Themes and Events:
* President Ronald Reagan is inaugurated for his second term in office. Vice President George Bush is back too.
* Halley’s Comet makes its return.
* Obesity is found to be a major killer, in the same category as smoking and high blood pressure.
* A new form of cocaine called, Crack, hits American streets.
* Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Premier of the Soviet Union. Unlike his precessors, Gorbachev wants to weaken the Communist doctrine and allow free enterprise into the East Block of Soviet Republics. Relations between the two major nuclear superpowers begins to warm. President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev have a 2 day summit in Vienna which brings our nations closer together, establishing a new level of relations.
* For the first time since World War I, the United States becomes a debtor nation. Also this year, the U.S. Federal Deficit reaches $2 trillion.
* There seems to be a lot of terrorism toward the end of this year: In October, “The Palestine Liberation Front” hijacked the cruise ship, Archille Lauro, and shot a wheelchair bound American then threw his body overboard. In December, terrorists simultaneously attack the international airport terminals at Rome and Vienna, killing 18 and wounding 110.
Buttons & bumper stickers:
I owe. I owe. So off to work I go.
When times get tough, the tough go shopping.
Child on board.
Elvis didn’t die, he moved to a better place.
Journal 6, The Travelers Guide
Journal 6: The Travelers Guide To People and Places, was dedicated in its entirety to a massive genealogical research project that I was undertaking. Journal 6 began with an overview of the conditions in Europe during the last Ice Age then rapidly jumped ahead to Neolithic culture and traced the migration of our ancestors, the Getae, from the steppes of eastern Europe into northwestern Europe.
I researched and associated narrative accounts of the physique and character of individuals in the Norman, English and Irish branches of my family, with their images (photographs of statutes, paintings, sepulchral effigies, commemorative postage stamps, images from the ancient coinage, etc.).
The study progressed down several pedigrees, including that of: William the Conqueror, a descendant of the Danish-Normans who occupied Normandy, France, who married Matilda of Flanders, a descendant of Alfred the Great, King of England, who was himself a descendant of Cerdic the Saxon. Meanwhile, the Irish and Scottish lines beginning with Breogan of Spain, gained power in Ireland and after many generations crossed into Scotland and after more generations, their descendant, Duncan I, married, Maud, 3G-granddaughter of Alfred the Great.
These pedigrees, combined and descended through the Plantagenet’s, Bohun and other English families, and descended through the Sayers family to Richard Sears , a direct family ancestor of mine, who immigrated to the Plymouth, Massausecheuttes, in 1630AD.
The work done to assemble the genealogy, collect eyewitness accounts, gather the photographic images and world-wide postage stamps, and later write the one hundred thirty-five page study, required many, many long hours of research at the St. Cloud Public Library, the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud campus library and at home.
Eyewitness accounts of the individuals were extracted from their various sources and combined into a composite of each person. Images were carefully photographed from books, then developed and trimmed to fit in the journal. The postal stamps were ordered and inserted into and along with the narrative as it was written.
Later in this chapter, see the related Journal drawing, entitled, Principle of the Conservation of Genetic Similarity.
The genealogical studies mentioned above that went into Journal 6: The Travelers Guide To People and Places, are being posted in the 4dtraveler blog, see:
My family in history/Old World: The Ancient Family
My family in history/Old World: The Saxons
My family in history/Old World: The Normans
My family in history/Old World: Irish & Scottish,
My family in history/Old World:From Royal Grace to frontier colonial.
Click the Genealogy tab at the top of the blog to find which are (♥) posted or () pending.
The Well Spring, prose
On January 20, I wrote a preface to Journal 6: The Travelers Guide To People and Place entitled, The Well Spring.
The Well Spring 
“I Larry, am son of Robert, who was son of Elsie, and grandson of Anna Flora, daughter of Harmon, a Union soldier in the Civil War, who was in turn descended from John Anderson, who fought for the Independence of our nation, the United States of America. These men descended from the families Warren, Howland, and Tilley, who came from England on the ship Mayflower to become among the first permanent Caucasian settlers on the North American continent.
[Preface drawing: “is the sixth Journal of Larry F. Pierce, being written in the year of our Lord 1985 at the forest homestead-Nightstar*.”]
We descended from the Royal House of England, the seed of Norman and Briton, the sons and daughters of the Bourchiers, the Plantagenets and William the Conqueror, who was a Norman descendant of the dispossessed Viking nobility of Norway. Our seed has come down from across Europe through the houses of Kings Merovens of France, Gundicar of Portugal, Cerdic of the Saxons and Constantine I of the Roman Empire.
Back amongst the shadows, in unrecorded time, where names and lives were spent in that mist of antiquity, we grew from the issue of a nation of people known as the Getae and the Aryan tribes. You are the son’s and daughters of the Gatae, your Paleolithic home was during the glaciation, the lush pluvial plains of the Sahara, your Neolithic home, the steppes of eastern Europe, the Iron Age found your people moving into western Europe.
Ten thousand years, ten thousand miles and three continents later, you are the children of those who survived the westward migration, the countless wars and conquests. You are intelligent, resourceful and adaptive, your ways are subtle; you are relatively tall, your cheekbones high; your hair, eyes and complexion are light. You are a blue blood and you stand at once among men and yet above most, for in your blood flows over two thousand years of Getae nobility.
This then is your history…”
Jane and Porky
As Jane grew from her infancy to become an ‘older baby’, she became aware that there was another creature that lived in the house. And that other creature was, Porky the parakeet. Porky was a friendly fellow who loved to sit on our shoulder, the top of our head and who would follow us through the house or fly down the hall looking for us, just to see what we were doing. Porky lived in his cage in the kitchen, right behind my side of the kitchen table, as had his precessor, Alexander R. Little.
Porky’s cage door was almost always left open, he had free reign to come and go through the house as he pleased.
From the time Jane began sitting in her high chair she’d watch curiously as we’d talk to the parakeet, teaching him to speak. And indeed as the months passed Porky learned to screech a few important words, such as, “Hello” and “Ity bity birdie” He couldn’t speak very clear, but our practiced ears picked up his screechy ‘English’, and the other endearing, cooing, or excited chirping sounds he made.
Once in a while, Jane would sit on the couch beside her mother watching, as Porky came to visit.
When Jane learned to walk, there were several occasions when she’d be walking through the living room and Porky would fly around, squawking then land on her head. The first couple times this happened Jane cried. As soon as she learned that Porky was a friendly bird, Jane began approaching his cage, saying his name, “Por“, while patting her head with a big smile, trying to coax him to come out and play.
Books read during the year
Class © 1983 by Paul Fussell – A satirical look at what matters and to whom.
Color For Men © 1984 by Carole Jackson – Clothing colors and styles to wear, based on the individual’s complexion, hair and eye color and physique.
The Official Preppy Handbook © 1980 ed. by Lisa Birnbach – Growing up looking Prep, being Prep.
An unemployment benefits extension
In early February, I received the last of my Minnesota Unemployment benefits; however, because of the depth of the economic recession we were experiencing, the Federal Government extended benefits to unemployed workers for an additional two months. Upon the termination of my state benefits, I immediately began receiving Federal Unemployment compensation.
About this time, we sold our largely unused Studio #1 Knitting machine for $325. We also sold a large number of yarn cones filled with different colors of yarn that were once used with the knitting machine. We received $130 for the yarn and a nicely finished wooden homemade yarn rack that I made in 1974.
Jane goes exploring
Not long after Jane learned to walk, her new-found mobility and curiosity led her to begin a voyage of discovery in the cupboards. For months, she explored our floor level kitchen cupboards, examining and playing with canned goods, plastic storage containers, mixing bowls and all the other goodies that lived therein.
Journal 7, A Sideways Glance
Journal 7: A Sideways Glance To Other Horizons was filled with several topics of interest, including: Our experience’s touring the western United States aboard an Amtrak passenger train, soap making and, the ‘Heritage Concept’.
The Heritage Concept explored ‘multigenerational cooperation’, wherein one person cooperates with individuals in other generations possibly far removed in time. This differs from the more common association where many people, of a single generation, work together cooperatively, ie, ‘working with fellow employees at your place of employment’.
What I did was to buy fairly rare and expensive postage stamps and mount them in clear plastic holders at the center of each Transmission Document. Below the document, I entered the stamps cost in terms of: loaves of wheat bread, ounces of gold, kilowatt-hours of electricity and current wage income. In circles set in the corners of the document, I entered the date of purchase, cost, year the stamp is to be sold, leaving the sales cost circle blank (see below). The stamps were ‘launched’ all from with a few months of one another, but have extractions dates spread across the 21st Century.
Persons in the chain of ownership of Journal 7, will find at the ‘preprogrammed’ sales date, whether concerted space- time cooperation is possible for human beings.
I did not approach this project with the idea of just ‘doing right for a future person or generation’, The Heritage Concept should not be thought of as beings similar to putting away a cash savings to help your child through college, or perhaps not cutting down a forest, but saving the wood resource and forest habitat for your grandchildren.
The Heritage Concept is perhaps, more like two people in pre industrial times, communicating between remote locations. Here, the message is: Does it work? Can it be done?
The next step would be to elaborate the transmission document and its data-mass cargo. The little efforts we make today can be magnified over time by leverage. It isn’t important how accurate we are targeting the specific extraction date, because critical focal points within the time stream fluctuate, always magnifying what is immediately ahead. What is important in interpersonal trans time communication, is taking the first step, much can arise from that first step.
“The first telephone voice: Alexander Graham Bell’s notebook entry of 10 March 1876 describes his successful experiment with the telephone. Speaking through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room, Bell utters these famous first words, “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.” The Transmission Documents fulfill a similar function.
[Photocopy above is one of a half dozen ‘Transmission Document’ pages from Journal 7: A Sideways Glance To Other Horizons, article, The Heritage Concept.]
Note, document shown above is 27 years into its travel and has 73 years before its message is delivered. The other documents, while all launched at about the same time, will individually become available for retrieval at intervals in the future. Staggering their arrival over the years allows me to access the same person at different periods of their life and to intercept with several successive generations…like skipping a stone across the waters of time.
Traveling by Amtrak to California
During January, our friends Mike and Kay and family, invited us to visit with them at their home in Redlands,California. Donna and I had been at home all winter drawing Unemployment Compensation while periodically applying for work, as well as working on our individual projects and reading, so were agreeable to a sightseeing adventure.
We made arrangements with our neighbor Arlene to care for Porky the parakeet, and water the house plants during our absence.
We hadn’t been on a real vacation for ten years so decided to make the trip memorable.
Instead of flying to California and miss seeing this great land first hand and up close, we decided to travel by U.S. Amtrak passenger train. We planned a route that would take us by Coach to Chicago, where we’d transfer trains. From Chicago we’d have a private Sleeper cabin while traveling southwest across Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, down into New Mexico, then across Arizona and California. Mike and Kay would pick us up in San Bernardino, California, only a few miles from their home in Redlands, California.
After visiting with Mike and Kay for eight to ten days, we’d board an Amtrak Coach in Redlands and ride to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles we’d transfer trains and be assigned a private Sleeper cabin for the return trip. Our route home would take us north along the California coast, then through the mountains in Oregon, into Washington; and finally east across the northern tier of states, crossing Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, and finally into Minnesota. We would in effect be making a circular grand tour of the western half of the United States, riding through the great plains, the deserts, mountains, and the high plains.
