Eric & Pat’s May 2024 Trip Report: San Diego - Toledo - San Diego

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Joined
Jan 20, 2016
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Location
East San Diego County
Prologue

Even before we’d returned home from our summer 2023 Amtrak trip to Ohio, we were planning on making a second trip in September contingent upon our being able to book bedrooms on Southwest Chief trains Nos. 3 & 4.

A little over a week after our return, we called Amtrak, only to learn that no SWC bedrooms were available for the dates in September that we’d had in mind. Nor were there any bedrooms available for the fallback dates we’d considered in October. Even though we knew that this might be the case given the short lead time, we were disappointed none-the-less.

Later that same day, we stopped off at a Panda Express Chinese takeout restaurant for lunch. Along with our meals we both received fortune cookies. The fortune inside mine read “Now is the time to book that trip you’ve always wanted to take.” (When I read it to Pat, she thought I was kidding until she read it for herself.)

That afternoon, we called Amtrak back and booked a trip to Ohio for May 2024. This was far enough in advance so that we were able to obtain bedrooms in SWC cars 430 eastbound and 330 westbound. These are the so-called first or prime sleepers; the ones that aren’t removed from the train’s consist if there’s a shortage of sleeper coaches with bedrooms.

To help pay for our tickets, we used the $500 credit voucher that we’d received for the chair that had been missing from our Southwest Chief No. 4 bedroom on our 2023 trip, plus another $300 credit voucher that we’d received earlier in compensation for some other inconvenience Amtrak had caused us.

All of our same day connecting trains appeared under the same reservation numbers as our long-distance trains, thus assuring us of guaranteed connections both going and coming.

We know from firsthand experience just how important having guaranteed connections can be. During our summer 2023 trip, a close encounter with a tornado in Missouri delayed our SWC No. 4’s arrival in Chicago by over six and a half hours, causing us to miss our connecting train. Because we had a guaranteed connection, Amtrak put us up in a hotel for the night, gave each of us $40 worth of food vouchers, and sent us out on the next day’s train, all at no extra charge to us. (To read more about our brush with that tornado and how Amtrak handled our missed connection, check out our Summer 2023 trip report at https://www.amtraktrains.com/thread...san-diego-toledo-san-diego-trip-report.85502/.)
Once our e-tickets were received, we went ahead and made our hotel and rental car reservations.

In an Amtrak Unlimited thread discussing Amtrak long-distance train fares, someone pointed out that, to better understand what you are getting for your money, you need to calculate the cost of your ticket on a “per hour of travel” basis. It takes about 43 hours to travel from Los Angeles to Chicago on SWC No. 4 and a little over that to travel from Chicago to LA on SWC No. 3. Dividing 86 into what we paid for our SWC bedrooms gave us the approximate cost for each hour of travel that we’d be receiving. Considering that it would be the next best thing to being able to journey into the past and ride on the Santa Fe Chief or the Super Chief, we felt that we’d be getting our money’s worth and then some.

Less than two weeks before our departure, a BNSF freight train derailment of epic proportions occurred near the Arizona-New Mexico border, putting a temporary halt to Southwest Chief service west of Albuquerque. Although service was restored within a few days, we kept checking the Amtrak Train Status page to make sure that all of our trains were departing and arriving on time.

One week out from when we were to leave, we got out the packing lists from our previous trips and began assembling everything that we planned to take back with us. Once again, we decided not to take anything that needed to be checked. (One of the reasons that our 2023 trip had worked out as well as it did was that we hadn’t had any checked luggage to deal with.)

Since our packing lists indicate which items are to go into a particular bag or carry-on suitcase, packing only takes us a day or so.

The rest of the week was spent completing the last few items on our pre-departure check list: stopping mail delivery, informing our bank that we’d be using our credit cards in Ohio, coming up with a sufficient number of small bills to use for tips, updating the Amtrak radio frequencies in our scanner, downloading the latest map updates for our GPS device, printing out a copy of the latest Amtrak traditional dining menu, etc.

With the packing done and all the last-minute items taken care of, we were finally ready to set off on our trip.
 
Part 1: San Diego, California to Toledo, Ohio
Stage 1: San Diego to Los Angeles (May 8th)

Our rail adventures all begin with our arrival at our “home station,” the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego.

With plenty of time before our train would begin boarding, we settled in to wait on one of the station’s massive oak benches dating from 1915.

During the hot summer months, breezes blowing in off San Diego Bay usually make the station cool enough so that we have to put on light jackets. In early May, those breezes are cold drafts which made the station downright chilly. Even with our jackets on we had to change locations a few times before we found a sheltered spot where we were comfortable.

Security consisted of a single, unarmed contract security guard from Allied Universal.

From where we were sitting, we had a good view of a large monitor showing a video with instructions for reporting suspicious activity observed in and around an Amtrak station. There was also a segment on the proper procedures for evacuating an Amtrak train, although the video did state that evacuations are “very rare.”

Although the Santa Fe Depot doesn’t have Red Cap service, Amtrak personnel with carts are available to assist seniors and those who need help getting to their trains with their carry-on items. Taking advantage of this service, we ended up being transported to our train about 10 minutes before regular boarding began. The driver even assisted us in getting our larger carry-on items from the cart to our Business Class coach’s luggage rack.

We opted to sit in the lower level so as to be closer to our carry-on items.

Running a short extension cord over to the AC power outlet located next to our seats, I soon had our little Uniden scanner and our Garmin GPS device plugged in and powered up. The scanner quickly found the channel that Triple 7’s crew was using and, shortly afterwards, the GPS device established satellite contact and was ready to start displaying our speed and direction of travel.

We departed on time at 12:01 p.m. Almost as soon as we started moving, an attendant came by passing out complementary Business Class snack packs. Unlike the previous generic snack packs we’d received, these came in Pacific Surfliner cartons that had photos showing a PSL train and some of the destinations it serves. Our “train treats” packs included a fig bar, a bag of trail mix consisting of roasted and salted almonds & cashews and cranberries, some Asiago cheese spread, vegan butter braids with sea salt, a chicken stick, and a towelette. Experience has taught us to save these snack packs since we never know for sure when and where we’ll have the opportunity to eat once we arrive in Chicago. Instead, we got out the brown bag lunches that we’d packed along.

Six minutes after leaving the Santa Fe Depot, we made our first stop at the Old Town Transit Center.

After leaving the Old Town station and crossing the San Diego River, the right-of-way parallels Interstate-5 for a few miles before veering off to the northeast over what was once the California Southern Railroad’s original 1882 line between San Diego and Oceanside. At the western border of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, the tracks curve back towards the northwest and the coast.

We began paralleling the ocean at about 12:38 p.m.

Traveling at 51 mph, we went through the upscale beach community of Del Mar and passed its historic brick train station dating from 1910. Before it was replaced by the Solana Beach station further to the north, Del Mar’s train station was one of the Santa Fe’s (and later Amtrak’s) busiest stops.

After passing under the Pacific Coast Highway, we went by the Del Mar fairgrounds & racetrack and passed a railroad control point identified on our map as “Crosby,” a designation undoubtedly intended to acknowledge actor/singer Bing Crosby’s close involvement with the Del Mar Racetrack, beginning in the mid-1930s while it was still in its planning stages.

We arrived at the Solana Beach station at 12:43 p.m.

By the time we went passed Cardiff-by-the Sea, we were moving out at 79 mph and eventually reached 89 mph.

By now, we’d gotten out our route maps and another one of our vintage Santa Fe Railroad route guides. For this trip it was “Along the Route of the Super Chief * El Capitan * The Chief * San Francisco Chief *Texas Eagle” dating from the mid-1960s.

At 12:55 p.m. and just before we reached Oceanside, a uniformed member of the Amtrak Police Force walked through our coach.

