Empire Builder 5/25/12-6/2/12
Posted 13 July 2012 - 04:46 PM
I was up early for breakfast, which was very good and included in my fare. The Dining Car Attendant (Kelly) was excellent and kept things moving with good, fast service and a great sense of humor. This was my first exposure to the "common table" seating and I found it an excellent way to meet very interesting and varied passengers and trading travel stories. It is now one of my favorite parts of train travel.
I spent the remainder of my trip to Havre between the observation car chatting and my roomette napping. Lunch was also very good and efficiently served. Kelly the DCA was just as good for the noon meal.
I decided to stop and spend the night in Havre MT at the El Toro Inn. It was a few short blocks from the station. It was outstanding and exceeded my expectations. A large very clean, comfortable and modern room with good cable TV and friendly service. They had a simple but adequate breakfast included in the price. They are a short distance to local bars and restaurants. The Guadalahara Mexican restaurant was particularly good and the several bars that I visited had lots of students from the local college. The friendly staff at El Toro watched my bags for a few hours the next day so that I could peruse the nearby used book and CD store while waiting for the (late) train. The local museums were closed due to rain/Sunday so I missed my chance to tour them.
The next leg on my trip was to East Glacier Park. The coach seats were comfortable and the views of the Montana countryside were great. It is like watching a contantly moving panorama of this part or the USA. I was suprised by the amount of oil wells we passed and in the observation car I was lucky enough to sit next to an amature geologist from India. He explained many of the rock formations to me. Only on Amtrak!
Even though we were several hours late I was met at the EGP station by a driver from the Mountain Pine Inn, where I had reserved a room. Even though the forcast warned of up to a foot of snow he met me in a Volkswagon bus and the several inches of snow did not slow us down. The Mountain Pine Inn was a simple, clean and affordable choice. It was accually walking distance (15 minutes) from the station but the pickup was helpful as I had a suitcase. The restaurant (Luna's) across the street served a great Indian Taco and very good Huckleberry pie. I then abandoned Amtrak temporarily to tour Glacier National Park by car. To be continued..........
Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:16 PM
Pre-Amtrak Routes Traveled: Empire Builder (Great Northern), North Coast Limited (Northern Pacific), Abraham Lincoln (Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio), City of Hinkle (Union Pacific)
Bustitutions: Portland-Spokane (EB)
Amtrak Miles: 37,351
Non-Amtrak Miles: 8,482
Bustitution Miles: 362
Posted 19 July 2012 - 04:04 PM
I spent the first half of the day exploring the eastern side of Glacier National park. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. I drove out to Two Medicine Lake and then took Going To The Sun Road out past Saint Mary Lake until I had to stop due to the road being closed for snow removal and repairs. The Welcome Center at Saint Mary Lake was excellent and had a 20 minute film explaining the features of the park. I saw lots of wildlife along the way including several black bears.
I then left to follow Rt 2 to Whitefish on the other side of the park. The road follows much of the same route as the train so I still got to see most of the same scenery that I would have seen on the train. There are several good little diners along the way. I stopped in Columbia Falls and visited the Montana Vortex. It is a very interesting tourist trap that claims to be the site of "Mysterious Forces". After I took the $9 tour I was perplexed and baffled. But I was perplexed and baffled before I got there so I am not sure what the "Mysterious Forces" did for me. It was a fun and interesting stop.
I then proceded to Whitefish which struck me as a typical ski resort town. It had many boutiques and small shops to serve the clients of the big ski resort just outside town. I stayed in the Pine Lodge Resort which is on the main road right outside of town. It was a very comfortable place with an exceptional 4-season indoor-outdoor pool with a nice sun deck and hot tub. After a swim I went down a few blocks to the Pin And Cue bowling alley/pool hall/bar /restaurant/laundramat. I was able to do my laundry, have a nice meal, watch some bowling and soak up a few cold beers. A very nice place to do laundry.
The next day after a very nice included breakfast I headed to the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park. The forcast called for rain but my time was limited so I went in anyway. I could not see much scenery due to the rain and low cloud cover. I hope to see more of it the next time I visit.
