6-30-13 Amtrak, Newton KS to Fullerton CA  
Search my entire website


Edition of  September 2015

This page is for my first roundtrip, July '02,

Page 2. My MARCH 2003 roundtrip LAWRENCE KS - FULLERTON CA.


Page 4. May-June 2004 roundtrip NEWTON - FULLERTON with 'vehicle adventure' in Wichita KS.

THE STOPS plus links for pictures and information.

For weeks before my departure date I learned what I could from forums webpages, Rail Forum.com. Not having taken a long train ride since 1953 I had a lot to absorb and copied pages of advice, both informal from rail fans and formal from the Amtrak site.

I started out in one coach and changed to 34053 in order to be on the stairway side and noted the seats had more 'cushioning' and the trays slide out to a handier position. I forgot the number of the first coach. I pointed out to the young conductor that the seats on the stairway side of the coaches have two more inches of leg room. First he knew of it.  I had read and heard varying opinions on the comfort of coach seats and found the reason; they have varying years in service. On my return trip I experienced a much better coach and noted the manufacturer's plate,  Bombardier. At home I learned their train facilities are in Barre VT and Plattsburg NY. The leg rests raise easily to form a large flat platform for 'curling up' and sleeping. I call them leg rests since they are under the backs of one's knees and thighs, not to be confused with foot rests or bars attached to the bottom of the seat ahead of you.

Was I able to sleep? At least 2 hours going and returning but many 'doze off' periods which refreshed me. How long they were I don't know. Some people seemed to sleep most of the trip. I can barely sleep on an airplane, have never in my life 'dozed off' in a chair at home so I made many fruitless attempts to 'get comfortable' but on the return trip was better acclimated to positioning. I also had ear plugs on the return trip, a critical item I had on my checklist but forgot to take 'going out'.  Generally the coaches are quiet, no radios allowed except with earphones. I noted the ear plugs muted all sounds to the point where if I wanted to 'really hear' something, I would remove one. Another critical item for me would have been something over my head a small pillow case or something to block the lights. I did wear a hat over my eyes on the return trip and am sure it added to my 'sleep time'.  I also requested to move to a quieter car after Albuquerque going to California. A large young family got on board and between three seats the young ones constantly chattered. They managed to make it unbearable by at least one saying 'huh?' after they heard another speak, so everything was repeated at least once.  For most of the trip both ways one could ask to move to a different seat. Since many get off in the 'middle of the night' while others are sleeping and the coach lights are severely dimmed, the conductors will gather in adjacent seats those getting off at a certain stop. They put a tag with the three letter code of your destination over your seat. They use radios to communicate and it appears one of their primary concerns is that no one will miss their stop. So to find passengers 'going where you are' you just read the codes. One conductor even asked me the code for a stop.

Towards the end of my trip I began to wonder how many trainsets are dedicated to running the Southwest Chief.  From the cited forum a member wrote 'to run daily service between Chicago and LA you need 4 trainsets, desire 5, and have full protection with 6. Assuming a trainset consists of 10 cars: baggage, dorm for Amtrak personnel, 3 sleepers, diner, lounge and  3 coaches."

The trains I was on had at least four coaches and at least 11 freight cars at the back on the run to L.A. with fewer on the return. Going to L.A. we had four locomotives, coming back, just three. Many freights passed us going in the other direction, some with five locomotives and countless cars, many of them truck/trailer and ship container carriers.

I was disappointed to find the lounge car 'snack bar' offered only prepackaged foods, 'national brand' type not wrapped that day in a deli kitchen. I also didn't notice any means of heating such as the 'breakfast' sandwiches. I bought only three coffees at $1.50 each. I tried to sit and relax in the 'sightseeing dome' of the lounge car but finally 'gave up' on that for two reasons, the seats are small, crowded together and for 'leg room' I would have to put my feet on the 'sill' by the window. The other reason is being naturally nosey I 'had to' listen to all conversations within hearing which was about half the car. Some college age types spend almost  their entire trip in the 'sightseer and snack lounge' car. On the first day I noted a young guy at one table studying some sort of 'textbook', the softcover kind issued for a course.

Incidentally there was no smoking on this Amtrak train although some brochures state there is a special lower section on some coaches. Three 'smoker' stops are announced, one of them of two minutes.

