Ottumwa to Eugene, and back

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Dec 6, 2014
Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Start OTM to EUG, and back, spring vacation.
OTM - DEN in Coach
DEN - RNO in Roomette
RNO - EUG in Coach.
On my return:
EUG - RNO in Coach
RNO - DEN in Roomette.
DEN - OTM in Coach

Load luggage in car.
Drive 2 hours to Ottumwa, Iowa.
On the 2 lane road (Eddyville Road) just before arriving in Ottumwa a beautiful Pheasant flies across the road right in front of my car.
Arrive in Ottumwa early enough to have tacos, rice, beans, and an orange soda at a little taquiera before boarding the #5 California Zephyr.
The CZ arrives - On-Time.

Kevin, the Train Attendant-Coach, assigns me an aisle coach seat with a seat mate - Rich.
I was hoping for a window seat and no seat mate. Life's a beach.

Rich pops the top on one of the tall cans of cold beer he has in a bag at his coach seat (private stock alcohol).
Rich was in Iowa visiting his dad, also boarded at the OTM stop, and is returning to his job at the Beaver Creek Resort at Vail, Colorado.

Introductory obligations completed I relocate to the SSL car to sight see and shoot some video.
Just before dark we pass a meadow and I get treated to seeing a wild turkey strolling across it.
With nightfall I return to my coach seat.

Rich is low key, and if OBS notice the tall can(s) of beer sitting on the fold down table at his seat they don't say anything. Rich had 3 cans of beer.

Later past Osceola, to help me relax and go to sleep I get out my 8oz stainless steel wine glass and pour myself a hefty 3 or 4 oz portion of A&W Creme Soda (80 proof whisky in disguise).
Rich fidgets around unable to go to sleep and adjourns to the SSL car to sleep (lounge lizard).
I wake hourly or at each stop, whichever comes first until we are about 3/4 of the way or so across Nebraska.

Friday, May 1, 2015
Happy 44th b'day Amtrak!

I wake at 6 am MT, do a train morning brush teeth, wash face, wash arm pits, etc routine.
The CZ is running late and we are not yet to Fort Morgan, Colorado.
I present myself at the dining car at 6:30 and the Lead Service Attendant - Diner (LSA - D) allows me to get breakfast on my DEN - RNO Roomette reservation.
I am seated with a honeymooning young couple on their 1st train ride and getting off the #5 in Denver.
I have coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, bacon, and biscuit.
The potatoes were done but didn't look roasted, the bacon was tough (I've never had tough bacon before!)
Note to self - Next breakfast on the train, try grits and sausage.

A check with the conductor reveals how to affect the coach to sleeper transition at the Denver Station:
Step 1. Get off the train's coach car with your luggage.
Step 2. Walk back to your assigned Sleeper car (0531 Roomette #8).
Step 3. Get on your assigned sleeper car.

I am surprised when the Conductor makes no reference to arranging for Red Cap service at the Denver station, nor any other assistance that may be available to me for making the move from coach to a sleeper berth.

Not a lot of sweat, though the altitude in Denver (Mile High City) does effect how spryly I am able to make the move since Denver is a bit over 5x higher than where I live.

My Train Attendant - Sleeper Car (TA-SC) is not at the door of car 0531 so I board, stash my luggage, and go on up to Rm #8.
In Rm #8 I discover the previous occupant of Rm #8 has left 1/2 a bottle of water, and a bit of a bonus - 1/2 of a 1/2 bottle of white wine I can consume as a lunch aperitif.

0531 is hooked to the Dining car by the Bedroom end of the sleeper car putting Rm #8 on the left side of the train, so no views/video/stills of Denver and vicinity from Rm #8 as we climb the Colorado Rockies Front Range. Life's a beach #2.

Once settled in my roomette I leave and make my way to the rail fan window at the back of car 0532.

Having been in both sleeper cars to get to the back window I noted the TA-SC of sleeper car 0532 had fruit juice, and cookies out for the pax in that car and the usual coffee. In my car we only had coffee. No juice, no cookies in 0531 - my sleeper car. Ice was not evident in either sleeper car.

With my DSLR mounted on a monopod I shoot video as we rail through Arvada and start climbing up towards the Big 10 Curve.
Past the Big 10 I return to my roomette and find that the TA-SC has left 2 fresh bottles of water.
I notice that Rm #9 is unoccupied and use it to view/video/shoot stills of Denver and vicinity as we climb the Colorado Rockies Front Range.

