Mo & Terry Smedley


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We're Off!

We left Hoquiam at 11:45AM, riding a shuttle van to the Amtrak station in Centralia.  Our Talgo train to Seattle was right on time, departing Centralia at 1:45PM and arriving into Seattle a few minutes early at 3:50 PM.  The Empire Builder (which originates in Seattle) was late pulling out of the coach yard into King Street Station.  We departed Seattle just under an hour late, shortly after 5:30 PM.  We enjoyed a nice ride up the Sound to Everett, with beautiful late afternoon sun all the way.  We had dinner on the Empire Builder as we climbed Stevens Pass, arriving at the 8 mile long Cascade Tunnel at 8:30 PM.  

Friday morning we began our climb of the Rockies, passing through Whitefish, West Glacier and waving to the crowd at the Isaak Walton Inn at Essex.   There were lots of passengers getting on and off at the three stops in or near Glacier Park.  Based on announcements from the train crew, we believe the Empire Builder was sold out all along our route. 

As we continued through the plains of Montana, we could see dark clouds looming to the East.  We were treated to a surreal light show from the most intense electrical storm I've ever witnessed.  Of course in the Coastal Northwest, we rarely see any electrical storms.  And when we do, we can only see what is high in the sky because of all the trees.  The storm we traveled through near Stanley, North Dakota was incredibly intense.  Lightning flashes occurred just seconds apart, frequently touching down within a short distance of the train.  Because there were no trees do interrupt the view, we could easily see the bolts of lightning cut through the sky and touch down in a blinding flash of light.  The storm stayed at that intensity for over an hour, with lightning discharges every 5 seconds or so!  Twice, our train stopped for safety considerations - once because of crosswinds in excess of 60mph, and again a short time later because the lighting activity was just too close for comfort.  Quite a show of nature!  I'm glad I wasn't driving.

We arrived into Chicago about an hour and a half late - not bad considering we left Seattle about an hour late.  We had plenty of time to make our connections to the Lakeshore Limited departing Eastbound at 8PM.  The Lakeshore, operating on very congested Norfolk-Southern & CSX tracks, ran into trouble just a few miles from Chicago.  We stopped numerous times for opposing freight traffic, and were obviously following a slow-moving freight as our train "rode the yellows" at about 20 MPH for several hours through Indiana.  By morning, we were over two hours late into Buffalo, so we elected to get off one stop early at Rochester rather than risk our connection at Syracuse.  Not unexpected given the typical arrival times we'd sampled before leaving.   In Rochester we saw a couple of interesting markers from the New York Central in the late 1800s.

We made the connection to the Toronto-bound train fine.  We passed through Niagara Falls on our way to the border crossing, which was fairly quick - passports definitely help speed this process.  Meal service on this train was limited to rather dismal microwave sandwiches.  Hopefully we'll be able to find something better when we get to Toronto tonight.  We're expecting to arrive about 8:30 PM.

Mo's favorite quote of the day (from the cafe car attendant on the Toronto train):

    Attendant:  We have everything except the frankfurters.
    Mo:  I'll have the pepperoni pizza.
    Attendant:  We're out of the pizzas.

A final note:  We always think of Washington as being the greenest state.  With our drought-like conditions in the summer, even Western Washington browns out in August and September.  As we rolled through rich, green farmlands in Ohio and Western New York, I was struck by how green other parts of the country are!

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Spotted at Everett.  Do the Mariners need 911? Mo at the Whitefish station, always adorned with beautiful flowers. Northern Montana celebrates its Great Northern heritage.  Here's one of the GN's tour buses on display at Whitefish. Lots of passengers on and off for the Empire Builder at Whitefish.
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We waved to the guests at the Isaak Walton Inn. Our twin GE AMD103 locomotives pull us up Marias Pass -  that's 8000HP spread across 8 axles. My GPS confirms we're crossing the Continental Divide, at 5200 feet (give or take). It's a long ways down as we cross the Two Medicine trestle just past the East Glacer Lodge.
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Well, here's one story of how Havre, Montana got its name. More celebration of GN heritage. Busy trainside at Havre. Our first glimpse of the storm brewing in the East.
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This was taken just miles before the heavens let loose with their show of electricity.   In Minneapolis-St. Paul, we saw this nicely restored observation car from the Milwaukee Road Hiawatha. The Hiawatha logo.  I love to see art integrated with industrial design.
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This picture is for Bob Martin.  Our (sleeping) car rides on Konis! The "Viewliner" cars on the Lakeshore Limited at Rochester.  While the cars are single level (due to tunnel height restrictions in the East), the upper bunk does have the narrow upper windows to at least get some light. The original New York Central plate from 1882 at the Rochester Station.  Lots of Vanderbilts! As you follow along the NYC route, you see these original mile markers from the late 1800s.  They look a little like tombstones!
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Yup - the Empire Builder does this mile after mile on tangent track through the plains of Montana and North Dakota - 80mph (well, technically 79).  BNSF tracks are smooth as a new baby's bottom - a very pleasant ride.  This shot was taken just East of Wolf Point. Some crumbling infrastructure in Rochester.  This area of a roadway tunnel was fenced off for obvious reasons. I've been toying with this idea for a year or so now.  If we're prepared to spend 300 billion dollars blowing up Iraq, and an unspecified amount to rebuild it, why not spend a comparable amount of money rebuilding our own infrastructure?  Maybe it's time to think about another WPA to put our own people to work on projects that directly benefit Americans. Our brief stop in Niagara Falls, where I quickly updated this page with Via's "pay per play" wireless connection in the station