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Trains don't have seatbelts!

CZ round trip OTM SAC OTM with day trip to San Francisco.

.. Day 1 Amtrak California Zephyr 5 (25) March 18.

To allow for unforeseen delays I got an early start on my 2 hour drive to the Ottumwa Amtrak station.
The last time I rode the California Zephyr the station was open all day so I was surprised when I got there that the station hours had been significantly reduced. My bad.

Station hours are now:
Mon Fri
8:30 am to 11:30 am for the #5 train
5:30p to 8:00 pm for the #6 train
Sat Sun
8:00 am to 9:00 am for the #5 train
6:30 pm to 7:30 pm for the #6 train

OK. I got to watch 4 coal trains run through the station from the front seat of my car parked in the long term parking area.

The #5 was a couple of minutes early and my TA-SC, Jason, took my roller bag onboard. I was the only passenger boarding his car at OTM. I just had the roller bag, a small backpack and my laptop bag. The luggage rack in the car was basically full. I knew by watching ticket pricing on Amtrak.com the week before my departure that the train was pretty much going to be full when I boarded. Jason had gotten me a 7:45 pm dinner reservation in the dining car so I had time to get settled in before having dinner.
I was in car 0532, Roomette #4 and the car (a Superliner II) was in the consist such that #4 was on the left side of the train relative to our direction of travel (Bedrooms leading).

The day before, when this train was the 6 (22), it got to Chicago 7 hours late due to a couple of rock slides that delayed it 3/23. 5 (25) departed CHI on time and once onboard I saw that they accomplished the on time departure from CHI at least in part by skipping, or giving short shrift to, a couple of cleaning steps. The windows were very dirty indicating the outside of the train had not been washed, and there was trash under the Roomette seats. For all I know the trash had been there for weeks, but it was unsightly and made me wonder what else had been done half-assed in order to depart CHI on time?

The Customer Safety Instructions brochure in my room was stuck together with an unknown substance and there was no Schedule or Route Guide. I later confirmed that to save some money sleeper berths no longer have a schedule/route guide. If you want such while on the train download them to your phone/tablet/laptop. Jason or a previous TA-SC had taped a schedule (and a dining car menu) to the wall at the coffee station end of the bedroom passageway.

The dining car was full for dinner and the track was kind of rough so we were all swaying back and forth as we tried to eat. I had a salad, my first Land & Sea - w/baked potato, a Pepsi, and a dessert. The Sea was OK taste wise but for me not worth the $14 extra cost if one was out-of-pocket for it. The Land was a disaster. I had asked that it be cooked medium. It was well done and didnt look like it had been cooked on the griddle. Im not even sure it was a flatiron cut of steak because of how tough it was. I managed to eat about ½ of it. The baked potato and green beans were up to par.

I was told my first choice for dessert, the Cheese, Fruit & Nut Plate, was not available. That was quite a surprise considering this was the first meal serviced on the 3 day route.
Done with dinner I returned to my room and got the upper bunk ready for me. Being by myself I like to leave the seats in the Day configuration the entire trip. With that done I poured myself a nice potion of B&B into a snifter I brought with me and sipped that as I watched a 1st quarter moon lit landscape go by out the south facing window of my room.

.. Day 2 Amtrak California Zephyr

Breakfast service was to start at 6 am, so I was up by 5:30 and in the diner at 6.

For breakfast I had the omelet, sausage, grits, coffee & orange juice. At home I usually eat potatoes with breakfast but I dont fancy Amtraks breakfast potatoes so grits.
We got to Denver early. We backed in next to the, now beyond its end date for this season, Ski Train.

I asked Jason if he would mind if I washed the outside of the boarding door windows so I could shoot nicer video through them. He said he would be happy to do that for me and grabbed a towel to do just that.

I was able to shoot a bunch of video clips out on the platform and from the walkway that goes over the platform. When I get the video edited together of my trip Ill post it in the Travelogue section of the forums. That will likely take me a month or so.