Reservations for our round trip tickets were made ahead of time to ensure our place on the train.
The last couple days before leaving, we were busy putting everything in order, packing and doing those million and one last-minute things that must be done prior to a long trip.
Monday, February 4, Preparation
Monday, during mid morning, another neighbor, Barbara, came over to receive instruction on the particulars of feeding our ducks, geese and dogs. As soon as she left, Donna took the pickup truck next door to Bobby’s farm and bought six bales of straw. Then, while I stuffed fresh straw in the dogs house and laid down a heavy layer of straw on the poultry shed floor, Donna prepared to do errands in town.
Jessie dog required a visit to the Foley veterinarian clinic to have a biopsy performed several persistent sores on one of her ears. While Jessie was at the vet’s, Donna drove into St. Cloud for a haircut, to do some last minute shopping and make bank deposits.
Arrangements were previously made for ‘parakeet Porky’ to stay with Bobby and Arlene while we were on vacation. In the early evening, Arlene telephoned to let us know she was home from work; we promptly took Porky, his cage, bird seed and night cover over to our friends farm house.
Tuesday, February 5, More preparation
Donna and I were awake and out of bed bright and early Tuesday morning. While I washed the previous night dishes, Donna began setting out Jane’s vacation clothes and packing a diaper bag. Several loads of last minute clothes were washed.
The rest of the morning was spent puttering around with this and that, we were too excited about the upcoming trip to become interested in, or concentrate, on anything.
The afternoon was spent leisurely packing our suitcases. We watered the house plants, carried out the garbage and washed the last dishes. Meanwhile, Jane was becoming excited over all the activity, our packing and all of our talk about traveling ‘far away, all the way across the United States in a train’, about seeing mountains and deserts. Although she was still small, Jane was, like us, caught up in the excitement of an adventure.
Tuesday evening: Donna drove into Foley and returned with a pizza for our supper. I telephoned Mike, in California, let him know we were ready to leave and would be seeing him in a few days.
We went to bed a little early and were asleep by 8:00 PM.
Music [midi: Twister]
Wednesday, February 6, “All Aboard!”
I awoke at midnight after only four hours sleep. My stomach was upset and gaseous from our pizza supper and the anticipation of leaving on vacation. Donna had been awake since 11:30 PM. Both of us laid in bed trying to go back to sleep, but neither of us could, for our minds were filled with details and excitement of the coming day’s events.
Unable to sleep, we got up an hour later and had a cup of coffee.
Donna awakened Jane at 2:30 AM and dressed her for our drive to the St. Cloud train depot. While the girls did their last-minute things in the house, I started the car to warm it up, then carried out our suitcases and other luggage. It was an invigorating -3ºF outdoors, which awakened us considerably from the sleepy stupor we were experiencing in the house.
We left home at 3:00 AM.
We had not experienced a hard winter, temperatures were relatively mild and there was little snow on the ground. What snow still existed, were the icy remnants of a moderate snow storm that we received a month earlier. The mild weather made it easier for us to leave, because we knew life would not be difficult for the animals, there’d be a reduced chance of our homes water lines freezing up and there was no snow load on the mobile homes roof.
[Photocopy of journal drawing: Front end of the Amtrak passenger train that we boarded in St Cloud. J7_915-6.jpg]
Our first item of business was to stop at the train station, pay $788. for our reserved tickets and check in our two largest suitcases. With an hour and a half hour wait until the train arrived, we drove a couple of miles to Perkin’s restaurant for breakfast. We relaxed and chatted happily amongst ourselves while enjoying our meals.
Donna’s and my breakfast consisted of: two eggs each (over light), a generous slab of ham, hash brown potatoes, two slices of toast with jelly, and a “bottomless” pot of coffee. The meals cost $1.99 each and an additional 55¢ for the coffee. We left the restaurant satisfied and wide awake after the caffeine from several cups of coffee.
Our Amtrak carrier, The Empire Builder, arrived at 5:30 AM, we anxiously walked out of the depot to the loading platform. From our vantage point, standing right, next to the train, we were surprised by its massive size. We were both dwarfed by the two-story tall cars and deafened by a ground vibrating, deep, sibilant hum from the locomotive engine. We stood looking about, a little confused at first, then found a conductor who looked at our tickets and directed us into a couch.
The silver-colored Coach had what appeared to be an aluminum skin with a red and blue stripe painted down the entire length. The colorful stripes continued down the length of the passenger train, running just below a row of large windows located high on the side of the passenger cars.
The Coach car stood about sixteen feet high, while passenger eye level in the second story was about fourteen feet above the ground.
There was a single door at the bottom center of the Coach and inside a luggage compartment and a spiral stairway leading to the upper, second story. There were several large sitting rooms in the down stairs level, but these were reserved for groups who were traveling together.
We walked up the stairway and made our way down the central aisle looking for four adjoining seats. The train was back in motion before we found a place to sit. I noted there were very few people in the Coach, which had seating for about sixty people; its few passengers were either sleeping or attempting to sleep.
Donna and Jane took seats on the left side of the aisle (facing forward in the train) while I took a seat next to them on the right side of the aisle. We set our coats and carry-on bags on the empty seat next to me. We settled back in our seats to survey our immediate surroundings and get a visual perspective of the terrain passing by outside our window.
We were scheduled to arrive in Chicago around 3:00 PM so would be in the Coach for about ten hours.
[Our initial Amtrak Coach seating, with less leg and seat space than in a Sleeper compartment.]
A half hour after departure, the train was moving through Minnesota’s partially wooded and snow covered countryside, traveling at forty five to fifty miles per hour.
At about 6:15AM, it was still dark, and except for the sound of the trains heavy wheels clicking on the tracks, it was peaceful and quiet. Here and there were seen isolated farm houses, their interiors seemed illuminated by a single light, probably in the kitchen where breakfasts and lunches were being prepared.
On our way to Minneapolis, as we passed through several small communities, we saw an ever-increasing number of cars and other vehicles moving along the streets and highways, all carrying their occupants to work.
Meanwhile, Jane was having a grand time, bouncing on her seat, looking out the window and exclaiming, “aat! hmmm, egh…” Once, when Jane would turn to me and say, “hi-daa!”,when I turned to look at her, she was smiling and waving at me. I threw her a kiss.
-= xoxo =-
At 7:18AM, when we left the Minneapolis train depot, there were only eight people aboard our Coach, including the three of us. About that time, a pleasant, older, colored fellow, wearing a white jacket came through the car introducing himself as Earl Woods, ‘Chief of On Board Services’ and advising us that if there was anything we needed to just let him know. Earl pointed out a sign on the wall, at the back of our Coach which give the prices of the various beverages that were available.
Table of Beverage price list on the back wall of our Coach
||Milk & juice
|Wine in splits
With day break, it became lighter in the passenger car, looking around, I was able to more fully appreciate the compartment we were riding in. The Coach looked relatively new. There were a pair of seats on either side of a central aisle that ran the length of the Coach. The seats on either side of the car were staggered about six inches, so they were not directly sitting side by side.
We had wide, comfortable reclining seats, with an adjustable foot rest. An extendable, fold down table retracted from the back of each seat in front of us, allowing us a small personal space to temporarily set food, magazines, or other personal items.
The seat fabric was attractive, having been designed with various small geometric shapes and colored with combinations of soft beige, orange, dark blue, light blue and gold. The Coach walls and ceiling were covered with a rough textured carpet in beige and light brown. The floor was carpeted in an ox-blood and blue design.
Above each seat was a high intensity lamp with an adjustable beam for personal lighting, and reading at night. The lights were built into a recess above our heads which also was the bottom of a “carry-on baggage” luggage rack. The ample sized luggage racks extended down the length of the Coach and afforded lots of room for our carry-on bags, and small suitcases.
The train jiggled too much to use the table for writing my journal entries, so I decided to record notes on a note pad. The incidents and thoughts would be written as they were encountered, then when we returned home, I’d decipher the scribbly text and rewrite the events into my journal.
Running along beside the Mississippi River, we slowly made our way through the Twin Cities.
Beyond the windows of our cozy coach, was a cold, gray, early winter morning. Businesses were just beginning their work day. As we sped past, here and there, men could be seen, each caught up in the minuscule of their job. City streets were quite filled with traffic, as commuters hurried to their jobs, trucks were beginning to make deliveries, heavy equipment was being moved, and school busses carrying children to school.
Nearing Red Wing,Minnesota we entered hilly terrain and sped amongst the steeply sloped hills that rose abruptly one hundred fifty feet or so above the train. We continued winding through hilly terrain beside the Mississippi, until we crossed the river and entered La Crosse, Wisconsin.
We were surprised to find that having crossed the river, there was about a five-inch accumulation of snow on the ground and high fog. As we continued across Wisconsin the snow deepen to about seven inches then gradually declined to perhaps one inch. I realized that the most recent snow storm encountered by the Midwest, must have passed to our home to the south, on a northeast track that brought the brunt of the precipitation up through central Wisconsin.
At noon, Donna opened our well stocked “food carry-on bag” and made us each a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which we had with water. We found that the train’s kitchen makes sandwiches at a cost of $2.25 each, so we saved $9.00 on the meal.
Approaching Chicago during mid afternoon, we passed through miles and miles of city enroute to the main passenger train depot.
While modern freeway arteries approach a city from its growing side, railroad tracks enter from what was, more or less, the prosperous part of town, over a hundred years earlier. The once hopeful, affluent homes and attendant business’s seen from the railroad tracks, are now old and dilapidated. The streets are narrow, the neighborhoods have become home to the lower working class, ethnic and racial mixes. This is an interesting, but blighted part of America that the automobile traveler seldom, if ever sees.
From our position high on the train and atop raised railroad tracks, I could see deep into the dingy and shadowy slum neighborhoods. I was appalled by the communities we passed through. The homes and buildings were obviously old and in various stages of dilapidation. I don’t recall seeing new paint anywhere, there were just miles and miles of decaying neighborhoods. Frequently, I saw large buildings that had been closed, their windows were boarded up. Here and there, narrow streets were blocked by delivery trucks which were backed up and unloading boxed products at steamy and foul looking docks.
That portion of the city that the train passed through was, ‘ethnic’. It was well-known and acknowledged among whites all over the USA that, “If you were driving through parts of Chicago (St. Louis, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, etc.) and your car broke down, they might never hear from you again.” By the looks of those neighborhoods and the thought of some elements that might arise from there, I believed it.
Union Station, the main Chicago passenger train depot was located right down town. At 3:00 PM, when we disembarked from the train, we were surprised to see the Sears Tower skyscraper, the tallest building in the world right across the street . We carried our tightly packed, heavy suitcases, “carry-on bags” and the video camera bag through a long underground passage from the train yard to the depot. I don’t know how many stories high Union Station was, whether we were on the main floor or in a sub ground level area.
The depot was a rambling structure with a seeming profusion passages leading in different directions. The central corridors were lined with many small shops which carried newspapers and magazine of all description, curios, and expensive fast food.
Even in the dead of winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, the depot was crowded with all sorts and ‘flavors’ of people of all social rank. There was a great deal of activity, load speakers calling out arrivals and departures, people were either carrying their luggage or pulling it on small wheeled carts, many people were simply standing around chatting or being alert and watchful of the many strangers.
