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The Coast Starlight

March 2003

Monterey, California to Salem, Oregon

Page 2

Thursday March 6

Our bedroom's sunrise view

The time was 7:40am when I woke to an announcement that we were passing the small town of Dorris. Dorris! My goodness, we made good time. Dorris is the northernmost California town on our route. Klamath Falls was just 25 minutes away. I haven't seen the train get this far this early in recent history. On past trips we were still looking at Mt. Shasta at this time of day.

I spent the next ten minutes getting cobwebs out of my head before descending from my bunk. I looked out for to see. The sun was just above the landscape and I grabbed a quick photo or two. Mrs. Toy was popping in and out of the room as she took care of her own morning business.

At 8:00 they announced that the dining car was open for breakfast, and had been for some time. They hadn't told anyone earlier as they didn't want to wake those of us who were still sleeping. Those who were awake had already figured that out, anyway.

Five minutes later we stopped in Klamath Falls, Jerome had put on a jacket and I stepped outside in my sweatshirt. At first it didn't feel too cold, but it quickly got to me and I retreated back inside.

Jerome at....

....Klamath Falls


We sat down to breakfast at 8:23 with an older country-style couple. The man seemed to be an anti-war type. Just as we were sitting down he asked someone across the aisle what USMC stood for, and then gave the answer "Uncle Sam's Misguided Children." Hmmm. Though a bit unconventional in their manner, they were nice friendly folks.

Mrs. Toy enjoys her morning coffee

We began rolling out of Klamath Falls at precisely 8:25, which happened to be precisely on time! Our server soon took our orders. Mrs. Toy ordered French Toast, while I got the pancakes. They were decent, but not quite as fluffy as last year's. Our companions ordered eggs, and the woman drenched hers so heavily in Tabasco sauce that I could smell it clearly from across the table. The aroma wasn't exactly compatible with maple syrup.

Later that morning....

We returned to our little cubby hole on the lower level of car 1430. We grabbed a newspaper in the lounge on the way. I had promised my friend Mollie at work that I would call her from the train this morning just to say hi. Though we were getting away from civilization we still had a pretty clear signal. In fact, except for about one hour in the most remote part of the Cascades, our cell phones had two to four bars of signal strength for the entire day. Somehow that felt comforting. What I'm trying to say is, this call went through just fine and Mollie thought it was neat-o to get a call from a train in the next state.

9:30am: "UP detector, milepost 487.1, no defects, total axles 48, speed 76 mph." That put our next stop, Chemult, 16 miles ahead.

Ten minutes later we passed a BNSF freight train with a colorful collection of locomotives: two BNSF in the modern orange and green scheme, one in Santa Fe blue, and one in Burlington Northern green. On the scanner we heard something about a "water problem in second car back." They thought it might have something to do with a toilet.

9:43am "UP detector, milepost 501.0, no defects, total axles 48 , speed 67 mph."

We hit Chemult at 9:47. An announcement was made that the train would have to stop twice, once for the sleepers, and once for the coaches. I went to the vestibule to see this platform, which I had never bothered to see before. I wanted to look this time as we may have occasion to get off here later in the year and take the Amtrak Thruway bus to Bend for a little family gathering. There was a gentleman at the door who I had seen in the diner the night before. He said he traveled this train and the Southwest Chief several times a year, something I gathered from the fact that our dinner server knew him by name.

The Chemult station with the Amtrak Thruway bus awaiting to take travelers to Bend

Outside, the Chemult "station" was what many seasoned rail travelers refer to as an "Amshack." Just a little shelter, really. Alongside was a mini bus for the connection to Bend.

Mountain Travel

After leaving Chemult we continued our ascent into the Cascades. On the ground we were beginning to see patches of snow. I took Mrs. Toy to the back of the train so she could see the tracks receding behind us.

A few light patches of snow begin to appear

Then we stopped briefly on the lower level of coach 1412 to have peek at the kid's playroom, another Coast Starlight exclusive.

