“Trains seems to rattle out stories, as though the motion of the track acts to shake up thoughts and loosen tongues. There’s a world outside the window and a whole separate world within.” ~Ticket the Ride, Tom Chessyre (My California Zephyr book)
For a while now I have wanted to ride the California Zephyr, one of AMTRAK’s most scenic routes.
Last Spring, I had to cancel my train journey but this Spring Break I booked an abbreviated trip, not departing from Emeryville but Colfax and detraining in Denver instead of Chicago.
I chose Colfax because it is a 35 minute drive from my mother’s house in Penn Valley. The train was running two minutes late. When I would finish the journey to Denver, the number 6 was running two hours late. Freight trains are given priory over passage service like the California Zephyr.
Four other people boarded at Colfax, two middle aged women looked like they were headed to Reno. The two other travelers were a bit older and appeared to be heading further down the line. They are all traveling in coach. I never saw them again.
Colfax is not one of the “Fresh Air- Smoke Break” stops (oxymoron I know), so the Zephyr stops only long enough to pick up or drop off passengers.
Number six pulls into Colfax. The platform is too short for the two locomotives with the eight car consist. I am on the first car behind the locomotives, sleeper car 32048 and roomette number 003. This will be my address for the next 30 hours or so. Once I have boarded, the train slowly pulls forward so the Reno travelers can board the coach car, at the end of the train.
There is something wonderful about stepping off the platform and into another moving world. The California Zephyr is a self-contained world with everything you could possibly need: food, drink, a bathroom, and a bed (not to mention the amazing views).
The locomotive throttled up and headed east out of Colfax and my car attendant showed me to my roomette (featured sketch). I set my bag down and I headed to the opposite side of the train to see the first of many views: Cape Horn. If there is one problem with the Zephyr is that there are great views on both sides of the train and unless your sitting in the observation car, your roomette faces only one side of the train.
I book a late lunch in the dining car with the dining car attendant, John. I head to the observation car and wait for my name to be called. Here I do my first sketch abroad the Zephyr. Over the course of the journey I do many more.
John, also known as Big John, seems to have worked for Amtrak for a while. He reminds everyone that they are short staffed for this leg of the journey. This is because many of the Amtrak workers have been furloughed because of Corvid-19. At one point, one of the engineers helps out with lunch service. Don’t worry. Some engineers are on board and there was someone at the controls as we headed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I enjoyed talking train talk with the engineer, now promoted to dining car assistant. He tells me a little about the locomotive and we discuss the recently restore Big Boy 4014, that largest steam locomotive in operation.
After lunch I head back to my roomette and do some more scenic sketches.