Thursday, November 19, 2015

3 Budds, 7 days, and 2446 miles


Earlier this month a friend sent me a picture of a group of us on a 1987 railroad excursion that brought back memories (you'll find the picture later on in this story). I decided to write those memories up. Since I did not have contemporaneous notes, I was on my own. After I completed my writeup I remembered that one of our group, Dave Ingles, had written his own report on the trip in the February 1988 issue of Trains Magazine. The article was titled "3 Budds, 7 days, and 2446 miles" which is a great summary (and which I am borrowing for the title of this piece.) Our reports do not differ in any meaningful manner, though I used his to add a few missing details to mine.

Early in 1987 the West Coast Railway Association (WCRA) ran an advertisement in Trains Magazine's "Running Extra" section for a tour of most of the British Columbia Railway System. The only part of the line (which stretched from North Vancouver to Fort Nelson) not covered was the then out of service Dease Lake Extension. The price for a seven day tour was $675 CDN (about $475 US at the time) including all hotels and most meals, a real bargain even in 1987. A separate excursion the day before, covered the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway on Vancouver Island for a mere $99 CDN (though my credit card was charged $99 US and Mellon Bank would not fix the overcharge...I've not banked with them since.)

I was in the midst of getting divorced from my first wife, Nikki, and in need of a vacation, so I jumped at the chance to join a number of friends from around the country on this trip.
E&N and BCR routes covered

The Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway

I flew to Vancouver on September 11, 1987, a day ahead of the E&N excursion and made my way to the motel my friends and I had agreed on in North Vancouver. The next morning the WCRA bus picked me and others up and we caught a BC Ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island where a train of Via Budd RDC cars awaited. Once aboard, the train took us north to Courtenay, BC and south to Victoria where we caught another BC Ferry back to Vancouver. It is the only time I've ridden on any of the E&N and will likely remain so as the line is presently out of service.

Our Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway Train at Victoria, BC
At the same time that this was happening, some of my friends (Dave Ingles from Waukesha, WI, Rick Moser from Naperville, IL, and John Arbuckle from Hutchinson, KS) were riding a Canadian National mixed train on the ex-NAR from Fort McMurray, AB south to Edmonton and then flying to Vancouver. We met up at the motel that evening.

Leaving North Vancouver

The next morning (September 13) we made our way to the North Vancouver station of the BCR. In those days the BCR had a regularly scheduled train between North Vancouver and Lillooet (continuing on to Prince George several days a week). Our three Budd RDC cars were running on the rear of the regularly scheduled train as far as Lillooet. At Lillooet our cars would separate from the others and continue on. The first of our three cars contained a cab for the engineer and fireman, a small galley, and "first class" seats. The second car consisted of reasonably cushioned standard coach seats. The third consisted of less reasonably cushioned commuter seats. A group of us quickly settled into a three sets of two seats on each side of the aisle in the second car. In addition to the names already mentioned our group consisted of Dave's father John, Joe McMillan then from the Chicago area and now the operator of McMillan Publications out of Arvada, CO. Steve Patterson of Arvada, CO, John and Marcia Lucas out of Albuquerque, Bill and Luanne Lea then of Prescott, AZ, John Garden of BC, and Roger Puta of San Francisco.

All 11 of us: Roger, John G., Rick, Joe, John A., Dave, Bill, Luanne, Marcia, John L.
John I., Steve, and me
To Prince George and on to Fort Nelson

The scenery along the entire BCR is breathtaking, pretty much everywhere. There were lots of photo runbys every day. Meals were decent (except that they were mostly chicken based which was bad for Joe, who didn't eat chicken...he thought he'd be saved the day they announced that dinner would be lasagna, but it turned out to be chicken lasagna.) The hotel rooms every night were decent, or as decent as could be expected given that they were mostly in small towns.

Our train, no doubt crossing the Peace River
For me the "new mileage" began when we passed the station at Pemberton. I had ridden a steam excursion to there during the 1978 NRHS Convention but had never ridden any further.

