The journey continues

(continued from this link)

Passing beyond the Suisun Marsh, we moved out into the Great Central Valley, headed northeast for Davis and Sacramento, our next two stops. Sandy, our car attendant, efficiently laid out the rules of the (rail) road for train life, pointing out the location of bathrooms, how to stow gear, and when breakfast would be served. Several passengers asked what to do about the property in their rooms while they were in the dining car and Sandy assured them that her property was in a room on the car as well and would be safe.

Despite the incredibly friendly nature of the staff I had met so far, it did seem that they took security seriously. Sandy made it a point to meet every passenger in her car so she would know strangers if they came through and at short stops like Davis they were insistent that only the cars that were changing passengers would open their doors.

Satisfied that all was well in hand, Eddie and I took the two pillows laid out on our seats, sat down and relaxed with our feet up. We very soon noticed that the air on board was extremely dry. I was constantly thirsty and went through four tiny bottles of water in no time. In addition, either from the vibration of the train or, again, because of the dry air, I found myself needing to pee every half hour or so. The toilet was much like one would find on an airplane; a press of a button opening a passage to a quantum singularity that WOOSHED! loudly away whatever had been dropped into the bowl.

Realizing that I had nothing pressing for the next six or seven hours I soon found it entirely sufficient to just gaze out my large window. I had brought my thick book on Harry Truman, by David McCullough, but much preferred watching the scenery go by.

When it was announced that reservations were being taken for breakfast, I weaved my way to the dining car, bouncing from one side of the corridor to another as the train rocked back and forth. Other people were doing the same and it would have been easy to stumble into someone's room if the train had jolted, but it never did. The ride was always gentle. Because I had earlier asked my car attendant, Sandy, about the possibility of taking my meal in my room, she had independently gone and made a reservation for me. The service quality was like this both to and from my destination.

To my satisfaction, a volunteer from the California State Railroad Museum, in Sacramento, periodically came on the PA to point out items of interest all the way until we reached Reno.

Sierra Nevadas
As we left the smoking stop in Sacramento and made our way toward the Sierra Nevadas we passed many little towns -- Auburn, not far from Sutter's Mill, where gold had been discovered, setting off the Gold Rush of 1848. Colfax, Cape Horn, Gold Run, where hydraulic mining, using great brass nozzles, called monitors, devastated the landscape until the practice was outlawed in 1884. On through Alta, and the mysteriously named Secret Town. We traveled along the edge of the 2000 foot deep American River Canyon and crossed I-80 at Emigrant Gap.

By this time breakfast had been called. As a Manufactured American, Eddie no longer had any need to eat, with the exception of the occasional human soul, and was set on spying on the other passengers in our car, so I headed back to the dining car. I was momentarily taken aback when I discovered I would be sharing my table with other passengers. We Americans just aren't used to the concept. One fellow was actually angrily facing off with the dining car attendant at the prospect of sitting on the same side of the table with his wife, to make room for another two people. Once everyone got used to the idea, though, we all had a fine time.

I was not very surprised to find that the people on board the train hailed from all parts of the world. One of the other members of my table was Kate, from Melbun, Australia. An English couple was across the aisle. Kate had come aboard in San Francisco, on her way to see a friend in Chicago.

What do former English colonials talk about when they get together? That's right, Princess Diana. A woman and her daughter, on their way to Truckee, just up the tracks a little, were the other diners at my table and the woman was absolutely obsessed with the whole Diana story. She devoured every book and watched every special. Kate from Melbun seemed unimpressed with the whole Diana thing, wasn't caught up in the hype, and suggested that several people she knew in Australia had not thought much of Diana at all, not liking her. The funeral had certainly had airplay 10 years ago but she wasn't sure if there was a bunch of anniversary crap like in this country. Kate also thought that, if anything, the English were more caught up in Diana fever than Americans.

Since my table mates knew I was going to Reno, the conversation turned to gambling; where it was legal and how things were done in Australia. None of us were experts on any particular games of chance but we stated our favorites. Kate preferred craps and blackjack, the woman with daughter, whose name escapes me, liked poker, and I admitted to playing almost exclusively video poker because it has better odds.

All this time the woman's daughter, Suzanne, who was probably 13 or 14, said not a word and spent all of breakfast looking out the window. Kate tried to engage her in conversation about Diana but Suzanne was having none of it.

Dining along the American River Canyon
Dining Car
Later, at lunch, where I sat with a couple older guys who were complaining about air travel and lauding train travel, I thought it entirely appropriate that we should pass Donner Lake, near which, as most everyone knows, the Donner party became trapped by a snow storm while on their way to California, only 47 of the original 84 surviving starvation by engaging in the tasting of a bit of long pig.

Although descending after passing through a long tunnel, called The Hole by railroad people, we were still high in the Sierra Nevadas, where snow is a well known entity. We passed through several wooden or concrete "snow sheds", built to keep the tracks clear of the possible 34 feet of snow that could fall in the area.

After stopping briefly in Truckee, named after a Paiute Indian chief, we passed Boca, thought to be the coldest place in North America and setting a winter temperature record in recent years of -45F. There was virtually nothing left of Boca now but once it had been the site of a thriving ice business. The ice was cut, stored in sawdust, and shipped by train down to Sacramento and San Francisco. The advent of mechanical refrigeration in the 1920's put an end to that and the town evaporated. There had once been tens of thousands of people but now only a few hundred homes remain in the area.

There are several popular ski resorts out that way, though, including Squaw Valley and Sugar Bowl, which has a ski lift that passes right over the train tracks.

As we wound our way back and forth, down out of the mountains we saw wooden flumes paralleling the tracks and the Truckee River. The flumes carry water from the river to hydroelectric plants. The flumes are notorious for leaking (I saw water pouring out of several) and for generating giant, sometimes 18 foot long, icicles.

In the valley now, and nearing our destination, we passed Verdi, site of the first train robbery in the West, in 1870, which netted the robbers, one of them a local pastor, some $30,000. The same train was robbed again several days later, by former Union soldiers, who, along with only a couple thousand dollars, were also invited to a necktie party for their trouble.

But now my trip was over. Sandy the car attendant came zooming down to my roomette. "Ready, Reno?" she asked me. "Let's go!"

Highwaywinding down
Truckee Riverraft riders
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