Train Ride to Paradise - 1966

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Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Although U.S. rail passenger service was handed off to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in 1971, the private system's last days as a useful network may be marked on the calendar from the national airline strike in July-August 1966 and the end of the Railway Mail Service in September 1967.



On July 8, 1966 the Machinists struck major United States airlines, including all of the major carriers in the Northwest. At the time, I was saving almost every penny for college expenses, but was planning to make a weekend rail excursion to places that I had never been. But trains were full of disgruntled travelers diverted from the airlines. I followed strike news closely, negotiations proceeded, and on Friday, August 19th, the strike came to a close. On Saturday, August 20th, I was at Portland's Union Station.

My plan was to use the Northwest Triangle ticket, a special fare for travel Portland > Seattle > Spokane > Portland or the reverse direction. The problem was that I wanted a daylight trip from Spokane to Portland through rugged Snake River landscapes and only the Union Pacific (UP) offered that. That was a problem because their partner in the Seattle > Spokane segment was the Milwaukee Road (CMStP&P), which no longer offered passenger service. An expert on rail tariffs had tipped me off to the agreement that the CMStP&P had made for their tickets to be honored on the Great Northern Railway (GN) between common points.

So, with hope of a settlement in the air strike rising, on Thursday the 18th I found myself buying a ticket on the Union Pacific / Milwaukee Road with a 50 cent coach seat reservation on the GN's "incomparable" Empire Builder from Seattle to Spokane. I do not recall any difficulty with this. The Portland Terminal Railroad clerks were non-partisan masters of obscure sales in the pre-computer era.

The first leg of the trip was the familiar Portland to Seattle pool line (three railway companies sharing responsibilities). Union Pacific's pool contribution, Train 457, pulled out at 1l:07 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 37 minutes late. We had waited for Train 105, the Domeliner City of Portland from Chicago, due in at 10:00. The long streamliner had disgorged a sell-out crowd of diverted air travelers and regular vacation travelers; it took time to transfer baggage and steer connecting passengers to the right cars.
1966 07 23 Pool  001.jpg

Typical UP coaches for the Pool at the Pullman Yard in Portland.
---_0248.jpg

Despite the extra travel burden, my notes complimented UP for the cleanliness and good condition of the equipment. The scenery, though I had seen it before, was noted as appealing. My seatmate was a proletarian who was traveling to Seattle for a job hunt. He skipped lunch; his money, he said, should last a week. He was quiet and unpretentious, but articulate when speaking of friends in Seattle. We watched the haze-covered Sound panorama.

I had an hour in Seattle before the 4:00 p.m. departure of my train. I walked over from quiet Union Station into bedlam in King Street. The modern drop ceiling installed for the recent World's Fair traffic did not help. I went back upstairs and watched the old trolley coaches working their way through the off-kilter intersections where north and south street patterns failed to meet. The newsy at a corner stand was a character. He talked about our brave new world, "new angles, new ideas... yes, everybody has a new angle." I went back downstairs to board the Builder.

1966 08 20 seat    003.jpg
1966 08 20 seat    004.jpgSettled in Seat 28 of Car 200, I watched the Afternoon International depart on time at 4:10 p.m. We followed it into the tunnel beneath downtown Seattle at 4:17 p.m. The conductor came along checking tickets.

1966 08 20 seat    005.jpg

"This is a Milwaukee Road ticket!" I explained and he looked it over, looked over the GN seat reservation, and then to my relief accepted the ticket. I was free to go up into the dome. Haze over the Olympics could not spoil the great view as we chased the International along the shoreline. I noted the attractive stations in Edmonds and Everett, and then we turned toward the wall of mountains.

Cows ignored our train as we clipped along toward Monroe. Motor route newspaper tubes at farm driveways showed that the Everett Herald carrier must have won the sales contests. And then, through Sultan, the mountains closed in. Houses, garages, buildings of all sorts here had steep pitched roofs. A recorded commentary filled us with information about the Cascade Tunnel ahead. It occurred to me that it would just be a big bore, so I made my way to the dining car. I was seated before we rumbled into the engineering masterpiece.

By the time we emerged into late afternoon shadows the waiter was serving the appetizer that I had selected. Pickled herring in a hotel silverplate "cocktail" cup was the start for a baked salmon dinner. By the time I tasted the crisp sweetness of apple pie it was dark.