Back in my room my TA-SC pops in to empty the little trash container in the Roomette. No “Hello. Welcome aboard. I'm so-and-so.” from the TA-SC, no name tag, nada. Just grabbed the trash and disappeared but at least I now knew my TA-SC was a she, and what she looked like. Throughout the rest of the morning as I moved about the train making some video and sightseeing I occasionally saw my TA-SC. She looked at me but did not acknowledge my presence in any way nor speak to me.

Reservations were not needed for lunch and I went to the dining car shortly after 12:00 pm MT.

Marcelo was our waiter. Marcelo had a bright, bubbly personality and made me feel very welcome. I asked for the turkey meatballs. Marcelo said the turkey meatballs were not available and recommended to me a crispy panko-crusted chicken w/sweet onion sauce, the alternative that I now know is the new regular lunch menu offering replacing the turkey meatballs.

I had the salad to start, diet Pepsi, and had the chocolate mousse for desert. The chicken/gravy and garlic mashed potatoes was a lot of food. I didn’t finish the potatoes so I would have room for the desert.
My lunch companion was not talkative, but the views of Gore Canyon from the dining car made up for that. The dining car didn’t seem very busy at lunch making me wonder how many sleeper berths were occupied after Denver.

After Glenwood Springs the LSA-Diner came into the SSL asking people what time they wanted their dinner reservation. Though he had seen me at 2 meals in the dining car earlier in the day, he did not ask me. I later saw and asked my TA-SC to let the LSA know I would be appearing in the dining car at 7 pm for dinner, the first chance I had to speak to her.

I used the communal shower between Glenwood Springs and De Beque. Like I have seen in online videos of the communal shower in a sleeper car, the TA-SC had the black, used linens bag in the shower room taking up some of the limited space we passengers could have used for undressing and dressing.

A bit later the TA-S and I had a chance to talk a bit but did not exchange names. She mentioned her husband drives an OTR truck so he and she both had jobs that took them on the road for days at a time.

I went to dinner at 7 pm in Utah between Thompson and Green River. Marcelo was again our waiter and I anticipated enjoying dinner as daylight faded.

My dinner companions were a young male couple (Jack and Richard) from San Francisco returning west after a business trip to Chicago, and Paul, a software engineer returning to Salt Lake City. The conversation was lively and pleasant.

For dinner we all had the salad, steak, baked potato. I had a ½ bottle of Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon. The steak was quite good, was cooked as done as I had asked for - medium, the potato was large, and the veggies were mediocre. I had cheesecake for desert.

After dinner I sat in my roomette sipping whisky and watched the locomotive’s headlights light up the approaching train tracks and cliff walls out my roomette window as we made the turns and switchbacks on the climb up into the mountains after Price and Helper, UT.

I called the TA-SC about 9:30 pm MT to have my roomette converted. She appeared promptly and when she was done converting the seats, I retired.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

I awoke at 5:30 am PT, lounged in bed a few minutes watching the Nevada scenery go by, and then rose to do my morning ablutions.

I was seated with 3 single women, 2 of whom had a lot in common and spoke to each other a lot. I mostly listened and ate.

I had the 3 egg omelet (w/the works), grits, Chicken/Maple sausage, coffee, and orange juice.

The omelet and grits were fine. Though many praise the Chicken/Maple sausage, it was way too sweet for me and I won’t have it again.

When I got back to my roomette it had been converted back to its Day configuration. I gave my TA-S ½ as much of a tip as I would have given as a tip had the service been classier.

When we got to Reno I moved back to coach (get off, walk to coach, get on), which by now had only a few passengers and Kevin (TA-C) told me to pick any seat I wanted in the car I was assigned to. I spent most of the RNO to SAC leg in the SSL car.

I got off the #5(30) at Sacramento for the 10 hour or so layover wait for the #14(2) – Coast Starlight. The new platforms at the SAC stop are nice, but a ways from the station – close to a ¼ mile walk. If you use the red cap service they take you and your luggage on an electric cart. (photos below)

Since I had a sleeper berth earlier in the day I was eligible to use the sleeper pax waiting area (not a lounge) at the SAC station and to use the station baggage storage service at no charge

The SAC station is being renovated (photos below). There was no AC but they had some fans. The sleeper pax waiting area had 4 nice matching padded chairs, 2 couches, and a love seat.

