Here goes Leg Two of this journey. Working on this for three days I realized I should break Leg Two into two segments – I have that many notes, and things to share with you. In part one below, I am acquainting you with the Superliner and its cars. Part two will then get into scenery and history. So, more to come.
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
Leg Three – COAST STARLIGHT – Sacramento to Portland – 11-12 June
and, 24 plus hours in Portland, Oregon
Leg Four – EMPIRE BUILDER – Portland to Chicago – 13-15 June
Leg – Five – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Chicago to Boston – 15-16 June
I left off my COAST to COAST to COAST adventure boarding the California Zephyr at Union Station in Chicago at 1:40 PM on Sunday, 9 June. Unlike in airports, there are no security check points. Passengers head through the gates, down the platform, and look for their car assignment. JR, my car attendant, greeted me at Car 0532, and directed me aboard looking at my paper eTicket. I believe coach passenger’s tickets are checked once in motion, thus someone could sneak aboard (a story later that did happen).
And, to put this leg into perspective, here is the California Zephyr’s route map which you can click to enlarge. The train from Chicago ends in Emeryville, California (across the bay from downtown San Francisco), but I got off in Sacramento (about 80 miles from San Francisco) to transfer to my next train, the Coast Starlight (Leg Three).
The Amtrak Superliner trains in the west are double deckers, unlike the eastern single level Viewliners. You pass from car to car on the second level. The lower levels are various uses as you see in the diagrams below.
I arrived in my roomette, which is configured differently on the Superliner Sleeper cars, as compared to the Viewliner Sleeper. There is no sink or toilet in a Superliner roomette (larger, more expensive rooms do have bath areas).
Lots of room for one. The steps to the upper bunk on the image to the left (above) I used for my roll-on bag on the top, and placed books, etc. on the lower step. You can see in the right image a hanging area, and I stowed things on the floor there also. Again, I slid my backpack, with electronics, under a seat, concealing it with my shoes. It was time to move into my slippers. The diagram below (click on diagrams to enlarge) shows both levels of the Superliner Sleeper – there is one toilet area on the upper level, and three toilets, a shower, and baggage storage on the lower level.
On-line there is discussion as to the best Roomette to have – above or below, near a door or not. Discussions centered around noise of people passing through, and doors opening and closing. I was always on the upper level – which is preferred for viewing – and I never found it noisy or busy with “traffic” regardless of which roomette I had.
The train pulled out promptly at 2PM, on schedule, and I was off to explore. I headed out to see the dining car and the observation sightseeing car with its cafe and additional seating area on the first level.
In the center of the second level of the dining car is the serving prep area, and seating both “fore and aft.” The kitchen area itself is on the first level, and the food comes up on a dumbwaiter.
Unlike the “old days” on trains, it is not “scratch cooking,” but not bad. Probably prepared for the most part off site the menu (click here to see it) is comprehensive, but with a week on the rails is repetitive. You find favorites, and the flourless chocolate cake/tart is to “die for.” I never left the table hungry (and never had an urge to snack). Breakfast and lunch are “open seating.” A dining attendant comes through the cars in the afternoon taking reservations for dinner, allowing an hour for patron turn-over. To tip or not to tip? One of the on-line questions. I choose to tip nicely. With several servers at each meal I do not know if they shared the tips, but upon return I usually was welcomed with fine service and attention. As a sleeper car/first class passenger, all meals were included in my fare (coach passengers may purchase meals in the dining car). Paper table covers for breakfast and lunch, linen for dinner. Disposable plastic dishes and silverware. At least the dishes had an Amtrak logo, and when I nicely asked, I was “given” some new ones as a souvenir. Remember I tipped.
The observation/sightseeing lounge car has a cash cafe which is used mostly by coach passengers. I never perused the offerings, but from the attendant’s announcements, believe the fare to be of the gas station convenience store variety. Below is the layout of this car.
Per train there is but one of the observation cars – and the seating you see above is for multiple sleeper cars and coaches – possibly woefully inadequate. Via Rail, when I crossed Canada, has separate (and better) dome observation cars for coach and first class patrons. Amtrak does not provide, in my opinion, sufficient sightseeing space. But, I can see their reasoning. They do not want to staff an additional cafe/snack bar, so it is the car configuration dictating the combined patronage. But, Amtrak, on the scenic routes you need better, and more observation space for passengers.
Having said this, I was prepared to worry about always having a spot in the observation car, but I did not have a problem. However, the configuration of the car is not ideal because no seats afford you the opportunity to see out both sides of the train at once (unlike sitting at a table – facing forward – in a Viewliner Dining Car). Well, nothing is ever perfect. Actually, I was surprised when walking through the sleeper cars that most passengers were staying in their compartments – dozing, reading, or looking out only one side. The few times I checked out the coaches the folks were sleeping, or watching movies on their electronics. Am I the only one who cares about the scenery I am passing?
Getting out of the metropolitan Chicago area, the Illinois scenery just opened up. Once past Princeton, this was the typical view – flat to the horizon.
A few stops are longer than simply to let people depart and embark – called “smoke breaks” (trains are nonsmoking – yeah!) or stretch breaks. Galesburg, Illinois, was the first such stop. George Washington Ferris, inventor of the first Ferris wheel at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 is from here.
My car attendant, JR, waited from everyone to return. People often do wander too far, and “miss the train.” Not my plan at all. A freight was going to be in our way, so we were detoured through the yards. There is “padding” time built into Amtrak’s schedules for delays such as this.
At 5:45 PM (about 20 minutes late) we crossed the Mississippi River, entering Burlington, Iowa. Most bridges had iron super structures, thus hard to capture an image of the river. And, I have been meaning to say, all pictures were hard to take – you travel up to 79 MPH, when you see a picture op, you are past before you realize it, and then there is the window glare, and sadly dirt on the windows.
Sunsets can be amazing, “in the west”, and also hard to capture “on film.”
I took 10 images to get the one below that is worth sharing. Each night on the train – west bound and east bound – necessitated a time change back or ahead. Not a problem for me. I developed a trick in the early 1970s when flying to New Zealand and Antarctica a number of times. Once I boarded a plane, I set my watch (now only a nearby clock – quit wearing a watch over 40 years ago, why be possessed by time?) to where I would be landing, and starting thinking that time. So, on the trains, when turning in, going west I set my clock back an hour, and started thinking that 10 PM was 9 PM. Heading east, going to sleep at 10 PM it was really 11PM. Easy – try it. Well, below, Good Night — Sunday, 9 June, about 9:15 PM.
Part Two to Leg Two, the scenery and history along the California Zephyr route, to follow. The next post will have over 40 images I wish to share and relate the history about – thus the reason I stopped here – yours, RAY