Railroading North America

15/ (to) Jasper

15-edmonton-dsc06441-usemeDAY 15
Edmonton to Jasper, Alberta
Monday, November 3, 2008

“Beware the third week of the shoot.”

I am entering the third week of my journey and today reach the midway point — 15 days down and 15 to go. I recall from my Hollywood days that it is the third week of shooting where morale flags and exhaustion can set in.

I ponder this. By riding the trains for a day or two, then stopping for a day or so, I’m surprisingly well rested. And because I am bathing regularly and have clean clothes, I don’t appear t smell.

The train stops in Edmonton, the largest city on the plains. It is flat here. Tabletop flat. I struggle to be interested. The train has arrived an hour early, which means we will spend nearly two hours here. It is smattering rain.

The station is across the highway from the airport. Planes taxi, and then take off over the train. It’s not busy mid-morning.

I walk the platform to the front of the train and photograph the engine, which, inexplicably is decorated with a giant “Spiderman.” I figure it is an ad for the movie, but am not sure. The rain starts getting to me.

When I retreat to the cover of the station I meet a couple from San Francisco who have been watching me. They tell me I have walked past a sign that forbids going forward on the platform to the engine. It probably also forbids photographs. They’re right. Now I see the sign.

“My cousin did that in San Francisco, and they threw him in jail,” the woman says. She seems disappointed that I am not sprawled flat on the platform with a cop’s foot planted between my shoulder blades.

We talk about Prince George, which is halfway to Prince Rupert. I have had tickets to go to Prince George for a day and then return to Jasper, but have decided not to go. “What am I missing?” I ask.

They agree there was nothing there when they visited twenty years ago. “We had to sleep in the station that night,” he says.

“Our kids thought it was great,” she says.

I am sitting in the last chair in the observation car looking out the back of the train watching train tracks stretch to the horizon.

An older woman appears with a camera. She is waiting for a bridge that she wants to photograph. As she waits, she gets bored and starts fiddling with a table beside me. Her fiddling pays off — she discovers the table is actually a cabinet.

Eye contact. The cabinet is unlocked. Should she open it?

I am on my feet. Together we discover the cabinet contains controls for a train whistle. The train whistle apparently can be blown from either end of the train. We look for the train car attendant. He is nowhere to be seen.

We notice another table. We pounce on it, but it only contains a fire extinguisher and are disappointed. “I was hoping for air brakes,” she says.

“I suppose we ought not blow the whistle,” she says. She is British, very proper. “Still, what could they do?” We are now standing side-by-side, staring down at the handle that would blow the whistle.

“We could wind up flat on the platform with a foot between our shoulder blades,” I say. She considers this.

“I think it more likely they would throw off the train,” she replies. “And I doubt they would clap us both in jail. They always blame the man anyway, don’t they?”

I decide I’d better clear out. I see a bleak future if I hang around this woman any longer. I head for lunch.

Later I sit in the dining car having lunch and hear a distant whistle.

“That’s odd,” the waiter says. “That almost sounded like it came from the back of the train.”

When packing, at the last moment — for reasons that escape me — I threw a wad of heavy rubber bands in my suitcase.

They prove invaluable. I am rubberbanding everything. Clothes, power cords, food. With rubber bands I am saving huge amounts of space in my suitcase. I need more of them.

Then one breaks. It is so upsetting I try to tie the broken ends together. Get a grip.

I am worried about my computer. It is nearly two years old and has been hauled off to a lot of places on and off a lot of airlines.

I handle it like a carton of eggs. If a taxi driver makes a move for it, I beat him to it. I am afraid to lay it on the floor of my rail compartment to power it up because of bumps. I’m also afraid to put it on the seat for fear that train will suddenly stop and it will go ‘splat’ against the wall.

My concern appears well placed. Safari, has quit working after first eating two years of bookmarks. The computer now tells me that it has no room for anymore pictures, but a check shows I have 20 gigs, and … it still says it is out of hard drive space. I run a repair program and it sort of works but mostly doesn’t.

Later something inside the computer will eat all of the pictures for the entire trip — but I have them saved elsewhere.

I need an Apple Store. The closest one is 1,500 miles away. When trouble sprouts I have a conversation with myself, perk myself up and figure out alternatives.

There are no alternatives.

My sleeping compartment is in a car named Carlton Manor.

This car’s is almost identical to the one I took from Toronto. There is a toilet is on one side of the compartment and the bed pulls down over it. The washbasin has a table that locks in an up position when you need to use the sink and pulls down and become a small table when you don’t.

There is a door that locks and a nifty zippered curtain outside the door so you can leave the door open if you want and still have privacy.

There are showers down the hall, but I have decided never to shower on board. I am only one night at a time on the trains and showering on a moving train is not appealing. Anyway, I gave that shower in my compartment a try while returning from Halifax to Montreal, and that was plenty.

I decide I want to know how to turn the room into a bedroom. Porters usually do not like passengers messing with such things as putting up and taking down the bed, but I close the door and start fiddling.

Mastering how to put the bed up and down is a snap. And as long as I religiously follow my rule of keeping all small items (power cords, glasses, notes) inside my suitcase, coat jackets or computer bag all is well in the world.

I focus on remaining disciplines: My cellphone always is returned to my right front pocket. My wallet is in the left. Room keys in a right rear pocket. All the power cords, headphones and download cords have their own special zippered case and that case has its place in my backpack.

This idea is to be able to find this stuff in the dark — and so far it is working.

The train arrives early in Jasper. The schedules assume freight trains will delay The Canadian and when they do not, the train arrives early, as it did in Edmonton.

My room attendant stops by and offers to put my bag on the platform. I stop him as he makes a move toward my computer. “I’d be happy to drop this on the platform for you,” he says.

He gives me a certificate saying that I have ridden the train. He hands me postcards of western Canada. I am nonplussed by this and before thinking I say, “I bet some passengers get really excited by this.”

Graham seems hurt. “Yeah,” he says, “a lot do.”

I rally. I look at the postcards and certificate admiringly. “This is really fun and it’s nice.” I say.

He still looks hurt.

(Photograph: Arrivals and Departures sign at Edmonton with VIA Rail’s Canadian Train #001 in background; just past here on the platform is a sign warning passengers to go no further toward the front of the train which I never saw)


VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Distance Winnipeg to Jasper: 1054 miles / 1657 km
Trip Distance Total: 5,768 miles / 9,283 kilometers




    You wrote:

    “I need an Apple Store. The closest one is 1,500 miles away. When trouble sprouts I have a conversation with myself, perk myself up and figure out alternatives.

    “There are no alternatives.”

    The alternative is: pen and paper. Or, another alternative: pencil and paper.




    Comment by Daniel Charles Thomas — March 25, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  2. OK?

    Comment by Daniel Charles Thomas — March 25, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

  3. […] where we will join our Arctic tour group on Thursday, we headed downtown to have a look around. I was here briefly in 2008 when I spent 30 days traveling Canada and the United States by rail. I remember we stopped in […]

    Pingback by Edmonton, Alberta, Canada == September 5-6, 2017 Tuesday == We have a look around. | Diary == 2017 — September 6, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

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