Trip Report to Grand Junction

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me_little_me

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So we're on our way to Grand Junction. We drove 4 hours to catch the Cardinal. Two coaches, one sleeper, one transdorm, one engine. The best Viewliner SCA we've had. Between the conductor and her, they loaded our bags on the train for us without our asking. Wonderful. She then offered to store our big suitcase elsewhere so we wouldn't need to stash it in our roomettes. That was outstanding! We didn't see it until she unloaded it off the train until Chicago. Meanwhile, she offered us a choice of flex dinner in our rooms or in the Diner/Cafe. We chose the latter and picked our meals.

Before leaving for Hinton, since I had read on this forum that the new meals were better than the original ones we experienced pre-Covid in December 2019, we agreed between ourselves to try them. We decided that if it was garbage, I'd order kosher for our return. I ordered the beef short ribs and she went with the chicken with "vodka sauce". For those of you familiar with my opinions of flex, please sit down before going on.

Those meals, while not traditional dining, were not bad at all. We'd have no qualms about choosing them again on our return in two weeks. Yes, they are still full of salt and I'm sure, preservatives, my beef, while it seemed to be tough when I cut it, was tender and the inclusion of a few green beans and carrots and not just a plateful of sauce and potatoes (better than the polenta anyway). The salad was a joke in size and the roll was unheated. She remarked "The chicken is real!" and "It's a real breast of meat!". I asked her if the pasta had turned to mush and she said "No, it is very good!" Interestingly, the bowls were served with the aluminum covers still attached in a way that they could not have been done in a microwave. They had to use a convection oven. Definitely a giant leap upward up from 2019. Breakfast also appeared to be done in a convection oven but my "railroad french toast" looked and tasted like it had been run over by a train and the apple bacon was not much better. Her omelet looked like the typical Fairfield Inn omelets - perfectly formed but without much egg taste. Her potatoes were not crisp and her turkey sausages tasted like the pre-cooked frozen stuff it was. Though I would not ever use their syrup (real maple syrup or nothing), it didn't matter because they had no syrup. Ah, Amtrak, how dost thou doest that? Still, better than the previous breakfast sugar bombs so still an improvement but much further to go than the dinners.

There, I said it. I admit Amtrak can and has made an improvement. Still a long way to go but definitely the right direction. I can't believe I said that about flex food after my previous experiences.

They did actually bring our plates to the table although we had to buss them ourselves. Even the cutlery looked better. Plastic that looked like metal!

In Indianapolis, we temporarily lost power. When I went outside, I saw that in front of our single engine were added a Superliner sleeper, a baggage car and another engine. First time I ever saw P42s in other than together. Apparently, they were being deadheaded from Beech Grove to Chicago.

Upon arrival in Chicago, by the time we got off, everyone's bags were already on the platform, removed by the SCA and her assistant, a trainee. Very nice. Unfortunately, in the rush, I handed a twenty to the assistant (whom we had never seen) and thanked her. Our SCA was on the platform. I didn't want to tell the SCA to get the money from her assistant, so I gave her a twenty also.

Note that right after we arrived, while we were waiting for a redcap, the LSL pulled in on the same platform so now we had lots of passengers from both trains that needed assistance. Then someone came by and told us all that it would be a long wait because there was only one redcap available. I figured, even though we were there first, everyone would try to jump ahead of us so it was either kick out their knees or break their canes and in spite of the fact that with 3 bags it would be slow going with a wife who needs a knee replacement in a few months so we decided to walk slowly.

I wanted to try and check that big bag on the Zephyr which we're not taking until tomorrow (overnight here in Chicago) but there were quite of few in front of us at the ticket counter. It looked like one of those Lounge Stalin Gulag attendants so I figured she would scrutinize our tickets for tomorrow PM and tell us to come back tomorrow or within 24 hours of travel. Just then, the unbusy package storage guy came over and asked if anyone wanted bags checked. After he helped another couple, we went up to him and he didn't even look at our ticket (or weigh the bag) but just put a GJT tag on and gave us the stub. So we got rid of the bag and it should be waiting for us the day before we arrive.

More to come.
 

oregon pioneer

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Can't wait to hear the rest of your trip. I am happy to hear that the dinners have improved on eastern trains. I will have to eat that stuff on the LSL on my trip in Jan/Feb. Might take my own granola for breakfast. I look forward to your opinion of the food on the CZ.

