Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Train East

So I headed out East for my father’s funeral. I booked a round trip on Amtrak, first class with a sleeper the whole way.
I don’t travel much, the last trip I took was to Albuquerque last year. I wouldn’t say so much that I have a fear of flying, just that I find it extremely unpleasant, uncomfortable, unnatural and downright weird… Of course most people will find it odd that I chose to endure a 3 night each way, cross country train trip, and found it preferable to what would be a day of travel by air. But that’s what makes our country so great, isn’t it.
I took some pictures and scribbled some notes, so the next few posts will be devoted to the trip.
At the Amtrak station in Albany, OR. The ticket agent was a talkative guy and we passed the time chatting. One tidbit: Amtrak employees call “railfans” “foamers”.
Lovely old trains. I didn’t ride a train though, Amtrak uses buses half the time up to Portland for some arcane scheduling reason. It was a nice bus, but it was a bus.
Union station in Portland.
Ok, I will!

One of the benefits of shelling out 3x as much money as one would spend travelling by air is that there are special station lounges for sleeper car travellers, with coffee, baggage storage, etc. So I didn’t have to schlep my bag around the station while waiting for the train.
This is the downside of catching the Empire Builder from Portland instead of Seattle, the dining car doesn’t join the train until Spokane. So they serve a cold meal for dinner, none of which is vegetarian. So Miss Olive in the lounge car comped me an assortment of unpalatables: veggie burger (microwaved…urghhh), hummus and a cheese tray.
Random note: “I’m already talking to myself”. I met my aisle-mate. He pressure tests wells in North Dakota, was on his way back to work after spending a short time at home in Oregon. He was the first of many “commuters” I met who are taking advantage of the boom in North Dakota. Pay is high and housing is short.
Spokane late at night. We took on fuel and fresh water.
Abstract. A lot of these pictures suffered from my lack of skill in photography while in motion.

Fix that sign…
Dawn? Or night. Can’t remember. I took pictures with both a point & shoot and a smartphone and only have a vague idea of the photographic timeline.
Sleep was deep but I woke up often.
The coffee and other beverages are always on offer in the sleeper car. Copious and well made by my porter, I drank many cups of java.
Montana, or possibly Idaho. I breakfasted with Bob, a railfan from Toronto. He drives tour buses in Canada after retiring from a career as a music teacher. He hadn’t gone anywhere, just did a big loop of the US on the train, returning to Buffalo.
This was an odd cloud formation with a clear delineation between two fronts?
Getting into the range past Glacier.
Another shot of that weird cloud.
A stark butte.
Havre, MT.
A schoolhouse. I thought it was a church but on the way back a guy said it was definitely a schoolhouse and I agree. The Dakotas go on and on.
Met the guy in the sleeper next to mine. He was in his 80’s and has lived and worked in Nagano, Japan his whole adulthood, teaching English.
I had a long talk with an interesting/unique guy, John Wood, who was shooting a time lapse movie of the whole trip. He blogged about his trip.
”DO NOT HAMMER ON CAR”, written on a bunch of oil(?) cars we passed on a siding.
MInnesorta Wisconsimaybe…
Endeavour Hardwoods
The Dells! I’ll get nuts!
Somewhere else. Using a laptop touchpad on the train is difficult due to the swaying.
Darryl, the porter for our sleeping car. He’s from Chicago. He delivered excellent service and put up with my inquisitiveness.

Smokers. The dog was a “service dog”, although nobody could figure out for what. Notice the Amish gent, smoking his pipe.
He had a great beard. I talked with him a bit about antique farm machinery. There were a ton of Amish and Amish looking (Mennonites, etc) people on the train.
Milwaukee, I think.
I hung out a bit on this leg with a fellow from Rhode Island who now lives in Indiana but works in North Dakota driving oil tankers in an endless round trip from small tanks to the big tanks. Or something like that. He was on his way back to the wife and kids for a visit.

Chicago. Instantly panhandled as I emerged from the station. I wandered around a bit with Bob and went back into the deluxe lounge. It even had automated toilet seat covers. I’m such a hick.

Union Station.
I couldn’t capture the size. It was big.
Towering. Had wine & cheese (the train left after dinner – I got some dinner from the soul food stall in the station. Wine & cheese on the train, hung out with Bob and the son of another railfan – he was moving to Ohio to live with his dad & go back to school. He grew up with his mom in Edmonton. We talked relatively late into the evening.
Next day (I think), Volunteers of America. I had this in my head all day. Breakfasted with two Dominicanas, mother and daughter.
Around the bend.
Precipitation. Had lunch with some HO scale railroad collectors on their way to the Springfield MA train show. One of the guys just visited yesterday, he was visiting Portland and wanted to check out a Taig mill.
I had a long conversation in the lounge car with two guys, Vinnie and Bill. Vinnie’s story was too long to relate here but it was epic and both Bill and I really hope to hear more from him. Bill is a commercial illustrator for American Greeting card. This google search will return a bunch of his prints.
The Lakeshore limited had a bunk that slid on Thompson linear bearings.
Rail travel is closer to space travel than air travel is.
My space toilet. I’m not sold on having a toilet next to my bed, especially one that doubles as a staircase. I’m glad the Empire Builder had separate bathrooms, frankly.
Dinner before we arrived at South Station around 9:30. My dinner partner was an interesting and attractive woman who I believe works for Progressive Endodontics in Rochester. She was on her way to a trade show of some sort.
I arrived to rain in Boston, caught a cab in front of the station…more to come.


Allison Cecil said...

Wow what an awesome trip! It sounds so interesting and you met so many people. It looks like it is so different than air travel. I don't think I have ever had a conversation with someone on a plane, let alone sit and eat a meal with them.

Nick Carter said...

Yes, it's far more civilized and social, with a party atmosphere. Honestly I'm never flying again if I can help it.

pancake and lulu said...

Great photos! - What a cool experience. Almost seems like you went to another country - Trainworld. Looking forward to the next installments.

Tonya said...

Did the Amish take you for a long-lost relative?