Enjoy the Experiences of one of our Members

Washington, DC to Salt Lake City, UT

Excerpted from an article by Kevin J. Tankersley,
President, Washington DC Chapter, NRHS
Owners of the Dover Harbor

The CARDINAL sauntered into Washington Union Station from the Ivy City coach yards a scant half-hour before its scheduled departure. Two private cars set to go west with it were retrieved by the station switcher from their resting-place on track 30 and run over to be coupled to the train.

After the short dance in the throat of the station, SIERRA HOTEL, followed by DOVER HARBOR then brought up the rear of Amtrak train #51. DOVER HARBOR would be home and carriage across the rails of the U.S. on a voyage two thirds of the way across the United States to Salt Lake City for a small group, headed here for the National Railway Historical Society’s annual national convention. With luggage safely stowed aboard and room assignments made, the happy group settled in for departure. Our train departed not promptly, but about twenty minutes late. But no matter, everyone was already relaxed and enjoying the beautiful sunny, clear day presented us, and getting to know each other.

Our train wended its way through the office buildings of Southwest Washington, the beautiful white monuments drawing some oohs and aahs. Crossing the Potomac, our train picked up some speed, and at Crystal City followed the new tracks along the eastern side of the former Potomac Yards. Martin O’Rourke snapped our picture and waved bon voyage as we rolled under the Monroe Avenue Bridge in Alexandria. At the station stop in Alexandria, a couple more friends joined us. Soon DOVER HARBOR was running in the easygoing pace of the mainline through the Virginia countryside as the foothills of the Blue Ridge began to appear, while a luncheon of smoked turkey sandwiches and pasta salad was enjoyed.

Past Orange, the wonderful music of the wheels going clickety-clack over jointed rail played out as we traveled to Gordonsville making the hard right turn around the wye onto the CSX Mountain Subdivision there to head west through horse country to Charlottesville. Once past the famed University of Virginia, the climb up the Blue Ridge began. As the train rose higher on the curving track, the view to the south became more breathtaking until we reached the crest at the town of Afton, which gives the mountain its name. At Afton, the station, now a private residence still bears name boards at each end. The train dived into the first of many tunnels on this journey, out into the Shenandoah Valley descending to Waynesboro below/.

White Sulphur Springs, the destination famous for the publicity photo of the two young men boarding the C&O’ premier train, the George Washington-came up next. To this day, it is a favorite destination of private car passengers, although it is difficult for the car to actually visit. Filtered views of the Greenbrier, the famous old resort, were available through the trees from the station.

At Hinton, we entered the legendary New River Gorge, often described as the Grand Canyon of the East. The train followed the tracks along the river at the bottom of the gorge. The interplay of water, rocks and foliage created a series of scenes of natural beauty. Everyone sat back and took in the scenery about them; meanwhile wonderful aromas from the kitchen scented the car as a ham roasted in Dover Harbor’s coal stove oven for dinner. The highway bridge over the New River Gorge amazed everyone for its height and size. Our train’s timekeeping was not the best, and by the time we reached Prince, we were approximately an hour behind. Soon thereafter, we settled in for the first evening’s meal, begun with a champagne toast given by NRHS Chairman of the Board Lee Dietrich to the success of the trip.

The tables were set with white cloths, Southern Railway china, glassware and silver. Dinner was begun with a garden green salad tossed with blush vinaigrette; the main course was the aforementioned roast ham, accompanied by steamed broccoli, boiled potatoes and wonderfully faintly sweet raspberry corncakes. While savoring the meal, we passed the falls at Gauley Bridge, made all the more beautiful as the mountain mists closed in with the evening glow of dusk. Freshly baked peach pie served a la mode concluded a spectacular meal as we watched the golden dome of the State Capital of West Virginia from our moving vantagepoint across the river at Charleston.

Out of Charleston in the darkness, we raced through St. Albans and up Scary Hill then on to Huntington. Many folks then retired for the night, to dream sweet dreams of the train riding days to come in the comfort of the horsehair mattresses of the Pullman’s berths. The rocking train lulled everyone to sleep just as babes in a cradle. I was among the last to retire, just after the service stop at Ashland, Kentucky.

We were due into Chicago the next day and finally the skyline came into view and we rolled past Comiskey Park and around the wye. But we did not go into the station. Instead, our train moved directly to the coach yard-the inspection building specifically. There we sat. A short time later, DOVER HARBOR was moved from the inspections building to the rear of the California Zephyr.

The gates opened and the CZ’s passengers quickly boarded. The platform lights went from red to yellow to green and we were off-an on time departure. We rolled swiftly out the BN Raceway to the flat farm fields of Illinois and past steam engine after steam engine at towns small and big. Galesburg even had a small train. Through this stretch we observed a number of small round barns. Does anyone know why these are round, what their purpose is?

At cocktail hour, we curved around and across the Mississippi into Burlington, Iowa. The town hugged the riverbank. We supped on a marvelously light cream of asparagus soup, marinated grilled chicken breast (prepared on the original Pullman ‘broilers’ = grills), brown rice and green beans, followed by scrumptious pecan pie topped with fresh whipped cream for dessert.