As we were passing through the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, an automated Radio Alarm Detector reported our speed as 85 mph.

We arrived at San Juan Capistrano at 1:33 p.m.

Back in 1894 when the San Juan Capistrano station was built, the romantic symbols of the Southwest that were featured in Santa Fe Railroad advertising were not Navajos but Spanish senoritas, mission bells, and the old way of life on the ranchos. (According to Lucius Beebe, at train time, the Santa Fe encouraged picturesque hidalgos to lounge around the Capistrano depot in photogenic poses.) The San Juan Capistrano station’s architecture, like that of the Santa Fe’s other mission-themed stations, includes a belfry with mission bells that would chime when trains arrived from back east.

For most of the trip, we’d had the lower level of the Business Class coach pretty much to ourselves. Then, beginning at Santa Ana, more people began to occupy the seats around us.

At 2:30 p.m. just north of Fullerton, we saw some ancient looking pumpjack (aka “grasshopper”) oil pumps at work to our right. We must have been passing through Santa Fe Springs where, according to our vintage route guide, a sensational oil development took place back in the early 1920s. At one time, some 500 oil wells were in operation in this area. The oil pumps we saw might be the last survivors from that development.

At 2:41 p.m., the scanner picked up the automated voice message from the radio alarm detector at milepost 144.45, which is about 10 minutes out from Los Angeles Union Station.

Immediately after crossing the Los Angeles River, we made a turn to the right, and began paralleling the concrete channel that keeps the river running on a straight course. For many years, the walls of this channel were used by graffiti artists as a gallery for displaying their handiwork, resulting in an almost solid collage of “urban folk art” that continued on for miles. It was still there in 2009 when we went by it while on our way up to Monterey to attend a wedding. But when we went by it again in 2014, it had all been painted over. (The fact that this river channel is a favorite location for filming movies and TV shows might have had something to do with the decision to clean it up.)

We arrived at Los Angeles Union Station on time at 2:50 p.m.
 
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Stage 2: Los Angeles to Chicago (Day 1: May 8th)

After detraining, we descended to the wide underground pedestrian tunnel that runs underneath the tracks and made our way into the station and to the elevator that goes up to the Metropolitan Lounge.

After she had let us in, the attendant put “Red Cap Service” tags with our names and train number on our carry-on bags. This being something new, we weren’t sure if Red Caps would be coming in to move our bags from the Lounge to our train or if we had to transport them down to the Red Cap carts like we’d done previously. (We ended up having to transport them to the carts ourselves and then put them aboard our sleeping car ourselves.)

After staking out two good seats together, we helped ourselves generously to the large selection of prepackaged snacks that the Lounge had available, stowing them away in our carryon bags. (During our 2023 trip, those snacks along with our Business Class snack packs, had helped us to make it through the missed connection and a missed supper in Chicago.)

Settling in to wait for early boarding for Southwest Chief No. 4 to be called away, I set up our laptop to check our e-mails and start working on this trip report while Pat chatted with the woman seated next to us. She and her husband had roomette reservations in the same sleeping car we would be in. (We later ended up sharing a Red Cap cart with them for the drive to our train.)

Southwest Chief No. 4 had already pulled in and parked by the time our Red Cap driver dropped us off on the platform. After checking in with our Sleeping Car Attendant Gissela, we moved our carry-on items up to our bedroom; an easy task considering that we had the stairs all to ourselves. (Quite a difference from boarding during the summer when the stairway is crowded with people.)

When we’d made our reservations last July, we’d asked for Bedroom E, which is supposed to give the smoothest ride. Even that far in advance, both E and D were already reserved, and we had to settle for Bedroom C.

By 5:35 p.m., our carry-on items were stowed away, the GPS device was set up and ready to start tracking our progress, and I was monitoring SWC No. 4’s pre-departure radio traffic. Our bedroom window looked out from the right or engineer’s side of the of the train.

We departed on time at 5:55 p.m.

As mentioned earlier, our passage between LA and Chicago onboard SWC No. 4 was scheduled to take about 43 hours assuming that there were no significant delays caused by the weather and/or human or structural failure. Back in 1905, the Santa Fe ran a special train from LA to Chicago that made the trip in under 45 hours. Referred to as the “Coyote Special,” it consisted of a baggage car, a sleeping car and a dining car that had been specially chartered by wealthy eccentric Walter “Death Valley Scotty” Scott. When it departed Los Angeles on July 9, 1905, the “Coyote Special” was already national news and people flocked to the tracks to see it go by. The Scott Special had right of way over all other trains, and engineers were authorized to run at the absolute top speed safely possible on every stretch of track. The “Coyote Special” arrived in Chicago on July 11th, having made the 2,265-mile run in 44 hours and 45 minutes. When the extra fare Santa Fe Chief was introduced in 1926, it required almost 58 hours to travel this same distance. It wouldn’t be until the introduction of the diesel-powered Super Chief in May 1936 that the Santa Fe was finally able to offer passengers an LA to Chicago passage that was faster than that of the “Coyote Special.”

In March, the new traditional dining menu for long-distance trains had been posted on-line at https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/...routes/Long-Distance-Dining-Car-Menu-0424.pdf and we’d printed out a copy to bring with us.

We were planning on having all our meals delivered to us in our bedroom so that we could dine at our leisure and while casually (make that very casually) dressed. However, for the first night out, we were told that we’d have to eat in the diner, so we ended up making reservations for the 6:45 p.m. first seating.

When we arrived at the dining car, it appeared that only the tables in the back half of the car were being used. The linen tablecloths did not have protective coverings over them, so we assumed that they would be changed after each party of diners had departed (or that patrons had to eat on a tablecloth that had been used previously.)

For our first meal while underway Pat ordered the Amtrak Signature Flat Iron Steak, and I ordered the Atlantic Salmon. Although there was nothing on the wine list likely to cause swooning among oenophiles, Pat did order the Chardonnay just to see what it was like.

Our dinner companion was Charles from Vista, California who would be getting off in Flagstaff early the next morning to meet his daughter who was a student at the University of Arizona. Since we had several mutual interests, we had much to talk about during dinner: Charles had once been a horse owner and we had once owned horses; Charles was a musician and for many years I had worked as a professional musician.

For dessert, we both ordered the Chocolate Spoon Cake which we were able to take back to our bedroom to eat. Pat had hers with coffee while I had mine with Green Tea, brewed using a teabag packed along from home.

Taking a tip from travel guru Jeb Brooks, we’d packed along some prunes for after dinner. We’d also remembered to pack along some toothpicks, since none are provided along with the meals.

The Port Wine Sauce that had come with Pat’s steak must have been highly seasoned since she was thirsty for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, our bedroom had a good supply of bottled water.

Because it had been a long day for us, we had our SCA make up our berths early. (For this trip, Pat had packed along her own pillow which is what Jeb Brooks always does.)

When I went to take a shower, I discovered that the bathroom had not been fitted with the plastic shower curtain that snaps in place. While sitting on the commode showering, I had to be careful not to direct the water at the door as it could possibly leak through. I had to also be careful not to cover the floor drain with my foot as that will cause flooding.)

Calling it an early evening, we didn’t bother to set our watches ahead an hour since most of Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time.
 
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(Day 2: May 9th)

It was already light outside when our train arrived in Flagstaff one hour and thirty-five minutes behind schedule.

When we’d made our first trip onboard Southwest Chief No. 4 twenty-five years ago, copies of the “Arizona Daily Sun” were still being loaded aboard the sleeping cars in Flagstaff and then slipped under the bedroom doors. It was one of those little extra touches that harkened back to the days when rail travel was conducted with something approximating style.

One advantage to SWC No. 4 running late was that we were up in time to see Canyon Diablo when we crossed over it.