We departed Denver 45 minutes late, in part because they added the 2 Ski Train locomotives to the front of the 5 (25). At the least the Ski Train locos were going to the Oakland yard.

I cooled my heels in my room and watched out the window as we railed out of Denver. My goal each day was to shoot video, both A-roll and B-roll, to document my train trip/vacation. I started shooting clips as we approached the Little and Big 10 curves.

With my room on the side of the train opposite the stunning vista we can see of the Denver area as we climb the Front Range, I shot video through windows in the doors of the boarding vestibule on the lower level. We were up in and out of clouds (fog) soon after getting above the Big 10. We got above that as we gained altitude.

I went to the back of the railfan window in the last coach car to shoot video of us entering and emerging from the Moffat Tunnel.

There was way less snow in the Rockies than I had expected. If I had checked the amount of snow they had before I left my expectations would have been tempered. My bad - again.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the CZ route is the Western Slope from Hot Sulphur Springs to Glenwood Springs.

Lunch was first come and I was surprised again when we were told 2 of the 5 lunch entrees - the Veggie Burger & the Baked Chilaquiles were not available.

Referring back to the unavailable Cheese, Fruit & Nut Plate desert the previous evening, the Romaine & Goat Cheese Salad I had for lunch had the fruit, the nuts and the goat cheese the Cheese, Fruit & Nut Plate I wanted last night has. Cheddar cheese is stocked for the Angus burger and breakfast omelets. A head scratcher!

There were a lot of geese along the Colorado River, perhaps indicative of a mild winter in the Rockies.

We were close to being on time but none the less the fresh air/smoke stops were kept short to keep us close to on time.

I made a 7:30 reservation for dinner in part so I could watch the sunset during the meal. This night the diner was not as busy. Apparently more people got off the train in Denver than got on in Denver.

I told the server about my previous nights steak disaster after again asking for a salad and the Land & Sea, baked potato, with the steak cooked medium. The steak was cooked to perfection, was nicely tender - but there was no Sea. My dining companions verified with the server that I had indeed asked for the Land and Sea and not just the steak. So the Sea appeared a few minutes later. Cest la vie.

Repeating last nights after dinner plan I sipped B&B as I watched the lead locomotives head & ditch lights light the tracks and terrain on curves as we climbed towards Soldier Summit.

.. Day 3 Amtrak California Zephyr

I was again up by 5:30, but breakfast wasnt to start until 6:30. So, I was the first in the dining car for breakfast and I sat on the east facing side of the car so I could watch the sunrise always a treat for me when on the train. This morning I had coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon and grits.

While in the dining car we pasted O.J. Simpsons previous home in Nevada. I knew he had moved and was no longer living there, so there was no point in waving as we went by. Of course for 9 years O.J. shared that abode, Nevada Department of Corrections Lovelock prison, with some 1700 other convicted felons.

By Reno we were running about an hour late, so the smokers, walkers, & fresh air aficionados had a limited amount of time to do their thing.

The climb from Reno along the Truckee River to Donner Pass is my second favorite part of the CZ route. The Sierras had a couple of multi foot snow falls the week before we crossed the Sierras so they looked like a winter wonderland. Just beautiful.

Before we got to the summit a conductor that got on in Reno saw my camera gear and told me he had cleaned the railfan window at the back of the train a first in my Amtrak experience. He didnt clean the entire window, but enough of it was clean I could make nice stills or video through with my cell phone camera.

I got back to the window just after we had topped out at Donner Summit. At that point the dispatcher had the train stop while some snow was moved/managed in front of us.

Once we got going again I started shooting clips and got a clip of the front end loader that was moving/managing snow on or close to the tracks as we passed it.

I went to lunch just before we got to Colfax. I had the Angus burger with cheese and bacon and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I ate the tomatoes, onions and lettuce for the burger like a side salad instead of putting it all on the hamburger - makes the burger easier to eat but I still get my veggies (and fruit tomatoes are a fruit).

We were delayed in Colfax until 13:35 so a freight train could go by. So we were 2 hours late arriving at Sacramento Valley Station.

