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MY SECOND SOUTHWEST CHIEF TRIP

Edition of June 2012

Train 3
From Lawrence WEDNESDAY 03/26/03 to Fullerton on THURSDAY 03/27/03

Train 4
From Fullerton on TUESDAY 4/07/03 to Lawrence on 04/09/03

Leaves Lawrence 03/26/03 AT 1:07am
Arrives Fullerton 03/27/03 Thursday 6:42am
Reserved Coach

Leaves Fullerton 04/07/03 Monday at 7:45pm
Arrives Lawrence KS 04/09/03 5:20am
Reserved Coach
 

I chose Lawrence this time because I wanted to see Lawrence, the Pepsi Ice Center in Overland Park, KS and hopefully drive fewer miles than I had to Newton KS in July '02.

I had to watch weather very carefully via the net and had some options in mind if it snowed, rained or the temperature went below freezing. I was ready to drive the 200 miles from my home to Lawrence on Monday if 'things didn't look good'. I had varying degrees of cold weather clothing with me and oddly didn't need the heaviest jacket till I encountered the frosty morning of April 9th in Lawrence. I carried a heavy sweater I never needed to California and shipped it back in the box I always mail ahead to my destination and back on the day I'm leaving California. It costs about $15 going west and $20 going east and enables me to carry an easily handled shoulder strap bag and a camcorder bag which I can keep by my seat, not even overhead unless my seat gets 'doubled up' which has only happened briefly out of Alburqueque on both my SWC runs.  The return box is usually larger due to gifts, literature or other stuff I acquire and that's less the underwear and socks I toss out, having purposely brought such 'near the end of their usuable lives'.

The Missouri Kansas weather settled down and I arrived in Lawrence about 3 pm on Tuesday. I had detailed Yahoo street route maps with me and followed those directly to the station. I got out, walked around, took a good look at the area and figured before dark I wanted to see the 1889 Union Pacific Depot across the river so I drove over there in 5 pm traffic. It wa totally restored a few years and serves as the city tourist information center with meeting rooms. It's a splendid bit of architecture by Van Brunt & Howe, Henry Van Brunt having been a notable 19th century American architect. There's a nicely landscaped park around it. The 'mainline' tracks run past it, on the other side of a railside fence since no trains every stop there. The inside is a engaging as the outside. I yakked about my trip to California with the man behind the counter who also has children in California.

The Lawrence Amtrak station was built for the Atchison Topeka and Sante Fe in 1955, replacing an 1870's brick structure. You feel you 'are in the fifties' in it since it has had no noticeable alterations and the waiting room furniture is original. The doors were locked before dark and the street side one had a gas company notice that the gas would be turned off when the weather turned warmer unless an arrears bill of $600 something was paid. I could see inside clearly from the large windows on both the street and track sides. The east end of the building was closed up and sites state it is used by BNSF crews.

At about 10:45 pm. a couple were brought to the station by their daughter at the same time I was walking to it from where I had parked my van in the nearby motel lot. We entered the station from the track side and sat down. Within maybe 10 minutes four local 'bums' came in, three at least with their bicycles and one with a tiny dog. Their leader stated several times they were harmless and wouldn't annoy us, then proceeded to attempt to distract our attention and one clearly did 'annoy us'. According to 'the leader' guy they came there every night to get warm. On April 14, 2003 I mailed my
well documented letter on the incident to Amtrak Customer Relations in Washington D.C. with a copy to the Lawrence P.D. I had been forewarned of some 'harmless alcholics' in the area. The lady was as annoyed as I was. We discussed it on the train and I promised to send the letters. It was necessary for the lady to dispatch her daughter before the train left 'just in case'.

April 28 I discussed the above mentioned incident with Amtrak Customer Relations who thanked me for detailing the incident. The customer relations man said Amtrak rents the waiting room from the City of Lawrence and that he  would forward my letter to the city person with whom they contract for the station waiting room. He said the city provides a caretaker to open and close the waiting room, an hour before and an hour after the train's arrival. He awarded me a $50 Amtrak travel voucher for my efforts.

I doubt I 'dozed' more than a few minutes at a time the first night on the train. I have noticed a first 24 hours tendency to snack every 2-3 hours on what I have brought with me. I had bought a 1962 published book on 'survival of disasters' to read when the rocking of the train didn't make that too difficult. I had found the book in a fleamarket on I-71, "The Art of Survival", by Cord Christian Troebst, "Actual Experiences of people in emergency situations prove you can't rely on miracles but reveal what you can do." I was more comfortable on this trip having acquired a pair of ankle high sheepskin lined soft slippers and wearing beltless 'exercise' type pants. Unfortunately I was on a coach with the harder or more worn out seats. Three small pillows, two of them in a pillow bag I brought on helped but the not soft enough backrest continually bothered me.

