Reminiscing about SFZ/CZ, Pioneer and Desert Wind

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Joined
Aug 27, 2002
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6,474
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Chicago
I enjoyed those trains. My most memorable trip was in the winter of 94 IIRC. I took the Chief to LA to visit a friend from high school. Then I boarded the Desert Wind for the return to Chicago. We ran pretty much on time to SLC. I woke up when we arrived, and then fell back asleep. I woke a couple of hours later and we still had not moved. I took my shower. Then asked a crew member what was going on. He explained that a car had derailed during the switching process. I don't remember which car. What I remember was that my sleeper ended up on the rear of the train when it normally was not on the rear. I was in room 9 or 10 which was right next to the railfan window. I think they hitched up the engines to the opposite end of the train and we pulled out going north and then made two left turns to head south. We operated 6 to 7 hours late for the remainder of the trip.

I always enjoyed the daylight right across the desert and the daylight ride of Cajon pass provided by the Desert Wind.
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
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Nov 19, 2018
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372
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northwestern Montana
I lived in Pioneer territory, not Desert Wind territory, but sometimes boarded at a (semi)civilized hour in Salt Lake rather than in the middle of the night in Pocatello.

My recollections are mostly the same as what was previously posted:

Yes, the odd zig-zag move to get the CZ in and out of the UP station in Salt Lake City despite arriving on Rio Grande and departing on Western Pacific meant that you parked for a few minutes in front of the Rio Grande station. (In front of it, in the middle of a city street, not behind it where you'd expect a train to park.) Moving into the Rio Grande station in 1986 or 1987 or thereabouts was a big improvement; purely coincidentally I happened to be in Salt Lake for something else during the grand opening festivities. They had a nice exhibition train parked there, the whole bit with balloons and hot dogs being given out, etc etc.

My first eastbound ride from Salt Lake, we had only the CZ dining car. Both the Pioneer and the Desert Wind dropped their diner and their coach-baggage in Salt Lake at that time. The one and only time I remember Idaho ever being interested in Amtrak was in the late 80s: there was a bit of a clamor along the lines of "there are 2 engines, 2 diners, and 2 or 3 coaches sitting in Salt Lake doing nothing, 16-18 hours a day. Run a day train from Salt Lake to Idaho Falls with them instead of just letting them idle!" But it never happened (which probably means Amtrak asked for a subsidy and one or both states refused.)

Whenever I saw the Pioneer, Desert Wind, or CZ in the early/mid 80s, they were all-Superliner. Sometime in the late 80s, the Desert Wind got a Hi-Level dining car and started running it through to Chicago. The crew called them the Chicago Diner and the LA Diner; they handed out dinner reservations starting from the end of the train nearest each diner. We would walk to the back to request a LA Diner reservation, partly for novelty, partly because it meant being on the last car of the train and getting a fine view forward on curves.

I don't remember there being a buffet counter / serving area, but I may not have had the chance to look, especially if it was at the far end of the car (the LA Diner being the last car on the train, you didn't ever walk all the way through it.)

I had the general sense that immediately after the Superliners were delivered, there had been a plan to retire all the Hi-Level equipment, and it was put back into service in the mid-80s to increase capacity. I liked the Hi-Level coaches (mostly saw those on the Starlight) and diners at least as well as the Superliners. They were beautifully refurbished inside. But crossing between a Hi-Level and a Superliner did involve stepping over strangely tilted metal plates between cars.

My last Pioneer ride was one of the neatest - we were several hours late, so I got to have lunch instead of breakfast going up the Front Range out of Denver; had "night" from about the UT-CO border to just after Salt Lake; and got to see the Bear River and Portneuf River canyons in daylight before disembarking in Pocatello at 9 or 10 AM instead of 3.

I never got the chance to ride a Seattle-Denver Pioneer. Partly that was the Colorado scenery being better than Wyoming, partly that was me moving to Alaska in 1993.

I do remember thinking, when I idly sketched "ideal Amtrak plans" in notebooks, that I wanted two daily trains, one via the Rio Grande to Seattle and Oakland, splitting in Salt Lake, and one via UP to Los Angeles and Oakland, splitting in Ogden. This was possibly just my selfishness wanting a one-seat ride from Idaho through Colorado... but traffic to and from Salt Lake was a biggish part of the Pioneer's business. If I were limited to one daily train east of Denver, I would have it be the Desert Wind, not the Pioneer, that split off in Denver, so that all 3 trains passed through both Denver and Salt Lake.
 
Joined
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Oregon Coast
I don't remember that. I recall the Desert Wind diner was dropped when the train connected with the California Zephyr. We had dinner out of Los Angeles; the next morning, when we went for breakfast, we were in a different diner. I am remembering that the Desert Wind diner was a Diner/Lounge type car while the Zephyr's diner was a regular dining car. But, that was many years ago and my memory may be wrong,
My recollection was when I rode the Pioneer from CHI splitting to three sections in DEN I continued on the LAX section... took the CS to PDX, then back to CHI via DEN where the three sections rejoined.

Each PAX received paper vouchers good for a meal in the diner... enough for the duration of their paid journey.

