6 day, 5000 mile, 4 train loop.
Southwest Chief • GBB – LAX
Sunset Limited • LAX – ALP
Texas Eagle • ALP – CHI
Illinois Zephyr • CHI- GBB
Monday, May 1 – Day 1
Happy 46th Birthday AMTRAK (May 1, 1971)
I hit the road at 11:00 AM.
I had a 3 1/4 hour drive ahead of me to get to the Amtrak station in Galesburg, IL (GBB).
I used my Nikon D300s DSLR to shoot video of my trip.
My train, the #3(1) Southwest Chief, wasn’t scheduled to depart Galesburg until 5:38 PM so I gave myself a ‘just in case’ 3 hour 25 minute time cushion.
I found the Amtrak station in Galesburg without difficulty, shot some exterior video clips in between rain showers, and then headed to a Mexican restaurant (Hacienda Jalisco Mexican Restaurant, 2105 E Main St, Galesburg, IL ) for an early dinner before boarding the Southwest Chief. I had tamales, rice, beans and lemonade. Chips & a decent, mild red salsa were served as an appetizer. The meal was OK and they did have a quite good tomatillo based salsa verde that went nicely with my tamales. The refried beans were a bit salty, which is often the case in these parts.
Back at the station I shot some station interior clips. Outside it was mid 40s, windy and raining off and on outside which prevented some clips I wanted to shoot.
The SWC arrived a bit early and those wanting to boarded.
For this first leg of a 6 day, 5000 mile, 4 Amtrak train loop I opted to ride coach all the way to Los Angeles. I had traveled in coach overnight from Ottumwa to Denver on the California Zephyr and wanted to experience 2 nights in coach to see how I held up.
I was assigned to a window seat next to a young man also LA bound that also boarded in Galesburg. I noted there were several rows of empty seats that had no destination slips. That made me wonder how the TA-C decided 2 people, with different names, should sit together all the way to LA?
My seat mate was faithfully dedicated to his cell phone and tablet when cells were not available for his phone. Early on I was able to get his attention long enough to find out he was making his first ever train trip and happy he had an aisle seat as he had zero desire to watch the scenery go by as we railed towards Los Angeles.
As soon as I had boarded I stuck my laptop GPS receiver to the window and deployed my laptop on the fold down table. It displayed my DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2015 Plus and the GPS Status showing where we were, our compass heading, the train’s speed, and our altitude above sea level. (DeLorme was bought/absorbed by Garmin.)
My seatmate was accommodating when I needed/wanted to leave my seat and it was fun seeing on my GPS when the train first hit 90 MPH after leaving GBB.
Soon after going to sleep soon after Kansas City I had to shoulder my seatmate back over to his seat & bring my fully reclined seat up a couple of notches to keep him there. Other than that the night was uneventful.
Day 2 – May 2
I woke at 6:30 AM having slept as well as I expected to, and was sufficiently rested for the fresh day.
It was partly cloudy, the area had gotten some spring snow, and the SWC was just a bit late as the first town we went through was Holcomb, KS site of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family told of in Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood. At this point we were on BNSF’s La Junta subdivision.
Day 2 on the SWC rivals the scenery on the Day 2 of the California Zephyr route, but in a not directly comparable way.
I made my first trip to the back end of the train to shoot shot footage out the ‘railfan window’ only to discover this SWC had an extra car, a Pacific Surfliner coach car, on the end of the consist. The door from the last SWC car was disabled preventing other than OBS or train crew access to the Surfliner car. So unfortunately, no footage of the tracks receding into the distance behind the train. I did get footage through the door window of the interior of the Surfliner car as a consolation.
Soon we were railing past the John Martin Reservoir some 12 miles or so east of Las Animas, CO. We would be on the BNSF Boise City sub from Las Animas to La Junta, stop for a smoke/leg stretch break and then veer SW onto the Raton sub as we departed La Junta.
