Reading: Hue 1968

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in VietnamHue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“As the subtitle says, the Tet Offensive in February 1968 was the beginning of the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War. The US top military, led by General Westmoreland, failed to discover the build up and failed to respond appropriately once the attacks started. “”Nowhere in [Westmoreland’s] understanding of the war was there room for the size an quality of the force that had taken Hue. So the MACV [headquarters] in Saigon and General LaHue in Phu Bai, simply refused to believe it had happened. Reports that contradicted this high-level understanding were dismissed as unreliable, the cries of men facing real combat for the first time, and panicking. Against the certainties of the American command, the truth never stood a chance.”” [Loc 2527] Westmoreland’s estimates of the enemy force was 500 “”off by a factor of twenty.””[Loc 2527″”””
The result of the ignorance and denial was to send Marines and Army “”on a fool’s errand immediately on arrival at the compound [of Hue]””[Loc 2010] “”Westmoreland seemed almost oblivious to the largest single battle of the Tet Offensive, if not of the entire war, under way in Hue. His forces there were badly outnumbered, struggling, and dying.””[Loc 3206]
And the enemy was not what had been experienced before. “”[Marine Calvin] Hart had come to Vietnam expecting to fight amateurs, little men in black pajamas and conical hats who were no match for United States Marines. But the enemy encountered in Hue was tough and professional, every bit their match. These fighters were uniformed and well-equipped, and they set up defensive positions and fields of fire as good as anything taught by the Corps””[Loc 7421]
As American deaths mounted in the face of the Army commands assurances the battle was nothing, the American public started to turn against the war. Perhaps the biggest force of change in America’s understanding of war was Walter Cronkite’s reporting after his visit to the war zone. If you are younger than maybe 50 you may not have an appreciation of Cronkite’s impact on public opinion. He was the anchor of the CBS news when there were only three or four national networks. Cronkite’s nightly newscast was the most watched. “”[W]hen he interviewed Westy in his crisp fatigues and with a chrome0-plated AK-47 in his office as a prop, the general seemed even more cocksure than usual. He repeated the official line that Tet had been a big success for his forces. He declared the battle of Hue over. He said that US forces and ARVN troops had soundly defeated ten thousand NVA and VC troops there – blithely contradicting his earlier assertion that there were no more than a few hundred enemy soldiers in the city.l Then Cronkite flew to Hue, where ten minutes on the ground was enough to show none of it was true. The battle was still raging.””[Loc 5865] When he returned to the states he delivered a pessimistic editorial on the state of the war. “”Cronkite’s cautious pessimism had tremendous impact and made it much harder to dismiss those who opposed the war as ‘hippies’ or un-American. It was hard to image an American more conventional and authentic than Walter Cronkite.””[Loc 8118] “”Tet had exposed Westy as an untrustworthy source of information, not just to the press and public, but even in his secret communications to the White House.””[Loc 7989]
One of the book’s biggest strengths is the view of the battle for Hue from the North Vietnamese side. Bowden was able to interview participants from The Front and the NVA, providing a narrative of the lead up to the battle. His other strength is his gripping storytelling of the battle from the American side. The description of Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham’s analysis of a battle situation where troops are pinned down by a machine gun shows the stuff heroes are made of: “”Cheatham studied the problem himself. He crawled out to a telephone pole and waited for the gun to fire. It was using green tracers, so he could see the trajectory of its rounds. He noticed that when it shot at things to its left, … the rounds were low, but whenever the gun shot to its right …, the aim was high. This suggested that the gunner’s field of fire was obstructed by something on that side, something that forced him to aim the gun up. If he was right, Cheatham figured there was a spot near him out on the street where a man could stand up and still be too low for the machine gun.””[Loc 4543] It takes a real soldier to keep cool in the heat of battle like that.
Bowden’s biggest weakness is discounting the impact of the battle of Khe Sanh on the battle for Hue. Bowden continually hammers on Westmoreland for his moving forces to Khe Sanh for the coming offensive. But if my understanding is right, the battle of Khe Sanh was actually happening at the same time. The Tet Offensive and attack on Hue was February 1968 while the battle of Khe Sanh went from late January into the spring of the same year.
All in all the Marines and Army officers who were leading the men in battle were made victims of the higher ups who simply refused to see the battle for what it was. “”This refusal to face facts was not just a public relations problem; it had tragic consequences for many of the marines and soldiers who fought there. If the extent of the challenge had been weighed realistically at the outset, if commanders had heeded the entirely correct CIS assessment on the first day, and if they had listened to their own field commanders, they might have held off the counterattack until they had readied an appropriate level of force and more effective tactics.””[Loc 8341] There is a lesson here for all leaders – not just military: be open to new information and act on it.