We sat on a long wooden bench, in a crowded Waiting Room, our suitcases stashed safely between our feet for the next hour and a half; until,it was finally time to board our train for the trip across country.
We left Union Station at 4:40PM aboard Amtrak’s, South West Chief, Sleeper Car #31, Economy Sleeper compartment #2.
We immediately found that the Sleeper cars had better suspension and provided a smoother ride than Coach cars.
From what I’d seen, my impression of Chicago and the depot were negative. I found it reassuring that there were policemen patrolling the corridors and large public rooms of the depot. As the South West Chief traveled southwest, leaving the city, I saw graffiti spray painted on a wall, it’s message was simple and straight forward, ‘FUCK WHITES’.
Wednesday evening, supper
At dusk, after we’d just left metropolitan Chicago and were streaming through the countryside, Donna went to the Lounge car and returned with two plastic glasses filled with ice. We dug into our “carry-on food bag” and brought out a can of 7-Up soda pop and a pint of brandy. After two drinks each we began to rapidly collapse from the day’s excitement and our lack of sleep the night before.
At 6:00 PM, we went to the Diner car for supper.
For our entrée’s, Donna ordered Salmon Creole ($7.25) and I ordered Boneless Short Ribs ($8.00). We split a bottle of Burgundy wine. Each of our entrée’s was served with the following;
| A tomato and shredded lettuce salad in a Styrofoam bowl, choice of dressing.
| A variety of five different kinds of warm dinner rolls, served with more than a sufficient number of butter patty’s.
| Whipped potatoes.
| A fairly large serving of steamed, mixed vegetables.
| An eight ounce carton of milk and a disposable, clear plastic glass.
We had a leisurely dinner filled conversation, periodically turning to watch the outdoors pass by and excited at the experience of eating in such a nicely furnished, unique, mobile restaurant. Jane sat at the table with us, looking all about, while sampling bits of our mixed vegetables, mashed potato and drinking from her bottle.
When our meal was finished, we brought the two cartons of milk and three dinner rolls back to the Sleeper compartment. Donna filled two of Jane’s bottles with the milk.
The Sleeper Car steward helped pull down the upper berth and make the lower seats up into beds. We visited the bathrooms, changed into our bed-clothes and crawled into bed. Donna and Jane slept together in the larger bottom berth, while I slept on the top berth, my nose only inches from the ceiling.
Wednesday, February 6, Table of Onboard expenses:
|4 cups of coffee
|1 small package donuts
|3 cartons (8 ounces each) milk
|1 Salmon Creole dinner
|1 Boneless Short Rib dinner
|1 splitBurgundy wine
Thursday, February 7, early morning
Donna and Jane had an eight hour sleep during the night, not awakening until nearly 5:00AM. While Jane continued sleeping, Donna and I took turns going to the downstairs bathroom, for a wash cloth bath and to change our underwear and socks.
We awoke this morning just before reaching Hutchinson, Kansas.
Outside it was still dark.
With the cabin light on, all I could see was limited to our compartment. While Donna was washing up, I listened to a small portable radio we’d brought in the “carry-on bag”. The local, Kansas news reported, “…the low is 38ºF and we expect a high of 53ºF. President Reagan gave his second State of the Union address to Congress last night…”
I turned off the radio, settled back against my seat and looked out into the darkness beyond the compartment window. Our train gently rocked from side to side, while from beneath the train, arose the “click…click…click” sound of steel wheels rolling at a high speed on the railroad tracks.
I was coming to realize that trains were almost anachronisms of a bygone era, possibly existing today only because the US Government was subsidizing the national Amtrak system.
Railroads flourished as America expanded, during the days when raw materials were being transported from source to factory, from farm and range, to market. In those not so distant days, the land was basically unsettled, still largely wild and pristine. There were few roads across the western territory and no economically viable alternative method for transporting large quantities of raw materials over long distances. With the discovery of oil, manufacture of automobiles and creation of the Interstate highway system, trucks came to replace much of the commercial function previously held by trains, while passenger jets move people from coast to coast in a matter of hours and at cheaper fares than offered by Amtrak.
Configuration of Amtrak’s, Southwest Chief
C=Coach, S=Sleeper car, = Our sleeper compartment, D=Diner, L=Lounge, B=Baggage, E=Engine
Jane awoke while Donna and I were sitting in a vacant compartment across the aisle. She pulled back the Sleeper compartment curtain and gave us a big smile, Donna gave her a bottle of milk and thus began Thursday.
Jane held up quite well during the first day of our trip, despite having been awake since 2:30AM while we were still at home, then having only a 1-1/4 hour nap during the day.
[Photo of one side of the Sleeper compartment. The small, wall hinged, folding table is shown opened for use. The individual controls for light and tempered air, to call the car attendant, etc., are in a control panel seen in at upper left, next to the head rest. Each seat has its own set of controls. The curtains close, when necessary, to block out light and for privacy.]
Music [album: Out of Africa, I Had a Farm in Africa]
As the minutes passed, twilight extended across the land, breaking up the shroud of nights darkness and giving form to the images that passed beyond our window. It seemed strange to speed through the countryside, at 60-70 miles per hour, catching glimpses of the familiar and the unfamiliar: seeing people for just an instant, watching houses rapidly pass into, then out of view.
To me, the train and our compartment were a unit of continuity, a relatively fixed point in space. The world beyond our cabin window was in apparent continual motion, the sights it offered were brief and fleeting. Yet, I realized that to those people waiting in their automobiles at the train crossing, that our passing train and the faces in the window were similarly, fragmentary flashes in the relative continuity of their static and familiar world.
Watching isolated new houses, then isolated old houses repetitively flash past our window, suddenly gave me a deeper understanding of the visual aspects of Space travel vs. Time travel. Although the concepts were already understood, it was the process of seeing the new… old… new… old, that lent a recognizable everyday visual dimension to the concept.
The concept arose: In Space travel, the environment appears to move relative to your craft, but the houses look the same. In Time travel, the environment appears to remains stationary relative to your craft, but the houses change.
Ideas such as this, can develop while traveling on a train, because as a passenger, one becomes almost a total observer. I had not realized this effect while driving a car. While driving and even as a passenger in a car, ones attention is preoccupied with road conditions, traffic and other busy distractions.
The evening before, when we went to bed, the ground over which we crossed had about a six-inch snow cover, but this morning, west of Dodge City, Kansas, there was only a twenty percent patchy snow cover, with accumulations primarily confined to roadside ditches and occasional wooded areas.
As it became lighter outdoors, we could see to the distant horizon, and found the ground was flat with only an occasional low hill. Scattered here and there across the plain, we saw an occasional broken down windmill water pump; the old farms and families they once served, were gone. The windmills were rustic reminders of a bygone age, they were rusting sentinels in a changed land.
Corn and wheat were the primary agricultural crops raised in the southwest quadrant of Kansas. Every so often we passed a grain elevator that was built alongside the tracks.
At one point, we passed a railroad spur to a huge cattle feed lot which held many thousands of head of cattle, the lot appeared to be about a mile wide and at least a half mile deep.
Approaching the Kansas-Colorado border, the landscape gave way to sage brush with few trees. Amongst the wide expanses of low brush were 120 to 160 acre agricultural fields with a fifty percent snow cover. It was apparent that in this region, the human population density was even less than the sixteen persons per square mile density we had at home, in rural Gilman,Minnesota.
We continued our trek west, racing across the flat countryside at seventy miles per hour, occasionally reaching eighty mph.
Donna brought two cups of coffee from the Lounge car. As we sipped our brew, we chatted while looking out the window, occasionally commenting about the interesting and desolate environment we were passing through.
An old deserted farm came into view and a few moments later, whisked by, quickly leaving our sight and falling behind the train. The house had weather worn and unpainted exterior walls, its window panes were no longer filled with glass. A broken down windmill and a stand of old trees stood in what had once been the yard, near the house.
I considered the history of the abandoned home, realizing that it was once some families place of joy and love, up until fifty to eighty years ago, perhaps earlier.
A little after 8:00 AM, Bruce Brooks, our Sleeper car steward, brought us each a complimentary cup of coffee.
Bruce, in his mid forties, looked, talked and had an easiness of character that was amazingly like the persona of famous movie actor, Robert Redford. When we engaged him in conversation, Bruce leaned against our compartment door and continued charming us with his friendly informative banter.
He told us that all the Amtrak passenger cars east of the Mississippi River were old cars and that those west of Chicago were newer, being made as recently as 1979 or 1980. The newer Sleeper cars, like the one we were traveling in, were too tall to go through the old, short height railway tunnels in the East.
[Riding the rails. Photocopy of my Journal drawing: Top: Route map of our travel across the midwest to Los Angeles, then up the Pacific coast and back across the northern tier of states. Lower left: Drawing of our Sleeper Compartment. Lower right: Cut-away view of one of the Sleeper Car bathrooms. J7_931.jpg].
Mr. Brooks said that the track we were riding on, belonged to the Santa Fe Railroad. We were surprised to learn that the Conductor and Engineers, who work for in this case, the Santa Fe Railroad, only operate the train for about three hundred miles then are replaced by a new operations crew. However, he and the other Amtrak employees stay with the train all the way through to its final destination.
Bruce was concerned over losing his nine-year old job with Amtrak. The Federal Government was considering a large reduction in subsidies given to the Amtrak system that could have taken effect as early as that coming October.
Ever so often as we continued west, Bruce would stop by. Once he brought a newspaper I wanted, he periodically offered us coffee and was always a cheerful and pleasant person.
At 8:30, with the fresh coffee our steward provided, we opened a box of powdered cake donuts that were brought from home, and began thinking about breakfast. Once again, Donna dug into our ‘food carry-on bag’ and pulled out a meal consisting of: an orange followed by breakfast cereal. While Donna had two each four ounce boxes of Corn Flakes, I had an equal serving of Raisin Bran. The milk for our cereal was purchased from the Lounge car.
After breakfast, Donna followed Jane as the twosome began exploring the central aisle of our Sleeper car.
The Sleeper car bathroom
While the private Sleeper cabins were located along, and on either side of a central aisle on the second floor of the Sleeper car, each Sleeper car also had six bathrooms located downstairs on the first floor.
Each private bathroom was a fully enclosed unit, with a lock on the inside of the door. When locked, the locking mechanism exposed a small sign by the handle on the door’s exterior, alerting anyone who might try to use the facility that the room was “Occupied”.
The bathrooms were small, very clean and well illuminated. Their walls were sheathed in stainless steel near floor level and a lime green plastic, the rest of the way up to the ceiling.
Inside, and to the left of the bathroom door, was a stainless steel sink with faucets for warm and cold running water. Above the sink was a large mirror, to the right of this were two 120 volt outlets for electric razors, hair dryers, etc. Immediately to the right of the sink was a liquid hand soap dispenser, on the left were built-in stainless steel compartments for trash, sanitary napkins, disposable baby diapers, etc.
Directly across from and facing the door, was a toilet that when flushed, screeched with the loud sound of a ‘rushing gurgle’. On the wall, above the back of the toilet was a fold down “diaper changing table”. Beside the toilet, and next to the sink, was a cabinet with a recess containing a roll of toilet paper. Above the recess was a built-in tray that dispensed paper hand towels at the rate of one-at-a-time.
