First 2007 Travelogue of Steve Grande
Fullerton, California to La Plata, Missouri Round-Trip
HELP! I'm trapped in my Deluxe Bedroom! The door won't slide open!
Actually not. But I was trapped in my Amtrak Sleeping Car Deluxe Bedroom on a prior trip. I slid the door open about 3 inches, and it wouln'd budge beyond that. I had never experienced anything like that in my 10 years of riding Amtrak. Trying to slide it harder yieled a little, but the sliding motion was uneven and squishy. The top part of the door seemed to have more freedom of movement than the bottom. I was baffled as to what could be stopping the door from sliding into the wall. I thought that nothing could fall inside the wall to block the door since it appeared to be a sealed slideway.
So, I started to investigate. The problem became clear quite quickly one I opened up the closet door. It all goes back to the days when Porters would shine the shoes of passengers while they slept on the train. When the first Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Cars were designed, now called Amtrak Superliner I Sleeping Cars, I guess someone had the vision that we'd go back to the days of old and Car Attendants would shine the shoes of passengers while they slept. Dream on! That isn't going to happen in the modern times of self-service gas pumps and ATM machines!
But anyway, the designers did create a little door inside the bottom of each closet in the Deluxe Sleeping Rooms that lead out into the aisle so the Car Attendant could pull out your shoes at night, shine them, and put them back into your closet while you slept in your locked room. In an original Superliner I Sleeping Car that has never been refurbished, you can see these little doors right next to each door to each Deluxe Room near the bottom of the wall as you walk down the aisle.
Since everyone knows that this shoe door is never going to be used for this service, the entire aisle wall has been paneled over hiding the door from the aisle whenever a Superliner I has been refurbished. Thus, the doors can no longer be seen from the aisle and there is no access to the bottom of your closet from outside the Deluxe Bedroom anymore.
However, inside the closet the little shoe door still exists. It doesn't lead to anywhere, but there is still an opening. If you reach into this opening, you will see that it is blocked by the back of the paneling that is on the wall of the aisle. When you slide open the door to the Deluxe Bedroom, the door actually slips into the wall that is between the aisle and your closet. Reach into the shoe door inside your closet and you will now feel the back of the sliding door instead of the back of the aisle paneling.
If you place anything in the bottom of your closet and it ends up protruding into the shoe door, guess what happens when you try to open the sliding door to your room? That's right! It gets stuck when it hits the item that is protruding into the shoe door and it won't slide open.
The closet in the Deluxe Bedroom is very narrow, so it is very easy for items to end up protruding into the shoe door if you start stacking anything in the bottom of the closet such as shoes, pocket book, computer bag, etc. If you try real hard to slide your Deluxe Bedroom door open while it is stuck, you will probably damage whichever of your belongings is protruding into the shoe door. Just take those items out of the closet and the sliding door will open just fine!
Knowning the above, I did not get stuck in my room this time like I did last time. I just opened the closet and moved my shoe out of the way that had fallen into the shoe door. The sliding door opened just fine after that. When Amtrak designed the Superliner II Sleeping Cars, I am pretty sure they did not include the shoe door feature. So, you probably won't find this door nor have this problem in Amtrak Superliner II Deluxe Bedrooms. This problem does still exist in even the most recently refurbished Amtrak Superliner I Sleeping Cars. I am currently in the Deluxe Bedroom in one of the cars that was remodeled in 2005 or 2006 which has all the rich wood paneling and the improved sink design.
While I'm on that topic, let me compliment Amtrak on the sink redesign. The old sink design took the phrase "one hand washes the other" too literally. The only way to get the faucet to pour water with the old sink was to hold down the lever with one hand. Thus, you had to hold down either the hot or the cold lever (pick just one) with one hand while you put the other one under the running water (either hot or cold, but not both). Then you could switch hands and let the other take its turn pushing the faucet lever and placing the other one under the running water. You could then rub your hands together, but there is no free hand to push the faucet to run them under water while you rub them together. I usually picked the cold water as I didn't want to scortch myself under a stream of hot water only. And that was just the beginning of the description of the sink problems! Usually the water was under tremendous pressure that would challenge the power of any fire hose! Combining the tremendous pressure with the shallow sink bowl, you could easily end up with a full body shower when all you wanted to do was wash your hands!
After washing your hands, you'd usually have to wipe down the mirror and the sink area which was now soaked with water from the back splash of the high pressure water bouncing out of the shallow sink. If you had placed any of your items on the sink, they'd probably end up pretty wet too. There was at least one side benefit, however: You'd have your eye glasses washed without even trying! You just needed to dry them off after you were done washing your hands and they'd be nice and clean from all the water that splashed on them!
