Oregon to Boston, but not on the Empire Builder after all

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oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,530
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
I watched the snow mess on the Empire Builder with consternation. Trains stuck on Stevens Pass, trains stuck behind disabled freights, avalanches in Montana. It just didn’t look hopeful. My train got canceled once and I rescheduled. The second time they canceled me, I looked at driving south and getting on the CZ at Winnemucca.

I had been messaging back and forth with Debbie in Pasco, who was also having her EB trips canceled. When I rebooked the first time, I was given the roomette right across from hers, and I thought, yesss, this time it will go! But then the avalanche covered the rails in Marias Pass MT and it looked like it could be quite a number of days before BNSF let Amtrak through again. I couldn’t push my trip back any further.

I had booked with points, so I knew I would have to rebook with a Guest Rewards agent. I got Vickie on the line, and she had to go away and ask about switching trains completely. When she came back, she said yes, and not only that, she could get me out a day earlier than the most recently canceled EB reservation, AND I would get 1K points back. Let’s do it, I said. After all, I had been packed for days!

After breakfast next morning, I loaded up my gear and drove south. It took about six hours including stops, but was an easy drive with dry road and pleasant weather. I got to the station early. A couple other parties were boarding, and a woman who traveled to WNN regularly said “Watch for the van. When they come, the train is almost here.” I saw what she meant when a Winnemucca Inn van pulled up, and the new crew got out.WNN is a crew change stop.

I had a chat with the engineer whose jacket proclaimed he was an air cooled VW fan, and the conductor pulled everyone’s tickets on the platform. He knew right where I should stand for my car. I wasn’t sure why they pulled the first sleeper to the shelter and then spotted the train for the coaches, instead of using the entire platform.

My attendant is Johnny, and he greeted me by name. He put my bag in the rack, and invited me to go right to the diner. I am a light eater, so I skipped the appetizer. The salmon was just right, the veggies OK, and the pilaf was dry. The flourless chocolate torte for dessert was divine. While I was at dinner, Johnny put the bed down for me. I sat on the bed and phoned Hubby to talk about the day.

I rarely sleep well the first night on a train, so I was surprised to wake up early and refreshed. I could tell the train was ascending Soldier Summit because we were going slower and there was a snowy bank rolling by outside my window. I was a little disappointed not to see any of it in daylight but dawn was just happening at Helper, even though we weren’t right on time.
 

oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,530
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
They’ve been making announcements all day that “Your mask must be covering your nose -and-your mouth. For your safety/our safety, PLEASE.” At a fresh air stop, I asked Johnny if he’d been able to keep himself safe so far. He answered that he’d come down with Covid in April 2020, before vaccines were available. He’d gotten it from a coworker, and passed it to his wife who only had flu symptoms, but he’d gotten pneumonia and was the sickest he’d ever been. He felt lucky to have recovered fully, had his vaccines, and was “ready” any time they’d give him a second booster.

I had the Continental breakfast, and was pleased to get blueberries for my oatmeal, and a biscuit, which I prefer over croissants. For lunch I ordered the vegan chili with cheese and bacon. The chili was good, but the cheese was just a yellow slice the same as you’d get on a burger. For dinner, I had the salad with Brie cheese, and it was delicious, followed by the salmon. I skipped dessert.

Being the second night, I slept really well. The few times I woke up, I was aware we were zipping over the prairies at a good rate. When I woke in the morning, it was just getting light at 7am and we were in Creston IA. I showered and went to breakfast. I had a pleasant conversation with the guy across the aisle, who had also come from Oregon because of the Empire Builder mess. He had worked for the MNF his first summer out of college, and his fondest memory of the job was building a footbridge on the Cedar Grove path. It being the last day, the dining car crew distributed the extra table roses to the parties in the car. I’m taking mine to Clintonia.

Johnny had made up my room. He’s an angel! Thirty-eight years with Amtrak, and a couple to go, and he still does customer care right. Last night before most of the passengers got off at Denver, the restrooms got really messy. This morning they were all cleaned up. He made sure the shower was clean, and stocked with towels, and I left it as clean as I found it - but many do not.

Hubby called me to talk. It’s Iowa, so there are hills, and he had to call back twice to finish the call.I found that being close to the window helped, but only up to a point. I am getting my devices charged up. The cafe is running out of real food, based on their announcements. It’s obviously the last day out for the crew and they are anxious to be home. Almost everyone on the train is worried about Omicron, and hand sanitizer is posted conveniently at traffic points in the corridors. When I take my mask off to brush my teeth, I can smell the sanitizer that has been used on the surfaces.

The dining car called lunch at 10 :30 so they could get all cleaned up before Chicago, and I wasn’t very hungry because I’d only had breakfast three hours earlier. I had the Caesar salad with chicken, and whined when they said no dessert, because I wanted to take it back to my room for later (not that I needed the extra calories, lol).
 

oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,530
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
After Princeton I did a rapid Covid test, and had a snack of orange, chocolate and tea. I only left home two days ago, so haven’t had time to get sick, but it’s a precaution to take these days before seeing friends or family.

Got to Chicago half an hour early, left my bags in the storage room of the Metropolitan Lounge, and met my friend. Clintonia in the Great Hall. We went two blocks up Clinton St. to Naf Naf restaurant where we got Chicken Shawarma pitas. Then we walked downtown to the Art Institute and back. I sat in the lounge till time to go. It wasn’t too crowded.

At about 9:15 they finally called for boarding and lined us up, but instead of walking us out to a train they took us to the regular waiting room and told us the train was “delayed.” There is no WiFi here, and it’s hot, so people are irritated. The lounge folks knew they didn’t have a train waiting, but they wanted to close up, so here we sit. The latest announcement is that the equipment is “on the way.”

Thu AM. We went through Buffalo about twenty minutes late, making up time a little as we run past padding in the schedule. I had my own breakfast so did not go to the diner. Attendant Ralph came by and took dinner orders.

I spoke too fast when I said staff was adamant about masking. When I walked through the train to the diner for lunch, I saw a lot of folks in the coaches with masks below noses, below chins, or off. My lunch was well-timed so I could walk back to my car down the outside of the train at Utica. I told the conductor at the door exactly why I was jogging along the train with my brownie and water bottle, not that I thought they’d actually do anything about it.

We got into Albany early. I walked to the top of the stairs and took photos of the train separation. I’ve tried to get more photos of the infrastructure on this trip, and may post them as a separate thread later, since some will require heavy editing.

Ralph brought my dinner at 4:45, right after Pittsfield MA. It was just getting dark. The train engineer toot-a-toot-tooted at a family walking in the snow. The Dad had his headlamp turned on. I waved. The salmon was better than at lunch - the veggies were not so overcooked. The salad wasn’t any better, and all I could eat from it was the tomato (I can’t tolerate preserved iceberg lettuce). I finished my dinner and made one last cup of tea to wash the brownie down. It’s looking like we will be in Boston early, so I am going to wrap this up and do my Covid test.
 

Exvalley

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jul 7, 2020
Messages
1,165
Thanks for the trip report!

When did they tell you that you had to return to the Metropolitan Lounge to retrieve your bags?
 
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