Also remembering that the food was good, and that each roomette also had a travel kit and a packet of additional snacks.
 
Joined
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Chicago
I loved the Santa Fe Hi-levels. I rode the coast starlight in the summer of 1985 and one was the last car on the consist. I spent most of the afternoon at the railfan window. That was when I learned about hotbox detectors. I had just graduated from high school, and this was part of my graduation present (A two-zone all aboard America fare between Chicago and the West Coast). While I was enjoying the view an operating crew member was sitting in the last row of seats with his radio. Every so often I heard "SP detector, Milepost XXX, Amtrak XX no defects," I finally worked up the nerve to ask him what this was. He gave me a detailed explanation and pointed out a detector as we rolled by. Later on that same trip another SP train man gave me my first employee timetable. I still have it.
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
372
Location
northwestern Montana
I'll violate my dad's rule against absolute statements about rail history and say that SSL's were never used on the Pioneer.

I have always wondered whether they were. I've never seen a photo of a Pioneer with a SSL. (I feel like I have seen some photos of a Heritage sleeper and Amdinette with bilevel coaches.)

The only evidence I have of them ever being used is the Harold Russell article on Superliners in the November 1982 Model Railroader magazine -- which gives a Pioneer consist as Heritage sleeper, Hi-level coach dorm, Superliner coach-baggage, lounge, coach, coach. This was before my time - I don't think I ever saw a Pioneer or CZ in real life until 1983. (A hazard of being a child in Idaho: the train went through after my bedtime!)

Looking at old timetables, if this ever happened it would have been in the winter of 1981-1982. The San Francisco Zephyr is advertised as "Superliner Service" starting with the October 1980 timetable. Then first the Desert Wind, then the Pioneer, gained Superliner coaches (and a through coach to Chicago) but still had Heritage sleepers and dinettes in summer 81; but the October 1981 timetable shows Superliner sleepers added to both the Pioneer and Desert Wind, and "Lounge" rather than "Amdinette" for the Pioneer. The April 1982 timetable and beyond refrains from making any specific promises what type of food service car is offered on the Pioneer. For quite a long time afterward it described Desert Wind and Pioneer food service as "tray meals, sandwiches, and beverages", though I don't remember the Pioneer diner as providing any "worse" meals than the CZ diner - just that it served as a lounge area between mealtimes.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Mar 30, 2019
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1,857
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Denver
I have always wondered whether they were. I've never seen a photo of a Pioneer with a SSL. (I feel like I have seen some photos of a Heritage sleeper and Amdinette with bilevel coaches.)

The only evidence I have of them ever being used is the Harold Russell article on Superliners in the November 1982 Model Railroader magazine -- which gives a Pioneer consist as Heritage sleeper, Hi-level coach dorm, Superliner coach-baggage, lounge, coach, coach. This was before my time - I don't think I ever saw a Pioneer or CZ in real life until 1983. (A hazard of being a child in Idaho: the train went through after my bedtime!)

Looking at old timetables, if this ever happened it would have been in the winter of 1981-1982. The San Francisco Zephyr is advertised as "Superliner Service" starting with the October 1980 timetable. Then first the Desert Wind, then the Pioneer, gained Superliner coaches (and a through coach to Chicago) but still had Heritage sleepers and dinettes in summer 81; but the October 1981 timetable shows Superliner sleepers added to both the Pioneer and Desert Wind, and "Lounge" rather than "Amdinette" for the Pioneer. The April 1982 timetable and beyond refrains from making any specific promises what type of food service car is offered on the Pioneer. For quite a long time afterward it described Desert Wind and Pioneer food service as "tray meals, sandwiches, and beverages", though I don't remember the Pioneer diner as providing any "worse" meals than the CZ diner - just that it served as a lounge area between mealtimes.

1990 - Salt Lake City WP/D&RGW station the Crossroads of the West.

1990 PDX trip008.jpg

1981 004.jpg
 

JP1822

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 8, 2019
Messages
103
I remember the Pioneer having sort of a "branded" Diner/Lounge. Never recall a Superliner Sightseer Lounge for the Pioneer either. I believe it started as a Hi-Level "Diner/Lounge" and then migrated to being a Superliner "Diner/Lounge."

One also has to remember that in order to maintain daily schedules for the "Western Routes" back in the 90s and 80s - the City of New Orleans, Cardinal, Auto Train, and Capitol Limited operated with single level train sets. After the Superliner II delivery, they were all outfitted with Superliners (Cardinal later converted back to single level).

So Superliner cars could have likely been shifted back to furnish a daily CA Zephyr, Pioneer, and Desert Wind, had the Superliner conversion of some traditional "eastern" trains not happened.

But then the "East" was gearing up for its reduction in long distance cars - Heritage coaches and sleepers were retired for just 50 Viewliner Sleepers and Amfleet II cars. The production order of Viewliners was woefully inadequate then, and has never really been right-sized, even with the Viewliner II order.... We still await for more capacity for single level trains. The cancellation of the Broadway Limited and Montrealer provided less trains that Amtrak had to squeeze single level cars for. But the extra Superliners coming East, helped!

The shuffling makes this a little tricky.........
 
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