ARM Trip Report


Private Car Trip from Chicago to Tucson - November, 2009


I have just returned from another wonderful trip aboard some private varnish from Chicago to Tucson and I would like to share some of this adventure with you. So I will be sending some photos ( I took over 500) along in the next few days. We left Chicago on Thursday afternoon at the rear of the Texas Eagle and arrived Tucson (Port of Tucson) on Saturday around 10 PM at the rear of the Sunset.

To set the stage for this trip, I should explain how things are and why.

The Arizona Railway Museum owns several passenger cars that are out working on the railroad and are available for charter. These two cars are the Diablo Canyon and Vista Canyon, both ex Santa Fe. There are also several members of the museum that also own passenger cars and they are the Jane Marie, ex Rock Island coach owned by Jane and Bart Barton, The Promontory Point, heavy weight business car owned by Mike Margrave, and the Federal, owned by Janet and Dave Luca of New York. The Federal is a Pullman heavy weight business car built in 1911. The Federal was Pullman's second business car built for use by the Pullman Co.

All of these cars have been based in Kansas City in the summer and New Orleans in the winter due to the fact Amtrak no longer serves Phoenix and the Union Pacific refused to handle PVs at Tucson. Members of the museum have worked several years with the owner of the Port of Tucson, Union Pacific, and Amtrak, to make the Port a destination for PVs and it looks as though the work has finally paid off.

There was also the 09 AAPRCO convention that just wound up in Washington DC. This yearís convention went from DC to Cape Kennedy, St. Augustine and Savannah before returning to DC.  All cars dispersed to Chicago and then on to their normal homes. I did not have the time off to attend this trip. When I arrived in the Chicago coach yard on Wednesday afternoon, it was teeming with beautiful private cars from all over the nation.

There were twelve or more guests that would be traveling with us, among them were Tim Tennant, President of the Cumbres and Toltec and his group of five couples. There was also Mr. Bob Brubaker of Tucson. Bob is the head of the Old Pueblo chapter of the NRHS. Jane did the cooking for everyone except the Federal's party. We also had two paid waiters aboard and they did a marvelous job of keeping us happy though out the trip. I have a hard time being waited on constantly. Oh Baby!

I was assigned to the Jane Marie and had my own bed room. As it turned out Bart and I were the only two aboard this car except when the others came in to visit. All of us had free range to all cars including the Federal and its open platform during the trip.

This first series of photos includes the Chicago skyline from the parlor of the federal and the interior of the Jane Marie including my state room and the Jane Marie on the end of the inbound Chief on the inspection pit.

       
 

 

This set of photos depicts our train set together at Chicago's coach yard before pushing into the depot. We are attached to the Eagle for an early afternoon departure. The first interior photos are the dining area and the lounge area of the Diablo, followed by the lounge of the Promontory Point.

Unfortunately, Amtrak did not follow the move request instructions per Bart and no amount of arguing could change their mind. We were to have an open platform at each end because when our consist reaches San Antonio, we will depart in the opposite order as we arrived. So, when we left Chicago the Jane Marie was against the Eagle, followed by the Diablo, the Vista, the Point ( with platform to the rear), and the Federal at the rear (with platform to the rear). As it turned out, I was happy with the Jane Marie at the end after San Antonio due to the vestibules at each end of the Jane Marie which afforded a great place to view the train and scenery.

The Jane Marie has the best ride of the lightweight cars and of course both heavyweights have a great ride. This is not to say the Diablo and Vista do not ride well. Also, I sleep like a log when the train is moving and usually awake when we are stopped only to pull the blanket up a little tighter and go back to sleep. Private railcar travel is tough!

       
 

As I said earlier, there were many private cars in Chicago. Many were from the AAPRCO convention train but there were many from an NRHS excursion as well. Here are a few that were either coming or going when we in the coach yard.

       
   

 

The next few installments will depict the trip from Chicago to San Antonio behind the Texas Eagle. The route is very interesting as we pass though Joliet, Springfield, St Louis, Little Rock, Texarkana, Dallas, Ft Worth, and Austin. By 4:30 PM it is getting dark in Chicago so by the time we reached Lincoln Illinois there will be no photography. I did try some shots of the St Louis arch but with the train moving it was near impossible. I went to bed after St Louis and did not get out of bed (the Jane Marie is very comfortable) until Marshall Texas. It was my first time to see the arch and it is very beautiful at night. The best view was on the bridge over the Mississippi just south of the arch. It would have been a great time to make a stop.