You made that assistant's day! If your SCA was very good, I am sure the tip will be telling the assistant that she has a good mentor.
 

joelkfla

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Though I would not ever use their syrup (real maple syrup or nothing), it didn't matter because they had no syrup. Ah, Amtrak, how dost thou doest that? Still, better than the previous breakfast sugar bombs so still an improvement but much further to go than the dinners.
Whew! Thanks for the reminder. I just ordered some condiment cups. I'll be packing my own (genuine) maple syrup. :)
 

me_little_me

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Whew! Thanks for the reminder. I just ordered some condiment cups. I'll be packing my own (genuine) maple syrup. :)
Sure! Why couldn't you bring it aboard MY train! I'll remember that you failed me in my hour of need.

But the real story is that the railroad french toast was an embarrassment in its looks and taste. Having real maple syrup will be enjoying the syrup which you could do by drinking from the bottle of it. The joy of french toast with maple syrup dripping from it would just not be there. I'll try and pull the pic off my camera and post it tomorrow.
 
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Cal

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So we're on our way to Grand Junction. We drove 4 hours to catch the Cardinal. Two coaches, one sleeper, one transdorm, one engine. The best Viewliner SCA we've had. Between the conductor and her, they loaded our bags on the train for us without our asking. Wonderful. She then offered to store our big suitcase elsewhere so we wouldn't need to stash it in our roomettes. That was outstanding!
You? Praising Amtrak? I must be dreaming.
Those meals, while not traditional dining, were not bad at all.
I think I just fainted.


Anyways, I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I'm very glad you got one of the (few?) good crews on the Cardinal. Too bad you didn't get any pictures, I am yet to see the new french toast. Can't wait for your take on traditional dining, I don't recall if you've already had it.
 

AmtrakBlue

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The french toast on my outbound LSL wasn't too bad - but then what do I know since I never eat french toast. But the french toast on my inbound LSL was tough to cut with the plastic knife. So it got a 50/50 rating from me.
 

basketmaker

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So we're on our way to Grand Junction. We drove 4 hours to catch the Cardinal. Two coaches, one sleeper, one transdorm, one engine. The best Viewliner SCA we've had. Between the conductor and her, they loaded our bags on the train for us without our asking. Wonderful. She then offered to store our big suitcase elsewhere so we wouldn't need to stash it in our roomettes. That was outstanding! We didn't see it until she unloaded it off the train until Chicago. Meanwhile, she offered us a choice of flex dinner in our rooms or in the Diner/Cafe. We chose the latter and picked our meals.


More to come.
Keep an eye out for Mike Jensen 80701 from YouTube fame usually on the platform filming #5 every morning as they stop at Fort Morgan, CO. The crew usually gives him a shout-out over the radio if you're toting a scanner.
 

me_little_me

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Phase 2 - Chicago to Grand Junction

We went to the Metropolitan Club on the day of our Zephyr train and stopped at the Metropolitan Club. The Lounge Dragon was in her full glory, being as unfriendly and nasty as I remember her.

Our SLA was Larry. He was really great. We had the family bedroom and it worked pretty well. However, it has only the one "razor" outlet but that worked fine even for my CPAP plus two USB chargers all on an extension cord. The gaffer's tape came in handy as it allowed me to run my extension cord along the top frame of the closet and hang over the little shelf where I could place my devices being charged. For sleeping, we shared the bottom adult bunk and kid's bunk with me at one end of the adult bunk and her partially on the kid's bunk and partially on the adult bunk so neither of us had to climb up. Larry asked us how we wanted the sleeping set up and did it as we asked. We had four blankets and six pillows to share. Another nice feature is that I could set up the table on the opposite side of the facing seats (kids bunk) at night and set up one of the wings. I could then place my CPAP and all sorts of other things on it.

Next time, I think we'll try using the two adult beds with me sleeping upstairs. Then I will put down the top kids bunk which I'll use for storage and for my CPAP. I will bring a rope to tape and tie across the kids bunk, attaching it and a blanket draped from it to block the lower two seats that make up the lower kids bunk, still set up for daytime. If I wake up at night as I often do, I can go past the blanket and sit on one of those seats with the upper kids bunk and the curtain blocking the light so my wife will be able to sleep and I can work on my computer.