The playroom in car 1412

Around 10:00am we went back to the lounge and by the time we arrived the white blanket outside was getting pretty heavy. Mrs. Toy plunked herself into a seat and I joined her to watch the snow go by.

A stream winds its way through the snow

We could see the movement of the train was kicking up white powder and whirling it around a bit. As our train climbed higher the snow got deeper. Trees turned from green to white. Snow began falling before our eyes, while we sat in climate controlled comfort. I remember coming home from school many years ago and enjoying this winter scene from a coach seat, and I have been wanting to experience it again. I got my wish.

We watch a winter wonderland from the warmth of the lounge.

One problem with the substitute lounge car is that the design of the Sightseer Lounge discourages social interaction. The seats all face away from each other, and people are more inclined to keep to themselves. I have observed this on other trips as well. The Parlor Car has three types of seats which put people face to face, creating a more lively social environment.

But I have to admit that while I missed having the Parlor Car, the floor to ceiling windows of the Sightseer Lounge offered a much better view of this winter scene than the smaller Parlor Car windows would have. So maybe this was to our advantage after all.

Snow, trees, and a signal bridge

But while Mrs. Toy was happy to stay put, I was feeling restless. I wanted some photos of the snow from the rear of the train, so I excused myself and ambled the 425 feet to the far end of the last coach. It was well worth the effort, for I got some great images. I decided I should wait there until we passed a few tunnels, which are always fun to photograph from here, and the snow would make it even better.

We passed the detector at milepost 533.7 at 10:20, but the transmission was garbled, and I missed the details. Within five minutes I could look down on the rails and see that the snow was even with the top of the steel. An adjacent siding was covered.

At 10:28 we entered the 3,655 foot long summit tunnel, the longest one in these here mountains. Just before we exited there was enough light that I could see icicles hanging on the inside. Then I got my first tunnel picture of the trip.

The north end of the Cascades Summit Tunnel

I got two more before I decided I should go back and spend time with my sweetie.

The next two tunnels

Mrs. Toy was no longer in the lounge, so I continued on to our room. I decided to walk all the way to the front of the train just to walk the entire length once. As I did I also noted the names of the two sleepers. Ours, #1430 was named Connecticut, and it was oriented with the standard bedrooms at the front, while car #1431, Nebraska, was oriented in the opposite direction.

Back in the room, Mrs Toy asked me to go back out and refill her juice cup at the top of the stairs. I wanted some, too, but I didn't feel comfortable carrying two cups of liquid down the stairs on a moving train. So I made two trips.

11:05 "UP detector, milepost 557.3, no defects, total axles 48, speed 29mph"

We were descending rapidly now and the white landscape was turning into a lush, wet green. I mentioned to Mrs. Toy that somewhere in here a hairpin turn would take us in the opposite direction for a few miles before another hairpin turn straightened us back out. I was never really sure where this took place, but I realized as I spoke that we were at that very moment going around a very long curve. At last I have found it! The other hairpin curve, as I have been told, is in a tunnel so that one may not even be aware of it.

Relaxing in our room as we descend the western Cascades

We were getting ready for lunch when there was an announcement about the upcoming view of Oregon's longest covered bridge. It would be on the left side of the train, just after exiting a tunnel, so I had Mrs. Toy come to the vestibule to see it.

Lunch Time

We sat down to lunch just before noon. No waiting. Across the table were two middle-aged sisters, very fun people.

I had the turkey club sandwich. Last year the sandwich option was corned beef, which I am not particularly fond of. I wrote to Amtrak and suggested they replace it with a club sandwich. Lo and behold, they did! I don't think I alone can take credit for it, however. Anyway, it came with a soft and yummy honey whole wheat bread. The other ingredients were adequate, but nothing extraordinary. I had the option of a fruit cup or vinegar and oil cole slaw on the side. I chose the slaw, but it turned out to be a major disappointment for it was more pickled cabbage than cole slaw. For dessert I chose the apple/cherry cobbler, which was terrific.