Many folks turned in early, the day’s activities having given them a good appetite for rest too. Crossing into Nebraska, a tremendous thunderstorm produced fireworks that could compete with Washington’s 4th of July celebration. It was magnificent to observe across the flat plains. At Omaha, we paused for a service stop. With departure, I retired for the night.

The anticipation of the day awakened me early at what must have been around 5:00 AM. Not quite light, but the sunrise’s glow was beginning to creep up. From the scenery, I guessed we were still in the Sand Hills of western Nebraska. A station stop at McCook confirmed this. I stood at the open vestibule door open, feeling the cool, crisp morning air rushing in as we raced westward. Today was the long awaited day-the crossing of the spectacular Rockies.

Breakfast consisted of the house specialty— scrambled eggs a la Duncan, bacon, and honeydew melon. Breakfast was a leisurely affair as everyone took in the sights of eastern Colorado including the stockyards with many, many cattle, and watched as the Front Range loomed into view as we approached Denver. The Denver skyline brought everyone to their feet rushing to retrieve cameras, for the first shots of a photo-terrific day. Our train backed into Denver Union Station to a stop. Before we knew it, we pulled away from Denver, now absolutely rearmost. The vestibule of the car was now filled with everyone jockeying to get that great shot of the train as it went around the double ‘S’ loops climbing up the Front Range, before turning west into the Rockies.

The sky was clear blue, with some puffs of fluffy white cotton. The green of the mountain fir trees and the blue reflected off the water in the picture perfect scenery that was absolutely breathtaking. Our train wound its way along mountain streams and through the 28 tunnels as we climbed to the Continental Divide. Snow capped peaks are visible while the daytime temperatures feel a little coolish just from what it was at Denver a short time ago. At the top we travel through the 6.2-mile long Moffat Tunnel; a trip which takes nearly ten minutes to make. This is the highest point on the Amtrak system at 9,239 feet; James Peak is another 4,021 feet high above the tunnel. On the other side we emerge west of the Divide.

Our next stop shortly after Moffat is Fraser-Winter Park. The brilliant sunshine day here in the mountain scenery is nothing short of stunning. Words can’t describe how I felt at taking in all of God’s creation here (except for the few man made scars apparent). During the station stop, several of us converse through the open vestibule door with a man standing on the platform. ‘Where are you coming from?” he asks. ‘Washington, DC’. ‘Oh my, that’s a long way.’ Not knowing how much longer we’ll be stopped, he gets the short history of the 1923 jewel we’re traveling in. And with that we wave goodbye as the train pulls away.

Onward, westward we go passing Dotsero, where the Royal Gorge line from Pueblo connects. It was over this line just two days before, that the UP steam special traveled on its way to the convention.

The scenery is ever changing, through the Gore Canyon, then the Red Canyon where the rocks are really red, then into the spectacular Glenwood Canyon. The train lazily wanders on a curving path, hugging the bottom of the canyon side along the river. We see a few rafters (including a few moons though it’s not night), and feel the spray splash up from the rocks at some points where the water is just feet away. The concrete ribbon of I-70 hugs the opposite side of the canyon, and though the cars zoom by, I’d not trade our more genteel way of travel for the interstate.

Somewhere in here a scrumptious buffet lunch was served, but the scenery outdid the food this time.

We stopped briefly at Glenwood Springs, then just west of the station, met the eastbound Zephyr, also running a little late

The scenery continued to shine as the formations gradually changed. We stopped at Grand Junction; right next to the end of the train where we there was a train/hobby store with hand lettered sale signs, trying to entice passengers in for a quick purchase. The locomotives were refueled here. Next after our departure came Utah. The dry hummocky land became bare and desolate. Who would want to live here? In fact, signs of civilization were few.

Dinner was up as we rolled across the Green River desert. The menu consisted of a garden salad with Italian dressing, grilled pork chops in a lime-garlic marinade, steamed fresh asparagus (perfectly done, still firm), and a Pullman specialty-fresh hash browned potatoes. The meal was capped off during sunset with a replay of the favorite dessert of the westbound trip-fresh berries with whipped cream.

After dinner, some of folks dozed contentedly, while others like me stood on the vestibule and marveled at the myriad of twinkling stars in the Milky Way. The thousands visible were mind boggling to those of us who live in the crowded east and are lucky to see the Big Dipper occasionally. Our run over jointed rail was slowed due to some slow orders. Not having a discernable skyline, we snuck into Salt Lake City from the south. Arrival was about an hour and a half late. Our group disembarked at the far south end of the station, and sleepily sought out cabs to take them to their hotels.

Our first day there (Thursday, June 26th), had a bus tour set with the primary destination of the Golden Spike National Historic Site. We visited Ogden Union Station and the rail museum there including the display under roof of the UP gas turbine and other interesting motive power. Ogden Station is now being used as a visitors center and museum complex. It was here until just last May that Amtrak’s Pioneer stopped. Next, we lunched at Brigham City’s restored train station next to a busy UP main line, before proceeding to the Golden Spike monument. There we witnessed the reenactment of the ceremony of the driving of the gold spike marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. The two presidents of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific both took their turns to drive the spike; both missed. The story goes that the spike was wired to the telegraph, and the telegrapher had the gumption to go ahead and tap “Done”. A gandy dancer then drove the spike home.

