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Travelogue of David Betowski

Posted January 1997

My name is David Betowski. I am 16 years old and enjoy traveling by train. It is the only way to travel these days due to an increased number of seats in airplane fuselages, terrible airplane air quality, and makeshift meals, or should I say non nourishable matter. And automobile travel is also uncivilized. You are cramped up in the backseat of a car. The air conditioning is only effective in the front seats. And the only eating establishments are either greasy fast food restaurants(which I am not fond of), hole-in-the-ground restaurants that use the traditional American way of advertising by displaying a large, seen better days, neon sign saying the slang word "EATS," or just the soggy sandwiches, greasy potato chips, and boring apples from the cooler. Although many say trains are slower than automobiles nad definately slower than airplanes, I find that travel is significantly faster in a train rather than an automobile. Actually, I have noticed significant time differences when traveling in a bus or even a van. I guess the feeling of space is a key psychological factor.

Ever since kindergarten I have always wanted to take a train trip. The only trains I had traveled on were narrow gauge trains with a miniature steam engine--which was actually a gasoline engine which transported visitors to and from the parking lot of a replica of a stereotypical western town located outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. When I was about eight years old, a train opened in Boulder City, the town of Hover Dam. It used abandon Union Pacific Railroad tracks--the ones which trains traveled anywhere in the country to Hoover Dam when it was under construction. The engine was a full sized replica of a steam engine, however, I question whether it was powered by steam. It had a coach and a caboose (everyone thinks that all trains have a caboose, when in fact cabooses were never used on passenger trains--only on freight). The train traveled for about less than a mile and then went back(not very exciting but kids love it). My dad and I had to stand in line for over an hour to board the train. We never did board the train. We figured that by the time we would board the train it would close for the day. I left in disappointment, but my dad promised me that we would take a train trip someday. That train ran parrallel to the freeway. We passed it when driving home. The cars were not even authentic. The center of the caboose was a big window surrounded by bars. It looked more like a prison train than a passenger train.

Two years later we took the Skunk Train in northern California--which was enjoyable. We decided to take the afternoon train instead. However, for the afternoon train the steam engine(a true one)was replaced by a diesel. My parents were somewhat disappointed. They said that a steam engine is fun. I did not think so. Steam engines let off black smoke and the whistle is annoying, as well as the "chugga-chugga."

Two years after that we vacationed in the east coast. As part of our itineary we were to take the Metroliner from Washington D.C. to New York City. My dad had taken the Metroliner three years earlier. However, we took the Virginian instead. I, myself, was greatly amazed by the glamour of Union Station--the gold leaf, the natural light, the marble, the shopping and eating establishments. There were probably more shops than in the largest shopping mall in Nevada. Traveling the Virginian was fun as it cut its way through the many megalopolises of the East Coast. The trip lasted about 3 1/2 hours. Upon arriving in Penn Station I felt disgusted by its crowds, filthiness, and an extensive renovation resembling a soap opera. Four days later we took the Maple Leaf to Syracuse. It cut through natural beauty and passed West Point as well. The trip lasted five hours. Ironically, the tickets for the Maple Leaf were cheaper than the Viriginian.

The next year I took my first overnight train trip. We took the Desert Wind from Las Vegas to Denver. The train passed along the muddy river in Overton, NV--a landscape that I would never see by car. I remember waking up in Salt Lake City awaiting the arrival of the California Zephyr. The Desert Wind was earlier than usuaul. I remember seeing crewmen carrying battery operated lanterns and air hoses walking around at night. I also remember feeling several bumps as the trains were being coupled. We were sitting at the front of the car. We could not sleep because a strange man was walking between cars all through the night.

This year we took the Desert Wind from Las Vegas to Salt Lake and then took the bus to Ogden. That night the Pioneer was running extremely late. That night was the night of a massive power outage along the central and Western United States. The train had to stop at every signal and crossing. The station manager was nice enough to buy everyone donuts as we waited for the train. The scenery was spectacular as we passed along the Columbia. We were supposed to arrive in Portland at 2:30, however, we arrived around six. We traveled back via the California Zephyr. We enjoyed the new cars as well as the onboard entertainment, however, the view is overrated. Most of the view in California is primarily flat plains and garlic farms. When we finally reached the coast we only traveled along the coast for half an hour. However, it is a better alternative to the desolate plains of I-5. We traveled home by way of the L.A. Las Vegas portion of the Desert Wind. The Desert Wind now carries the Sightseer Lounge and Dining car for the consolidated train. However, it and the Pioneer will be done away with November 10 of this year, leaving Las Vegas without passenger rail service.

Happy Tracks to You,
David Betowski

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