This and That
Gerard "Gerry" Leeds (and CMP): Memories

To Seattle by Train

I finally did something I have been meaning to do for decades. I took a long ride on a private railcar. I am still interested in riding on one like the Virginia City, (how can you not love a car with a fireplace), but in the meantime the Silver Solarium will have to do. It has been meticlously restored by its owners. If you ride, ask Bert to see his PowerPoint--the amount of work required to rennovate the cars was eye-watering. This car and its two sisters are examples of the epitome of American rail car construction: Vistadome cars built for a mid-20th-century streamliner train. They are moved around by being attached Amtrak trains. Amtrak reminds me of what friend the private pilot says about flying in a private prop plane: "Time to spare? Go by air." Thanks to the shuttling of the Coast Starlight onto sidings to allow freight trains to pass (a violation of federal law known as the "Amtrak Two-Step") the Coast Starlight is often hours late. That's fine if you don't care. We didn't care. Although Vicki is not a train buff and generally does not sleep well on trains, she consented to join me and agreed she had a pretty good time.

We engaged the suite, which has a double bed that can be made up into two large seats during the day. Since we spent all our time in the dome and the observation car, we left our bed set up all day so I could take two naps and V could take one.

The train was an hour late into Emeryville. We were the only passengers getting on the Silver Solarium, so we were greeted by name. We were served dessert in the dome car and hit the sack at about midnight. We were up at 7 the next morning, in time to see some beautiful Cascade mountain scenery along the Natron Cutoff between Weed, California and Eugene, Oregon by way of Klammath Falls. There wasn't a lot of snow (we passed a trackside snow gauge that measured up to 12 feet of snow!), but enough to slightly improve the scenery. Railroads are remarkable when they consist of single-track right of way, miles from roads, towns and farms. They are so much narrower than highways. The views were unique and amazing.

The food was great, all cooked on board from scratch. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner on board. Alcohol was free for the asking, as were soft drinks.

You may say to yourself, "Well, Amtrak has sightseer cars." Well, yes, but for reasons I found hard to explain, windows on the top of the Vistadome car (and the front and back of the car as well) make for a better viewing experience than simply having large windows on the side.  We also enjoyed the observation lounge at the back of the train. You've probably seen pictures of these loungers; a dozen easy chairs arrayed around the side with a rounded rear window offering a view behind the train. It was comfortable and pleasant.


Among the classy touches: fresh flowers everywhere



In the Silver Solarium Vistadome car, you can see out the sides, the top, and toward the front of the train.




I have seen many pictures of an observation car, but until this trip I had never ridden in one. The height of comfort! Of course, there were only 14 of us in the private section of  the train, which tended to keep the crowds down.