I followed my father's advice and asked the brakeman to recommend a cheap hotel in Spokane. The suggestion came readily: the Hotel Couer d'Alene, a short walk from the GN station. For a few minutes I watched the switch engine working to combine the Seattle and Portland sections of the Builder, then headed out to discover Spokane.

Ducks quacking? Yes, the whole family was out for a late night paddle under the footbridge that led from the GN Station on Havermale Island to the mainland. I walked under the steel tangle of the Union Pacific's elevated line. Their Union Station had once also served the Spokane International (SI) connecting with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the CMStP&P, but now all was silent there.

No problem getting a room at the fraying-at-the-edges hotel. The $3.95 price was right. The high-ceiling room had two odd features. There were two sets of electrical outlets. It took a minute to remember that Spokane had one of the earliest downtown electrifications -- with Direct Current (DC). Alternating Current (AC) outlets had been retrofitted, but the DC outlets remained. The other problem attacked my nose when I opened the clothes closet. In it was a 4/5ths empty whiskey bottle, open. I was not going to have my clothes spending the night in that atmosphere, so tossed them over a chair.

Until 6:30 a.m. I slept soundly.

Coming next day, a trip to Paradise with the air passengers.

 
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Although U.S. rail passenger service was handed off to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in 1971, the private system's last days as a useful network may be marked on the calendar from the national airline strike in July-August 1966 and the end of the Railway Mail Service in September 1967.



On July 8, 1966 the Machinists struck major United States airlines, including all of the major carriers in the Northwest. At the time, I was saving almost every penny for college expenses, but was planning to make a weekend rail excursion to places that I had never been. But trains were full of disgruntled travelers diverted from the airlines. I followed strike news closely, negotiations proceeded, and on Friday, August 19th, the strike came to a close. On Saturday, August 20th, I was at Portland's Union Station.

My plan was to use the Northwest Triangle ticket, a special fare for travel Portland > Seattle > Spokane > Portland or the reverse direction. The problem was that I wanted a daylight trip from Spokane to Portland through rugged Snake River landscapes and only the Union Pacific (UP) offered that. That was a problem because their partner in the Seattle > Spokane segment was the Milwaukee Road (CMStP&P), which no longer offered passenger service. An expert on rail tariffs had tipped me off to the agreement that the CMStP&P had made for their tickets to be honored on the Great Northern Railway (GN) between common points.

So, with hope of a settlement in the air strike rising, on Thursday the 18th I found myself buying a ticket on the Union Pacific / Milwaukee Road with a 50 cent coach seat reservation on the GN's "incomparable" Empire Builder from Seattle to Spokane. I do not recall any difficulty with this. The Portland Terminal Railroad clerks were non-partisan masters of obscure sales in the pre-computer era.

The first leg of the trip was the familiar Portland to Seattle pool line (three railway companies sharing responsibilities). Union Pacific's pool contribution, Train 457, pulled out at 1l:07 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 37 minutes late. We had waited for Train 105, the Domeliner City of Portland from Chicago, due in at 10:00. The long streamliner had disgorged a sell-out crowd of diverted air travelers and regular vacation travelers; it took time to transfer baggage and steer connecting passengers to the right cars.
View attachment 31844

Typical UP coaches for the Pool at the Pullman Yard in Portland.
View attachment 31840

Despite the extra travel burden, my notes complimented UP for the cleanliness and good condition of the equipment. The scenery, though I had seen it before, was noted as appealing. My seatmate was a proletarian who was traveling to Seattle for a job hunt. He skipped lunch; his money, he said, should last a week. He was quiet and unpretentious, but articulate when speaking of friends in Seattle. We watched the haze-covered Sound panorama.

I had an hour in Seattle before the 4:00 p.m. departure of my train. I walked over from quiet Union Station into bedlam in King Street. The modern drop ceiling installed for the recent World's Fair traffic did not help. I went back upstairs and watched the old trolley coaches working their way through the off-kilter intersections where north and south street patterns failed to meet. The newsy at a corner stand was a character. He talked about our brave new world, "new angles, new ideas... yes, everybody has a new angle." I went back downstairs to board the Builder.

View attachment 31845
View attachment 31846Settled in Seat 28 of Car 200, I watched the Afternoon International depart on time at 4:10 p.m. We followed it into the tunnel beneath downtown Seattle at 4:17 p.m. The conductor came along checking tickets.

