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The Coast Starlight

March 2003

Monterey, California to Salem, Oregon

Page 5


Monday March 10

I got out of bed at about 8:10. We were just out of Sacramento, watching farms go by. It looked like we had made up some time overnight, but I had not yet calculated how much. Too foggy in the head, yet.

Cereal & Danish

Te Parlor Car's continental breakfast setup.

And a table ready for breakfast.

About 30 minutes later we opted to skip the dining car and partake of the simpler continental breakfast in the Parlor Car. We grabbed some cereal and pastries and I began looking around for some milk. Tom was alert to our need and came running down the aisle with a carton in hand. But then we made him back up so we could take our whole grain goodness to a table before applying the cow juice.

On the bar, Tom had a portable CD player and a pair of computer speakers playing Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. That was a nice touch. I usually put on some classical music for breakfast at home, too. I think this was the first time I've had mealtime music on a train.

As we progressed across the valley we were passing some small streams. In the adjacent fields were small swarms of middle aged men wearing bright orange vests, carrying shotguns. Duck hunters. I've never been a hunter myself, for it never appealed to me. From where I sat this didn't look too sporting. The place looked as it it were set up as a huge duck trap. It looked innocent enough to a duck. A network of streams and wetlands looked deceptively fowl-friendly. But an equally intricate network of roads led right to a number of advantageous spots right along the water. SUVs dotted the land, and it looked all too easy for the hunters, and none too beneficial for the ducks.

Meanwhile, a conductor came along. Like a street mime he never said a word to me, but when he saw my camera on the table he pointed to it, then to himself, repeating the gesture a few times until I caught on. I picked up the camera, he posed, the camera clicked, then he went happily on his way.

At 9:00 we were passing the famous mothball fleet, semi-retired Navy ships, cargo types mostly, awaiting reactivation in the event of a major war. Many of them date back to WWII. One battleship of that era is out there, the Iowa, I think. But it is on the far side of a row and you can only make out its distinctive bow projecting out from the pack.

We then crossed the bridge and stopped in Martinez. I forgot to note the time. We returned to our room and turned on the scanner.

Just before crossing under the Carquinez bridges we passed the C&H sugar plant. For the first time I was able to get some good shots of that neat old facility.

Four views of the C&H Sugar plant

You can't see this from the highway because it is almost under the bridge!

And immediately after we were under the bridge and beyond...

The new Carquinez bridge (Interstate 80) under construction

9:43am: "UP detector detector milepost 14.1, track 1, total axles 46 (did we lose a truck somewhere?!?), speed 75 mph."

We stopped in Emeryville at 9:58.
Kiyosi posed for a photo

While Mrs. Toy laid her head down I excused myself to go to the rear of the train. I wanted to do something I have tried unsuccessfully to do on two previous trips, to shoot pictures from the rear while going down the middle of the street in Oakland's Jack London Square. Last year the last two cars were empty and locked. The year before I was still at breakfast.

I worked my way to the end of the train, passing through two Superliner I coaches, with a newer Superliner II sandwiched between them. These cars were also quite full. I made it to the rear window just before we departed Emeryville, and I began shooting.

Just departing from the Emeryville platform. We rode the California Zephyr from here in 2000.

I got some great shots of the freeway overpasses and Amtrak's Oakland switching yard, where we met a passing Capitol Corridor train at 10:10.

We glide effortlessly 'neath Oakland's traffic nightmare

And we pass one of the locals near the rail yard.

Five minutes later we were in the middle of the street.

On the street.

Off the street and into the station.

I was surprised to see that the station platform was located right at the south end of the road. Somehow I thought it was farther away.

Meanwhile I heard on the scanner that there were 10 mph slow orders from milepost 42.1 to 42.2, and that flags were being put up. (Remember, the mileposts are measured north and south from the UP Oakland yard, so this was still about 40 miles away.)

I returned to our car, taking a moment there to step outside for a little air and California sunshine. We left Oakland at 10:27, 97 minutes late. This meant we had made up 53 minutes of lost time since we boarded in Salem.

Mrs. Toy was still napping so I went to the Parlor Car to read the daily newspaper. At 11:00 we hit the detector at milepost 28.9. It was one of the boring, but reassuring kind that only reports "no defects," but not speed.

Ruins at Drawbridge.

As we crossed the south bay wetlands, we passed the ghost town of Drawbridge. Tom made an announcement about the history of the place, which was occupied as recently as the 1970s.

I needed to break down a Twenty into smaller bills for tips. Tom helped me with that and for all of his attentive service I gave him a piece of the pie.

Mid morning in the Parlor Car.

Attendant Tom counts out some change.

I then returned to our room where Mrs. Toy was now alert and watching the passing scenery. As we slowly approached San Jose she said she blew a kiss at a PG&E worker, and he blew one back. Add that to the list of things you can do on a train: flirt with strangers outside your window.

At 11:20 we were moving kind of slow as we passed the San Jose airport, just after crossing Highway 101. When we stopped at the station I got out, as I like to do, if for no other reason than to experience the local climate at our many stops. On the platform I stepped ahead to the next sleeper to get its name, which was Texas. Our car, which I have not yet noted, was Tennessee. Our lead locomotive, I might add for the benefit of the curious, was #116.

