local rail artifacts (including the old C&O depot on a college campus), and were surprised at the many choices of mostly-pricey restaurants uptown, probably due to the city being home to two Universities.

Wednesday, October 15

(I'm still at work.)

John and Dave spent the morning cruising the 25-mph Blue Ridge Parkway amidst blazing fall color (highly recommended) from Buena Vista to Roanoke, VA and stopped there at the railroad museum. They determined that the O. Winston Link Museum in the old N&W depot had not yet opened and after photographing a short Norfolk Southern Office Car Special that passed by, headed directly for Charlotte, NC to meet friend Jim Fetchero for dinner at a Steak n Shake, then one of few if not the only, outlet in North Carolina. They finished the day driving to Greenville, SC where they checked into a motel for the night, the objective being for Dave to watch a baseball playoff game – and speaking of rare events, it featured the Chicago Cubs vs. the Florida Marlins (Dave is a St. Louis Cardinals fan but is also an ecumenical fan of baseball).

Thursday, October 16

(Hooray! I am no longer at work!)

I caught a flight, presumably on USAir via Charlotte, to Atlanta and rented car #3. While I was doing this, John and Dave ate breakfast at the Greenville Steak n Shake (one of two, Dave thinks, in the state at the time) and then headed to  Atlanta to rendezvous with me. Car #1 and car #3 met on an airport perimeter road to transfer luggage, etc. from 1 to 3 (try that today!) and then we drove both cars back to the rental facility to turn in car #1 (on a weekly rate). The three of us got into car #3 and drove to Cordele, GA, making a stop in Warner-Robins, GA for lunch at (yet another) Steak n Shake.

We had plenty of time in Cordele that afternoon and evening and used part of it to find the next day's train in a yard west of town (took us a while) and to explore the area. Dinner was at a Cracker Barrel and we spent the night at a Hampton Inn. This motel was literally up against the CSX railroad tracks and since our rooms faced the tracks we soon found out why ear plugs were provided. John did not have this problem as he stayed at a Super 8 across the highway.

The Georgia portion of the rental car shuffle

Friday, October 17

The special train on the Heart of Georgia Railway (a.k.a. "HOG") was the reason why we were all in Cordele (along with a lot of our friends). We boarded the train and minutes before departure Dave said "I think I left the keys in the car". This was a problem not only because it might have lead to a stolen car, but also because we were supposed to get the keys to Rick Moser who would be riding westbound on Sunday and would then return car #3 to Atlanta on his way home. (You will recall that I mentioned Rick as a player long ago in this report. We never actually saw him, but he was part of the story!) In any event, I ran out to the car and retrieved the keys which we then gave to Carol and Thom Sulanke who were to give them to Rick prior to the return trip.

The Heart of Georgia train at Cordele prior to departure
The train stopped in Vidalia (yes, that Vidalia) where we were served onion sandwiches (just kidding) for lunch as part of the "Whoopie Days" going on there, and then continued on to a park near Savannah where passengers were loaded onto buses to be transported to hotels in town. However the park was about a mile or two from the connection to CSX's former Seaboard Coast Line main line and we (and another half dozen or so mileage collectors) talked the operators into allowing us to ride the HOG train to a road crosing within sight of that junction.

Eventually the taxis we called picked us up at that obscure crossing and took John, Dave, and meIto a Comfort Inn near the Savannah airport. Dave was going home by train that evening but we all had a last dinner together before he called a taxi to the Amtrak station where he caught the Silver Star north.

Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19

Dave's train arrived in Washington and he transferred to the Capitol Limited. I do not recall how John returned home, but presumably he caught a flight to Kansas City. I caught an early flight (6:25am) on USAir through Charlotte back to Pittsburgh. I arrived at PIT in time to meet my parents  and sister off their flight from Chicago. They were coming into town for my daughter Lizzy's eighth birthday. We got to the house at 1:30pm, and that was the end of the trip for me and I presume for John as well.

Rick caught an Airtran flight out of Midway airport on Saturday at 1:30pm, connecting at Atlanta to a flight to Savannah and checked into the same Comfort Inn that John and I had checked out of that morning.  He met up with the Sulankes there and retrieved the car keys. On Sunday he rode the HOG train back to Cordele (with no stop in Vidalia for lunch, since "everything was closed" on a Sunday, so the return was a much quicker ride), retrieved the car from the parking lot, drove to Atlanta, and flew home to Chicago on Monday morning.

Dave's Capitol Limited arrived in Chicago and he caught a Hiawatha to Milwaukee, ending his trip as well.

Now, if this all doesn't explain why thinking up and executing the logistics for these rare-mileage trips are sometimes more fun than actually riding the damn trips, I don't know what does!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Remembering John Arbuckle and the Colorado Narrow Gauge Tour

John Arbuckle in Lockhart, TX (April 2015)  

Introduction

On April 15, 2017 my good friend John Arbuckle passed away at the much too young age of 63 of issues arising from a lung infection. He had been having breathing problems for much of the 30 years I knew him and had been carrying an oxygen concentrator wherever he went for several years, so this was not totally unexpected, but it still hit me very hard.