View attachment 31843

"This is a Milwaukee Road ticket!" I explained and he looked it over, looked over the GN seat reservation, and then to my relief accepted the ticket. I was free to go up into the dome. Haze over the Olympics could not spoil the great view as we chased the International along the shoreline. I noted the attractive stations in Edmonds and Everett, and then we turned toward the wall of mountains.

Cows ignored our train as we clipped along toward Monroe. Motor route newspaper tubes at farm driveways showed that the Everett Herald carrier must have won the sales contests. And then, through Sultan, the mountains closed in. Houses, garages, buildings of all sorts here had steep pitched roofs. A recorded commentary filled us with information about the Cascade Tunnel ahead. It occurred to me that it would just be a big bore, so I made my way to the dining car. I was seated before we rumbled into the engineering masterpiece.

By the time we emerged into late afternoon shadows the waiter was serving the appetizer that I had selected. Pickled herring in a hotel silverplate "cocktail" cup was the start for a baked salmon dinner. By the time I tasted the crisp sweetness of apple pie it was dark.

I followed my father's advice and asked the brakeman to recommend a cheap hotel in Spokane. The suggestion came readily: the Hotel Couer d'Alene, a short walk from the GN station. For a few minutes I watched the switch engine working to combine the Seattle and Portland sections of the Builder, then headed out to discover Spokane.

Ducks quacking? Yes, the whole family was out for a late night paddle under the footbridge that led from the GN Station on Havermale Island to the mainland. I walked under the steel tangle of the Union Pacific's elevated line. Their Union Station had once also served the Spokane International (SI) connecting with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the CMStP&P, but now all was silent there.

No problem getting a room at the fraying-at-the-edges hotel. The $3.95 price was right. The high-ceiling room had two odd features. There were two sets of electrical outlets. It took a minute to remember that Spokane had one of the earliest downtown electrifications -- with Direct Current (DC). Alternating Current (AC) outlets had been retrofitted, but the DC outlets remained. The other problem attacked my nose when I opened the clothes closet. In it was a 4/5ths empty whiskey bottle, open. I was not going to have my clothes spending the night in that atmosphere, so tossed them over a chair.

Until 6:30 a.m. I slept soundly.

Coming next day, a trip to Paradise with the air passengers.


Great read!👏
Were those your consist notes, on the edge of the TT?
For which train?🤔
 
Excellent story - worthy of 'Classic Trains' or PTJ.

I too needed to travel during the strike which filled up the trains and made it difficult to get from Flomaton, AL (my brother was at Milton, FL NAS) to Wilmington, DE. The trip on L&N's Humming Bird worked well. Leaving Flomaton I had a roomette on the very full Pine series sleeper. The next day I had wanted to take B&O's National Limited from Cincinnati. The through cars from Baltimore to Cincinnati and St. Louis had recently been switched to C&O's George Washington as far as Cincinnati. However a truncated version still operated on the traditional B&O route. It had coaches and B&O's wonderful observation (ex NYC) to Baltimore.. The timetable showed it was now advertised as a sleeper-diner-lounge with (1 Cpt, -2 DBR) with the drawing room presumably converted for crew or diner equipment. Sadly it was not to be as it was sold out, so I had to use the GW, now the troute of the Cardinal.

NATLLTDslide img030.jpg

NATLLTDslide img026.jpg
 
No problem getting a room at the fraying-at-the-edges hotel. The $3.95 price was right
Ah yes, the days when you could rent a room and get change back from a $5 bill. The last time I remember rooms that cheap was 1973 in Chama NM on a visit to the Cumbers & Toltec, clean and functional for $4.
 
Sunday in Paradise.

At about 6.30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on August 21, 1966, I was blasted out of bed by a tremendous rumbling noise. It was the Union Pacific train from main line connections at Hinkle. One lightweight coach and two or three freight cars. For historical reasons, the UP station, which had the least passenger traffic, was the best of Spokane's three stations. It was accessed by the steel viaduct that I had walked under the night before. I was due to get up shortly, but I was wide awake before I wanted to be.

Breakfast would be in the diner on Train 2, the Northern Pacific Railway's Mainstreeter, due to depart at 8:30 a.m. I checked out of the hotel with enough time to ask the desk clerk why the maid had not disposed of the whiskey bottle that had perfumed the clothes closet. His response still comes to mind six decades later.