On the way to California the dining car announcements stopped coming, I believe due to a failed intercom system.  I ate only breakfast on the way to California and relied on my snacks on the return. Going to California the dining car guy announced dinner reservations and his microphone broke up while doing so. When he came through our coach he bypassed my side of the aisle and was two seats ahead speaking to the other side of the aisle, soliciting dinner reservations so I had to bellow at him, 'over here'.  He took my reservation and I never heard another word about when dinner was served. It is served in half hour settings starting at 5 pm. At one point I was going to ask the conductor who was chatting with a passenger in the seat behind me when I figured, 'why bother' since I didn't know what was for dinner nor the price. I'm very glad I made that decision. The dining car did far better on the return since the 'maitre'd', Carol, who was not only punctual and informative with her announcements, she also tossed in good humour. When she had some empty seats she would repeat that announcement on the intercom. Dinners were from $13 to $15, breakfast $7.50.

I brought a book to read, 15 cents from the library sale table, "Five Acres and Independence, A Handbook for Small Farm Management", M.G. Kairns so my mind was on the agricultural scenes. Wide expanses of short grass with almost no shrubs in sight give one a hint of why such areas are sparsely populated. Particularly to one such as I who lives in one of the densest cattle/fescure raising areas in the U.S. I had planned to write on a pad but the wiggling of the train made it too difficult. At one point a guy behind me was using a laptop computer.

"Cattle daily get their twelve to fifteen gallons of water each from steel tanks filled by gasoline motors pumping from wells" is a pertinent quote from "The Road to Sante Fe"pg. 268, applicable to what I saw as well as some wind powered pumps. I was fascinated by the detailed irrigation ditches/systems feeding pastures, wooden gates, sluiceways, etc, old 'established' hand dug ditches and found an excellent explanation of what are called acequias.

The highlight without a doubt is the pass over the old route of the Sante Fe trail in Colorado but I'll describe my journey starting with Newton Kansas.

I had called the station agent at Kansas who is only there midnight to 8 am on weekdays and inquired about parking. He assured me it was safe and free and he certainly was correct. It's a block from the station along the tracks, between the backs of a gas station and the post office but the cars can can be seen clearly from a wide area of at least  200 degrees of a circle. The overhead lights are bright. You give the agent a description of your car and travel plans and the police department has those slips in order to check the lot. There's no limit and no charge.

Don't count on finding much 'still open' in Newton after 6 pm. I took a nap in the back of my van since I got there about 6 hours before train time, not wanting to arrive after dark. Some take motel rooms, others are brought by sleepy relatives at 2 am. It's about impossible to sleep in the waiting area of the station, although it's generally quiet. There's a  soft drink machine, maybe some snack machine also.  Amtrak still has the main center room but all the rest of the nice old station is leased out to lawyers, a college, some businesses. There's two chinese restaurants close to the station which were open till about 9 pm. There's an active freight yard, a block or two from the station which was quite busy till about 2 am.  There's a 'Dollar General' a block from the station, the only store open till 9 within sight. Being close to the Fourth holiday some kids were 'cruisin' Main Street and a bunch setting of firecrackers in a lot across the tracks. They were all very well behaved, 'just kids' like in 'old times'. I never saw the police cars leave their lot a few blocks north and visible from the train station.

In Newton's large lobby I started yakking with a guy returning to California to drive his car to Texas where he has a second home. He was retiring completely after some 43 years with the California Div of Forestry, hired, as he said, 'right out of college' in northeastern Missouri. We sat across from each other and exchanged 'trip tips' and observations. He had been that way before so alerted me to such as the 'old Sante Fe trail' since on the run to L.A. we had no Amtrak personnel providing a 'verbal travelogue' on the intercom. Also boarding were a grandmother and about 10 year old granddaughter who tried numerous times to call her father in Albuquerque every time she saw a pay phone. He certainly was happy to greet her at Abuquerque. A young guy who stayed aloof, might have been military on leave. A mother and adult daughter who were also on my return trip. They were usually asleep on the train, 'must be nice' if one can do it.

