Traveling Season opened not a moment too soon for Team Whooz. Aside from brief jaunts here and there around California there had been a lengthy and unfortunate health-imposed stretch of inactivity. It becomes fairly difficult to read things like AU trip reports about folks out and about on or around the rails when one has no immediate prospects of enjoying similar activities oneself. Amtrak Unlimited Gathering V at Seattle and Portland had been the last expedition of any real length, though there WERE the Surfliner Sleeper to San Diego, a Coast Starlight Tehachapi detour, Expo Line opening weekend, and that Amtrak Vacations weekend at Yosemite that Executive Director Alice won from the National Train Day L.A. sweepstakes in 2010 (trip not taken 'til December, 2011). Still and all the challenge of new travel needed to be met once again, and soon. Weather was improving, opportunities beckoned, and there was a serious imperative to break free of the walls that seemed to be closing in. It was time for a Spring Offensive. It just so happened that conditions conducive to a successful push into the mountain west would be ideal beginning around the second week in May. Once this crucial realization dawned, the opportunity optimization planning and coordination that ensued was a relatively simple, albeit intense and grueling, task. Team Whooz Coastal Command at La Casa de Whooz was transformed from a sleepy backwater post into a beehive of frenetic frontline activity. Maps, charts, schedules, and all manner of other planning tools cluttered every horizontal surface - and many of the vertical ones. Reports from far and wide (mostly wide) around the region poured in to be sorted, analyzed, considered, rationalized, integrated, and consolidated. Opinions from experts in every relevant field were sought and provided. Every medium was enlisted, from lowly AM radio and local newspapers to authoritative national publications and sophisticated global computer networks. Meteorlogical forecasts were consulted and compiled. Top psychics and astrologers weighed in. Polls were conducted, their results sifted. No effort was spared! The result of it all, following many tens of minutes of high level intrastate conferencing among Team Whooz top officials (both of us) was an action plan that, though deceptively simple in concept, would prove fiendishly complex and difficult to execute. With the Spring Offensive's essentials largely settled there remained the matter of a name. Appropriate names for high-powered travel operations are imperative, as everybody knows. But good ones are difficult to come by, as NOT everybody knows (which is why there are so many badly named travel operations), so an additional tense and difficult tens of seconds were devoted to conjuring the perfect name for the Team Whooz 2012 Spring Offensive. No, it's not "Team Whooz 2012 Spring Offensive." Too obvious. And now, Valued Reader, with all that tedious and probably superfluous preliminary mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let's proceed with the official report (yes yes, and travelogue): South By Southwest Chief May 12, 2012, National Train Day L.A., was selected as an auspicious starting date for South by Southwest Chief, whooz planned outline for action was essentially as follows... 1) Train Day sweep through southern California, backed up by... 2) Quick blitz to the interior - or "Inland Empire" - before... 3) Shifting to a sustained northeastward push in pursuit of Santa Fe steam locomotive No. 3751 and its Grand Canyon Special train, followed by... 4) Stealth drive across northern Arizona and New Mexico to... 5) South By Southwest Chief Main Objective of riding the train in both directions over Raton Pass between Trinidad, Colorado and Las Vegas, New Mexico, after which... 6) Leisurely victory loop through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada by way of returning to Home Base at La Casa de Whooz. Like the operation itself, this trip report-slash-travelogue will be divvied up into roughly the same general stages. Simple and easy, no? No. Execution of the plan proceeded well enough at the outset, giving little hint of the trials, tribulations, and terrors the future held. Our intial interim objective on D-Day (Train Day L.A.), the Lomita Railroad Museum, was reached smoothly enough, after the single misstep of a missed 405 freeway offramp. No negative impact, and in fact the turnaround to correct the error afforded the opportunity to catch a Goodyear blimp on the ground at its base in nearby Carson. The museum is something of an attractive anomaly in the L.A. South Bay area: a neighborhood train museum and park in the midst of a middle class residential area. Small and focused, with an intersting history, fun present, and hopeful future, the Lomita museum was a great place to enjoy a couple hours at the beginning of South By Southwest Chief. Donated to the city of Lomita by its creator in 1967, the museum includes a well-done replica depot, a Southern Pacific steam locomotive, water tower, a couple cabeese and other rolling stock, as well as nice collections of railroad memorabilia, gift shop, and park areas on two good-sized parcels of land. Wish there was a rail museum like that in La Casa de