Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amtrak Adventure - Part 2

I’ll be taking a departure away from technology issues for the next few posts to submit a little online journal of my travel across the country with Dad on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr.

July 16 - California Zephyr

The horn blast of an early morning freight train was our wake up call this morning. The balcony of our hotel room overlooked the Emeryville station. At 7:55am the California Zephyr, our home for the next 3 days, pulled up to the platform. We found sleeping car 632 and met Bob, our 6 foot 6 1/2 attendant. He had hot coffee already for us in the car and not long after had we settled down in our room, he popped his head in our compartment and invited us to breakfast in the dining car. Our dining companions were a couple of musicians from the Bay Area. We shared stories and had a great discussion about the need to teach our kids how to find truth and validity in the glut of information available online, and promote creativity and innovation in the classroom. We chatted until the attendants politely kicked us out of the dining car, encouraging us to continue to solve the world’s problems, but to work at it in a different car.

After a brief stop to stretch our legs in Sacramento, the Zephyr started chugging uphill into the Sierras following pretty much the same route as the original Transcontinental Railroad. From here to Reno we were joined by two history experts from the Sacramento Railroad Museum who narrated the journey and answered passenger questions in the observation car. They were more than willing to fill me in on the history of the railroad and it’s construction, along with great bits of Sierra history and little know facts. I was even able to pry one of them for some information about a great spot on the Truckee River for catching native brown trout (but was sworn to secrecy).

The view from the observation car was spectacular as we climbed through Emigrant Gap & Donner Pass, then followed the Truckee River down to Reno. Lunch in the dining car was accompanied by a view of Donner Lake and the Eastern Sierras, along with some nice conversation with some Zephyr regulars who served as personal tour guides during the meal.

What About Bob?
I’m learning that train travel is a much about the people as it is the scenery. One of the joys of this trip so far is Bob Heath, our sleeping car attendant. Bob is a 35 year Amtrak veteran and Chicago native. Car 632 is HIS car, and we are HIS people. He’s always ready to serve with a warm and friendly smile and makes an extra effort to get to know his passengers.

In the evening he can convert a 2 seat roomette into upper and lower bunk beds in less than 2 minutes flat - complete with fresh linens and mints on the pillow. Dad and I had a great time getting to know him on this trip and hear about some of his experiences working on the train for the last quarter century. And yes, after 35 years, he still bumps his head occasionally as he maneuvers his 6 foot 6 1/2 inch frame through the train corridors.

Evening brought us into the relatively flatter part of western Nevada and dinner with a couple from New Zealand traveling across country to Connecticut. Their idea was to use cross country train trip to work off the jet lag of a 12 hour flight to San Francisco. Interesting idea.

Tonight is our first night of sleeping on the train. I’ll have to let you know how that goes tomorrow.

CLICK HERE for Part 3

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You had a splendid attendant in Bob Heath. His brother Isaac is also a sleeper attendant (I met him on the Empire Builder) and equally friendly and helpful.

Dennis Grice said...

Bob talked about his brother, too. He said Isaac was also working on the Zephyr. Our trains passed each other as we were coming down out of the Sierras toward Reno.