Next stop was Hutchinson in the dark both coming and going so I haven't seen any of Kansas until dawn pulling into Dodge City KS, a neat city as viewed from the train. I've never been 'out on the plains' before, only flown over them always 'wondering' what it's like down there so was fascinated by the scenery west of Dodge City for an hour to Garden City, KS.  People say 'there's nothing to see out there', missing the adaptation to the wind conditions by homes on large acreages. Obviously they know how and where to plant trees so they won't get blown away. Best home and site protection by tree plantings I've ever seen and often on gradually sloping hills, enough to threaten root dryness due to runoff. The number of acres per head of cattle starts increasing in that area, an interesting factor to observe from the train. By the time you are in Arizona, it's staggering to see how few cattle there are on enormous fenced areas, so large you can barely see the perimeter fencing.  Short growth of  forage requires livestock to graze longer over ever widening ranges as you travel westward.

Amtrak could sell on board inexpensive 'tour guides' on different subjects, history and one on agriculture, the Southwest Chief's run being an education in cattle versus forage acreage.  Also a compilation of the profiles of the stops, basic demographics, population, etc., as published on the net by cities or Chambers of Commerce.

Lamar, Colorado, I noted 'cowboy country', southwest adobe architecture, some of which one also sees in Garden City Kansas.

Between there and La Junta Colorado I noted irrigation farming and thought of the extra work to maintain the source ditches, pumps, etc. We have some of that in southwestern Missouri but only for turf farming or 'that extra water' to the 47 inches a year we average.

La Junta Colorado is a 'train and crew' refresher 'pit stop' and everyone gets off for nearly an hour's exercise. On the way out the heat was so intense, the sun so bright that without a hat I gave up on 'exercise' and got back on the train. I do recall seeing smoker addicts puffing away, even one who had coughed frequently on the return trip, obviously causing her to lose sleep. Pathetic. Years ago I learned how smokers look about their faces and hands, particularly women. Obviously no one in the 'smoker' ads  is a 'smoker'. Of course 'lie in advertising' is synomous with U.S.'culture'. Some people crossed the street and found an auto parts store selling soft drinks at a reasonable price. I stuck with water from the 'fountains' on the train of which there are several in every coach car. Bringing cold distilled or similar water might be a good idea. I had half a dozen very small cans of tomato juice which were easy to open and consume without having 'open containers' to contend with. Everything in m cooler remained cold the whole way to California, three 'blue ice' things did their job well. And bear in mind they had left my refrigerator 18 hours before getting on the train. Coming back they were cold into the heat of the Kansas morning when I finally bought some ice while driving back to Missouri. Coming back from L.A. it was dark so La Junta 'was asleep' as the conductor announcer guy said. He stated that's where crews change and where he stays, adding, 'can't get into trouble in La Junta'.

Trinidad Colorado, I noted dusty pueblo style flat-roofed adobe homes with little enclosed yards often with  'junk' cars, etc., 'saved'. Somewhere along this type of scene, little 'homesteads' adjacent to each other near the rail road tracks I observed 'each guy' specializes somewhat in what he collects in his backyard. I'd see, 'oh he's into Chevies, one's about a '48', then a guy with several old VW Beetles, then I got a good laugh, one yard had about 8 bathtubs neatly lined up surrounded by straw. I concluded, 'here they save everything, might either need it or 'good to trade with someone'.

From 'The Road to Sante Fe' I learn that adobe homes are cooler in summer, warmer in winter and stuccoed to prevent occasional downpours from loosening the bonds between the adobe bricks.

A friend's observations a few years earlier are; "If you view things from a train, you are really getting the back end of most locations but some things can be very interesting.  I stared at all the belongings in the backyards of CO, NM and AZ with curiosity as we rolled by and had a good chuckle.  I haven't a clue where I was but I will say AZ...there was a stretch of perhaps 5 residential blocks in the poorest of neighborhoods - all with a big, new trampoline in almost every backyard!".

I got the impression Susan Magoffin's 1846 diary comment may apply, ".....for within these places of apparent misery there dwells that 'peace of mind' and contentment which princes and kings have oft desired but never found." (Pg 286, The Road to Sante Fe). She was referring to hovels she observed in the area, "made of mud, surrounded by kind of fence made of sticks." (Ibid).

Raton was next, picture below, with bus connections to Denver, the Philmont Scout Camp. The scene to the right of the bus is of a young mother and about 3 year old daughter being greeted by 'in laws' apparently. The daughter's chatter in the seat behind me had me and the couple across the aisle smiling, reminding us sharply of our own kids and grandkids. The couple across the aisle were on a 'busman's holiday', he with 34 years with Burlington Northern Sante Fe at Barstow California, visiting their daughter in Lawrence KS. They were very practical, well organized for the trip. We shared many of the same observations. When the conductor announced getting off for a smoke at La Junta, the man across the aisle  added 'and catch cancer'.