"Maybe it was the maid's."

With that in mind, I boarded the secondary transcontinental train. The Mainstreeter did just what its name suggested, running on the "Main Street of the Northwest" to serve smaller markets than the all-reserved North Coast Limited. In August the popular Limited often was sold out. With the airline strike underway, extra cars were added to the unreserved Mainstreeter and there were people on it who would otherwise have gone by air, or enjoyed the dome cars and attractive lounge of the Limited. I settled into a coach seat, between a group of Catholic nuns and a squad of GI's. In addition to the disgruntled GI's traveling on orders, there was a sergeant heading home to Georgia. He had already spent one night in the coach, he would have a second night on this train and then a night each on two more trains.

I was trying out a new feature of the Mainstreeter and some connecting trains -- the half-price youth fare. Today, reservation computers would have sensed the additional air-strike induced demand and fares would have been ratcheted up. In 1966, there was no way to do that on short notice. The low fare remained in effect. (That Christmas season there were students sitting on their suitcases across Montano on the Mainstreeter, as word had spread of the good deal.)

1966 NP youth fare 001.jpg

While I was still learning about my fellow travelers, we shot through Athol, Idaho. The Washington - Idaho border is not remarkable in that area, marked by nothing Athol. The Mainstreeter would only have stopped if a passenger was coming from Pasco or points west of there, or bound for Missoula or points east of there. At one time there was a train and then a bus that carried passengers for shorter distances, but that type of service was killed by highway improvements.

We began to follow a lakeshore as I responded to the aroma of coffee being carried back from the dining car (which doubled as a lounge). When I was in the vestibule of the diner I felt a slight lurch and when I entered the car, there was water outside the windows on both sides. It was as if Train 2 had changed its mind, deciding to swim across Lake Pend Oreille instead of trailing alongside it. I sat down for coffee -- served in a real ceramic cup by the time we pulled into Sandpoint. I had heard of this northern Idaho port because of the hydroplane races that drew thirsty summer crowds that made the news. On this Sunday morning it looked peaceful enough. The waiter poured more coffee.

The Rocky Mountains turned serious east of Sandpoint, heading up the Clark Fork of the Columbia River. A series of dams had been completed a decade earlier and the lumber and mining activities that had sparked development of towns along the wild river were being replaced with tourist campgrounds, marinas, and motels.

The friendly waiter served a refill, perhaps to celebrate our stop at Noxon. That first stop in Montana would be followed by 25 or so more Montana Main Streets, although some would be flag stops with no one waiting. 750 miles or so tomorrow morning, the dining car crew would begin serving coffee in North Dakota.

Would I like another refill? It was tempting, but before we reached Paradise I wanted to have a look at the Slumbercoach. For as little as $5.00 a night on top of the youth fare or a regular coach fare it was possible to book a single room. Sharing a double room, the Slumbercoach fare was as little as $4.00 a night per person over the youth or regular coach fare. Ingenious engineering based on years of sleeping car design experiences had made it possible to fit 24 single rooms and 8 double rooms into one car, almost as many passengers as in a typical long-distance coach.

1964 06 S-coach room 002.jpg
The veteran Pullman porter proudly showed off his workplace. This long daylight stretch was one where there were some vacant rooms, so I could take a look at both types while he replaced the bedding. A well-dressed couple was heading for the lounge and stopped him in the corridor.

"When will we get to Missoula? We'd like to mail some postcards." the gentleman asked. Respectfully, the porter doffed his cap, holding it in front of him.

"Sir, we're due in there at 3:15." The couple thanked him. Standing behind him, I had to restrain myself from laughing at what I saw. Pullman's man had a condensed timetable folded inside his cap. He did not know the precise times of every stop on the 2300 or so miles from Seattle to Chicago, but he knew that he would be asked.

Thompson Falls was a stop, 1400 feet in elevation gained since we left Spokane. We whistled through Plains, and rolled six more miles into mu destination, Paradise, in time for lunch. All of the towns along Alternate US10 [today Montana Highway 200] were without Greyhound bus service, which operated over US10 [today I-90]. To give an idea of Sunday afternoon traffic during the four hours I was in Paradise, a girl rode a horse continually up and down the highway, without any interference. The only highway traffic problem was sanitary rather than safety.

