Mo & Terry Smedley


Part VIII - Albany, NY to Olympia, WA by train (Lakeshore Limited, Empire Builder, Cascades)

The journey home after our tour was a leisurely train trip from Albany through Chicago and Portland.  Sleeping car attendants on both the Lakeshore (Bob) and Empire Builder (Elaine) were some of the best we've ever had.  Dining car experience on both trains was the usual mixed bag - everything from complete indifference to very personable.   The Lakeshore Limited was a very full train all the way into Chicago.  The Empire Builder had lots of traffic from Chicago through Montana, but was a little quieter as we approached Portland.  

The Builder splits into two sections in Spokane - one running over Stevens Pass to Seattle, the other running along the Columbia to Portland.  Most of the passengers seem to follow the Seattle section.  Because the train is split into two sections, the sleeping car arrangement is a little unusual.  At the head end of the train are the three Seattle sleepers, followed by the dining car.  Next are four coaches and a lounge/observation car, followed at the tail end by the single Portland sleeper.  It makes for a long walk to the dining car from the Portland sleeper!

Dad ... I checked with the dining car steward on the Empire Builder (Ana), and she said Jonathan is still working the dining car on the Empire Builder out of the Seattle crew base.

We'll have a few hours layover in Portland to explore the waterfront, have lunch, and perhaps attend Mass downtown.  I could have booked an earlier train to Olympia, but didn't want to take the chance of missing a connection if the Empire Builder was running late.  I'm writing this as we follow the Lower Columbia River down to Vancouver, and right now it looks like we'll be about twenty minutes *early* into Portland.

A favorite spot in Chicago - "The Bean" at Millenium Park, just a short walk from Union Station during our change of trains from the Lakeshore Limited to the Empire Builder. It is my favorite piece of outdoor art.  The varying reflections from every angle are mesmerizing. Onboard the Empire Builder, in our sleeping car. The Empire Builder has a couple of treats for sleeping car passengers - a choice of champagne or sparkling cider (we always choose the cider) at boarding, and a wine and cheese tasting in the dining car the afternoon of the second day.  Mo won a bottle of wine at the tasting by knowing that the speed limit for the Empire Builder is (at most) 79 mph.
Terry with our tail-end sleeper in the shed at Milwaukee. Mo likes to see people stopped by the train.  She waves, but the "abbreviated finger" wave she sometimes gets in return suggests that motorists aren't as happy about the lineup as she is. Sunset as we head towards the Mississippi River on day 1. A late evening arrival for a "fresh air & smoke stop" in St. Paul / Minneapolis.   It's a bit of a  contradiction, and we dodge & weave through the smokers to get some trainside exercise.
Early morning at Devil's Lake, North Dakota brings to mind the lyrics from "The City of New Orleans" - "Good Morning, America, How Are You?" The station at Minot, North Dakota has been closed for several months due to extensive flood damage received in June.  You can clearly see the high water mark on this building directly across from the station. All along the tracks near the Minot station, you can see signs of flood-damaged and boarded-up houses. More boarded-up homes damaged by floodwaters in Minot.
At another "fresh air and smoke stop" in Havre, Montana, Mo mugs it up with our sleeping car attendant, Elaine. Mo and Terry in the bright afternoon soon in Havre. Sunset as we make our way across Big Sky country to the Rockies on day 2.  Unfortunately, at this time of year the Westbound crossing of the Rockies is in the darkness. Mo got a picture of both of us, as we rolled into Vancouver this morning.
During our intentional layover in Portland, we attended Mass at St. Mary's on NW 18th in downtown Portland.  While not quite as grandiose as St. Patrick's in NYC, it was impressive nevertheless. There were no less than two functioning pipe organs in the church, including this one in the balcony.  The music for the service included a full choir. Our last train ride (for a while) ends as the Talgo departs Olympia. Mo at Olympia's Centennial Station
The car survived on its own for two weeks at the station.  We're packed up and ready for the drive home.