Dan Chazin's Trip on the NRHS Canyon Rails 2002 Convention Train
With Santa Fe Steam Engine #3751
Williams, AZ to Los Angeles, CA via Parker, AZ
It's about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 25, 2002, and I've just arrived at the Williams station of the Grand Canyon Railway to board the NRHS Convention Special train to Los Angeles, via the "rare mileage" route of the Peavine Line towards Phoenix, and the Arizona and California Railroad from Matthie to Cadiz, California.
After returning from the Grand Canyon trip on Thursday, I checked into the EconoLodge, where I got some needed rest. On Friday morning, I attended two slide presentations at the Williams Middle School. The first, by Al Richmond, the historian of the Grand Canyon Railway, featured a very interesting collection of slides on the history of the railroad. Al was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the presentation concluded with loud applause from the audience. The next slide show, though, was presented by someone who didn't know what his various slides on the Santa Fe Railroad represented except by looking at a reference sheet, and then just read off the name of the train, date and place for each slide. This presentation was poorly organized, shorter than advertised, and quite disappointing.
At the end of the slide shows, I went to the Safeway, where I purchased some food. I spent the afternoon in my room, doing some work. In the evening, I went over to the station, where an unadvertised photographers' special to the Grand Canyon, pulled by Santa Fe #3751, had just returned. This train would actually represent the first return of Santa Fe steam to the Grand Canyon in nearly 50 years, and the train consisted of the #3751 and five Grand Canyon Railway coaches, with no diesel helpers.
On Saturday morning, I walked down to the station to see the Convention Special to the Canyon depart. Due to the great demand for seats on this train (it was the only publicly available trip to the Grand Canyon with the #3751), an additional car from the Grand Canyon Railroad had been added to the normal consist. I also took a walk around town, but for the most part, I just relaxed in my room and did some reading. On Saturday evening, I spent several hours on the Internet, checking my mail, sending out a few messages, and making a reservation for the Days Inn in downtown Los Angeles, where I would spend Tuesday night. The nearest AOL local number was in Flagstaff, but the clerk at the desk assured me that I could dial into that number, and it would be considered a local call (for which there was no charge).
I got up about 5:40 a.m. this morning, giving me enough time to pack up all of my belongings. About 7:15 a.m., I checked out. I was thinking of taking the shuttle bus over to the station, but after waiting a few minutes, decided to walk instead, arriving there about 7:30 a.m. The train was already in the station, and a line had formed for boarding our car. I started talking to a few people in the line, including Chris Guenzler, who has written very extensive travelogues, which are posted at TrainWeb.com, along with mine. I've read a number of Chris' travelogues, and it was nice finally to meet him in person.
Boarding of the train commenced about 8:05 a.m. I was assigned to the coach El Capitan, an ex-Santa Fe car, which was used by Amtrak until 1994, and still is equipped with the red, blue and orange-striped Amtrak seats. It was assigned the Amtrak number 4705, and checking my computer records, I found that this car was on the Broadway Limited which I rode on May 17, 1993! (Interestingly, both on that train in 1993 and on today's train, this coach was the first passenger car on the train!) Since I was one of the first in line, I was able to secure a window seat at the rear of the car (although the window adjacent to my seat was made of Lexan and was slightly scratched). And although the car was quite full, I ended up having two seats to myself.
We departed on time at 8:30 a.m., but had to proceed ahead and then back up to get onto the main BNSF line. It turned out that the station track that we were on leads into the main line directly, but a long train carrying lengths of welded rail was occupying the west end of that siding, so we had to take the indirect route. We proceeded ahead at a good speed along the old Santa Fe main line (which is now the Phoenix Sub, since the main line relocation in 1961). After a little while, I walked back and spent some time hanging out of the vestibules. The most interesting highlight of this portion of the trip was a horseshoe curve into the side of a hill, built to permit the track to gain elevation at a more moderate grade. It reminded me of the similar Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad, west of Altoona, Pa.
