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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Amtrak to Sacramento, CA, Portland, OR, Chicago, IL, and then home to Omaha.

I apologize for the length of this post. I began typing and it just kept getting bigger.

A big thanks to our son Daniel for taking us to the train depot last night, Thursday July 16. Our train wasn’t due out until 11 PM but we didn’t want Daniel to stay up to late so we got to the depot an hour early or so we thought. The train was running late, an hour late, so we waited. Our train arrived and we were able to get into our sleeper bedroom. We had way too much in our suitcase because it about killed me carrying it up the stairs to our room.

A little bit about our bedroom. Our bedroom is not as big as the bedroom we had in our fifth wheel camper and this one has a toilet/shower combination with the sink on the wall by the door. The toilet is very tight quarters and nearly impossible for me but I manage. I did get some sleep last night but not enough. Sarah says she didn’t sleep well but she also got some sleep. Now Sarah is sleeping in the top bunk, me in the bottom one, she hasn’t quite mastered getting in and out of the bunk but I being the great guy I am, I watch her backside.

As you can see the room isn’t very big. I am sitting on the lower bunk, the upper bunk folds down from the ceiling.

This is the hallway outside of our compartments. Just like in the James Bond movies they are narrow. I had to stay in our room until others would pass, to large people had a great deal of intimacy when passing in the hallways.

Larry and Kathy are with us, they got on the train in Burlington, IA and had to sit in the Omaha destination car until Omaha and then get their luggage and get off the train and go to their sleeper car, which was behind our car.

Larry told me that in order to be sure we got breakfast we needed to be there by 6 AM. So I set my alarm for 5:30 AM, it should have been for Mountain Time not central time. So when my alarm went off I called Larry as instructed, he told me then Mountain Time not central time. I was a bit early but since I was up I got up and since Sarah was awake she got up. So for our first night on the train it wasn’t too bad.

Breakfast was pretty good, I had an omelet with cheese and Sarah had scrambled eggs, both had croissants.

After breakfast we went to the observation car. This car has half of it with tables and the other half has big windows with seats which face the windows so you are looking outside all of the time. I took a lot of pictures there and will take more as the trip goes on.

Bob & Jim were in the observation car, they are volunteers for Amtrak, and they tell all about the tunnels, switchbacks and towns all the way to Grand Junction, a very nice feature. One of the interesting things on the switchback, the train cannot go up more than a 3% grade so the railroad uses a series of switchbacks to get up a mountain. Outside of Denver going up the mountain there is a certain location where the winds can be strong enough to blow a train off the tracks. So to counter that the railroad has taken some old hopper cars and filled them with sand and rock and welded them to a section of track to act as a wind break. Here is a picture of what the cars look like,

You can see the weeds growing in the cars.

Lunch was an Angus Steak Burger & chips, not a bad burger with it being nuked. The food is good but, I believe, it is reheated type it was still good.

Spent the afternoon between the observation car and our room, this is the way to travel if you have no time constraints and the train goes where you want to go. It is probably the most expensive way to travel but you get to see some beautiful country.

Dinner was Angus Steak, baked potato and vegetables with ice cream for dessert. Sarah had salmon, baked potato and vegetables with ice cream for dessert.

Well again we had a snafu with the alarm. I had set my phone alarm for 5:30 thinking we would have crossed over to Pacific Time by 5:30 but that didn’t work out. My alarm went off at 5:30 which was actually 4:30, so I went back to sleep. We did get up in time for breakfast at 6:30. The reason we want to be there when the dining room opens is after the car is full then you go on a wait list and we don’t want to be on the wait list.

So far I have taken 2-300 pictures, a lot of them will be deleted but we have gone through some fabulous country.

When we were traveling alongside the Colorado River we saw a lot of people rafting. One of the nick names for this river, or at least this section of it, is Moon River. I thought that was because Perry Como liked tubing the river and sang about it, but boy was I wrong. It is called Moon River because the people rafting on it like to moon the train as it passes them. We saw the biggest full moon on a very small raft. Another guy almost upset the boat trying to get his pants down before the train passed them. That was more an interesting type of scenery than beautiful.

For the sake of any youngsters I purposefully blurred the photo.(I wish I was that good of a photographer)
We are almost to Reno, NV and the landscape is a desert type but one section of it looked white, I wonder if it is just a type of sand or if it could be salt it is most likely just the minerals in the ground. Don’t know, I guess I could try to find out but will have to wait until I have Wifi.