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Saturday at Seaside, Oregon

This gallery contains 6 photos.

July 15, 2017 On Saturday Carla and I woke up early and headed to the coast. Normally we go down to Canon Beach, but today we decided to see the more commercial Seaside with its fun center, candy shops, T-shirt … Continue reading

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Reading: Grunt, by Mary Roach

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book I’ve written by Mary Roach (the others being ‘Bonk’ and ‘Packing for Mars’) and is my favorite so far. In this book Roach covers the science and technology of keeping soldiers safe and effective in war – sometimes (oftentimes) conflicting goals. [Note: In the interest of brevity, I refer to “soldiers” or “Marines” in this review interchangeably for all the military – yes, I know they refer to different branches of the military.]
Some of the topics are how to protect soldiers from IEDs when riding in troop carriers; the effect of noise on soldiers; training for medics; treatment of genital mutilation as a result of battle; diarrhea; shark repellent; and the effect of irregular sleep patterns for submariners.
A big problem in battle is the kicking in of the “fight or flight response” which makes one “fast, strong, and dumb”; [Loc 1294] while this response kept primitive man alive “when threats took the form of man-eating mammals, when hurling a rock superhumanly hard or climbing a tree superhumanly fast gave you the edge that might keep you alive.” [Loc 1294] “The technical term for f***in’ tunnel vision is attentional narrowing. It’s another prehistorically helpful but now potentially disastrous feature of the survival stress response. One focuses on the threat to the exclusion of almost everything else.”[Loc 1378] This can be a problem for a medic trying to help a Marine in the middle of battle. The resulting reduction of fine motor skills is a big problem for medics who are working with the “growing sophistication and miniaturization of medical equipment.” Add to this the motions and vibrations of a medevac flight, and you start to gain an appreciation for the military medic’s challenges.” [ Loc 1294] Of course the military has a way of training medics to deal with this – which she takes part in and describes.
Mary Roach sticks up for scientists’ contributions to the military. When talking about a Sergeant supporting the needs of platoon; she argues that s/he needs to have a wealth of information. “I agree that squad leaders are in the best position to know what and how much their men and women need to bring on a given mission. But you want those squad leaders to be armed with knowledge, and not all knowledge comes from experience. Sometimes it comes from a pogue at USUHS who’s been investigating the specific and potentially deadly consequences of a bodybuilding supplement [which is used A LOT in the military] Or an army physiologist who puts men adrift in life rafts off the dock at a Florida air base and discovers that wetting your uniform cools you enough to conserve 74 percent more of your body fluids per hour.”[Loc 1705]
Through it all Mary writes with her trademark dry wit. When discussing the impact of diarrhea on soldiers she talks about the venue for discussing the topic at lunch after training: “The tables in the hangar-size Dorie are arranged church-basement-style, in log rows, so there’s always a friendly stranger across from you or at your elbow, someone new with whom to chat about loose bowel movements while you eat.”]Loc 1772]
Mary Roach usually keeps a distance from her subject (and subjects) through her irony and dry wit. But what I especially like about this book is her warmer approach to the people she is writing about; while still keeping her humor. Humor can be used to keep a subject at arm’s distance; but here, she is bring them closer. “I’m adjusting to the concept of a ‘casualty collection point,’to the horrible fact that there can be enough casualties for a ‘collection’.”l [Loc 1660]
All-in-all this is my favorite of her books I’ve read. She brings her standard approach of tireless and detailed analysis of how science and technology is applied to critical elements of our lives.”

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Life Aboard a Train

We’ve travelled on Amtrak overnight trains a few times now. You can read (and view) our experiences on

Those posts focus on the view from the train. I thought it might be helpful to give an idea of what life is like onboard the train to help you decide if you might like to take a  long distance train trip.

The western Amtrak train routes mostly use the double decker SuperLiner cars. A typical summer train consists of

  • Two locomotives
  • Baggage car
  • Dorm car for the workers
  • Three coach cars
  • Dining car
  • Lounge car
  • Three sleeper cars.

