Tag Archives: amtrak

Probably not as comfortable as Amtrak

Railroads & Trains logo

A Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car built around 1875 in Sacramento, California.

Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car

It was converted to a railroad maintenance car in 1913 and used until 1938 when it was abandoned on tracks near Yuma, Arizona.

After deteriorating for 53 years, Don Trigg of Yuma acquired it in 1991 and donated it to the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park where it resides.

I visited on August 21, 2019.

It’s a big, big boy

Railroads & Trains logo

I have been tracking the historic Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 steam locomotive since it returned to the rails in May after being a static museum piece at the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California, for 53 years.

I visited Ogden and Promontory Point, Utah, for the 150th anniversary celebration of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. More on that trip in my blog post here: Historic trains in Ogden, Utah.

After Big Boy finished in Utah, it returned home to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it is housed at the Union Pacific steam shops. There it stayed for a few weeks before it embarked on a 2019 tour of Union Pacific territory but only on tracks owned by Union Pacific or tracks over which it has trackage rights. First it went to the mid-west, including Chicago. Then home to Cheyenne for a break.

On September 27, it headed to California, arriving on October 11. That’s when I sprang into action, hopping in my car and chasing it throughout Southern California—Bloomington, Victorville, Barstow, Yermo, Colton, Beaumont, Indio, and Niland.

I only have 31,415,926 pictures and videos which will take the rest of my life to process, but following are some of my better ones so far.

The picture and video below is of Big Boy 4014 going north through Cajon Pass on October 12, heading to Victorville from Bloomington. Big Boy 4014 was built in November 1941, and this is only the second time it has been through Cajon Pass under its own power, and the first time going north, which means it was climbing a 2.2% grade, quite steep for trains. Cajon Pass handles about 150 trains each and every day, going north and south, for both Union Pacific and BNSF.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

Once it climbed out of Cajon Pass, it made a pit stop in Victorville before heading to Barstow. It took me quite a while to get out of the Cajon Pass because of the crowds….Big Boy train watchers in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

….so I did not stop in Victorville. Just drove by the station to have a look-see. I headed to Barstow, a historic station with a historic Harvey House depot still standing….

Harvey House in Barstow, California

….so I knew there would be crowds there. Indeed there were.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

Interestingly, Big Boy spent 2½ hours just south of the Barstow railyard turning around so it could back into the Amtrak station. That didn’t make any sense to me, or any of the other people crowded at the north end of the station because Big Boy would leave and continue going twelve miles north to Yermo, where it would spend the night.

Once the crowd realized that it was backing into the station, thousands of people started running from the north end of the station to the south. I mean, who wants pictures and videos of the rear of the train? It’s Big Boy leading the way that we all wanted. Fortunately, I had been train-watching in Barstow in July 2018. I wanted a picture of Big Boy under the long bridge over the rail yard, and I knew where I had to be in order to get that picture. Thus, I was already at the south end when people started rushing towards me! Unfortunately, the Big Boy consist of over 25 cars was too long for the station, so I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted, but the following three come close.

In the first picture, Big Boy has backed into the station and is at a stop, unloading about 500 passengers way back there who had paid $5,000 (coach) or $10,000 (dome) for a 3-hour ride from Bloomington to Barstow. A little out of my price range…. A BNSF freight train is passing on the track to the right.

Crowds watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

In this next picture, Big Boy is moving out of the station. This might be my favorite picture from Barstow—train, people, bridge, people on the bridge, and good smoke!

Crowd watching Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

This last picture most closely captures the type of picture that I was trying to get.

Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

As one who was chasing Big Boy from here to there, I was caught completely off guard when, just a few minutes after leaving the Barstow Amtrak station, it comes back through the rail yard. Backwards! Not only that, but it traveled backwards for the twelve miles from Barstow to Yermo. I got to Yermo just before it did and got a video of it going backwards. This is my first video of a train going backwards.

Big Boy’s overnight stay in Yermo was at the Union Pacific railyard there. It is a private, secured facility, active with lots of trains, and dangerous. There were hundreds of us who could not comprehend the NO TRESPASSING and PRIVATE PROPERTY signs.