At dinner time aboard the Diablo Canyon, I dinned with Al and Diane Ramsey of Phoenix and the museum, Ed and Valley (their last name escapes me at the moment) from the Cumbres and Toltec group, and Bob Brubaker from Tucson. All evening meals were formal with white table cloths and museum china. I had my share of wine plus someone else's. I think I had someone else's desert as well. The meals prepared by Jane were very good and the service from both waiters was excellent. Like I said earlier, PV travel is rough!

       
   

 

Ok this set depicts from the time I awoke some time after Texarkana to big D. The first is the Marshall, Texas depot and museum followed by the Mineola, Tex depot.
 
Around fifty miles east of Dallas we came to a stop due to the news there may have been a washout near Dallas. This could have been a problem for some, however for me it just meant more time aboard the train. After thirty minutes or so we continued on our way. I took advantage of the stop to take a long shower and put on some clean underwear. The rest of the passengers appreciated it very much.

The third shows the sole rider aboard the Jane Marie. I spent most of my time in the Jane Marie and usually by myself except when the owner sat with me.

The next one is the Dallas skyline followed by the infamous Deeley Plaza with the Texas School Book Depository on the left. The last time Dave Greenberg and I were there, I had chills run up my spine. The same thing happened this time.

       
     

 

On our departure from Dallas and after we passed the infamous Deeley Plaza, our route heads due west to Ft Worth. The trip takes less than an hour and we cross the Trinity River and pass the new home of the Cowboys at Arlington. We enter Ft Worth at the site of the famous Tower 55, the great railroad junction of Texas. At this location, over five rail lines converge, switch tracks and depart in as many directions. Tower 55 was a major rail fan hangout until they built the I-35 I-20 interchange smack on top of it. Our route from the east takes us pass the southeast corner of the tower and then we cross over to west side trackage for the reverse move into the Ft. Worth Transportation Center. As we push back, we pass the old Santa Fe freight house that is now a restaurant and business center and if you know where to look, we pass the old, but beautifully restored Texas and Pacific depot which is now a light rail center. At FT. Worth we water the cars and get rid of the trash that has accumulated since Chicago. I take up a position at the Jane Marie and answer questions from the poor Amtrak riders.

After Ft Worth we pass the old Santa Fe shops at Cleburne, now operated by TTX and make a dash for Temple. We pass the old Santa Fe depot at McGregor where the station chief will lock the doors and make a fast run to join us at Temple. At Temple, we will be joined by a small group from the Railroad and Heritage Museum which includes Judy Covington. Judy is the Executive Director of the museum and played an important role in the Santa Fe superintendents car #405 making its way to the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler. This group will have a fast diner aboard the Federal before detraining in Austin.
After Austin, itís a night ride to San Antonio where we will be switched out for the early morning arrival of the Sunset. San Antonio will be the next installment.

       
 

 

San Antonio is the end of the line for the Texas Eagle with an arrival time of around 10 PM. The west bound Sunset arrives after 3 AM if is on time. During the layover many things happen. The Eagle has a through sleeper and coach that must be switched out and put in the proper position for the out bound Sunset. Tonight they have five PVs to switch, position, water, and inspect as well.

The westbound Eagle normally has one locomotive to handle the train from Chicago. Because all PVs were to travel together, we had to purchase a second locomotive. This unit was number 500, an old GE B-32-8 if my locomotive types are correct. This unit was a POS (piece of SH--). It was dead in the consist most of the way and hopefully Cruising by Rail will get a refund. This unit would also have to be cut out in San Antonio.

Our route into the city is kind of confusing, for me any way! I was on the platform of the Federal since Austin and our route took us though the worst part of San Antonio. We arrive from the south and when we depart on the Sunset, we will go back south.

At the beautiful and historic Southern Pacific depot which is just north of the Spur's old arena is a very nice SP 2-8-2 steam locomotive that is spotted next to the station tracks. It is lighted and has has a working head lamp and the cab is lighted. Now I did my best to photograph the area and equipment but without a tripod to hold the camera still it was tough so no bitching about the crispness of the photos.

 
There was also two other odd passenger cars located at the depot both with the FRA. The two track mainline is just next to the depot tracks as well and we weren't in the station for ten minutes than we had freight traffic pass by. It was a good thing this is a quiet zone so no horns.