Our experience is in a SuperLiner sleeping car bedroom – which has plenty of room for two along with a sink, toilet, and shower. Other options are a roomette which has two opposing seats which can be made up into bunk beds, and coach seats. I think there is also a family suite on the lower level that takes up the whole width of the train. Carla’s sister Linda got a roomette to herself (if you travel alone, you won’t have to share). She used the common bathroom and showers. The showers are bigger than the ones in the bedrooms.

I don’t imagine the coach seats, roomy and comfortable as they are (especially compared to plane seats), would be much fun for a multi-night trip. We talked with a family that bought coach seats and told us it never really gets dark and it’s hard to sleep because the seats don’t recline into beds. The privacy afforded by the rooms and roomettes – and especially the bedrooms – is not to be discounted. If you are tired of people; just retire to your room for a while for some peace and quiet and enjoy the view.

Here are a couple of images showing the layout of a sleeper car.

Amtrak SuperLiner sleeping car layout

Amtrak SuperLiner sleeping car layout

Amtrak SuperLiner sleeper car layout.

Amtrak SuperLiner sleeper car layout. (Image credit Craig Mashburn: http://www.craigmashburn.com/amtrakcardiagrams.html)

If you decide to get a room or roomette, request a room on the upper floor so you’ll have a better view of the world you travel through.

You will board in the middle of the car where the luggage is stored. You won’t have a lot of space in your bedroom or roomette so your large suitcase will need to be downstairs or checked into the baggage car. Use a smaller overnight bag with the clothes and toiletries you’ll use on the trip.

Luggage storage on an Amtrak SuperLiner sleeping car

Luggage storage on an Amtrak SuperLiner sleeping car

You can see the door to the family suite at the end of the hall. About once a day we would take our dirty clothes out of our room and stash them in a bag in our downstairs suitcase. Dennis (our California Zephyr car attendant) told us he hadn’t experienced any problems with luggage theft in his 34 years of service.

One of the nice things about a room, besides the privacy of the bathroom, is that if you open the door or curtain you can have a view out of both sides of the train. You can see that the hallway in the roomettes go down the middle so you can’t see out the opposite side of the car. Here is Carla outside our room; you can get an idea of the hallway.

Hallway on the bedroom side of a SuperLiner sleeping car.

Hallway on the bedroom side of a SuperLiner sleeping car.

Here I am on the couch in our bedroom.

Sitting in our SuperLiner bedroom

Sitting in our SuperLiner bedroom

I found it difficult to get a good picture of the room as a whole – so I looked on the internet to get a couple.

Amtrak SuperLiner bedroom.

Amtrak SuperLiner bedroom. (Photo Credit hackatsmith.org)

SuperLiner beds made up

SuperLiner beds made up. (Photo Credit Jim Loomis: http://www.trainsandtravel.com/2016/03/09/superliner-bedrooms-worth-the-money/)

You are not going to sleep as well as in your own bed at home. The lower bunk is nice and wide with good leg room. The upper bunk is long enough for me (over 6 feet tall) but it is cramped. There is not as much headspace as the image suggests; you’ll have enough room to rollover but not to sit up. You kind of launch yourself from your ladder into bed. There is a big net that hooks into the ceiling to make sure you don’t roll out. Carla and I swapped bunks each night; one night we slept in the bottom bunk, but it was a bit too cozy for comfort. And the car rocks and rolls as it travels across the countryside; the cars were built back in the 1980’s (I think) and there are plenty of squeaks and rattles. Your car attendant will convert the couch into beds in the evening when you are ready and back into seats in the morning – usually when you are at breakfast.

For the most part the people on the train are happy and glad to be there. You have plenty of opportunity to visit with your fellow travelers. While the view from the room is great, the views available in the Lounge cars is spectacular. Windows run the length of the car and even partially overhead.

Amtrak SuperLiner Lounge car

Amtrak SuperLiner Lounge car

Amtrak SuperLiner Lounge Car

Amtrak SuperLiner Lounge Car

About half the car is made up of tables while the other half have groups of three seats facing outside.

The other place you meet new friends is in the dining car. If you are in a sleeper car you’re meals are paid for. The head of the dining car will come by a couple of hours before lunch and dinner to take a reservation. When you arrive in the car, you’ll stand in the end of the car until the attendant takes you to your table. They fill up all four seats, so if there are two of you traveling together you’ll get to share your meal with another couple of people (or two singles). As I said, people on the train are happy for the most part and swapping stories is a great way to pass the time as the scenery rolls by.