The first day we rode from North Vancouver to Prince George. The second day we rode to Fort St. James where we were treated to a tour of the town (including a bear "dressing"). The Dease Lake Extension went about 100 miles to the northwest from here, but we could not ride it because it was out of service at the time. We reversed direction from Fort St. James and continued on. It was night and raining as we rode the McKenzie branch into the company town of the same name before tying up for the night in Chetwynd. The third day we rode east to Dawson Creek (on the border with Alberta) then back through Chetwynd to Fort St. John. At this stop I managed to temporarily lose my suitcase because it did not get loaded onto the bus/van that took us to the hotel. Luckily, once I discovered this, I was able to recover it where it sat in the mud near the train.
A tour of Fort St. James
The fourth day we rode to the northernmost point of the line, Fort Nelson. This evening I am sure that dinner was off the train in a real restaurant. The local chamber of commerce put on a pageant for us that some of us did not attend because the real show was outside--an incredible view of the northern lights.

Did I mention the scenery? (On the Tumbler Ridge branch)
At this point it is probably worth discussing the morning ritual of our group. Early on the first day of the trip we had all agreed that the seats in the second car of the train were the best on the train. We also determined that we wanted to continue to sit together. Obtaining 11 seats together given the first come first served seating policy was potentially a challenge that we solved by having someone go to the train ahead of the bus/vans to grab the seats. We had various means of accomplishing this, but the first one I remember is when Rick and I finished breakfast early and walked to the train (along the tracks if I remember correctly) in Chetywnd at the beginning of the third day of the trip.

End of track in Fort Nelson
In Fort Nelson the hotel was way too far from the train to walk. After breakfast I went up to the front desk and asked the woman behind the desk if the hotel shuttle would be willing to take a few of us to the train. She responded by handing me the keys to their van, along with $8, and asked me to buy gas and shuttle some of the passengers (especially those with mobility difficulties) to the train along with our group. I ended up making 1.5 trips to the yard where the train was sitting and left the van in front of the yard office with the keys in the ignition when I was done, as instructed. Talk about hospitality.

A mid-day stop in Dawson Creek
Back to North Vancouver including an afternoon on Tumbler Ridge

The fifth day of the trip saw us heading back to Fort St. John and the sixth to Prince George. But before getting to Prince George we made a detour down the 82 mile long electrified Tumbler Ridge branch which had opened in 1983 to serve a pair of coal mines. (This branch closed in 2000 after the mines it served closed.) The most interesting lunch of the trip was served along this branch in a most interesting fashion. Our train had to wait in a siding near the west portal of either the 5.6 mile long Table Tunnel or the 3.7 mile long Wolverine Tunnel while we waited for a train from the east to pass us. It was a long wait and they decided to give us our box lunches to eat outside while awaiting the arrival of that train. We were warned to watch out for bears and then let loose. The rails were along a hillside and most of us climbed to good vantage points to take pictures of the oncoming train as it left the tunnel, and opened our lunches to discover a box full of pastries. When we later reboarded the train we were all on a sugar high. No bears showed before the train we were awaiting, and we all got our pictures. Unfortunately a disgruntled member of the WCRA staff, Doug Cummings, decided to step into everyone's picture just before the train appeared, but it was still a memorable few hours. We reboarded the train to continue to the end of the branch and then came back the way we had gone and continued on to Prince George for the night.

After a pastry lunch on Tumbler Ridge, this appeared
The next morning (the seventh day) we were, as usual, faced with the problem of obtaining our seats. The problem was simplified somewhat because John and Dave Ingles, and John Arbuckle had decided to leave the tour to fly down to California to ride an excursion on the Northwestern Pacific before the line was abandoned. This particular morning, Joe, Rick, and I left the hotel early by taxi and made our way to the car shops in the BCR yard. We boarded the train there and had our seats reserved before the train pulled into the passenger station where the rest of our gang and everyone else waited. The expression on some faces as we pulled in and they realized that we were already aboard was priceless.