Big Boy in Yermo on 10/12/19

Neither the Union Pacific Police nor the County Sheriffs made any attempt to stop us, keep us out, direct us out, escort us out, or arrest us, so I guess all is well that ends well, as my wise old grandmother would say.

In the early days of railroads, competing companies would build rails that crossed each other, creating bottlenecks and, sometimes, accidents. One of the last bottlenecks for railroad traffic was in Colton, California, where BNSF, Metrolink, and Amtrak ‘Southwest Chief’ used the north/south tracks, and Union Pacific and Amtrak ‘Sunset Limited’ used the east/west tracks. There were up to 110 trains daily, all at a ground level on criss-crossing tracks. Union Pacific built the Colton Flyover to relieve congestion. Both directions are double-tracked, so it is possible to find up to four trains concurrently using the Colton Flyover crossing. It was opened in August 2013, so it’s still new and a pleasure to watch train action there.

Here’s my video of 6:35 of action at the Colton Flyover on 10/15/19. Union Pacific starts off the video with a westbound train on the upper tracks. It stops, waiting for Big Boy to come through eastbound. BNSF enters the scene with a northbound train at the 2:04 mark, a 5-engine, 118-car consist on the lower tracks. Big Boy #4014 enters at 5:28 on the upper tracks. Video ends with Big Boy giving a few blasts on its awesome horn.

I took videos with my hand-held Canon video camera. My Canon 760D was on a tripod and set to take time lapse photographs every 5 seconds. Here is one of the time lapse pictures of Big Boy on the Colton Flyover.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 on the Colton Flyover, 10/15/19

I knew crowds would be huge in the deserts in southeastern California, and the roads are one-lane with sandy shoulders, so parking would be a problem. However, I also knew where the most popular spots would be, and I knew some secret spots of my own. The following picture is from one of my secret spots south of Indio. Trains often idle here waiting for their green light, so I was 99.9% sure I could get a picture of old meeting new.

Old, meet new. New, old.

Big Boy meets an SD70ACe

There are three people in the picture at center left, and there was one guy behind me. We had the place to ourselves!

As I said earlier, Big Boy was built in November 1941. Diesel engine #8625 is an SD70AC3 locomotive built in June 2008. Big Boy has 4 cylinders producing 6,290 horsepower while #8625 has 16 cylinders producing 4,290 horsepower. I got asked on Facebook how 4 cylinders could produce more horsepower than 16 cylinders. It’s done with cylinder size and pressure. Think about our cars. We have 8 cylinders producing anywhere from 160 horsepower to 708 horsepower, all done with the size of the cylinders (is the engine 160 cubic inches or 500 cubic inches?) and the pressure under which the cylinders are pushed.

The crowd in Beaumont was huge! I suspect it had something to do with Big Boy stopping at the shopping mall there. I felt sorry for the businesses because I think all their customers were out gawking at Big Boy.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Beaumont CA on 10/15/19

Big Boy stopped in Niland, California, for a maintenance check before heading out into the Arizona deserts. Here are the worker ants serving their queen:

Big Boy maintenance check at Niland CA on 10/15/19

Harvey House in Barstow, California

Halls of History—Harvey Houses

Halls of History

When I went on my journey in late July 2018, I originally had no idea where I was going. I just wanted to get out of California. When I got to Arizona, I slowed down and decided to visit places that I had not been in 50 years, and in a couple of cases, where I had never been. I combined my love of history, nature, and railroads.

That put Barstow, California, high on my list, with its railroad and car history and its position in the Mojave Desert. When I got there, I got a hotel room just a couple of blocks from the Barstow railroad yard, unloaded things, and then walked down to the rail yard to watch some trains.

When I got there, I saw the most beautiful train station.

Harvey House in Barstow, California

Since I had arrived late in the day, the station was closed. I walked around the station until sunset and discovered a historical marker outside. This station was a Harvey House. Wow. I didn’t know any still existed.

Barstow Harvey House historical marker

The plaque reads:

Harvey Houses were legendary in the history of western rail travel. Operated by Fred Harvey in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. The network of restaurant-hotels set a new standard in quality meal service. Barstow’s Spanish-Moorish “Casa del Desierto,” opened in 1911 and closed in 1971. It was registered as one of the last and finest remaining examples of the West’s famous Harvey Houses.