The food is quite good; but the menu is limited; so if you are on board for three days and two nights you might repeat yourself. That’s not a problem; the Amtrak steak is excellent for dinner and the hamburger is a perfect lunch; there are vegetarian options. It’s a lot of food and you don’t get  a lot of exercise so prepare to diet a bit when you get off the train. I ordered breakfast and lunch from the kids menu in order to get smaller portions.

I didn’t get a good picture of the dining car; here is one I found on the internet.

Amtrak SuperLiner Dining Car

Amtrak SuperLiner Dining Car (Photo Credit. “Seat 2a” on FlyerTalk web forum: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/16492110-post6.html)

Some of the stops are scheduled for 10 to 15 minutes so you get a chance to get out and stretch your legs. To make the most of the time your car attendant will announce the approach of the station and will be there to open the door and put out the foot stool if it is necessary. Don’t get too far from the train; once the horn blows and the conductor and car attendants yell “All Aboard” you’d best be on board. They will leave without you.

Sleeping Car Attendant (Dennis) at the door as we pull into a station.

Sleeping Car Attendant (Dennis) at the door as we pull into a station.

If you want to keep track of your travel, try using the dixielandsoftware.net You can open a map and see where your train is; click on the number of your train and you’ll see your status on each of the stops you’ve made up to that point showing whether you are early or late (usually you are late). I used it a lot on board. And I saved the results and used the time table to match up my pictures. For example I’d see that we were traveling between Glenwood Springs and Great Junction between 1:57 and 3:53 on Tuesday. Then I could pick the pictures taken between those times for the blog. (It’s helpful to change the time on your camera as you move from one time zone to another).

Tipping. We tip our attendant about $10 when we get on; and another $10 (or more) at the end. They work hard to make your trip a great experience. Tip your meal servers based on the price of the meal even though you only pay for alcohol.

Is it worth it? We LOVE it. Although the 3-day/2-night trip from Chicago to the Bay Area with a connection for another night and day back home is a bit tiring, we enjoyed every minute. I think the Empire Builder which goes direct from Portland to Chicago is perfect for us.

Is it for you? Here are some considerations. The scenery you’ll see in the American west is stunning. But you can’t stop and get out to take pictures. Be ready with your camera to get those special photos. And a fancy camera (like my Sony A7Rii) may not work well because of the reflection. What we found works best is pressing our iPhone smack up against the window to get the picture. We find ourselves looking at the scenery way more than reading or knitting or doing puzzles.

If you can be happy not being in control for 3 days, go for it. Some people just feel the need to be in charge and go where they want to go. I would think a long distance train ride could be a challenge.  The train is faster than traveling by car. By my calculation we traveled 2,265 miles in about 43 hours – 2 nights; 1 full day; and parts of 2 other days. Our driving trips to Chicago take us at least 4 nights. While we get to stop when we want; we are usually much more tired at the end than we are for a train trip.

And the view; the view is what sells the trip. Unlike driving when you are staring at pavement for hours on end and dealing with semis passing you and you passing semis, you can just sit and watch the world roll by.

I hope this helps; if you have any questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

 

 

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Summer Train Trip: Chicago to Portland

June 26 – 29, 2017

All good things must come to an end but we saved the best train trip for the end – the California Zephyr which winds through both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra-Nevadas. Glorious.

Linda, Carla and I tearfully kissed the kids and grandkids goodbye then took a Lyft ride from Riverside to Union Station in Chicago. The stations in Portland and Los Angeles are magnificent buildings; but it’s hard to get a feel for Union Station in Chicago because other buildings have been crowded so close to it. However, it is much bigger than those other terminals. The main hall is enormous and Amtrak and Metra trains leave and arrive here from all points of the compass. And the Metropolitan Lounge for sleeper car passengers is huge – parts of 3 floors with areas for kids, conversations, and solitude.

Here is an overview of our route – taken from Pinterest

CaliforniaZephyrRoute

We pulled out of the station on time at 2:00PM and 15 minutes later we were rolling through Riverside Station where I’ve seen the train many times before.  It wasn’t long before we had passed the sprawling metro area and into the famous Midwest farmland.

Western Illinois farmland.