At 9:35 a.m., we stopped for about five minutes at Ash Fork, where we switched engine pilots. Ash Fork is where we leave the original main line and proceed south on the original Phoenix Sub. The 18-mile stretch of the old main line from Ash Fork west to Crookton has been abandoned, and you could see where the old grade diverged from the existing track.
I now returned to my seat and started writing these memoirs. I remained there for the next hour or so, with the exception a brief stretch just west of Drake, when I moved to the vestibule to get a better view of the 650-foot-long bridge over Hell Canyon. The scenery now consisted of rolling hills with scrub vegetation. Soon, we began following a 1962 relocation of the Phoenix Sub, which shortened the distance from Ash Fork to Phoenix by 15 miles.
Listening to the radio communications between the #3751 steam engine and the Amtrak diesels, I learned that the steam engine did most of the pulling, with the diesels being instructed to idle during the uphill grades. However, on the downhill sections, the diesels were instructed to apply their dynamic brakes so as to keep the train at the maximum track speed. Although there were various spots where we climbed for a while, for the most part, the predominant grade from Williams to Parker is downhill. Indeed, the elevation at Williams is 6,748 feet, while Parker is only 458 feet above sea level. Thus, we had to descend over 6,000 feet in elevation to get from Williams to Parker. As a result, the steam engine did not have to work very hard for most of the trip, and there was relatively little black smoke to observe. One passenger commented to me that he wished the trip had been done in the reverse direction, so that we could experience #3751 pulling hard to get up the grades from Parker to Williams!
The scenery gradually got more interesting, with some rock cuts and higher mountains in the distance. At about 11:20 a.m., I walked back to the vestibule as we were approaching the tiny settlement of Skull Valley, which is where the new relocated Phoenix Sub joins the old line (which has been abandoned). (Interestingly, the mileposts here jump from 65 to 80, reflecting the 15-mile decrease in mileage as a result of the track relocation.) The small red-painted station at Skull Valley has been moved away from the tracks and now serves as the local museum. Just south of the station, we had our first (and only) meet of the day - with a long eastbound BNSF stack train. Now we began to parallel roads for a short distance - something we had not done for a while.
After passing the small community of Kirkland (which features the first grade crossing with flashing lights and gates that I've seen on this route), we again entered a remote, desolate area. I went back to the vestibule to observe our train go around a double horseshoe curve, clearly shown on the SPV Rail Atlas, which is needed to gain elevation. At the end of the curve - just east of the "station" of Grand View (marked by nothing more than a sign) - I noticed some railfans taking pictures of the train. One of them looked like Greg from Eugene, Oregon, whom I had met on Wednesday night's Southwest Chief on my way from Los Angeles to Williams. How they got there, I'm not sure!
I now returned to my seat, where lunch was being served. Everyone got a ham and cheese sandwich, which I declined. Instead, I took out a pouch of salmon that I had brought along, and ate it with a bagel and some crackers.
At this point, my computer's batteries died. There were two outlets along the side of my car, but I had declined the opportunity, earlier this morning, to exchange my seat with the people sitting next to one of the outlets (my seat had a better view), and at this point, they did not want me to plug the computer into the outlet adjacent to their seat. So I was forced to look elsewhere. I ended up plugging the computer into an outlet in the restroom of the Clinchfield car, a large portion of which was being used for storage.
At 1:09 p.m., we arrived at Matthie. This is a junction point with the Arizona and California Railroad, a spin-off from the Santa Fe, that we would be following to Parker, Arizona and then to Cadiz, California. The Arizona and California line was built by the Santa Fe as shortcut from Los Angeles to Phoenix and was completed as late as 1910! In 1991, it was spun off to a short-line company, but it still primarily serves as a connection for Santa Fe trains running between Los Angeles and Phoenix. We will be covering the entire Arizona and California line, except for a branch line that goes south from Rice to Ripley, California.
After stopping for a few minutes just before the wye, we proceeded very slowly (at a "walking pace") across the leg of the wye leading to the Arizona and California Railroad. Apparently, this leg of the wye not only is on a very sharp curve, but also is rarely used (since freight interchange between the Arizona and California takes place at a location further to the southeast). While rounding the bend, the HEP on the train went off (probably due to a poor connection of a cable).
