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Amtrak trip to Redding

July 31, 1996 This would be an unusual trip to Redding this year as I would be riding up in Coach and returning to Santa Barbara in an economy bedroom. There would be no point in getting an Economy Sleeper on the way up as I had to de-train at 3a.m. On the return trip I would board #11 at 2a.m. which would leave more than half the night to sleep. #14 was running late today for reasons unknown to me as there was no radio transmission revealing any problems. Most likely it was a problem at Los Angeles that prevented an on time departure.

It was time to head for the depot and the excitement was building. I was not going on a grand odyssey train trip like before but any train ride for me is an adventure. I got to the depot in plenty of time and was early enough to see an eastbound freight head down the double-track to meet #14 at the east switch of Santa Barbara. #14’s headlight was visible by now as the freight train picked up speed heading Eastbound. The end of the freight had passed the first crossing to the East of the depot (State St.) and the gates had begun to rise. When the gates rose to slightly above the halfway point between fully upright and lowered, they came back on as #14 was bearing down on Santa Barbara. I turned my head to look at the massive Genesis locomotive about to cross State St. when I heard a loud THWACK! The south crossing arm had been snapped off by some idiot in a tan colored van who thought he could duck under the lowering arm! The arm was completely ripped off and tossed aside and the driver of the van split the scene. Actually it was a close call between #14 and the van as he raced across the tracks just seconds before Amtk #808 roared across the street! Crazy fools, they just plain underestimate the train’s speed and the driver of the van obviously misjudged the speed at which the crossing gate arm was lowering.

I boarded my designated Coach car and got a great seat. The train was supposed to be full but I saw that there were plenty of seats available. The car attendant said that a group of boy scouts would be boarding in San Luis Obispo and riding to Paso Robles, a new station stop for the Coast Starlight. A call for lunch was made in the dining car but I had brought some field rations to get me by until dinner was served around 5p.m. A beautiful ride it was until Vandenberg A.F.B. with the fog still hugging the shoreline and putting a dull color on things.

The weather was clear by the time we got away from the coast and on into San Luis Obispo. The scouts were fairly well-behaved as they were running all over the train in excitement. It brought back memories of me when I would run about the train and get cursed by adults and train staff. OK, their uniforms made them look well behaved and their scoutmaster kept them from tearing everything up. What scouts were really getting off on was “Game Boy” hand-held video games. Just after leaving San Luis Obispo, we were supposed to take a siding on the Cuesta Grade to meet #11, the Southbound Coast Starlight which would consume about 20 minutes. Over the top we went and we were picking up speed on the back of the grade. All good things can’t last I’m afraid to say as the dispatcher ordered us into the siding at Santa Margarita for a “non-clearing” freight too large to fit into any of the sidings around us.. Another twenty- minute delay and we were on our way once again.

I can never remember which side of the train the siding is on at any given location, as I like to get a good look at the roll-bys of the trains we are meeting. Murphy’s Law dictated that I would be on the wrong side for all roll-bys. With the scouts gone at Paso Robles, I had two seats to myself and I’d have them all the way to Sacramento. The dining car chief came through with dinner reservations and I took the earliest time, as I was pretty hungry. Pringles potato chips, Diet Coke M&Ms and Life Savers are NOT meant for a lunch meal, but I was too lazy to get a sandwich in the lounge. Besides, I had them at home and they would have been wasted if I had left them behind.

The Coast Starlight has a very unique menu unlike those on the other Amtrak routes. The menu consists of special dishes related to the route that the Coast Starlight takes. There were special Coast Starlight printed menus just for that train. I had the baked Salmon which I would assume was a specialty from Oregon. Very tasty and satisfying! For desert I had my usual, like on other trips, hot apple pie a la mod. I can’t get enough of it. Other menu selections included baked chicken and wines from the surrounding vineyards with a couple of different entrees.. I can’t remember all the selections but there is a far greater selection of entrees for each meal on the Coast Starlight rather than just a few choices per meal.