Western Illinois farmland.

A storm was off in the distance as we cruised toward Galesburg, the westernmost stop in Illinois.

Stormy weather near the Illinois, Iowa border

Stormy weather near the Illinois, Iowa border

In Galesburg we saw the “Community” mural featuring Carl Sandburg, Knox College and the original California Zephyr.

'Community' mural in rural Galesburg, Illinois

‘Community’ mural in rural Galesburg, Illinois

Our car attendant on this leg was Dennis – absolutely the best of the many excellent attendants we’ve had on the Amtrak system. The car attendant can really add to your trip; in addition to making up and tearing down your sleeping bunks they provide helpful information such as when station stops are coming up and how long you’ll have to stretch your legs. Dennis is a fun guy and has plenty of stories; it was delightful to talk with him about this, that, and the other.

Dennis - Our fantastic car attendant on the California Zephyr

Dennis – Our fantastic car attendant on the California Zephyr

Dennis has worked for Amtrak for 34+ years. He knows the history of the line and was very helpful giving us historical background on our travels. For example Knox College was one of the locations for the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates.

Car attendants also help out with the little things. Here he snaps a pic of Linda and Carla in front of the train at a station stop.

Station stop in Fraser, Colorado

Station stop in Fraser, Colorado

Before we knew it we were leaving Illinois, crossing  a steel cross beam bridge over the Mississippi River into Iowa.

Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa

Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa

We had a nice dinner in the diner then sat in the dome car visiting with Brendan, our dinner companion, as the sun went down. When we got back to our room, our bunks were ready (thank you Dennis) so we washed up and hit the sack. We clickety-clacked our way across Iowa, Nebraska and into eastern Colorado as we slept.

We woke early and met Linda for breakfast; finishing as we pulled into Denver. Now we were heading into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. The maximum grade incline for a train is 2.2 percent with the normal maximum around 1 percent – 1 foot of elevation rise in 100 feet of horizontal travel. Compare that to a car where 6 percent grades on mountain interstates are not uncommon. Cars can go through grade changes 3 times greater than trains. As a result trains “meander” they slowly go through “S” turns and tunnels to gain the elevation they need. That’s great when you are a passenger as you are exposed to great views for miles and miles.

On the trip through the Rockies the California Zephyr goes through 21 tunnels of various lengths culminating with the 6+ mile Moffat Tunnel  which takes about 10 minutes to traverse. The highest point of Moffat Tunnel is over 9,000 feet above sea level – the highest point on the US rail systerm (thank you Dennis for that factoid!). Five to 10 minutes before entering the tunnel the conductor comes on the PA system to tell that if you want to be in a different car, go there now as changing cars in the tunnel is strongly discouraged. There is a lot of diesel exhaust blowing through the tunnel and an open door at the end of a passenger car will let a lot of it enter the living spaces – not fun.  Getting pictures of tunnels from a moving train is impossible; I hope some day to get up to Moffat Tunnel to grab some photos of trains exiting.

But we did see plenty of the Rockies and at times came close to Interstate 70; though it was rare.

Interstate Highway through the Rocky Mountains

Interstate Highway through the Rocky Mountains

Railroad, Colorado River, and I70 heading west through the Rocky Mountains

Railroad, Colorado River, and I70 heading west through the Rocky Mountains

Out in the remote spots we were delighted to see some river rafters floating along the quiet spots and shooting the rapids in the rough spots. If I have my location right, these are some rafters on the Fraser River.

Rafting the Fraser River in Colorado as seen from the California Zephyr

Rafting the Fraser River in Colorado as seen from the California Zephyr

A while later we followed the Colorado River on its downhill journey.

The Colorado River in its namesake state.

The Colorado River in its namesake state.

You certainly get views from the California Zephyr you won’t see from your car zipping up the steeper highway grades.

Around mid-day we pulled into Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Station Stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Station Stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

We have shared all our east-west trips with many Amish folk (I was told they are Amish, correct me if I’m wrong)  – some of whom you see here. We sat in the Southwest Chief dome car one afternoon with an Amish gentleman who is a furniture maker. The man in the foreground with the brown pattern shirt and straw hat is a hoot. He had a deck of cards and spent a lot of time scrounging up games of cribbage. There was a traveling family with three kids whom he taught to play. By the end of the trip on the third day they had learned the ropes and played well enough.

