2021 Retirement Trip
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My 2021 Retirement trip on Amtrak
written by Lindsay Korst

Friday, October 1

It's over! I handed in my resignation letter at the Home Depot and am now officially out of the workforce. I feel so free, so slothful. Not to worry, the Mrs. has plenty of chores planned for me. But first, vacation time! Time to celebrate and once more sample the exquisite cuisine of New Orleans, the gutty deep dish pizza of Chicago and a ride home on Amtrak's Empire Builder!


Saturday, October 2

The limo driver picks us up at oh dark thirty in his big Audi sedan. Soon we are rocketing through the quiet streets at well above the posted speed limits. Our driver keeps up a non-stop patter and thus on the way to the airport we discover he: Is a Russian immigrant; married the boss's daughter; and is the self-described "black sheep" of the family. As we barrel along at 60 per, I'm just hoping he notices the 20 mph curve ahead to get on the freeway.

Needless to say, he gets us to Sea-Tac in plenty of time. We check our two big suitcases (loaded to the gunnels with bubble-wrapped bottles of fermented joy) and head to the gates for a little breakfast chow and to pick up a couple Cubano sandwiches to take on the plane.

The flight isn't full and both Baolu and I have no one sitting center seat next to our aisle seats. Schweet! Also these "custom class" (or whatever they're called) seats come with two, count 'em, TWO tin cans of Cabernet. How cool is that? As we land, I see one neighborhood with every house sporting a blue tarp on the roof. Hurricane Ida was a real bitch to NOLA.

New Orleans MSY airport has gotten a much-needed facelift. Luggage now comes out in 20 minutes, as advertised, although Alaska managed to crush and damage one of the big suitcases' wheels (which I repaired with Gorilla tape). Having said that, the rental cars have all been moved offsite, necessitating a 30 minute shuttle bus ride that literally circled the entire airport, including the runways.

Once at Avis, we discover our compact car won't be available for 45 minutes. I tell the guy "whatever you have on hand".  Thus, we wind up with an enormous GMC Yukon (sorry, Mark...) that seems to have a very noisy, front driver side wheel, above 40 mph.  I hope this benighted Chevy makes it to Alabama and back.  A quick stop at a Wal-Mart Superstore for a flat of water, and we're off to the hotel. Along the way we spot two wrecks where the cars have flipped on their roof or sides. Quite spectacular, actually.  This would prove to be a small sample of the carnage we would see on our Monday road trip.

We've stayed here before and really like it. It's the Marriott Courtyard on Iberville just off Bourbon Street in the Vieux Carre...AND it connects internally with the Ritz-Carlton bar on Canal Street -- one of our favorite watering holes in the Crescent City.

Our room is a beautiful two King bed suite (with sliding door to block out each other's snoring). Off to dinner, we discover it is now pouring outside. Back to the room. We both don ponchos and head out. Halfway there, we come upon a wedding party posing for pictures. The rain means good luck, kids!

Down Bourbon Street we trundle to the famous Hermes Bar at Antoine's. Yes, this a revisit from our 2019 trip.

Compared to last time, the Hermes bar menu has been pared down a bit, but the chewings are still excellent:

l to r: Louisiana Andouille Sausage; Cochon Crisps (Baolu's favorite); Shrimp Remoulade; and some absolutely kick ass Seafood Gumbo...oh, so much flavor. Words cannot describe how delicious the gumbo is, as your taste buds explode with delight. Cheers!

Walking back to the hotel on Bourbon Street, we had hoped to enjoy some catfish beignets, but two places we try are closed and a third open-air restaurant has urban youth banging away on inverted 5 gallon paint buckets so loudly, we can't hear ourselves think. OK then, back to the room for a wonderful bottle of Nine Hats Cabernet Sauvignon. Good night!

Sunday, October 3

Brunch at Brennan's! Our reservation is for 9am and we are there on 417 Royal Street when the doors open. It's a Bloody Mary for me and something tall and cool (a SPARK Pear) for Baolu to lead things off. We have a nice window seat to watch the parade of humanity outside. Lots of football-jersey-wearing folks going by, as there is a noon Saints-New York Giants game over at the Superdome. (Sadly, the home team lost 27-21.)

So many choices. Hard to decide. Appetizer for both of us is their world-famous turtle soup. The special is fried rabbit which is what B has (it tastes like fried chicken) and I opt for the Gulf Fish Amandine with a side of sausage and grits. No room for dessert. Instead we stagger down to the trinket shops on Decatur street.

On our way there, we happen upon the New Orleans Cooking School. Many interesting southern cooking necessities (like REAL grits) here.  There's a cooking class going on in the adjacent room.  We'll have to hit this on the way back to the room.

Whew, it's hot! According to my weather app, the temperature is 84, but feels like 91 with all that humidity. Baolu sits me down with some water at a table, so she can go trinket shopping.

She's on a mission. Apparently, on two previous visits to the Crescent City, she purchased fleur de lis earrings and managed to lose one of each pair! After 20 minutes, she returned with a big smile saying she had "haggled" with the proprietor and got the price knocked down a bit. As you can see from the picture, the Central Market is not terribly crowded.