I've been spending much of the last week thinking of John and the good times we had together. One such time was the Colorado Narrow Gauge Tour that John led three of us on in 2001. This is the story of that tour. Although John did not participate in the beginning and end of the account below, I always think of him when I recall this trip. Think of this article as therapy for me after his loss.

Prolog

I am a member of AAPRCO, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. Understand that I am not a car owner, but just a hanger-on. One of the reasons to be a member is to be allowed to participate in AAPRCO's annual convention. The big deal about these conventions (for me) is that they are preceded and followed by a special train from some distant city to the convention city. AAPRCO members are allowed to ride the train if they can find a car owner who is willing to take them. This is usually easily doable if one is willing to part with a sufficient number of dollars.

The 2001 convention was to be held in Denver beginning on Wednesday, October 3 and ending on Saturday, October 6. There would be two special trains to the convention. The one I rode left Chicago on Saturday morning, September 29 and reached Denver on October 2, with overnight stops in Kansas City, Amarillo, TX (where it combined with the train from the west coast), and Pueblo, CO. The return trip left Denver on Sunday, October 7 and reached Chicago on Monday, October 8 via a circuitous routing, but with no overnight stop.

While I was committed to riding the trains to and from Denver, I had no particular interest in attending the actual convention. It made no sense to fly home from Denver on October 3 and back on October 6, so the question became how to fill the time productively. After thinking about it a while it occurred to me that I had ridden neither the Durango & Silverton nor the Cumbres & Toltec narrow gauge railroads. After scoping out the distances it appeared that it would be possible to do both during the four days.

But I didn't want to do this trip alone and most of my regular traveling companions had ridden both railroads--some multiple times. It turned out that earlier in the year I had planned a visit to Canada with Reg Mitchell (then a NASA engineer) and another friend that had fallen through. I mentioned the idea of visiting the narrow gauge railroads to Reg, mainly for ideas, and discovered that he was in the same boat that I was. He quickly agreed to the trip and shortly thereafter told me that mutual friend, Carol Sulanke (a librarian at Indiana University) wanted to join us. We had in mind getting a fourth to fill the car, but began planning at this point.

Our initial plan had us driving to Durango on Wednesday (about 350 miles), riding the Durango & Silverton roundtrip to Silverton and then driving to Alamosa (about 150 miles) on Thursday, riding the Cumbres & Toltec from Antonito to Cumbres (with bus return) on Friday, and driving back to Denver on Saturday (about 230 miles). This would mean a night in Durango, and two nights in Alamosa.

On September 6, John called and said that he was interested in joining us--even though he'd ridden both trains multiple times. As a courtesy I asked the others (knowing the answer before I asked) and he was unanimously accepted as the fourth member of our group.

Since John had done these trips many times in the past, he had some suggestions to modify our itinerary. The significant change that he suggested was that we ride the Cumbres & Toltec eastbound (Chama to Antonito) because the climb out of Chama to Cumbres Pass behind a steam engine was impressive. John also suggested that we spend the second night in Pagosa Springs rather than in Alamosa. We had some discussion about that with Carol preferring to stay in Alamosa, but then Reg discovered that the highway through Wolf Pass in Colorado would be closed at night due to construction. That pretty much eliminated the idea of going to Alamosa directly from Durango. So our overnights were pretty well set, as was much of our routing.

Then came September 11.

When the dust settled (literally) it turned out that the convention was still happening as were the special trains. The narrow gauge trains would also be operating. The main difference, from our point of view, was that almost nobody was traveling in the months after 9/11, so hotel reservations, while never difficult, were exceedingly easy to come by. We ended up staying at the Best Western Rio Grande in Durango, the First Inn of Pagosa, and the Comfort Inn in Alamosa. At the last minute I also decided to share a room with John at a La Quinta in Denver the night before the tour left.


The Trip

Friday, September 28

I caught a USAirways flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago, which arrived mid-afternoon. I took a subway from O'Hare to Logan Square and a bus to within walking distance of my hotel in Chicago, the Quality Inn near Madison and Halstead. We could have stayed on the train that night, but we knew (from past experience) that Amtrak would be switching the train in the middle of the night which would make sleep fitful.

Saturday, September 29

I taxied to Union Station where I boarded the Silver Solarium, the car I rode to and from Denver. The Silver Solarium is a round-ended dome observation car that originally ran on the California Zephyr. At the time it was owned by the late Nav Fosse, who owned a concrete pipe/culvert manufacturing business in Iowa. I had ridden the Silver Solarium several times before and it had become a second home to me.