Later, back on board we passed this shed with evenly divided panels of graffiti; I’m not sure if what organized or if the graffiti artists there just work well together.

Graffiti shed near Grand Junction, Colorado

Graffiti shed near Grand Junction, Colorado

We turned north towards Utah at Grand Junction – much like we did last year on our car trip through here. The scenery gradually transformed from green forest to desert as we passed into Utah. Although this photo may be from northwest Colorado, it reminds me of Utah. Compare this to our view last summer in the link above.

Utah desert

Colorado or Utah desert (Photo credit: Carla)

We ate dinner our second night on the train and slept as we rolled through Elko and Winnemucca Nevada. After waking, showering, and eating breakfast we rolled into Reno – the largest little city in America. A few years ago the tracks were moved below street level  in order to not block traffic. It may work for the city; but it’s a pretty ugly view from train level.

Reno train station is below street grade

Reno train station is below street grade

A trip from  Reno to Sacramento means one thing: the Sierra-Nevada Mountains! For the second day we found ourselves slowly making our way up the grade through a mountain range. toward the top we passed Donner Lake.

Donner Lake - Sierra-Nevada Mountains

Donner Lake – Sierra-Nevada Mountains

As I posted our location on Facebook, my friend Eric asked “did you have lunch?” Funny guy. You may have heard of the Donner party – they were pioneers who were caught by a blizzard near here one winter. As Eric said:

In the winter of 1846-47 the Donner Party was traveling across the country by stage coach. They were running late and were convinced to take a detour advocated by Lansford Hasting that would shorten the distance. Wrong. The snows came and they camped here at Donner Lake, got stuck, ran out of food and resorted to eating each other. Always remember “Don’t Take Shortcuts and Hurry Along”.

Eric definitely learned his California history in grade school. Donner Lake and Donner Summit are named in their recognition.

At 4:05PM, five minutes early, we arrived in Emeryville, California – the western end point for the California Zephyr.  It is actually near Oakland on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. We would make a connection here at 10:00 with Northbound the Coast Starlight to take us home. That gave us some time to kill. California is a land of freeways, but we managed to find a sidewalk leading to a spit out on the bay. On the spit in the bay is a fancy Chinese Restaurant; so after walking for about an hour we stopped in for some Tsingtao beers and a light dinner. On the way back to the station we grabbed some photos of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco beyond –  this is a terrible time of day to take pictures facing west because the sun washed out a lot of detail. Nevertheless, if you squint, you can see the TransAmerica pyramid under the dangling tree limb.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

The Coast Starlight was almost an hour late, meaning we didn’t get settled until 11:00. We didn’t even meet our car attendant Francis – but our bed was ready so we climbed in and went to sleep.

As we awoke on our third morning of travel we were crossing the border from California to Oregon. When we travelled this route southbound it was at night so we were anxious to get a glimpse of what we missed. As we wound through our third mountain range – the Siskiyous – we glimpsed Mt Shasta behind us. It is certainly a different view than the one we get from the freeway.

Mt Shasta (I think) on the Oregon side of the border

Mt Shasta (I think) on the Oregon side of the border

We glided down the Siskiyous and into the Willamette Valley. As we hustled north we passed some of the grass seed fields the valley is known for (along with its Pinot Noir grapes). Here’s a typical result of picture taking on the train; telephone wires and track signals can mar the scene – or they can serve as reminders of a wonderful trip.

Train signal, telephone wires, farmland, lake, and mountain

Train signal, telephone wires, farmland, lake, and mountain

We pulled into Portland Union Station at 4:33 (one hour late) and helped Linda get into a Lyft ride (her first) for her house then we hailed a ride to go home. Ah home.We had a great time. The train trips were wonderful and time with the kids and grandkids were precious. We (re-)discovered we lead active but quiet lives in our retirement .  We were tired and slept most of the next day.

Maybe these posts have you thinking about traveling on a train. In my next post I’ll try to describe what train life is like on board.

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Summer Train Trip: Time with the Kids

June 17-26 – Chicago

We go to Chicago a few times each year to visit our youngest son, his lovely wife, and our two grandkids. Most of the time we spend there are dedicated to playing with the kids so I usually neglect to pull my camera out for much. And really, as much as I love my kids and grandkids, I’ve learned that not everyone shares my adoration.