I stayed on the platform so I could make a clip of the CZ departing for points west. The train was delayed at SAC so I got to hang on the platform for an extra 30 minutes waiting for it to leave.

Once I got into the station I put what I needed for the next 2 days in my backpack and arranged to store my main (roller) bag there at the station. Having a sleeper ticket I didnt have to pay to store my bag this day or the day I was to depart back east to home. I only had to pay $5 for each full 24 hour period of bag storage.

With my backpack and laptop bags I stared the trek from the station to 10th & H streets and the Hostels International - Sacramento. HI SAC is a Victorian mansion built in 1885. Its across the street from Sacramento City Hall. The train stations back door is essentially at 4th & H so its a 6 block, just under ½ mile walk from the train station to the hostel.

I had a private room with a single bed booked for 2 nights @ HI - SAC. When I got there a sign at the front desk noted that they had stepped away for a few minutes and would return soon. On that level is the communal kitchen and dining area and a couple of sitting rooms. Residents can sit out on the porch that wraps around the front and east sides of the mansion on the level of the entrance.

Once they returned getting checked in was EZ and I was given directions how to get to room #31 The Nugget up on the 3rd floor in the back left (northwest) corner of the mansion, as far from the front desk as possible.

The Nugget (room 31) had a single bed, an overhead light, a 3 drawer night stand, and a folding luggage stand. The night stand actually only had 2 drawers with the lower 2 being one drawer twice the size of the top drawer. That bigger drawer held a second blanket for the bed and a small electric fan. There was a window and it was partly open some 4 or 5 inches. A stop was installed to prevent the window from being opened further. I saw vents in the ceiling so I guess the hostel has an HVAC system. The weather was such during my visit that an HVAC system wasnt needed. I should note the room also had a door stop so the door could be stopped open to promote airflow. Two duplex electrical outlets were on the long wall across from the bed.

Next door was a communal Mens room having 2 shower stalls a urinal, a toilet, and 2 sinks in front of a larger mirror. Theres a paper towel dispenser adjacent to the sinks. They provide a bath towel but charge $1 for a small bar of body soap, if you need such. I didnt see any towels so the staff brought me one. There is an adjacent Womens room too but being a guy, what it looks like inside has to remain a mystery to me.

I walked the short distance to 9th between I & J streets and had dinner at La Cosecha that is on the west side of Cesar Chavez Plaza. I enjoyed the Chili Verde Plate I had for dinner.

Something to note about the hostel alcohol policy - Beer and wine must be stored in the designated alcohol fridge in the communal kitchen. Hard liquor found on the property or in the designated alcohol fridge in the communal kitchen will be removed. I took care of that for them and removed the hard liquor I had with me for on the train to the privacy of my room.

.. Day 4 Amtrak California Capitol Corridor

I was up at 6 and out the door by 6:30 so I wouldnt have to hustle to board the 7:33 am, 529 Capitol Corridor train to Oakland Jack London Square station.
The Hostel doesnt start their complimentary breakfast until 7, so I had coffee and a pretty tasty breakfast burrito on the train.

When we got to OKJ I walked to the San Francisco Bay Ferry landing about ½ a mile from the train station. A senior ticket on the ferry from Oakland to Pier 41 cost me $3.40.
The day was about perfect for a visit to San Francisco mid-70s air temp, little wind, and a clear sunny sky.

On arriving at Pier 41 I ambled towards Cioppinos for lunch. I checked in using Yelp and got a free cup of clam chowder. I had the renowned, invented there on the embarcadero back in the day by local fisherman, tomato sauce based seafood stew known as Cioppino - Dungeness crab legs, clams, mussels, snapper, calamari, and shrimp served with sourdough toast.

Boy howdy! After lunch I was stuffed but started using it up by walking to the Beach and Hyde Street area to see how long the wait was to ride a cable car to Powell & Market and back. The wait was lots longer than I was willing to suffer so instead I started walking to the Pier 39 area. I roamed around there for a while before settling down to watch the broad variety of tourists go by on the sidewalk.