I was sharing bedroom "B" with Dave Ingles for this trip and we had flipped a two-headed coin and I chose tails so I got the upper berth. I don't mind the upper berth (a very comfortable bed) but it is awkward when having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I don't have detailed notes about this trip, but it was scheduled to leave Chicago at 7am and actually left at 7:05am. The routing to Kansas City was on the CB&Q via Galesburg, IL, Quincy, IL, and Brookfield, MO. Much of Quincy to Kansas City (all?) was new mileage for most people on the train. Arrival was scheduled for 6pm but we only cared because we wanted to see the line in daylight since dinner was served on the train...and our beds were ready anytime we felt like retiring for the evening.

Sunday, September 30

Today we were scheduled to leave Kansas City at 7am and head to Amarillo, TX via Wellington, KS and Waynoka, OK. The mileage between Wellington and Amarillo was new for me. At Amarillo some of us had thought to have dinner off-the-train (we were due at 6pm) but by the time our train was joined to the train arriving from the west and parked for the night on a siding south of town, it was way too late for that (not to mention that accessibility of the train from a road was limited.)
The 2001 AAPRCO Eastern Special

Monday, October 1

Today the train left Amarillo at 7am and ran to Pueblo, CO via Trinidad, CO. It was scheduled to arrive at 6pm. Most of this mileage was new to me.

Tuesday, October 2

The morning was set aside for activities in the Pueblo area, with the train leaving at 1pm, arriving in Denver at 6pm. There was no new mileage for me on this day.

I believe that there were three possibilities for the morning. 1) a tour of the Department of Transportation's test facility near Pueblo, 2) an excursion train to the Royal Gorge, or 3) hang around Pueblo. I think my friends and I opted (mostly) for option 3 since all of us had ridden through the Royal Gorge in the past.

At Denver, John met the train and he and I went to the nearby La Quinta to check in. We then picked up some of the others and went off to dinner nearby. It was at the La Quinta that I first really became aware of how serious John's breathing problems were. He had been out of breath on trips in the past, but this was the first time I'd shared a room with him and he had an oxygen concentrator waiting for him in the room. The concentrator (which my Mom also had for the last years of her life) was a noisy contraption...but it was necessary. It was also predictable in its noise which made it possible to sleep in spite of the noise.

Wednesday, October 3

This morning I was further educated as to John's problems as, when Reg Mitchell showed up with our Avis Impala rental, the first thing we did was to transfer a bunch of oxygen tanks to the trunk. During our ride, John and Carol rode in the back seat with oxygen tanks between them. He thought he might need them due to the high elevations through which we were driving, but he never needed to use them -- only his concentrator at night.

A scene from our travels
Had John not been with us, we probably would have taken a more-or-less direct route to Durango, probably via Salida, Del Norte, and Pagosa Springs. Instead, under John's expert guidance due to his extensive knowledge of Colorado narrow gauge railways, including long gone ones like the Denver & South Park, we spent the day following a route that took us through Leadville, Salida, Gunnison, Montrose, Ouray and down the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton before heading into Durango. The railroad history was incredible and because we had an expert with us we saw things such as still-visible railroad grades (tracks long gone), water tank footings, etc., and learned much more than we otherwise would. The scenery was amazing, especially the aforementioned Million Dollar Highway, which hugs the side of a mountain much of the way.
Near Cimarron, Colorado


Thursday, October 4

Durango & Silverton
Today we rode the famous Durango & Silverton steam train from Durango to Silverton and return. The D&S is one of two remnants of the narrow gauge railroad that ran from Alamosa, CO all the way to Silverton. It is an incredibly scenic route. I think most of us booked enclosed coach seats because we wanted protection from potentially cold or wet weather, figuring that it would be easier to relocate to an open gondola car in the event of nice weather than to relocate to the enclosed car in the event of inclement weather. In any event, the weather ended up being fine and we spent most of the time in an open car. (9/11 definitely had kept the passenger count down.)

John and Carol Sulanke on the Silverton Train
The train laid over in Silverton for enough time for us to look around the tourist trap and have lunch and then retraced its route back to Durango arriving about 5:30pm. At this point we got into our car and headed to Pagosa Springs for the night, arriving in time for dinner at about 7:30pm.
In Silverton

Friday, October 5

The other remaining remnant of the old Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge empire is the Cumbres & Toltec line between Chama, NM and Antonito, CO. There are lots of ways to ride this line, but if one wants to ride the whole line in a day it requires a bus ride in one direction. However we had a magic token with us that allowed us to skip the bus ride. The token's name was John Arbuckle. He had ridden the line enough in the past that he was happy to chase the train in the car as best he could and then meet us at Antonito upon arrival. We spent about an hour in Chama looking at the old railroad facilities (it felt as if we had gone back in time) before boarding the train.