There were two events of interest on this particular day. The first concerned a passenger, Steve Zehner from Milwaukee, who had overslept and missed the train. He hired a taxi and spent several hundred dollars to catch up with the train, most likely at Williams Lake. The WCRA asked for voluntary donations to help him pay the taxi fare. I understand he actually made a profit.

The second event was the search for Dave Ingles. The excursion was run by a WCRA member, Alan Cruickshank, who had spent entirely too much time on the PA during the trip. (In fact, one of my friends, the late Peter Putnam Bretz, would pick up the PA and do a parody of him that was almost flawless during the trip.) In any event we were all pretty annoyed with him after seven days. He came through the train looking for Dave Ingles who he claimed owed more money because of an exchange rate issue. For most of the day we would tell him that he had just missed Dave as he had gone to the other car. As far as we know, he never tumbled to the fact that Dave wasn't on the train at all that day.

The train arrived in North Vancouver after dark on September 19. I had determined that a limousine would be the cost effective way to get to the Vancouver airport and a few of us shared one to an airport hotel for the night. The next morning I flew to Chicago where I spent a few hours with a would-be girl friend and then on to Pittsburgh where the trip ended.


The WCRA ran this trip again a year or two later. I believe they traveled on a part of the Dease Lake extension, but otherwise they did essentially the same trip...for at least $600 more!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Lexington Group's 2015 Meeting


The Lexington Group in Transportation History is an educational institution that was created in 1942 and concentrates on all aspects of transportation history, but particularly railroads. I have been a member of the Lexington Group since 1985, the year they held their meeting in Memphis. The typical Lexington Group meeting has several days of papers about transportation topics and one or more group inspection trips, usually sponsored by a railroad. Due to conflicts I've only been able to make it to three meetings before this one:
  • 1985 in Memphis
  • 2005 in Harrisburg
  • 2011 in Knoxville
Since 2005 I have hosted the group's website at (decidedly not a major undertaking due to the wishes of the organization.)

After last year's meeting (I believe in St. Louis) they announced that the 2015 meeting would be in Newark and I marked it on my calendar as a semi-immovable event. As soon as they announced the hotel information I booked a room for the entire time (Tuesday night to Sunday morning) while awaiting the details of the meeting itself. Eventually the meeting registration information came and I signed up immediately. In addition to two days of papers, there would be a NY/NJ harbor inspection tour on Thursday, and a rail inspection tour on Saturday. Beyond that the details of the inspection trips were vague, but that didn't matter because the Group always does things interesting enough to be worthwhile.

My daughter, Lizzy, is not in college this semester. Some of her closest friends go to school at NYU and I decided that it would be fun to take her and two of her friends to a Broadway show on the night before the meeting. She could spend the rest of the week with her friends, and make her way home to be in time to help Barb with Halloween. So I purchased four center/orchestra seats to the Book of Mormon and air tickets for Lizzy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We left home in time to catch the 10:25am PAT bus to the airport. I get to ride free with my CMU ID (or with my Medicare card, but it's easier just to use my CMU ID card.) Lizzy had to pay, but the bus is the only reasonable way to get to the airport if one is going to be away for more than a few days and the return is at a reasonable hour. It adds less than 30 minutes to the trip.

Our United Embraer mini-jet left about 10 minutes ahead of its schedule 1:17pm departure, and then sat in the penalty box due to air traffic in the Newark area. We eventually were wheels up at 2pm and arrived around 3:10pm, only about 20 minutes late. We had plenty of time to catch a shuttle to the conference hotel (the Hilton at Newark Penn Station), clean up, and catch a New Jersey Transit train to New York Pennsylvania Station. We were to meet Lizzy's friends, Grace and Kyle at the Eugene O'Neill theater on W 49th near 8th at 6:15 and walking from Penn Station we were there around 6:10. Grace an Kyle got off their subway from NYU at the wrong stop and showed up around 6:30 which was fine. The doors opened right around then and we were able to check Lizzy's bags before taking our seats.