At 12:44 we crossed Interstate 5 and passed through the suburb of Springfield into Eugene. A few minutes later we stepped away from the lunch table at the very moment when we stopped at the Eugene station. We returned to our car, and I stepped outside to absorb a little of Oregon's "liquid sunshine" and snap a photo or two.

A wet day in Eugene

The Willamette Valley

We departed Eugene at 12:56, 12 minutes late. We stuck pretty close to our room from this point on, watching the farms and fields roll by.

The Willamette River

1:05pm: 657.1, no defects, no defects, total axles 48, speed 78 mph" That put Salem 61.1 miles ahead, and we seemed to be making good speed. But that was not to last. There has been some track improvements going on here of late, and when we crossed the Willamette river at 1:10 we began slowing down to accommodate the work. Within a few minutes we saw UP workmen and sheep sharing a pasture. The sheep didn't seem to be too bothered by the train, as they were on previous trips, probably because of our reduced speed.

Union Pacific workmen make track improvements while sheep stand by for support.

1:08pm, we passed through Junction City, one of several tiny towns dotting the Willamette Valley. We reached Harrisburg at 1:14, a small community where a farming branch of Mrs. Toy's family has deep roots (pun intended, sorry).

1:19pm "UP detector, milepost 670.2, no defects, total axles 48, speed 70 mph." Ah, we were back at a good pace again.

1:29pm "UP detector, milepost 681.1, no defects, total axles 48, speed 70 mph." And we managed to keep at it.

Two minutes later we passed yet another small town called Tangent, and it was announced that Albany was just eight minutes away.

OK, it was nine minutes. We stopped at precisely 1:40. On a parallel track sat a very long freight train. I expected to see UP locomotives on it, but instead there were several bright orange Willamette and Pacific locomotives. I've never even heard of W&P before (a real railfan would have). We saw that three of the locomotives were named after small towns in this part of Oregon: Independence, Wilsonville, and Corvallis, all places that we have been at one time or another.

An assortment of Willamette & Pacific locomotives

The northbound W&P freight train began moving slowly. Very slowly. We began rolling soon after, and our speed quickly exceeded the freight's. We overtook it easily and raced on towards Salem, or so we thought.

At 1:48 we heard: "Amtrak 14 picking up an approach block," at 1:49 "Highball for #14." I always thought Highball meant we could proceed, but within three minutes we were stopped dead right alongside Interstate 5. Evidently there was a "track gang" (more workers) in the way that needed to clear off before we could proceed.

We were moving again at 2:03. I heard we had "authority to pass red signal after stopping."

Being on the lower level places us at eye level with motorists stopped at crossings.

2:10pm "UP detector, milepost 697.8, no defects, total axles 48, speed 18 mph." At that time an announcement was made to explain our slow speed, that signals were out. At 2:15 we crossed the Willametter River. On the bridge was milepost sign 699.

Finally at 2:17 we found the "track gang" workmen on a small spur that serviced a warehouse of some sort. They had some unusual looking equipment that we non-railfans could not identify.

Railroad equipment on a spur after getting out of our way.

At 2:19 we passed an attractive barn milepost at 700. The last mile had taken four minutes. The next mile only took three.

A Willamette Valley barn between Albany and Salem

Once we reached milepost 703, at 2:28, we began picking up speed again.

2:35 "UP detector, milepost 710.0, no defects, axle count 48, speed 69 mph." We were moving right along here, surveying a series of backyards and junkyards along the edge of the tiny town of Turner.

Before long we were entering the fringes of Salem, our belongings ready to go.

A typical older residential neighborhood in Salem, not far from the train station.

When we saw the 12th Street overpass we headed towards the door, for we knew the station was just a couple blocks ahead.

We stopped and detrained at 2:45, handing Jerome a token of our appreciation as we stepped onto the wet platform. My sister Liz was there to greet us. Evidently Mom thought we would be at the other end, and there she was way down there waving back at us.

On the Salem platform. Mom (blue coat) figures out which end we're at.

Once home Mom served us a wonderful homemade ham/pork loaf as only a Mom can do.

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