The refurbished sink in the Superliner I Cars have a very deep bowl which has ended the problem of the splash back. They have a long gooseneck spigot similar to what you will find in a bar in your home or a hotel. The combination of the long gooseneck faucet and deep bowl seems to have completely solved the splash back problem. The faucets are now on timers. When you push the hot, or the cold, or both, they will run for a few seconds and then automatically stop. Thus, you can now run both simultaneously and put both hands under the stream of warm water for a good washing. No more taking turns one hand at a time and one temperature at a time! I have to really compliment Amtrak on this design upgrade.
For those of you that like to make sure the correct current terminology is used, I am probably driving you crazy as I continue to use the term "Deluxe Bedroom". Amtrak changes what it calls its sleeping units so often that I can't keep up. My travelogues remain posted for years and years, and Amtrak keeps changing what they call things. Today in 2007, Amtrak just labels the "Deluxe Bedroom" a "Bedroom" without the word "Deluxe" in front. Some of the names that are sometimes used for this room are "Deluxe Room" and "Deluxe Sleeper." In all of Amtrak's new literature, they seem to refer to this now just as a "Bedroom." When I first started riding Amtrak, they called the smaller sleeping room the "Economy Bedroom." To this day, I still think this conveyed the most accurate image of what you will find when you get to your room. For a while they change the name to "Standard Bedroom." I think Amtrak must have realized this was a big mistake. Anyone riding Amtrak for the first time would immediately realize that this tiny room about the size of 3 phone booths wasn't like any "standard bedroom" that they were familiar with! So, Amtrak changed the name again to "Roomette." At least the word "roomette" does convey the idea of something smaller than a "standard room." I still like the term "Economy Bedroom" best as knowbody is surprised to find out you've given up a lot for the lower price.
This is where I attempted to start to write a travelogue for this trip:
TUE JAN 16 2007 8:06 PM PT
Shall I write a travelogue or shall I not write a travelogue? Well, this is a start and we'll see how far I get.
The train departed Fullerton, California, at least 32 minutes late at 7:52 PM. Why couldn't the train be this late the day that my wife and I were heading out of Fullerton to La Plata? That night, the train departed exactly on time so that we missed it by less than 5 minutes! Click here if you'd like to read that travelogue.)
My wife and I had dinner at Romano Cuccina in Downtown Fullerotn. We've really come to love Downtown Fullerton and usually stop by to eat here at lest a couple of nights each week, if not more often. Everything is within walking distance of the Amtrak/Metrolink Station.
This is weird! We are moving at a very good clip, but we are passing a Metrolink train in slow motion. We are moving past a Metrolink train at about 3 miles per hour. I can only assume that both our train and the Metrolink train are heading in the same direction on parallel tracks at almost the same spead. Actually, it turns out the Metrolink train was going about 3 miles per hour faster than our train. At first, it appreared that we were slowly passing a Metrolink train at 3 miles per hour. But then I realized that we are moving in the opposite direction of where we appeared to be going relative to the Metrolink train. The real story is that the Metrolink train was going in the same direction that we are traveling, but the Metrolink train was going about 3 MPH faster than our train. Thus, it appeared we were traveling past the Metrolink train backwards. Actually, both our train and the Metrolink train were heading east, but the Metrolink train was traveling 3 MPH faster than our train.
Peggy is my Sleeping Car Attendant. Shortly after I boarded the train and made myself at home in Room 8, she came by to make sure that everything was OK. Peggy told me that now was the time to head down to the dining car if I wanted dinner. I told her that wasn't a problem as I had just finished having dinner with my wife in Downtown Fullerton. Peggy asked what happened to the other person on my reservation, Ron Carpenter. I let her know that Ron was not able to make the trip. I am doing this trip with Amtrak Guest Rewards. There is no difference in how many points you need to redeem for one or two people, so I added his name to the ticket just in case he could come on this trip with me. But, alas, he was not able to make it.
From seeing how quickly I made myself at home on the train, Peggy could see that I was a veteran Amtrak traveler. She told me that she assumed this was not my first trip. I told her I was getting pretty close to one quarter million miles on Amtrak. The only item that I was concerned about was that there was no electrical power to the outlet. The lights worked OK, but my computer wasn't getting any power. I went to 3 other roomettes and found their outlets didn't work either, even though all the lights in the room were working. Peggy said that she would go downstairs and reset the circuits. I told her I would greatly appreciate that. As soon as Peggy went downstairs, the power came right up for my computer! That was a tremendous relief to me as I expected to spend much of my trip catching up on my computer work and I only had battery power for 12 hours.