One amusing sight was a pickup truck, obviously belonging to a railfan, that had gotten stuck in the sand near the junction. The driver was attempting to pull it out of the sand with a piece of rope! We never found out whether or not he succeeded, as we soon moved ahead around the wye.
We finally cleared the wye onto the Arizona and California trackage at 1:30 p.m. Now the train could be serviced, and the HEP problem fixed. However, passengers were not permitted to detrain during this service stop. Our stop lasted until 2:11 p.m., when we began moving again. We were now about 25 minutes behind schedule, but this hardly made any difference.
We quickly attained a speed of 49 miles an hour, which was the maximum allowable speed for this line. At one point, I heard one crew member comment that his speedometer indicated that we were actually going 52 miles an hour, and he wondered whether the engine's speedometer was properly calibrated!
The scenery now began to change, with the rolling terrain we had traversed up to now replaced by a flat valley, some of which was being farmed. After we passed through the town of Aguila, mountain ranges appeared on either side of our valley - the Harcuvar Mountains to the north, and the Harquahala Mountains to our south. I also noticed a few industrial sidings along the line - something we hadn't seen since we left the old main line at Ash Fork.
At 3:23 p.m., at the small village of Wenden (milepost 44), we stopped for a photo runby. Passengers were let off onto the dirt strip along the right-of-way, and there were two runbys by the train. The runbys were rather poorly organized, with informal lines forming at various locations. A number of local children also came by, and I explained to them the significance of our train. After the second runby, we all reboarded the train, and we departed at 4:00 p.m. An announcement was then made that there will be another photo runby at milepost 100, just before Parker, but that there will not be any runbys tomorrow.
West of Wenden, the scenery again changed. We now proceeded through a very hilly area. I went back to the vestibule to observe us go through a deep rock cut as we made a sharp curve to the northwest. It was particularly interesting to observe the line of "chasers" standing above, at the edge of the rock cut, as we passed through! The terrain then flattened out, and we began to parallel a highway again. It was fascinating to see how the traffic proceeded at exactly the same pace as our train, with most of the cars on the road belonging to the "chasers." The rest of the traffic passed these cars to the left!
After another stretch with nothing but sagebrush for vegetation, we entered the Colorado River Indian Reservation, and then we stopped at 5:27 p.m. at milepost 100 for another photo runby. This one was really great! The location chosen had a hill that overlooked a broad curve in the line, and most people formed a long photo line on the hill. There were three runbys, with the engine backing up a longer distance for the first two. The site chosen was infinitely superior to that used for the first runby, and when the train came to a halt after the final runby, the passengers erupted into a round of applause!
At 6:12 p.m., we proceeded ahead for the five remaining miles to Parker, where we arrived at 6:28 p.m. - two minutes early! Parker features an attractive frame station, which is now the headquarters of the Arizona and California Railroad. Adjacent to our train was parked an engine of the railroad, in its attractive green, yellow and cream paint scheme, and a private car of the railroad - in the same colors - was on a siding next to the station.
We all boarded waiting buses that transported us to the Blue Water Resort, a large complex owned by the Indian Reservation, with gambling as its centerpiece. Indeed, the entire hotel "lobby" was filled with slot machines! It was even worse than Las Vegas (as I recall Las Vegas from my one visit there in 1993). I went to my room, which actually was quite attractive and faced a marina on a lake, with mountains in the background.
After settling in to my room, I went downstairs for the buffet dinner (which was included in the price of the trip). I sat down next to Bruce Scott, a young man who grew up in Flagstaff and now lives in Tucson. Bruce had always dreamed of riding the Arizona and California line, and now he was fulfilling his dream. He rode in the dome car (although he was one of those who had to ride backwards!). But Bruce was also a hiker, and we spent most of the time talking about his many hikes to the bottom of the Canyon. Bruce mentioned that he has hiked just about every trail in the Canyon (although he has not hiked the Clear Creek Trail, which I have done), and he particularly recommended an obscure trail leading to the bottom of the Canyon from the North Rim. Interestingly, Bruce mentioned to me that when he took the convention excursion train to the Canyon yesterday, he was so busy taking pictures of the various engines at the Canyon that he didn't even bother going to the rim!