Whooz' neighborhood! Next it was on to Fullerton for a Pacific Surfliner ride and Amtrak Guest Rewards points run to Los Angeles Union Station. At FUL there was enough time and rail activity before boarding a Surfliner to Union Station that Executive Director Whooz got to do some preliminary fiddling around with the settings on a new camera (Canon SX40 HS) that he'd been foaming to take on a major photo expedition. The initial results aren't pretty, but paid off in equipment familiarity over the long run as the operation progressed. Executive Assistant Alice was also working with a camera that was new to her; Whooz' old Kodak DX6490. She was using it as sort of an operational test bed to assist in her quest to purchase a replacement for her aging and obsolete Sony camera. It was quickly apparent that even the old Kodak (itself aging and obsolete) is an improvement on the Sony. Of course a better camera does not a good photographer make, but it sure doesn't hurt; the DX6490 displays Alice's skills to better advantage than the Sony did, even though it's about the same vintage (2004). Anyway, despite a bit of boarding confusion centered on Alice's wheelchair the ride into Union Station went smoothly. It had been too long since Team Whooz' last passage along that portion of the Surfliner route, and it was good to once again view the familar - if not particularly scenic - sights of southern California's industrial underbelly from a (mostly) speeding train. At Union Station the National Train Day L.A. festivities were pretty much over or in wrapping up mode, which was quite alright with Team Whooz. The mob scenes and long lines that had characterized earlier years of the event had driven Team Whooz to celebrate the occasion in other ways and other locations, as with 2011 Surfliners up to San Luis Obispo and return, and the SoCal sweep of this year (and this rant) that avoided LAUS until after the crunch. With the scheduled activities winding down, however, came the after events, chief among them movement of Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam locomotive No. 3751 and its partial Grand Canyon Special consist away from display to the yards to await the excursion's coming Monday departure on the run to its namesake humongous hole in the ground. A number of elements were still in place, however, and while awaiting the big move time was available to stroll around and peruse what remained. Amtrak's display train, for example, sat on track 12, headed by heritage phase painted No. 66. Union Pacific showed a gen-set switcher, and there was a new low emissions locomotive from Pacific Harbor Line, a crucial interchange shortline out at Long Beach and San Pedro. We also got to see the state of progress on rebuilding tracks 13 and 14. But the big deal was the steam excursion move, with Team Whooz far from the only folks hanging out in anticipation. The special consist was incomplete, lacking some of the private varnish, and Amtrak No. 66, that would join up for the cross-country trip, but it was still and all a fine sight to see backing out of LAUS. Treading gingerly at first through the maze of switchery at the depot's throat, 3751's crew did manage a brief, small demonstration of external combustion grandeur as the train was shoved around the tight curve to the main for the short run to the yards beyond. The steam departure spectacle serving as a South By Southwest Chief D-Day closing bookend, Team Whooz boarded Pacific Surfliner 1790 and rolled southbound through the gloaming on the return to Fullerton, collecting another triple dose of AGR points en route. Steel wheels were traded for rubber tires at FUL, and the MayhemMobile was pointed east. Day One's major objectives had all been successfully achieved, so while cruising easily toward an Inland Empire layover point from which to launch Day Two of South By Southwest Chief, Executive Director Whooz relaxed and busied himself with learning the intricacies of his smartphone's GPS features, figuring they'd be of prime importance in the coming days of the operation. Little did he know... Photos: South By Southwest Chief, D-Day - The Team Whooz 2012 Spring Offensive got underway on National Train Day with lightning raids on the Lomita Railroad Museum, Fullerton Amtrak/Metrolink station, and Los Angeles Union Station. Oh, and a Goodyear blimp was caught on the ground. Comprehensively captioned. NEXT: Inland Empire Interlude Photos, top to bottom: 1) The Lomita Railroad Museum is in the L.A. South Bay town of the same name. Originally private, and with an interesting history, it was donated to and is operated by the city of Lomita. Right in the middle of a largely residential area, it's really a neighborhood train museum and park; 2) A Metrolink train in push mode crosses over to track 1 as it arrives at Fullerton. Yes, it looks like a locomotive, but that's one of Metrolink's new "crash energy management" cab cars, built in South Korea by Rotem. The train's engineer seems to be checking his rearview mirror; making sure it's clear before changing lanes? 3) An intergenerational profile in power; 4) 3751 backing the excursion train. Naturally the photographers clustered back on the station platforms were eating this stuff up, and Whooz was no exception!