The ride overnight was pretty bumpy especially when going over turnouts (switches).

Two issues with the family room:
  1. The single razor outlet is silly considering even 3 y/o kids have plug-in electronic toys so an extension is a must. The gaffer's tape is also critical to avoid running into a hanging extension cord at night.
  2. The door to the hallway opens directly into a light so at night, if one gets up to use the bathrooms down the hall, there is no way to avoid bathing the other in bright light. That means hanging another blanket across the room covering just the door. Then one can get into that space, let the blanket hang down again and open the door. Amtrak should put a curtain across that space then let the customer decide to leave it open or closed.
We'd have no qualms about doing the FBR again especially if it were, like this time, much cheaper than a BR and less than 2 roomettes.

We could not hear announcements with the door closed so often we went unmasked, one at each window, so we would be out of sight.

When the OBS (I think he was the OBS - more about him later) came around to hand out dinner reservations, he told us only 5PM and 8PM were available. We reluctantly took 5PM. Then when people boarded in Galesburg and had rooms on our floor, our SCA Larry had reservation tickets and had them for 6PM and 7PM. He had one left and I kiddingly told him we got stuck with 5 or 8 so he said he'd exchange the 6PM for my 5PM if I wanted. We took him up on it. That got him a bigger tip at the end of the trip.

Later, I went to the diner to get an "Anytime" Coke and he sent me to the Lounge. The Lounge guy told me I had to get one from the diner. The OBS guy said no free drinks except at meals since we had traditional dining. I could find nothing to dispute this on Amtrak's site so I gave up.

At dinner (my, how wonderful!), we had a great waiter - friendly, outgoing and he got a big tip. We got steaks!

Breakfast in the morning had the WONDERFUL french toast but the sloppiest (his Amtrak shirt was hanging out) and most unfriendly waiter I have encountered.. It was the OBS. I guess he had a bad night. It wasn't me! At lunch, his uniform was worse with the shirt completely out of his pants but as nasty as he had been at breakfast, he was wonderful at lunch. He even brought us extra Diet Cokes and told us to always ask for extra at meals so we could bring them back to our rooms unopened for later. So, unlike the minimal tip he got at breakfast, he got a generous one at lunch.

The first crew was sloppy about mask enforcement and often sat unmasked in off hours in the diner until a customer wandered in on the way to the lounge. On the other hand, the conductor getting on in Denver was STRICT about it, making warnings every fifteen minutes because people were sloppy about masks. Finally, he had enough and he made his last warning after we left Glenwood Springs and made it clear that anyone caught not properly masked would be removed in Grand Junction. No more warnings would be given. Right before getting to GJT, there was an announcement on the PA that the conductor was needed in the Lounge Car. As we got off, apparently some passengers were in the process of joining us but they were not intending to get off there. A passenger who wasn't as quick to get off as we were told us later when we met her in GJT. that her exit followed that of passengers ordered off.

BTW, train 6 passed us a few minutes before our arrival in GJT. It was already 6 hours late.

Anyway, Our return begins November 4th.
 

Cal

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Breakfast in the morning had the WONDERFUL french toast but the sloppiest (his Amtrak shirt was hanging out) and most unfriendly waiter I have encountered.. It was the OBS. I guess he had a bad night. It wasn't me! At lunch, his uniform was worse with the shirt completely out of his pants but as nasty as he had been at breakfast, he was wonderful at lunch. He even brought us extra Diet Cokes and told us to always ask for extra at meals so we could bring them back to our rooms unopened for later. So, unlike the minimal tip he got at breakfast, he got a generous one at lunch.
Wow, never thought I'd heard of an employee whose just as inconsistent as Amtrak on one run.

Thanks for the report, glad you enjoyed traditional dining! And I stand with the Denver conductor, shout out to him!
 

AmtrakBlue

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Great report.
The guy you referred to as OBS was the LSA.
I bet the conductor that got on in Denver was Brad, though I believe another conductor that runs that route is also very strict about the masks. They will kick people off their trains for not wearing their masks.
 

me_little_me

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temp_IMG_1116.JPGIMG_1112.JPGIMG_1117.JPGIMG_1095.JPG

From the top:
LSA (not OBS) with shirt partially out.