At 6:33 a.m., a RAD reported that our train had 32 axles. On a trip taken nineteen years ago, our SWC No. 4 had 60 axles. In addition to having more sleepers and coaches, the consist had also included two Amtrak Express freight cars.

At 7:19 a.m. as we passed through Holbrook, Arizona, we caught a quick glimpse of the historic Wigwam Motel which promises customers that they can “Do it in a teepee.”

Approaching the Arizona-New Mexico border, we looked for any remaining signs of the recent BNSF derailment but didn’t see any.

The GPS device alerted us when we’d crossed into New Mexico and entered a new time zone.

For breakfast, Pat ordered in the Railroad French toast, and I ordered the three-egg omelet. Everything was delivered to us in a large plastic bag which made things easy for our SCA. (Back during the belle epoque of rail passenger service, it took years of practice for a dining car waiter to gracefully walk through a train of swaying cars while carefully balancing a heavily ladened food tray destined for some private bedroom or drawing room. When asked how he did it, one waiter responded, “You simply learn how, that’s all. I can’t tell you how it’s done.”)

After breakfast, we got down to the serious business of making every minute of our trip count.

A year or so ago, an Amtrak Unlimited discussion thread provided an opportunity for people to relate how they pass the time while on a long-distance train trip. Reading and listening to music were popular choices. Pat likes to do Sudoku puzzles. For myself, I enjoy monitoring radio traffic to and from our train and between crew members, tracking our train’s progress on our GPS device and on our maps, and jotting down anything of interest to include in our trip reports.

And, of course, there is the Arizona-New Mexico scenery which we never get tired of seeing. To paraphrase a quote that recently appeared on Amtrak Unlimited, a railroad adventure isn’t just an alternative to taking the Great American Road Trip. It’s the best way to see our great country.

Just outside Gallup, we had to stop and wait 21 minutes for a freight train to go by.

Later in the morning, Pat reminded me that the conductor had never stopped by to scan our ticket after we left Los Angeles. We’d read somewhere that, at one time, if a person’s ticket wasn’t scanned within two hours or two stations after departure, Amtrak’s computer system would assume that the passenger was a “no show” and would cancel all the connecting trains on their reservation. We asked our SCA about this and she said that we had been checked in when our multi-city ticket was scanned on board the Pacific Surfliner the day before.

At 10:39 a.m., the GPS device indicated that we were crossing the Continental Divide.

For Lunch, Pat ordered a Hebrew National All-beef Hot Dog while I ordered the Angus Burger.

Arriving in Albuquerque, we got off to stretch our legs and write down the car numbers in our SWC No. 4’s consist: Engine 193, Engine 171, Sleeper 39014 (designated as car 432), Sleeper 32048 (designated as car 430, ours), Diner 38067, Sightseer Lounge Car 33066, Coach 34105, and Coach 31046. (Years ago, the SWC’s coaches would have been referred to as “chair cars” since the seats recline.)

The weather in Albuquerque was very pleasant: sunny but not at all hot.

At 1:33 p.m., someone radioed, “We’re ready to go.” Someone else radioed, “Highball” and we got underway, one hour and fifty-two minutes behind schedule. After a few short stops and starts, by 1:48 p.m. we were moving out at 80 miles per hour.

Off to our right, we had a good view of the Sandia Mountains.

Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the dining car was taking dinner reservations from coach passengers. The cost was $45 per person. (We’re still wondering how many coach travelers took advantage of this offer.)

Although it was sunny outside, we could see dark storm clouds ahead of us. No weather warnings were being radioed to our train, however.

At 2:24 p.m., we stopped at Domingo to meet SWC No. 3, which passed us three minutes later.

Once we were back up to speed, the door which separated our bedroom from the one next to us would occasionally start to vibrate so violently that we were concerned that the attached mirror might shatter. (Someone once posted a tip on how to fix a vibrating door but, unfortunately, we never wrote it down.)

We arrived in Lamy at 2:57 p.m. Most people know that “Lame-ee” is the transfer point for Santa Fe, New Mexico. According to our vintage route guide, Lamy was also once a transfer point for those passengers heading to the Los Alamos U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Plant. (It’s probably safe to assume that few people going there today arrive by train.)

We’d considered going down to the Sightseer Lounge for the ascent up Apache Canyon and the passage through the Santa Fe National Forest. However, by now it was completely overcast, so we decided against it.

At 3:16 a.m., the Café attendant made an announcement that he was taking his break, adding rather mournfully, “. . . as I am entitled to.”

Just before we entered the S-Curve at 4:05 p.m., there were a few rain sprinkles.

We arrived in Las Vegas at 4:43 p.m. Someone radioed “Out on a quick” and we departed one minute later.

At 5:08 p.m. we went by Valmora, once the site of sanitarium originally founded in 1916 by 40 of the largest employers in Chicago and St. Louis for their employees “who may have contracted tuberculosis.” Although the sanitarium has long since been closed, in 1995 Valmora was added to the registry of National Historical Places. Since 2017, it has been the site of a privately owned holistic retreat center.

We were one hour and forty-nine minutes behind schedule when we departed from Raton at 6:31 p.m. Making the ascent up the pass at 25 mph, we came to a stop just short of the tunnel entrance and an announcement was made that there was an issue with the train. Whatever it was, it must have been resolved quickly as we were soon moving again. By 6:55 p.m. we were out of the tunnel and in Colorado.

For supper Pat ordered the Pan Roasted Chicken Breast while I stayed with the Atlantic Salmon. Pat also tried the Cabernet Sauvignon just to see what it was like. For dessert, Pat ordered the Blueberry Cobbler Cheesecake while I stayed with the Chocolate Spoon Cake. When she delivered our meals, our SCA took our breakfast ordered, saying that she would be delivering them at 7:00 a.m. and that she’d be folding up the beds shortly afterwards.

In his books about the great passenger trains of yesteryear, Lucius Beebe makes mention of the barbers that were once a standard fixture on the extra fare deluxe trains. In an age innocent of safety razors, they shaved passengers while traveling at 70 or more miles an hour. (I don’t know that I would have wanted a straight razor hovering near my carotid while traveling at accelerated speeds over dubious roadbeds!) I try to shave at least once during the trip from Los Angeles to Chicago, usually on the evening before we arrive. Using my Bik disposable razor, I did so again without incident.

Once again, we decided to call it an early evening since the next day would definitely be a long one for us. After having first reset our watches ahead an hour to Central Time, we were in bed by the time SWC No. 4 arrived in La Junta.

Back in the days of steam, La Junta was where a change of locomotives would take place. During the 1920s and 1930s, the engine that took over the consist might very well have been a 4-6-4 “Hudson,” the locomotive usually associated with the New York Central’s “Twentieth Century Limited.” Beginning in 1927, the Santa Fe used Hudsons between La Junta and Chicago which is a fairly flat division and ideally suited for this class of locomotive. One of these, No. 3400 was even “streamlined” and painted a light, robin’s egg blue. Known as the “Blue Goose,” it frequently appeared in Sante Fe advertisements and even headed up the Super Chief on occasion. Unfortunately, that didn’t save it from being scrapped in 1955.

Throughout the night, we were vaguely aware of the vibrations and swaying that are caused by high-speed running. This is always reassuring as we know that, instead of being stopped and unable to move, our train was doing battle with its twin adversaries Time & Distance.
 
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(Day 3: May 10th)

We were up a little before 6:00 a.m. Central Time so that we’d be packed before breakfast was delivered. Outside it was sunny and the day promised to be a beautiful one.

