I started the trip at 8:30 in the morning, driving the 185 mile trip from my house to friend Gladys' house near The Dalles. Gladys is a fan of train trips, in fact I met her on my last long distance train trip, so she was willing to take me to the station and keep my car in her drive for the month I'd be gone. We went into the Dalles and indulged another of our passions, thrift store shopping, then I treated her to an early dinner at the Canton Wok and we headed to the Wishram station to be ready for the 6:55pm train. All indications were the train was running on time.
At Wishram, we got on the platform to spend the last 20 minutes till train time, and I checked my phone. There was a text from Amtrak. Uh-oh... train is now supposed to arrive at 7:18. Then it was pushed back to 8:24, then 8:54, then 9:24, then 10:14. Somewhere in there, I called Julie at Amtrak, and she corroborated the time, but didn't give a reason. It wasn't raining, so I left my bag outside, ready to grab and run if the train suddenly showed up. Hubby called me and reported he's found a site that showed the train stopped in Camas, WA. Gladys and I sat in the car and talked, and worried about the cause of the stop: was it a collision of some kind, or a mechanical issue? We both hoped it was mechanical. Finally Hubby called and said the train was moving again. The next text said 10:08, and a final one pushed it back to 10:09. At exactly 10:09, the train pulled up with a BNSF engine leading, tacked on in front of the Amtrak engine. Whew, mechanical.
We were so glad that we had eaten in The Dalles, as there was no boxed meal offered to me, and I would not have wanted it at that hour. After I got on, the train hung around Wishram (usually a grab-and-go stop) for 10 minutes. I later found out this was to soothe the antsy smokers who had been cooped up for more than three hours, but my roomette was on the right-hand side so I didn't see them all get off for their break. My SCA, Shavon, had the room made up for me and I went to bed immediately after I called Hubby to tell him I was finally on the train.
We ran about three and a half hours late all night, still that way this morning. I got myself up as soon as it was light enough to see outside, as this section is usually in the dark. I had the Continental breakfast with oatmeal. I like the nuts instead of raisins, and the new vanilla Greek yogurt. I sat at the breakfast table at least an hour after finishing, conversing with two others from the train. After breakfast, we reached Whitefish and I walked the length of the train. Consist is: BNSF engine, dead Amtrak Engine, second Amtrak engine (from Seattle section), baggage, dorm, Seattle sleeper, Diner, Seattle coach (just one), SSL, Portland coach, Portland coach/bag, Portland sleeper.
I worked on this report in the lounge car, until they announced lunch was being served. We passed by the Izaak Walton, and I was glad to see they had more snow (the pack has been pretty pitiful). I got to sit on the river (left) side of the train while I ate. The steamed mussels were quite good, but no vegetables, so I had a side salad and got the server to give me guacamole to top it. The chocolate raspberry tart for dessert does not look like much, but it's quite delicious – chocolate crust filled with chocolate mousse and raspberry glaze. Back in my roomette now, which is on the right side for the climb to Marias Pass. Just went by a sno-park with a woman and child putting on their cross-country skis by the car.
I'd been trying to connect with Hubby at home. He called when I was in the lounge car after Whitefish, but the fan over my head was loud, and I could not hear him, so I said I'd call him back at lunch (his time). Of course, there's no cell service to speak of east of Essex. I got a signal a couple times, but it didn't even last long enough for him to pick up the phone. It finally worked at the edge of the prairies in Browning, and we had a nice, long chat.
Spent the afternoon writing, napping, and studying the ham radio guide. Having a hard time convincing myself that it matters that a Henry is a unit of (what?). By the time the LSA got to the Portland sleeper offering dinner reservations, he only had 5:30 and 7:30 left. I chose 5:30, and had the salmon with a baked potato and a glass of red wine. Everything was cooked perfectly, including the green beans. For company, I had a young woman with two small, shy, sleepy children, on her way to join her husband at Williston ND. No dessert, or I won't sleep tonight.
Shavon is one of the best SCAs I have had. She's a little reserved personally, but friendly and keeps the car very clean. She cleans the toilets at least twice a day, coffee pot always on, and when I follow her instructions to take my personal stuff off the bed and then push the call button, the beds are made up for day or night very promptly.
The dining car crew is also very good. Kevin, my server every meal so far, has a wonderful sense of humor and is always accommodating. LSA Christopher is very well organized, charming, and equally helpful. At breakfast I sat with two retired Episcopal ministers – not traveling together, just a serendipitous meeting. The conversation was pretty good, as one of the ministers revealed liberal rebel streak I found amusing. Outside the window, we saw ice-fishing houses on Detroit Lake, but the snow was very thin here as it was everywhere along the way. The only place I saw some decent depth was Essex, Montana, and even there it was nowhere near as deep as it should have been.
We are now running about 5½ hours late at St. Cloud MN. They keep talking about making up almost two hours, but that's not happening. We sat for 45 minutes in Minot last night because they had to wait for the fuel truck. I asked Kevin about a possible dinner on the train, and he said it was starting to look that way. Apparently there is no more “limited menu” for sleeper pax. Everyone just gets Amstew, which now comes from Costco. The LSA thinks we will make up time, says wait and see what time it is when we leave MSP.