While we were stopped in La Junta I mentioned to the TA-C (Penny) I was going all the way to LA and asked if I could move to the 2 empty, unassigned seats at the front of the car that lack fold down tables for the duration of the trip.
She allowed me to do just that though she made sure to say she could not guarantee she might need to seat someone else with me at some point. It turns out that wasn’t necessary and I had both seats to myself. In fact the 2 seats directly across the aisle were also vacant, except the leg between ABQ & GLP, for the rest of the trip. I noted my former seatmate also rode solo the rest of the trip.
Out of La Junta I made sure to get footage as we crossed the Comanche National Grasslands, then went to lunch in the dining car. I had the Angus hamburger.
ABQ station was a crowd scene with lots of people getting off/on the train.
We had picked up the Glorietta sub back in Las Vegas, NM and were on it to south of ABQ where we re-joined BNSF’s Southern Transcon/Gallup subdivision at the Dalies junction. The Gallup sub takes us to Winslow, AZ . With the train essentially on-time it got dark shortly after leaving Gallup.
For dinner I ate food I had brought with me - hard salami, Colby cheese, homemade sourdough bread, trail mix and packaged chocolate pudding for desert.
Past Winslow we were on the Seligman sub to Needles, CA, the Needles sub to Barstow, and the Cajon Sub to San Bernardino.
Day 3 - May 3
I woke at 5 AM, PDST and was disappointed the train was on time as it meant going over Cajon Pass in darkness. I’d been hoping the train would be a couple of hours late.
I shot what video clips I could once we departed from San Bernardino and on the San Bernardino sub we arrived at Los Angeles Union Station some 20 minutes early.
Being my first time at LAUS I had a Red Cap take me to Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge and I now had 14 hours before I would leave LAUS in a sleeper on the Sunset Limited.
Once I got checked in to the Metro Lounge and had coffee & muffins for breakfast I left and shot lots of video of LAUS including the East portal Patsaouras Transit Plaza and the exterior of the MTA Building. I didn’t go in the MTA building to look at the art work they have on display.
Late afternoon I went to Olvera Street for an early dinner of Mexican food. I chose the El Paseo Inn restaurant and had a very good Chili Verde Burrito and a nice cold draft Modelo Especial.
At 9:00 PM the Red Cap came to take us out to the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle sleeper cars, though the train wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10 PM. My sleeper was in the SL car right next to the Dining car. When he dropped me off I noticed the car # was 0320, a westbound Southwest Chief number.
It turns out the TA-SC hadn’t yet set the car number. When she did the car number was 0230, not the 0231 that was on my ticket. Plus, I was booked in Room #6 but the TA-SC told me to use Room #2. That worked OK for me.
The TA-SC put the lower bunk back into Day mode for me. Since it’s just me I sleep in the upper bunk so I have more room to move around as soon as I get up. With time to kill I took a shower and then got settled in my Roomette.
We pulled out on time and I watched out the window for a bit before going ‘upstairs’ to bed.
Day 4 – May 4
I woke just as we were leaving Maricopa, AZ. I tended to my morning routine and then went to the Dining car for breakfast. I had the omelet w/cheese, sausage patties, coffee and orange juice. I didn’t much care for neither the roasted potatoes nor the croissant biscuit.
The plan for the day was to shoot video clips according to my shot list.
I went to lunch after leaving Lordsburg, NM and I had the Southwest salad with the chicken breast. I finished talking with my lunch companions just in time to shoot video as we crossed the Continental Divide. I had dinner and desert, Seared Shrimp/Amtrak Signature Desert, before we got to Alpine.
In Alpine I was booked in the TE coach car.
I got back to the TE coach car in time to watch the Conductors and a local LEO board the car. Soon they came back off the car with a man in custody. I have no idea what the deal was.
There were not many seats left and I was assigned a seat on the lower level of the car. We were told that when we got to San Antonio seating would be reassigned. My seat mate and I chatted for a bit as we departed Alpine. I poured myself a night cap and once done imbibing my seat mate inquired if it was whisky. I said it was Angostura bitters and whisky and that I had sufficient supply that I could pour him a night cap too. Soon we both drifted off to sleep.