I saw a couple herds of Segway riders following their herd guide on a tour, a 1 car at a time advancing line of curbside licensed taxis occasionally flanked street side by Uber and Lyft drivers summoned by phone app. Most people were walking but some went by riding rental bicycles or rented electric scooters (not Segways). Locals and some of the young male tourists had skateboards.

Id had my fill when the Amtrak Thruway bus arrived at 4:15 PM to inch its way along with bumper-to-bumper downtown San Francisco traffic until we got to the bus only lanes getting us on to the Bay Bridge. We got to Emeryville in plenty of time for me to catch the 5:32 pm, 542 Capitol Corridor train to Davis.

In Davis I had dinner across the street from the station at Tres Hermanas. I had and enjoyed the Carnitas and a Modelo Especial (draft beer) for dinner.
I was able to get the 7:49 pm, 742 Capitol Corridor train to SAC, getting there at 8:05 pm.

On getting back to the HI SAC I made the climb back up to the 3rd floor on weary legs. I showered and settled in for the night with a double night cap, the last of my B&B (Brandy & Benedictine), as I re-read some pages from Ann Rules book about Ted Bundy.

Another note about the Hostel - I mentioned its across from City Hall. The city lets homeless people camp on the sidewalk up against City Halls front wall and there are other homeless people around the downtown area, including at around the train station. There are other government buildings there along H street between the train station and the Hostel so youll see government employees, businessmen and other professionals in the area too. Being from out of town I stayed alert and aware and had no problems. Note too this was a couple of days after the Sacramento police had shot and killed an unarmed young man in his grandparents back yard.

.. Day 5 Amtrak California Zephyr

I woke up at 5:30 and got ready for the day and went downstairs at 7 for breakfast.

The hostel has coffee, tea, hot water, dry packaged oatmeal, multi-grain bread, croissants, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, jelly, peanut butter, butter (actually margarine I think) and hard boiled eggs ready for breakfast. Four classes of 4th and 5th graders from the San Francisco area and their teachers were staying at the hostel on a 4 day visit to Sacramento. I missed most of them the day before both in the morning and in the evening.

I had coffee, oatmeal with banana slices in it, 2 slices of multigrain bread with peanut butter and a hardboiled egg for breakfast. When I took my cutlery and dishes to the kitchen to wash them there was soaping water in one sink and rinse water in the other, but a hostel employee told me to just put it all into the soapy water sink and he would take it from there. I returned to my room and spent a little time on my laptop (free if somewhat slow WiFi) before packing everything up and leaving for the train station.

At the station I retrieved my roller bag and hung out in the sleeper passenger waiting area until a red cap came to take us out to the appropriate platform to get on the 6 (29). I was booked in the 0632 car, Roomette #5 and the car (a Superliner I) was in the consist such that #5 was on the right side of the train relative to our direction of travel (Bedrooms trailing). That means I was on the same side I had been on when heading westbound - not what I had hoped for. The train was 5 minutes late.
Thomas was my TA-SC. There were several of us boarding and I handled getting my stuff onboard unaided by him. The luggage storage area had open space but on this Superliner I sleeper car the space available was smaller than on a Superliner II sleeper car.

I got settled in and at noon went to have lunch but there was a wait list. I was given #15 on the list. When called I found out the Baked Chilaquiles were available so that and a salad is what I asked for. I had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to drink. I sat with a mom and her 2 daughters. They were going to Reno for a 4 day stay.

The Baked Chilaquiles lacked visual appeal but were edible. The tomatillo sauce was quite good though. The tomatillo sauce on my eggs I the morning would be nice, but I wont have the Baked Chilaquiles again.

I shot all the video I wanted on the westbound leg, so on the way back the task of the day was to watch the scenery go by.