When I said the bathrooms were small, I meant that when you’re sitting on the toilet and lean forward, your head would touch the bathroom door.
As it turned out, the bathrooms were just the right size, because their confining walls kept you from falling down while using the facility. All during the trip, our Sleeper car was jiggling and swaying, making it difficult to keep one’s balance while taking a wash cloth bath, brushing teeth or changing clothes. If it weren’t for the support offered by the walls, we’d have likely fallen to the floor and received an injury. Instead, we were periodically tossed off-balance, bounced against a wall, and somewhat thankfully, retained our footing.
Later Thursday morning
The South West Chief continued speeding along beside a highway, we were traveling much faster than the cars and trucks.
A dense ground fog we entered earlier in the morning began to burn off, as we approached La Junta, Colorado, revealing the distant terrain. We were beginning to move out of the flatness of the Great Plains, into small mesa like formations. An arid environment stretched out beside and in front of us as far as we could see. Vegetation consisted primarily of various sage and Century plants, all the plants displayed small, moisture conserving leaf forms.
Between La Junta and Trinidad, Colorado, we crossed snow covered range land. The soil was a yellowish-brown color, possibly a very sandy loam; what vegetation there was, consisted of short grass, scrub and an occasional Cholla cactus.
During our early February trip, the riverbeds we encountered were dry; their intermittent seasonal flow had in years past, cut deep arroyos into the underlying sandstone. Trees were only seen, sparsely growing along the lower banks of the riverbeds.
I noticed that over the hundreds of mile, there had slowly occurred a change in the type of cattle at pasture. In the Midwest we’d seen mostly Jersey cattle. Once out on the plains, the Jersey’s gave way to Herefords, which were a hearty range stock.
Looking through a distant blue haze that hung on the horizon to our west, we could see the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At the north end of the range stood 14,125 foot Mt.Lindsey. In a moment of reflection over trivia, I recalled that the Sears Tower in Chicago was one tenth the height of the mountain.
As the miles sped by and we approached Trinidad, Colorado, we noticed that the mesas were becoming larger and more pronounced geological features. The train was also slowly gaining elevation and before long we were traveling amongst gnarled Junipers.
Southeast Colorado appeared to be a dusty, ‘big sky country’, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There was little evidence of material affluence; human subsistence appeared to be derived from cattle ranching. There were few houses and they were spread far apart. Reflecting on the conditions, I wondered how the area would be to live in after retirement, if you located relatively near shopping and medical facilities. I supposed that housing and rents would be low and the climate would be neither as cold as Minnesota nor as hot as Arizona.
Trinidad,Colorado was surrounded by high, Juniper covered mesas. Approaching Trinidad, we began to see adobe houses and other homes with stucco siding. Indian or Mexican influences were beginning to show up in decorative symbols, such as stylized Thunderbirds, or an occasional house painted turquoise, or pink. The better looking houses in this high plain region, did not appear to associated with ranching. When we passed a mobile home park, Donna pointed out that all the homes had ‘swamp coolers’ (evaporative coolers) on their roofs.
During our cross-country trip, it was interesting to watch as the deciduous forests of southern Minnesota and Illinois gave way to the Great Plains of Kansas, then the plains gave way to the arid prairie in south-central Colorado. It had been a long time since I traveled across the southwest; it was a refreshing experience to once again see these arid lands.
Near the New Mexico-Colorado border, the train began climbing a grade into the mountains. Our steward informed up we were gaining one hundred seventy-five feet elevation per mile of track which explained why our ears were popping to equalize pressure.
Just inside New Mexico, at an elevation of 7,588 feet, we passed through the half mile long Rayton Tunnel.
During late morning, I videotaped our Sleeper compartment, a bathroom, the Diner car, Lounge and a Coach car. Trying to navigate through the aisle while filming was a little harrowing. The train was swaying as I walked with one eye to the camera’s viewfinder, whilst simultaneously trying to compose, narrate, tape, keep my balance and not bump into other people, like wise navigating the corridor.
We bought our video camera relatively early after the instruments became available, so not a many people were familiar with the bulky shoulder held cameras. As I walked about, trying to make the tape, people occasionally stopped to ask questions about the camera, an attempting to find out if I was shooting a private or commercial tape. The attention added to my self-consciousness, making my work all the more difficult.
In the Snack Bar, which was located on the lower deck of the Lounge car, there was a rather seedy looking Colored fellow of about twenty-five years old, sitting at a table with a white girl, who was perhaps eighteen years old. On the wall, above and behind the fellow was posted a price list of sandwiches, drinks and other goods sold at the Snack bar. While I was attempting to tape the sign, I kept my left eye open and looking about while my right eye monitored the image in the monitor, which was like a small one inch wide television. While looking about, I noticed the fellow was trying to hide his face behind one hand, yet trying not to make it obvious that he was hiding. He peered out from his hand glowering at me in a nervous and threatening manner. When I saw his body language, I figured he was probably ‘wanted’ by the law, and may have even been on the train in flight from the law.
Later, the Amtrak cooks invited me into the Kitchen galley, on the lower level of the Diner car, to tape their facilities. The galley was entirely surfaced with stainless steel. There were large work counters along one side, with a sink and water. Under the counters and along the opposite wall, were refrigeration compartments and other storage bins holding plastic cups, etc.
I was surprised to find that there were no foods actually prepared on the train. All the meal entrees were frozen and only needed to be microwaved before serving. The mixed vegetables and tossed salad came in bulk plastic bags and were scooped out in serving sizes at meal time.
Sixty mile south of the Rayton Tunnel, we passed one of the most prominent land marks on the prairie, the Covered Wagon Mount. The shape of the tabletop mountain looked a little like the silhouette of a covered wagon, for which it was named. The train’s engineer announced that the landmark was used for navigation purposes on the prairie during the mid 19th century. I vaguely remembered that many years earlier, while passing through the area, my parents family stopped at a store or gas station in the small community.
Shortly after passing Covered Wagon Mount, we came to Watrous, New Mexico, which was located in a small valley. Passing through the small community, while continuing to follow the old Santa Fe Trail, we saw the ruins of a wagon train “Way Station.” I was surprised at the large size of the structure, the building’s perimeter appeared to be 60 to 70 foot square.
Thursday afternoon and evening
By 2:00 PM, we were thirty miles southeast of Santa Fe. The train was descending a steep grade, going zig zag on tracks that could be seen curving out a “S” like shape, far ahead in our direction of travel. We were descending into a huge bowl-shaped valley surrounded by distant flat-topped mesas.
Human habitations and the infrequent Cottonwood trees were seen clumped together in lower areas, near the banks of dry stream beds. Most of the rural houses were either: 1) Stucco covered, 2) faced with unpainted, weathered clapboard siding or, 3) were mobile homes. There was little discernible affluence in northeast New Mexico.
Looking across the plain, I saw that the sparse vegetation consisted primarily of grasses, more or less evenly spaced Junipers and an occasional Yucca. On the mid distant plateaus, I thought I could see Pinion and Bristle Cone Pine, while in some low areas there appeared to be Cholla or “jumping cactus”, all evidence of dry, high desert conditions.
Run off from intermittent cloud bursts had carved deep arroyos across the arid landscape. Extending across the landscape, the soil and rock strata had warm colors which ranged in pastel shades from brown, tan and red to purple. The ground was strewn full of various size shale like rock of different size. The soil color and general rockiness reminded me somewhat of Martian surface photographs returned by the Viking Martian Lander.
At fourteen and a half months of age, Jane was proving to be a great traveling companion. Although, because of her very young age, she slept longer at night than we and napped once or twice daily, but when she was awake, she played hard. It didn’t take long after we’d transferred to our Sleeper in Chicago and Jane had gotten use to the novelty of our small cabin that she began to curiously explore her environment for new adventures.
As we walked around the train, Jane discovered several pastimes that proved great fun. Firstly, she enjoyed the game like effort of trying to walk and keep her balance, while the train rocked and swayed its way along the tracks. As we’d walk down the corridor, she was occasionally thrown off balance against a compartment wall, fall on her behind (which was protected by diapers and pants) then clamber back to her feet, wide-eyed, smiling and vocalizing her approval. Secondly, she found endless pleasure climbing up and down the stairs between the Sleeper cars first and second level. Stair climbing was a new experience, not only was each step an obstacle, but the room changed perspective as she climbed. At home we had lots of neat places to explore, but nothing like stairs and a strange floor that wiggled and jumped beneath her feet.
In the vicinity of Lamy, New Mexico, we saw the remnants, perhaps the last bastion of the Hippie lifestyle.
Here and there across the local countryside, were ‘poetic’ houses made from refuse, there were cheap solar applications made from plastic sheets covering makeshift frames, we saw very old mobile homes (for their age, more aptly named “trailers” ) and a variety of vans and trucks which were converted to ‘living spaces’. Expensive modern houses were built right next to trashy, unkempt houses, and the aforementioned ‘poetic’ shelters, an interesting socioeconomic mixture that I thought would someday lead the offspring of these divergent lifestyles into intellectual and biological hybridization.
Just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico, we passed a modern Pueblo Indian community on a Reservation. At first we marveled at the couple hundred nice, free standing, government built houses and at the modern water storage tank that stood on a hill nearby providing pressurized water to the Indian houses.
As the train grew closer, we didn’t see glass panes filling the windows of the fairly new houses. None of the Indian houses had a lawn, trees or evidence of other landscaping, the houses simply stood on almost barren sandy soil. There were bits and pieces of trash discarded and windblown about the ‘front yards’ and across the entire community, while each back yard had its own pile of garbage and trash. Many back yards had a homemade, mud glazed, adobe bread baking oven. Parked haphazard anywhere around the houses were newer model pickup trucks, few passenger cars were seen.
I imagined that the Indians were given the houses by the US Government, but still didn’t have the cultural background, education or interest required to maintain the free dwelling or the community.
West of Albuquerque we sped through the desert.
The area was a great flat expanse that was virtually uninhabited. The soil was a brownish mix of granular sand and clay, while vegetation consisted of closely spaced sage brush measuring only six to eight inches tall. There wasn’t a tree in sight. As we moved through this inhospitable terrain, Donna went to the Lounge car and bought us four Margaritas. We sat in our compartment sipping the drinks while quietly chatting and watching the sun set. The palate of orange sunlight, brownish soil and long purplish shadows amongst the sage was beautiful in this desolate land.
We went to the Diner car at 5:45PM for our evening meal.
Donna ordered the Boneless Short Ribs entree; I had a Half Chicken with Spanish rice. Our side dishes were the same as those served with the previous nights meal. Once again, supper was excellent, the dining experience an adventure in itself. I left the waiter a $4.00 tip.
Just after 7:00 PM, our train stopped at Gallup,New Mexico, meanwhile Jane was drifting off to sleep. Donna and I sat back for a bit of relaxation, unwinding and preparing ourselves for a good night’s sleep.
Ever since leaving Chicago, we’ve essentially had two Sleeper compartments for our daytime use. The cabin directly across the aisle from ours was empty, so we’ve used it to sit in while Jane napped, and at other times to see the best sights, or to escape from the bright sunlight, which for a while was glaring through our compartment window.
During the day, our steward, Bruce and the Diner’s waiter, provided us with five free cartons of milk for Jane. Their thoughtfulness was appreciated.