Okay, I can’t resist; here are the three year old and one year old – they both recently had birthdays – riding in the wagon they got for their birthdays. Jurgen and I played for hours  (really – hours) with that balsa wood plane.

Summer Train Trip: Chicago - Grand Kids

Summer Train Trip: Chicago – Grand Kids

Carla’s sister Linda came out to spend some time with the family and we did do a couple of cultural things while there. One day we took the Metra train into Chicago to see the sites. Walking downtown we passed Alexander Calder’s sculpture Flamingo.

Alexander Calder's sculpture Flamingo in Chicago

Alexander Calder’s sculpture Flamingo in Chicago

We then went to the Art Institute. I split up from the sisters and wandered the halls. My three favorites were

  • Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877 by Gustave Callibotte
    Paris Street Rainy Day 1877

    Paris Street Rainy Day 1877

    I’m not sure what draws me to this – maybe the size (it is quite large). It seems lonely with the grays and the fact that people are not looking at one another

 

American Gothic. Credit Google Art Project

American Gothic. Credit Google Art Project

Reading about this surprised me. I always figured the woman was the farmer’s wife; but according to the notes it is supposed to be his daughter. Her domesticity is symbolized by the house plants behind her right shoulder. I also got a kick out of who the models are: the woman is Grant Wood’s sister; the  man is Wood’s dentist.

  • Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
Nighthawks

Nighthawks

Like the other two, it’s a classic of course. I’m struck by how barren the picture is; there is almost nothing on the counter and there is no obvious doorway into the diner from the outside.

We had a small dinner downtown then I headed back to the train station and the trip back to Riverside while the girls went to see Hamilton. It is on a long run there so if you can’t see it in New York head to Chicago. Carla and Linda loved it! Linda is a fifth grade teacher and used the play to teach about American history. The kids loved it apparently.

We played with the grandkids a few more days then it was time to think about heading home. The day before we left I went trackside a little after 2:00 to catch a glimpse of the California Zephyr roaring by. Please forgive the initial image of this video – I don’t post many videos and don’t know how to pick the frame I want for the  still. Maybe what I did will work.

We caught this train the very next day. My next post will cover the magnificent trip we took through the Rockies and Sierras.

 

 

 

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Summer Train Trip: LA to Chicago

July 15-17, 2017

The second leg of our trip has been on my bucket list since before there were bucket lists –  late 50’s and early 60’s. As I shared before, my Grandpa Baker lived in Winslow, Arizona and we would travel there from Palmdale, California each summer. At that time Winslow was a major train stop for the Santa Fe Railroad between Los Angeles and Chicago. My grandpa would take me down to the train station to watch the Chief, the Super Chief, and the El Capitan stop for refueling and crew changes. It was just awesome for a young boy to watch those big  silver and red Warbonnets come to a stop and release their brake steam and all the other associated train noises. We rode the train over from Pasadena or Barstow a couple of times but I wanted to ride it from start to finish. This year that dream was fulfilled.

After a fun morning and afternoon in old Los Angeles we used the Lyft service to take us from our hotel to Los Angeles Union Station.

First view of the Pacific Ocean on the Coast Starlight

Los Angeles Union Station

We pulled out of Los Angeles just a few minutes behind our scheduled departure of 6:10PM. We watched the Southland drift by as we got settled. We ate dinner as we crested Cajon Pass – the summit of the San Bernardino mountains before we descended into the California Mojave desert. We passed through Victorville and Barstow  during the night.

I set my alarm to make sure I’d be up for our all-to-brief stops at Flagstaff and Winslow. The stops were short so I couldn’t get as good of pictures as I wanted.

Flagstaff, Arizona train station seen from the Southwest Chief

Flagstaff, Arizona train station seen from the Southwest Chief

About an hour later we passed La Posada Hotel – our favorite hotel on the planet where I got a picture from the opposite viewpoint from normal. I’ve posted about this fabulous hotel almost a dozen times. You can get an overview by searching for La Posada using the search box over on the right hand side of the page .. or click here.

Quick picture of La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona at sunrise. Usually, I'm sitting in that corner seat watching from trackside.

Quick picture of La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona at sunrise. Usually, I’m sitting in that corner seat watching from trackside.