When the LSA came by I made a dinner reservation for 7 pm. I was seated with 3 others traveling by themselves. Two were retired librarians; one of them had been the head librarian for a government agency in DC. Work days she had to get up at 5:15 am so she could commute to DC on a NER train. Everyone I was seated with for dinner on this trip was friendly and amiable. For dinner I opted for the Salmon, but no salad. By this time I had had my fill of the 3 Paul Newman salad dressing options available and the romaine, grated carrots, and 3 cherry tomatoes dinner salad.
The other was a gentleman that has taken one long distance Amtrak train ride every year for 18 years. For some people the diminishing amenities are not enough of an issue to keep them from traveling via Amtrak.
After dinner I retired to my roomette with a cup of ice and sipped some cooled down Jack Daniels, Tennessee, Sour Mash Whiskey. We were approaching Beowawe, NV when I climbed up into the upper bunk to sleep.

.. Day 6 Amtrak California Zephyr

I was up early enough to watch the full moon lit landscape go by as the train used the Gilluly Loops that let the eastbound train climb out of Fork Canyon at 6400 feet up to Soldier Summit at 7400 feet. The train gains (the westbound train loses) 600 feet in just 3.5 miles via the Gilluly Loops. The remaining 400 feet are gained/lost happens over 6 additional miles.

I was the first to the dining car for breakfast at 6:30 am. I had coffee, orange juice, the pancakes and a rasher of bacon. Watching the from the east sunrise light up the cliffs Red Plateau and the a bit further south San Rafael Swell west of the train route is a nice morning treat. I also saw a couple of lone antelope getting warmed by standing sideways to the rising morning sun.

I didnt see any bald eagles as we railed along beside I-70 after the Green River stop but I know that is an area they live in.

We were early to Grand Junction so it was a 40 minute stop. I used the extra stopped time to shower while the train wasnt moving. I wonder if anyone noticed the shower water drain out the bottom of the train onto the tracks as I showered.

Ted Bundy was jailed at the Garfield County jail in Glenwood Springs. On the night of December 30, 1977 Bundy easily escaped because the jail had a skeleton crew for the Christmas holidays. The skeleton crew did not discover Bundys escape until noon on December 31, more than 17 hours after he got out of jail. By then Bundy was in Chicago. Bundy was executed at 7:16 a.m. EST on January 24, 1989.

There was no wait list for lunch and I went to the dining car as we left Glenwood Springs. I was pleased I got a window seat on the Colorado River side of the dining car. I had lunch with an Australian couple vacationing in the states for a month and a lady retired from a career as a paralegal. I again had the Angus burger with bacon and cheese.

Somewhere between Grand Junction and Fraser/Winter Park Thomas, our TA-SC, became ill enough that Rashid took over his duties. I dont know what Rashid had otherwise been doing on the train.

With Ski Train time having ended there were a lot of skiers wanting to board the train at the Fraser/Winter park stop. Most had skis while some had snowboards. Some of the bags and luggage I saw that the skiers had were nowhere close to being within Amtraks size limits that could be taken on board at no charge. There so many the conductor had them board in 2 groups.

None the less we arrived in Denver some 50 minutes early. I had a 6:45 reservation for dinner so I went to the dining car before we started pulling out of Denver Union Station on time at 7:10 pm. Kind of amazingly it worked out that I was again seated with the 2 librarians and the gentleman I had had dinner with the previous evening. Three of us had the Amtrak steak while one had the Land & Sea. The 2 ladies were seated at the same time, then the other gentleman, and me last. So our dinners came in a staggered time frame we me being last to order. Regardless how we asked to have our streaks cooked, we all got rare steaks. Since we ordered in a staggered fashion I wouldnt be surprised if ever steak in the dining car during that seating went to the tables cooked rare.

All 4 steaks at our table were tender enough if somewhat under-cooked. None the less I was only 1 for 3 on getting my steak actually cooked to order.

..... Day 7 Amtrak California Zephyr

I woke at 4:30 and noted that the train was not moving. I figured we could have been early to Omaha and were waiting for the scheduled departure time of 5:14 am. I decided to get up and see where we were, either by looking out the window or by looking at my laptop.

I put a GPS receiver in the window and plug it into my laptop so anytime day or night on the train I can see how fast we are going and where we are. I keep my laptop set on the Roomette seat next to the electrical outlet the whole trip. I put my outlet strip on the window side armrest with my cell phone charger and camera battery chargers plugged into the strip and on that seat too.