After dinner, I returned to my room. While the price of the trip also included lodging, there was a $40 supplement for a single room, which I decided not to pay, figuring that it would not be unpleasant to share a room for one night with a fellow railfan. My roommate turned out to be Alan Borer from Queens, New York, who was a hiker as well as a railfan. He told me that, during his stay in Williams, he had climbed Bill Williams Mountain, just to the south of town. I had thought about doing that, but didn't know whether there was a hiking trail up the mountain. I checked my messages on AOL (having to use the 800 number, since Parker does not rate its own AOL local number), sent out my weekly Hike of the Week to The Record, and went to sleep about 10:30 p.m.
The next morning, we woke up about 5:45 a.m. After taking a shower, I went downstairs for breakfast. I then returned to our room, packed up my belongings, and boarded the shuttle bus to take us back to the train. We arrived at the Parker station at 7:15 a.m. and, after taking a few pictures of the colorful Arizona and California equipment and of the #3751, I got on line to await the boarding of our train. In the meantime, I noticed that the Amtrak conductor assigned to our train was taking pictures of the train with a disposable camera. He told me that he normally works the Pacific Surfliner route between Los Angeles and San Diego, but was thrilled to be assigned today to this steam train run!
Boarding of the train began at 8:00 a.m. This time, I took a seat on the left side, in the middle of the car, adjacent to an electric plug. The view was partially blocked by a partition between the windows, but the window adjacent to my seat was made of glass, rather than Lexan. Again, I ended up having two seats to myself.
At 8:20 a.m., we pulled forward a short distance, and we left Parker just one minute late at 8:31 a.m. Just a few minutes later, we came to a halt so that the cylinder cocks on the steam engine, which did not close properly, could be manually closed. We then proceeded ahead across the four-span truss bridge over the Colorado River, which I observed from the open dutch door in the vestibule. Then I returned to my seat for our trip through the desolate desert of Southern California. Again, we were proceeding through a flat desert, with sagebrush the only vegetation, and mountains on each side of the line in the distance. We had to slow down to 10 miles an hour to cross a bridge over a wash, but then resumed our normal speed. At one point, I heard the crew of #3751 tell the crew of Amtrak engine #4 to "regulate our speed at 25," which appears to be the speed for much of the line from Parker to Cadiz, where we rejoin the BNSF main line.
For a while, the tracks were paralleled only by a narrow dirt road, but after a while, we began to parallel State Route 62, a paved road. As might be expected, a steady flow of railfan photographers paralleled us along the road. We also began to parallel the California Aqueduct, on the right side of the tracks.
I was getting a little hungry, so I took out some cream cheese and crackers and obtained a cup of tea from the Royal Gorge lounge car. Soon, we passed through Rice, whose "station" consists of a small shack, with broken windows. This is the site of a wye marking the junction with a branch line that leads south to Blythe and Ripley. Soon afterwards, we left our paved road, and entered a stretch of particularly bleak desert, stretching for miles in all directions. At one point, we passed a large number of broken wooden platforms adjacent to the tracks, strewn over the landscape and partially buried in the sand. Later, at Milligan, adjacent to the former Danby Lake, we passed an abandoned plant that had apparently once been used to extract salt from the lake.
Listening to the scanner, I heard a communication from the Arizona and California 4001 (apparently, a four-wheel-drive maintenance vehicle), commenting that if anyone hears of railfan vehicles getting stuck in the sand, they could pull them out, and stating that they've already pulled a few such vehicles out of the sand! (Indeed, a little further along the line, I saw a car stuck in the sand on a primitive road that paralleled the tracks. Another vehicle came along, and its occupants managed to push the stalled car ahead so that it could resume its journey.)