I then headed back to East glacier park. The weather cleared up so that the 2 hour ride back was nice and the scenery along the train route was beautiful. I checked back into The Mountain Pine and then headed just outside of town to a restauraunt called Firebrand Pass. The food was excellent though a little expensive ($25 steak). Because of the late sunset in these parts I still had time for one more trip up to Two Medicine to see the scenery and snow that was still on the mountains. When I came back into town I stopped at the Trailhead Tavern across from the train station. It was friendly enough but judging from the long list on the wall of people who were barred from drinking there it must get lively on some nights.
The next morning I went down and turned in the rental car and dragged my suitcase across the street and up to the train station. The East Glacier Park train station is a beautiful station. It was built by the railroad out of large logs, similar to the nearby lodge. The views off the back of it are very nice. There are some nice exibits and photographs on the walls that depict the history of the area. I spent the hour that I waited for the train reading the stories on the walls, buying some old train photographs and enjoying the view. I was sorry to be leaving such a beautiful area. Next stop: Malta MT. To be continued............
Edited by bpl888, 19 July 2012 - 04:08 PM.
Posted 20 July 2012 - 03:50 PM
When I got off in Malta several passengers and myself were blocked from crossing the tracks to get to our rides or hotels because of a very long Burlingtom Northern and Sante Fe freight train that was stopped on a parralel track. We waited for almost half an hour and discussed ways to get around it. It seemed excedingly unwise to try to go over or under it so we just waited and chatted. It finally moved so we said goodby and I headed over to the Great Northern hotel where I had reserved a room.
The Great Northern was a very comfortable hotel with a good, but somewhat expensive, restaurant. I had dinner there and then went around the corner to the Mint Bar to sample the Malta nightlife. The Mint Bar is an excellent bar with an outstanding juke box and lots of friendly patrons to shoot pool with. I really enjoyed spending several hours shooting pool and trading stories. Though not as fancy as The Palace Bar in Havre it still was a nice place.
The next day after breakfast in the dinner on the lobby of the hotel I walked over to the nearby Post Office to ship some of my belongings home. They have several sizes of boxes that go by "If it fits it ships". I filled one up with some of my laundry and some books I had bought and sent it home for less than $12. What a deal!
I then went back to the hotel to check out. They agreed to watch my bags for a few hours while I toured the local museums. The first one I visited was The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. It was a 3 minute walk from the train station. It was outstanding !! It had many exhibits from the many dinosaurs that have been discovered in this part of the country. The woman running the museum was very helpful and answered all my questions. I spent an hour touring the museum and then bought a Great Plains Dinosaur Museum shirt and hat in an effort to support thier ongoing work.
My next stop was the Phillips County Museum which was right next door. It was fantastic !! It has several floors of all kinds of artifacts from minerals to guns to wildlife. There were many exhibits of what it was like to live on the Plains, including a very interesting one on Outlaws of the Plains. A very well done museum. I spent 90 minutes touring it and then bought some huckleberry candy and huckleberry honey from them to support the cause. A very nice way to spend a few hours in Malta. I highly recomend them.
I then went to the Post Office again and shipped my new booty home. With only one small suitcase I did not want to get overloaded with "stuff". Both of my packages arrived at my house the day after I returned. How perfect is that?!! I then collected my bags from the hotel and went to meet the train. My next leg on the Empire Builder was an overnight with sleeper to La Crosse WI. To be continued...........
Posted 31 July 2012 - 01:15 PM
He then asked me if I was interested in a wine and cheese tasting that was starting shortly in the dining car. A glass of wine (or two) sounded like a good idea so I followed him to the dining car and was seated with three other travelers. I was told that the tasting was free and only available to sleeping car passengers. Rob ran the tasting with the help of several other Amtrak employees. There was a plate of Wisconsin cheese on each table with crackers. The wines were all from Washington State. Rob gave an explanation of each wine and answered all of our questions. He also ran an Amtrak Trivia contest and awarded a bottle of wine for correct answers. The wine was fantastic and the conversation with other passengers was entertaining and enlightening. A very nice way to spend an hour.