After the #500 was set out, the switching was handled by the road unit. Both through cars were positioned correctly and then we were added. Now the Jane Marie was the tail car.
 
Bart set about hanging the markers, the red tail lamp, and beautiful Jane Marie tail sign. As we were having the hoses and cables connected, the westbound Sunset arrived early and backed on to our trainset. We watered the cars and then, since it was now 3 AM, I went to bed. Bart had to stay up until the inspection was completed. I remember when we started to move but I stayed in bed until the border town of Del Rio Texas which we will continue shortly.

       
 

 

I awoke shortly before Del Rio, Texas, to dark and rainy looking skies. This cloud cover would last until El Paso. Del Rio is your classic border town. It does however have a new Del Rio Transportation Center, we were there about ten minutes.

The only major problem traveling by PV that I can find is you really don't spend much time in your room because you don't want to miss anything.

The Sunset route from Del Rio to Alpine has some very interesting locations and some beautiful scenery. The track seems to continually twist and turn though one arroyo and mesa to another. Twelve miles west of Del Rio lies the immense Amistad Reservoir which I missed due to breakfast (breakfast burros which was a fitting breakfast), the deep Pecos River, with it's interesting approaches, Langtry, Texas, home to the infamous Judge Roy Bean, and the town of Sanderson which still has the remains of a once very nice Southern Pacific depot.

I spent most of the time moving from one side of the vestibule to the other at the rear of the Jane Marie. I did venture forward to ride in the Point and Federal. It was too bad the skies were dark. I think this was because NASCAR was in Phoenix.

       
 

 

Alpine Texas is a smoke break; so many passengers take a few minutes to stretch their legs. In this first photo, the owner of the Jane Marie, Jane Marie Barton, poses for the photographer. The nice little Alpine depot still sees a good many passengers because the eastbound and westbound (if they are on time) meet just west of town at Alpine siding. At this location, the trains park with their diner doors next to each other to trade items. What items? I do not know!

A few miles farther west is Paisano Pass with an elevation of 6,000 ft. If I have my facts correct, this is the highest elevation on the Sunset Route and the only interesting location from Alpine to El Paso except Sierra Blanca. Most everyone aboard took this opportunity to take a nap. I did!

El Paso is also a long stop plus there is a large engine service facility just east of the depot. It was here that I was told that I missed the UP business car train because I was looking out the south side (left) of the train at the engine facility and the special was parked some 40 ft from the right side of the train. Damn!

A mile or so west of the depot, we cross the Rio Grande and skirt the Mexican border. I was told to be on the lookout for rocks, however the kids only waved hello this time.

It was now dark and time for our last meal aboard the train. I was already beginning to suffer from POST TRIP DEPRESSION. I wonder if there is any medication for this ailment.

The interchange at Wilmot Siding with the Port of Tucson will be covered in the last installment.

       
 

 

The eastbound Sunset arrives Tucson between 10 and 11 PM. If all goes as planned, the Sunset will be delayed only 10 minutes.

The plan is to have Amtrak take the north Wilmot siding and pull down pass the switch to the Port where the Port locomotive is waiting. When the train stops, Bart and Dave Luca are between the train and our cars. With hand brakes set and the head end power (hep) dropped, Bart and Dave disconnect the power cables and reconnect to the rear of the Amtrak car, close the angle cock and lift the coupler pin. Amtrak pulls forward, makes a running air test and high balls to Tucson.

Tonight is the first time for this event and everyone is cautious. The UP managers are in attendance to make sure everything works smoothly and safely. The event takes a lot longer than planned but mostly due to the over cautiousness and the dispatcher. We are soon watching the Sunset disappear and we are headed east a few yards to the Port switch.
 
From the time we stopped on the Wilmot Siding to the time we set the hand brakes in the Port is about an hour. It will be much faster as this process evolves.

The cars are once again home in Arizona after several long years of traveling to Kansas City and New Orleans. The Port, when fully set up for PVs with power and water should be a great place for PVs to visit or winter.

This was a great trip. We had great service, great food, and a great time aboard the train plus we met a host of new friends.

Personally, I can't wait to go again!

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I had doing it!


Back to ARM Trip Reports Page

Have questions, comments then please
E-mail the Museum Webmaster.