Lizzy, Grace, and Kyle outside of the Eugene O'Neill Theater
The Book of Mormon was everything I had heard it was. I had purposely kept myself from knowing much about it ahead of time other than that it was funny. It was definitely that...I laughed so much I probably missed a good 30% of the lines. Highly recommended.

After the show I left Lizzy, Grace, and Kyle to head back to NYU while I caught a No. 1 subway to Penn Station and then a NJT train to Newark Penn Station.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I awoke around 7:30 and met my friend Rick Moser up in the "executive lounge" of the hotel for a quick bowl of cereal. Then we picked up our badges and excursion tickets and other goodies and went into the first session which opened with wonderful presentation about the Pennsylvania Railroad in New York by Albert Churella. The first paper was supposed to be about the Central Railroad of New Jersey, but that talk was canceled with no information given to the attendees about why. This was followed by an overview of the operations of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey much of which I did not know about. I was particularly taken with the capacity discussions and wonder what will happen in 5-10 years if the growth of travel in the area increases as projected.

For some reason there is a lot of Portuguese cuisine in the Newark area (at least near the hotel) and the hotel put on a terrific Portuguese lunch full of sausage and seafood. After lunch there were presentations about advertising the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad trains in the 1840 to 1940 era, WW I German sabotage in the New York area, and an interesting talk about the revived New Jersey to New York railroad car float operation. (Interesting fact: about 2% to 4% of freight to New York is delivered by rail. Almost all of the rest is delivered by truck. When the bridges and tunnels were closed after 9/11 the city had possibly 10 days worth of food available with no redundant means to get new supplies.) Finally, George Bullow, who organized the next days maritime excursion, gave a presentation about what we should expect to see and some of the relevant history.

I had arranged to meet some friends for dinner at Keen's Steakhouse in New York City. Nina and Stevan Goldman met me at the hotel a little after 6pm and we caught a NJT train that arrived just as we got to the platform. There had been torrential rain all day and this caused both the Goldmans and the train to be a bit late, but the rain had stopped and we made it to the restaurant relatively dry just a few minutes past the 7pm time of our reservation. There we joined Kim and JK Scheinberg who were already seated. We spent the next two plus hours with great conversation, great food, and great drinks (especially for the scotch drinkers among us.) Nina and Stevan and I almost immediately caught a train back to Newark and went our separate ways at the hotel.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This was the day of the maritime excursion which turned out to be a tour of the New York and New Jersey harbor facilities with a particular emphasis on old rail facilities. Most of the railroads that served New York City did not have tunnel or bridge access to it. They relied on ferry service from places including Jersey City or Hoboken. The route of our nearly six hour excursion took us past both of these and much more, leaving from pier 23 near Newark's Liberty International Airport (near where I95 and I78 intersect on the map below.)

Rather than a detailed travelog (George Bullow did a great job of describing everything, but I couldn't possibly) I'm going to simply include a variety of photos.

The John James Audobon awaits the fourth bus at Pier 23 near Newark Airport 
A somewhat unique view of the Freedom Tower
Dry dock on Staten Island 
A famous lady and two equally famous buildings
Another famous lady (the Queen Mary II) docked in Brooklyn
A better view of the Freedom Tower
A better view of that other large building
(Erie) Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken 
Central Railroad of New Jersey's former depot in Jersey City
Many of our ancestors passed through Ellis Island
One last view of the Statue of Liberty
The buses returned us to the hotel by 4pm and Rick and Neil and I arranged to meet in the lobby at 5pm to discuss a planned trip to Switzerland for next March. The banquet for the meeting was held at the Brasilia Grill about a 15 minute walk away (or one could go by bus...we elected to walk). We actually got there a bit ahead of the crowd and were happily seated and with beers before many others walked in. The meal was really good all you can eat churrascaria and unfortunately for us, all we could eat was much more than all we should have eaten. We were all overfull by the time we finished and the walk back to the hotel didn't help very much.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In addition to the official business meeting of the group, Friday was a day of papers. Roger Grant, the President of the Lexington Group started the meeting promptly at 8am by acknowledging my contribution of the organization website...I have no idea why I was at the top of the program. Then George Werner read brief farewells to members who had passed away during the previous year (including my friend Pete Stonitsch). After other business the papers began with a presentation about the New Haven Railroad and another about TWA in New York. At this point Neil and I joined Rick and took a "quick" roundtrip to Gladstone, skipping lunch in the process.
Our New Jersey Transit train at Gladstone
An attempt to be creative with my iPhone (at Gladstone) 
We returned in time for an extremely interesting paper on ATC and PTC on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor by Chris Jagodinski (a proud Bill Crawford told me that Chris had been a coop student who worked with him back in his college days.) Then a presentation by Ron Batory, the President of Conrail talking about his railroad in the present day. At the end of his talk Ron introduced Bennett Levin who, with son Eric, had organized Saturday's forthcoming inspection trip over Conrail tracks. Bennett talked about his life as a (perhaps) 12 year old visiting his Grandma in Jersey City and becoming enamored of the local railroad scene (and his many explorations thereof). He then gave us details for boarding the trip and the meeting adjourned.