Saturday was the grand finale day, with the Union Pacific steam trip behind the 844, an oil burning Northern type steam locomotive. The brilliant armour yellow trainset shone in the morning sun at the Union Pacific station. I had a dome seat for this trip; it was the first time I had bought a dome ticket, but I felt that I ought to go first class all the way. A young couple came up the stairs just prior to departure time-the last to board our car, and found two seats near each other. They had come down to see the steam locomotive, and were tapped on the shoulder, and told “I’ll give you these two tickets if you promise to ride,” by a friendly stranger. What a prize they had won! Our golden yellow streamliner sauntered northward past the busy Union Pacific locomotive shops and yards on the northern edge of Salt Lake City. Our route to Ogden sees approximately 70-80 freight trains per day according to the brief guide handed out.

We rolled to the north at a leisurely pace, between the mountains to the east, and the Great Salt Lake, visible at times to the west. We passed Hill Air Force Base, with quite a railroad equipment collection of it’s own visible from our train. Coming into Ogden, we swept round a quarter circle turn joining the main line from the East, before strutting through Ogden Union Station, putting on a show for the many who had gathered there to see us, but mainly to see steam locomotive 844.

Eight forty-four is the last steam locomotive built for the Union Pacific Railroad, delivered in 1944. It’s 80″ driving wheels pulled such famous UP trains as the Overland Limited, the Portland Rose, the Los Angeles Limited and the Challenger. Burning No. 5 fuel oil, it is capable of cruising at speeds of 80 to 90 MPH. (Source: Heritage Express Times 1997 by Union Pacific). The consist for our excursion was an impressive, matched, seventeen car train! The Heritage Express Times also gave a brief history of the various cars in the UP excursion fleet. Mine, ‘Challenger’, was built by Pullman in 1958, “the last dome car built.” It was named for the train which was also known as ‘Everybody’s Limited’, when introduced in the middle of the depression, in an attempt to draw back ridership. Equipment was spartan; meal service was promoted as “three meals a day for under a dollar.” The Challenger, in a later incarnation as the Challenger Domeliner ran until 1971

Our train passed through Brigham City, where we visited just two days before. This part of the UP system sees about 20-30 trains per day. It also used to host Amtrak’s Pioneer. The topography gradually steepened, and we found ourselves in the scenic Bear River Canyon, something not seen by the Pioneer’s passengers due to passage through this area normally at night. The high cliffs of the canyon rose above our train, and also down below to the river. Ahead of us was the Cutler Dam, holding back many gallons of water, while generating electricity. To the right of the dam, we passed through the short Bear River Tunnel, emerging to our photo runby location adjacent to the reservoir.

Our train stopped, and nearly everyone got off, cameras in hand. Once all were organized into neat photo lines on the hillside, the train backed down the Canyon nearly disappearing back into the tunnel. Then two sharps and the sounds of the stack talk echoing through the canyon gave one pause. If you could just listen to this music; it was quite a treasure to hear it live and in person. The locomotive picked up speed and rolled past the assembled, shutters madly clicking to record the vision for posterity. A second runby was made, and then everyone reboarded for the remainder of the trip.

We emerged from the canyon into a verdant green valley, where Cache Junction is situated. The mountains rose up above the plain to the north ahead of us. Our train turned northward, seeming to want to continue ahead, then backed around to the east on the wye, to make the return run to Salt Lake City. Luncheon fare (included in the ticket price) on this streamliner consisted of a boxed lunch including turkey or roast beef sandwich, cookies, chips, an apple, and a boxed juice; these were distributed for all to enjoy during the short stay at Cache.

The return trip south under the brilliant sunny skies was on time and uneventful until we were within spitting distance of our destination. Salt Lake City was experiencing train congestion of the sort producing a parking lot. The Salt Lake Yardmaster decided to send out train down through the middle of the yard in an effort to allow several northbound trains to get clear of the station area. This proved to be a wrong move, as after our train had traversed the length of the yard, the locomotive reached a turnout which was too sharp for our locomotive. Now the ballet really began. We had to back up to take another route; the northbound freights were now in the way on the main line, too. After much consultation, we backed up most of the way to the yard leads, then were routed down a runaround track on the side of the yard. Another sharp turnout was found. This time, the mammoth locomotive was walked, nay inched through. In the meantime, the congestion on the mainline cleared. Our route then took us a little closer to the engine shops, then we crossed over to the station tracks.

Hopping down to the ground, I walked forward and watched as 844 was uncoupled from the train, and moved to be parked for the night. I have a particularly nice photo of it sitting there, rod down, with the setting evening sun glinting off the shiny black metal.

The convention was now officially over. And tomorrow’s sights would be set on the return trip to home.

Kevin J. Tankersley