After the departure from Topeka at 6:38 a.m., we moved some of our carryon items from our bedroom down to the luggage rack below. We were able find room for everything but just barely. With more and more people choosing to travel with just carry-on items, finding room for everyone’s bags must now be a problem, particularly when the train is sold out. (Let’s hope that Amtrak doesn’t start to drastically limit the number of carry-on items that passengers can bring onboard.)

We arrived in Kansas City at 8:08 a.m. (According to our vintage route guide, even in the mid-1960s 160 passenger trains were still arriving and departing from Kansas City Union Station daily.) When we departed, SWC No. 4 was only running one hour and three minutes behind schedule and we felt confident that we’d be arriving in Chicago with time to spare before our Capitol Limited No. 30 was due to depart.

While we were eating breakfast, an announcement was made that coach passengers could eat breakfast in the dining car for a cost of $25 per person.

By the time we crossed the Missouri River at 9:04 a.m., our bedroom had been restored to its daytime configuration and we were able to set up our GPS device. Once it came on-line, we learned that our SWC No. 4 was moving out at 90 miles an hour. But then, at about 9:40 a.m., we slowed to 45 mph and continued at this speed for almost 20 minutes.

At 10:01 a.m., someone radioed, “Have no fear, we’re back on a clear. Let’s go” and we accelerated back up to 90 mph.

Two minutes later we crossed County Road 113 (aka Porsche Prairie Avenue) where, on June 27, 2022, SWC No. 4 had derailed and ended up on its side after hitting a truck.

We went through Marceline at 10:17 a.m. On October 16, 1960, the Super Chief made its first and only stop at Marceline to drop off Walt Disney and his wife who were there for the dedication ceremony of Marceline’s new Walt Disney Elementary School. (Because Walt’s family had lived there for a few years, Marceline now proclaims itself to be his “hometown” even though Chicago and Kansas City could also make such a claim. It is generally believed, however, that Disneyland’s “Main Street” was inspired by Disney’s memories of Marceline’s main street.)

At 10:21 a.m., we went passed Bucklin, the highest point on the Santa Fe mainline between Kansas City and Chicago.

The stop at La Plata with its short platform, always requires some special train handling that needs to be coordinated by radio: “Give me twenty feet. Give me ten feet. That’s a perfect landing. That will do.” After the sleepers are unloaded, the train has to be pulled forward to unload the coaches: “One and a half. One car. One half car. That’s fine.” The departure was proceeded by more radio traffic: “Four, platform clear. Highball whenever you can.” We departed at 10:51 a.m. and were soon back up to 90 mph.

Shortly afterwards, someone coordinated the changing of radio channels.

We crossed the Des Moines River at 11:36 a.m. and arrived in Fort Madison 17 minutes later.

At 11:59 a.m. someone radioed “Let’s highball. Twenty at the bridge.” Traveling at 20 mph, it took us two minutes to cross the Mississippi River.

For lunch we both ordered the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad which we plan to order again on our return trip.

Just outside Princeton, someone radioed, “We’re just opening door five. We only have one individual coming on.” We arrived at 2:02 p.m. and departed less than a minute later. Someone radioed “We didn’t lose any time there” to which someone else responded, “You did good.”

At Mendota, there was more radio coordination of the arrival: “Give me three. Give me two. Give me one. Give me one-half. Anywhere in here.” After the briefest of pauses someone radioed, “All clear back here. Highball whenever you get the chance” and we were soon back up to 80 mph.

Since leaving Kansas City, we’d been mostly traveling at 80 to 90 miles per hour. Even so, we were still 59 minutes late when we arrived in Chicago. By our calculations, the trip from Los Angeles to Chicago had taken about 44 hours. In May 1937, during a special preview run of the all-new lightweight Super Chief II, the passage from LA to Chicago was made in 36 hours and 49 minutes, a record that, as far as we know, has never been broken.



 
Stage 3: Chicago to Toledo (May 10th)

Prior to our departure from home, we’d been following an Amtrack Unlimited discussion thread regarding how construction work both inside and outside of Chicago Union Station was making it somewhat more difficult to negotiate one’s way from the south platforms to the Metropolitan Lounge. Not knowing what to expect, we were relieved when a Red Cap and her cart appeared next to our sleeper. (We ended up sharing that cart with the same couple that we’d shared a cart with on our way to our train in Los Angeles.)

As the cart threaded its way through the construction work, we realized how lucky we were to be riding with a driver who knew the best way to reach the Metropolitan Lounge. Learning that we would be departing on Capitol Limited No. 30, our driver even promised to come back and pick us up at 6:00 p.m.

After scrutinizing our tickets, the gentleman behind the Metropolitan Lounge’s front desk fitted us both with wrist bands that would allow us quick and easy access to the Lounge.

After stashing our carry-on items in the check room, we set off for the Food Court to buy supper.

We soon found ourselves in a bewildering forest of scaffolding which obscured the route that we usually take to reach the Food Court escalators. Fortunately, a station employee was stationed nearby, and she directed us on which way to go.

We brought our takeout meals back down to the Metropolitan Lounge to eat. Afterwards, we called family members to let them know that we were in Chicago and that they should be able to track Capitol Limited No. 30’s progress on-line to find out when we’d be arriving.

From where we were sitting in the Lounge, we had an excellent view of a large painting showing a New York Central 4-6-4 “Hudson” type locomotive that had been fitted with the iconic streamlining that Henry Dreyfuss had designed for it in the late 1930s. A Dreyfuss Hudson like this one was displayed at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair and was featured extensively in NYC advertisements. Unfortunately, no Dreyfuss Hudsons survive today.

Whenever we’re in Chicago Union Station, we always like to spend a few minutes inside the Great Hall to admire its vastness. That day, however, the Great Hall was closed and curtained off for a private event. Waiting coach passengers had to sit on benches that had been relocated across from the entrance to the Metropolitan Lounge. Among those waiting, we saw a large number of Amish folk who might have been traveling as a group.

As promised, our Red Cap driver was there with her cart at 6:00 p.m. to transport us to CL No. 30.

Back in the mid-1960’s, Chicago Union Station announcements for departing trains would conclude with, “We are glad you are going by train and wish you a pleasant journey.”

Since we were the first ones to board our coach, we didn’t have a problem finding a place for our carry-on items in the luggage rack.

As soon as we were settled in our seats, we set up our GPS device and powered up the scanner so as not to miss the “highball” message.

Seated behind us was a group of college-aged young people who were apparently traveling as a group. (When they first arrived, they were quite noisy but soon settled down.)

Of the famous “name” trains of yesteryear, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “The Broadway” was one of the few that actually did arrive and depart from Chicago Union Station. (Both “The 20th Century Limited” and “The Super Chief” arrived and departed from other stations.) When it came time for The Broadway’s departure, it operated under the “Drawbridge Rule” which allowed for a flexible departure time if the drawbridges over the Chicago River were open.

Our train left on time at 6:40 p.m.

Even though we were traveling earlier in the year than we normally do, it was still daylight when we emerged from Chicago Union Station’s primordial catacombs.

Once clear of downtown Chicago, we were soon traveling at 68 mph.

At 6:58 p.m., we caught a quick glimpse of a rather large White Castle hamburger restaurant to our left. When Pat and I were in college, there was a small White Castle diner just off campus. Back then, a White Castle hamburger - referred to as a “slider” - cost 15 cents. Although it never became a national/international chain like McDonald’s, White Castle is acknowledged as the country’s first fast food restaurant. (We understand that White Castle sliders are being served in some of the Amtrak café cars.)

Right after we departed from South Bend, we had to stop and wait while a freight train passed us. Other than that, we moved out at speeds of between 80 to 90 miles an hour.

Once it became too dark for us to see outside, we had to rely on our GPS device to identify the small towns that flashed by our window.

We were only 10 minutes behind schedule when we departed Waterloo and began the final dash for Toledo.

