Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

1971 Cross Country Trip, Heading Home

During my visit to Philadelphia, I took “a ride on the Reading” but did not pass GO and did not collect $200.  It was time to head west before my money ran out, this being many years before universal credit cards and ATMs.  So I went to the Greyhound station and bought a ticket to Chicago.  Chicago was the decision point: I could take Amtrak/Santa Fe directly back to LA (actually Pasadena) or ride the Amtrak Denver Zephyr on the Overland Route to Oakland and San Francisco.  But first I had to get out of the Eastern Time zone.  I got on the bus and headed west, with a brief stop at King of Prussia PA (there must be a story about that town name) and on to Pittsburgh.  Here I changed buses to get to Cleveland and on to Chi-town.  Everything was fine until we got into the hill country north of Pittsburgh; the driver down shifted to make the grade and the clutch in the stick-shift bus failed.  He was able to back into a wide roadside spot and wait.  One of the passengers was an off-duty truck driver who made disparaging remarks about Greyhound vehicle maintenance, and someone else commented that after many years of absence, bears had been seen in this part of Pennsylvania (“Gee thanks, buddy!”)  Finally a State Trooper showed up and radioed back to Pittsburgh for another bus.  We transferred ourselves and our baggage to the replacement bus, and were on our way again.  When we got to Cleveland, the bus dispatcher determined that we had enough passengers to warrant running express to Chicago, so our driver “put the hammer down” and got me there in time to gather some food and head for Union Station. 

An overhead line crew working on the South Shore Railroad line in Indiana; this was the route I traveled eastbound from Chicago to South Bend about a week earlier.  Note the absence of hard hats and safety vests.


Chicago Union Station (taken with old, slow color film).  Note that Santa Fe has been added; their long-time terminal at Dearborn Station had been abandoned around the time Amtrak took over.  The clock reads 1:35 PM, meaning I had plenty of time to catch the train for the next stage of travel.

I bought my Amtrak ticket to San Francisco, noting with some dismay that the fare was higher than I had expected (this will become important later on). I boarded the train, and was soon racing across the northern part of Illinois on the Burlington Northern.  I remember seeing the Kewaunee Boiler factory in that town; one of their products would appear in the Blues Brothers movie about nine years later.  By now, the busy last few days caught up with me and I dozed off.  Next morning (Thursday) we were in Colorado, and came into Denver, where the train would split, and the Oakland section would be hauled backwards to Cheyenne on the Union Pacific.

A “Joint Line” locomotive at Denver Union Station.  C&S was Colorado and Southern, by then part of Burlington Northern.  Who would have believed that Union Station would someday be served by over half a dozen light-rail lines?

I mentioned that the next part of the journey involved the West Coast bound section being hauled backwards to Cheyenne; this is because of the track layout for the Union Pacific, with the line from Denver joining the main line west of town.  Amtrak eventually decided that this “swapping ends” in two places was more trouble than it was worth, so on my next long-distance train trip in 1981, they had a minimal stop at a place called Borie, about ten miles west of Cheyenne, with a bus connection to downtown. Not a fun prospect during a Wyoming winter.  But the earlier practice made it necessary to stop in Cheyenne long enough to move the locomotives back to the original front of the train, run a brake test, and tend to other details.  This gave me some time to explore the UP roundhouse and get some photos, all the time keeping a close watch on the time, because in 1971, the Denver-Oakland train only ran three days a week, meaning that if I wasn’t on it when it left, I would have had two days in Wyoming in the middle of September, when it was already cooling down, and not enough money for food or lodging.

A rotary snow plow (first time I’d ever seen one in person) built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio.  I think the steam locomotive on the right was cleaned up and went to one of the Railfairs in Sacramento in the 1990s.

A lineup of General Electric gas-turbine locomotives.  “Seemed like a good idea at the time” and GE turbines worked great in airplanes, but for a number of reasons, they didn’t last long in the railroad business.  One of them is on display at Illinois Ry. Museum.

The boonies of Wyoming, where the buffalo roam, and they are welcome to it.  One of those places where being in a comfortable, steam-heated modern train is a good feeling.

We rolled through Wyoming, stopping at some of the towns which I would see again on the Dog Tired Tour about six years later.  It was night time when we pulled into Ogden, Utah, and our Union Pacific locomotives were replaced by a set of Southern Pacific diesels.  After delving into my food stash for dinner, I went to the dome car, where I joined three young people who found that the dome car was a good place to sack out for the night.

Next morning we were rolling through the Sierra Nevada, following the first transcontinental railroad.  It was a pleasant day, but I had read stories about a train getting snowbound one winter, and seen photos of the rotary snowplows like the one I had seen in Cheyenne. 

Unlike the all-Santa Fe train I rode to Chicago, the San Francisco Zephyr going west had a motley assortment of passenger cars.  Here we are going through the rugged mountain scenery on the route carved out by Chinese laborers a century earlier.

After making our way across the flatter country west of Roseville, I spotted this work train at the BART yard in Richmond, where rapid transit trains would be stored in the next year or so.  This would be the first large scale electric transit system startup in the US for many years, and many of old timers remember when it was called “Space Age Transportation”.

The small diesel switcher (sometimes called a “critter” by railfans) and the hopper cars had to be modified to run on the 5 feet 6 inches wide gauge of BART tracks.  In hindsight, this may not have been a bright idea, because Japanese Shinkansen and French TGV trains run just fine on standard gauge tracks.

Here are my fellow travelers, ready to go their separate ways after bidding each other farewell. I look at this photo and wonder where their respective paths led over the years.

But now it was time to catch the connecting bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.  We were late getting into Oakland because one of the locomotives was having trouble; Southern Pacific had ten newer passenger locomotives, but at the time didn’t assign them to Amtrak trains.  I was anxious to get over to The City, because my funds were nearly depleted, and this was Friday afternoon, it would be my last chance to visit a Wells Fargo bank before the weekend.  ATMs were many years in the future, and the banks in SF closed on Fridays at 5 PM.

But I made it to the bank, cashed a small check and had money for food and lodging.  I found a place to bunk down at the Grand Central Hotel near the Civic Center.  This was definitely a no-star hotel—after over three days on the road, I was ready for a shower, and, after finding my room, went down the hall to freshen up.  The shower was supposed to have running water, but this water ambled or moseyed.  The elevator was weird—the control circuits made it go all the way to the ground floor, even if you needed to go from one upper floor to another.  But it was cheap, and it gave me the next day to get some memorable photos of The City and buy Pacific Southwest Airlines ticket to LAX (with a check that I would cover Monday morning). 

This is the photo I sometimes post to illustrate one of the reasons why streetcars disappeared in most places: Cheap gasoline—here we are in the middle of a big city, looking at a name-brand service station, and regular is 28.9 cents a gallon.

The Muni Metro part of the BART project was a work in progress, and it would be another ten years before streetcars would disappear from Market Street.

It had just been a few years since women were allowed to ride the footboards of cable cars.  Muni 516 would become 16 in about two years as the Powell St. cars were renumbered for the Cable Car Centennial.

In about six years, I’d have a song to go with this photo—Jet Airliner by the Steve Miller Band. Another hour and all that would be left was the bus ride from LAX to Monrovia.  “What long strange trip it’s been….”

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