I left my luggage and hung out under a fan until I decided it was time to go into town and get dinner.

The Subway sandwich shop on the corner of 5th and J is not open on Saturday or Sunday. A nearby Mexican place (my 1st choice) I had seen on Goggle Maps - Cilantro’s - was no longer there.

So I went to Perko’s.

Perko’s gives senior citizens a 20% discount and they had the golf tournament on the TV, so I had dinner at Perko’s. I had a salad, the Perko’s Barn Burner cheeseburger w/fries, and iced tea.

A conductor came into the station and scanned train #14 passenger tickets before the train arrived and we all headed out to the platform en-mass.

When the #14(2) arrived I was again given an aisle seat and a seat mate for the ride up to Eugene. #14 left SAC about 40 minutes late.

Once boarded I had a couple of portions of ‘creme soda’ (whisky) to help me nod off. I shared a shot of 'creme soda' with my seat mate.

Sunday, May 4, 2015

I slept pretty good through the night and woke about 6 am PT, just before we got to Mt. Shasta.

I had breakfast at my coach seat - Ritz crackers w/MRE jalapeno cheese spread, MRE coffee, and some trail mix (nuts, raisins, M&Ms).

I got off in the morning chill at Klamath Falls to watch the smokers get a dose of nicotine. Doing so, I was reminded the coach cars are on the back of the #14, so I had access to the rail fan window again.

I visited the rail fan window several times and we arrived at my destination, Eugene, about on time.

My sister picked me up at the station and we went to have lunch. On my food wish list for this trip was something I can't get here in Iowa - Jack-In-The-Box onion rings and tacos (w/extra sauce). So we went to Jack-In-The-Box and got that crossed off the list

I spent a pleasant week with my sister. Wednesday we visited her younger son in Portland, and returned to Eugene via the coast road on Thursday.

We had a seafood lunch at the little Luna Sea Fish House Village Fishmonger in Yachats, OR.

I had grilled sea scallops, cole slaw, fries, and a Rogue brewery craft beer.

We stopped several times to enjoy the scenery along the coast.

I was booked in Roomette #14 for the return trip and had called several times to get moved by customer service to an upper level room. I kept checking the Roomette prices so I could detect if there had been a rash of reservation cancellations, with no joy.

Eureka! Friday May 8 I saw the Roomette price drop I was hoping for, called CS right away, and got my booking changed to Roomette #4.

Friday evening we had dinner at Marché at the Fifth Street Market there in Eugene because her older son is the Pastry Chef there.

I had roasted hazelnuts w/sea salt, soup of the day, pan-seared ling cod, an unfortunately pedestrian local Chardonnay, and a Sorbet Duo for desert (made by my nephew of course.)

For lunch on Saturday I had my first Five Guys hamburger and french fries.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I got to the station early to have an early dinner at the right across the street - Belly Taqueria.

I was floored when I saw the hand lettered notice on the door that Belly was closed Monday, May 11 for maintenance.

I used up all my good karma for getting Mexican food near an Amtrak station in Ottumwa before I got on the #5 April 30.

The #11 was on time on Monday and I boarded to start my return home.


The Train Attendant-Coach, assigns me an aisle coach seat with a seat mate.

I was hoping for a window seat and no seat mate. Life's a beach.

But wait!

Shortly after the train starts moving the TA-C moves me to a window seat with no seat mate - right across from the coach car stair lights that never get dimmed at night. Close. But no cigar.

Tuesday May 12, 2015

I slept pretty good and woke a bit before 5:00 am PT.

We were early to Sacramento (about 5:20 am PT) and no one said anything to me that we were there.

I had to scramble to get off the train and avoid being a 'carry by'.

After the 10 hour layover a week earlier the SAC sleeper pax waiting area seemed like home and no one else was waiting so I snagged a couch and stretched out.

I walked to Perko's for coffee and breakfast. Both the food I ate and service I got at Perko's were as good as on the train.

Back at the station it was warming up nicely so I changed into shorts and a polo shirt.

A Red Cap came into the sleeper pax waiting area and I took advantage of the service and got a ride out to the platform.

We first stopped to let the sleeper pax/bags off. I didn't see any of the 7 people and their bags he let off there tip him.

We went a bit further along the platform and he dropped me at the coach boarding section of the platform. He seemed appreciative when I slipped him a $5 bill.