A timeless image in Chama, NM
As John had told us, the climb out of Chama was like nothing any of us had ever seen or experienced. We had double headed 2-8-2s (K-37 #497 and K-36 #487) for the climb out of Chama (7,871 feet) to Cumbres Pass (10,015 feet) in about 13 miles more or less. Spectacular, both in steam locomotive operation and scenery! We all agreed that if we had to do only one of the rides, this was a lot better than the Silverton. But that's like saying having a thousand dollars is better than having $900.

The climb to Cumbres Pass
We pulled into Antonito in the late afternoon (after switching trains at the lunch stop at Osier) and there was our friend John awaiting us. We spent some time photographing the switching around Antonito and then drove up to Alamosa where we checked into our respective hotels. Reg and I stayed at a Comfort Inn while Carol and John stayed at a Super 8 down the road. I remember dinner was at a very good Mexican Restaurant mainly because it was John's go-to restaurant in Alamosa (and thus we ate there several times over the years) and you could always count on him to pick a good Mexican restaurant in most any city we traveled to. Reg remembers he and I helping John to update his computer that night.
At Osier during the lunch break
Switching in Antonito, Colorado

Saturday, October 6

Today was mostly a day spent getting back to Denver. We started out heading East out of Alamosa over La Veta Pass. It would be a number of years before I was able to get the rail mileage through the pass. We then headed up I25 from Walsenburg arriving in Denver late afternoon after a stop for lunch in the old railroad depot in Colorado Springs. We transferred our luggage to the train and Reg turned in the rental car. A bunch of us went out for dinner and after saying goodbye to John, returned to the train for the night.

Dave Ingles had elected not to take the return trip and I was scheduled to occupy Bedroom "B" by myself. However, some time before the trip began, Nav Fosse had a problem with fitting people into the car. He had enough beds, but not in the correct combinations. He asked me if I would be willing to share Drawing Room "D" with two other friends, Sy Reich and Robbie Mandeville. I agreed, so I had a lower berth there instead.

Sunday, October 7 and Monday, October 8

The train left Denver at 6:30am and took the Union Pacific (former Kansas Pacific) route to Salina, KS (10:15pm scheduled, but as I recall we were running quite late), Topeka (2:10am), and into Kansas City (5:45am). From there we retraced our route to West Quincy, MO (11:45am) and then went up along the river to Burlington, IA (2:15pm) where we joined the main CB&Q route to Chicago, arriving at 8:00pm. (These times were all the scheduled times...I do not have a record of the actual times.)

Tuesday, October 9

I believe I spent Monday night on the train and then caught the subway out to O'Hare airport in time to catch my 10:50am flight to Pittsburgh. Arrival in Pittsburgh was scheduled for 1:14pm and (assuming I was on time) I picked my daughter Lizzy up at her school before heading home.

Epilog

Interestingly enough, all parts of the narrow gauge tour are still doable in 2017. The AAPRCO routings are much harder to come by, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility. What isn't possible (alas) is a guided tour with my dear friend John Arbuckle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Vancouver to Toronto with the Moonlighters

Prolog

For eight years my friend Bill Schafer (formerly a Director of Strategic Planning at the Norfolk Southern Railroad) has been loosely organizing a group trip on Via Rail's "The Canadian" from Vancouver to Toronto during the full moon in February. For those who aren't aware, The Canadian is one of the last significant passenger trains in North America that utilizes equipment mostly made in the 1950s. It completely evokes the feel of riding a streamliner in that era. Yet it provides scheduled twice a week (three times in Summer) service across Canada throughout the year.

View from  the Laurentide Park along the Thompson River Canyon
Why February, and why the full moon? Because traveling across Canada in the snow is magical, and if it isn't cloudy, the full moon allows one to see the land well into the night from the many dome cars on the train. Oh and the fare is significantly less in the off-season.

I first became aware of this trip because friends who were riding the 2014 edition posted pictures on Facebook or wrote about it elsewhere. I contacted Bill and in October of 2014 he sent me a copy of the announcement of the 2015 trip. After a discussion with my friend Neil Lang, we decided that the idea of a trip was a good one, but we could not make the schedule work. So he and I and another friend of his (Greg Sommers) made the trip a week after the Moonlighters that year. Big mistake. Although the Moonlighters train that year ran on time or early throughout, our train ran late or even later throughout. Although the Moonlighters got to Toronto pretty much as scheduled, our train was terminated in Winnipeg and we were flown to Toronto (after a tour of the city in -7F weather) due to a major derailment west of there that tied up the line for weeks.

The front end of our train taken from the rear end
I did not go on the 2016 edition because some friends and I had already planned an extensive trip to Switzerland shortly thereafter and it would be too much time away at once.

When I received the announcement of the 2017 Moonlighters from Bill in late August I immediately resolved to go and began to make reservations. I booked a Cabin for One (roomette) from Vancouver to Toronto leaving on February 10. I discovered that the senior price for the room was only a bit higher than the discounted price for the room and it give me more flexibility should I have to cancel...I treated the small extra cost as insurance.