The wine tasting ended and I went to the observation car with a book to read and watch the scenery go by. The land became flatter and more monotonous. The oil wells became more frequent as well as the construction and equipment that went along with them. You could see forever on the plains and the small stacks burning off the gasses could be scene across the horizon. The seats next to me had several people come and go including oil workers, newlyweds, and visitors from France. The conversations were very varied and interesting.
I had signed up for the early dinner seating so I made my way down to the dining car at the appointed time. The seating and service was fast and friendly. I had the Roast Chicken Special and it was fantastic. At every meal I had I had the special of the day and was never disappointed. The conversations with my fellow travelers were interesting. I never failed to learn something new in the dining car. I was amazed at the nice meals I was able to get quickly while traveling across the country ay 80 MPH. The food was very good but prior to this trip I had only eaten in the cafe car so my expectations were low. The tracks in this part of the country are rough in spots and can present a challenge to anyone walking through the cars when you hit a rough patch. They tell me that the freight train companies own the track and are not that concerned about passenger comfort. The Dining Car Attendants seem to be very good at maneuvering through it. I have been on ships at sea and it was similar.
After dinner I returned to my roomette to listen to my radio. I brought a Grundig Yaughtman small portable radio (with earphones) with me to pass the time. It had AM/FM/Shortwave but it did not have a scanner for listening to the Amtrak crews. I used the scan function to pickup small local radio stations as we passed through different parts of the country. It was mostly pretty good country music and quite a bit of religious broadcasting on this part of the trip. It was interesting to hear the local news and advertising for restaurants and events.
Later on I went down to the observation car to share a few beers with some of the people I had met earlier at dinner. We traded some stories and enjoyed the nighttime view from the observation car. It was very nice but my only gripe was that the café car (beer supply) closed a half an hour sooner than the time that had been announced. Apparently the employee running it has the ability to close when he pleases regardless of the stated times. Small matter, and the rest of the evening had been enjoyable.
In the morning I realized that an accumulation of delays, including a two hour delay during the night now put us close to four hours behind schedule. This did not matter much to me but some of my companions at breakfast were concerned because of connections they were going to miss. The eastbound Empire Builder was usually pretty close to schedule, but not this day. Since I had some time to spare I decided that I would try the shower on the lower level of the sleeping car. I was pleasantly surprised that it was comfortable and somewhat easy. There was plenty of hot water and fresh towels. I was expecting it to be much worse. Kudos to the cleaning crew as well.
Rob, my Sleeping Car Attendant on this leg of the trip, was excellent. With all the delays and problems he remained pleasant, helpful and humorous. I made a point of calling Amtrak when the trip was done to put in a good word for him. He made my trip a lot more enjoyable. Well done Rob.
The rest of the trip to La Crosse was very pleasant. The countryside became increasingly green. I had lunch with an off duty Rails And Trails volunteer and found out just how much the oil boom had changed this part of the country. There were whole hillsides stripped away to provide sand for the oil extraction. The job of the conductor had become more confrontational including putting oil workers off the train for misbehavior. But the economy out here seemed to be booming. I talked to several locals that questioned whether the improved economy was worth the changes and problems that came with it. Next La Crosse and Milwaukee. To be continued……..
Edited by bpl888, 31 July 2012 - 01:19 PM.