But I digress. Once I got down out of the top bunk I could see we were indeed sitting at the OMA station waiting to depart at the appropriate time. So I climbed back up and went back to sleep.

Of course going eastbound we lose an hour with each time zone crossing so I didnt get up for good until 6:30 am Central time. I went to the dining car at 7 for breakfast. I had the scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, coffee and orange juice.

We got to OTM OK, I got off the train and shot a video clip as it pulled out of the station to continue the miles to its terminus at Chicago so it could be turned to be the 5 (1) with a different OBS crew on April 1st.

Edited by KmH

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Thanks for sharing ! Very interesting !!! :):):)

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Nice trip on my favorite LD Route!😎

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Thanks for that report, KmH.


I’m due on #6 later this month, so I’m grateful to pick up hints of special bits of the ride to look out for.


Your reference to wanting to be on the side for better viewing of the rise out of Denver on #5 (the drop into Denver on my trip on #6) means I should hope for a left-side roomette, yes? And if it doesn’t happen, I should mosey off along to the viewing car.


And which side, if there is a preference, should I hope for to see your fave bits, from Hot Sulphur Springs to Glenwood Springs, and from Reno to the Donner Pass (both vice-versa for my trip of course)?

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Yes. Eastbound on the #6 a berth on the left side is optimal for the descent down the Front Range of the Rockies.


After the leaving the Moffat Tunnel the tracks meander back and forth across South Boulder Creek and it will be seen on both sides of the train in turn.

Gross Reservoir and Gross Reservoir Dam will be on the left.


After the last eastbound tunnel (tunnel #1) Little and Big 10 Curves will be on the left below the train.

The vista with downtown Denver in it will be on the right going through the Big 10.

On the left as you go around the Big 10 you'll see the trees and permanently installed, wheels welded to the tracks hopper cars filled with sand and rocks that serve as a windbreak.

Those hopper cars were install back in the day after a couple of trains got blown off the Big 10 to the right by winds coming down off the Front Range.


Because the Big 10 is a single track there are sidings above and below the Big 10 so if traffic requires it trains can wait their turn to use the Big 10.

Eastbound there are 2 sidings.

The first, the Plain siding, is between tunnel #1 and tunnel #2.

The second, Eisele is right above the Big 10.

Below the Big 10 is the Rocky siding.


FWIW. At each end of a siding there is usually a large silver box that houses electronics/electrics. The name of the siding is stenciled on that box that the train engineer can see it. It's one of the ways the engineer can keep track of where they are on a route.

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Thanks for the great trip report. Did you ever find out what was behind all the "unavailable" menu items? I hope it was a legitimate stocking issue (perhaps related to the shortened turnaround time in CHI), and that we haven't reached the point where dining car crews can just declare half the menu off limits because they feel like it.

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Thanks very much for the trip report! I've made mental notes about the distance from SAC to the HI Histel, and OKJ to the ferry dock.


While the north side of the train has some of the best scenery, a few of my favorite parts are visible from the south side, namely the Truckee River/Donner Lake between Reno and Donner Pass, and much of the Colorado River between Glenwood Springs and Granby CO (the part where you can see wildlife, rather than I-70).

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Thanks for the great trip report. Did you ever find out what was behind all the "unavailable" menu items? I hope it was a legitimate stocking issue (perhaps related to the shortened turnaround time in CHI), and that we haven't reached the point where dining car crews can just declare half the menu off limits because they feel like it.

No, I didn't.

Since the food comes from a commissary, I don't see how the late arrival of the train into Chicago the day before would cause 2 of the 5 lunch entries to be unavailable.

However, I can imagine that a supplier the commissary relies on failed to meet a commitment as far as quantity supplied. In which case the CZ may not have been the only LD train short those 2 lunch entrees.


And the food items that are the Cheese, Fruit & Nuts Plate were in stock because the food items for that dessert choice were in stock on the train for the lunch Romaine & Goat Cheese salad.

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