Category Archives: Trains

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…