Sunday, November 1, 2020

The First Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter

I'm writing this from my own memories augmented by a fairly detailed "trip report" written by John Harmon shortly after the trip ended.

The Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter in Strasbourg, SK

In July of 2000 my friend John Harmon sent out a report of a trip that he and his wife Elaine and John Wicks had just taken on the Canadian Pacific Railroad's Royal Canadian Pacific luxury excursion train. The RCP train was used for a multi-day sightseeing circle trip out of Calgary with off-train excursions enroute (e.g., a visit to Emerald Lake, a round of golf on some trips, etc.). During the trip John raised the idea of chartering the train and taking it off its normal route for those of us who collect "rare mileage". Unlike most railroads, the Canadian Pacific was receptive to the idea and on October 1 I received an email from John announcing the first Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter to take place from May 31 to June 4, 2001 at an expected price of $3,200 (US) including all meals, bar service, and tips for the crew. I signed up immediately and snagged one of the only 18 available spots. Ultimately there was enough demand for two sections (the second to run later in June) and the price crept up to $3,850 (or $4,350 for one of the few single rooms), partially because they added an extra night onboard to facilitate a morning arrival back in Calgary.

Add caption


Being a true luxury train aimed at an upscale market the normal service required jackets and ties at dinner. Our group, while able to afford the tariff mostly consisted of those who were not used to dressing for dinner and the railroad modified their dress code to "smart casual" which was alright with me (though I'd have been happy either way.)


Here is the detailed itinerary as published in late February 2001. Other than because of operational issues we pretty much adhered to it:


Thursday, May 31, 2001
LvCalgary09.00Train departs from CPR Pavilion in downtown Calgary
ArRed Deer11.1596.9 miles Crew change
LvRed Deer11.30
ArHardisty15.45152.4 miles Crew change
LvHardisty15.45
ArWilkie21.00131.4 miles Overnight stop.
Total miles Day 1 = 380.7
Friday, June 1, 2001
LvWilkie07.00
ArSaskatoon10.4599.6 miles Crew change
LvSaskatoon11.00
ArLanigan12.4575.8 miles
LvLanigan12.55
ArRegina16.25104.4 miles Crew change
LvRegina16.40
ArMoose Jaw17.4041.6 miles Overnight stop.
Total miles Day 2 = 321.4
Saturday, June 2, 2001
LvMoose Jaw07.00
ArSwift Current09.30110.4 miles Crew change
LvSwift Current09.45
ArDunmore13.45140.7 miles Crew change
LvDunmore14.15
ArLethbridge18.45116.4 miles Overnight stop. (Engines change ends)
Total miles Day 3 = 367.5
Sunday, June 3, 2001
LvLethbridge06.00
ArMontana06.309.7 miles
LvMontana06.40
ArNemiskam10.1074.5 miles Engines change ends
LvNemiskam10.30
ArStirling13.1557.0 miles Engines change ends
LvStirling13.45
ArCoutts15.3046.9 miles Engines change ends
LvCoutts16.00
ArLethbridge18.3074.1 miles Crew change
LvLethbridge19.00
ArOkotoks21.3091.9 miles Overnight stop
Total miles Day 4 = 354.1 (142.2 duplicated)
Monday June 4, 2001
LvOkotoks08.00
ArCalgary10.0026.2 miles End of trip.
Total miles day 4 = 26.2
Grand Total miles = 1,449.9 (142.1 duplicated)


In early April of that year I had surgery on my left shoulder and was still in the middle of recovery when I boarded a Delta flight to MSP where I changed to a flight to Calgary. Because I was unable to easily manage my carry on luggage myself the airline granted me the boon of early boarding. Upon arrival in Calgary I took a taxi to the Palliser Hotel (a Fairmont, formerly a Canadian Pacific Hotel) to await friends Rick Moser and Dave Ingles. The train would leave the next morning from the Canadian Pacific Pavilion that is part of the hotel.

We were greeted on Thursday morning by David Walker who managed the Royal Canadian Pacific operation and who would be acting as the official host for the trip. He took us to the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, where the business car fleet is kept, and gave us some time to look around at some of the CPR memorabilia before giving a brief welcoming speech and we boarded the train to find that bellmen from the Palliser had already brought our luggage to our rooms. We departed a few minutes ahead of our 9am scheduled departure time.
Rick Moser, Dave Ingles, Chuck Weinstock
playing Rail Baron

Dan Carter, Rick Moser, John Wicks, Chuck Weinstock
playing Rail Baron

From front to back our train consisted of two diesels, FP7a 1400 and F9b 1900, business car Assiniboine for David Walker and some of the staff, a baggage car to provide head-end power to the rest of the train and to carry supplies for the gourmet meal service, Killarney to provide sleeping space for the crew and also some lounge space, the N. R. Crump which had four bedrooms each with two lower berths and two more with a single berth -- each room with shower, Van Horne with two double bedrooms and a single, a dining area used as a game room -- we played several games of Rail Baron here -- and an open platform, Royal Wentworth, running backwards, so it's open platform adjoined that of the Van Horne, with additional lounge space, and a dining area, and finally Mount Stephen, which contained the kitchen, a large dining room, a small library known as the Churchill Cubby, because that is the area that Winston Churchill used on his postwar tour of Canada for smoking his cigar, thinking, and perhaps having a drop or two, and a large lounge area with a huge open platform. Rick and I shared a room in the N. R. Crump on the first night, but found the ventilation system lacking and were moved to another room for the remainder of the trip.