After leaving Waterloo, our train made such good time that we expected to arrive in Toledo on schedule or perhaps even early. But then, when we were almost within sight of the Toledo Amtrak station, we had to stop to allow another freight train to go by. (Since this has happened to us on more than one occasion, we suspect that some dispatcher does this deliberately just to delay CL No. 30’s arrival in Toledo.) Thanks to that freight train, we arrived 9 minutes late. Family members were there to meet us, however, so the first half of our trip ended on a happy note.

The Toledo to San Diego return portion of our May 2024 Amtrak adventure begins next week. Once we’re home, we’ll get the second half of this trip report written up and will post it as soon as it’s ready. (We’ll be looking forward to reading it ourselves to find out how the rest of our trip turned out!)
 
They have "hot summer months" in San Diego?
On occasion we've departed on train trips when San Diego was experiencing heat waves with temperatures in the '90's. Even then, the breezes from San Diego Bay made standing out on the platform just cool enough to require wearing long pants and a light jacket to be comfortable. Inside Los Angeles Union Station's main waiting room at such times, it is quite different and we're only too glad to wait in the air conditioned Metropolitan Lounge.
 
It wasn't until we’d reached our destination that we learned that, on the day prior to our crossing the Fort Madison Bridge over the Mississippi River, a barge had collided with the bridge, causing damage and disrupting Southwest Chief train service for about four and a half hours. Then on May 14th, a freight train derailed in Dodge City resulting in the SWC No. 3 train that departed Chicago on May 14th being terminated in Kansas City with no alternative transportation provided for those passengers continuing further west. These two incidents served as reminders of how vulnerable long-distance rail passenger service is to the accidents of mischance that can occur in all human undertakings. To paraphrase an old American saying: When you choose to travel long-distance on Amtrak, “Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer chances.”
 
To everyone who has read our May trip report, and especially those who have left favorable comments, thank you so much! We always enjoy reading the trip reports submitted by others and this is our way of making some sort of contribution of our own. (Knowing that our efforts are appreciated is always very gratifying.)

Writing up trip reports to post on AU provides the perfect excuse for documenting the incidents - both major and minor – that occurred on our long-distance Amtrak trips, and for sharing some of the more interesting (to us) bits of railroad history that we’ve picked up from our old route guides and from books about the great passenger trains and railroad stations of yesteryear. (Re-reading our old reports helps us to recall things that happened on our earlier trips that we’d completely forgotten about.)

Again, our thanks to everyone for taking the time to read our report.

Eric & Pat
 
Great fun and thank you for taking us along.
Your reports have such useful information, such enjoyable narration, and are so chock full of delicious touches. You notice things I never notice. Looking forward to the next!
Michigan Mom,

Once again, thank you so much for your kind comments about our trip report. We always look forward to reading and rereading your trip reports, so knowing that you’ve read and enjoyed one of our trip reports means a great deal to us.

We’re optimistic that our return trip to San Diego will go smoothly and safely and that we’ll be able to report that all our trains ran on time and that nothing occurred of a stressful nature.

Thank you again.

Eric & Pat
 
Part 2: Toledo, Ohio to San Diego, California
Stage 1: Toledo to Chicago (May 21st)

Catching westbound Capitol Limited No. 29 in Toledo requires some advanced preparations on our part. The day before, we check out of our hotel in Findlay and check into the Comfort Inn in Maumee which is only 8 ½ miles away from the Toledo Amtrak station. By then, we’ll already have scheduled a cab to pick us up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning so that we’ll be at the station in plenty of time before No. 29’s scheduled 5:22 a.m. departure.

We were up by 3:00 a.m. to log onto the Amtrak website and check on CL No. 29’s status. After learning that it would be arriving in Toledo on time, we had a quick breakfast in our room and finished repacking our carry-on items so that we’d be ready to leave once our cab arrived.

At 4:30 a.m., while we were waiting out front of the Comfort Inn for our cab, a shuttle arrived to pick up some Norfolk-Southern crewmen. (The Norfolk-Southern Railroad has a long-term contract with the Comfort Inn for the overnight lodging of its crews.)

It was still dark outside when we arrived at Toledo Union Station.

Toledo’s train station was built shortly after the end of World War II when many people still preferred the train for their long-distance travel. In addition to incorporating restrained Art Deco touches, the station’s design makes extensive use of different types of glass: plate glass, glass block, double-glazed and tempered glass, etc. (Toledo was and is a leading center for the manufacturing of glass.) At one time, Toledo Union Station was referred to as “The Palace of Glass.”

When we entered the waiting room there were only a few people there, even though CL No. 29 would be departing in about 30 minutes. (We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were traveling in May and not July!)

When it first opened, the Toledo station’s ground floor (the present-day waiting room) was used for baggage and mail services, the second floor had a YMCA and a bunk room for train crews, the third floor housed the main passenger waiting room and ticketing facilities, and the fourth floor was office space for the New York Central’s Toledo Division and dispatching offices. Passengers arriving at the station were dropped off at a four-and-a-half-acre park and used a covered bridge to cross Emerald Avenue and enter the third floor waiting room. To get to the platforms, passengers entered another concourse-bridge on the far side of the building and then descended on staircases which curved to the southeast so that they would fit into the station site.

Capitol Limited No. 29 arrived on time at 5:08 a.m. and we had no problems being assigned coach seats together or in finding space in the luggage rack for our carry-on items.

Once we were settled in our seats, we powered up our scanner and our GPS device, and got out our route maps and a copy of “The Magic Window Story,” the route guide that the New York Central once gave out to its passengers.

We departed on time at 5:22 a.m. but almost immediately had to stop and wait for a freight train to go by.

By 5:45 a.m., however, we were clear of downtown Toledo and moving at 79 mph. Outside, it was just starting to get light.

At 5:46 a.m., the Norfolk-Southern RAD at milepost 297.2 reported that our train had “no defects, repeat, no defects.” (A conductor once told us that the milepost numbers begin in Buffalo, N.Y.)

As we were going passed Bryan, Ohio at 6:20 a.m., Pat put on the socks that she’d had handy in her purse. (Our coach was just cool enough to require socks.)

Our CL No. 29 was traveling over a route that is a 67 ½ mile straight line running from Toledo to Butler, Indiana. Years ago, the railroads referred to this as an “air line,” since the route is “as straight as the crow flies.”

When we departed from Waterloo, our first stop, we were six minutes behind schedule.

Shortly afterwards, we went by Kendallville which, according to our vintage route guide, is 995 feet above sea level and 400 feet above the level of the Great Lakes. It was once the summit of the NYC’s New York-Chicago mainline.

At 7:23 a.m., our coach’s interior lights were turned on and an announcement was made that Elkhart would be our next stop.

Getting off at Elkhart was group of young Mennonite women who had been sitting just behind us. Getting off with them was an older Mennonite man who might have been their father or chaperone.

Shortly after leaving Elkhart, I used one of the downstairs restrooms which was still in decent condition, although the paper towel dispenser was empty.

At 7:40 a.m., just before our arrival at the South Bend station, we went by a large and very old brick factory building that appeared not to have been used for many years. It still bore faint traces of lettering on its front that identified it as having once belonged to the Singer Sewing Machine Co. (After we got home, we found an on-line article about Singer’s South Bend operations, which had begun there in the 1860s and ceased in 1955.)

It seemed like quite a few people got on in South Bend. Just after we departed, an announcement was made that we were entering the Central Time Zone and that watches should be set back an hour.

At 7:44 a.m. Central Time, we went by Gary, Indiana.

We arrived in Chicago at 8:23 a.m., 22 minutes early.
 