I wanted to travel round-trip in a Deluxe Sleeping Room (now what Amtrak just calls a "bedroom"), but they were totally booked up for this trip. I'm using Amtrak Guest Rewards for this round-trip and the difference in points between a Roomette and a Bedroom is not that much. I think it is 15,000 points vs. 20,000 points each way. But, I needed to make this trip today and there weren't any available Bedrooms for today. However, I was able to book a Bedroom for the return trip and will enjoy that on my way back.
FRI JAN 19 2007 10:15 PM CT
The Amtrak train arrived into La Plata about 2 hours late. The eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief usually does come into La Plata pretty close to schedule, even though it has travelled 2/3rds of the way across the nation. Meanwhile, the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief is often late even though it is only 5 hours out of Chicago! There seems to often be difficulty getting the train out of Chicago on time, and then there is a lot of rail traffic and bridge traffic that the train has to content with between Chicago and La Plata. There are a number of factors that get the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief off to a late start. However, there is quite a bit of padding in the schedule after La Plata and the train can often make up 2 hours or more by the time it gets to California.
I think the Engineer was really trying to make up some of that lost time as fast as he could. The train was moving very fast after departing from La Plata, so fast that the ride was one of the roughest that I remember on Amtrak. Not having had any wine all day, I purchased a split of wine in the Cafe Car and brought it back to my room. While I was enjoying my second glass of wine, it suddenly flipped in the cup holder and spilled all over the table! I have to admit that my room was in complete darkness and maybe I had put the cup down on the rim of the 1/4" deep cup holder instead of setting it securely within the circle. I can't say for sure since it was dark. But that was one of the few times that a drink has ever seemed to spill just from the motion of the train. I lost a whole glass of wine with that bump. But, I won't put the blame on the rocking of the train since I'm really not sure I had placed it securely withing the cup holder circle.
There were some problems with the Sleeping Car that I was riding in from Fullerton to La Plata. One of the Deluxe Bedrooms, Room C, was "bad ordered" and I guess there were other problems. After I got off the train in La Plata, it continued on to Chicago where it would arrive about 5 hours later. The onboard service crew and the trainset remain overnight in Chicago. The trainset gets serviced while it is in Chicago. Then, the same trainset and onboard service crew get back on the train and head back to California. If one only stays for one night in La Plata, you will usually have the same onboard service crew and trainset that you came in on from the west. I even had a room booked in the same care which meant I'd have Peggy as my Sleeping Car Attendant both ways. But, it turns out that the Sleeping Car that I boarded was one of the newly refurbished Superliner I Sleeping Cars instead of the older one that I rode out on. Peggy told me she had the entire car all set up, and then the service people decided to swap it out! That is one of the reasons the trainset left Chicago so late and why Peggy didn't have everything completely ready when the train reached La Plata. Everything was almost ready, but there were a few last details left since she had to start all over again setting this car up once they swapped it out. I felt sorry for Peggy, but I did not feel sorry that I'd be riding in a newly refurbished Superliner I Sleeping Car!
"No No Nanette" was the Cafe Car Attendent. She makes dynamite Bloody Marys and I made sure I had at least one on my trip out and another on my trip back. "No No Nanette" has to do with a trivia contest that she used to run when she was the Lounge Attendant in the Pacific Parlour Car on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. The trivia question was something like: "Babe Ruth was traded from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees to raise money for the Red Sox owner to finance a Broadway Production. What was the name of that Broadway Production. The answer was "No No Nanette," just like the Attendant's name, "Nanette." And as we all know, that was the start of "The Curse of the Bambino" where the Red Sox didn't win a world series for decades until just a few years ago.
During the night, the left panel under the sink was rattling like crazy. This panel does not open without a key. It appears it is probably a service panel for the plumbing of the sink and the toilet. The right panel has a handle and opens. That is where there is a trash can for the passengers in this room. I always keep a stack of business cards with me. I picked a number of cards from the stack and shoved them between the left panel door and the panel door frame. I then inserted a few more to make sure there was a tight fit. The door now had no more room to rattle and it was quiet for the rest of the night! Bringing something along with you such as a stack of business cards where you can vary the thickness is always useful on train trips. You will often find something that rattles that can be easily stopped by inserting just the write number of business cards. Other people have found rubber wedges at hardware stores that also work quite nicely at stopping rattling doors, beds, chairs, and anything else that might rattle in your room.