At Swift Current

Our first meal is lunch consisted of smoked salmon linguini was served with an appropriate wine pairing which was quite nice. As some of us were getting ready to leave the table they brought in the main course -- if we had bothered to count the silverware in front of us we would have realized that there was more to come. The grilled venison medallion was terrific.

From Calgary we headed to Red Deer, south of Edmonton and then to Hardisty where, while the crew was being changed we were able to get off the train to take pictures at the depot. From there we headed to our overnight stop in Wilkie, just as the sun set.


At Paterson Grain in Dunmore

The next day (Friday) we headed to Saskatoon and after a caesar salad and herb-crusted sea bass lunch had a photo runby at a grain elevator at Strasbourg. We had a few more photo stops during the day and arrived in Moose Jaw with time to take pictures of servicing the train before a dinner consisting of roast corn wild rice cakes with salmon and beef tenderloin.

On Saturday we continued on the main line to Swift Current. About a mile east of Dunmore, where we’d be leaving the main line to head toward Lethbridge, we stopped and back into the siding of the N. M. Paterson grain elevator, the third largest in Alberta. After lunch (gin and tomato soup and free range chicken supreme), we were given the full tour. We crossed the famous high bridge near Lethbridge just after dinner (wild mushroom and vegetable strudel with roast quail and grilled salmon and scallops) and tied up there for the night.

On the High Bridge near Lethbridge

On Sunday a GP38 was cut in behind the F-units in order to give us bi-directional capability on the Stirling and Coutts Subs. After a runby on the High Bridge we turned south on the Stirling Sub, which we followed through Stirling and then east to Nemiskan, the end of operational track. We saw no signs of any business on this branch. At the end of track, we took a group photo on (and beneath) the platform of the Mount Stephen, with the F-units posed alongside. A lunch of roasted pork tenderloin was served on the return trip to Stirling and after reaching there we headed to Coutts, on the U.S. border. After running the engines around, we backed down to within 500 feet of the border. (The second section, run a few weeks later, backed right to the border--something those who rode continue to lord over the rest of us, but those folks didn't get quite the level of meal service that we did--a decent trade.) By the time we got to the border, the weather turned very nasty, with wind and heavy rain so no pictures were taken off the train. A final dinner (grilled tiger prawns, herb crusted rack of lamb) was served on the way back to Lethbridge. Due to slow orders we ran over three hours late and didn't arrive in Okotoks until the wee hours of Monday morning.

At the end of the Nemiskan branch

On Monday morning we made the short run to back to Calgary where we visited the CPR gift shop nearby. Some of our group toured the CPR Communications Center, but I (and others) rode the light rail out to Calgary airport to catch my return flight to Pittsburgh already wishing that I could experience the Royal Canadian Pacific again. As it happens there will be, I believe, a total of five charters and I will have the good fortune to ride three of them. Perhaps I'll write about those some other time.

Group photo at Nemiskan
(Group photo left to right: Tom Silvio, John Wicks, Don Clayton, Paul Morrissey, Bill Crawford, Elaine Harmon, John Harmon, Ed Graham, Dave Ingles, Rick Moser, George Burton, Chuck Weinstock, Phil Kondzelia, Keith White, Dan Carter, Ann Atherton, John Atherton, Dave Walker)

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Riding the Florida East Coast and Auto Train

My friend J. David Ingles passed away on October 4, 2020 and I've been spending a lot of time remembering the good times we had together. The below is the story of a trip I've never written about. This is mostly from memory so please forgive errors.

The AAPRCO Florida East Coast Train


When Lizzy was growing up she and Barbara went all out on Halloween. From inside the house they showed spooky lights out the front window and played spooky sounds out an upstairs window. On the ground the front yard was throughly decorated including a coffin that a nephew would jump out of and a "table" where my brother-in-law would sit with his masked head through a hole and talk to kids as they took candy from a bowl in front of it. Everyone in costume and makeup of course. One year a man came up and scolded Barb for scaring his five year old too much. I mention all of this to illustrate that they took Halloween seriously. When planning the trip I'm writing about here I had to take that into account. 

Lizzy and Barb, Halloween 2009

The trip in question was centered upon riding an AAPRCO (American Association of Private Railway Car Owners) special train over the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to near Cocoa Beach, Florida. The trip originally was to include a ride over the railroad that NASA uses to move things to the space center at Cape Canaveral, but that part got eliminated at the last minute due to security concerns. The train was running from Washington to Cocoa Beach and return but most of us "mileage collectors" only "needed" the section out of Jacksonville and several of the car owners were selling day space for that segment. The three of us had reserved seats in the car Dover Harbor for the day.