I started looking at options for getting to Vancouver. I could fly on many different airlines and transfer at many different hubs. Taking into consideration winter weather and the possibility of not making a connection I had already determined to arrive in Vancouver a day ahead of time. (The train leaves at 8:30pm so theoretically I could have made a same day connection.) Being risk averse when it comes to flying I decided to go out of my way and switch plans in Los Angeles where weather delays were unlikely. I booked a nonstop on Southwest to LAX and another on Air Canada to YVR. I had previously asked for advice from frequently fliers on FaceBook and friend Steve Cohen in particular chided me for going so far out of my way. He suggested Denver as a better and shorter alternative. He also suggested that I was more likely to have trouble getting out of Pittsburgh than getting into and out of Denver. After thinking about it, and well within the 24 hour cancelation time for the other reservations, I made the change using United Airlines miles to book a first class ticket from Pittsburgh to Vancouver via Denver.

At the same time I booked my return flight from Toronto. Although the train was due in Toronto at 9:30am the flights available left at 2:10pm from the downtown Toronto airport or at 4:35pm out of Toronto Pearson. I elected the latter as a bit of extra time security. (Now that there is a high-speed rail link from Union Station to Pearson it is not a big deal to get there.) About mid-October I learned that they had changed the flight time to 6:45pm. Perhaps more of a cushion than I wanted but so be it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

We've had a relatively mild winter in Pittsburgh. Hardly any days with any significant snow. So it was not surprising to me that when I went to bed on Wednesday evening they were calling for 3 to 5 inches of snow overnight. I set my alarm for 4:15am (instead of 4:45am) and went to bed early. I woke to the alarm, finished packing, and looked outside at the snow covered streets. It being Pittsburgh 3-5 inches didn't worry me too much but I thought I'd get an early start anyway. I left the house at 4:45am and was at the airport and through security by roughly 5:45am (including dropping my car at an off airport valet.) I figure that the snow cost me at most 15 minutes. My flight boarded promptly at 6:30am and we were at the deicing pad shortly after the 7:05am scheduled departure.

United has new seats in first class (or at least did on the Airbus 320 that I was flying on.) The tray tables have holders for tablets so that you can sit them upright while watching a movie (which I did not do). They also appear to be impossible to stow properly without the assistance of a flight attendant (it happened to me on both flights. On the second one even the flight attendant couldn't figure it out.) But other than that the flight was fine. A few bumps here and there, but we landed in Denver and arrived at the gate a few minutes ahead of our scheduled 8:45am. The Denver to Vancouver gate was right across the concourse but since the boarding wouldn't begin until closer to 11am I elected to use a United Club pass I had which would expire at the end of this month. The Club was a few steps from the gate as well. I was not impressed by the amenities in the club, but it was a relaxing place to wait. As I was heading to the buffet to get a bit of cereal I hear "Chuck Weinstock!" and turn around. It was Dorothy Gregory who I have been friends with since at least the 1980s. She, and her husband Steve who is a VP at Iowa Pacific Holdings (and who I've known since the 1970s) were going to be on the Moonlighters as well. She was chatting with two other Moonlighter passengers from Denver, Dave and Jean Gross.

The flight to Vancouver boarded and left ahead of its 11:30am schedule, did not have to deice (it wasn't freezing and it was a bright sunny day in Denver) and arrived in Vancouver on time around 1:35pm. Immigration and Customs was a breeze. They have these new automated kiosks that do most of the work if you hold a Canadian or US passport, and there were plenty of them. I had planned to take SkyTrain to downtown, but since there were so many of us going to more or less the same place we elected to share a taxi instead. I was in my hotel room at the Hyatt Regency well before 3pm.

Much of the first day the Canadian Pacific parallels our route
I had arranged to meet some poker friends for dinner but it wasn't clear whether that was going to work because the area had gotten significant (and unusual) amounts of snow and ice. In the end friends Tanya and Jordan and Kelly had to cancel, but five of us: Becca and Dean and Mike and Murray and myself got together for dinner at a nearby Cactus Club and had a great time. Dean picked up the bill for all of us and we didn't even have to play CCR.

Needless to say by the time I got back to the hotel at around 8pm I was ready to collapse. I stayed up for a while in an attempt to switch time zones but was fast asleep before 9:30pm.

Friday, February 10, 2017

When traveling to the West coast I usually wake up early in the morning. Not this time. I didn't roll out of bed until nearly 8am. I showered and dressed and returned a call from my doctor regarding a test that I took on Wednesday. I then went across the driveway from the hotel to a Rexall drugstore to pick up some medicine he suggested and then stopped at a Tim Horton's to pick up some breakfast. I took my time in the room and checked out finally at noon. After checking my bags with the bell hop, I walked several blocks to The Keg where I met (for the first time) Tom Simpson. Tom DeJoseph had invited me to join them but he was not there yet. Sitting at the table with Tom S. was Ron Batory who is the President of Conrail. I had met him and his lovely assistant Francine on the Jersey Devil two years ago. Alas Francine was not with him. Shortly the other Tom and Bill and Linda Schafer arrived. Linda and I split an order of sliders and some fries as we knew dinner was going to happen at 5pm. Tom S. picked up the check for all of us.