Once the train arrived the coach boarding portion of the platform was like a head on wreck of 2 groups of passengers going in opposite directions.

Apparently there were several groups boarding to go to Reno.

Regular coach pax and the group coach pax had been delivered to the wrong location on the platform such that the 2 groups had to go past each other to board.

The TA-C of the coach car the groups needed to board did not seem to fathom what was going on and issued conflicting instructions to the many coach pax (group & regular) wanting to board the train.

Finally an Amtrak employee (ID on lanyard around neck) in street clothes stepped in and gave proper directions to get people flowing to the proper cars.

In fact there were several Amtrak employees about in street clothes with their ID's around their neck.


I was again assigned an aisle seat and a seat mate, so I was 4 for 4.

Someone must have taped a sign to my back I couldn't see - I want an aisle seat.

The 2 seats in front of us were unoccupied so I used that window seat.

Cammy was the TA-C on my coach car, and once we left the station Cammy was busy going back and forth to the SSL Café getting coach pax beverages and food.

I had never seen a TA-C doing that.

In Reno it was a bit windy so the below grade boarding area was like a wind tunnel for testing supersonic aircraft and I had to lean into the wind as I walked.

I walked back to my sleeper car and the TA-SC pointed out the bag storage area and told me to use the stairs and make 3 rights to get to Rm #4.

He also told me he had made me a diner reservation for me at 5:45.

At the top of the stairs I smelled freshly brewed coffee, and lo and behold, I saw 2 containers of juice and cups set out for the car pax.

On entering my room I saw the table had been partially deployed, was covered with a blue dining car napkin, and had 4 individually wrapped Life Saver candies on it. Plus there was a slip showing my dinner reservation time and another slip letting me know my TA-SC's name was Curtis. Shortly after we pulled out of the station Curtis came to my room so he could point out the room controls/switches, etc if I needed such help. I let him know I was familiar with all that but that I would use the call button if I needed him.

My dinner companions Pam, Jan, and Steve were easy going and we watched several dust storms form as the winds blew across the flats east of Fernley. Pam was Jan's sister-in-law. Steve was from San Francisco and he was going to Chicago on a short vacation.

I had the salad, baked potato, steak, veggie of the day, and cheesecake. I again had the Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner. We all ordered medium steaks and we all got rare steaks. Apparently the chef wanted to minimize cooking time. The steak was still tender enough if a bit 'juicy' for my preference.

About 9:30 Curtis checked in and I let him convert my berth to night configuration.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I woke up at 3 am MT as we stopped in Salt Lake City, visited the lavatory, but was unable to go back to sleep back in my room. Some few minutes later I saw Curtis out on the platform chatting with someone and having a smoke. I was still awake when we pulled out of SLC at about 3:45 but I laid back down and at some point before Provo managed to go back to sleep.

I woke about 7 AM as we were pulling out of Helper, grabbed my toiletries bag, got myself together for the day, and headed to the dining car for coffee and breakfast. My breakfast companion was a young lady returning to New York after visiting San Francisco.

I roamed between the SSL, my room, the hall adjacent to the Bedrooms, and the rail fan window making still photos. At one point a ways past Red Canyon they announced we were approaching a tree that had an Eagle nest, and being spring the nest was occupied by a couple of new Eaglets. I didn't have a long lens on my camera but got some photos anyway. I haven't yet uploaded them to my computer too see if I can crop the photos enough to make a decent final image.

For lunch I had a salad, a grilled cheese, tomato, and bacon sandwich (the Lunch Special) with dill pickle and kettle chips, and a diet Pepsi.

I kept making stills of the scenery until time for dinner at the first 5:00 pm MT seating. They called us 5 pm reservations to the dining car starting at 4:40 pm. Considering the rare steaks the night before I didn't want to give the chef another opportunity to ignore my preference so i had the salmon w/ garlic mashed potato and veggies. Thankfully the salmon wase done. I skipped the salad and roll had a diet Pepsi and a glass (a little bottle actually) of Woodbridge Chardonnay I can buy a full bottle of at my local Walmart for $4.99. I had the cheesecake for desert because they were out of the tiramisu I has asked for.