We arrived at Cadiz, the western end of the Arizona and California Railroad, at 12:18 p.m. At this point, we join the BNSF main line for the remainder of our journey to Los Angeles. Cadiz is a scheduled service stop, at which passengers are not permitted to detrain. But it was now time to eat lunch. The car hosts again distributed ham-and-cheese sandwiches, which I again declined. This time, I decided to take a more innovative approach to lunch. I went to the lounge car and purchased two cups of tea (with the tea bag separate from the hot water), and I used the hot water to prepare two cup meals that I had purchased in Los Angeles - a cup of chicken soup, and a cup of macaroni and cheese.
The servicing of the train was accomplished on the Arizona and California line, just south of the wye. To our left, a freight train with four Santa Fe and BNSF engines was apparently waiting for us to depart. On the scanner, I heard the train being referred to as the Cadiz local (why it had BNSF, rather than Arizona and California power, I don't know). The servicing of the train took about half an hour, and at 12:47 p.m., we moved ahead onto the wye connecting to the BNSF main line and then onto a siding.
We soon received permission to pull onto main track #2 (the eastbound track), but we ended up sitting on that track for about 15 minutes, awaiting the passage of a westbound freight train on main track #1. That train came by at 1:21 p.m., but we still had to wait until the dispatcher confirmed that we had an absolute block between Cadiz and Bagdad (a station to the west). Not until 1:32 p.m. did we pull onto the westbound main track #1 at West Cadiz (milepost 649) and resume our westbound journey. We had been scheduled to depart from Cadiz at 12:30 p.m., so we are over an hour late. It looks like we will probably not be arriving in Los Angeles on time at 6:30 p.m., but I'm not particularly concerned, as I have reserved a room for tonight at the Days Inn, adjacent to Union Station.
Soon afterwards, I walked down to the Royal Gorge lounge car, where I spent about an hour talking to Bob Douglas, of Wyckoff, N.J. Bob told me about his recent cross-country trip on Amtrak, which included the Maple Leaf, the International, the Empire Builder, the Coast Starlight, the Southwest Chief and the Cardinal. It was very enjoyable to sit in this luxurious car, with its large windows providing broad views on both sides of the tracks. We were now proceeding ahead at track speed. At one point, I heard the crew of the steam engine tell the crew of the Amtrak engine that they should provide enough power to maintain a speed of 70! And when we passed through Pisgah, we were switched from Track #1 to Track #2 at 50 miles an hour.
We were permitted to keep the dutch doors in the vestibules open during our travel on the Santa Fe main line, but the doors facing live tracks had to be closed. The scenery was not all that much different from that which we had experienced on the California and Arizona this morning, but there were several rock cuts that added some interest. At one point, we observed a small yellow plane flying low to take videos of our train!
When we proceeded through Minneola (unlike the one on Long Island, this one is spelled with two "n"s!), about 20 miles east of Barstow, train communications were shifted from Channel 55 to Channel 65. Soon afterwards, a defect detector confirmed that we had no defects, announcing the temperature outside as 95 degrees (at Cadiz, it was 98!). I noticed that, as we proceeded along, we passed quite a few westbound freight trains. I assumed that this was due to BNSF's desire to give us priority, but Chris Guenzler commented that it might be due to a lack of capacity of the Barstow yard to handle all these trains at once.
At 3:12 p.m., we passed through the small community of Daggett. Here, the Union Pacific line from Las Vegas joins our route. Unfortunately, I've never traveled this line from here north to Las Vegas (although I did ride the line from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City on the Desert Wind in 1993), but I hope that passenger service will soon be reinstated on this line, thus giving me the opportunity to travel on it. We then passed the United States Marine Supply Depot in Nebo, a very large facility on the south side of the tracks, with its own small yellow switching engine. Next, we crossed over to the westbound Track #2 (this crossover was taken at a much slower speed!) and proceeded ahead towards Barstow - the largest city that we've come to, so far on this trip!