Our car attendant told us she couldn’t open the door for us at Winslow because the stop was so short; but she said if I didn’t stick my head out I could open the window for a shot or two. Our sleeper was at the head end of the train so we were pretty well past the station when we stopped

Winslow, Arizona train station under re-construction

Winslow, Arizona train station under re-construction

The old station is bot the best condition; but the good news is the owners of the adjacent La Posada Hotel are re-constructing the station. Lots of good memories here. We’ll be back when the work is finished.

A few hours later we reached Albuquerque, New Mexico where we stopped for a while so the locomotives could be refueled. That gave us some time to stretch our legs.

Albuquerque, New Mexico. After this we turn north from the BNSF Transon

Albuquerque, New Mexico. After this we turn north from the BNSF Transon

Refueling stop in Albuquerque New Mexico

Refueling stop in Albuquerque New Mexico

We took the opportunity to get a picture of our awesome car attendant.

Cynthia - our car attendant on the Southwest Chief

Cynthia – our car attendant on the Southwest Chief

Your happy correspondent and wife re-boarding the Southwest Chief in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Your happy correspondent and wife re-boarding the Southwest Chief in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Shortly after leaving Albuquerque the Southwest Chief departs from the BNSF southern “Transcon” – the primary route of freight traffic from Los Angeles to Chicago. The Chief heads north along the original route up Raton Pass into Colorado, then Kansas before rejoining the main line in Kansas City, Missouri

Rolling up Raton Pass on the old Santa Fe Trail

Rolling up Raton Pass on the old Santa Fe Trail

The journey up this pass is magnificent – miles and miles of up hill climbing.

Here is an overview of the difference between the Amtrak route and the BNSF Transcon. I found this link to Google Maps on the trusty internet. The blue are Amtrak stations and the green are interesting points on the Transcon. It’s a little busy but you can see how the Southwest Chief veers north in New Mexico. You should be able to zoom and scroll to get a good idea of the differences.

Eventually we reached Raton, New Mexico where we had a chance to get some air and stretch our legs – a common theme on these train-travel blog posts. The train is great but it’s nice to get a new perspective every few hours.

Refueling stop in Albuquerque New Mexico

Raton, New Mexico during a fresh air break

In Kansas City we had some time to catch a glimpse of the city.  You can’t get too far from the train, because when it’s time to board you better be ready to hop on or you’ll be left behind.

 

Old EMD covered wagon in Kansas City Missouri

Old EMD covered wagon in Kansas City Missouri

View from trackside in Kansas City, Missouri

View from trackside in Kansas City, Missouri

During our second night we passed through a large storm. As we looked out our window we saw a large broken tree next to the track. The tree was brought part way down by the storm then was finished off by our lead locomotive – which sustained a broken windshield!

Locomotive damage from a downed tree.

Locomotive damage from a downed tree.

Locomotive damage from a downed tree.

Locomotive damage from a downed tree.

We stopped on the mainline for a while so the conductor and engineer could assess the damage. Luckily we were able to proceed. When we arrived in La Plata, Missouri the trainmen disconnected the locomotives from the train and swapped them front and back so the engineer and conductor would have a safer, better view. We pulled out of the station over four hours late.

When you are on a late train, it’s difficult to make up the time. There are many high priority freight trains that have precedence over passenger trains. And, if the dispatcher holds up other trains for you; they become late as well and then you have multiple late trains instead of one. So, when you are late it’s best to assume it will get worse.  The moral of the story is: if you travel long distance on Amtrak be prepared for delays. I’d allow a minimum of six hours between transfers. To be safe, spend the night in your transfer city and take the next train. But no worries; we just look at it as more train time for our money!

We had some more stormy weather as we transitioned from the mountain west to the midwest.

Stormy skies near the Iowa, Illinois border

Stormy skies near the Iowa, Illinois border

We were really pelted by rain and maybe some hail. A double rainbow rewarded our troubles.

Double rainbow after a storm in the midwest

Double rainbow after a storm in the midwest

Eventually we hit Illinois – the first stop is Galesburg where we were able once again to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.

Galesburg, Illinois - first stop in our last state on this leg

Galesburg, Illinois – first stop in our last state on this leg

We finally pulled into Chicago at 10:00 PM – six hours and 45 minutes late.

Final stop for our second leg of of our journey

Final stop for our second leg of of our journey

The only problem for us was that our toddler grandson couldn’t be at the station to pick us up with his Papa. He was delighted to see us the next morning.

 

 

Posted in Foliage and Landscape, Photography, Trains, Travel | 2 Comments