We stopped about 20 minutes shy of MSP station to have the BNSF freight engine taken off, and continued with just the two Amtrak engines, a good one pushing a dead one and pulling the train. We are now more than 6 hours late, but “Julie” estimates that we'll arrive in CHI at 8:07, 4 hours and 12 minutes late. Dining car crew says that means no dinner, so I called Nephew and we arranged a tentative pick-up at the station. As soon as the Chicago arrival time came and went, and with us nowhere near there, the crew handed out snack packs to everyone on board. I fixed myself some wine (left over from last night), dried fruit, pistachios and chocolate as hors d'oeuvres, so I'm not in any danger of going hungry.
Spent a couple of fun days in Chicago with Nephew + Wife, and took in a teacher workshop at the wonderful Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with teacher friend Clintonia. On Sunday evening, I took the “L” Brown Line from Damen station to the Loop, and walked across the bridge to Union Station. I was surprised when I got off the “L” train at Quincy to find I had to haul my big bag down three flights of stairs to street level, as there was no elevator at all (it was even the stop billed as the Amtrak connect point).
The tip to Buffalo was almost uneventful. Even though I was only going to Buffalo, I booked the 448 sleeper as I like the walk through the train to the diner. I set up my “office” in the lower level of my Viewliner roomette, and slept “upstairs.” When traveling alone, if you don't mind climbing upstairs to bed, the old Viewliners are a perfect setup. We ended up being about 30 minutes late into BUF, but that just gave me a little more leisure in the morning to have breakfast and wrap up my computer work.
After a fun 24 hours with my friend Louise, I re-boarded the LSL. Boy, what a different story. The texts started coming in as I packed and Louise cleared the snow off the car. I called out the door “No hurry, train's not due in till 11:18.” We ended up eating blueberry/multi-grain pancakes at the Poked Yolk, where they smiled and refilled our coffee cups for two hours. Then we stopped by the Panera, so I could pick up a sandwich for the train. We still arrived at Buffalo/Depew station before 10am, and Louise came in to sit with me for a few minutes. The only other passenger waiting when I arrived was an older gentleman with dark glasses, a crutch, and a guitar case. I started talking to him, as he asked about current time and train estimates. His name is Norris Bennet, and he used to play with the Ebony Hillbillies. He played one of my favorites “Hard Times (Come Again No More)”. Louise didn't leave till the train pulled in. Amtrak station staff took care of getting Norris boarded on the train.
Once in the Business Class car, I noticed most of the seats marked off for staff. Only the seats with no tray tables and the ones with a post were left available. I was a little disgruntled, and managed to get switched out so I could have a window AND a tray table. As soon as I got seated and the train rolled out, I noticed quite a few people headed for the cafe. I soon found out that the reason was the back half of the train lost power before the stop at South Bend IN. By the time everyone got up in the morning, the back half was cold and the toilets would not flush, so they moved everyone up to the warm half of the train. There was no power in the diner, and at least one coach ahead of that, so meals are being served for everyone out of the cafe/lounge car.
I got out my sandwich and ate lunch, but I was also offered one of the sandwiches they had loaded on board for all coach passengers. I see that sleeper passengers are being given lunch the same way Boston passengers will be offered dinner: microwaved meals in the cafe. The dining car crew is sitting across the aisle and behind me. The two older ones (chef and waiter) think it's torture, just riding on the train and not being able to work. The LSA is younger, and he's just bored. It is said that they will take the bad coach out at Albany and get the power back on to the others, but I wonder what they will do about the plumbing which must be royally clogged. Turns out they decide they don't need to try anything with the bad coaches, they are just going to haul them along to NYP as they are.
By the time the train gets to Albany, I'm good friends with the crew. I see a few sleeper passengers trundling their bags back to the New York cars, so I guess they did get moved up for the day. The diner crew heads back to the NYP section. They are going to serve the food that is going to be put on for all of us at Albany. We leave Albany about 6:40, and Boston arrival is now estimated at 11:11. Tanya, the cafe attendant, is serving hot dogs and hamburgers “on me” to all 16 coach passengers. I am the only Business Class passenger going past Albany.
7:03: Coming to a stop in the dark, with no lights visible, is not a good sign.
7:08: The horn toots twice. We start up again slowly, and gain speed. Lights flash by as we pass houses and businesses. Tanya is serving sleeper passengers at the cafe tables now.
8:05: Just left Pittsfield, MA. Estimated arrival BOS is now 11:24. Tanya gave me a plate of braised beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables, no charge. Tanya says the Tiramisu isn't on the menu any more (449 menu is wrong on both the train page and the foodfacts page, am I surprised?), but she's going to be on my return trip in Feb. and she'll try to get one cup of it from the commissary for me then... sweet!
9:20: Springfield station, time for a snooze before Boston. G'night, all.