Monday, October 14, 2019

2001: A Train Odyssey

The Royal Canadian Pacific at a Paterson Grain facility in Dunmore, Alberta, June 2, 2001

The other day a friend posted a picture of a train on the Union Railroad in Pittsburgh and that got me thinking about the time I was able to ride a train on a railroad that was actively hostile to railfans. Then I started thinking that, unlike these days, there were a lot of opportunities to ride trains that year so I thought I'd put together an overview of the trains I rode (or in once case almost rode) in that year.

On Saturday evening, February 3, 2001 I begin my first railroad trip of the year. I had not been feeling good and still wasn't when I caught an Airtran MD-80 from Pittsburgh to Chicago Midway. There was a light load that Saturday night and they moved me up to first class for plane-balance reasons. When I got to Chicago I took the L from Midway to the Standard Club on Plymouth Court near Jackson Blvd. My parents were members and they had nice hotel-style rooms for members

Sunday, February 4, I had a small breakfast (still wasn't feeling great) in the fancy club dining room, walked around the Loop, a bit and eventually found my way to Union Station where I met up with Rick Moser of Naperville and Dave Ingles of Waukesha, WI to board the Texas Eagle. The purpose of the trip was to get some significant new mileage  due to the train being rerouted for trakc work on the Union Pacific, over the former Texas & Pacific between Texarkana and Jefferson then via the Kansas City Southern to Sulphur Springs, Greenville, and Wylie and into Dallas. The plan was to return from Dallas on February 5, getting to Chicago on February 6. I was still not feeling well on the southbound trip so, when we got to Dallas, I canceled my Amtrak return, and booked a one-stop flight home (via MCI) on Vanguard the next day. Dave and Rick returned by train. Note that two out of the two airlines used in this trip no longer exist.

I did not partake in the next significant trip of the year due to planned shoulder surgery. The 3rd Annual Remote Canadian Rail Adventure started on April 15, 2001. Dave and Rick (and Rick's Dad) did. It went from Winnipeg arriving at The Pas morning of the 16th. From there it went on to Lynn Lake to Flin Flon and back to Canora for an overnight. On the 18th it went to Edmonton via Humboldt, North Battlefield and Vermillion. After arrival in Edmonton on the 19th it went to Swan Landing and then north to Grand Prairie before returning to Edmonton. Friday it went to Calgary with an overnight at the Palliser Hotel. From there it took the mainline to Saskatoon then down to Regina and back to the mainline at Melville before heading on to Winnipeg where the trip ended. They also did some coal-mine branches west of Edmonton, too, some in snow. A trip I dearly wish I had been able to take.

Other photos of the Royal Canadian Pacific, late May and early June, 2001
No matter, in those days there was always another coming up, so on Wednesday, May 30, 2001 I boarded a Delta flight in Pittsburgh and changed at MSP to a flight to Calgary. At Calgary I made my way to the Palliser Hotel to await Rick and Dave and the start fo the Royal Canadian Pacific trip chartered by friends John Harmon and John Wicks. The train left from the station under the Palliser Thursday morning for Red Deer, Hardisty, and Wilkie where it tied up for the night. On Friday it went from Wilkie to Saskatoon, to Lanigan, to Regina before tying up for the night in Moose Jaw. On Saturday the train left Moose Jaw for Swift Current, Dunmore, tying up in Lethbridge. On Sunday we went from Lethbridge to Montana, to Nerniskam, to Stirling, to Coutts, back to Lethbridge, and onto Okotoks. Finally on Monday morning it ran the short 26.2 miles from Okotoks to Calgary, from where I flew home the same day.

The train was made up of Canadian Pacific Railroad office cars and luxury cars with private baths and showers. The meal service was first-rate. So first-rate that we asked them to tone it down a bit. For instance, we did not need a separate wine pairing with each course at each meal. There were a bit over 20 of us aboard. The demand for this rather expensive (for the time, not now) was heavy enough that they ran a second section (with perhaps a dozen passengers) a few weeks later.