Saturday, July 18
We made it to Sacramento, CA. We got off the train and took a cab to our hotel the Delta King.

This is an exact copy of the Delta Queen. The bedrooms were dated but ok, best part is we got to shower. Now our bedroom on the train had a shower but there is no way I could take a shower in it, way to small, my shoulders touched wall to wall.

Here is a history of the boat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_King
I did not know the Delta Queen had a twin, according what I found in the above article and asking question of the personnel on the Delta King the two boats did operate together in California.

Rusty, Sarah’s nephew, came to the boat, he is a traveling operating room nurse and is working in Sacramento. We walked around for a bit and since we were all hungry we went to Fat Bar and Café or something to that effect. The food was good with good size portions. We were all tired, except for Rusty, so the old people went back to the King and went to bed, Rusty went home.

Sunday, July 19, Sarah and I got up early to go to church. I found one, Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. It didn’t look to far from the King but we still took a cab. It was less than a mile. This is a beautiful church, it is the home of the bishop and therefore a bit bigger than most of the other churches in the diocese.

After mass we decided to walk back to the King and did so. We walked by a park with quite a few homeless in it. We saw a line of people and figured it was most likely a church ministry for the homeless and they were feeding them breakfast. What a nice way to start a Sunday morning.
We got back to the boat, called Rusty, and went for breakfast, it was free in the restaurant.

Rusty showed up about fifteen minutes after we finished eating. We drove over to the State Capital building and looked around inside. A very nice building, took a few pictures and bought a couple items.

From the capital we went searching for food for Rusty. He wanted to try a pizza place he had heard about. The pizza was very good, I had a piece or two.
Then we drove back to Old Sacramento and parked the car, the car is Rusty’s.

We went into a candy store that had every type of candy you would ever want. They had a jaw breaker candy as big as a softball, it was $15. I didn’t buy anything.

Then we were looking for something to do and Larry suggested a boat tour on the Sacramento River, we did this and it was very nice.
Afterwards it was time for ice cream, so we found a shop that sold ice cream, candy, and brittle of many different flavors or types. Have you ever heard of bacon brittle? Didn’t try it but I wish I had now.

We walked around the area and had a drink at the Firehouse Restaurant, nice place but dinner cost a bit more than we wanted to pay and we weren’t very hungry.

We walked over to a park and parked ourselves on a couple of benches. There was a singing group, kids from San Diego, performing under a big tent, they were pretty good.

We decided to get something to eat before we had Rusty drop us at the Train Depot. Joe’s Crab Shack was no more than 100 feet away so that is where we went. Sarah and I split a meal, I wasn’t very hungry.

Rusty dropped us at the train depot about 8:30, our train was scheduled to leave a midnight.

Rusty thank you very much for spending the day with four old fogeys. We enjoyed being with you sorry we couldn’t walk around as much as you wanted.

Kathy, Sarah and Rusty.

The wait in the train depot wasn’t bad except it was hot. They are doing a renovation to the depot and so no air conditioning. The train was thirty minutes late, not too bad.

We got on and our bedroom was all made up into sleeping quarters so we went to bed.

I don’t know what time I finally went to sleep but I was awake at 5:30 and with breakfast at 6:30 we got up.
After breakfast we went back to our rooms and relaxed. With luck we will be on time into Portland.

We arrived on time in Portland, very nice Amtrak station. They have several trains in and out each day, all commuter type or short haul except for the once a day Amtrak north to Vancouver or south to San Diego.

We called Enterprise to get our car, they came and picked us up and we headed to Colleen & Darrius’ house.

Now Colleen & Darrius have a two bedroom condo, so Sarah and I stayed with them and Larry and Kathy stayed in the guest house. It is a one bedroom apartment, very nice and plenty of room.

Had a great dinner and walk down to the river. There is a very nice park by the river. They have concerts there on Wednesday nights.
It turned into a late night, went to bed at 11:15.

Tuesday, July 21
Up early, couldn’t sleep I had congestion so I couldn’t use my CPAP, so I got up and did some reading and dozed on the couch.

Darrius grilled chicken breasts for lunch, it was excellent.

Darrius, Colleen, Sarah, me, Kathy and Larry

The ladies did a bit of shopping this afternoon. Us guys did our own thing.

