Sunday, March 26, 2006

All Aboard!

ABOARD AMTRAK'S CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR--The Zephyr pulled out of Sacramento about thirty minutes late on this Sunday morning, a morning of moderate temperatures and blue skies. The route we're on today between Sacramento and Salt Lake City is probably the most historic route in passenger rail history. On January 8, 1863, ground was broken, just a few feet away from where I boarded today, for construction of the Central Pacific Railroad--the western portion of the transcontinental railroad. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific line was moving west from Omaha. The lines were linked in the Utah desert on May 10, 1869, making America truly a united continental power.

Today's line follows a lot of the orginal route. In fact, from Sacramento to Reno, the Zephyr is staffed is by docents from the California State Railroad Museum, who provide a running commentary on the historic sites on the way. For example, four hours out of Sacramento, the docents point out Verdi, Nevada, site of the first train robbery in American history on November 4, 1870. [Today, Verdi is home to an establishment known as Boomtown, where a different sort of robbery goes on daily].

After Reno, the ride is mostly flat. It's a long way to Winnemucca, then Elko, and then even longer on to Salt Lake City. In the desert in Nevada and Utah, the Zephyr frequently loses time because the route is single-tracked there and passenger trains must yield to freight traffic. This Sunday, however, there's almost no delay; indeed, the train picks up a little time.

The train for me is enjoyable, except when trying to sleep. My advice: don't try to get good sleep on a long train trip. Enjoy the scenery, chat with your traveling companions, read a book [my choice on this trip: The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman], and if you happen to drift off, okay--but don't try to sleep.

I read a bit and do a little prep for my Family History Library trip. The last hour will be the longest.

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