I went back to the hotel, spent a bit of time in the lobby, and then retrieved my bag and arrived at Pacific Central Station at about 3:30pm. I checked my bag and chatted with Mark Metz and Neal Payton among others. I met many other people in the group while waiting for 4:45 when we all (or most of us) walked over to Campagnolo, a family style Italian restaurant about a block from the station. The meal was great. I sat with, among others, Allen Rider and his wife, Don Phillips, and Gordon Mott. Good conversation and good food.

We had been told to retrieve our bags by 7 and that the train would start to board about 7:30. The Prestige and coach passengers boarded at 7:30(ish) but the rest of us were left hanging. At about 8pm they announced that there was going to be a delay in boarding the rest of us. Apparently there was a car that had not been service or stocked. I'm thinking it's was the extra dome car added in the last two days. (We now have a train with 2 diners, 3 dome cars, and a Park car.) While we were waiting they pulled the front part of the train out of the station and added it to the rear part so that it was a single train when we began to board at 8:30. The train left at 9:00, 30 minutes late. I was in the Park Car by then.

Along Kamloops Lake

The Park Car is a round ended observation car with a dome and lounge area. The cars that Via refurbished (such as this one) also has Prestige Class rooms, plus the one handicapped room on the train. The dome had markings that indicate that the front two rows of seats are reserved for the Prestige Class passengers. (There was another full car of Prestige rooms ahead of the Park car.) That rule was enforced as necessary. I rode in the Park car dome until we were well past the Fraser River bridge and gave up my seat when a couple came up looking for seats and went back to my roomette to get organized and ready for bed. I expected we'd be in or past Kamloops when I awoke in the morning.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Well so much for that. When I woke this morning we were over 5 hours late. It turns out that while I was sleeping our train was pretty much creeping along for at least two reasons: 1) a freight had broken down in front of us and it took a fair amount of time for it to get running again, and 2) due to the massive snow in previous days followed by the significant warming, the railroad had a fear of avalanches occurring in the Fraser River Canyon and all trains were running under slow orders. (Paralleling route 5 was closed all day.) So I when I awoke at 7am we were just beyond North Bend instead of just beyond Kamloops. The lack of high speed motion no doubt added to the restfulness of my sleep but the 5 hour price we paid was a big one.

After dressing, at about 7:30am I headed to the dining car for breakfast. I was seated with Bill and Linda Schafer, and Bill Strong (who I had met the day before). We had four choices for breakfast. I chose the bacon and eggs with hashbrowns and toast, but almost went for the stuffed French toast with compote. During breakfast we got to choose our seatings for lunch and dinner. I picked the second seating for both.

An advantage of our late running is that for the first time I got to see the Thompson River Canyon which is normally traversed at night. It was a bright sunny morning and the vistas from the Park car dome were spectacular. It was a very enjoyable morning. At Kamloops we were able to get off the train for few minutes while it was being serviced and I was able to take some pictures that I would not normally have gotten had we run on time.

At lunch I sat with Steve and Dorothy Gregory. I forget who the fourth at our table was, but the conversation was lively. I had the shrimp and scallops over a cranberry chutney that was really good. It came with a small caesar salad and apple cobbler and ice cream for dessert.

I spent the afternoon in one of the forward domes, just for variety, and managed to doze off until everyone started to get excited about the approaching Pyramid Falls (which I was awake enough to photograph as we went by.) I then had a nice conversation with Linda Schafer and Neal Payton in the downstairs lounge before heading to the Park car for a pre-dinner libation. During that libation I talked a fair amount with Susan Fox from Chicago who I had met almost a quarter of a century ago during the St. Louis NRHS convention. We sat together on part of the epic trip from St. Louis to Pine Bluff (ask me about chiggers some time). She mentioned that it was her first excursion.

At Kamloops
As we approached Jasper they made the second call for dinner...which meant that I would not be able to get off the train during the hour plus servicing stop. Since it was dark and not particularly moonlit this was not a big deal to me. I dined with Tom DeJoseph, Don Phillips, and Jason Kuehn. I've known the first two since the 1970s. I just met Jason. The choices for dinner included rack of lamb, salmon, and duck, plus a vegetarian dish. I would have been happy with any of the first three, but decided on the rack of lamb which was outstanding. Dessert was a chocolate caramel torte which I could not finish.