We soon entered the large Barstow yards and proceeded through at a restricted speed to the Barstow station, where we came to a stop at 3:31 p.m. Although I've passed through this station several times (most recently, this past Wednesday night), this is the first time that I've been here during daylight hours. As we pulled into the station, I noticed the remnants of five additional tracks and platforms that formerly served this station. Only one of those tracks remains in service, and that one seems to be used very rarely, if ever.
Barstow would be the first (and only) place on this trip where passengers would be permitted to step off the train. After the engine was inspected and found to be in good condition, we were all allowed to detrain.
This would be quite an event for the City of Barstow, whose local residents turned out en masse to greet our train. To water the steam engine, the local fire department had procured a 1902 steam-powered fire engine, designed to be pulled by horses, and heated with a wood fire! It was a most unusual experience to see this museum piece, shined to perfection, being actually used to pump water into the tender. I had Brian Scott take my picture in front of the engine, and then used the remaining time to explore the extensive station complex, including the former Harvey House, the Casa del Desierto. The Casa del Desierto is actually much larger than the station itself, which at present consists of a relatively modest-size waiting room, used by both Amtrak and Greyhound passengers. A departure board indicates that there are eight daily Greyhound departures to Los Angeles, with service also provided to other destinations. (By contrast, Amtrak has only one train a day, and it comes through at very inconvenient hours.) There is a Greyhound agent at the station, but no Amtrak tickets are sold here.
I then walked around to the front of the complex, which features a smaller building that has now been converted to a Route 66 Museum. Although the focus of the museum was Route 66 as an automobile route, it also contained several pictures of the station complex. By talking to the people in charge of the museum, I found out that the museum building was formerly used to house railroad section workers, with the Harvey Girls being housed in an adjacent building that has since been demolished. I was also informed that the restoration of the Casa del Desierto has been nearly completed, but that the ultimate use of this space had not yet been determined. One possibility, I was told, was for it to be leased to the National Park Service. I then walked around and looked into the restored building, which now contains several large open public spaces on the first floor, with large expanses of glass facing the tracks.
It was now almost 4:00 p.m., and we had been informed that we would be spending from 30 to 45 minutes at Barstow. I had been off the train for about half an hour, so I walked back and found that the watering of the train was almost complete, and nearly all passengers had already reboarded. We pulled out of the station at 4:09 p.m., with one passenger boarding my car only a few seconds before we departed.
We now proceeded west, past the huge Barstow yards and engine maintenance facility. Chris Guenzler explained to me that these facilities were constructed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1974, after passenger service to Bakersfield and Oakland via the Tehachapi Pass had been abandoned. Originally, the line to Bakersfield via Tehachapi Pass proceeded directly west from the station, but once the new yard was built, a connecting track was constructed that proceeded north from the west end of the yard to connect with the Tehachapi line about four miles west of the station.
We proceeded just past the new wye connection to the Tehachapi line and then came to a stop, at 4:25 p.m., precisely at milepost 4 of the Cajon Subdivision (the Los Angeles line). The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but at about 4:50 p.m., in response to an inquiry by the crew of our train, we were informed by the dispatcher that we were waiting for a maintenance "window" that had just opened, that there were four trains ahead of us at Hodge (about milepost 10), and that we were number five in line. (It reminded me of announcements made by the captain of an airplane that we are number five in line for takeoff!) Then, at 4:56 p.m., we were passed on the left by a BNSF stack train, which soon itself came to a halt.
Finally, at 5:14 p.m., we got a yellow-over-green signal, which permitted us to move ahead. We had been scheduled to leave Barstow at 3:00 p.m., so we are over two hours late. Last Wednesday night, it took us about four hours to get from Los Angeles to Barstow, so I would now estimate our arrival at no earlier than 9:00 p.m. - and that assumes that we will incur no further delays. I'm glad that I did not rely on our train arriving in Los Angeles at the scheduled time of 6:30 p.m.!
