So, I mentioned that I should be heading east in October. Taking a ride along the route of Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Chicago for a start. When it comes to this, I have only traveled between Reno/Sparks and Denver twice. And beyond to Chicago, never.
It is a fair number of miles crossed in the three days between the San Francisco Bay and the Windy City. 2438 of them to be precise. With some of the best scenery that Amtrak has to offer along the way.
In the fall of 1980, I celebrated my first anniversary of employment with AAA. The first of what would become 26. And back then, it entitled me to a whole week of vacation. Careful planning would allow just the right amount of time to enjoy most of those seven days on the rails.
Departing on a Thursday, I rode Amtrak’s San Francisco Zephyr with brand new Superliner equipment from Martinez to Ogden. Friday morning saw a limousine (a.k.a. a van) ride to Salt Lake City and onward to Denver aboard the Rio Grande Zephyr – the last non-Amtrak intercity passenger train operating in the country. At that time, Amtrak followed the route of the Union Pacific over the Great Divide crossing through Wyoming and down into Denver.
Saturday was an excursion organized by the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club aboard a chartered train from Denver to Sterling and back – pulled by the Union Pacific’s last operational steam locomotive. I had a coach seat in the last car in the train, which happened to be in aboard the only dome car in the consist. A fun day, to say the least! (The UP operated the lounge car and the dining car for the trip. And they managed to run out of beer before the train got to Sterling. So, a few of us chipped in and bought a case of Coors for the ride home. I traded a cold one for a roll of Kodachrome slide film, which I then used for extra photos on the remaining photo run-by’s along the Platte River.) The day ended with a beer in the newly restored cocktail lounge at the Denver station and dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in a former Denver Tramway power house.
Sunday I had plans to head off to Golden and visit the Colorado Railroad Museum. A miscue on my part put me on the wrong bus. (This was in the pre-Internet days, so I can be forgiven.) I did manage to salvage the day by visiting the Forney Transportation Museum instead. Really enjoyed visiting with the HO scale model railroad folks there
Monday was another chance to ride the Rio Grande Zephyr. Truly magnificent ride up the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Also picked up several Rio Grande hats at the station at Grand Junction – as well as a California Zephyr tablecloth purchased from one of the coach attendants. And who could forget a meal in the Silver Banquet, the dining car on the RGZ?
Tuesday, it was back aboard the San Francisco Zephyr for the ride across the Great Salt Lake and back across Nevada to home at Martinez. While riding aboard new Superliners was nice, I had enjoyed quite the renaissance those days before on the Rio Grande and the Union Pacific. Wednesday was a chance to catch up and be ready for work the next day.
So… what does this year’s trip hold in store? Frankly, a much quieter, less hectic pace. At least to start. If all goes as planned, a Saturday in October will see a mid-morning departure from Emeryville, headed east. Seven days later we’ll roll to our first destination and the fun will really start.
But that’s another story!