I got off to stretch my legs at San Jose which was a designated smoke stop as well. I had no idea San Jose had such a large train station! I assume it’s the end of the line for the various CalTrain commuter train lines in the San Francisco Bay. They were showing a couple of movies in the lounge car so I saw "Sabrina." While the movie was playing, we stopped at Jack London Square and Emeryville. About three miles out of Emeryville we came to an abrupt halt. Since I didn’t have my scanner handy while watching the movie (I wanted a break from the scanner anyway), I was in the same boat as everybody else regarding the reason for our sudden stop. A transient had passed out on the tracks directly in our path! Due to quick thinking by our engineer, Mr. Lappin, we stopped just short of running him over. We had to wait for the SP police and paramedics to assess the situation before taking the transient to the hospital. An announcement came over the P.A. asking if there was a doctor on board who could come to the last sleeping car. I had thought that someone was sick in the sleepers but they wanted to have someone look at the unconscious transient. As a result, we lost over an hour after making up nearly all our lost time from the earlier meets with Amtrak and the freight near San Luis Obispo. The schedule “padding” really pays off for Amtrak.

The movie ended and I went back to my seat where I actually SLEPT. Since I had two seats to myself, I was able to stretch out somewhat into a more comfortable position. I remember nothing about stopping at Martinez or Davis but when I became conscious again, we were pulling into Sacramento. I would not sleep again after that, as about 400 people got on and every seat was taken. The woman who sat next to me was overweight and fidgeted non-stop! I have nothing against overweight people but part of my seat was taken up by her. She was always looking for a book, reading it for two seconds and putting it back in her bag to fidget more. When she settled down, she had her overhead light beaming half way in my face until 2:30a.m.! I was too tired to protest and I think she was slightly mentally incapacitated. When she was through reading and the light was turned out, I thought I would be able to sleep the rest of the way. Not. Have you ever heard a Moose snore? I haven’t personally but after listening to this woman, I wouldn’t be surprised if her rendition of snoring sounded just like that of a moose (that is, if Moose actually snore!). I hate coach, unless I’m traveling with someone so I don’t get crazy people like that next to me.

We pulled into Redding where my grandmother met me. After all the delays, we pulled into Redding only 1:15 late, thanks to schedule padding. I had a nice 5-day visit and it was time to return to Santa Barbara.

Consist of #14 Santa Barbara-Redding:

August 6, 1996: I got up at 1am to call Amtrak to find out about #11’s status and I was told it was running on time. “Of course it is on time”, I had thought knowing how many times I have been handed that same line, only to wait for an hour at the station! #11 pulled in at 2:25, 10 minutes late. This trip would be much more enjoyable as I was coming back in an Economy bedroom. I knew the sleeping cars were at the rear of the train but in Redding, they usually open just one door on the train, the door in the Coach car just forward of the Sightseer/lounge car. When I walked up to the door, the conductor asked if I was riding coach or sleeper. When I told him I had a sleeper, he told me to go directly to MY assigned car and another conductor would meet me. Not to delay the train, I ran seven cars back to my assigned car, #1130 which was named “Ohio” and the door was already open for me. I was very impressed how they opened another door just for me so I wouldn’t have to walk through the train. My room was all made up and my bed was ready for me. I had imagined my room still in daytime configuration and having to fold down and make up the bed myself. I had done that before but it was a chore to do. The train pulled out by 2:30a.m. and I climbed into bed. Ahhhh, much better than straining my neck trying to get comfortable in coach. It is so hard to get on a train in the middle of the night, only to stumble over people as they try to sleep. If it is a full train, the conductor must ask someone who is sprawled out across two seats to move aside so I may sit. I’m sure that person deep down is quite annoyed with me because I was the one who interrupted his sleep. Not this time as I had my own room and bed to stretch out in.

The Coast Starlight uses Superliner II equipment which has improved design in the sleepers. When I got into my room, I remembered my ride on the Capital Limited from Washington DC to Chicago because the room configuration was identical. The only thing wrong with my room was that the temperature control didn’t function. The knob was loose and just spun around on its handle. I have never had a sleeper in which you could control the temperature.