Back to the room as a dehydrated LIN-Z drinks the last of the water. At the New Orleans Cooking School, we pick up a good assortment of fixings...

At the hotel, I down an entire 20 oz bottle of Sam's Water. Much better. I feel refreshed!

After a brief catnap for both of us, we're off to have drinks at the Ritz (just like Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn in "How To Steal A Million").

The Saints game is playing on the bar TV, but I'm more interested in the special brand of Sazerac Rye and the Peychaud's bitters that our bartender uses in the Triple Crown Sazerac. Baolu very much enjoyed the Davenportini as the "perfect summer sipper". In honor of Cary Grant in North by Northwest, I finished with a Gibson.

With about 10 minutes left in the game, we head for The Gumbo Shop for a late lunch, early dinner (hoping to beat the football crowds). We needn't have worried about crowds, as the restaurant is empty. So is the street on the way over.  And look -- Baolu's wearing her Audrey Hepburn Ray-Bans!

How about that? Baolu found a lucky dollar on the sidewalk and holds it aloft in triumph!

The bread is absolutely the best, softest, French bread I've ever had. We both opt for the Creole Combination Platter including Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and Red Beans and Rice. B substituted Crawfish Etoufee for the beans.) The meal was so stuffy, we passed on dessert and didn't realize until arriving back at the hotel that we had neglected to have Gumbo Soup at the Gumbo Shop. Inconceivable!

Ah, vacation. We relax in our room watching a Heavy Rescue: 401 marathon, toasting the day away with a bottle of 14 Hands Running Wild. Life is good.

Monday, October 4

We're off to the the Redneck Riviera! Yes, it's a road trip along "the coast of somewhere beautiful", but first a stop at the Slidell, LA, Waffle House for breakfast.

Creamy grits and pecan waffles, yeah! And a waitress who calls us both "Hon". I love it. Oh, why can't we have Waffle House up north?  I know.  It's a Southern Thing.

Back onto I-10 East, we soon cross into Mississippi. On our last road trip though the Gulf Coast, Baolu was bothered by the "Bridge May Ice In Cold Weather" signs. Well, they've still got those, but now her new nemesis is the overhead signs stating, "Drive Smart Mississippi". Huh? Baolu demands an explanation from me. First of all, she says the phrase is poor English. Second, she says, "Explain, please, how to drive dumb?".

Well as the day rolls on, it becomes apparent what they're talking about. People are not paying attention. We see one, then two, then three cars that have drifted over into the grass median and lost control. We see cars that have obviously rolled. One car went off to the side and down a ravine (there was a Mississippi State Trooper attending that one). One sedan had slid into the center cable barrier -- and was still there when we came back that evening. All in all, we counted over 10 accidents along the way.

As a curious counterpoint to the highway carnage, there are multiple billboards lining the entire freeway advertising the services of accident lawyers. In some stretches, there's a billboard every 100 yards. "It's not your fault!" "We're on your side!" are some of the witty slogans, each accompanied by picture of a grinning lawyer in suit and tie. One shyster has the catchy phone number 888-8888 splashed in neon yellow numerals 12 feet high. This is quite the cottage industry on the otherwise, boring, flat, 70mph run along I-10.

Such drama. On to Alabama. We exit I-10 and head south to the Burris Farmer's Market at Loxley. Colorfully-displayed produce! Baolu picks up some ripe peaches for a little snack and a jar of local marmalade. Their bathrooms smell like freshly-baked bread, courtesy of the on-site bakery. Nice place! OK, south to Gulf Shores.

Wow, I've never seen so many skyscraper condos in my life. It goes on for miles and miles. And seeing as they're right on the beach of the Caribbean Sea, everything is on stilts (so storm surge theoretically passes underneath during the next hurricane).

From Gulf Shores, we roll along East Beach Boulevard (AL Hwy 182) into Orange Beach, over a bridge and onto Peridido Key and its big claim to fame, the world-famous Flora-Bama "Lounge, Package & Oyster Bar"! Yes, as its moniker implies, it sits right smack dab on the state line between Florida and Alabama.

We opt for a late lunch (it's almost 2pm) at their satellite Ole River Grill.  The restaurant overlooks a waterway featuring lots of private homes, also on stilts, with each sporting a private dock and yacht.

Tater Tits with Pulled Pork and Gulf Coast Crab Claws sautéed Creole style, make for a yummy meal. A Watermelon Margarita for me and Yo Mama something for B.

After lunch we "freshen up". The graffiti in the gent's is world-class. Baolu reports similar, impressive essays.

I had been studying ye olde Google Maps and discovered "Blue Angel Parkway" which appeared to circle the perimeter of the NAS Pensacola base. Hmmm.... maybe we can drive by and spot an F/A 18 Super Hornet or two! We drive over the bridge off the Key, motor along for a spell and then turn right....and come face to face with the main gate of the military base! Ooops. Fortunately, there's a U-turn just before the gate for interlopers like me. No plane snooping for you! We turn tail and head for I-10.