Posted 31 July 2012 - 01:32 PM
Non-Amtrak: NCTD Coaster (at least 20), Metrolink (4), SD Trolley (at least 20), LACMTA Red Line (at least 50), Seattle Streetcar (1), Chicago 'L' (probably 13), NYC Subway (probably 15), WMATA Mass Transit (probably 20), LIRR (1), Las Vegas Monorail (at least 12), MBTA Mass Transit (16), NJ Transit commuter rail (3), I'm sure there are more that I can't think of right now
upcoming Amtrak: Pacific Surfliner (10000000000 more),
upcoming non-Amtrak: Coaster, Red Line/Expo Line in LA
Pretty good for a 16 year old
Posted 31 July 2012 - 02:12 PM
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:34 AM
Routes Traveled: Desert Wind, Southwest Chief, Missouri Mule, Empire Builder, Capitol Ltd., Lincoln Service, Lake Shore Ltd., Missouri River Runner, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, Silver Meteor, Texas Eagle, Cascades, Broadway Ltd., Acela, Downeaster, Sunset Ltd., Coast Starlight, California Zephyr 64,137 Amtrak miles
Posted 04 August 2012 - 11:35 PM
This sounds like an amazing trip. Not many people would pick destinations such as Havre or Malta to vacation, which makes it all the more special. You mention the Amtrak trivia contest associated with the wine/cheese tasting. What is asked in these contests? Is it train related? Look forward to the next/last leg.
Not all questions are rail related. When I was on the Builder a couple summers back, they changed to general trivia, perhaps fearing the presence of a couple rail fans could bias the flow of the wine But when they asked "In The Many Loves of of Dobie Gillas, who played Maynard G. Krebs?" I scored a nice bottle of Riesling.
Posted 09 August 2012 - 05:59 PM
I checked into the Guest House Motel in downtown La Crosse. The Wisconsin State track and field championships were being held in La Crosse this weekend so I was very glad I had reserved a room way in advance as every hotel in town was booked solid. The motel was kind of average but the price was very reasonable and the room was comfortable. It was a short walk to downtown La Crosse with it's teeming herds of partying college age revelers. I sampled several of the watering holes but it soon became obvious that I was at least twice as old as most of the crowd. After dinner I returned to my hotel and sat at the outside patio of the hotel and listened to the sounds of the city and sipped a cold beer.
In the morning I had breakfast in the motel diner and the checked on my train to Milwaukee. It was two hours behind schedule so I decided to see part of the city. I went up to Granddad Bluff Park on the outskirts of the city. The park was beautiful and the view of the surrounding area was stunning. The day was clear and it seemed like you could see forever. There were nice hiking trails and plenty of parking. I was able to see the stadium that was packed with the track and field competition. It was a very nice way to spend few hours close to the city.
When the train finally arrived I left my rental car at the station per the instructions from Hertz and boarded the train. The three hour trip to Milwaukee seemed to fly by and I enjoyed one last meal on the train. They were running out of food in the dining car due to the delays but they were able to scare me up one last burger. The crew seemed tired but remained good natured. I guess they are used to the daily grind of delays and logistic problems that come with a large train traveling across the country. I was truly sad that my train trip was ending but with the schedules that I had obtained in various stations along the way I was already planning my next trip on Amtrak (California Zephyr??).
The train arrived two hours late in Milwaukee so I missed the last tour at the Pabst Mansion that day. After dinner I spent an absolutely great evening at the best bar in Milwaukee, Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall on S. 37th St. As luck would have it I showed up on the night of the Toga Party. Even though I had no toga I was welcomed with open arms and a few open bottles in true Milwaukee fashion. The music was fantastic, the videos were offbeat and very interesting and the crowd was very friendly. Andy the owner was excellent and made me feel very welcome even though I didn't know a soul. Well done Andy!! Milwaukee is a GREAT town and Kochanski's Concertina Beer hall is a GREAT bar. I cannot wait to return.
In the AM I got to the Pabst Mansion for an abbreviated tour before I had to catch my plane. Frederick Pabst was an interesting man and the tour was well worth it. I was able to get enough Pabst trinkets so that everyone will be happy come Christmas time.
It was an absolutely great Amtrak vacation/adventure! It is hands down the best way to see this beautiful country. I don't know how I will top it on my next train trip but I will try. I would like to thank all the members of this forum whose informative posts gave me the inspiration to take this trip. Your insightful posts helped me more than you could know. I hope that my trip report will be helpful to others that come behind me. Happy Rails To You. THE END
Edited by bpl888, 09 August 2012 - 06:23 PM.
Reply to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users