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Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The California Zephyr, August 2000

Page 3

Thursday, August 10,
Mountain Time.

Adventures in the wee hours

Just after 4:00am I woke up to find we were stopped. I knew we should be in Salt Lake City at that time, so I wriggled my pants on and ventured out to see the city lights. I was hot and thirsty so I got some water then used the rest room. I went to the vestibule for a look outside but I couldn’t see a thing except the shape of a berm on each side. I decided to head up to the diner or lounge car to see if I could find anyone who knew where we were. The diner was empty. In the lounge I saw a woman sleeping on a chair and a man reading a book. I asked him if we were in Salt Lake City, but he didn’t know.

I then went downstairs to the snack bar. Two employees were there talking at a table, a man and a woman. They were coach attendants. I asked them where we were and the woman said we were almost to Salt Lake City, but train #5 was still in the station and we were waiting for it to pass. Apparently they were fixing some problem. She also said we were under a freeway overpass, which was why we couldn’t see anything outside.

I sat down and talked with them for maybe half an hour. I told them I was quite hot because our car had a problem with the air conditioning. They had heard of that problem and said someone would look at it when we stopped in Salt Lake.

The man’s name was Darrell. He was black, had a goatee and looked maybe about my age. I told them how great the service was on this trip and compared it to some of the things that happened when I rode the Coast Starlight as a teenager in the ‘70s. Darrell said a lot had changed since then, and he indicated he had been working on passenger trains since the late 1960s, before Amtrak was even formed. Well, he had to be a lot older than me to have worked back then! He said he worked on troop trains during the Vietnam war, among other things.

As he reminisced about the old days, the woman said he sounded like grandpa telling stories to the kids. He was interesting, though. Back in the ‘60s, Darrell said, passenger trains were dying and employees were pretty lazy and unmotivated. He said they’d spend a lot of time just sitting around. He even indicated that in Amtrak’s early days he was among those grumpy employees like I sometimes encountered. He seemed to have gotten over it.

Train #5 finally passed us then Darrell got up and opened the door to look outside. We started moving soon after and my companions had to return to work. As they were going up the stairs, the woman said "Grandpa will have some more stories for you later."

I got up and went to the upper level of the lounge to enjoy the city lights as we entered Salt Lake City. I kept an eye out for the spires of the Mormon Tabernacle, which Darrell and the woman said could be seen from the train. The first thing that caught my eye was the state capitol on the left side of the train. It was a large square of columns all lit up, as was the dome. I watched it for some time then we rounded a turn and it slipped behind us. When we stopped I could see the tabernacle spires in the distance, peeking over some other buildings.

I went back to our car and stepped out the door for a minute. Here it was about 4:40 in the morning and the temperature felt like it was close to 80. I watched workers put hoses to our water tanks. One would open the door to the filling spot, then the other would rinse it before inserting the hose. I watched them do two cars this way. I got back in the car and some people were working on the air conditioning. I overheard one of the workmen telling P.J. that she shouldn’t be running the air conditioner’s manual override, as that was just putting more stress on the equipment.

I saw Mom was awake in her bed, so I showed her the lights of the tabernacle spires from her window, which she enjoyed seeing. Then I crawled back into my bunk.

After we pulled out of Salt Lake we got going at a pretty good speed over some very rough tracks. The hard ride made going back to sleep difficult, but I managed to do so after awhile.

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