The first paragraph in the Wikipedia entry tells more:

The Fred Harvey Company was the owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses alongside railroads in the western United States. It was founded in 1876 by Fred Harvey to cater to the growing number of train passengers. When Harvey died in 1901, his family inherited 45 restaurants and 20 dining cars in 12 states. By 1968, when it was sold to Amfac, Inc., the Fred Harvey Company turned into the sixth largest food retailer in the United States. It left behind a lasting legacy of good food, dedication to customers, decent treatment of employees, and preservation of local traditions.

There was history hanging on the walls inside.

Harvey House history

Harvey House history

Harvey House history

Fred Harvey emigrated to the United States from England when he was 17 years old.

The first two Harvey Houses were simply eating houses in Wallace, Kansas, and Hugo, Colorado, serving customers of the Kansas Pacific Railway, opened while Fred Harvey was a freight agent for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Although the two eating houses were closed within a year, Harvey was convinced of the potential for providing high quality food and service at railroad eating houses.

Harvey approached the Burlington Railroad, which declined his offer to establish a system-wide eating house operation. The Santa Fe Railway, however, contracted with him for several eating houses on an experimental basis. The first eating house on the Santa Fe Railway was established in 1876 in Topeka, Kansas, under terms of an oral agreement. Both railroad officials and passengers were impressed with Harvey’s standards for high quality food and service. Santa Fe’s subsequent contracts with Harvey provided unlimited funds to set up eating houses along most of Santa Fe’s routes. Some of the eating houses at more prominent locations evolved into hotels. By the late 1880s, Harvey dining facilities were located at least every 100 miles along the railroad.

Harvey is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the United States. (Now we know who to blame!) Harvey and his company became leaders in promoting tourism in the American Southwest in the late 19th century. The “wild wild west” was tamed, at least along the railroad tracks, by Harvey, his company, and its employees, the waitresses who came to be known as Harvey Girls.

Before dining cars, rail passengers patronized roadhouses located near water stops for steam locomotives. Food fare often consisted of rancid meat, cold beans, and week-old coffee, discouraging many from making the journey westward.

Meals were served in large portions, providing a good value for the traveling public. Pies were cut into fourths instead of the industry standard sixths. Eating houses could feed an entire train in just thirty minutes, and meals meals were served on fine China and Irish linens.

Harvey employed only white females on its serving staff, advertising in newspapers throughout the East Coast and Midwest for “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent”. Girls were paid $18.50 a month plus room and board, generous at the time. Women, eventually becoming known as Harvey Girls, were subjected to a 10:00 p.m. curfew and wore starched black and white skirts hanging no more than eight inches off the floor, with “Elsie” collars, opaque black stockings, and black shoes completing the uniform. Hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup was prohibited, as was chewing gum while on duty.

Harvey Girls entered into a one-year employment contract, forgetting half their base pay should they fail to complete the year, which happened most often due to marriage.

The opportunity to leave their homes, enjoy travel, have new experiences, and work outside the home was liberating for thousands of young women.

One of the wall hangings was about the 1946 movie, “Harvey House,” starring Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, and Ray Bolger. Movie buffs should recognize those names.

Harvey Girls

When Fred Harvey died in 1901, his company operated 47 restaurants, 15 hotels, and 30 dining cars. The Fred Harvey Company continued into the 1960s under direction of Harvey’s son and grandson. In 1968, the company was purchased by Amfac Parks & Resorts, renamed Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2002. Xanterra still operates three Harvey Houses: El Tovar Hotel (built 1905) and Bright Angel Lodge (built 1908) on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Fray Marcos Hotel (built 1908) in Williams, Arizona, which serves as the train depot and hotel for the Grand Canyon Railway.

I was hoping to ride the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the Grand Canyon, a distance of about 60 miles, but the train leaves early in the morning, and since I still had time to drive to the Grand Canyon, that’s what I did. Sadly, I did not know anything about Williams so I did not get pictures of the depot and hotel.

I got a picture of El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim. It’s hard to miss the hotel, although I did not know what it was at the time, either.

