Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Day 17: Over Raton Pass

After we left Kansas City (with a short stop at the fuel rack to refuel the locomotives), Lisa and I started turning our room into a sleeping room. We seemed to get to Lawrence KS more quickly than expected, and I think we must have sat there at least 30 minutes "waiting on time" and blocking a grade crossing to boot. We slept our way across Kansas; Lisa said later that she thinks it was the best night's sleep she's had on the train so far. I woke up just as we were making our station stop at Garden City KS. (I speculated to Lisa later that "Garden City" must have been platted by an optimistic land speculator.) Even in a large compartment like we have, I feel terribly oversized and cramped, and keep hitting my head and getting hung up in things.

The shower on this Superliner worked and made hot water, which was a relief after the cold wash I got the previous morning on the Lake Shore Limited. The night before, the Lead Service Attendant had made a point that the dining car opened at 6 AM and operated on Central Time even though the train passes into the Mountain time zone during breakfast. He made the announcement again around 7:30 or so CDT, but he never did say when breakfast ended. While we were at breakfast, I asked the LSA when breakfast normally ends, and he repeated, "We start at 6 AM and stay on Central Time."

I said, "Yes, I understand that, but when does it end?"

He "I can't tell you that because it confuses people," and he never did answer the question. Lisa said to me that she was plenty confused by his answers. By working out when he stopped seating people, the answer appears to be "Three hours after we open for breakfast." Why he couldn't say, "We open at 6 AM Central and close three hours later – 9 AM Central Time," I don't know.

Over breakfast, we entered Colorado, stopping at Lamar, followed by a 20-minute crew change stop at La Junta. Lisa spied a Coca-Cola vending machine on the platform (shades of Japan!) and sent me over to get us a couple of our favorite soft drinks while we had a chance. Then it was on to Trinidad, and then up to the pass and through the tunnel to Raton NM, where we again had a longish stop. As Lisa and I got off the train to stretch our legs, we saw a big queue of Boy Scouts waiting to load their backpacks onto the baggage car, so we knew we had enough time to walk down the train. (The key thing here is that you don't want to be caught too far away from a door when the "All Aboard" sounds, and there's a two-car gap between the sleepers and the coaches – being in "no-man's land" is frightening.)

At the other set of coaches, I had an interesting experience. The coach attendant said, "I heard you folks saying something about a science fiction convention earlier."

"Yes," I said, "We've just come back from this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, which was last weekend."

I started to give my one-sentence introduction to Worldcon when he stopped me and said, "Darn, I was hoping you were on your way to it, not coming back from it. Where was Westercon this year?" It turned out that he'd been in fandom years ago, and had attended Iguanacon II (1978 Worldcon, Phoenix) and some Westercons before gafiating. I explained that next year's Westercon is in Pasadena and the following year in San Jose, and that Worldcon would be in Melbourne, Australia and Reno, Nevada over the next two years. He said he hoped to start attending cons again. It was such a relief to be able to not have to explain all of my terms to someone and to find a fan on the train crew.

Lisa had grown a bit bored while we were in Kansas and the Colorado flatlands, and asked me to get our computers talking to each other so we could play Locomotion. Yes, we were riding in a train and playing a computer game about building trains.

After coming back from lunch, we were into what Lisa says should be the most scenic part of the trip as we descended toward Lamy and Albuquerque, so we disconnected our game and Lisa suggested I write up what we'd done so far, which I did.

After a short stop at Las Vegas NM, we continued south. I decided to walk downstairs to use the more spacious lavatory – the one in our compartment is really tiny and cramped – and as I went downstairs, I heard a banging noise and more outside sound than should be there. I saw that the window on the main door had come open and was swinging around banging back and forth as the train rolled downgrade. Signs caution passengers not to operate doors or windows except in emergencies, but I decided this counted as a small-scale emergency and secured the window myself. I then found our car attendant and told him what I'd done and suggested he might want to make sure I hadn't done anything wrong. (The mechanism is so simple that I really doubt I could have done it wrong, but I felt that volunteering the information that the window hatch had opened on its own was a good idea.)

We pulled into a siding north of Lamy for our train's scheduled meet with its counterpart, the east bound Chief. Having a couple of minutes warning, Lisa dug out her camera and prepared to record the passage of Amtrak #4. I listened to the train radio traffic, including in this case our train's engineer talking with #4's engineer to work out how long before he'd be by us.

After a few minutes, #4 pulled into the main track, with our train parked in the Canyoncito siding, but to my surprise it stopped for a moment. I think they may have had to hand something across from one car to another on the pair of trains. If there was an exchange, it was quick, and we shortly whistled off for Lamy.

Lisa and I have been to Lamy before by train, but it was on the Santa Fe Southern mixed train. There's no time to step off the train at this short stop before heading to Albuquerque.

Between Lamy and Albuquerque, we rolled to a stop and the conductor announced that we had set off one of the lineside defect detectors. I had forgotten to re-tune my radio to the frequency used on this stretch of track, so I didn't hear the detector go off. Railroads have automated equipment mounted alongside the tracks every few miles that inspect the train as it goes by, counting axels, measuring speed, and checking the temperature of the equipment. If the detector finds an overheated axle, it broadcasts "Stop you train" over the radio; otherwise, the usual message is "No defects."

I'm annoyed that I hadn't re-tuned my radio, because I would have been able to know more about what the problem might be. As it was, I went downstairs, where several people were gathering. I was able to explain to them about defect detectors and what the possible remedies might be if we did have an overheated axle. At the best, I figured we might have to wait until it cooled down, then limp into Albuquerque, and we could be looking at a substantial delay.

The conductors got off the train and started walking it, checking to see what might have gone wrong. After about ten minutes, they reported that they could find no defects, radioed the dispatcher, reboarded the train, and told the engineer to "highball" for Albuquerque.

Albuquerque had good and bad parts, but that's another story that I'll tell shortly.
Tags: amtrak, lisa, trains, travel
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