As I wrote this we were about an hour west of Jasper, Alberta at around 9:30pm MT. We were supposed to leave Jasper at 5:30pm but are running about 3 hours late. Still making up two hours of delay is pretty impressive. Tomorrow I'll wake up (hopefully) in the Central time zone as we enter Saskatchewan. Although there is an early continental breakfast available, it being Sunday they serve a "come when you want" Sunday brunch from 9:30am local time. They do not have a lunch service. I'll just have to suffer until dinner.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

One of the advantages of riding with the Moonlighters is that we have a lot of railroad officials and customers aboard. This means that the operating railroad (Canadian National) actually pays attention to the performance of this train. Almost every freight we encountered was "in the hole" waiting for us. In a previous trip on this line almost every freight we encountered passed us while we were "in the hole" waiting for it. Big difference. When he got off the train in Winnipeg, Andrew Fox talked to a crewman about something and was asked "who are you people?" They were amazed at the priority given our train. Later crew on the radio were discussing the great expediting of the train and said "we ought to invite these folks to ride with us every second Friday" (so that we'd be on the train with the same crew) to which the other person answered "since about half the passengers have radios on I think you just did!"

Pyramid Falls
All of this helps to explain the fact that we were able to make up two hours of our delay in something like 12 hours of travel yesterday and reached Jasper only about 3 hours late. We maintained roughly the same level of lateness out of Edmonton, but then made up all of the lost time (3 hours!) by Saskatoon (a bit over 300 miles). That made for a very rough night in terms of rocking and rolling but I awoke at about 8am near Biggar.

Since brunch service didn't begin until 9:30 I elected to bundle up and get off the train briefly at Saskatoon where the temperature was 24 degrees. It was good to breath the fresh air and walk/slide around a little on the snow covered platform, but I soon reboarded. At 9:30 they made the first call for brunch and I joined Tom and Don at a table for three. I had banana pecan pancakes with bacon and a mimosa (complimentary). There were also lunch-type items on the menu. After breakfast I settled down to a tough morning of watching the prairie roll by from the dome and chatted with several friends including Ed Ellis.

At 2pm, Bill Schafer had organized a "seminar" in the lower level of the rearmost dome and I decided to attend. I heard interesting talks about the building of the Canadian Nation route (then Grand Trunk) to Winnipeg, and a prairie branch line in the Edmonton area. Also, one of the passengers worked for the consulting firm Oliver Wyman and gave a fascinating talk about the implications of over-the-road automation for the railroads. Finally, Bill Schafer gave a talk about rebuilding the Tennessee River Bridge north of Chattanooga after a collapse in March of 1916.

Rack of Lamb on Saturday night
At that point it was time for the first seating for dinner, a bit early because they wanted to get the two seatings in before we reach Winnipeg which looked to be earlier than the scheduled 8:45pm. I again sat, by chance, with Tom. We were joined by a woman, Agnes, from Winnipeg. Somebody on the train who was not part of our group. I ordered the Prime Rib which was a little more well done than the advertised medium rare, but otherwise was quite good. Dessert was a small piece of lemon cake.

I spent an enjoyable few hours after dinner in the Park car dome chatting with Tom and Bill Schafer and others and watched us approach Winnipeg. About the time the attendant came up and said we would arrive in 30 minutes, we could practically see the station. About 5-10 minutes later we arrived...at 7:55pm, 50 minutes early.

We were told that we could get off the train to see the sights of Winnipeg but that if we didn't reboard by 9pm that we'd have to wait until 10pm. The sights nearest the station were the Forks (a tourist area) and the Fort Garry Hotel. Neal Payton and I decided to head to the hotel where we had some Fort Garry Dark and enjoyed listening to the pianist and singer. I also made use of the wifi but left in time to reboard by 9 so that I could take my shower before the train started to move. Others boarded at 10, and by 10:33 (3 minutes late) we were on the move again. Others were in the lounge, but I was beat went to bed. The train should be in Ontario when I get up in the morning.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I awoke during the night and realized that the train had been stopped for a very long time. I muttered to myself "so much for traveling with the pros" and then I looked out the window and see that we are (and had been) in Sioux Lookout well ahead of our departure time. I went back to sleep and was awakened by the speaker in my room with a "Ladies and Gentlemen this is the second call for breakfast." I quickly dressed and had my breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast. The morning went by very quickly with good conversation in the dome and before I knew it, it was time for a bison burger topped off with some wonderful black cherry ice cream at the second seating for lunch. (Not bison burger a la mode, though you can read the previous sentence that way if it amuses you.)

At Hornpayne
Shortly after lunch the train arrived in Hornpayne, a crew change and servicing stop. We were due at 3:05pm but arrived closer to 2:30pm. We were due out at 4:10pm so the on board crew gave us all instructions to be back on board no later than 4pm. Two years ago the train had left some folks behind at this stop. They caught up to the train about 8 hours later after a long taxi ride (the train waited for them somewhere.) Some of us went off to explore the city. Others of us (including me) spent some time taking pictures. In any event I was on board well before 4pm and made use of the cellular signal (not available in may areas West of Winnipeg) to catch up on email, etc. Then it was back to the dome for a Fort Garry Dark before dinner. While in the dome I chatted for a long time with Susan Fox and Rick and Suzanne Wilson. Rick and Suzanne had spent three weeks in Switzerland a year or so ago and we shared stories of our common experiences.