Thursday, February 7, Table of Onboard expenses:
|2 cups of coffee
|5 cartons (8 ounces each) milk
|5 cartons (8 ounces each) milk
|3 diet Cola’s
|1 Half Chicken dinner
|1 Boneless Short Rib dinner
We pulled down our berths just before 9:00 PM, then went to the bathroom to wash up and brush our teeth. Returning to our compartment we said good night and crawled into our respective beds.
Since our journey began, I’ve slept in the narrower, fold down top berth. Donna and that ‘tiny bed hog’, Jane, have slept together on the wider bottom berth. The bottom berth was created when the two, wide, facing cabin seats were folded down thus filling the space in between.
During the few minutes that I remained awake in my bed, I thought about our day: Traveling through New Mexico brought memories I’d experienced in my youth, when our family traveled about Arizona and New Mexico during family vacations. It was pleasant to once again smell the musky earth scents of the desert. It was good to once again see the table top mesas, Cholla cactus, the miles of sage brush and dry sandy desert soil.
As we sped through the landscape there was a continual sense of adventure, undoubtedly brought about by the rocking motion of the train, traveling through a long dark mountain tunnel, seeing the parallel railroad tracks gently curve downhill to become a single line in the distance, watching distant mountains draw slowly nearer and wondering what sights lay ahead.
Friday, February 8, San Bernardino
I awoke briefly at 12:30 AM. with an uncomfortable pressure in my ears as the South West Chief rapidly descended from the mountainous region to the west side of Flagstaff, Arizona. After spending a few minutes yawning, trying to equalize the pressure in my inner ear, I drifted back into a dreamless asleep…and was again awakened at a little after 3:00AM, by the jiggling movements of the Sleeper and the need to visit the bathroom. Gingerly, I slipped down from my berth, dressed as best I could in the narrow space available, between our berths and the cabin door, then groped my way along the dimly illuminated aisle and down the stairwell to the bathroom.
Dressing in an economy Sleeper cabin when the sleeping berths were folded down, was a bump, grind, and twist proposition. There was only about a ten inch wide space between the berths and the cabins sliding glass door, just enough space to stand, but not really enough to dress. While standing there on one leg trying to reach down my side and grasp, then tug up my pants, the train was rocking and occasionally lurching, which made the initial dressing ritual- very difficult. I later found that as we approached Barstow,California, the train was running at ninety miles per hour!
We found the best way to dress, was to simply pull on ones trousers and a shirt, then while holding everything together, carry the rest of your clothes and washing materials to the bathroom to finish. When the berths were retracted, that is when they were converted, back to seats there was plenty of room for one person to change, while your companion travelers took a short walk down the train aisle.
Donna awoke and went to dress about the time I was coming back from the bathroom. We had a cup of coffee, made Jane a bottle of milk, and awaited the first leg of our trip to end.
We arrived in San Bernardino, California at 6:00 AM, twenty minutes behind schedule. A few minutes later our hosts, Mike and Kay and their children, Joe, David and Laurie arrived to pick us up.
We had a splendid trip and an exciting adventure aboard Amtrak. The best part was that we were only two days into our vacation.
Visiting with old friends
Several side trips we took while visiting with Mike and Kay opened our eyes to the population changes that were occurring in the southern California, including:
Music [midi: Terminator 2]
In the desert east of L.A.
On Thursday, February 14, after our friend’s children had left for school, Mike and Kay packed a picnic lunch with plans for us to visit Joshua Tree National Monument, located about seventy miles east of Redlands.
The terrain east of Redlands was a very hot and arid desert, filled with Creosote bushes and various cactus. Eleven years had elapsed since Donna and I moved to Minnesota from the Los Angeles urban region, and about sixteen years since I’d driven on the road on which we were traveling. My memory of the desert between San Bernardino and Palm Springs was one filled with great vistas. It had been a largely unspoiled desert where one could travel for miles and miles and not see a single human habitation, or any sign of the presence or passing of Man. It was a place where one would occasionally see a solitary hawk, or perhaps a flock of buzzards circling high on the thermals. The only other things I ever saw move in those miles and miles of desert were an occasional grasshopper and a distant “dirt devil” whirlwind.
Over the preceding sixteen years, things had changed! There had been a staggering amount of residential building east of San Bernardino and Redlands, urbanization extended miles into the desert on either side of the highway.
There were large subdivisions built in places so hot, sandy and forbidding that I thought the area would remain unsettled well into the 21st Century. Alas, the scenic desert vistas had become broken into patches of development and large clusters of homes. Looking to the distant horizon, one could see smoke-signal like dust trails, rising behind far away cars that traveled down gravel roads. (Note: California built out its freeway system and expanded greatly into counties such as Riverside and San Bernardino. Indeed, in San Bernardino County, population quadrupled from 1960 to 2010, from five hundred thousand to over two million, with the attendant homes, public infrastructure, state highways, and freeways.)
Laid out across the desert in a grid like pattern, were the local distribution poles for electric and telephone service, while coming around the mountains from Los Angeles, were large steel, power transmission towers carrying electricity to Palm Springs.
Worst of all, were the wind generators, those industrial creations of favorable tax finance, who looked like hoards of leviathans with steel spines rising from the soil. Spread across the desert valley’s and extending up along the top of the foothills on either side of the freeway, were hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands of wind generators. Having never seen a “Wind Farm” (where the wind is harvested) I initially thought the sight was interesting, but only as a novelty.
Of course Man had “harvested” the wind for quite some time to drive sailing ships, to rotate the grinding wheels a wind mill, to pump water for livestock and rural homes, but the wind farms were a new phenomena. As an effort to develop wind-electric generator technology, experimental work had been done in particularly windy locations along the northeastern U.S. seaboard and in the San Francisco area during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The wind farms were apparently in the late experimental and early industrial production phase during 1985. The towers had diverse designs, height and construction, as were the types of generators, number of generators per tower and the number of airfoil blades on the rotors.
The generator towers were not uniformly spread across the desert. Here and there, over the approximately ten to fifteen square mile area, were large groups of generators laid out in a checker board grid. From the layout, spacing and technology seen on the ‘farms,’ it was evident there was some combination of the following factors at play: 1) Corporate land ownership was probably not continuous across the valley and hills; 2) There were experimental divisions within and between farms based on tower structure, airfoil numbers, airfoil type, etc.; 3) There may have been different tax requirement, tax needs and tax incentives at work with the different corporate owners; 4) There appeared to be different levels of advancement in the technology between one ‘farm’ and another. In any respect, there was a lot more diversity evident than could be justified by slightly differing wind gradients across the ‘wind farming area’.
All that I saw, was an explosive continuation of urban sprawl and technological blight spread across the desert. If the southern California infrastructure continues to support such rapid growth over the next century, then all those currently new, nice looking desert communities may become slums and the desert will have been trashed. Where in lies the value? Where does the water come from?
Lunch at Bob’s Big Boy
On Saturday, February 16, while we were all in Pasadena visiting the ‘old Howard Street neighborhood’ (Chapter 1959), we stopped at a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant near the corner of Lake St .and Colorado Blvd. for lunch. I walked out of the parking lot to stand beside Lake St. in order to get a good vantage from which to videotape the familiar, mountain configurations. It so happened that few minutes earlier, when we were in the old neighborhood, a mere two miles north, we could see the mountains, but from our downtown location, the smog obscured their detail. Try as I may, I couldn’t see the mountains in the viewfinder nor get their image on videotape.
A moment later, when our party entered Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, a hostess asked, ‘Smoking or non smoking?’ Her inquiry was a question commonly asked before determining where to seat a restaurant’s patrons. In a joking and slightly mocking voice, I asked, ‘What difference does it make with the smog so bad you can’t see the mountains?’ The hostess gave me a dead pan look and thankfully didn’t reply to my comment. A little embarrassed, from having stated the obvious to a disinterested functionary employee, I still found it a little macabre that the residents should worry about protecting their lungs for thirty minutes when eating, while their homes, jobs and lives were spent submerged in a yellowish-gray sea of air pollution, with a visibility of less than two miles.
El Monte revisited
After lunch, Mike and Kay took us southeast through El Monte so Donna and I could see the apartment we’d lived for a couple of years just prior to our move to Minnesota.
Our entourage almost missed the 11633 Basye Street apartment address in El Monte as there had been a lot of change in the community since we lived there.
We turned onto Basye Street knowing that the driveway entrance into the apartment complex was still a block down the road. Donna and I were filled with enthusiasm, little realizing that about three minutes later we’d again be at that same corner leaving this neighborhood in stunned disbelief.
In the time it took us to drive that one short block, someone in the van pointed to a window in the apartment complex which had been broken and was then simply covered with a newspaper taped over the hole. Someone else pointed to the fact that bed sheets were being used as an alternative to curtains, over apartment windows.
Just before we turned into the apartment parking lot, we passed a black, dilapidated ‘bean wagon’ (Mexican gang style car). Sitting inside and standing outside, leaning against the vehicle were six or seven Mexican males all appearing to be in their twenties and early thirties. All were wearing plain white T-shirts with the short sleeves rolled up, all were drinking beer or wine. Since it was illegal to openly drink alcoholic beverages in public, most were drinking from bottles kept ‘out of sight’ in paper sacks. They looked like a tough bunch and were probably part of a loosely affiliated local gang.
Feeling a little apprehension, we turned into the parking lot and drove toward the rear, where there was an area to turn around. Originally, we’d intended to get out of the van and videotape the ol’ apartment complex, however, the disintegration seen about the neighborhood made us decide to stay in the vehicle. Between Mike’s $25,000 to $30,000 van, our manner of dress, the video equipment, etc., we’d be prime targets for robbery in this type of neighborhood.
As we drove slowly through the parking lot, we looked through the breezeway hoping to glimpse the swimming pool. We could see the small commons lawn had been replaced by gravel. The walls along the back of the complex had been profusely sprayed with graffiti.
Parked about the parking lot were several more ‘Bean wagons’ in various states of decomposition. The ‘Bean wagons’ all shared similar characteristic, regardless of how old or dented the paint job or auto body had become. They all had either a black or purple paint job; all displayed shiny, expensive hub caps; there was some combination of decorator cloth fringe around the windows; fake fur on the dash board; religious figurines and-or other gadgetry dangling from the rear view mirror; all were older, cheaper model cars.
Mike turned the van around at the back of the parking lot, near a growing pile of refuse. At the spot where Donna and I use to park our car and motorcycle, we noted that an adjacent privacy fence had been sprayed with graffiti and partially knocked over, undoubtedly having been rammed by a car. At this point everyone was anxious to leave the neighborhood and get back out amongst the anonymity of traffic that flowed down Peck Road, this was not the kind of place to stop.
When we turned out of the parking lot back out onto Basye Street, someone pointed to a peculiar sight, something we’d missed a couple of minutes earlier. In the apartment complex across the street from ‘ours,’ each apartment had its own private balcony. A decade earlier, people were frequently seen sitting out on their balcony reading the newspaper, talking, or having a barbecue. Things had really changed! Nearly every balcony had sprouted a spider web like clothes line, each filled with laundry. The scene was jarring, because of the juxtaposition between a relatively modern apartment buildings and a ‘turn of the century’ tenement district.