I noted some interesting old foreign cars from the train on this trip. Five Volvo Amazons in Glorietta was 'the winner'. Spotted a DS19 Citroen somewhere in southeast Colorado, north side of tracks, another 1st Generation Honda Civic somewhere past Alburqueque and some others I haven't recalled yet.

I noted the consist going west at La Junta in the cool mountain air, early on Tuesday March 26, 2003. The order is approximate. I jotted down the numbers in a small notebook and failed to number them in order.
39952
34099 coach hard seats
31532 coach w smoking lower level
33005 Sightseer Lounge
38050 Dining Car
32115 Superliner
32056 Sleeper
39031 Transition Sleeper
1754 Amtrak Freight car
3 Express Track freight cars
4 Amtrak Freight cars
3 odd looking freight cars
some trucks on dollies.

At the standard long stop in Albuqueque I went across the street from the bus station and bought a small yogurt after noting others with same and managing to figure out all the overly complex 'menu' and 'preferences' questions by the guy behind the counter. If I ran the place I'd have a large print separate sign 'simple cup of plain ice cream' beside the myriad listing of ingredients, flavorings, styles, sizes, toppings, etc.

I had devoured all my sandwiches so actually bought one and a drink at the 'burrito and snacks wagon' that is always parked there.

I watched maintenance crews at the train, washing windows and one guy climbing under the rear wheels of each car, inserting a long rod and checking something. Not a 'soft' job for sure.

I yakked with a local truck driver who had a lot of U.S. Mail to go on the open freight car. No one showed to load it. A forklift which had unloaded something from that car earlier 'disappeared' so the driver got out a chair and sat down. From what I observed it appeared that mail loading was accomplished 'at the last minute' before we left.

The best feature of the Albuquerque stop for me is the opportunity to take a long walk. In the future I may get bolder and walk further than the ice cream/yogurt place. I see on the http://www.railforum.com/ that there is a deli one block further, keeping the creamery on your left, turn left at the next corner, go up the street, the deli will be on your left.

Back on the train four or more passengers near me had to bear the insuffering appearance of an Albuquerque Police Department detective whose 'may I speak with you a moment' interruption over each passengers shoulder in itself was unnerving. Whether that was deliberate or awkward I can only guess. He asked to see our ticket stubs. Most of us didn't know where it was at that time so I showed him my driver's license. I ask you, what good was that? Of course this country has gone insane with 'security nonsense', all of which is full of holes, unnecessary, ineffective but mainly terribly gauche, clumsy. Having been employed for five years by a California metropolitan PD in the '70's, I know it's acceptable for local detectives to board trains to check on passengers. That's as 'old as rail passenger service' but what's wrong with a less intimidating approach, not 'over the shoulder' with the same introduction used for a potential 'subject'?

The detective attempted to be 'chummy' with questions about where you were going, where from, etc, and ran into some odd answers. I would assume his main purpose was to see if 'subject displayed nervousness'. He must have forgotten the 'Colombo' lessons in asking questions, that is to put the 'subject' at ease. I had to 'lay on him' that a guy from my 'Army days' had become Albuquerque's police chief, although long ago and that he had passed on in '95. Since that didn't make much impression I laid on him that I had been five years with the Downey California PD. That did it. He moved out of our car. Police work 'just ain't what it used to be', for sure.

Going west and again eastbound I was pleased to see photocopied signs taped to the doors between the cars, saying such as 'Lounge & Dining Cars This Way'. I always head the wrong way coming out of the lounge car on my the east bound train. It also nearly eliminated  passengers asking others 'which way to x? Generally efficiency and service was a notch higher than I experienced in July 2002.

I noted a lady across from me who was quite adept with her cell phone and earphone radio. It appeared she was well prepared and enjoying her trip. I overheard her conversation about being met at Riverside, as indicated on the note above her seat. As we pulled into Riverside which seems to 'come up rather quickly', she was not in her seat. The car attendant came looking for her and I advised him I thought she was in the dining car. Well the train started moving just as she came into sight too late in the next car on her way back from the dining car. I believe slightly better co-ordination between the attendant and conductor who was on the platform with his radio, ready to hold the train briefly for her would have enabled her to get off. Then at Fullerton some further consternation was caused by her third bag being left in the next car's baggage area. At any rate it ended up providing us time to chat both on the train and waiting for our rides at Fullerton. I had assured her and the car attendant that the drive from Riverside to Fullerton was not overly long but that traffic would be simply horrid. It was, of course, due to the common accidents. The Albuquerque detective's queries had also annoyed her.

