Dewi's Trains,
Trams & Trolleys

Around America by train:
New Orleans to Los Angeles

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The Sunset Limited

For the first time we were to be on a sleeper and so were first class, and were able to use the Magnolia Lounge. Boarded when called, and found bedroom. The train started on time at 12:45pm, (so lunch could be served?) but stopped immediately and set back. Went forward and stopped again, while we ordered and ate Super Whaler ham and cheese sandwiches, on dark bread. Eventually we started and again stopped while a cow, an emaciated cow, wandered alongside the train. I was reminded of George Stephenson's remark to a parliamentary committee considering his ideas. "Tell us, Mr. Stephenson, what would happen if your, ah, `locomotive' met a cow?" "Well zur, it would be the worse for the coo!" We re-started after a long wait and began a slow climb up to a bridge over the Mississippi. At a curve we could look back and could see that several freight cars had been added to the train - presumably when we set back.

In the dining car there were repeated calls for "Tatum - please return to your coach. your mother is worried about you". Never saw Tatum: did she get off the train? was she a child or a grown person finding friends? We'll never know. That was an afternoon for reading books. We crossed Louisiana and into Texas. We should have arrived at Houston at 9:38 but we were late: we got out briefly and viewed the Houston sky-line by night. The bed was made up by Robert the sleeping-car attendant while we were out, and we each had a reasonably good night's sleep though not continuous. We had a pair of sandals and a dressing-gown ready for padding out to the washroom if necessary (there are 4 washrooms: one upstairs and three, plus a shower, downstairs). During the night, at San Antonio, the train got longer, as cars from the Chicago train were spliced between the last sleeper and the freight cars, but we felt nothing.

Shortly after breakfast the following morning, we were called to take note of the Pecos river high level bridge, soon after leaving Del Rio. At this point we could look across into Mexico. Some impressions of this area:  yuccas, cacti, scrub, bushes with yellow blossom, eagles, animals about the size of rabbits, with big ears, but which run, not hop. Shale. dry ground between plants. Black, small cattle. some sheep. The ground at first glance appeared flat but in fact there were canyons. We were gradually climbing, all the time. We were now 2.5 hours late.

During the afternoon, we passed by several dying towns: most buildings falling apart, but some few hardy souls hang on in the town. The climate seemed to get drier and drier, towns further & further apart. Alpine, Texas, is in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. At this point we changed our clocks from Central time to Mountain time. Then by mid-afternoon the cacti had disappeared and there were more bushes. Hills, but not mountains yet. Then we came to irrigated areas: orchards! ditches alongside to carry water to and from the fields and orchards. At El Paso, we had to wait for train #2 to get out of the one-platform station (we were on train #1). El Paso is huge! and once again, we were right on the Mexican border. We were by a very tall chimney with Nichols Copper Co. on it: saw freight gondolas loaded with coal. A metal-refining town? More shunting with train: maybe some cars added or subtracted. Still only two very tall locos. On leaving El Paso, we seemed to go round and round the town, possibly gaining height.

The train was by now 4 hours late, but we still had hopes . . .

Another night on the train, sleeping quite soundly, and next morning we were at Palm Springs. This turned out to be a new, upscale station, with a real platform rather than an unkempt strip of asphalt. There was a wait here, though not in the timetable, so all the smokers jumped out. There's a huge wind-generator farm here: hundreds (or so it seemed) of blades synchronously spinning. We got the announcement to change from Mountain Time to Pacific Time.

There were curious signs sticking up alongside the track in several places in this area: "Danger! Moveable frogs!". These signs do not refer to an army of frogs on the march, but to the spot in a track switch or turnout where one rail has to cross another. The actual crossing, where the wheels on one track have to cross the path of the other, is called a "frog" from its plan-view resemblance to a squashed frog. A moveable frog seems to have parts that move into place to provide a solid path for each set of wheels, with no break in it.

Click on thumbnail for larger picture.

image DSCF1199
George Stephenson, the railway pioneer, was asked about this possibility: what happens if a cow gets on the line? This particular cow declined to challenge our train in Texas.
Photo DSCF1199 on 03/04/2002
image 1066_13
Houston skyline by night
Photo 1066_13 on 27/04/2002
image 1066_15
Eufron re-boarding sleeping car in Houston
Photo 1066_15 on 27/04/2002
image DSCF1202
Amtrak station at Alpine, Texas
Photo DSCF1202 on 04/04/2002
image DSCF1203
Wind farm at Palm Springs.
Photo DSCF1203 on 05/04/2002
image DSCF1205
Arriving at Los Angeles
Photo DSCF1205 on 05/04/2002

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This page last updated on 20/04/2006 17:03:15.