Unfortunately, I was rather restless and I only fall into a deep….snooze at best. I wanted to get some sleep! After all, that is why I bought a sleeper coming home. At 6a.m., I heard the car attendant making coffee, rather loudly as he clanked around the pot and utensils. Being in room #2, I was directly across from the car attendant’s quarters and adjacent to the coffee. At 7a.m., I heard a newspaper slip under my door: the San Francisco Chronicle. A responsible attendant for remembering the morning paper, and for not choosing USA Today! I have nothing against USA Today but I’d prefer a local paper. I then heard….CHILDREN! Oh, no, here we go again…. They were in room #C, a deluxe bedroom, and were running around the car. It was time to get up anyway, as I was hungry and could smell cooking from the Diner.

Before entering the dining car, I had to walk through the Pacific Parlor Car in which I was met by the attendant with an offering of food, coffee and a seat! I told the attendant I was on my way to breakfast. I grabbed a Danish and biscuit and headed for the diner. This dining car staff worked very well together, sometimes singing softly in harmony if they were all together at once in the middle of the car getting orders together! They were very good singers too! The dining crew chief was not in as much of an upbeat tone, but was pleasant nonetheless. I had the Coast Starlight Omelette with white toast, hash browns and lots of coffee. My breakfast companions consisted of a grandmother and her two grandsons. They had also boarded at Redding but I don’t remember seeing them. She did say she saw me running to the back of the train! One of the grandsons ordered grits instead of hash browns. I told him that grits need some getting used to but he didn’t listen! Kids don’t listen these days. I wasn’t surprised when he absolutely hated them! He slouched down in his seat and played with his food. His grandmother told him to straighten up all the time but that didn’t deter the child very much. I’d say the two brothers were around 8 and 9. Poor kid, he didn’t know what he was getting into. When I was young I never listened to strange adults in dining cars either, so I didn’t care if he listened to me or not.

It was a fabulous meal all around! I was so full that I had to take a walk…to the back of the train to look out the back window. Before this walk, I had returned to my room to retrieve my scanner. While listening, I heard that we would be picking up FOUR vintage Southern Pacific passenger cars to take to Los Angeles! What a great place to watch the hook-up from out the back window! The conductor came back and he opened the back door. He was really nice and said I could “hang around” while they did the joining. We talked about scanners and he owns a real nice Uniden 1000 which is a base station scanner with 450 memory channels! Impressive to say the least. I learned also what the crew change points were between LA and Seattle. The points are as follows:Santa Barbara, Oakland (Jack London Square), Sacramento, Klamath Falls and Portland.

I was impressed with this conductor as he enjoyed listening to scanners, etc. When I told him I was a Ham Radio operator, he told me that he just couldn’t grasp the code so he gave it up. Most conductors sneer at scanner/rail buffs from what I’ve observed.

The cars were attached, “stretched,” and we were on our way once again. The coupling was done just south of Emeryville across from the “Wash Rack” which was adjacent to the “Coach Yard” where the Amtrak and Amtrak California cars are cleaned. Things got pretty tense when a call came from the "Coach Yard" that a worker had a heart attack. The yard master was rather upset and he had to ordere a couple of trains to hold back from two street crossings up the tracks so that the emergency equipment could get through.

Due to some track work ahead, we were switched to a far south track on which we had to go past Jack London Station and back in. It sure was neat to look at those frightened looks people gave us as we coasted past on a track two platforms away! Some people grabbed their bags and started crossing the tracks! An announcement was made over the station P.A. that we would be backing up and they stopped chasing the train! I got off when we got into the station so I could get a good look at the SP heritage cars. We didn’t stay long and I had forgotten to grab my pen and paper so I could jot down notes about the cars. I saw someone else doing that very task. Rats, I had to wait until SLO to take notes.

