This adventure was long in planning, and will be awhile in sharing. After all, it was a 6,787 mile Train Trek. If you do the math, that equates to COAST to COAST to COAST. Yes, Boston – Chicago – Sacramento – Portland, Oregon – Chicago – Boston. Remember my 2011 Train Trek from Montreal to Vancouver, and then in 2013 when I completed crossing Canada by train traveling from Montreal to Halifax? Well, I described how that came about, and in this post I will introduce you to my AMTRAK adventure, and how it came about.
You know I enjoy history, and experiencing former gentile ways of life. Along with innumerable enjoyable experiences, my book buying and selling has facilitated my learning. About fifteen years ago I purchased a massive railroad book collection, focusing on the western United States. Included were over 600 pieces of ephemera – travel brochures, time tables, train diagrams, and the like. I was fascinated. While selling the collection piece by piece I just wanted to experience the seductiveness of train travel. The same happened with oceanic travel leading to my Queen Mary II experiences – no party cruise ships for me, I prefer wearing a tuxedo. To the right are a couple of the enticing pieces of train ephemera I still have – I had better pieces.
How can you not want to experience this? (you can click and enlarge both images)
The thought of traveling on Amtrak’s “named trains” throughout the US has been on my mind. I discovered a book on the famous California Zephyr by Henry Kisor, ZEPHYR: TRACKING A DREAM ACROSS AMERICA. I bought a copy on January 14, 2013. Since then I read, marked up and made notes in my copy twice (yes, if using a book as a tool – and not a costly tome – it is acceptable to mark it up for your own use, just don’t expect to resell it). This past winter I began reading it for a third time.
Sadly, Amtrak does not have an easy to use website for planning an extensive journey. I was developing in my mind an excursion requiring five trains to make my crossing and back. Complicating planning, Amtrak’s fares change depending upon how far ahead you book, what day of the week you travel, and what tickets have already been sold (as time goes on the rates go up). Go figure! I could not. I also had been struggling with what stops to make along the journey and locales to visit while not on the rails. Number One Son, David, kept saying to me, “Dad, just call Amtrak.”
I began new notes in ZEPHYR on January 18 this year. About that time while “holding court” at the library one Saturday morning (as is my visiting custom), a fellow started talking about his recent trip with his wife on the California Zephyr, and shared a few images on his phone. I started thinking, I do not have to make stops along the way, I can always go back. My desire is to experience the train. A voice said to me (David’s), “Dad, just call Amtrak.” And, I did on February 28, 2019, booking the following itinerary.
INTRODUCTION – GENESIS COAST to COAST to COAST
Leg One – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Boston to Chicago – 8-9 June
Leg Two – CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR – Chicago to Sacramento
Part One – Sunday, 9 June
Part Two – Monday and Tuesday, 10-11 June
COAST STARLIGHT – Sacramento to Portland – 11-12 June
24 plus hours in Portland, Oregon
EMPIRE BUILDER – Portland to Chicago – 13-15 June
LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Chicago to Boston – 15-16 June
Henry Kisor did a superb job with his 1994 book on the Zephyr. He was given access to equipment and personnel, and wove a wonderful, enticing behind-the-scenes adventure, placing the reader alongside in the action.
When I boarded my last leg of the journey, I was shown to my roomette by a distinguished car attendant. His name tag – R. Howard – rang a bell, but not completely. He showed another traveler to her roomette saying, “my name is Reggie, just call me if you need anything.” Then it hit me – Reggie Howard – one of the key Amtrak crew that Kisor wrote about in his 1994 book. I stopped Reggie as he passed my roomette, asking, “are you the legendary Reggie Howard Henry Kisor wrote about?” “I am,” he replied. We began chatting, and then I remembered my copy of the book in my bag that I brought to finish for the third time, and for reference on the trip. I whipped it out, “would you sign my book for me?” I asked Reggie.
Reggie has been with Amtrak for 39 years. “You know, this is not my train,” he began, “I was asked to fill in on this run at the last minute. Come visit me in the dining car on the California Zephyr, that is where I always am.” We agreed that it was an amazing serendipitous happening (at least for me). What a way to really make a memorable trip.
Eight days “on the rails” – five trains – 6,787 miles. I have many images, many notes, many stories, interesting characters, and much more research to do for my own learning on what I saw and experienced, and wish to document and share. It will take me time to relate these tales, and share them – but (if I do say so) it will be worth waiting to read.
PS – as I write this, train whistles are blowing across the Connecticut River in Vermont from passing trains. Amtrak has two trains a day (north and south) and the rest are freights. I always want to float away on the sound waves.