Stage 2: Chicago to Los Angeles (Day 1: May 21st)

When we’d arrived at Chicago Union Station on Southwest Chief No. 4 eleven days earlier, a Red Cap had driven us to the Metropolitan Lounge using a circuitous route through the construction zone that we doubted we could have retraced had we had to do it on our own. Fortunately, another Red Cap with a cart was waiting on the platform when we detrained, and we were only too happy to ride with him.

This particular Red Cap was a particularly aggressive “I brake for no one” type of driver. Without slowing down once and with his horn sounding continuously, he drove down the crowded platform and then through the station (which was even more crowded with commuters), scattering people right and left. Fortunately, no one was knocked down or run over, but this “encounter with Jehu” provided us with a ride to remember!

While we were standing in line at the Metropolitan Lounge waiting to be checked in by the Dragon Lady, we observed her get into an argument with a woman who wanted to put her luggage into the Lounge’s storage room without first having stood in line and been checked in. (The Dragon Lady won that argument and the woman ended up departing with her luggage.) The Dragon Lady was almost cordial when she checked us in and fitted us with the wristbands that would allow us quick and easy access to the Lounge.

In a move calculated to cheer those who are of good heart when routine is in the discard, two Red Caps were on hand to move passengers’ carry-on items into the Lounge’s storage room and then place them onto the shelves. (Later in day, after the Red Caps had departed, people had to once again do this for themselves.)

Having seen our carry-on items safely stowed away, we headed up to the Food Court for brunch.


In one of her trip reports, Michigan Mom mentioned ordering a Sbarro breakfast stromboli while in Chicago Union Station. This sounded so good that we both ordering the egg, sausage, and cheese breakfast stromboli, which we brought back down to the Lounge to eat. The Lounge’s selection of complementary beverages included orange juice, which went well with the stromboli.

After breakfast, we retrieved the laptop from the storage room and used the Lounge’s WiFi to send e-mails to the family to let them know that we’d made it safely to Chicago. (Since we weren’t able to establish a secure VPN connection, we didn’t remain on-line for very long.)

Afterwards, I started working on this trip report, while Pat worked on her Sudoku puzzles.

By 12:11 p.m., the Lounge had become quite crowded with people waiting for various trains to depart.

For some reason, the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge always feels on the chilly side to us compared to the rest of the station. Whenever we’re there, I always set up the little digital thermometer that we pack along with us, so that I can include its temperature in our trip reports. This time, it was 69.3 degrees. (While some people might find this comfortable, we were glad we had our jackets with us.)

At 1:12 a.m., a uniformed member of Amtrak’s K-9 force made a sweep of the Lounge with his dog. By this time, we’d retrieved all of our carry-on bags from the storage room, and the dog gave them all a good sniff. After the dog had made the rounds, his handler brought him back to give our bags another good sniff before moving on. (We’re still wondering what the dog found so interesting about our bags.)

By 2:20 p.m., Red Caps and their carts had begun to gather outside the Lounge’s entrance in anticipation of early boarding for Southwest Chief No. 3. Once again, we used this service to pass through the construction zone.

When we arrived at the platform from which SWC No. 3 would be departing, the line of coaches seemed to stretch into infinity. Driving down the platform, we saw what appeared to be the SWC No. 4 coaches that had arrived the previous day still parked there. Our SWC No. 3 was parked just ahead of them.

By 2:27 p.m., we’d checked in with our Sleeping Car Attendant Mike and were in our bedroom. (For our westbound passage, we’d been successful in reserving Bedroom E.) This time, our bedroom window looked out from the left or “fireman’s side” of the train.

At 2:49 p.m., someone radioed, “Train 3 in the clear.” Someone else radioed, “Train 3, here we go” and we departed on time at 2:50 p.m.

As mentioned earlier, it takes a little over 43 hours for SWC No. 3 to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles. The posh, extra fare Super Chief took 39 hours and 45 minutes to make this trip. In its heyday, the Super Chief was THE preferred means of transportation for the Hollywood glitterati and other people of note. (Back then, one didn’t just travel to Los Angeles, one “Chiefed” it.) For budget-minded travelers, in 1938 the Santa Fe Railroad introduced the El Capitan, an all-coach train that operated on the same fast schedule as the Super Chief. (In later years, these two trains were combined.) All things considered, SWC No. 3’s schedule isn’t that much different from that of the Super Chief, which made fewer stops.

By the time we reached Naperville, we’d concluded that our bedroom would be more comfortable if it was warmer. We’d come prepared with gaffer’s tape and a piece of cardboard to tape over the overhead air conditioning vent if necessary. Fortunately, the vent’s louvers worked, and we were able to close them completely. Shortly afterwards our bedroom’s temperature was more to our liking.

When we passed through Mendota, an electronic time & temperature display mounted on one of the buildings said that it was 91 degrees outside.

Shortly afterwards, a RAD reported that our train had 40 axles.

Although the day was sunny and clear, outside we could see the trees next to the tracks being buffeted by a strong wind. It wasn’t until after we got home and checked our e-mails that we discovered an Amtrak “Important information about your trip” message: “Your train will operate at reduced speeds between Galesburg and La Plata due to a tornado warning in the area.” (Our train never did slow down until shortly before approaching the Fort Madison Bridge over the Mississippi River.)

At 5:30 p.m., our SCA delivered our meals to us in our bedroom. Basically, we stayed with the same menu items that we’d had on our way east. Pat had the Amtrak Signature Flat Iron Steak, and I had the Atlantic Salmon. We split a single portion of the Chocolate Spoon Cake which was just the right serving size for us.

Along with our meals we received stainless steel flatware: a salad fork, dinner fork, knife, and spoon, all having the distinctive “three sheets to the wind” Amtrak logo. They were wrapped in the same blue cloth napkins that are used in the dining car. (I was sorely tempted to “forget” to return my set and let it find its way into my suitcase on the assumption that it never would be missed. After we’d eaten though, Pat removed this temptation by returning the flatware and napkins to the dining car.)

While we were eating, it had started to cloud up outside and, just before we reached Stronghurst, there were a few rain sprinkles. Even so, we kept moving out at 78 mph.

At 6:27 p.m. the Fort “Mad” dispatcher radioed our train and told the conductor to contact the Fort Madison Bridge operator. We would have to stop at the bridge because it was open for river traffic.

At 6:33 p.m. we stopped at the approach to the bridge and remained there for 13 minutes.

Prior to our departure from Fort Madison, someone radioed, “We’ve got that tornado warning coming up.” When we did depart, it was at 22 mph and thirty minutes behind schedule. We could see that the waters of the Mississippi River were “choppy.”

At 7:28 p.m. when we crossed the Des Moines River, the wind seemed to be subsiding. Then at 7:42 p.m. our scanner monitored a message saying that the tornado warning had expired.

Since the first day of our west-bound trips is always a long one for us, we usually have our SCA make up our beds right after we leave La Plata. For this trip however (and perhaps because we’re not quite as young as we used to be) we requested that our beds be made up somewhat earlier than that.

When I went to take a shower, I noted that our shower-toilet was fitted with the plastic shower curtain that prevents the water from leaking through the door and onto the carpeting.

We were both in bed by the time SWC No. 3 arrived in La Plata and were sound asleep shortly thereafter.
 
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(Day 2: May 22nd)

I was up a little after 6:15 a.m. (It was just two weeks ago today that we’d begun our May rail adventure.)

After showering and dressing, I set up the GPS device to find out where we were. It came on-line just as we were arriving in Garden City. When we departed at 6:56 a.m., we knew that we were only forty-six minutes behind schedule.

At 7:28 a.m., while passing through Kendall, we entered a new time zone and the time display on our GPS device automatically reset itself to 6:28 a.m. Mountain Time.