El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Barstow originally served the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. Today, the historic yard serves BNSF, Union Pacific, and Amtrak.Only two tracks remain for passenger trains, both used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Barstow Amtrak station at the historic Harvey House framed

While I was hanging around, an Amtrak train pulled. Totally unexpected. Hundreds of people got off the train, stretched, walked around, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes. After about five minutes, everyone got back on the train and it took off. Strangest. stop. ever.

I talked to a couple of Amtrak employees on the train while people were getting back on board, and it turns out that the train, every seat occupied, was stuck in the high desert for twelve hours when a thunderstorm washed away some tracks. Passengers obviously were a little stressed and tired; since the train already was twelve hours late, letting everyone get off and relax for five minutes was a no-brainer. Here’s a video of the train arriving:

The Barstow Harvey House was closed as a train station in 1971, and closed permanently in 1973. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and named a California Historic Landmark in 1976. The City of Barstow bought it in 1990 after it had sat vacant and neglected for 17 years. It was heavily damaged in the 1992 7.3 magnitude Landers Earthquake. Restoration required more than $8 million in repairs. Currently, the building houses the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, the Western America Railroad Museum, the Route 66 “Mother Road” Museum, and rotating and traveling exhibits.

There is a beautiful bridge over the rail yard which allows for the most beautiful of sunset pictures.

Barstow rail yard

Barstow rail yard bridge

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

From my research, I found that there were 84 Harvey Houses. I could not find a definitive number for those which remain, but apparently it is less than ten. Casa del Desierto, the House of the Desert, is considered the finest remaining example of a Harvey House.

More pictures:

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Picture of the Moment—Sunset through an Amtrak window

Picture of the Moment

Recently I was on Amtrak somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles, and the sun was setting.

It was beautiful, but I have discovered that trying to take pictures of sunsets through Amtrak windows while the train is cruising along at 92 mph (it’s top speed here in Southern California) makes for some, uh, interesting sunset pictures.

On this day, though, the train stopped at a station that was perpendicular to the sunset, allowing me to get a pretty nice sunset picture.

Sunset in Southern California through an Amtrak window

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

When pen pals come to visit

I live in my own little world

When my wise old grandmother (MWOG) adopted me in December 1965, I had four main interests that I had developed in my 10 years and 9 months of life: Mother & Father Nature (flora & fauna), music, and philately.

MWOG didn’t know what philately was, until I told her it was stamp collecting. For Christmas she bought me a subscription to Linn’s Weekly Stamp News. Best. Grandmother. Ever.

Linn's Weekly Stamp News

In the advertisements in the last pages was a section titled “Pen Pals.” These weren’t just ordinary pen pals, though. They were philatelist (stamp collector) pen pals. Write a letter, put stamps on the envelope, and your pen pal may or may not read whatever was in the envelope being just so happy to get free postage stamps from another country.

Back in those days I had many, many pen pals, and I had my little journal that helped me keep track of who I wrote to, and when, and when I got a response from them. My longest pen pal relationship lasted from 1966 to 1973. Sadly, I have forgotten his name and what country he was from, and my little journal was absconded by MWOG when I went off to college. She was terribly upset at me for going off to college 270 miles away, so everything that I couldn’t take with me when I left was not there when I came home for the weekend a month later. She had gathered up all the stuff that I had left, figuring I didn’t want it and that she would never see me again, and sold it at one of her city-famous garage sales.

Here is is 51 years later and I still have pen pals. My little journal is now an Excel spreadsheet. There are no stamps involved. It’s much easier to write a “letter.” It’s called blogging.

Occasionally a blogging pen pal arrives in San Diego, and when that happens, often I get notification. Yesterday, I had the pleasure to go out with Liz Flint and Bryan Flint. I met Liz when we both were blogging on a real estate blog site a decade ago; I was there from 2007 to 2011 before I set out on my own here at WordPress. Liz and Bryan are from Tomball, Texas, a northwestern suburb of Houston. Tomball happens to be where my favorite aunt and uncle lived for several decades, so I was intimately familiar with the area.

Liz and Bryan made it to San Diego back in May 2013. I had the pleasure of taking them to the San Diego Zoo, the cactus garden at Balboa Park, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (also in Balboa Park), and train spotting. All three of us are railroad fans and photographers.

