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Aug '14

Trip Report: Amtraking From Seattle To Denver Via Sacramento (Part One)

Dear Amtrak,

This is how to NOT start a relaxing three-day train trip from Seattle to Denver. While we boarded and left on time, that’s where the good news stops. My butt in my roomette until tomorrow morning at 6am is now my butt in my roomette to Portland, then I have to pack everything up – get on a stinky bus – ride to Eugene and then unpack everything again. I understand bridge work, but didn’t you know that when I booked my ticket only a couple of months ago? I would have travelled earlier in the month or later – I’m not that picky. There goes my after lunch nap. There goes hanging out in the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland reading the paper and uploading documents via their high-speed connection. By the time we hit Eugene, Oregon, that is the end of any cell phone coverage, which means no Wi-Fi in our next train which I hope will have a Parlour Car, not that is will do me much good at that point. Gone is my welcome tiny bottle of bubbles, gone is my amenity kit. Gone are the choice of apple, cranberry or orange juice in the sleepers – we are down to Orange which is too acidic for my throat. When the airlines tried this in 2008 in the downturn, they lost their business class customers – as a sleeping class passenger I’m paying a huge premium over coach. Get with the program and ignore penny-pinching Congressmen and bring back real service.

Let’s also add that due to mechanical issues this train which only goes to Portland, has no Parlour Car. No Parlour Car means no work because the Parlour Car is the only one with Wi-Fi, no Parlour Car means to Parlour Car
lunch menu which means being squeezed four to a booth the Dining Car. No Parlour Car means children running amuck (literally up and down the aisle of the sleeper car) when they could be in the lower level of the Parlour Car watching Toy Story 18. Where is the car attendant to counsel the parents about appropriate train behavior?

And can you explain why, after leaving on time, having to wait for 20 minutes north of Kent, Washington for a freight train? I can understand that when Amtrak is off schedule (i.e. running late) that we are at the mercy of freight, but we were on schedule.

It Portland the circus really began. NO instructions for what people were to do to board the couch to Eugene. At least the sleeping car passengers didn’t have to re-check-in again… but again, NO INSTRUCTIONS about where to go, what line to stand in, the works. The poor folks in coach didn’t even get their Seattle assigned seats back – they were doled out in order of where you were in line. All it would have taken was a conductor’s announcement after the Vancouver, Washington stop: “Sleeping Car passengers, please proceed to Gate 8 by baggage claim to get your bus transfer slip. Coach Passengers please line up at Gate 5 to get your bus transfer and new seat assignments”. Now WHY they had to get new seat assignments is beyond me (or my pay grade).

That confusion led to the last bus delaying the train by 40 minutes out of Eugene, which meant a “First-Come, First-Served” dinner process – at least they held off the calling Coach passengers until most of the Sleepers were served. I used to be in operations at Microsoft, whoever did the operations planning for this should get demerits.

The Seattle-Portland leg had ice available in all the sleepers for passengers personal drinks (and in my case for a plastic baggie for my cranky knee), when we got back on the train in Eugene, NO ICE in any of the four sleeping cars – I had to go begging in the Parlour Car which thankfully was operational on this leg. Finally I can get some work done…until, of course, 30 minutes out of Eugene we are in a dead zone for the next twelve hours.

I dropped all 15,000 of my Amtrak Rewards points for this one-zone roomette ticket (Award Code 104) – please make me happy and return a third of them, or offer me lots of dollars in future travel credits because this wasn’t the holiday I was promised.

Mark Souder
Amtrak Guest Rewards Number: XXXXXXX

That’s how the trip started.

The reading material for the trip? The Big Burn (and the Fire That Saved America), by Timothy Egan. Reading this on the train on the 104th anniversary of the forest fire that destroyed Wallace, Idaho and numerous other towns. 3.2 million acres of mostly public forest land were destroyed by the fire – and hundreds of lives and buildings. Truly a fascinating read even for someone who usually prefers fiction.

As usual you can click on the book and be directed to Amazon to purchase it – it’s just out in paperback, and it looks like you can borrow it f free.

From the letter above (which will have all the other “foibles” from this adventure before I send it off to the folks at Amtrak) you can see the “ugly” side of the trip, but there were good moments like the renovated King Street Station in Seattle – though I don’t look totally awake in the photo. Apparently when you have cocktail company show up at 10PM, wake up on the couch at 3AM not having packed, suddenly are you glad for a packing list:

Computer Bag

  • Tablet with Front Page and Streets and Trips
  • Power supplies
  • Mouse
  • Extra keyboard and stand?
  • Paperwork for train and flights
  • Plenty of ones for tipping on the train



  • White Port recipe book
  • Botanical Brandy mini
  • Extra book in addition to the Fire Book (which goes to the Colonels after I’m done with it)
  • Bag of computer widgets
  • 2 glasses for the train
  • Bourbon? Booze? For the train
  • Mixer for the train
  • Long pants for the train – green
  • Shorts for Colorado
  • 3 shirts
  • 3 socks
  • Matching shoes
  • Bathrobe
  • Speedo
  • Toiletries


Extra Bag

  • Box of booze for Dan and Lisa

Of course, there were a things missing… pen/paper and headphones in the computer bag, hat in the luggage – and I counted wrong so I was short a set of clothes. But still, not bad for 3AM with a cab coming at 8AM.

And the sleepy time photo of me:


And with the office set up (only to be broken down two hours later). I have tethering on my phone so the situation wasn’t nearly as “grim” as I presented it to Amtrak:

This Sleeper Car had something I hadn’t seen on other Sleepers – a counter where normally the ice, fruit bowl and huge trash can go – this car also had the advantage of the ice drawer under the coffee…something I wouldn’t see for the rest of the trip.

Welcome to Portland’s Union Station and the clusterfuck of moving an entire train onto buses and the traffic snarl on the freeway – hoping that we will be running late into Sacramento so I can get a free breakfast on the train. If it’s on time, I’d be twenty minutes early for the beginning of breakfast service.

Had lunch in the dining car (Bockwurst on a pretzel roll [diet out window] with pico de gallo relish, and chips that I didn’t eat) met a lovely young man at my table, Michael wearing a delightful t-shirt sporting “Drink Beer, Make Things”. He was amused that I was a home distiller and that my motto would have been “Drink Moonshine, Make Things, Don’t Use Power Tools.

During the transfer process I waited for Michael to load him down with water and fruit from the sleeping car since he was in coach.

We were the first coach to leave Portland, and the next to the last to arrive. How does this happen – though it’s not like they are leaving without us. At the Eugene, Oregon Amtrak station:

Before you know it, it’s time for the very unusual for Amtrak “First-Come, First Serve” dinner – normally by reservation, but I wanted the Braised Lamb Shank for dinner so I bolted for the dining car at the first announcement:

That would be a split of the Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon – at the shop we carry the Hahn Chardonnay. Not sure if it was worth the $15, but the Lamb called for a heavy red.

And typical Southern Oregon photo – trees through a rail car specially designed to haul cut timber:

I ran into Michael after dinner and invited him back to my Roomette to sample both my Oak-Aged Brandy and Lucky 13, which was aged for 13 months in New American Oak (as all Bourbons must be). Rules for Bourbon, in case you were interested.

The car attendant put the upper bed down, we continued drinking and chatting until past midnight when the booze ran out. And now, he didn’t stay, though I would have welcomed it.

Tomorrow morning at 6AM is Sacramento and the next leg – I just slept with the chair in recline mode – easier to get up and out in the morning.

[? ? ?] But can assume a couple of pound gain from “train food” three times a day.

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