This evening we met Brad & Suzanne for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. You might remember them from our first winter in Mesa. Suzanne taught a class, I don’t remember about what and Brad worked on the Décor team with us. Brad spent most of that time working with John Cline and myself. John and I spent most of our time eating ice cream and supervising. Brad took a lot of ribbing from us but he was a good sport and at times gave back as good as or better than he got.

Anyway we had a great visit with them and learned all about what they have been up to for the last couple of years. They have gotten off the road and have returned to Portland and their old jobs. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us.

Me, Sarah, Brad and Suzanne

Wednesday, July 22
This morning we were up fairly early, had a great breakfast got ready to go to visit Brian, nephew, who works at Nike. (I tend to tease my sister Colleen a lot but she has achieved a lot in her life and I admire her for that. Plus she is one fabulous gourmet cook and Darrius is a master of the Weber grill. So all the meals were great.) Enough of that, now on to Nike. This is the second time Sarah and I had been there. Nike has a square mile campus and are building more and adding to their current campus. While we were there the top 100 lacrosse players in the country were there for training and learning more about their sport. I would also think Nike is listening to them about the equipment the players use to be able to develop a better product.

Brian gave us a tour of the grounds and we had lunch in one of the several dining rooms on the campus. We did get to the employee store and Sarah and I got new shoes and she got a jacket. The one complaint I do have is the store cares nothing in the FAT man category. In fact, now this is an unscientific observation, but I believe I was the oldest and fattest person in the store the whole time we were in there. But hey, I still enjoyed looking at all the stuff in the store.

Later Brian, his wife April, their kids Ethan and Amelia came over for a cook out. Darrius cooked on his grill and we ate at the outdoor patio by the club house, it was a mere fifty feet from their door. Again a great meal.

During dinner Ethan sat next to me and he told me about his track camp he was attending that week. He said they learn a new event each day, sometimes two, I believe today he was learning the javelin. I had a great visit with him, he is a very intelligent young man who will grow into a very intelligent adult.

After dinner it was time for Ethan and Amelia to hit the hay so with hugs all around we said goodbye.
Later the rest of us walked down to the river park to listen to a band I never heard of and can’t remember the name but it was fun. It was amazing to see the number of people attending the concert. They bring blankets, chairs and picnic baskets full of food and wine. There are a few vendors there also. It is like a big party.

Brian, April, Amelia and Ethan and Moxie

Thursday, July 23
This morning the ladies went shopping and Darrius, Larry and I went to the golf driving range. Darrius bought some new golf clubs and wanted to give them a swing. Larry wanted to try out the new clubs also, I went along to give unwanted advice. The guys were hitting away at the balls when I noticed two youngsters down the line from us. These boys must have been 6-8 years old and they were hitting the ball straighter than I ever had in all my years of playing golf.

Anyway, the guys got to where they figured they hit enough balls so I gave it a try. Even though I am not a good golfer I do miss getting out on the links and whacking the ball around. I tried and I felt the hit in my right hand to the point I don’t believe it would be worth the pain and frustration of trying to golf again, let alone the pain in my hand.

Our time in Portland has come to an end way to soon. We had a great time with Colleen and Darrius, wish it could have been longer but it was great visit. We thank you both for being such gracious hosts and can’t wait to see you again. Hopefully you can make it to Burlington this fall, Sarah and I will gladly come over to see you.

Our train was due out at 4:45 pm so we headed to the depot about 1:30, I dropped everyone off at the depot and took the rental car back to Enterprise. A nice young lady took me back to the depot and we planted ourselves in the Metropolitan Lounge, this is a place for passengers with sleeper accommodations on the train. It was nice in that it had cushioned chairs and free beverages. They also provided red cap service to put our luggage on the train and in our compartments, which really helped me in that the stairs in the train car are very narrow and steep.
As per Amtrak’s reputation we were told the train would be late leaving Portland because it had arrived late that day and the cleaners were still working on cleaning the cars. The cleaners do okay, but they need to do a deep cleaning in the cars and in the case of some of the cars Amtrak needs to either refurbish or get new cars.

We did finally board about 5:30 and got under way shortly after that.

