Wednesday, October 21, 2009: While visiting my daughter Mindy in Truckee, California I got the idea of riding Amtrak from Truckee, California to Colfax, California over Donner summit then return the same day. This idea came to me because we have good friends, Dick and Doris Montague who are relatives of Samuel Montague who was the engineer who designed the western section of the Central Pacific. He designed this route in 1867 to help complete the transcontinental railroad. Dick and Doris have done much research into Samuel Montague and talk about him and this train route much of the time. I learned, if both train #5 to Colfax and the returning train #6 back to Truckee were both on time, we would have a 70 minute layover in Colfax. The name of this route is the California Zephyr and travels between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. If you click "California Zephyr" above, you'll see the schedule for the entire route. Train 5 travels from Chicago to SF while Train 6 travels from SF to Chicago. The entire trip takes 2.5 days. Our portion of the trip takes
2.5 hours. Mindy and I are trying to figure out the Zephyr schedule while sitting in the Truckee depot waiting for Train 5 to arrive. Click the photo to see the schedule. Amtrak offers many methods to get 10% & 15% discounts, so our round trip tickets were about $56 each. This is cheap compared the the excursion trains in Colorado. Many of the photos on this page can be enlarged. When you pass the pointer
over a photo which can be enlarged, it will become a pointing fist. Enlarge-able photos are also surrounded with a blue line border.
We first tried this trip last Friday but Train 5 was 66 minutes late and that was too risky for us since we only had a 70 minute layover in Colfax. Today, the train is on time. The Truckee weather today is foggy so everything looks gray as we begin our trip. We soon climbed out of the clouds and the rest of the trip, including the return trip, was in a clear, warm day. On Train 5, we rode in a coach. Only two seats per side so Gwen sat alone so Mindy and I could enjoy the ride together.
Note the tag above Mindy's seat. You can click her photo to see the tag. It tells the conductor what our stop will be. Every seat had a tag and many said EMY for Emeryville, the final stop of Train 5. We passed through many tunnels climbing to 6,900 feet while I-80 must climb to 7,100 feet to clear Donner Summit. A view of the upper level of the coach is shown below (note the tags above each row of seats). There was plenty of leg room, unlike the seats in an airplane. Our coach was just behind the "Sightseer Lounge" car. During the ride on Train 5, I was sitting on the aisle so took very few photos. As it turns out, a California State Railroad Museum narrator rides with Train 5 and 6 between Sacramento and Reno to tell of the railroad and gold mining history of the areas we pass through during the ride. We made a movie of the Train 6 trip which you can see below. You'll hear the voice of the museum narrator during much of the movie.
This is Ron, our Train 5 conductor. I asked Ron to stand with Mindy for a photo which he was only too glad to accommodate. I'm not sure Mindy was anxious to be this close to Ron but she endured for the photo. Our train was "red flagged" by Southern Pacific just outside Colfax so the track maintenance crew could "test" the track. I guess I'd rather have THEM testing than to have Train 5 do the testing. It was during this waiting that we had time to get the photo with Ron.
Below, when we arrived in Colfax, Ron let us off the train then checked his watch and radioed the engineer to get moving. We were actually let off the train in the middle of a main street in downtown Colfax with traffic stopped on both sides of the train.
Below, you will see Mindy standing with a Mohawk Indian. I have just finished reading, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. The statue reminded me of several characters in the book. I've given the book to Mindy to read next.
We were actually surprised with Colfax. I was not expecting much of a town but we actually had our choice of three different cafes during our 70 minute layover. We were all hungry and since Ron could not recommend train food, we ate sandwiches in a cafe/coffee shop.
We boarded Train 6 from the opposite side of the tracks of our Train 5 departure. This time we were not seated in a coach car but directed to the Sightseer Lounge car which was hugely better. We got three comfortable seats facing the scenic side of the train (north). Gary was our new conductor who took the photo below loaning his hat to Mindy.
I took a movie of our Train 6 return to Truckee the whole trip. The weather was perfect. The Sightseer Lounge was much more to our liking. The coach ride was like being in a library, everyone whispered and was otherwise, silent. The Sightseer was full of happy, laughing and talking passengers playing cards, eating snacks and showing children the sights. You'll hear them during the movie. After arriving at Truckee, Gary helps load the train and off it goes to Reno, the next stop.
I've added a video to give you an idea of the ride on Amtrak and of the Sierra Nevada Terrain. If you can't see the video at left then click here.