Day 5 – May 5
I woke when we arrived in San Antonio. I felt them disconnect the TE coach & sleeper cars from the SL potion of the train, and went back to sleep. I woke again when I felt the previous days Southbound TE hook up to the coach/sleeper cars. Soon thereafter the TA-C and Bruce, apparently an Amtrak supervisor of some kind (Amtrak name tag, but not in an Amtrak uniform) woke me and had me move to another coach car. Bruce wheeled my roller bag for me to the car and told me to pick any seat. The car looked to be freshly cleaned and I chose the seats behind the staircase that have no fold down tables.
As on Day 2 I had some of the homemade granola I had with me for breakfast along with coffee from the Café. The rest of the day was like Day 3 and Day 4 – shooting video clips and watching the scenery go by. The scenery was too often just trees close to the tracks on either side of the train.
I enjoyed seeing Tower 22 in Ft. Worth and the infamous Dealy Plaza in Dallas. I had dinner in the Café car, pizza & cup of noodles as we stopped for a bit in Longview. I went to sleep as we were leaving Texarkana.
Day 6 – May 6, Saturday
I woke early, about 5 AM, and saw on my laptop that we were off route. Later I heard flooding had caused a detour. We approached St. Louis from the east side of the Mississippi River and went westbound over the MacArthur Bridge. On the way I got 2 video clips of wild Tom turkey’s strutting their stuff near the train tracks.
Once out on the platform at the St. Louis station (smoke stop) I saw that the locomotives had been removed from the front of the train. There was no electricity, no AC, and the Toilets Closed sign was lighted. Some minutes later I saw that the locomotives were now hooked to the consist at the other end of the train. All the coach seats would be going backwards if left as is. They had everyone board and then the TA-C and Conductor proceeded to turn all the coach seats around. I have always wondered how they did that and now I have video of them doing so. We had to stand in the aisle and move out of the way a bit so they could go through the car and do what they needed to do. It was kind of like the ‘wave’ at a ballpark, but without raising our arms in the air.
Also quite a few new passengers got on and the car was near capacity.
We were by now running a couple of hours late. Announcements were made regarding connecting trains in Chicago and shuttle service to Galesburg so passengers could meet the California Zephyr/Southwest Chief. I still had a 2 hour cushion for my connection to the #383 train (Illinois Zephyr) to get me back to Galesburg, though I had lost 2 hours of time to see/video Chicago Union Station.
We actually made up a bit of time (padding?) and were were only 1.5 hours late into CUS.
I made it to the Metro Lounge (Business class seat on the #383) my own because I wanted to do it that way rather than use a Red Cap. I got checked in, put my bags in the storage room and headed out into the station to shoot what clips I could in the time I had. I shot clips in the new Metro lounge, had a beverage, admired some of the photographs, and headed out front so a red Cap could take me to my next, and last, train on this trip. I was non-stop from the time we arrived until myself and the Red Cap had to wait to go to my train. For the first time in my experience the Red Cap took my bags onto the train.
The Business class/Café car was on the end of consist.
Being single level cars and a rather short train with just 1 locomotive it sure accelerated briskly.
I shot video clips, had a beverage, and in just a couple of hours was back in Galesburg . I got home at 12:15 AM Sunday morning.
2 consecutive nights in coach was doable and actually more interesting, from a people watching perspective, than having a sleeper berth.
I won’t ride the Texas Eagle again. For me the scenery was not stimulating enough to foster any desire to see it again from that train.
However I have no regrets regarding any of this epic trip.
I would like to take the Sunset Limited to New Orleans and have another, tentative future LD loop trip planned – GBB to GBB: Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, a couple of days to see/experience NOL, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Illinois Zephyr.
Edited by KmH, 11 May 2017 - 07:48 PM.