Soon, Ervin, the Convention Chairman, came through the cars. He informed us that a piece of BNSF maintenance equipment had broken down, causing the delays that affected our train, along with four others. He estimated that we would not be arriving in Los Angeles until 9:30 p.m., and asked if anyone who had not sent his luggage ahead by truck would be interested in detraining at San Bernardino. Hardly anyone responded in the affirmative, although some passengers asked whether a stop could be arranged in Fullerton.
At milepost 28.5, just west of the small community of Oro Grande, I heard a defect detector report that "you have a defect." The defect was stated to be a hot journal on the left side, axle 6. Much to my surprise, the crew just ignored the report, just stating "highball"! The sixth axle of the train was the rear driving wheel of the engine, and presumably the crew realized that steam engines can generate false reports to defect detectors and therefore felt it safe to ignore the report. Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised that the crew chose just to ignore the report and proceed ahead. Soon, the same thing happened twice again - at mileposts 48.6 and 64.7. In one case, there was a defect reported on both the left and right sides of axle 6; in the other case, the defect was reported to be on the right side of axle 5. And the detector at milepost 64.7 reported that we had only 85 axles (the correct number is 86). In each case, the crew ignored the report and kept on going.
At 5:57 p.m., we passed through the town of Victorville, a scheduled Amtrak stop. I had slept through this stop on our eastbound trip on the Southwest Chief, and I now discovered that I hadn't missed very much. Chris Guenzler pointed out to me how the town had recently constructed an attractive intermodal transportation center adjacent to the tracks. But Amtrak doesn't use this facility; rather, its passengers are relegated to an Amshack located in the next block to the west. Given the small size of this community and the inconvenient arrival times of Amtrak's Southwest Chief, it is reasonable to assume that very few people use this station.
Leaving Victorville, we passed some very interesting rock formations on the left side of the tracks. We then went under a flyover, constructed in the days before directional running had been replaced by CTC, which was designed to shift trains to left-hand running over Cajon Pass to take advantage of easier grades. We were running, though, on what would normally be considered the eastbound track, so we would not be taking advantage of this crossover.
People were getting hungry, and while some snacks were distributed by the car attendants, they were rather minimal in nature. I was grateful that I had brought some of my own food along, giving me the opportunity to eat something more resembling a real meal. So I took out a can of sardines in hot tabasco sauce and ate it with some crackers, finishing it with a container of applesauce.
We were now approaching Cajon Pass - the most scenic part of our entire trip. I had ridden over this pass several times on the Southwest Chief - most recently, this past Wednesday night - but this would be the first time that I would have the opportunity to see it in daylight. Although we were running several hours late, and the glare from the sun would interfere with pictures at various angles, it was still light out. As might be expected, the vestibules were quite full with other railfans, but I decided to move back to the Royal Gorge car, whose lower seats and panoramic windows would provide me with a broader view.
For most of the way through the pass, there are three parallel tracks - two separate tracks for the Santa Fe line, and another track to the north of those two, constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1960s as part of its Palmdale Cut-Off, which permitted freight trains to bypass the line via Lancaster (now the route of Metrolink trains). Interestingly, although the lines directly parallel each other for many miles, there is no physical connection between the two Santa Fe tracks and the Southern Pacific line. We were routed onto the North Track, which features two short tunnels. Also paralleling our route was Interstate Route 15. While I would have liked to have been able to hang out of the vestibules and get a better view, I did very much enjoy our traverse of Cajon Pass, and I was often able to see the front of engine as we went around the numerous curves.
After Cajon Pass, I returned to my seat and finished my dinner. We soon arrived at the San Bernardino station, where we came to a stop at 7:12 p.m. About a dozen passengers detrained here, including several who hoped to catch a 7:20 p.m. Metrolink train to Los Angeles, which would be arriving in Los Angeles before us (it follows a more direct route via Pomona). We ended up spending ten minutes here, largely because a relief crew had to replace the Amtrak crew that was running with us all day, and whose hours of service would expire before we arrived in Los Angeles. When we departed at 7:22 p.m., we passed a huge crowd of people who had come to cheer us on. This was by far the biggest crowd we had encountered during the entire trip, and it can probably be explained by the fact that San Bernardino is the home of engine #3751, which sat unused in a local park for many years before local citizens restored it.
