So we needed to go to North Dakota and pick up this car and the other sundry items I had accumulated in 18 months of living there. Luckily that Lincoln has a huge trunk and back seat so that stuff would fit in it. I like traveling by train and it is more than half price than flying and a little less stressful for me. So I bought the tickets a month a head of time. We set out with all our luggage for the one mile walk to the Train Station here in our town. I took this pic of the cute girl friend with all the luggage.
I like this train ride because of the sites you can see as you travel down the tracks. From Vancouver you start heading east and the tracks follow the Columbia River to as far as Kennewick Wa. We were on the last coach car at the back of the car and next to us is a nice lady Conductor. She was a good humored older African-American woman and we would chat with her as she sat down when she wasn't working. The Car behind us was the sleeper car, those have rooms and beds and some have toilets en suite. Those are rather pricy, but they have some perks. Price includes all your meals, some of them brought to your room by a Steward, they also get to be part of a Wine Tasting during the trip.
In the old days of travel when most of it was by train, and there was a large number of Train Companies instead of just Amtrak, the routes had special names like "The City of San Fransisco", "Meteor", "Hiawatha", "Empire Builder". Names have come and gone in the railroads long history and when Amtrak was formed in 1971 the Empire Builder stayed as it always has been since 1929.
So we left Vancouver and started east, The route takes us up the Columbia River and through the Columbia River Gorge, where the sites are very beautiful. You pass by several dams and locks. See eagles and tons of ducks. There are several good tunnels you go through if you are into that type of thing. The Gorge is a very interesting place one of my new favorites here in Washington.
The Gorge is also a favorite place for Wind and Para Surfers. The prairie heats up during the day and that air rises and draws cool air up the tight Gorge and you get great conditions for Windsurfing. Sometimes the water is full of hundreds of colorful sails. The crazy thing is that if the wind is blowing in the Gorge the waves start building up and you can see these windsurfers fly into the air off these waves and eat it wildly. Wind was calm so no surfers when we past by. I did see a couple of those new boards that you stand up on and paddle.
One last thing on the Gorge and the Columbia River. They have built these huge dams for Hydroelectric Power. Some of them have these huge locks to let boats and barges travel up and down stream. A lot of grain and wood pulp gets moved up and down this river. When I get a boat I'm going up through those locks someday.
After a couple of stops at some small towns in the Gorge and a town called Pasco, we started to nod off and sleep on the way to Spokane Wa. The Empire Builder has two parts to it and at Spokane, depending on which way it is going it is split apart or connected together. One part is for the Portland Area and the other is for the Seattle Area. It is weird when they do the switch over. You have been sitting on this train for hours with all the track noise and the air conditioning making noise and they shut it all down and there is like this dead silence and only some small lights. This is where the Dinning car is attached because it stays with the Seattle train. The first time I rode the train I wanted breakfast before we arrived in Portland, but when I got to the Observation car I notice the the Locomotive out the door, luckily there is a snack bar in the lower part of the Observation car.
Advice for if you ride on the train, keep your hands on the seat backs or the luggage rack as you walk down the isles. That train rocks from time to time and can throw you around some. More on that later.
One of the stops is at a place in Idaho called Sandpoint. I have never seen it in the daylight. Some sort of Resort town, big lake there that I have seen on Google Earth. They serve Adult Beverages in the observation car so I went down to grab a couple of beers. Some people were already down there for fourth or fifths. I didn't find any thing for the cute girlfriend, although later we did get her a small wine and a sprite to make a wine cooler. We got a little sleep between Pasco and Spokane and after putting the two trains together got some more sleep between Spokane and Sandpoint.
It was somewhere before Sandpoint that there was this crash next to us that woke us up. We turn to see these legs up in the air. The nice Lady Conductor was asking if the person that had just fallen onto her and was now laying at her feet, if she were ok. This lady had come to the back of the car looking for the bathroom, boy was she hammered, The train lurched as it does from time to time and there she went ass over tea kettle, as my mom use to say, right into the conductor's lap and then to the floor at the conductors feet.
The conductor was asking her again if she was ok and if she was looking for the restroom. The train car is a two story deal. You enter from the middle of the car on the first floor, where the restrooms are along with some luggage racks, then go up these tight three turn stair cases to the sitting area. The stairs can disorient you even if you are sober. The drunk lady is now on her feet and now at the very back of the car behind us touching the panels that contain some train related storage and air handling machinery and the trash. I think that in her inebriated state she was thinking this train was like an airplane and the restrooms are at the back.