RR French Toast. It somehow quickly disappeared. Apparently the one from the Cardinal never came out. Even the camera thought it was too awful looking to waste a picture on.

1/2 of a couple, married 49 years like us. Whoever made their matching pullovers (answer was vague) made a BIG oops! He was wounded in Viet Nam so as a Purple Heart recipient, he gets a pass from me.

Steak dinner. Alas, it also disappeared fast.
 

me_little_me

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Great report.
The guy you referred to as OBS was the LSA.
I bet the conductor that got on in Denver was Brad, though I believe another conductor that runs that route is also very strict about the masks. They will kick people off their trains for not wearing their masks.
Thanks for the correction. I believe the conductor was Chris. We're real mask believers so I liked him.
 

Willbridge

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Great report.
The guy you referred to as OBS was the LSA.
I bet the conductor that got on in Denver was Brad, though I believe another conductor that runs that route is also very strict about the masks. They will kick people off their trains for not wearing their masks.
Brad sets a good example and I've noticed that other conductors on the DEN<>GJT segment run a tight ship. That segment gets a lot of people who've never ridden a train before and it often includes the highest occupancy of the route.
 

me_little_me

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Phase 3 - Grand Junction to Chicago

This was the first of the return segments. Note, all I can say about what we saw out there was that it just floored us. Dinosaur NM, Arches NP, Colorado NM and Black Canyon of the Gunniston were all beyond comprehension. We also visited a number of museums, saw some petroglyph sites and more. Needless to say, these should be on everyone's bucket list of places to visit. We spent 8 nights, one in GJT, one in Vernal, UT, 3 in Moab, then three more in GJT.

Please note the comment on gratuities in this thread. That talks about the LSA we had:
Gratuities included?

Our conductor talked a lot about the scenery pointing out many of the areas we went by in Colorado. Very interesting and helpful. he scenery one goes by in the GJT --> DEN section (especially with the insights of the conductor) make that portion alone another reason to see those places we visited by train instead of air or car. The conductors did stress masks but not to the extent of Chris on the outgoing Denver --> GJT section.

We had a regular bedroom on this portion of the trip (HIN --> CHI was in 2 roomettes and GHI --> GJT was in a Family Room) and the last (CHI-->HIN) so, for us, we decided the FBR is the best, the two roomettes across from each other are second, the regular bedroom was, surprisingly last with the short-height upper bunk on the Superliner noticeably worse than the Viewliner. While we have previously done bedrooms and roomettes many times, this was our first opportunity to check out them all on one trip. Also too, at our age and with her knee problems, things are a lot different for us than even a few years ago when in our early 70s.

Meals were equally good as on the outgoing section except for the final lunch before Chicago where they were out of almost everything including the DESSERTS! That LSA I praised managed to find us a carrot cake we could split. He said they got them from the best supplier of the three that Amtrak buys from. I'm not a carrot cake eater like my wife but I loved this one.

To save time while getting ready in the morning, I used the downstairs shower while she used the one in the room. Makes it a lot easier. Unfortunately, our room was facing the wrong way so we could not sit side by side on the couch facing forward.

All our meals on the first three segments (to CHI, to GJT and from GJT to CHI) were in the dining room. On this segment, the LSA asked us if we would mind having a single person sit with us who didn't want to sit alone. We agreed and twice we sat with others. We also had good conversations with other fellow travelers in the dining car like in the old days, albeit while sitting in separate tables with masks on.

It seemed the crews were much tougher on mask issues for coach passengers as compared to sleeper passengers in the diner and walking around, some of whom were pretty sloppy about it.

Once again, we had an excellent SCA. That meant 3 for 3!
 

me_little_me

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Segment 4 - The final train

At the club in Chicago, La Bruja (the witch, previously referred to as being a dragon) was not there Saturday and the dragons were sleeping so everyone running the lounge was really nice. There were a few incidents in Chicago. One couple apparently had a problem claiming pitsy-poo (or whatever those dogs are named by their owners) was a genuine service dog (it was obvious to me it wasn't) so they denied them their outgoing train, removed them from the club and told them to find a hotel for the night. Nine police officers were there (one to handle it and eight to get some free food?). One older, disabled gentlemen walked in on crutches w/o a mask, yelling and using foul language while demanding his wife find him some cigarettes. Apparently he later quieted down and wore his mask while his wife pushed him around in a wheelchair- at least when I saw him later. His wife deserves sainthood. A third incident occurred near but outside the club. I pointed out to my wife a guy who was pushing one of those wooden baggage sizing setups for quite a long distance. He was obviously not an employee and so I followed him while looking for an employee or police officer to which I could point out his unusual behavior. Just then an employee saw him and apparently convinced him to turn over the unit to her and he wandered away while she put the unit back where it belonged. Ah! I just love watching what people do!