Several blocks further south on Peck Road, we passed the location where there had once been a large thriving shopping center. The buildings remained, however, all the retail merchants had left and the store windows were boarded over with sheets of plywood. We drove past the two-city-block-size site, our mouths agape with surprise. Pieces of paper, a few cans, an automobile tire and a few pioneer weeds were all that graced the huge parking lot where we once browsed and shopped.
In 1974, the ratio of ‘whites’ to other races in El Monte had been about 85:15, by this time, our 1985 visit, the ratio had reversed. Over that short period of time, whites hadn’t just drifted out of the area, they were apparently in full retreat. Meanwhile, the working class neighborhood had become impoverished. Almost overnight, as time is measured in the affairs on Man, El Monte became become a Third World city .
Music [midi: Terminator 2]
Tuesday, 19 February, “All Aboard!”
After a great visit with Mike, Kay and the kids, our time to leave arrived.
On the morning of our departure, we traveled from San Bernardino to Los Angeles in an Amtrak coach. The large Coach compartment was clean, comfortable and identical to the one we rode in from St. Cloud to Chicago a couple of weeks earlier. Once again there were few people riding in the Coach, so we had pairs of adjacent seat on either side of the aisle.
The three of us were feeling ‘a little under the weather,’ when we left, undoubtedly a result of all the nervous excitement we’d experienced traveling, eating different foods, and the changes in our daily habits and schedule. Donna had a sore throat, I felt puny, as if I were on the verge of coming down with a cold, and Jane was cranky.
Although the ride to Los Angeles was only sixty miles, it provided a very interesting overview of the Los Angeles Urban Region.
Around 6:30 AM, at mornings first light, we crossed over the new eight lane #210 Freeway, once again traveling through communities from a vantage point few people see. I sat silently by the window, grimly observing as the train passed through residential neighborhoods, behind industries and near retail centers. It was disheartening to see a continual eyesore of refuse built up just out of sight of the roads that passed by the front of the buildings. I wondered why, with the trash collection facilities available, the people didn’t pick up their effluent.
In one large working class community, individual back yards fell into three fairly evenly divided categories: 1) Clean and well-kept, reflecting the pride of ownership; 2) Trashed, with stripped automobiles and auto parts laying about, as well as junk and refuse of unknown origin scattered about the yard. 3) Yards that had literally reverted back to the wild, complete with knee-high or taller grass and weeds, bushes that had over the decades escaped care and spread profusely, and small trees some of which simply died in years past and now stood without their bark.
Business’s in Los Angeles made liberal use concertina wire, more so than in any other city seen during our trip. We saw many places of business with the razor-sharp ‘ribbon’ style concertina strung in winding bands along the top of chain link security fencing and, or, along the top perimeter of business roof tops.
Frequently, we saw graffiti painted or sprayed on available flat surfaces. Most of the work was applied directly from a can of spray paint, with little or no artistic intent. This form of expression has become a blight on walls, highway over passes, the back and sides of business buildings and even on private homes and garages, in older urban neighborhoods.
Several times, while crossing the city we saw the symbols “D swastika T.” Upon inquiry we were told it meant, ‘Dog of a Town’, a symbolic reference to the oppression, ostensibly used by whites, to keep the poor ‘Chicano’ population in poverty. Where ever Mexican graffiti has a social message it is aimed at whites. Most of the graffiti consisted of names or terms (probably much of this is gang related), i.e.: JOC ROC NO 1, El Chino, TONY“, etc.. Some of the Mexican inspired graffiti was even a little artistic, at least more so than what we saw in the Colored ghettos of the upper Midwest.
We arrived at the Union Station depot in Los Angeles at 7:20 AM and found some comfortable chairs for our two and a half hour layover.
Union Station depot was a large, older building, looking ever so much like it had been constructed during the 1930s or 1940s. It’s wide floor space was ‘T’ shaped, while the floors themselves were of inlaid marble that was well polished. The building had a very high wooden ceiling, so high in fact, that several pigeons had made their home inside. The half dozen or so birds freely flew about, well above our head, as they went from location to location watching for crumbs of food on the floor.
There were very few people in the depot, so it was rather quiet, but whenever someone coughed or dropped a suitcase, the noise seemed to echo through the empty expanse of the building. Along the ‘lower leg of the T’, was the depot’s main Waiting Room where Donna, Jane and I sat. At juncture the ‘top of the T’, was a forty-foot wide by thirty foot high arch. Almost beneath the arch was a coffee shop and a magazine store. Beyond the arch and down either side wing of the depot, were more Waiting Rooms with polished wooden benches, large clean bathrooms and ticket booths. We chatted for a while then took turns watching the luggage and browsing around the building, going to the bathroom, and visiting the News shop.
About 9:30 AM we heard an announcement over the station intercom, stating, “First Call to Board the Coast Starlight Number, Number 14, at Gate E!” Shortly thereafter we boarded the train and chose vacant cabin #4, in Sleeper car #2.
While the train prepared to leave, our sleeper car attendant, Jonathan Davis, introduced himself saying he would be with us to Portland,Oregon. Mr. Davis was about a thirty-five year old white man, with black hair that was beginning to gray. He had a medium build, stood about 5 foot 8 inches tall and had a slight tendency to stutter.
About 1:00 PM we were an hour north of Los Angeles and traveling amongst steeply sloped coastal hills. The hills were covered with lush vegetation, various grasses and brush which at this time of year made them a pleasant green. Among the hills were moderate value homes situated on five to ten acre lots. Many of the homeowners were seen raising a couple of horses, complete with horse sheds and white painted wooden cross fencing. I surmised that being so close, within commuting distance of a major Los Angeles suburb, that the acreage might cost as much, if not more than the house its self.
Ever so often we passed more gentle slopes that were planted to lemon orchards.
As the train came out into a widened valley between the hills, we found much of the flat space planted to vegetable crops. The tillable ground appeared to be a sandy loam. Long, removable, irrigation lines had been stretched out along the crops rows in several fields and a fine mist could be seen spraying out over the vegetables. A couple of men were standing nearby in each irrigated field, probably waiting a given amount of time to move the sprinklers.
Approaching Oxnard, California, the train moved away from the coastal hills and inland onto a flat plain. Essentially the entire plain was planted to citrus orchards or vegetable row crops. Here and there in the large vegetable fields were groups of migrant Mexican workers. In one field they were picking cauliflower, in another lettuce, elsewhere broccoli and cabbage. While most of the workers were bent over picking the vegetables, then placing them in either a wooden tray or cardboard box, others had the duty of carrying the filled containers to a nearby truck that followed as they progressed across the field.
Configuration of Amtrak’s, Coast Starlight
C=Coach, S=Sleeper car, = Our sleeper compartment, D=Diner, L=Lounge, C-C=Coach with Crew quarters, B=Baggage, E=Engine
Afternoon and evening
Donna went to the Snack bar at noon and bought back two cans of soda pop, where upon, we had a picnic lunch of Italian sausage sandwiches, that Mike and Kay made for us that morning.
By early afternoon the train had moved back to running along the Pacific coast. North of Oxnard we traveled through miles of sand dunes, where all we saw was dense chaparral brush, telephone or electric power lines and the rail road track. There were long expanses where no other traces of Man could be seen.
WHile the sky was overcast in the morning,it cleared during the early afternoon. Meanwhile, a strong and continuous wind blew across the landscape, buffeting the chaparral and causing the grasses to dance on the sand dunes, making the vegetation appear to be in a rushing current.
Having lived in Minnesota for eleven years, we found it enjoyable looking out over the ocean, where we could see spray blown from the white caps, and watching waves break along the shoreline. At one point, we watched two fishing trawlers at work about a half mile out. Nearer shore, several hundred sea gulls were bobbing about in the water, while several thousand gulls stood on shore watching. I guessed that the fishermen and birds were waiting for a school of fish to arrive.
Ever so often we passed an offshore oil platform. The platforms appeared to be one to two miles from shore and were spaced between five to ten miles apart along the coast.
A sudden announcement over the trains intercom system startled us, stating, “In California, smoking cigars or pipes may be done only in private cabins or rest rooms. Marijuana is illegal and may not be smoked at all on the train…”
The announcement continued, listing a variety of rules, regulations and restrictions of which I did not take note. Interestingly, California has found it necessary to expound rules and regulations, more than all the other states that we’d traveled through, combined. From my brief and limited observation, particularly in the southern half of California, the residents are engrossed in a plethora of legal sensibilities to the point of ad nauseum. It reminded me of the hostess at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in Pasadena, who inquired, ‘Smoking or non smoking’, before seating us, while outdoors, visibility was limited to less than two miles by the smog.
We went to the Diner car for our 5:30PM table reservation. Donna and I both ordered the prime rib entrée, which came with steamed mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, a variety of warm dinner rolls, tossed salad, and milk.
During the first half of our meal (about twenty miles south of Salinas, California), we watched the sun slowly sinking behind the coastal range mountains. In the distance, we could see fog moving inland, seeping amongst the valleys, between the hills and surrounding their bases. We had a quiet supper, enjoying the sunset and sights that whisked by, relaxing after another fun and event filled day.
Returning to our cabin, we opened several premixed Margarita’s and sat back to take in the view while we chatted amongst ourselves. Low in the darkening western sky, we watched Venus become visible.
Before long it was pitch dark outside and our attention turned inward to chatting and playing with Jane.
As we came around a hill and began descending, suddenly we had a large panoramic vista, one which offered quite a visual impact: At an elevation below us and extending for miles, was a virtual sea of illuminated dots. The air was crystal clear making the myriad of lights appear to be sparkling jewels or a sprinkling of Fairy dust. There were a great number of amber street lights intermingled with red ‘stop lights’ and green ‘go lights.’ Scattered about, were the long display lights seen on billboards, while all across this spectacular menagerie were the moving lines of automobile headlights and red auto tail lights, several floodlights were moving about criss-crossing in the sky.
As we drew nearer, muted whitish-yellow and yellowish- gray interior house lights became visible. Occasionally, when we passed a home near the rail road track, we could see into the windows where there appeared to be lights of variegated color, emanations from the household’s color television. It looked so dreamy and peaceful outside amongst the lights. When we crossed a freeway overpass, the sight of high density traffic brought me back to the realization that beyond our cabin window was a teeming mass of humanity and that we were entering San Jose, California–a major sprawling city.
Music [Album/midi: A.I., Dreams]
Wednesday, February 20, In silence
I awoke at 4:00 AM, wiggled into my clothes and went to the bathroom.
Returning to our cabin, I found that Donna had folded the bottom berth back in the seat configuration, then crawled into the top berth with Jane to get a little more sleep. I turned on a small overhead personal lamp in the lower seat, retrieved my pencil and note pad from our ‘carry-on case’ and looked out the darkened window to get my bearings.
Outside, it was very dark and overcast. I surmised we were in the mountains, because the infrequent lights I saw were well below our elevation and far, far away. To my right rear, shining from a nearly recessed fixture on the wall was a high intensity lamp which I’d switched on allowing me to see and write. As we rolled on through the night, the train swayed this way and that, making the bright circle of light on my stenographers pad move back and forth with small swirling jumps.
Looking about, and listening, I noted how very quiet it was aboard the train during that early hour. The only audible sounds were the “rumble, rumble, clack, clack” of the trains heavy wheels on the track and the “jiggle, jiggle, squeak, squeak” of our Sleeper compartment door.
