Category Archives: Trains

Train tickets

Bought our end of April tickets to Oklahoma City. Trying again to get within range of Higgins in the Texas Panhandle and OCS comrade Russ Wheat’s grave. At least we can expect no ice storms this time.

Austin to Oklahoma City

Another fun Amtrak trek, made on Oct 25, returning on the 28th. We’d intended to rent a car/truck and drive to Higgins in far north Texas, to see the grave of an old Army friend. We ran into an ice storm instead which kept us in the hotel in OKC. But we had fun anyway.

The most fun were the train rides, the third and fourth after our jaunts to Colorado and back in 2019. We had a bedroom enroute to Fort Worth, as usual, but with room service of a meal this time, and thence a coach seat to OKCity. And the reverse on the 28th, but this time had a small roomette from Fort Worth to Austin. Which also got us room service from a friendly staff person.

The only bad part is the four-hour layover in Fort Worth. Those wooden benches in the old station are very uncomfortable for so long. But we enjoyed the ride of even the coach seats. Rocking along from side to side.

As for the train cars, they were clean, so far as we could tell, if a bit shabby. All that deferred maintenance imposed by the crooks of Congress who only maintain Amtrak’s northeast corridor, which they use, of course. Flyover country gets the schnitz. Schmucks.

Ice Storm

Nailed us in Oklahoma City, ice everywhere with a little snow and temps in the 20s. Farther west, where we were planning to go, the worse it got. Worst of all at our destination: Higgins in the Texas panhandle, and OCS buddy Russ Wheat’s grave, where the snow was more than a little and the temps in the teens.

So we stayed in the hotel, where three nights and two days in bed was quite fun. And Amtrak was enjoyable, as usual. Had a roomette where the conductors brought our meals. Got back to find that ice on the local lines caused a power outage which killed the furnace. So was a mite chilly until we got it going again. We’ll try again in April.

Streamliner Memories

Sigh. Just looking at the pics (or pix, if you prefer) brings back memories of our two thousand mile Amtrak excursion earlier this year. We only got a few canyons (in Colorado and New Mexico) and no mountains at all in Texas and Kansas) but we want to do it again next year. This time we’ll cut the distance to Colorado in half by going and coming back across West Texas.

Can’t stop thinking about the train

Bar and I agree, we can’t stop thinking about our train trip and want to do it again this year. In October, probably, when it’s cooled off a little in West Texas, which is the route we’ll take.

South to San Antonio and thence to El Paso. At that point, it’s a toss-up. Back to Trinidad or continue west to her birthplace of Phoenix? We’ll see.

FEMA on rails?

Mostly no. As Bar told her bosses the other day in complaining about a lack of coordination in her job, from her vacation experience, “people on trains cooperate with each other.”

The passengers, yes, for the most part on our heartland excursion. There were the inevitable rude few. The staff, sometimes, if they weren’t too busy. Then there’s the woman conductor who complained after a long day of working with women attendants. The men, she said, were only slowed in following her directives by the need for details of what to do. The women stopped altogether, complained about this or that and otherwise expected special attention before they’d get to it.

Our woman attendant on one run made up our bed well enough, remembering to leave the upper berth up so Bar didn’t get claustrophobia, but neglected to mention that we could turn down the volume on our Big Brother public address speaker in the ceiling. “Why didn’t you ask ?” she said. Why did I need to? We were paying for first-class service (about a dollar a mile) and not getting it. Principally because the train was short-staffed and she was overworked

I spent an uncomfortable time thinking about how we would get out of a sleeper car derailed and turned on its side. It could be as simple as following directions on the windows about how to remove them. If they weren’t broken, too far above you or lying on the ground under you. Not that derailments here in flyover country are as common as those on the Northeast corridor.

The between-cars connections frightened Bar (never having seen it before) she said later, but she didn’t show it at the time only negotiated the moving part at her feet just fine. Skip over it. Just don’t step on it. I was frightened of it as a toddler in the 1940s but am now just cautious.

The seats in the private bedroom were comfy with room to stretch out and the windows big but the bed was too short for my six-foot frame. A better experience was the dining car and the chance to make new friends. Which we did, several times, with a Railfan and his brother from Kansas City, and a retired Wisconsin health insurance salesman pushing 82 with his fiftyish Fort Worth fiance. Hurtling along in the dark in the brightly-lit diner was exciting, especially when a spot of rough rails threatened to make you stab yourself with a fork or throw your hot coffee in your face. For the most part they didn’t.

Adventure calls and Amtrak delivers. (I should write ad copy)

Smoke stops

Amtrak is government railroad, so it gets the full nanny state treatment. Red and white warning signs abound, even on the spendy private bedroom windows to mar the view. But the No Smoking rule has taken some hits from the staff as well as the passengers.

Such that there are “smoke stops” of about five minutes between major stations. I mingled with two conductors smoking in black-dark rural Kansas on the Southwest Chief’s route to Trinidad and a sleeping car attendant on the Sunset Limited run to San Antonio. San Antone being a two-hour layover while cars and engines are rearranged. Some go to Austin, some to El Paso, New Orleans, and Chicago.

Some passengers don’t wait but light up in their private rooms and the cooling/heating system spreads the smoke throughout the sleeping car. If they can catch you, as we were all reminded every so often on the public address system, they’ve threatened to put you off at the next stop wherever it may be. But when they’re already understaffed…