San Jose

We were getting a little hungry, but since Salinas was just over an hour away we didn't want to order a full sit-down meal. So I went down to the Sightseer Lounge snack bar for a sandwich we could split. In the past we have been able to get our included meals here instead of the diner, but I was informed that we were no longer allowed to do so due to budget cutbacks. I was disappointed as well as confused by this new policy for we would actually be consuming less food than if we were in the diner. Anyway, I paid for a turkey sandwich and returned to our car for the complimentary beverages.

The sandwich turned out to be pretty good, and it was really all we needed.

Rust and grass make a colorful junkyard between Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

At 12:07pm we were running along at a good speed south of Morgan Hill when we heard on the scanner: "UP detector, milepost 66.2, total axles 48, speed 80 mph." Uh-oh. I think we just got caught speeding. Sure enough this came from over the radio immediately after: "Amtrak 11 let's slow down to 70.0 please."

I forgot to note the time when we heard "UP detector, milepost 83.3, total axles 48, speed 31 mph." It was about five miles south of Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. Here we begin turning west through the Pajaro River valley. At the west end of the valley is the GraniteRock quarry where we usually go pretty slow. In fact, at 12:36 our train was advised "You may want to slow to 10 at milepost 89." At 12:42 as we passed the quarry we slowed to a crawl for a short time.

Passing over Highway 129 in the Pajaro Valley.

A pile of crushed granite at the quarry near Aromas.

Final Photo Ops

We would soon be approaching the Elkhorn Slough where I have enjoyed taking photos of this train from time to time. I thought it would be fun to shot some of those sites from the rear of train, so I made my way back. We passed through the Watsonville rail yards, but I didn't take any photos, tempted as I was, for I was afraid I would deplete the roll before I got the shots I came for.

We then turned south and began winding our way through a slot in the hills. At12:55, just after we caught up with Elkhorn Road we passed "UP detector, milepost 99.1, no defects, total axles 48, speed 50 mph." This detector at 99.1 has a special place in my heart. It has been a great help to me when photographing trains just south of here, giving me advance warning of its approach. It was also the first detector I ever heard when I was watching the northbound train from the road one evening last year.

Where Elhorn Road and the tracks come within spittin' distance.

Just around the next bend our train crossed the headwaters of the Elkhorn Slough, a huge estuary that stretches for several miles towards Moss Landing. This body of water is full of wildlife, which makes it a favorite hangout for nature lovers and kayakers of the central California coast. A bridge marks our entrance into the slough.

Above, we cross a bridge as we enter Elkhorn Slough.
Below, the Coast Starlight on the same bridge in July 2002.

One of two points of access to the slough can be had at a humble little place called Kirby Park, right along the tracks at milepost 101. It consists of a parking lot, a boat ramp, and one path which parallels the tracks for a thousand feet or so. It is a handy spot for both train and wildlife viewing, and I have done both simultaneously.

Above, Kirby Park from the train

Below, the Coast Starlight came through this crossing in August 2002 with five different locomotives! #1 Amtrak California F59PHI, #2 Amtrak California Dash-8, #3Amtrak Surfliner F59PHI, #4 Genesis in Phase V colors, #5 Dash-8 in Phase IV colors.

But I have always been disturbed by the lack of crossing signals at the parking lot entrance. When entering there is a stop sign and a clear view down the tracks, but when exiting it is a different story. Bushes partially conceal the tracks around the curve, making it difficult to see approaching trains. What's more, there is no stop sign for those exiting the park. People just drive right across. I don't know how many bother to look both ways first, but from my observations there, I know that not all of them do. I hope their ears work better than their eyes, or someone may get smashed under a locomotive.

By 1:10 we were past Castroville. By then I had my scanner packed away with the rest of our belongings, so I was not able to listen when we made our customary stop alongside Highway 183 to allow the crew to copy down track warrants, the instructions for the train's journey south of Salinas. As usual the stop was brief, four minutes by my watch, and then we were in the final six minutes of our rail journey. No matter how long we are aboard, it never seems like enough. I can't remember ever hearing an airline or bus passenger expressing that sentiment. I hear it from rail travelers all the time.

Salinas rolled under our wheels and we stepped off at 1:20, one hour and thirty two minutes late. Not bad for having boarded almost two and a half hours late in Salem. I handed Kiyosi a token of our appreciation. We tend to give a little more than is customary because we, being both employed in the hospitality industry, know how hard these guys work.

Tom had also stepped off for the train for a smoke, and he asked if we knew anything about the old locomotive and caboose sitting between the station and the old REA building. Alas, we didn't have an answer for him (a real railfan would have known, you can be sure). Maybe next time I'll be able to tell him.

We get off the train here.

And get on the mini-bus here.

But now we had a bus to catch. Todd, the driver had his vehicle waiting for us, and we were on it at 1:24pm. We were his only passengers so we asked, since our house was not too far off of his regular route, if he would mind taking us directly home. He was quite happy to, and when we arrived at 1:55 I gave him a little something extra. He saved us at least 45 minutes and enabled us to avoid the bone-rattling local transit system altogether. What a guy.

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