Railroading North America

November 11, 2010

All Aboard, 80 Hours on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder

Two years ago I spent 30 days on the trains in Canada and the United States — and blogged about it right here (look to your right >>>).

The response to this blog (now reaching into 5-figures), and the enduring interest surprised me. I figured whoever was interested — relatives mostly — would read it and forget it. Largely that has not been true. Today this blog has more visitors than ever. By far the most popular post here, by the way, has been on the Auto Train

Feedback completely lacked the “flame” and nasty comments, but several wrote expressing surprise at how bad the Empire Builder, from Seattle/Portland to Chicago, had become — at least in my telling. One reader wrote that he once traveled the train and had a warm spot for the train. He grieved that it had fallen on such bad times.

But had the Empire Builder become that bad?

Perhaps I had caught it on an awful day. Perhaps I should give her a second look, and while I was at it, perhaps I should ride the regular route of the Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to Seattle. In 2008 in a stroke of luck, on the day I rode the Coast Starlight it had run inland through the Tahachipi Loop, a route it had not run in 22 years. But that meant I never took the Coast Starlight along the scenic popular coastal route from Los Angeles to Emeryville (San Francisco).

So off we went again — from Los Angeles to Portland, from Portand to Chicago. Three nights. Four days. Eighty hours. A total of 10 Amtrak meals. I made all the way to Chicago. My bags made it, too. But my wife (<<< picture at left) didn't.

In Minneapolis, pressed for time as the Empire Builder slipped further and further behind, Carol Anne had to bail. She caught a flight back to our winter home in Orlando to keep appointments. I soldiered on to the end hoping (successfully) to find our bags in Chicago.

What I find on trains always surprises and delights me.

These 80 hours with Amtrak were no exception — come on along. In the next week or so, I'll tell you all about it.

photographs — the Coast Starlight poster is from the Los Angeles Station; the Empire Builder poster hangs in the Spokane, WA, Amtrak station; the photograph of Carol Anne Crow is from a series of photos taken of her standing in the doorway of our sleeper car at various stops during the trip — this photograph was taken in San Jose, California, November 6, 2010.

This blog is © copyrighted 2010 literary property of Seine/Harbour Productions in Studio City, California,



  1. First off I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t
    mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and
    clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have
    had a difficult time clearing my minnd in getting my thoughts out.

    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are usually lost just trying
    to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or
    tips? Thank you!

    Comment by Anneliese — June 5, 2016 @ 11:20 pm

  2. One suggestion might be to write as William Faulkner did during his days in Hollywood. He shared an office with the actor Karl Mauldin for a time, and each morning, Mauldin told me, Faulkner would come in, sit down and begin writing furiously for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, stopping, he would methodically gather up all the sheets he had written and thrown on the floor, throw them away, and then sit back down and begin writing and ruminating methodically. Malden thought Faulkner was just revving up his creative engine b y scrubbing anything that came into his head — pure nothingness of value — , and, in fact it was Mr. Faulkner’s way of overcoming the challenge your speak of here. You might try it and see what you think. Best of luck.

    Comment by petecrow — June 13, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

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