You can see it had rained at Raton. We 'caught up' with the rain going east shortly after that and about the same time, just after passing the summit the train stopped, causing all of us to worry. A cable connection between freight cars far behind our coach had disconnected and an 'engineer' went back, fixed it and told coach passengers about it as he passed forward to his 'station'. I noted he was in 'civilian clothes' not in the old fashioned 'pin striped blue and white railroad overalls' with a matching long billed hat (nor carrying a lantern).

The conductor or 'announcer' on the train's P.A. system kept us well informed, particularly over the 7000 some feet Raton Pass. I was fascinated to see that 'commercial/plastic entertainment' monies had not co-opted Dick Wootton's ranch at the top of the pass. In 1866 Dick built a toll road where wagons had been eased down the steep slope, held back by men and ropes. In the fading light one could see his ranch site on the north side of the train.

"Wootton is best remembered for a  road he constructed over Raton Pass which connected Trinidad, CO to Raton, NM. He built twenty-seven miles of road and numerous bridges. The toll to use this safer branch of the Santa Fe Trail was $1.50 for wagons, horseman and pack animals 25 cents and herded stock 5 cents a head. (free to Indians, editor). When the famous Charles Goodnight brought his herd to this gate and saw the price, he turned his livestock around and found another pass over the mountains. As you drive south from Trinidad today over I-25 and just after passing the exit for "Wootton", watch for a large sign on your right indicating the area for the Wootton's home. The original building burned down years ago, but a new home on the property looks similar." Quoted directly from the book Richard "Uncle Dick" Wootton

Union Pacific laid rails into this area from Kansas City in 1866. Rails through the Raton Pass reached Sante Fe NM in 1878.

Going east late on a Tuesday evening we had a stop at Las Vegas New Mexico long enough to get off and 'stretch' but not to leave the platform. My key feature in the photo doesn't show due to failing dusk light but the shop across from the 'bar' says Moonlight Welding. The large door was open and it appeared some work was in progress, despite most of the town being 'closed up for the day'.

I have no recall of Lamy New Mexico, might have 'dozed off'. But somewhere along here I got a good eyeful of Glorietta, a former stop and was amazed at the overcrowding of what I termed 'a town with no zoning plan'. On the eastward run the conductor 'introduced' into my Civil War 'knowledge' that the battle of Glorietta Pass was critical to the cause of the Confederacy by taking a major defeat after penetrating to this critical crossroads pass of the times. The "Road to Sante Fe" book at the bottom of this page describes very well the war in this area, using journals and published data of the day. The following words on Page 250 of said book, "....several feed-lots where thousands of Herefords fatten on the pulp of beets...." reminded me that I had observed such lots, close to the RR tracks on the north side, somewhere in New Mexico, I believe.

I wish I had known before my trip that Albuquerque's station burned down a few years ago and the stop there is temporary till a new 'modal', meaning more than one form, station is built. The bus part is built and in use, the temporary 'rail station' is a mess, chaos, crowded, messy and in addition there are vendors all over none of which I would go near for anything. But then I wouldn't do so at any other 'street' or 'stop' sidewalk vending place, either. It was also unbearably hot going out to L.A. and only slightly better coming back. I got off and took a walk out away from all the chaos and got back on the train. On the return trip, everyone was aboard per conductors wishes but then I spotted a dining car gal buy some ice, put that in a shopping cart, deliver it to the dining car and then start a leisurely visit to a 'jewelry' vendor on the platform. Obvously she knew something the rest of us didn't. I forgot what reason was given for the delay but finally we departed. I hear this stop is quite busy, the platform actually crowded on some days. I ignored the 'Indian guide' expostulating in the lounge car as well as 'Indian jewelry and artifacts' being sold on RR property. The track through New Mexico is hazardous, it being very tricky to walk the length of a coach. It would be nice if touting of ancestry was given lower priority to providing a smooth ride through the state. The improved track in Arizona and even smoother in California is very noticeable. What the 'political' cause is for the abhorrent condition in New Mexico, I don't know, certainly not roadbed, most of it through lava fields. It's a disgrace, particularly after driving on I-40 through New Mexico in 1991 when I found it rather 'stark' but more 'accomodating' than the northern sector of Texas. One can see the I-40 traffic nearly all the way through New Mexico. I was amazed at the lava 'outcroppings' over hillocks, on top of 'table rock' rises and randomly appearing in 'plains'. See 'The Road to Sante Fe' below for the competent description with proper geologic names.