The Dover Harbor


Actually, I didn't "need" the mileage in question. I had been over it several times on family trips on the City of Miami and the South Wind prior to 1963 when the Florida East Coast stopped running passenger trains after a fairly violent strike. But it had been nearly 50 years prior so I was pretty interested in riding again.

As usual with Dave coming from Waukesha, WI, Rick from Chicago (but having to work), and me from Pittsburgh (having to work and having to deal with Halloween) the logistics were complex. I had originally planned to fly, but we ultimately decided that I would drive to Charleston, WV where I would meet Dave arriving on the Cardinal which was due at 8:16am on Sunday, November 1 and then we'd drive to Jacksonville where we'd meet up with Rick who would be flying in from Chicago.

It's a 3.5 hour drive to Charleston from Pittsburgh meaning that I'd have to leave at around 4:45am to meet Dave's train if it was on-time. The better alternative was to go down the afternoon the day before, but that's where Halloween got in the way. Ultimately Dave and I agreed that I'd leave Pittsburgh around 6:30am and would get to the Amtrak station in Charleston when I got there...likely after 10am but for sure before noon when the station closed. In the event Dave's train was late and I ended up waiting (a little while) for him.

We spent some time exploring and taking pictures of trains in the downtown Charleston area, before heading for Charlotte, NC. via Interstate 77, stopping along the way to take more pictures and for lunch at a Steak and Shake and a depot hunt in Wytheville VA and visiting its historic district. Mid-afternoon found us in Charlotte, NC where we rode the light rail from it's southern end to downtown and back before heading to Rock Hill, SC where we checked into a Hampton Inn, had a great BBQ dinner, and called it a night after a long day of driving. (I must have had a camera failure because I cannot find any photos documenting this or the next day.)

The next morning, Monday, we left Rock Hill and went to Columbia, SC. Dave was interested in seeing the "new" (since the last time either of us had ridden through there on a train) configuration of rail lines and to get some pictures of local rail operations. From there we went to Folkston, GA to visit the Folkson Funnel railroad viewing platform where as I recall we saw no trains before we decided we had to head to Jacksonville to meet up with Rick that evening at the Comfort Suites near the airport.

The AAPCO Train

Bright and early on Tuesday morning the AAPRCO train left Jacksonville with us aboard the Dover Harbor. The train was scheduled into Cocoa (actually City Point) at 11:10am and was scheduled to stay there until the next morning when it headed north to St. Augustine (stopping for a tour lasting several hours) and then onto Jacksonville for a late afternoon arrival. Since we were day riders we elected to rent a car upon arrival at Cocoa and drive back to my car in Jacksonville. This was aided by Rick's cousin's husband who picked us up train side and, after a lunch, took us to a nearby Avis location. We spent the rest of the day taking photos along the Florida East Coast before getting back to our hotel.

As you've read this you may wonder why we decided to drive to Florida? The three of us had decided that we wanted to ride the Auto Train from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA just outside of Washington. In order to ride Auto Train we needed a car to do so. We spent the morning chasing the AAPRCO train our of Cocoa and then drove to Sanford, stopping at a Steak and Shake before turning the car into Amtrak for loading onto the train at the Auto Train station. As I recall the train left late, but only stopped for crew changes and was actually into Lorton ahead of schedule the next morning. We, of course, had sleeping car accommodations on the train and had a good time at a wine and cheese tasting in the lounge and then dinner in the diner and a Continental breakfast the next morning.


Offloading my car from Auto Train in Lorton



Another goal of this trip was for Dave and I to ride the B&O line into Frederick, MD. This was the end of a MARC commuter operation out of Washington Union Station that only ran inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. Rick, having already ridden the line, dropped us in Washington and then spent the day doing other things before picking us up in Frederick. While he was doing that Dave and I had lunch in a restaurant in the station concourse (surrounded by people who were in town protesting Obamacare and thought we were one of them.) We spent the night in a nearby Hilton Garden Inn.

Our MARC commuter train in Frederick

The Capitol Limited at Harpers Ferry

The plan for Thursday was to get to the South Branch Inn, in Romney, WV making various stops for photos along the way at Point of Rocks, Harpers Ferry, and elsewhere, I think including my first Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich near Winchester, VA. The South Branch Inn was an interesting, newish, hotel seemingly filled with frackers judging by the pickups in the lot (and mud on the floors.)


Both end of the South Branch Valley's Potomac Eagle

The goal for Friday was to get back to Pittsburgh, but not before Rick and Dave had a chance to ride the South Branch Valley railroad from Petersburg, VA to Green Spring, WV (near Cumberland, MD). I had ridden this line over 20 years earlier on a round trip photographers special so this time I had the duty of dropping them off and one end and picking them up at the other. I spent the interim chasing and photographing their train. After I picked them up we went to nearby Confluence, PA to visit with friends Bill and Pam Metzger. We dropped Rick at the Embassy Suites near the Pittsburgh airport after having a farewell dinner at a nearby Cracker Barrel and then Dave and I went back to my house where we sat and talked with Barb and Lizzy before I dropped Dave off at the Amtrak station around 11:15pm in time to catch the Capitol Limited for home.

Another great road trip in the memory banks.