It was now getting dark, but that didn't bother me, as the rest of the trip proceeded along a route used by Metrolink, which I could ride whenever I wanted to. It was announced that the vestibules would be closed for the remainder of the trip, as there were often tracks on both sides of us, and we would try to run at the maximum speed possible all the way to Los Angeles. To improve the viewing out of the windows, the lights in our car were turned off. I spent most of this time working on my computer, but for part of the time, I turned off the computer and just looked out the window.
I started talking to another railfan in our car, John Caballo. He was also writing a travelogue of the trip, but doing it in a totally different manner - dictating into a portable machine. He mentioned that his travelogue would focus on the sights along the way, including the plant life, and that he would be combining a number of trips into a composite travelogue. I gave John my e-mail address and told him that I would be very interested in seeing his travelogue and comparing his style to mine.
As we passed the site of a recent Metrolink collision at Atwood, along Orangethorpe Boulevard, Chris Guenzler pointed out the location of the crash to us. He also pointed out that Steve Grande of TrainWeb.com happened to be driving by at the time and saw the collision take place before his very eyes!
At 8:30 p.m., we passed by the Fullerton station at track speed, without stopping. There was a large crowd here to welcome the train, but it was not nearly as large as the crowd at San Bernardino.
In the meantime, we continued our streak of positive hotbox readings. At milepost 6.0, just west of San Bernardino, the defect detector announced a defect on the right side, axle 6. Next, the defect detector at milepost 32.0 indicated that we had a hotbox on the left side, axle 3. In each of these two cases, the report was ignored, as had been the practice in the three prior instances. But at milepost 157.4, just north of Santa Fe Springs, the detector announced defects in axles 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the left side. This time, the announcement was accompanied with the warning "excessive alarm" - apparently, because there appeared to be four hotboxes on our train. Although these alleged hotboxes were all on the driving wheels of the steam engine, this time - because of the "excessive alarm" warning - it was decided to stop the train at 8:45 p.m. just north of the Los Nietos crossing and inspect the entire train. As might be expected, no defects were found, and we proceeded ahead at 8:59 p.m., having lost about 15 minutes due to this episode. One wonders how much more we would have been delayed had we also stopped the train the previous five times when defect detectors gave false positive readings! Chris Guenzler commented that this was the last detector prior to our arrival at Los Angeles Union Station, so we should not again be subjected to such a delay.
As we crossed the Redondo Junction flyover, the dispatcher informed us that we would be arriving on Track 12, and that due to the presence of many spectators, we should "whistle freely" between CP San Diego Jct. and CP Terminal. However, the engine crew requested that we arrive on a different track, so that passengers could detrain from the left side of the train, and our arrival track was accordingly switched to Track 11. It was pointed out (by the passengers in our car) that the #3751's permanent home is at the location of the former Redondo Jct. roundhouse, which has now been demolished (although the tracks remain).
We finally came to our final stop on Track 11 of Los Angeles Union Station at 9:27 p.m., nearly three hours after our scheduled arrival time. I detrained and walked to the front of the platform to take one last look at our magnificent steam engine #3751, which seemed quite at home resting in the terminal where it saw so many years of service. Then I walked downstairs, proceeded through the station, and retrieved my suitcase, which had been transported by truck from Parker and was available for pick-up just north of the main station entrance. Next, I walked the one block to the Days Inn, where I would be staying for the night. For obvious reasons, over two dozen people who had ridden our special train chose to stay at this very conveniently located motel, and there was only one clerk on duty, so I had to wait about 20 minutes to check in.
Our rare-mileage trip from Williams to Los Angeles had come to an end. It was very well run, and fulfilled all of my expectations. In addition to covering some rare mileage behind a steam engine, I had the opportunity to meet some new friends and to visit the Grand Canyon once more. I'm very glad that I decided to come out to the West Coast to experience this special train ride.
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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