Yesterday they were in San Diego again. I had the pleasure of going with them to the Carlsbad Flower Fields and then out to eat and a place right by some very active railroad tracks where we could watch Coaster and Amtrak trains go by. They had taken Amtrak from Houston to Los Angeles, driven down to San Diego to go to the Flower Fields, and then drove back to Los Angeles. They will be taking Amtrak to San Diego on April 6 to catch a cruise ship that will take them through the Panama Canal and to Florida. I’ll be out there on April 6 taking a video of their Amtrak train. Meanwhile……..

Some pictures from the Carlsbad Flower Fields yesterday featuring Liz & Bryan:

Liz Flint at the Carlsbad Flower Fields

Bryan & Liz Flint at the Carlsbad Flower Fields

Bryan Flint at the Carlsbad Flower Fields

And, of course, the requisite picture of Bryan taking a picture of an Amtrak train:
Bryan Flint taking a picture of an Amtrak train in Carlsbad CA

If you make it to San Diego or anywhere close by, let me know. You might get free tickets to something (usually the Zoo or Safari Park), discounted tickets, and, perhaps, your own personal docent.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Trains—San Diego Trolley extension work interrupts Amtrak & Coaster

Railroads & Trains logo

Yesterday was my day to go to the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego and see what was going on. Well, nothing. Literally, nothing. There is no Amtrak or Coaster train action between the Santa Fe Depot and Oceanside, a distance of about 39 miles.

Track-a-train was showing all Amtrak Pacific Surfliners arriving and leaving from the Oceanside Transit Center. I set out to find out why, and it didn’t take me long to find that the line currently is shut down, at least through March 14, to re-align tracks and do some at-grade work for the extension of the San Diego Trolley from Old Town to University City.

Finally.

However, the extension is being built with a lot of Federal Transit Administration funds.

Uh-oh.

California voted for Clinton. Twitler knows that, and Twitler is a very vengeful person. I will keep an eye on these federal transit funds because I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Twitler will do something to exact his revenge on California by withholding federal funds.

I got quite a few interesting pictures showing the work going on. I thought it was interesting that the Mid-Coast Transit Constructors simply pulled the southbound Amtrak tracks about ten feet to the west. Presuming, then, that the Trolley is going to go down the middle of the Amtrak tracks. Now that I know about this, I can go out weekly and document process. Just south of where I was the tracks will be aerial due to a river (known as a creek in other states) and the tracks through University City and the University of California-San Diego will be aerial tracks.

Picture 1 – Abrupt break in the southbound tracks.Break in the Amtrak tracks for re-alignment

Picture 2 – Amtrak’s not going to like the excessive bends in this curveExcessive bends in re-aligned Amtrak tracks

Picture 3 – Mounds of rock showing where the track used to be.Mounds of rock indicate where the tracks used to be

Picture 4 – Southbound track re-alignment not yet complete.Re-aligned track work not completed

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

NO TRESPASSING

Out & About

Missouri Pacific LinesAs a toddler I had a significant interest in trains since my dad and granddad both worked for Missouri Pacific Railroad in Texas.

When my dad died in 1961, my mom moved us from Palestine, Texas, to Logan, Utah.

My interest in trains remained, though, so much so that whenever I ran away from home, which was often, I would walk the railroad tracks instead of the streets and highways.

Train tracks, State Route 94, San Diego County, CaliforniaMuch more fun…………

I used to think that maybe I would become one of The Boxcar Children.

When I came here to San Diego, walking the railroad tracks was frowned upon.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in Del Mar, CaliforniaIn fact, in some areas they will give you trespassing tickets if you don’t cross the tracks at designated crosswalks.

Unfortunately, though, railroad tracks often separate the beaches from the cities, so one sometimes has to walk a mile or more to get to a designated crossing.

Thus, beachgoers, especially those with children or large surfboards, often park wherever there is parking (and there’s not much!) and walk across the tracks, which is what I did recently when I came across the most interesting NO TRESPASSING sign.

Railroad No Trespassing sign

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

From what I have read, the theory behind that NO TRESPASSING sign is that people are looking down so as not to trip on rocks and train tracks, so that is the logical place to put such a sign. Makes sense to me………….

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Need a unique gift for a Christmas or other special occasion?

Use code YLNNRX for a $40 discount on
Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America

Photographic Art logo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post