I recall waking up on the eastward run to squint into the darkness for the Gallup New Mexico station. I think the same occurred on the westward run.

Being an evergreens fan northern Arizona was a delight to see. I drove through the state in '91 and stayed two days in Winslow due to my rental truck breaking down so the scenery was not 'new' to me except for the 'one light by side of tracks', the new stop in darkness going both east and west for Williams Junction Arizona. Reading in the links I have below I learned that a shuttle bus and 'the one light' are 'it' for now as a platform and station and the shuttle takes people the short run into Williams where they either catch connections or stay over maybe for same to the Grand Canyon Railroad.

I seemed to have either slept or saw the following only 'dimly', Kingman Arizona, Needles, Barstow and Victorville California. I tried to observe Victorville and believe I got it mixed up with San Bernardino. There's much railroad out that way in California, much of which looks alike to the 'seldom' viewed passenger. On the eastward run I headed into the dining car for breakfast around Victorville and got yakking with a guy on his way back from southern North Carolina who was quite interested in my 1991 'pick up and move to the sticks from suburbia' venture. We yakked or I yakked so intensely, he asked as we were pulling out of a station, 'Where are you getting off?' I answered, "Fullerton".  He said, "That was Riverside, better get ready."

So long before we even started slowing down for Placentia I was 'ready' to get off at Fullerton. My former Anaheim neighbors met me and we went out for breakfast. An interesting factor came into the conversation. I had passed my neighbor's parents house on route 400 in Dennis Kansas and from his description had a good notion of that strip of road. He called his parents with his cell phone and on the way home I intended to 'stop by' but was diverted south of there by extreme heat, a broken tire cord causing shimmying and 'near exhaustion' or dehydration so stopping 'under every tree' or rather every park or spot of shade along old route 66 eastward, now 166. I drove on the narrow back roads after entering Missouri in order to have cool road surfaces and drive slowly. It's good I did since a ferocious rain storm came up with very lively lightning. Being very familiar with the road, how much water was in the 'washes', etc., I got home safely.

In California I rode Metrolink from San Juan Capistrano to Fullerton where I waited for the Southwest Chief. I was in conversations the whole time from the SJC platform till boarding the S.W. Chief. I have nothing good to say about the printed and on line Metrolink schedule of June '02 and nothing bad to say about the service, fare and ride. Briefly, the schedule fails completely to tell 'incoming Amtrak' passengers, unfamiliar with the schedule, that they can take any train printed on the schedule even though some are listed separately in four categories, 'Amtrak No Step-Up' and 'Amtrak Step-Up'.  I suggest Metrolink try to recall they are in the transportation business, not 'tricky lead you to xx bargain' sales promotions for commuters only. Regarding the website, the 'webmaster' needs to be either fired or sent to school to learn basic page layout, sizing per browser frame, how to offer PDF and how to read simple questions. When I inquired by email what the schedule meant I was given a totally unrelated answer.  I said I was traveling before and after the weekend of the fourth so nano second lazy airhead brain replies, 'we don't provide service on the fourth holiday or sunday'. My clarified email was of course not answered. 'Insulted', I presume so I wrote snail mail to the office in L.A. and got a full printed schedule. Then emailed back my specific question, gaining a reply assuring me I could take any train on the schedule. NO WHERE else is that stated. How dumb can people get? I see on August 6, 2002 that the schedule reads clearly on the revised web site but STILL no explanation, even in FAQ of 'Step up Amtrak' and 'No Step Up Amtrak'.  This absurdity caused further confusion and consternation at the San Juan Capistrano ticket machines as I almost bought an Amtrak ticket for a 4:23 pm  train for $8.30 when the Amtrak office gal advised me I could catch the 4.02 pm Metrolink for $3.00. It all sounds 'mundane' afterwards but when traveling alone, carrying baggage in the heat with a long trip ahead of you 'it ain't funny'.


Copyright, 1996-2015 Joe Nix where applicable

Web page compiled, edited and maintained by Joe Nix

Back to my home page Index