Rick, Neil, and I walked to a local pub and had sandwiches for dinner and then retired to our hotel rooms, getting out of Dodge, so to speak, before the Mets/Royals game and much of the Halloween celebrations started.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday was the rail inspection trip aboard the Jersey Devil. This was a special train put together by Bennett and Eric Levin with the cooperation and assistance of Amtrak and Conrail. Bennett had told me to come hungry so I skipped breakfast and headed over to Track 5 at Newark Pennsylvania Station and waited for the train which arrived at about 8am having come up from Philadelphia that morning. It was lead by Bennett's E8 diesels 5711 and 5809 resplendent in Pennsylvania Railroad livery.
The Jersey Devil arriving at Newark Penn
The train from front to rear consisted of two amfleet coaches, an amcafe, two more amfleet coaches, Bennett's parlor lounge Warrior Ridge, and Bennett's office car Pennsylvania 120. My friend Rick and I joined other lucky passengers in the Warrior Ridge and settled into our seats awaiting the on time 8:30am departure.

Schematic map of the route of the Jersey Devil
We backed out of the station to a location called CP ("control point") Hunter and then headed off to Croxton Yard, then down the National Docks Secondary, the Coast Secondary, and the Amboy Secondary to Jamesburg where the train was turned and we were treated to an excellent hot pastrami lunch in the local Elk's Club.
The Jersey Devil in Jamesburg
After lunch the train retraced its steps up to CP PD north of Perth Amboy and then headed to Bound Brook where the engines ran around the train and pulled us backward up the Leigh Line to Newark where we arrived on Track A just before 5pm.
The route of the Jersey Devil
The day ended with dinner and great conversation with several good friends.

Epilog - Sunday, November 1, 2015

This was the end of daylight savings time which meant that even though I woke up at the usual 6:30am for this trip, I got an extra hour of sleep. I took my time dressing, packing, and having breakfast before catching the hotel shuttle to the airport at 9am.

Sometime during the night United had switched aircraft on me. Instead of flying in an Embraer 175 jet, the aircraft that awaited me was a Bombardier Q400 turboprop. I was somewhat unhappy with this switch because I don't much care for the noise level and also because I had purposely picked my flight so that it was a jet. But it's United so shit happens. In any event we boarded on time and I noticed that my seat in Row 15 was actually in Row 13 (but there was no Row 13 and 14 on this aircraft and who knows what other rows numbers were missing.) The door closed about 5 minutes late and we began our taxi to the runway at which point a flight attendant asked "is there a doctor onboard?" We soon returned to the gate. EMTs boarded and very quickly a passenger and his companion walked off the plane. To the airline's credit they turned things around very quickly all things considered and we were only 55 minutes late into Pittsburgh. I waited 20 minutes for a bus to near my home, Barb picked me up, and I was home by 3:10pm.

Tomorrow back to work, but it was a great week of railroad, airline, maritime and New York/New Jersey history along with some fun ride. I'm already looking forward to next year's meeting.