Our breakfast orders were delivered at 7:00 a.m. MT. (We both agreed that our breakfast orders and, in fact, all our meals on SWC No. 3 were better prepared than they had been on our SWC No. 4 train.)

We arrived in Lamar at 7:23 a.m. On display next to the station is a single General Electric wind turbine blade. (Seeing one up close like this gave us a much better idea of just how big those blades are!)

Arriving in “La Hoontah,” we took advantage of the longer “crew change” stop to get off and stretch our legs. (The weather was brisk enough to require us to wear our jackets.) Walking the length of our train, we copied down the car numbers: Engine 202, Engine 83, Baggage Car 61030, Sleeper 39012, Sleeper 32078 (designated 330, ours), Diner 38016, Sightseer Loung Car 33023, Coach 34062, Coach 31034, and Coach 39044; a total of 10 cars in all. This was two more cars than had been in our eastbound SWC No. 4’s consist, and we assumed that this was to accommodate the additional people who were traveling because of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday.

We departed from Trinadad twenty-five minutes behind schedule.

In the days of steam locomotives and heavyweight passenger cars, it required a “pusher” engine with 10 driving wheels, and a standard engine coupled to the front of the road engine - a total of three locomotives in all - to make the ascent from Trinadad to the summit of Raton Pass. (Seeing that combination in action must have delighted those rail fans for whom steam was the only thinkable motive power in a properly ordered world.) Of the three engine crews involved in this operation, the crew of the pusher locomotive with its 10 heavy driving wheels would have been paid the most since, in addition to milage and time, engine crews were paid according to engine weight.

Ascending Raton Pass, the tracks ran next to a line of telephone poles on our left, most of which had two crossarms each. In some places, the poles were damaged or had fallen down, so apparently these lines are no longer in use. As the poles flashed by, we tried counting the number of glass insulators on each crossarm to see how many wires there were in total. For those poles with two crossarms, we came up with an average of 19 insulators per pole. (If these poles are no longer in use, why haven’t the copper wires and glass insulators been removed and recycled?)

At 10:26 a.m., and just short of the tunnel entrance, someone radioed, “All stop” and an announcement was made that we’d stopped because of a faulty signal. Two minutes later, someone radioed “Here we go” and we entered the tunnel shortly afterwards.

We arrived in Raton at 10:49 a.m. (It seemed strange not to be dropping off and picking up large groups of Scouts heading to or returning from the Philmont Scout Ranch. But since this was May, the Scouts were still in school.)

With no heat restrictions or high wind warnings to slow us down, we made good time. (At 11:34 a.m., a RAD reported that the outside temperature was 64 degrees.)

For lunch we both ordered the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad. (The chicken slices on our salads were warm as they are supposed to be. On our SWC No. 4, the chicken slices on our salads had been cold.)

Just before reaching Glorieta, we stopped so that SWC No. 4 could pass us.

Nineteen minutes later, we went passed the old Glorieta train station and started the descent to Lamy.

One of the highlights of our trips on the Southwest Chief is always the passage through Apache Canyon. Through these narrow confines once passed the Santa Fe Chief and the Super Chief carrying some of the most notable people of the Twentieth Century: the film celebrities, directors and studio executives from Hollywood’s golden years, stars from Broadway, radio, and early television, famous authors, singers, writers, artists, musicians, scientists, captains of industry, foreign dignitaries, leading political figures, visiting royalty, high ranking military officers, etc., etc., etc. Whenever we traverse Apache Canyon, we are seeing and experiencing the same things that those famous folk did when they passed through here.

After departed from Lamy, we both decided to lay down and take a nap. We didn’t wake up until we were just outside of Albuquerque.

During the extended service stop in Albuquerque, we got off to stretch our legs. Once again, the weather was pleasant.

At 4:51 p.m., someone radioed “We are ready.” Someone else radioed “We can highball,” and we soon were moving.

Our departure out of Albuquerque was rather slow, but once we’d crossed the Rio Grande River at 5:15 p.m., we soon were back up to our maximum track speed.

Our dinners once again arrived with Amtrak stainless steel flatware. Upon closer examination, I noted that all of this flatware was made in China. (We later went on-line and learned that the only manufacturer of stainless steel flatware in America is Liberty Tabletop.)

Approaching Gallup, at 7:13 p.m. we went by Fort Wingate with its rows of ammunition bunkers built into the hillside. Those familiar with the writing of Tony Hillerman will recall that these bunkers (or at least one of them) figure prominently in the plot of his novel “The Wailing Wind."

Just before we reached the Gallup station, we caught a quick glimpse of the historic El Rancho Hotel, once the favorite place for people from Hollywood to stay whenever there was location filming going on in the Gallup area. (The names of the famous film stars who stayed at the El Rancho reads like a “who’s who” from Hollywood’s most effulgent years.)

When we departed from Gallup, we were only running forty-six minutes late and things were looking better and better for an on-time arrival in Los Angeles. Aware that our SCA would be delivering our breakfast orders to us shortly after 5:00 a.m. the next morning, we called it an early evening, remembering to first set our watches back an hour.
 
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(Day 3: May 23rd)

We had our GPS device powered up and on-line by 4:30 a.m., just as we were arriving in Barstow. When we departed, we were running about one hour behind schedule.

The ascent up Cajon Pass was made in fairly thick fog. Once the fog lifted, the sky was completely covered with marine layer, that famous low-level cloud formation caused by relatively dry & warm air moving atop of the cooler ocean water. (Southern Californians refer to this as “May Murk.”)

Off to our left, we could see westbound cars creeping along on one of the freeways.

When we’d made our reservations, we’d optimistically assumed that SWC No. 3 would arrive in Los Angeles in enough time for us to connect with southbound Pacific Surfliner No. 770. If No. 3 was running late, and it appeared that we’d miss connecting with No. 770 or the next southbound Pacific Surfliner in LA by only a few minutes, we’d have the option to detrain in Fullerton and catch it there. We’ve usually decided on which course of action to follow once we leave Riverside.

When we departed Riverside, we were fifty-nine minutes behind schedule. After consulting the southbound Pacific Surfliner timetable and making a few quick calculations, we came to the conclusion that we could continue on all the way to Los Angeles and still arrive in plenty of time make our connecting train.

SWC No. 3 arrived in Fullerton at 8:02 a.m. Instead of unloading next to the station like it usually does, it unloaded at the platform across the tracks from the station where one usually waits to catch a southbound Pacific Surfliner. Detraining passengers had to use the elevated walkway to get over to the station.

We arrived at Los Angeles Union Station at 8:45 a.m. only forty-five minutes behind schedule.
 
Stage 3: Los Angeles to San Diego (May 23rd)

The day being overcast and chilly, we decided to wait for Pacific Surfliner 770 in the Metropolitan Lounge rather than standing on the platform for almost ninety minutes.

A Red Cap with a cart was outside our sleeper when we detrained, and we rode with him and two other passengers into the station.

Arriving at the Metropolitan Lounge, we were surprised to find it fairly crowded with people waiting to depart on the northbound Coast Starlight No. 14 which would begin boarding shortly. Once they departed, we had the Lounge all to ourselves.

Our Pacific Surfliner No. 770 had departed from Oakland the previous day at 10:00 p.m. and was supposed to have arrived in Los Angeles at 9:46 a.m. However, it was running behind schedule, and we were wondering how this would affect our arrival in San Diego.

A little after 10:00 a.m. a Red Cap with a cart arrived at the Lounge’s back door to take us to the platform that PSL No. 770 would be arriving at. (We had the cart all to ourselves and felt like VIPs.) A large crowd was already gathered on the platform when we arrived. Our Red Cap driver remained with us on the platform so that he could load our larger carry-on bags onto our Business Class coach.