Our cabin door was closed and its heavy privacy curtain pulled shut. Sitting in the small compartment with the upper berth folded down to within inches above my head and unable to see out into the Sleeper car’s corridor made it feel like I was inside a mechanical womb. Thinking about this, I realized that private cabins that will exist on early space stations and our first manned planetary probes will undoubtedly be something like this. Of course they will be designed with concepts of human engineering and therefore adequate, but they maybe too small for many personal memento’s a pioneer would like to have brought along. The inadequacies will only become meaningful after the first few weeks, when the excitement evolves into routine.
I came out of my early morning daydream when a growing discomfort in my ears was suddenly relieved, and the air pressure was equalized. Although it was too dark to see out the cabin window, I realized we were changing elevation and were definitely in the mountains.
Around 6:00AM, Donna and Jane got up and dressed. About that time, we were gaining elevation, and skirting Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.
The train was not moving so fast as it wound its way through the mountains.
As light from the morning sun diffused through the cloudy sky and down amongst the valleys, we saw we were traveling through a pine forest which had about an eighteen inch snow cover. A sign posted along the railroad tracks pointed out Sharp Peak (elevation 5,960) several miles to our west. Our map showed the peak to be very near Crater Lake National Park.
Later, as we crossed the Cascade Mountain Range, enroute to Portland, Oregon, the snow became quite deep. We could see from the freshly graded piles of eight foot high, canyon-like snow, beside the track, that the railways snow removal equipment had recently been at work.
As the Coast Starlight creaked along its steel trail on the side of the mountain, I craned my head to look up the nearby slope. There were large pines with heavy snow loads on their boughs extending up the mountainside as far as the sky. Beside the train, the snow banks were becoming very deep making me wonder about the possibility of an avalanche.
[Photograph taken from our Coast Starlight Amtrak train, as it traveled through the wintry mountains of the Pacific northwest.]
For a few moments, the sun broke through the clouds and cascaded down between layers of low flying clouds, creating a very beautiful and panoramic sight. Above and around us were ominous dark gray clouds, yet far below us and bathed in brilliant sunlight, were clouds clinging to the mountain slopes and spread intermittently along the valley floor. It was as though we were traveling through a great crystal palace with shimmering light, snow-covered conifers and bright colors. The brilliance was contrasted by bands of dark clouds that scudded past overhead, white and gray trees beside the tracks and the ghostly fog crowned mountain tops.
This magical apparition was short-lived, because after a few minutes, we entered a cloud bank and our view of the mountains and valley melted away. Inside the fog, our world shrank and became a mottled gray, all that was visible were the hulking masses of conifer trees that passed only a few yards from the Sleeper car windows.
As we descended from the higher mountain elevations, the snow depth rapidly decreased from about five feet, to one foot, then to a few inches. When we passed McCredie Springs, along Oregon Highway#58, enroute to Eugene, there was no snow at all. West of McCredie Springs, the conifer forest gave way to a leafless deciduous forest as we traveled down a long meandering valley. Running through this valley was a shallow fifty foot wide rushing river, with green water. In the valley, everything was wet, there was moss was growing on the tree trunks and in patches on the ground, mud puddles were seen practically everywhere. A timely message was broadcast over the trains intercom, pointing out that this time of year was Oregon’s ‘monsoon season’.
I had always though Oregon was a mountainous state, but found to my surprise that between Eugene and Portland, the soil was low and almost waterlogged. Along this leg of our route there was a lot of very shallow standing water and waterlogged land. The standing water, short grass and gray skies made me think one might expect to see a similar sight traveling in Holland or any area recently reclaimed from the sea. We learned that most of the mint raised in the United States, comes from this area of cool moistness.
We arrived at Portland, Oregon at 1:30 PM, ending our ride north on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. We had a three-hour layover in Portland before boarding Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which would return us to St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Boarding the Empire Builder, we found ourselves in a brand new Sleeper car, which had an upstairs bathroom, only five steps from our cabin!
Leaving Portland, we crossed the Columbia River into Washington and began traveling west. At this time our train was quite short, consisting of only four cars. Since our Sleeper was the last car in the train we took the opportunity to stand at the open ‘back door’ and watch the edge of town, then the rural environment pass behind us. It was an interesting and unique perspective.
Initial Configuration of Amtrak’s, Empire Builder
S=Sleeper car, = Our sleeper compartment, C=Coach, L=Lounge, E=Engine
Before long, Jane began rubbing her ears and crying, a sure sign that she was overly tired and wanted to sleep. Donna changed her into her fuzzy, soft pink pajamas and placed her on the top berth for a nap. After supper, which we ate in our cabin, Donna and I had a margarita as we relaxed before going to sleep. We climbed into our berths at 8:00 PM under clear, starry skies and fell right asleep.
The train continued to speed across Washington.
Wednesday, February 20, Table of Onboard expenses:
|2 cups of coffee
|7 cartons (8 ounces each) milk
|1 Dorito chips, small bag
|1 can Coke Cola
|1 cheese burger
|1 Boneless Short Rib dinner
| (from the Lounge Snack Bar)
Sometime during the night we awakened briefly, just long enough to realize our train had stopped in the Spokane, Washington railroad yard, where other cars were being connected to the Empire Builder.
Thursday, February 21, Mountain & Plain
It was a pleasant and exciting experience to awaken each morning to the “rumble rumble clack clack” sound of the train’s heavy wheels on the track and the “jiggle jiggle squeak squeak” of our compartment’s door. The sounds and swaying movement of the train seemed to bracket our day with the promise of adventure, interesting new sights and experiences.
In a moment of reflection, I recalled traveling by train with my mother. That was in 1946. We took the train from Chicago to Seattle to visit with my father who was on leave from the Navy, then we traveled back to Chicago. I was four years old at the time and on a train that went through St Cloud, Minnesota and traveled the very tracks the Empire Builder was now traveling.
At 3:00AM Thursday morning, we climbed from our berths to greet the day. Even though we were up quite early, we felt as refreshed as though we had a full night’s sleep. So as not to disturb Jane, we quietly converted the bottom berth back into seats, then moved Jane unto the top berth to finish her night’s rest. While one of us stayed with Jane and our belongings, we took turns going to the bathroom, to brush our teeth and take a delightful, early morning wash cloth bath.
As soon as we were both washed and dressed, Donna went to the Diner car and brought us each back, a cup of coffee. While Donna was gone, I checked the train schedule against a map of the western United States and found we were near the Idaho-Montana border.
Note: Even though there was no one up and about in the Diner car at 3:00AM, we previously found that the Conductors always kept two pots of coffee warm overnight– for the engineers and himself. It was from this special supply that we had been getting our early morning coffee, ever since our second morning aboard Amtrak, two weeks earlier.
Before dawn, we entered the seven miles long Flathead Tunnel, the second longest railway tunnel in the Western Hemisphere. The interior walls of the tunnel appeared to be only about four feet from the side of the railway cars and about the same distance above the roof. About every half mile there was a recession in the tunnel wall that was large enough for several people to stand. These were the only areas in the tunnel which were illuminated. During the nine minutes that we were in the tunnel we must have been changing elevation, because my ears felt discomfort and popped several times to equalize pressure.
When the sun first peeked above the horizon, we were leaving Whitefish, Montana and winding up into the towering landscape of the Rocky Mountains; continuing to gain elevation, we worked our way back into the mountain range. The sky was dismal, overcast and gray, the ground covered with eight to ten inches of snow.
Before long we were skirting the southern border of Glacier National Park. The crests and saddles of all the mountains were covered with snow. Many of the north facing slopes carried so much snow that few trees had found a niche to grow. Meanwhile, southern facing slopes were covered with dense coniferous forest.
Occasionally, we’d pass an isolated rural house and see a TV satellite dish in the yard. It was strange, but not surprising to see backwoods homes with satellite dishes, television might be amongst the only socialization some of the residents have for weeks on end during major snowstorms.
We noted that in the high mountain valleys, that houses were built with steep angled roofs, so snow would easily slide off. Where the snow was seen to have slid off a roof, it lay heaped in a pile four feet high along the sides of the house. Some houses had a very heavy snow load on their roof. One deserted cabin roof had collapsed under the snow. Passing through the small community of Essex, we saw wisps of bluish gray wood smoke exiting home chimneys, the sparse community looked warm, peaceful, and friendly, but seemed very remote.
Slightly ominous thoughts came to mind when I thought about the combined factors of that environment: The inhospitably rugged and rocky mountains; the nearly isolated small homes that possibly depended to a large degree on their fireplaces for heat; the deep snow packs; the obviously cold, long winters and short growing seasons found there on the edge of Glacier National Park .
We rolled through Marias Pass, elevation 5,216 feet at 8:30AM, thus crossing the Continental Divide, which incidentally was the lowest pass between Canada and New Mexico.
Just east of the pass summit, we entered a strange land, made up of small knolls. The windward side of these rock hills were windswept, barren and clean, but on the lee side, lay snow drifts twelve feet high. As we passed through this high area, hunger over took us so we folded down our cabin’s small table and dug into the ‘food carry-on bag’ for breakfast. Donna had two each small boxes of Special K cereal, while I had two small boxes of Corn Flakes. We bought milk for our cereal from the Snack bar.
A mere forty-five minutes after crossing Marias Pass, we were rapidly descending from the mountains, moving eastward out onto an immense treeless, grassy plain. As the miles passed, we moved further and further out onto what became the practically featureless and visually boring Montana flat land. Looking back, behind us, to our west, we could see clouds obscuring the peaks of the Rocky Mountains where we had just been.
By the time the train reached Cut Bank, Montana, we were seeing evidence of ‘strip farming’.
In an attempt to control soil erosion, winter wheat was planted in strips about one hundred feet wide and up to a mile long. Between the tilled strips were fallow strips of the same length, so that only one half of a field was under tillage at any one time.
About one hundred fifty miles out onto the Montana plains, we passed perhaps a half dozen small communities with a combined population of maybe six thousand people.
As the Empire Builder traveled east, paralleling the US-Canadian border, which laid some twenty-five miles to our north, we passed across miles and miles of land without seeing a single house; I estimated the population density to be on the order of one person per square mile.
When we approached a small town, it made me think of how it might look approaching an oasis, these were the only places where deciduous trees grew. The newer houses were mobile homes, most of which were clumped together in small mobile home parks. There was no urban sprawl, a communities homes were all located close by one another. I didn’t see any evidence of affluence, infact, most everything looked old, haphazardly set in place and well used. Although there was an agricultural base across the state, the farms appeared to be enormous, being simply grain based. I had no idea what the majority of the people did there for a living.
With an unobstructed sky and no appreciable incandescent light scatter, an astronomy hobbyist with telescope could have the perfect observatory– for part of the year.
The environment looked so dry, I wondered where, in centuries past, the Blackfoot Indians and huge herds of buffalo got their water. Looking at the miles of grain fields it was easy to assume that when 19th Century ‘Whites’ killed off the buffalo, that Man eventually replaced beast as a consumer of grains that had grown there.
Meanwhile, as we traveled, I spent some time each day taking notes for my journals, playing with Jane and chatting with Donna. Jane frequently sat on Donna’s lap, while the two read stories, or Jane sat on the floor playing with a doll. Every so often, Jane would accompany one of us as we walked through the train. Occasionally, we’d sit in the Observation car’s swivel seats and look at the passing terrain through the large window,s that curved up over the top of the train.
