Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Trip to WinterRail - March 1988

Authors note: All of what follows is from my memory augmented with those of Dave Ingles and Rick Moser. I have no written documentation of this trip.


Every year for many years a late winter event for railfans has been held on the West Coast. It's called Winterrail and it consists of one day of fully produced slide shows (with sound) covering some aspect of railroading. In March of 1988 a bunch of us decided to attend. That year Winterrail was held in Stockton, CA (as it was until recently except for a couple of years in Modesto before it moved up the coast to Corvallis OR.) So it was that, on a Tuesday in March, I flew to Chicago and joined a few friends at Union Station to board the California Zephyr for points West. Aboard out of Chicago were Dave Ingles, Rick and Phil Moser, Joe McMillan, Allen Rider, and the late John Arbuckle.
Taken during our visit to the Joint Line. From left to right:
Steve Patterson, Joe McMillan (seated), John Arbuckle, Allen Rider, Dave Ingles,
Phil Moser, Rick Moser, and John Ingles (I'm behind the camera)

A Visit to the Joint Line

Instead of riding straight through to Sacramento where we could connect to Stockton, we decided to break the trip in Denver and used Wednesday to explore the Joint Line. The Joint Line is the route between Denver and Pueblo, CO which carried trains of the partner railroads, the Santa Fe and the Denver and Rio Grande Western (owners of the line) and the Burlington Northern (a tenant of the line). In Denver we were met by Steve Patterson and Dave Ingles' father John S. Ingles. We spent the day taking pictures of trains in various locations. In the evening we headed to Steve Patterson's house in nearby Arvada where he treated us to dinner and an evening of his railroad photography and good conversation.

A selection of photos from our day on the Joint Line

Chasing down Donner Pass in a ... bus!

Thursday morning we all (including Steve but not Dave's father) boarded the California Zephyr and continued through the Rockies into Utah and onto Nevada. Again, instead of riding straight through to Sacramento, we left the train in Sparks, NV, a crew change stop just east of Reno, NV. In Sparks we were met by old friend the late Roger Puta. Most of us, including Roger, had been members of the Northwestern Illinois Chapter of the NRHS. Roger had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area several years before and now operated a bus company called Scenic Hyway Tours. He had a bus he used for rock stars and similar customers (number 9999) and he put it at our disposal for the day. Instead of regular bus seats the interior had sofas and tables. Roger had laid in breakfast goods including fruit, pastries, juice, etc. As I recall, all of this was on the house!
Scenic Hyway Tours bus 9999 met us at Sparks, NV

Our host, the late Roger Puta

Dave Ingles and Rick Moser

Dave and Me

Roger and Joe McMillan

Bruce Barrett and Steve Patterson

Phil Moser, John Arbuckle, Allen Rider, Jim Popson

Jim Popson and Mike Schafer

Mike Danneman and (possibly) Janet Sprague, Tom Danneman, and Blair Kooistra

On Friday morning we left Sparks ahead of the Zephyr and spent much of the morning and into the early afternoon chasing it through the Sierra Mountains as we headed to Sacramento. Maneuvering the bus at some of our photo stops was quite a spectacle. After a brief stop in Sacramento, Roger's bus took us south to Stockton and we checked into our usual La Quinta Inn. Dave and I shared a room on this trip, which turned out to be a “last run."  We both snored and we each kept the other up all night, so we decided then and there to each get our own rooms in the future. We've traveled together for decades since then and I can't think of a time when we didn't hold to that.

A selection of photos from our chase through Donner Pass

WinterRail and onto Los Angeles

Winterrail was on Saturday, with Sunday free for train-chasing, and as usual the California weather on Winterrail weekend was excellent. This year, however, some of us left for home on Sunday so as to make a good connection in Los Angeles to a train heading home. The objective for Rick, his brother Phil, Dave, and I was to ride the Amtrak through sleeper on the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle via San Antonio. We caught an Amtrak San Joaquin to Bakersfield with a bus connection to LA. I left the bus near UCLA, while the other three went on to the Los Angles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) and spent the day riding a train (I think to San Diego and back.) In the meantime, I was picked up by Lindy Flon, the wife of friend Larry Flon. Larry and I were graduate students in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s and had shared an apartment for a while. Larry was out of town, but Lindy and I had a very nice dinner ... at least until I realized that I had left my winter coat on the bus that took us from Bakersfield to LA. After dinner she drove me back to LAUPT where I went immediately to the lost and found. Believe it or not, they had my coat! That problem solved, I reunited with the rest of our foursome, and we boarded the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle sleeper for its 1055pm Sunday evening departure for San Antonio and eventually Chicago.

The ride home

Rick had some concerns regarding the Head End Power (HEP) that powered the passenger cars (the technology was in its infancy at the time and there had been teething problems) but aside from a short outage as we left LA, it performed flawlessly. Otherwise, I remember an excellent trip on the Sunset Limited and the Texas Eagle, with good crews and food and decent timekeeping, but the only specific thing I remember is that, on Monday at El Paso, we lost a little time while they changed a burned out headlight in the lead locomotive. Dave later had a photo published in TRAINS, entitled something like, "how many railroaders does it take to change a light bulb?"
Dave, Phil, Rick, and Chuck in our Scenic Hyway Tours 9999 shirts
I still have mine...couldn't possibly fit into it now though. I think
that the photo was taken by our car attendant in El Paso, TX

The Texas Eagle in Dallas, TX

We spent all of Tuesday riding through Texas and into Arkansas and arrived in Chicago on Wednesday. After we arrived in Chicago I said goodbye to the others and went out to O'Hare airport and caught a flight home.