Upon arrival in Denver I am again moving from a sleeper to coach and walk back to the coach cars. I checked in with the TA-C unable to sort out the head on wreck of 2 groups of passengers going in opposite directions back in SAC and she told me I had to go back towards the station and get in line with all the coach passengers that were boarding the train there in Denver. So there in the Mile High City I hiked, huffed and puffed in the rarefied air, a bit more than the full length of the train to get on line with the boarding coach pax. The conductor gave me a seat slip with car number 6311 on it seat 4. There is no car 6311 on the CZ, but there is a coach car - 0611 and the sleeper I had just got off of - 0631. I spoke again to the same TA-C that sent me on the hike to the end of the train and back regarding the confusing car number on my seat slip. She could not be bothered with helping me and clearly wanted my to go away. So I did. I went to the next coach car and Cammy took the time to help me, giving me 4 seats to choose from - seats 1 through 4 in her car - 0610.

Holy smokes! The curse was lifted!

I finally had a coach window seat and no seat mate for the last leg of my trip from DEN to OTM.

I didn't sleep very well. About 7 am CT I decided to stay awake.

Cammy stopped by my seat and asked if she could get me some coffee or something to eat from the Café. I took her up on the offer for the coffee, said I would eat later, and gave her a $5.

I enjoyed the coffee and later Cammy stopped at my seat again to see if I was ready for some food. I said yes and asked for a coffee refill. She grabbed my cup and headed for the Transition sleeper where she drew my refill out of the coffee urn there. I asked for cereal, milk and a bagel w/cream cheese. She came back with the bagel saying the Café was out of cereal and milk. She started to give me change ($0.25) for what was left of the $5 I gave her with my order for the coffee, but I told her to keep it and gave her another $5 bill. Cammy understands what customer service is all about. I have already sent Amtrak an email lauding Cammy's dedication and service and I included notes regarding Marcelo, Curtis, and the shrew, seemingly clueless TA-C for coach car 0612. It is my understanding Cammy and the other TA-C shared coverage of coach car 0611 while the other TA-C had coach car 0612. In other words 2 TA-C serving 3 coach cars.

We arrived about 2.5 hours late to Ottumwa. I was ready to get off of the train, went straight to my car, and started the 2 hour drive home.

I stopped in Grinnell and had a leisurely lunch of decent Mexican food - chips and salsa, chunks of sauteed pork in a tomatillo based green sauce, often known as Chile Verde, corn tortillas, rice, beans and a diet Mountain Dew for the caffeine.

I arrived home about 2 pm CT and ended my vacation.
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Dec 6, 2014
Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
I mentioned SAC station is being re-done:

Maybe an optimistic estimate on the completion date, but they have worded it so they have until December 31, 2016.

The back entrance to the station, taxi cabs, Red Cap transporter.



Dec 6, 2014
Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
The rear entrance from inside the station, Quick-Trak machines, telephones, etc.

A bit further left we see the ticket agent booth, seating, the temporary structures holding up the roof/2nd story floor.

Even further left to the front entrance and one of the big fans for cooling.

Vending machines, on right sleeper passenger waiting area, part of baggage check/claim booth, couple more fans.

The sleeper passenger waiting area and baggage claim.

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Dec 6, 2014
Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
Inside the sleeper passenger waiting area. There is a couch to my left, a couch and a love seat to my right. Plus there are 4 nice chairs and a wandering pigeon that apparently lives in the station (no photo of the bird).

Out the back of the station you start the trek to the platforms. If one does not use the Red Cap service, about the shortest distance to/from the platforms is about 1000 feet. Longest is about 1400 feet. 1/4 of a mile is 1320 feet.

The other side of the big TRAINS sign is shown in the second photo a couple of posts above of the back of the station - Baggage Claim, Amtrak Buses & Taxis, etc.

The first jog in the covered walkway to the loading platforms.

just before the second walkway jog - another Quick-Trak machine, a couple of Passenger Information displays, a couple of benches for mobility impaired pax that didn't use Red Cap service to use to take a break on the journey to/from the station.

Just to the left of the last photo is the ramp down to the underground concourse that has ramps, both left and right, up to the 2 loading platforms so no one has to cross any railroad tracks. Signs are often placed showing that Coach passengers go up 1 ramp with sleeper passengers going up the opposite ramp.

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Dec 6, 2014
Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
This is the platform closest to the station and you can see the other platform on the right across the tracks and the restricted service area between the platforms. You can also see the stairs that lead down to the top of the east up ramp.

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Lead Service Attendant
Feb 15, 2011
Thanks for posting your trip report. I enjoyed your writing as much as the details you included, which is to say, very much.