[Photograph, Amtrak Observation car. Standing in the second story, Amtrak Observation car, with its side facing swivel seats. A lower floor (stairs center left at dark colored sign) has a snack bar, couch, several tables and a television.]
Several times, we sat in the sofas and browsed through magazines in the Observation Car or went down stairs to the Snack bar. When Jane became tired, we’d let her sleep on a seat in the empty cabin directly across the hall from ours. Occasionally, Donna and Jane would sit together in the adjacent cabin, until Jane fell asleep.
We certainly had a great trip to California and the return trip was equally as nice. We fell in love with traveling by train.
Crew and passengers
As previously mentioned, our family walked through the train several times, exploring and on round about trips to either the Diner, or combined Observation car – Snack bar. During several trips, we counted the number of people and found the train was carrying about of one hundred sixty passengers, and was therefore loaded to fifty seven percent capacity. The numbers entered in the following diagram, directly below the Sleeper and Coach cars, represent the estimated ‘full capacity’ of these cars, not counting the Amtrak crew.
Configuration of Amtrak’s, Coast Starlight
S=Sleeper car, = Our sleeper compartment, C=Coach, D=Diner, L=Lounge, C-C=Coach with Crew quarters, B=Baggage, E=Engine
As we found earlier, the train’s crew was made up from two groups: 1) The railroad employees who operated the train and, 2) the Amtrak employees who ran the passenger services. The following lists show the jobs of each crew member, we guessed at their job title’s.
||Baggage car attendant
||Forman in charge of Amtrak employees
||Checking train (1 is the Conductor)
||Sleeper and Coach attendants
||Snack bar operator
||Amtrak Ticket taker
There were eighteen ‘operations and service’ personnel on a train carrying about one hundred sixty passengers. Discussing this with our Sleeper Car attendant, we found that during summer months, the train is continuously filled to capacity and reservations for a Sleeper cabin must be made months in advance.
At Havre, Montana, the train stopped in a railway yard to refuel, dump garbage, and recharge the toilet’s water reserve. The stop was long enough for us to get off the train, and give us the opportunity to look around at the large freight yard which contained ten or eleven sets of parallel side tracks. On one track sat twenty-one flatbed cars loaded with new wooden railroad ties. On another track there were more than thirty grain hopper cars strung together with an additional assortment of tankers, box cars and some unknown types of what looked like railroad track maintenance equipment.
About seventy miles east of Havre, our train was sidetracked at Wagoner, Montana waiting for a west-bound train to pass. It was an unusual ‘town’ with a history.
We were surprised that Wagoner was even shown on the map as being a town, because it consisted of only about six very old buildings sitting in the midst of the huge, featureless Montana plains. Most of the buildings, which I took to be houses, were built fairly close together, huddling together while surrounded by vast empty spaces. Some of the buildings appeared to be uninhabited, all were weather-beaten and none were painted. Scattered everywhere amongst the buildings were a decades old accumulation of trash. There were soda pop and beer cans, papers and countless pieces of various flotsam laying about. There were several rusting automobiles bodies from earlier decades of this century as well as a couple broken down autos from more recent eras. Dotting the landscape in and about Wagoner, were automobile tires, a rusting metal bed frame with springs, all partially covered by sand. Several houses had sagging unpainted fences. We didn’t see any people moving about outdoors or any newer vehicles, so I couldn’t tell if the ‘town’ was deserted or not. If Wagoner wasn’t a ghost town it certainly was well on its way, whatever happened to the town, it had seen better days– a long, long time ago.
It was right there, in Wagoner, in 1901, (probably within only a few yards from where we sat) that Kid Curry, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid jumped and robbed the Great Northern Oriental Limited.
Looking out the high window in our Sleeper compartment, I could almost see the robbery plan. Geographically, Wagoner was located about half way between Chicago and Seattle, Washington. The gang had come in by horseback over the plains. I wondered how long they waited, in what must have been the ‘busy’ young frontier town of Wagoner before the train arrived. Old photographs I’d seen of the three bandits, showed they were all well dressed and looked rather “dandy” to be way out in the middle of Montana. Surely, their presence must have raised some questions in the wild and woolly days of 1901. In any respect, the Great Northern stopped to take on water when the outlaws overcame the train’s crew. The gang blew up the Express car and rode out across the plains with $68,000, a large sum of money for the turn of the century. [In 2011 the purchasing power of their $68,000 take would be equivalent to around $2,000,000,000!]
Thursday’s supper reservations
At 5:55 PM an announcement was made over the trains intercom stating, “Person’s holding 6:00 o’clock dinner reservations may now come to the Diner.” That would be us, and a few others… (smile)
When we arrived at the Diner car, the Maitre de directed us to our table. The tables were set on either side of an aisle along the windows. Each table had a complement of four wooden chairs, two on each side of the table; each table was covered with a clean, textured, tablecloth.
Several dinner accouterments had already been placed on the table before we arrived.
In the center of the table, near our window was a clear glass vase with a fake, but realistic looking yellow pedaled flower. Although the flower wasn’t real, it’s presence added a sense of elegance to the experience. Beside the vase sat a small oblong container containing small packages of sugar and imitation sweeteners. Set beside the sugar and sweetener container was a small bowl with individual servings of whipped butter. Beside the vase was a stainless steel wire rack which held three stainless steel bowls. Each bowl contained a half dozen or more small, individual serving size packages of salad dressing, blue cheese, French and Italian dressing. Our sturdy, white plastic eating utensils were neatly wrapped in napkins at each place setting.
Soon after being seated, our waiter set each of our places with a plastic glass of water, handed Donn and me a menu and bid us a good evening.
A few minutes later, the waiter returned for our order, and left a basket containing a variety of five very tasty warm dinner rolls. The rolls were wrapped and covered with a white cloth napkin to help retain the warmth.
That evening I ordered Meatless Lasagna ($5.00), while Donna had the Boneless Short Rib dinner ($8.00).
Shortly after we’d placed our order, our waiter brought us each a Styrofoam bowl filled with a crisp, lettuce and tomato tossed salad. The salad consisted of a mixture of various types of lettuce and a single large wedge of tomato. We immediately chose our preference of a small container of salad dressing from the previously mentioned stainless steel bowls that sat on our table. The protective film of tinfoil and plastic was peeled off the top of the containers and the individual size serving of dressing was poured over the salads.
[View into the Diner car, where we enjoyed tasty, sunset suppers whilst traveling through the scenic western countryside. The kitchen is located downstairs.]
Next, we peeled the tinfoil-plastic film off our small tubs of whipped, imitation butter and scooped the contents out onto our dinner roll. By that time, the waiter had returned with three cartons of milk and a set of clear plastic glasses.
We ate our salads and roll in leisure, while chatting and watching the countryside pass at dusk.
Just as we finished our salads, the meal entrees arrived. Each entrée, and side dish, came in an oblong, rigid, white plastic dish measuring nine inches long and seven inches wide. In the center of the dish was the meat (or meatless entrée) which was flanked on one side by mixed, steamed vegetable and on the other by mashed potato.
When our meal was finished, the maitre de brought our tab and returned a few minutes later to collect the pay. We found that ‘change’ was made in such a way so it would be easy for the patron to leave a tip. As customers stood to leave, the waiter would approach the table lean forward, crane his neck and look about anxiously to see if a tip was left for his services. I thought the procedure lacked taste, but suppose the waiters were paid minimum wage and depended on tips to earn a decent living. We didn’t disappoint.
Upon returning to our cabin, Donna changed Jane into her pajamas and laid her down to sleep. We celebrated our last evening abroad the train by sharing a couple of cans of premixed Mai Tai’s whilst chatting about the sights and experiences from our day.
By this time we were starting to think about home and were hoping everything had fared well and with property and pets during our absence.
Friday, February 22, “Saint Cloud!”
Our travel alarm awoke us at 4:00AM on Friday morning. We hurriedly dressed and made sure all of our ‘carry on’ belonging were securely packed. As we walked along the trains hallways that one last time, everything seemed so different.
The sedate, dim illumination along the aisle, the rocking motion of the Sleeper car and squeaking sounds of our cabins door that greeted us every morning and throughout the days of our trip, seemed all part of the mystery and magic of the trip, but as we prepared to leave the train, their accustomed friendliness faded into the mechanical disturbances they were. That morning we weren’t simply embarking on another day of adventure, we were almost home.
The Empire Builder arrived at the St. Cloud train depot at about 6:00 AM. Before we collected our baggage from the station master, the train was pulling away from the station en route to Chicago.
Looking about, we were surprised to find that late February’s early morning temperatures were still quite mild and that there was little snow or ice. We loaded our suitcases and ‘carry on bags’ into the trunk of the Toyota and quietly drove to Perkin’s restaurant for breakfast.
The rest of the day was spent unpacking and glumly moping about the house. We were tired and sad to see our vacation end, but happy to be back at our little house in the woods.
Events from the second half of 1985 will be posted in: ‘1985, Age 42-43, Part 2 of 2′.
 A list of some of the books used in this study include: 1) Americans of Royal Descent by Charles Browning, publ. by J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, PA. 2) Ancestral Roots of Sixty Colonists, 4th edition, by Dr. Frederik Lewis Weis, © 1969, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, page 7. 3) Peerage of England, by Sir Egerton Brydges, K.J., Vol. IX, 1812, First AMS edition 1970, AMS Press Inc., New York, NY 10003, page 468. 4) Complete American Armory and Blue Book by John Matthews, republished 1965 by Heraldic Publishing Co. Inc, page 68. 5) A History of England Under the Anglo- Saxon Kings, first published 1845 by Dr. J.M. Lappenburg, Kennikat Press, New York, in two volumes. 6) Anglo- Saxon England by F.M. Stenton, 3rd edition, © 1971, Clarendon Press, Oxford. 7) An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England by Peter Hunt Blair © 1959, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 8) The History of Ireland To The Coming of Henry II, by Authur Ua Clerigh, first publ. 1910, reissued 1970, Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY. 9) A Social History of Ancient Ireland, Vol II, by P.W. Joyce, first publ. 1913 and reissued 1968 by Benjamin Blom, NY. 10) Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland © 1973, Marjorie O. Anderson, publ. by Rowman and Littlefield,Totowa,NJ.
 See Journal 6, The Travelers Guide To People and Places, page 763.
 See Journal 7, A Sideways Glance To Other Horizons, page 915, Riding The Rails: An Experience Aboard The U.S. Passenger Train System.
 The Sears Building, in downtown Chicago, stood 1454 feet high and was comprised of 110 stories. By comparison, our rural Gilman property is 1320 feet, or one-quarter mile wide.
 See Journal 9, The People Book, page 1339, “A Visit With California Friends.”
 See also Chapter 1987, “Settling the west: Then, now and again”
 I was familiar with the tragic story of the Donner party pioneers, whom on their way to Sacramento from the east, became stranded by an early winter’s snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range during the winter of 1846-47. The pioneers did the best they could to make shelters from their covered wagon and small trees cut from the forest, but suffered great hardship. Of the 89 persons in the party, 47 died, those who survived did so by being forced to resort to cannibalism. So much for being trapped back in the mountains by deep snow for the winter!