Things were quiet until August, but Dave, Reg Mitchell and I spent the time planning a visit to Halifax and Sydney, NS around August 11. At some point, after we had purchased air tickets an even better trip surfaced in about the same time frame and we ended up canceling this trip to Canada. The better trip was Bennett Levin's Northern Express To reach the start of the Northern Express all I had to do was get out of bed on August 18, hop in a taxi to Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh to catch a ride to Harrisburg with Clark Johnson on his Caritas private car. Earlier in the month Clark and his car had been on a "Bikers Special" to the Sturgis, SD motorcycle festival. Rick rode, Dave was ill, and I had another conflict. One evening during the layover in Newcastle (where the train was parked) someone broke into the Caritas and among other things destroyed Clark's laptop. It turned out I had a spare Powerbook to lend him and I brought it along. At Harrisburg I transferred to Nav Fosse's Silver Solarium observation car where Phil Moser (Rick's brother) and I had a bedroom for the trip.

Catching a ride to Harrisburg, around Horseshoe Curve, August 18, 2001
The train, organized as a part of the Buy Miles consortium of that era (a group of private car owners who committed to Amtrak to spend a certain amount on travel for the year) was led by Bennett's restored Pennsylvania Railroads E-8 diesels. On August 19 it ran to Erie via Emporium. After an overnight in Erie we were joined by both Rick Moser (who had been seeing Broadway shows with his wife before flying to Erie) and my good friend Bill Metzger of Pittsburgh. The train proceeded down the Bessemer and Lake Erie to its connection with the Union Railroad at Unity Junction and thence onto Duquesne Junction on the Union, before it retraced its steps to Butler where it tied up for the night. At Butler, Bill's wife Pam joined us in the dome for dinner and then she and Bill departed for home. The next day the rest of us rode back to Harrisburg via Dubois, and Driftwood. I caught a ride back to Pittsburgh, I think in the Caritas again, but I am not certain. For a person who has spent most of his time railfanning in the Pittsburgh area this was a fantastic trip. But wait, there was more...

The Northern Express, August 2001
Some of the "usual suspects" in the Silver Solarium: Phil Moser (far left), Rick Moser,
Dan Carter, John Arbuckle, Bill Metzger, and Peter Putnam Bretz
Every year the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners (AAPRCO) runs a convention and runs special trains of private cars to the location. In 2001 it was scheduled for Denver in early October. Of course, shortly after I returned from the Northern Express, the September 11 terrorist attack occurred and it wasn't exactly clear what was going to happen (not that the train was on the forefront of anyone’s mind at the time.) In the event, even though much of the US population had stopped traveling, the convention and the connecting trains ran as scheduled. I've written about this trip in detail before, so I'm only including a summary below.

I left Pittsburgh on September 28. Dave Ingles and I shared a bedroom in the Silver Solarium to Denver when the train left Chicago on September 29, 2001 and reached Denver on October 2 with overnight stops in Kansas City, Amarillo, TX, and Pueblo, CO.

On October 3, four of us, John Arbuckle, Reg Mitchell, and Carol Sulanke embarked on a Colorado Narrow Gauge railroad tour that included rides on the Durango and Silverton (roundtrip between the two cities in its name on October 4) and the Cumbres and Toltec from Chama to Antonito on October 5. On October 6 we drove back to Denver and boarded the eastbound AAPRCO train for Chicago via the Kansas Pacific which departed the next morning and arrived in Chicago on the evening of October 8. I flew home to Pittsburgh the next morning.

View from the AAPRCO special to Denver, October, 2001
The Cumbres and Toltec, October 5, 2001
Yours truly, at Monarch Pass, CO (elevation 11,312) on October 3, 2001
I believe that ended the rail travel for me for 2001. I don't promise that the above includes every ride I took that year (it probably doesn't) but it does include all of the major ones.

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