With Oakland behind, we were on our way to San Jose. I spent most of my time in the Pacific Parlor car enjoying the scenery and good food. That’s all I needed was more food! The attendant had picked up a few cases of donuts and pastries so I gave in and had some along with more coffee. I forgot to mention that when I first entered the PPC, a wave of nostalgia came over me from my early days of riding Amtrak’s Heritage fleet when I was a boy. The odor in the car had that Heritage fleet smell. Incredible to say the least. You had to watch your step when entering the PPC as the car was slightly lower than the other cars on the consist. I remained in the PPC until nearly Salinas. The view between San Jose and Salinas is incredible with the canyons, thick trees and farmland.

No sooner had I sat down in my room than the first call for lunch come! I was not terribly hungry but I headed for the dining car anyway. I had a burger and Clam Chowder which was very tasty. For desert, I had to settle for Peach pie as they were out of Apple. No harm, as the peach pie was great, especially when it was a la mode. I sat with a woman who was going from Seattle to LA and a couple going from Oakland to San Luis Obispo. The husband was a professor Emeritus from Cal Poly so we talked quite a while. I had entered Cal Poly as a freshman in 1985. He had been retired since 1975 so I never knew him. All of my lunch companions were in the sleepers too. I can’t imagine why someone would get a sleeper from Oakland to San Luis Obispo, a mere six hour ride? I guess they like their privacy.

I stayed in my room after lunch, up until the call for wine tasting in the PPC! We tasted wines from the local vineyards as well as lots of fruit and cheese. That was a meal in itself. I had to hurry with the wine tasting as San Luis Obispo was coming up and I wanted to jump off to jot down the names of those vintage SP coach and dome cars that we were pulling. I was feeling pretty on top of the world after, I believe, four or five glasses of wine, but I still felt fine! The SP cars are named at the end of this report in my consist list.

From what I heard, these cars were going down to the Republican Convention in San Diego and two of these cars were featured on the 1996 Olympic Torch Train. I was really tired after San Luis Obispo so I stayed in my room until we were near Gaviota, 25 miles west of Santa Barbara. The car attendant, Roger, opened up the window downstairs so we could feel fresh air coming in. Whoopee! In Europe, you could open the windows on most trains. I guess it’s a big safety issue in this country and the railroad doesn’t want to get sued if a stone gets kicked up and whacks someone in the head, etc. While still north of Vandenberg at milepost 290, I was able to contact a friend of mine in Santa Barbara on 2 meters using my ham radio! I put up an antenna called a J-pole which has incredible range. I hook it to the brackets that the top bunk restraints are fastened to (to keep you from falling out of the top bunk at night). I used this antenna on my cross country trip as well. I couldn’t talk long as we went into a canyon and I could no longer reach the repeater we were talking on.

ACK!!!! The first call for dinner came at 5p.m. but by reservation only!!! I really wanted dinner (I wasn’t hungry but it WAS complimentary) but I NEVER saw the dining car chief come by to hand out reservation tickets. I guess he came through the train while I was running around on the platform at San Luis Obispo. My curtain and door were shut to my room since I wanted some peace and quiet but he could have knocked if he had come by. I would have had time to eat if I had gotten a 5p.m. dinner reservation but since I didn’t have one, I wouldn’t have time to wait until a “general” call for dinner later as we were now an on-time train…for half an hour. I blew it when I got off the train. Oh well, my mom invited me out to Mexican food when I got home.

At Milepost 330, we stopped to check the tracks, when we suddenly came upon a beacon that was placed on them indicating a landslide ahead! After 25 minutes of checking and creeping ahead at ½ mile an hour, nothing wrong was found so we proceeded ahead. A “non-clearing” freight was going against so we were forced to take the siding at Capitan to let it go by. With the wait at Capitan and manual switch throwing on both ends of the siding (I wish we had Centralized Traffic Control here), another 20 minutes went by before we could go Eastward. We arrived in Santa Barbara at 6:45, only half an hour late thanks to schedule padding! When I go to Redding next time, I definitely will get a sleeper on the return trip.

Consist of #11 Redding-Santa Barbara

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Trip report © 1996 Steven Reynolds

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