PSL No. 770 arrived at 10:15 a.m. Once again, we opted to sit in the lower level. By the time we boarded, most of the seats were already taken, but we did manage to find two together.

We departed at 10:22 a.m. only twelve minutes behind schedule.

No Business Class snack packs were distributed after our departure, but an alcove at the back end of our coach had coffee, water, soft drinks, vegan chocolate chip cookies, etc.

We made good time traveling south and before we knew it, were parallelling the ocean. Despite the marine layer, we saw surfers in the water and people walking on the beach, although most of them were wearing jackets.

Going by the San Clemente Pier, we saw bulldozers at work moving the sand around.

Just before we reached Oceanside, an attendant came around passing out Pacific Surfliner snack packs.

Oceanside must have been a popular destination that day since many people got off there.

Just as we were about to depart from Oceanside, a woman asked the attendant to help her get her suitcase down from the luggage rack. By the time they’d reached the exit door, the train had already started moving and had to be stopped so that she could get off. Then another passenger from up above came racing down with his luggage, reaching the exit door just as the train was again starting to move. Once again, the train had to be stopped. We then departed without further interruptions.

When we were a few miles from the Old Town San Diego station, we moved our carry-on items to the exit door and waited there until our train had stropped. We arrived at 1:07 p.m., only about thirteen minutes late. When we detrained, the sun was shining.

Although we like riding trains, doing so for three days straight is about our limit, and we were glad that our trip was over and that we were back in San Diego.

Since the Old Town station is only a short distance from the long-term parking lot where our car was parked, a shuttle arrived to pick us up within a few minutes after we’d called for it.

On our way home, we stopped off at a grocery store to pick up a few items that we needed. Located just a few doors down was the Panda Express Chinese take-out restaurant where, last July, I’d received the fortune cookie fortune that had resulted in us making this trip. Since breakfast early that morning, we’d only eaten a few snack items, so we opted to go to the Panda Express for take-out. This time, the fortune in my fortune cookie read “A well-arranged schedule is a good sign of a well-arranged mind.” (We took this as a hint to further refine our packing lists so that we’d have even less to take along with us on our next Amtrak trip.)

Post Script

Our May Amtrak trip was another successful one for us. The stations, trains, and Metropolitan Lounges weren’t at all crowded like they are during the summer. None of our trains were seriously delayed by the weather, freight interference, equipment problems, etc., and at no time did we experience the stress that comes from missing a connection or having one of our trains cancelled on short notice.

We’re now scheduling at least two long-distance train trips a year so that we can get in as many trips as we possibly can while we can still travel.

For our second rail adventure in 2024, we’ll be going back to Ohio in September. (By the time we leave on that trip, we’ll already have made the reservations for the first of our rail trips to Ohio in 2025, which will again take place in May.)

In a couple of months, we’ll be submitting our September trip report so stay tuned!

Eric & Pat
 
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What a treat to read this today! Happy to hear everything went well and you are back home with no trip interruptions. especially given you had tornado activity along the way.
I absolutely love the details you provided about the Toledo train station, it made me realize I've never really done it justice. Despite having been there quite a few times! Next time in TOL I will be looking for all the glass details you mention.
As always, thank you for taking us along, this is the next best thing to actually going on a trip!
 
What a treat to read this today! Happy to hear everything went well and you are back home with no trip interruptions. especially given you had tornado activity along the way.
I absolutely love the details you provided about the Toledo train station, it made me realize I've never really done it justice. Despite having been there quite a few times! Next time in TOL I will be looking for all the glass details you mention.
As always, thank you for taking us along, this is the next best thing to actually going on a trip!
Thank you so much!
 
Stage 3: Los Angeles to San Diego (May 23rd)

The day being overcast and chilly, we decided to wait for Pacific Surfliner 770 in the Metropolitan Lounge rather than standing on the platform for almost ninety minutes.

A Red Cap with a cart was outside our sleeper when we detrained, and we rode with him and two other passengers into the station.

Arriving at the Metropolitan Lounge, we were surprised to find it fairly crowded with people waiting to depart on the northbound Coast Starlight No. 14 which would begin boarding shortly. Once they departed, we had the Lounge all to ourselves.

Our Pacific Surfliner No. 770 had departed from Oakland the previous day at 10:00 p.m. and was supposed to have arrived in Los Angeles at 9:46 a.m. However, it was running behind schedule, and we were wondering how this would affect our arrival in San Diego.

A little after 10:00 a.m. a Red Cap with a cart arrived at the Lounge’s back door to take us to the platform that PSL No. 770 would be arriving at. (We had the cart all to ourselves and felt like VIPs.) A large crowd was already gathered on the platform when we arrived. Our Red Cap driver remained with us on the platform so that he could load our larger carry-on bags onto our Business Class coach.

PSL No. 770 arrived at 10:15 a.m. Once again, we opted to sit in the lower level. By the time we boarded, most of the seats were already taken, but we did manage to find two together.

We departed at 10:22 a.m. only twelve minutes behind schedule.

No Business Class snack packs were distributed after our departure, but an alcove at the back end of our coach had coffee, water, soft drinks, vegan chocolate chip cookies, etc.

We made good time traveling south and before we knew it, were parallelling the ocean. Despite the marine layer, we saw surfers in the water and people walking on the beach, although most of them were wearing jackets.

Going by the San Clemente Pier, we saw bulldozers at work moving the sand around.

Just before we reached Oceanside, an attendant came around passing out Pacific Surfliner snack packs.

Oceanside must have been a popular destination that day since many people got off there.

Just as we were about to depart from Oceanside, a woman asked the attendant to help her get her suitcase down from the luggage rack. By the time they’d reached the exit door, the train had already started moving and had to be stopped so that she could get off. Then another passenger from up above came racing down with his luggage, reaching the exit door just as the train was again starting to move. Once again, the train had to be stopped. We then departed without further interruptions.

When we were a few miles from the Old Town San Diego station, we moved our carry-on items to the exit door and waited there until our train had stropped. We arrived at 1:07 p.m., only about thirteen minutes late. When we detrained, the sun was shining.

Although we like riding trains, doing so for three days straight is about our limit, and we were glad that our trip was over and that we were back in San Diego.

Since the Old Town station is only a short distance from the long-term parking lot where our car was parked, a shuttle arrived to pick us up within a few minutes after we’d called for it.

On our way home, we stopped off at a grocery store to pick up a few items that we needed. Located just a few doors down was the Panda Express Chinese take-out restaurant where, last July, I’d received the fortune cookie fortune that had resulted in us making this trip. Since breakfast early that morning, we’d only eaten a few snack items, so we opted to go to the Panda Express for take-out. This time, the fortune in my fortune cookie read “A well-arranged schedule is a good sign of a well-arranged mind.” (We took this as a hint to further refine our packing lists so that we’d have even less to take along with us on our next Amtrak trip.)

Post Script

Our May Amtrak trip was another successful one for us. The stations, trains, and Metropolitan Lounges weren’t at all crowded like they are during the summer. None of our trains were seriously delayed by the weather, freight interference, equipment problems, etc., and at no time did we experience the stress that comes from missing a connection or having one of our trains cancelled on short notice.

We’re now scheduling at least two long-distance train trips a year so that we can get in as many trips as we possibly can while we can still travel.

For our second rail adventure in 2024, we’ll be going back to Ohio in September. (By the time we leave on that trip, we’ll already have made the reservations for the first of our rail trips to Ohio in 2025, which will again take place in May.)

In a couple of months, we’ll be submitting our September trip report so stay tuned!

Eric & Pat
Isn't the northern terminus of the SurfLiner SLO?

You typed,
'Going by the San Clemente Pier, we saw bulldozers at work moving the sand around.'

Considering the stabilization efforts, don't you think the bulldozers were doing more than just moving sand around?
 
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