The conductor and I finally convinced the lady that the restrooms were downstairs. Good lord this lady was almost blind drunk. She headed off back towards the middle of the car where the stairs are, pausing and looking in over other passengers spots looking for the stairs. She passed the stairs for a second and noticed them and started down. I was figuring the train would lurch again and she would end up as a pile at the bottom. I guess she figured it out because we didn't see her again.
Between Sandpoint and Libby you pass over the Idaho Montana border from that point on you will be spending the rest of your day in Montana. You are heading into the Rockies at this point. Somewhere between Libby MT and a town called White Fish MT there is a tunnel. I saw this also on Google Earth. The train tracks go into this mountain and come back out miles away on the other side. I was awake about 4:30 ish and it was starting to get light out I was starting to make out the river we were traveling next to. I must have woke up the cute girlfriend with all my looking around, she is such a light sleeper, and I told her that I thought we we coming up on this really long tunnel. I looked it up again here as I was writing this because I couldn't remember the name. It is called the Flathead Tunnel, it is in the Flathead Mountains after all.
I was looking this tunnel up online here and in the search there was a Youtube video for this tunnel. It was posted by this guy who hops trains. Boring as hell him just rambling on about how he caught the train. I had no Idea that there was still hobos around. I thought jumping trains was very illegal, but this knucklehead is posting his exploits online....sheesh. It boring but I will link it here as proof there are still hobos.
So we enter the tunnel and I start counting in my head. I'm at around 75 when the cute girlfriend has to use the restroom. She gets up and I sit there counting in my head she goes downstairs and is down there a few minutes. I made it to about maybe 280 before my ADHD kicked in and was distracted by this light in the tunnel that went by. There was some sort of marker light about every half mile or so. Cute girlfriend comes back from the restroom and we are still in this tunnel. This thing is just short of 7 miles long and is the second longest railroad tunnel in the US. I guess the longest tunnel is the Cascade Tunnel on the line heading to Seattle. Interesting read on how they pump air into the tunnels on that link. My ears kept popping as we went through the Flathead tunnel, I thought it was the suction of the train passing through the tunnel but this air pump method they have makes more sense now that I have read about it on that Cascade Tunnel Wiki page.
We arrived in White Fish MT around 8am or so, I talked cute girlfriend into some breakfast in the Dining Car. She is not much of a breakfast person and the seat had not treated her well that night so she was not the happiest camper. The dining car is way forward of the train. You sit communal style. You walk in they put you at a table with another passenger and you eat with them. The guy across from us was not a very talkative person. We order the Omelet and juice and coffee. It is very expensive to eat in the dining car, but I recommend at least one meal there just for the experience. Just like Danny Kay and Bing Crosby sitting in the dining car in the move "White Christmas"...oh great now I have that "Snow" song in my head.
We were in there for a few minutes and had already been seated when and ordered when we first met the Hostess of the Dining Car. We were sitting at the entrance to the car and got to see her in action. The way she talked to people and dealt with them was just a little gruff. I would describe her as probably a detail oriented person and could coordinate the seating to the car with great skill. Alas like most detail oriented people she was not a people oriented person....lol We called her "Sunshine" for the rest of the trip. She would announce who's tables were ready, and when the car would close down for the change of meal times and breaks, and she came through the cars getting dinner reservations. She seamed to have been doing this job for a long time and was just jaded by it.
So we get our meals and the train starts to roll. We are sitting with our backs towards the forward motion of the train which is unnerving at first. We only roll forward a hundred yards or so and the train reverses. it comes to a stop and then the power is cut. I guess they have to do this when they hook or disconnect cars.
I looked over at one of the conductors that was sitting at the table across from us taking his break and ask him if we are having mechanical issues or something.
He says they are hooking up a Private Coach to the train. In this day and age you just don't think that there are still private train cars. He tells us a story about a family that rented this private coach and started out in LA and took it up to the coast and then to places like Yellowstone and such and ended up in Florida near Disney World or something. He said it was over a million dollars for this excursion. I got on my phone and looked it up on Google and saw that there were quite a few private train coaches around for hire.
Later on when we made our first stop in North Dakota I got off the train to get some pictures of the private coach.
Sierra Hotel website, how cool would it be to rent one of these!
Well the train started rolling again and we finished our meal and headed back to our seats. As you walk around the cars you see a wide range of personal entertainment. Most people have their laptops out and a movie or game playing on it.
Behind our seats was this kind of dead space area that you could fit in. Which came in handy when we went through my favorite part of the Empire Builder Route. Glacier National Park. The tracks follow the Flathead River up in to the park and up and over Marias Pass and beyond out onto the the mid-west prairies. I took some video of the Flathead river. It had this cool green color to it, tinted train window didn't do any of my pictures any justice.