I attempted to lay down on the seats in sightseer lounge with some vague hope of 'sleep', having observed some other tall guys doing same. No luck, zilch. Next trip I plan to have a neck pillow along so when I doze in my seat I don't wake up from a stiff neck.
 
 

EASTBOUND

On April 7th near the Fullerton station my son and I had a burger in the nearby Knollwood restaurant. He reminded me that we used to go to their 'drive in' sort of open air place out near the former Autonetics building in the 60's. Waiting on the platform at the tables outside the little snacks store we overhead some rail fans at the table next to us discussing what one had learned about the Chief as it was leaving Los Angeles. I understand railfans frequently gather there to watch and discuss the trains, particularly the Chief. .

When the east bound SWC train 4 pulled into Fullerton on time my son and I noted coaches had a list of stations pasted beside the entrance so for example all those going to Kansas stops would board coach 34109.  I noted Newton and Topeka but no Lawrence and assumed, correctly that Lawrence was included. Turned out I was the only one getting off at Lawrence with no one getting on.

I noted at Barstow on a siding a green Pullman car with 'Tioga Pass' printed on the side. Also 3 ornamental artifact cabooses.

At Albuquerque I bought a sandwich and drink at the snack truck since I had already eaten most of what I had carried on board. I promised myself that if I get a cell phone I will conduct all my conversations away from other passengers. 'The scene' gets rather ridiculous.

A large group of school kids, being photo'd by their parents and teachers after getting off at Lamy, having had a 'day' away by taking the westbound train to Alburqueque, then boarding the eastbound there. They 'commandered' the lounge car, all wearing green shirts so easily identifiable.

This time I spotted elk herds in two separate clearings in the Raton Pass and possibly a group of deer in a third. The first group was about 15 elk, the second at least 30 and maybe a dozen deer in the last. The  sun was fading over the mountain top but shining just enough in our eyes to hinder sighting.

I noted that there had been almost twice as much snow on the ground in the Raton Pass on
my westbound run than coming east. About four inches with many bare places on the 26th of March, about 40% less on April 8th which I realized later was the fiftieth anniversary of my enlistment induction into the U.S. Army.

I should have packed more sandwiches for the eastbound trip. On the second night on the train I went to the lounge car for a beer and sandwich, hoping it would aid my sleeping. The beer had the opposite effect. I had to get up and walk to the sightseeing lounge a couple of times before I nodded off about 2 am. I recall passengers getting ready to get off at Hutchinson then slept till we were underway after Newton.

It was fun getting off alone at Lawrence in the frosty dark morning. My van's windows were covered with light frost which I scraped off as I ran the motor to warm up. I put on a heavy jacket and headed out of Newton, letting commuters to Kansas City lead me through the side streets. I didn't stop for breakfast till a Waffle house appeared as a handy stop on the right, probably in Overland Park or east of it some.

Adding up the time on train I see I was on it 31 hours 45 minutes, being 2 hours 40 minutes longer than my July '02 trip to Fullerton from Newton KS.  For my next trip I'll consider using Newton, after seeking a shorter route than the 240 miles I logged to there in July '02.


ADVOCACY

Joplin MO Globe published July 8, 2003 my letter in the on-line version.

Letters to the Editor

Using Amtrak

Air service out of Joplin should be considered within the realm of a regional transportation plan that includes rail/bus connecting transportation.

For the nonbusiness traveler, transportation to and from the area has had one improvement in the past five years: the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Personally, my last flight was in July 1999, when the inconveniences at some points along the trip caused me to swear off air travel from any of the area airports.

After studying the situation, I resolved to use Amtrak and have done so twice to Southern California, out of Newton and Lawrence, Kan., to which I was obliged to drive myself. Due to the reasonable costs, free parking, the enjoyment of scenery and the sort of "camping-trip-like" friendly, relaxed atmosphere, I will continue to use Amtrak.

The airlines and highways get enormous general taxpayer subsidies, yet rail passenger travel is expected to "turn a profit" with little or no government subsidies.

Joe Nix

Freistatt


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