The little streamliner pulled out of the depot in Paradise and headed deeper into the Rockies, heading for Helena and the Continental Divide at 5,566 feet above sea level. All day it would attack the Rockies. On Monday it would cross the Great Plains. Early the third morning it would arrive in the Windy City to connect with other secondary trains. It was possible to cross the country on trains that travel writers had never heard of. Like the Mainstreeter, though, they are important to the people in towns like Sandpoint, Thompson Falls or Paradise.

Quickly I found the social center of Paradise, the Northern Pacific Lunch Room. As it was Sunday, it was the only eating place open. Roger Miller was performing on the juke box.

The NP Lunch served everyone. Teenagers lounged around on one side, while their fathers flirted with middle-aged waitresses on the other side. On the surface, there was no alienation in Paradise. Everyone had questions about the outside world and why had I come to Paradise, even the teenagers; perhaps especially the teenagers. [By family tradition I was used to being the Stranger In Town, so I answered questions till my food came.]

There was no tourist trade in Paradise, though it was a great place to visit. With the post office closed, there were no stamps. With the grocery closed, there were no postcards or stationery. I had neglected to bring those things and now I realized that a couple of friends would like to receive a letter postmarked Paradise. At lunch, I asked the manager if she might have some scratch paper. She offered some "Today's Special" sheets.

After lunch, I walked east parallel to the line for about half a mile. There was no sound, other than the river lapping on shoreline rocks. From that perspective, Paradise is just a smudge of brown in an area of overwhelming grey cliffs. I followed a winding road toward the cliffs and found a cemetery and the schoolhouse. Either place offered a sweeping view of the valley.

Tombstones tell the story of this interruption in the Rockies. Pioneers, railroad men, their women and some children, the unnamed, rest securely in the rocky ground. Crumbling concrete tombstones labeled "Hobo" marked the last stop for those unidentified travelers who froze in winter trips, fell from trains, or were collateral damage in accidents.

1966 NP lunch room 001.jpg

As for the railroaders who ended their service here, there were to be few to replace them. Diesel engines required a smaller workforce than the steam giants. Paradise existed mainly due to the 100-mile rule for freight crews, left over from the days when the average freight train covered 11 miles in an hour. When that would be cleared from the labor contracts, crews would run between Spokane and Missoula.

Musing over what I had found in the graveyard, I meandered over to the Northern Pacific Hotel. The wood frame building had a large porch that overlooked the town. It also had a cowboy leaning back in one of the chairs, his Stetson tipped to keep late afternoon sunbeams out of this eyes. We nodded to each other as I walked past into the vintage lobby. Large canvases of scenes along the Northern Pacific Railway displayed the style of Western art that imitated European landscape painting. The hotel manager had some stamps in her purse and in the quiet lobby I wrote a brief letter from Paradise.

...continued
 
Sunday in Paradise continued


The westbound Mainstreeter came thundering out of the mountains, bringing its diner-lounge to a neat stop directly in front of me. It was too early for dinner, but once my ticket was lifted I made my way to the lounge section. There was a convivial bunch there, strangers having made friends on the long journey. The airline strike was forgotten for a bit; attention turned to state liquor laws. The attendant explained that when the train entered Idaho, he would have to close down. The NP did not have a liquor license for its short trip through the Idaho panhandle.

"What about Washington?" one of the bon vivants queried.

"No liquor sold on Sunday," came the official word.

"But we can finish our drinks, right?"

"Yes, but I have to open the bottles in Montana." The lounge loafers caucused. They came up with a solution: they bought a case of beer and the attendant opened every bottle. Then they realized that some of the beer would go flat before they could drink it. They ended up handing out beers to passers by.

Leaving the urgent party behind, I reported to the dining car and was seated with two young women returning to Spokane on the Youth Fare from Paradise. They had been home "visiting the folks" and were going back to their apartment in the big city.

"When you graduate from high school, you leave Paradise," they explained. Sometimes there were events at the county fairground in Plains. Spokane had more to offer. We were still talking that over when the scenery was turned off for the night and the first lights of suburbia flashed by.

Note: this trip report was made possible by finding my notes from 1966. There may be inaccuracies due to relying on memories to expand on sketchy notes.

1966 04 24 NP condensed001.jpg
1966 04 24 NP condensed002.jpg

Next: riding the "City of Hinkle" and the "Pocatello Rocket."
 
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