Glacier National Park has been around since 1910, and the trains have been and integral part of the park, but one of the more famous forms of transportation is the Red Autobuses better known as "Red Jammers''
You may have seen one of these beauties in the Rose Parade. I found this Photo on Flickr.com. Nice Craftsman Lodge behind the Red Jammer. I saw one going up the Highway that parallels the tracks but my camera would have never got the shot...sigh. I guess they call them Jammers because you had to grind the gears trying to clime the hills back in the old days. The Vistas are wonderful.
The Obelisk is a Monument to Theodore Roosevelt. I like the story how the land was donated for the monument, follow the link. There is also a statue of a gentleman named John Frank Stevens, the principal engineer for the Great Northern Railway that charted the route through Marias Pass. After this we stopped at east Glacier where I got a crappy shot of the Lodge there.
There is another Obelisk not too much further down the tracks.
Camp Disappointment, during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Capt. Lewis tried to find out if the Missouri Watershed went up to the 50th Parallel to try and get more land for the United States, but at this point found out it didn't hence the Disappointment. I saw this marker when I was heading west on the train back in March and Googled it on the train. I saw it and had thought Wounded Knee, but was reminded that the Knee is in South Dakota.
When I moved up to North Dakota to work I started seeing these signs every where. The Missouri River is just south of Minot and all the Highways paralleling the Missouri seem to have these signs on them. Funny thing is when the Cute Girlfriend and I move lock stock and barrel up here to Washington State I was barraged by more signs. South of Minot there is a man made lake called Sakakawea and here in Longview Wa there is a lake Sacagewea. It is amazing how much land those guys and gals surveyed. Plus the myth and legend that there travels have become.
At one point during our train ride I had to use the restroom and was going down the stairs to the lower section of the car. The stairs are very steep and have blind corners. Well I miss judged one of my steps going for the second landing down and ended up jumping two steps and landed on my feet with a thud. Just starting up the stairs is this poor Mennonite gentleman, startled him and he jumped back thinking I was going to hit him or something....lol. Poor guy. The Mennonites are related to the Amish, so if you have seen the movie Witness with Harrison Ford, a guy dressed like that was who I startled. He said he was in no hurry and I apologized that I had startled him. He and his wife were the only Mennonites in our car, and some others were in a car forward of us. The man came back to the conductor next to us to plead his case for moving up to the next car to be with his brothers and sisters. It is very interesting to see them and watch them interact.
We stopped at Havre MT where I ran to a couple of places to find some tums for the cute girlfriend. She was afraid I was going to miss the train. Found the tums in the train station even though I ran down to the main street of town to what I thought was a mini-mart. I had a couple of minutes left so I grabbed a shot of this steam locomotive that was displayed at the station.
The test of the trip was pretty boring, look out the window, play Sudoku. When we hit North Dakota I called my friend to tell him the train was very late. He told me he would leave his car at the train station and where he had hid the keys.
As we got closer to our destination I started pointing stuff out to the cute girlfriend, town names, any cool old houses, and since the train passes my favorite church in ND she got to see that go by. We finally get to Minot and get our butts off the train. I go looking for my friends car. Cute girlfriend is thinking my friend brought our Lincoln to the station. I find my friends car and it is backed up against the loading platform for the train and there are knuckleheads leaning against it. I needed to walk up nonchalantly and retrieve the keys from there hiding place. Cute girlfriend is perplexed about this point and has no idea as to what I was up to.
This Conductor from the train spots me with my luggage and comes over and askes me what my destination is. At this point I grab the keys from their hiding place and tell the conductor "Minot"...he looks at the list in his hands and I'm sure he has already crossed off Minot. He says "oh my we have a problem here".
I start unlocking the car, now cute girlfriend is totally lost, why am I getting in this little white Aveo and not finding the Lincoln. The conductor is still not getting it and neither is the cute girlfriend. I had to tell the conductor that I was home and this was Minot and that I just got off the train....lol Poor guy he got it then and moved on. Then I get this "Kris what are you doing?" I tell her to get her luggage in that this is my friends car...."OHHH!"
We drag our luggage into the house and there are 3 cute kids waiting for us. One of them was very happy to see me. Her nick name is PenGwen, she is so cute. I had missed her very much and was good to hug her and tell her hello, Her older sister Desi had grown since I last saw her. Then there is the world famous Colin.
I sure do miss those kids, they made my homesickness a lot easier. More on our Road Trip home on another post. Here Colin is stealing the show.