Our final Cardinal ride was also in a bedroom. Again, we had an SCA who was first class. Like the outgoing SCA on this uncheckable-baggage segment, he hound a place to store our big bag so we wouldn't have to keep that plus two others in our room. Having just the previous day survived the top bunk in a superliner, I really didn't mind the cavernous space. And once again, having the gaffers tape for the extension cord run between the outlet and my CPAP machine really helped. It also came in handy when, once again, I used the shower down the hall while she used the room shower. The door wold not stay closed unless latched but stuck when in the fully open position so she'd be alone in the shower with the door opening on its own or I would not be able to get back into the room if she left it locked. A piece of (unnoticeably placed) gaffers tape held it securely closed.

We did have a problem. Our SCA said they failed to load any beef dinners. I chose the pasta and meatballs. My mom is still turning over in her grave knowing that I actually hoped it might be edible. It wasn't. Also, our SCA said that for dinner we had to eat in our rooms because it was a cafe car, not a diner. He allowed us to eat breakfast there. It was the same car as the outgoing one where the crew made coach passengers sit on one side while reserving the other for sleepers. Oh, well! Even the conductor thought it was silly. Interestingly, some conductors will be friendly when you try to start a conversation; some just hope you turn into a pumpkin; but this one started the conversation with us and acted like a fellow passenger rather than the King of the Hill.

I'll post a couple of interesting pics in my next post.
 

me_little_me

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IMG_1666.JPG This is what they had in Denver. It's our car number. Makes it so easy for a passenger to figure out where to go but why is Amtrak unable to have signs like these at all major stations (at the very least), or better yet, use electronic ones that can be changed? Such incompetence!
IMG_1578.JPG IMG_1576.JPGStore attached to Grand Junction Amtrak station. Run by a restaurant a few feet away. They had EVERYTHING you can imagine you'd need at reasonable prices. Refrigerated, packaged fresh veggies to fresh fruit to drinks to medical stuff to sugar-free "sweets" and more. So sad they couldn't do that in more places if they could do it in a town with 2 trains a day.
 

me_little_me

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IMG_1593.JPG I-70 tunnel entrance from train near Glenwood Springs. Got to see the massive backups on the freeway due to landslide as we rode by on outgoing trip. This pic was from return.
IMG_1601.JPG IMG_1610.JPG
One could spend hours looking at the ever changing scenery.
IMG_1617.JPGThat "thing" outside and at the edge of the steep decline towards the water below shows, in fact, the helmet and face of a rail worker near the edge of the track. There were 3 of them within a few feet of the track and each other.
 

Cal

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View attachment 25396 This is what they had in Denver. It's our car number. Makes it so easy for a passenger to figure out where to go but why is Amtrak unable to have signs like these at all major stations (at the very least), or better yet, use electronic ones that can be changed? Such incompetence!
View attachment 25397 View attachment 25398Store attached to Grand Junction Amtrak station. Run by a restaurant a few feet away. They had EVERYTHING you can imagine you'd need at reasonable prices. Refrigerated, packaged fresh veggies to fresh fruit to drinks to medical stuff to sugar-free "sweets" and more. So sad they couldn't do that in more places if they could do it in a town with 2 trains a day.
Several years ago in 2017 they had that on the platform at LA for the starlight
 

me_little_me

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We were at the Denver station and I saw the inside of an unoccupied Handicap Sleeper room with the lights on. I thought this pic might be helpful to anyone who wants or needs to use the Handicap room. The image is from the bathroom side window. You can see the toilet to left. Shower is to right. A curtain provides the only privacy. The door is to the left and, like the Family Bedroom, if one person goes out at night, they are met with a lot of light that would probably disturb a sleeping other passenger. At the far end of the picture are the two seats that become the bottom bunk and above that, the wall-mounted upper bunk is folded up. There is a window on that side also.
IMG_1670.JPG
 
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