Again we had a sleeper with toilet and shower. A bit more on the toilet accommodations, the toilet in our sleeper was smaller than that in an airplane, I could stand in it and my shoulders just about touched the walls. Forget sitting down, I tried and I couldn’t get back up without opening the door. You had better like who you are traveling with because if you are an adult you won’t be taking a shower in you compartment. I did find toilets and showers on the lower level of the car that were a tad bit bigger. At least you don’t have to open the door to stand up, which could be a bit embarrassing if there was a line up outside the door to use the toilet.

Enough of that, we enjoyed the scenery as we headed to Spokane, WA. Now part of our ticket price included meals on the train. I can, from memory, tell you every item on the menu and the menu was the same on each train. I will tell you this, in my opinion the French toast, omelet are the best for breakfast. Lunch would be the hamburger and hotdog. Dinner the steak was the best, although I didn’t try anything else for dinner. Sarah had salmon one night and I had a taste, it wasn’t too bad.

However our train from Portland did not have a dining car, the train out of Seattle and the Portland train merge in Spokane.

Private cars attached to our train in Spokane.

So Amtrak gave us a box dinner but nothing to drink with it, not sure what that is all about but that is what they did. You could have chicken, beef or salmon, I chose wisely, I chose beef. The other meals weren’t all that good and they ran out of the beef so I would think there were a lot of half eaten dinners thrown out that night.

With a sleeper you don’t make up the bed at all the car attendant, or porters a name they don’t use anymore, make up the bed for you. Our attendant, Courtney, wanted to know if we wanted the top bunk made up, I said yes. Sarah and I aren’t newlyweds anymore and for me at least I get closterphobic and would probably keep Sarah awake all night, she slept on the top bunk. They do keep the trains cool day and night, I had to get a second blanket a couple nights.

Friday, July 24
We are headed across Montana and the scenery is breath taking.

Here is some mountain we saw, I believe as we were leaving Portland.

So we didn’t do much but watch the scenery and sleep, did do some reading and of course we ate all three meals, I won’t go into that again, suffice it to say Amtrak should expand their menus and have less microwavable food but we all know that probably won’t happen.

Saturday, July 25
I slept all the way across North Dakota except the times I woke up either due to a long wait in Williston or the roughness of the ride. This section of the track had to be the worst ride we had been on since we began the journey. I think I did get off the train in Fargo, not sure. My aunt who is from ND asked me where the depot was in Fargo, I told her it was right next to the tracks.

Once we started across Minnesota and Wisconsin the landscape was not new to us, it looked a lot like Iowa and Nebraska, so I read a lot.
Somewhere along the way we lost four hours and arrived in Chicago at eight thirty, Larry had made reservations at the Hampton on Wacker, in fact they called him to see if we were in fact going to be needing the rooms, he said yes but we were on Amtrak and the guy said ok he understood. I guess Amtrak has the reputation of being late everywhere.

Our rooms were nice but small, I thought maybe this was like a boutique hotel but Larry said no this was the size of all hotel rooms downtown, unless you want to pay out an arm and a leg for a bigger room.

Sunday, July 26
We were supposed to leave today at 2:00 pm but Larry and I both received calls and text messages telling us the train was leaving early, noon, no other explanation. I figured they knew they would lose time and figured this would help them along the way.

We were at the depot by eleven and waited in a special area for seniors, military or people who had children under ten with them. We had coach seats from Chicago to Omaha and they were not too bad. They had two electrical outlets and they reclined. I used the outlets but declined on the recliner idea.

We were on time in Burlington so Larry and Kathy got home before we did but we did get home on time, 9 pm.

We were in the second car from the engine so when the train stopped in Omaha it seemed like a mile and a half walk to the depot. I went looking for a cab and there were none outside so I called the first one to come up on the search on my phone. I got the company’s voice mail box and the recording said it was full, this was a company with four stars. I tried another and was told there should be taxis there but they would send one down. Finally a yellow cab showed up and we headed home. We arrived about ten and our journey was over.

Post Script:
We all enjoyed the trip but will probably never ride the train for this length of time again. I am glad we had the sleeper but you still don’t get much sleep, I would imagine though you get more than if you are in coach. The meals leave a lot to be desired, they aren’t that good, except for a couple of items. The Amtrak personnel were all very nice and tried to do as much as humanly possible to make sure you had a pleasant trip. We met a couple of interesting individuals and overheard some very interesting conversations.

A big thanks to our traveling companions Larry and Kathy, it made the ride that much nicer.

As I said we enjoyed the trip and don’t regret the train ride. But we all agreed the next time we will fly.

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