SAT JAN 20 2007 11:00 AM MT
Did you know that every Amtrak Deluxe Bedroom comes with a built in nut cracker? I know you experienced Amtrak riders will say I'm crazy, but it really does! Just put some nuts on the top of the closet and then lower the upper bunk. With no effort at all it will crack open those nuts! It also does a good job of cracking clock radios, eyeglasses, and anything else you care to put on top of the closet. Nope, that didn't happen to me on this trip either. I'm careful now. But I did ruin a pretty nice radio on a trip quite some time ago. Thankfully it wasn't my eye glasses! So, be sure to remove everything from the top of the closet before you pull down the upper bunk. Also do this before you call the Sleeping Car Attendant into your room to put down or make up your bed. Don't think you are safe just because you don't plan to use the upper bunk. The mattress for the lower bed is stored up there during the day and the Car Attendant will pull down the upper bunk even if they are only setting up the lower bed. Car Attendants should know to check the top of the closet before lowering the bunk down, but don't take a chance.
Everything is covered with snow on my return trip west just like it was on my trip going east, only I think the snow is even deeper now. I haven't seen any dry ground since I left Missouri. Actually, I haven't seen any ground that was not covered with snow since I left California! There was one area in Colorado where if I didn't know better, I'd swear we were traveling along a snow covered beach! The land slowly sank away from the railroad tracks in a gradual hill that looked exactly like a sandy beach that was covered in snow. A few yards away, that eended in what looked like a frozen lake that vanished off into the distance as far as I could see in every direction. I know that was just an illusion as there aren't any lakes along this part of the railway, especially one that huge!
In all my ten years of riding Amtrak, I have never been on such a long trip where everything was covered in snow during all of my daylight hours for the entire trip! This certainly is a winter wonderland trip!
We just passed a closed down Pizza Hut in Trinidad, Colorado. I wonder if it is just closed for the season or closed forever? It is sad to see it go. I'm not much of a Pizza Hut fan and I really do like the unique local restaurants that I find in each place throughout the nation. But there is something that reminds us that we are never that far away from home or our culture when we see the signs of familiar brands anywhere in the world. I like the mix of unique and familiar that can be found most anywhere.
When you are on the train, you will find a lot of hand rails and hand holds. As you cross from car to car, there are hand holds on both sides of the doors of both passenger cars. You will find hand holds in most of the toilets and shower rooms on the train. There are hand holds on both sides of the door when you board the train. All of these are in place so that you can keep yourself stable as you walk through the train. Sometimes a crew member will suggest that you grab the backs of seats in the coach car as you walk through the car and use the backs of seats in the Dining Car as you walk through the Dining Car. They also will often suggest that you keep you feet spread a little wider apart than usual when walking through thet train and try to keep one foot ahead of the other rather than side by side. All these measures will help to keep you stable on your feet as you walk through the moving train. Generally, there it isn't hard to walk through the moving train, but even small lurches of the car can through you off balance if you aren't prepared for them.
Every stairway has handrails on both sides, except for one, curioiusly. The stairway in the Sightseer Lounge / Cafe Car has a handrail on only one side. It always seems to be on the wrong side for me! Whenever I head up the stairs, I am carrying something in my hand that is on the side with the handrail while my other hand is totally empty but has nothing to grab on to! By the time I head up the stairs, it is too late to switch hands. I'd probably be in more danger of falling or dropping something if I tried to switch hands while part way up the stairs. I'm not sure why there is this oversight. If a hand rail is needed on both sides anywhere, it certainly has to be in the Cafe Car where people are likely to have one hand full while heading up the stairs.
This is where my travelogue must end. As I mentioned before, I wasn't sure if I'd be writing a full travelogue or not. I've got a lot to catch up on during this trip. Once I start writing, I can't seem to stop and often find that all I have gotten done during the entire trip was writing my travelogue. If something sparks my interest during the trip, I'll be sure to stop whatever I'm doing and add it into the above travelogue. If you are a new reader of my postings, then you may be confused by my loose use of the word "travelogue." I just use that term to describe whatever I write while I travel. Much of my writings have more to do with my perceptions and thoughts while I'm riding the train than any of the scenery or places along the way. There are many others that post travelogues at TrainWeb that talk more from a railfan or travel adventurer viewpoint and you may want to read more of their writings if that is the story you are seeking. To read my postings, you need to either find you like them right off the bat, or you need to give them a chance to grow on you.
Are you interested in rail travel along some or all of this journey yourself? There are very few travel agents that have the necessary knowledge and experience of rail travel to answer your questions and to book a journey that you will remember for a lifetime. TrainWeb has sought out those travel agencies and rail tourism companies that not only have the knowledge to book your travel, but have gained the required experience through extensive rail travel themselves! Click here for a list of these rail travel providers!