The hero of this story...and me
Just West of Oba (where the CN crosses the Algoma Central) we took a siding and waited for about an hour for two freights...the first time that has happened to us all trip to my knowledge. At Oba we passed another freight and shortly after Oba yet another. So as I write this we are about 40 minutes late, but they are still predicting an early arrival in to Toronto. This would be a bad thing because it drops us there just in the middle of rush hour and they won't let our train occupy a platform for very long (which means an early awakening if this holds true.)

I spent some time in the Park car talking with friends about possible trips in the future and then turned in around 10:30pm.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I awoke twice during the night. Once at Capreol, where the train is serviced and once around Parry Sound. We were running a bit late at that point. When I got up at about 7am I found that we were still running a bit late and had not yet made the (due at 6:49am) stop at Washago. We stopped there at 7:10 as I was shaving. This likely meant that we would be on time or perhaps only a little bit early into Toronto, but not ridiculously so. I finished packing and then went to the diner for a cheese omelet breakfast with Gordon Mott. I spent a few last minutes in the Park car as we approached Toronto at the end of the commuter rush and then went back to my roomette for our 9:25am (5 minute early) arrival. Given the lousy flight connections available, I would have preferred a noon arrival but that's certainly better than the 9pm arrivals that have happened recently!

Since I had lots of time to kill because my flight wasn't until 6:45pm, I thought about taking a train ride to Kingston and back. After all, what better thing to do than to ride a train after four days on one! However, when I looked further at the schedule I decided not to put myself through the worry of missing my flight due to a late return. That and the fare for a few hour joy ride was quite high...over $200. So plan B was to join a tour of the nearby railroad museum that a passenger put together at the very last minute.

While waiting for the noon tour I spent time in the Via Business Class lounge talking with fellow passenger Ira Silverman and his wife. The lounge was a very comfortable place to spend time. So comfortable that I left my Kindle behind when I went to join the tour. There were about 20 of us in the tour which was supposed to head to the railroad museum nearby (normally closed) after a tour of Union Station. The tour ran so long that I never actually got to the museum. I learned some interesting facts about Union Station though...such as it was built over 15 years and it has so far taken 17 years to rehab it! Also when it was built no trains came to it for a while...no tracks. The city and the railroads could not agree on a viaduct arrangement. This led Will Rodgers to joke that this was the first time he'd encountered a train that could not find the station.

At about 1:15 I received a text from Steve Gregory and went to join him and Dorothy at a bar at the Royal York for lunch. After a very excellent lunch I went to the airport on the Union Pearson Express. Senior fare was only $6 and it was quite quick...taking about 25 minutes. Once I found out which terminal and walked to the customs area checking in and US customs was a breeze (thanks to Global Entry) and I was fairly quickly in the Priority Pass lounge where I had a two hour wait before I needed to walk to my gate (at Pearson the gates they use for the Pittsburgh flights are a good seven minute walk from a point that takes about 10 minutes to get to!) In the lounge I discovered that my Kindle was missing and called Via. After several minutes they found it and then the problem became retrieving it as they would not simply mail it to me. Thankfully Steve Gregory agreed to pick it up from Via and mail it to me after he gets home tomorrow.

As was the case with all flights and trains this trip, my flight home was early, landing at 7:39. I quickly retrieved my car, and stopped for dinner before heading home. I arrived home about 9:30 happy about the whole trip. I want to do the Moonlighters next year if possible! I'd love to get Barb to join me. I already know the answer but it doesn't mean I won't ask. I am sure she'd have as much fun as everyone else did on the trip.

Addendum

Daddy's home and all is well with the world
Tom DeJoseph went to the trouble of recording information about all of the cars on the train. For those who are interested:

#2. The Canadian (Moonlighters)
Vancouver to Toronto
Feb 10, 2017-Feb 14, 2017
VIA 6409 GPA-30H
VIA 6434 GPA-30H
8613 Baggage
8103 Coach
8507 Skyline Dome
8414 Paliser (diner)
8338 Rogers Manor
8302 Allan Manor
8317 Cornwall Manor
8315 Carleton Manor
8327 Fraser Manor
8336 Monck Manor
8500 Skyline Dome
8515 Skyline Dome
8409 Fairholme (diner)
8324 Dunsmuir Manor
8334 MacDonald Manor
8325 Elgin Manor
8319 Dawson Manor
88213 Chateau Lauzon
88709 Laurentide Park
All Manor series cars are 4 roomette, 6 double bedroom, 3 section
Chateau car is Prestige series with 6 bedrooms
Park car is a Dome, round end observation with 1 handicapped bedroom and 1 Prestige bedroom