Amtrak Train Trip August 1998
Our 25 th Anniversary
Leave Friday Afternoon: Anne drove Maria and I to the Paoli Station. We took an Amtrak express train from Paoli to 30th St Station in Phila. and then continued on in the same train from Phila to NYC (Coach). We did not learn of the first class waiting room in New York until we were aboard the train.
In New York, we changed trains. This was a "sleeper". This train takes the northern route over the old New York Central Line from NYC to Chicago. This part of the trip is one night. The train goes up the Hudson River through Peekskill, NY where I went to school. We were served dinner while riding up the Hudson. Sleeping arrangements were small but do-able. There is an upper and lower bunk. They fold away during the day. Maria took the top bunk. Near Albany, we woke to some banging as the train cars were rearranged for some to go east while other cars from Boston were added to ours.
As we approached Chicago, I was looking for familiar territory. We passed through Northern Indiana and Porter County where I had gone to Valpo Tech. We were in the upper part of the county and I did recognize a steel plant that I had been at once or twice. I did not know the train tracks and how they ran there and had hoped to see more. We were near Dunes State Park, but I couldn't see much. I did find this area interesting though. In my first year at school there, I had taken the Pennsy back and forth from home to school in Valparaiso, Porter County. Since I had also worked as a part time deputy sheriff in Porter County, I thought I knew the county pretty well.
We arrived in Chicago and would be changing trains after a few hours layover. There was a first class waiting room that we found out about. You are expected to check your luggage and carry-on so it doesn't clutter the waiting area. We did check our baggage. (If you have a laptop computer, you should have it securely packed for breakage as mine got broken, I believe in the baggage check. It was not discovered until we were on the train and moving). After checking our baggage, we decided to explore Chicago around the station. We didn't want to go too far to possibly complicate things. We did find an indoor shopping mini-mall and food court across the street , where we ate lunch. We learned some passengers actually took short tours of Chicago. It was about 3 PM as I remember when our next train was to leave.
We returned to the first class waiting area and claimed our bags, when allowed, to board the California Zephur. This train would take us from Chicago to San Francisco over 2 Nights in a Sleeper. This sleeper was slightly larger than the previous train and included its own private restroom. You can stay in your private cabin till meal time or go to the lounge-observation car for an all around view. I watched as we left Chicago for some time as I felt it was part of my past.
The sleeper accommadations also included food service. (Coach service gave access to food service but was charged for as extra) The food was the quality of the best of restaurants.
Maria slept in the upper bunk again. She could get up there more easily than me.
When I woke early the next morning, I saw super beautiful farms and open land and learned we were crossing through Colorado. It was all so beautiful. The approach to Denver was also exciting.
We stopped in Denver where we actually could get out and walk around a bit. After about an hour, the train was ready to leave again. As we wound through Denver, I could see mountains in our path. It wasn't long before we actually arrived at the base of them and slowly proceeded to wind and climb up the mountains. It was breathtaking, every inch of it. We could see part of the mountains, the cattle, the tracks, and down into the valley. What a view! We looked back at Denver and other cities that we didn't know. We took pictures but wished we had a Cam-Corder. The mountains themselves were also just beautiful. We went through many tunnels as we climbed and more at the top. We picked up and followed the Colorado River on the other side. You have to experience the trip to understand just how beautiful it was. We saw white water rafting in many places along the Colorado.
The final day was still neat but not like the previous.
We lost time and went very slow on last day crossing desert. There was about an hour lost because of the heat and precautions taken. The final approach to SF was extra slow due to poor track co-ordination and traffic. The rails are owned by the freight service and AMTRAK and other lines pay for access. We sat or moved short distances and lost another 2 hours. Because of the beauty of everything before, we considered this minor.
Arrived about 3 hours late (9PM).
We were picked up by Radar, my cousin, and driven to Garberville, Northern Calif (about a 5 hour drive) along Rt 101 I think.
We stayed 3 nights (Mon, Tues, Wed) at the Sherwood Forest Motel in Garberville, owned by my Uncle.
This motel was given no justice by anything I ever saw in pictures. It was simply great. Pictures are available from this site at http://www.5dnet.com
Over the next day, we toured the mountains with my Uncle, the surrounding areas, the great Redwood Forest and even down to the Ocean Areas.
On the last day, we left early and were driven back to San Francisco by Radar to the Travel Lodge, right on the Bay Area, where we stayed over night. We couldn't have picked a better place to stay in the bay area.
We walked the Bay Shopping Area from about 2 PM until tired, including touring the Bay by Boat to see Golden Gate Bridge and Prison Island. We even bought a JVC Camcorder there and took pictures, although it was too late for the best parts of our trip.
We flew Home the next morning non-stop to Phila via United Airlines.
Arrangements were made by Amtrak Vacations with only 3 weeks before the trip. We later found out that almost any travel agency can handle the trip (except on such short notice). This did involve the package where you take the train one way and fly back. The only other thing I would do different is fly first class as the planes seem to get smaller and smaller.
This was a most exciting trip and we want to do it again. We might want to Fly to Chicago and start from there as an alternate, or maybe go through Washington DC. We also saw several places we actually might want to get off a stay awhile next time, like a resort in the Rocky's after Denver and maybe Reno, Nevada.
I did take a hand held scanner to listen to the train radio activity (160-161 mhz). This did add a dimension that I recommend to anyone so inclined. As trains were joined in New York, it told us what was happening. In our final approach in California, it told us the reasons for the delays. It also told us as we approached various stations and when we were leaving. Now owning a Garmin Street Pilot GPS, I would also take that next time.