Coming up to the freeway, I notice all eastbound traffic is completely stopped. Must be a doozy of an accident up there. As we take the westbound ramp onto the 10, we can see the stopped traffic extends for miles and miles. At the next interchange, the troopers have blocked the road, forcing all traffic onto side streets. What a mess. I thank my lucky stars we're going the other way.

As we cross into Alabama, the skies are getting grayer, and turn to black far ahead. We note TWO pointy top buildings driving through Mobile (Johnson & son of Johnson?). Just like the trip over, we spot unfortunate/inattentive motorists who have slid into the grass median. The road is dry and we have been dodging rainstorms all day, but as we cross into Mississippi (Drive Smart!), the weather turns nasty.

Heavy rain pounds us as we struggle along. Visibility goes down to about 50 yards. Everyone puts on their flashers and slows down to around 30 or 40 mph. A couple people pull off to the side to wait out the weather. Blinding white flashes of lightning are interspersed with the occasional, "Boom!" of thunder. At this speed, it takes a long time to crawl through Ole Miss. We cross into Louisiana and finally the rainstorm abates as we cross Lake Pontchartrain. Baolu tries to grab a shot as the sun sets over the lake. Afterwards, there is this surreal twilight glow along the road as if sunlight had been stored in the clouds and is now faintly lighting our way.

As the nav system leads us down Canal Street, we see two streetcars side by side on the tracks. These are the first streetcars I've seen on this trip. Hopefully they're getting ready to restart the service.

Back at the hotel, we decide to have a nightcap back at the Ritz bar. As previously mentioned, our hotel is connected to the Ritz through a back elevator which was pointed out to us by last night's bartender.

Supper tonight is two bowls of gumbo soup, fried green tomatoes with bits of crab meat for me and three enormous, crawfish-stuffed hush puppies for B. Baolu liked her Davenportini so much from before, she had that again. I washed down supper with a couple Old Fashioneds --- the way Dear old DAD, used to make them!

Tuesday, October 5

A beautiful, sunny day is breaking outside our 8th floor window. Breakfast this morning is at Cafe Beignet on Royal Street. We both have the crawfish omelet whilst Baolu and I split a plate of beignets. I actually drink black coffee to help cut the sweetness of the beignets.

Back to the room to pack up. Next, we drop our rental car off at 1317 Canal Street which turns out to be just a few blocks away, so we walk back...through a very sketchy neighborhood (where is Lindsay taking me?).

We check out and stash the bags at the hotel's valet station. It's a short walk over to Bourbon Street, but neither Felix's nor Acme Oyster House are open on Tuesdays. Dang! Finally, we find a place (Desire's) that will sell us a couple Po' Boy's for the train ride. We grab our bags and Lyft over to Union Station.

We are way early (Huh...sounds like us), so we hang out in the rather spartan confines of the Magnolia Room (first class lounge). I wander around the depot and outside taking pictures. As I amble back inside, a beefy Amtrak cop comes up to me and growls, "Pictures aren't allowed in here!". "Oh, sorry" I reply, smoothly slipping Mr. iPhone into my pocket. Hmmpf. I think he's just throwing his overstuffed weight around. I also heard him yelling at somebody else, "Put your mask on, Sir!". Maybe he's just bored.

Finally, 1:15 pm rolls around and they let us board #58, the City of New Orleans. Our car attendant is Will, assisted by Cheryl. We leave our enormous, crippled suitcase downstairs, as I heft our smaller bag and backpacks up the winding steps of the Superliner.

There's plenty of time to stroll up to the head end for some selfies alongside the battered and paint-peeling nose of Amtrak GE P42DC #33.  We prevail upon Will to take a picture of the two of us in front of our sleeper.

A couple of "whump whump's" on the Nathan AirChime K5LA's from the engineer, and we're off OT at 1:45pm. Our hogger does a short brake test as prescribed by rules, then releases and goes. We were advised over the PA system to expect delays for trackwork as they are still putting the railroad back together as far north as Jackson, Mississippi.

We are riding in Bedroom D of the "Minnesota", a rather tired and musty Superliner sleeping car. But first, a toast of some "Gentleman's" cabernet sauvignon. Fortunately, we acquired a couple plastic drinking cups from Hermes to use, as our sleeper has no supplies, no coffee, no cups, no nothing. Sigh.

As we roll along out of New Orleans, the devastation is still evident from the hurricane with large, blue tarps on practically every house (hard to see in the pictures I took).

Next, we tuck into the Po' Boy's from Desire's. Not very good, unfortunately. Way too salty. Que sera sera. The wine helps.

Just outside The Big Easy, we stop to let our opposite number pass. #59 is really flying and we are back out on the mainline in no time. Plenty of slow orders as we skirt Lake Pontchartrain. I can see fresh ballast most of the way to Hammond, LA as well as trackside MOW equipment. That must have been a mess to clean up.

Rolling into Hammond...how about some boiled Cajon peanuts? (from Burris Farmer's Market). Time for a cat nap!  North of town, we are in a canyon of trees, so not a whole lot to see.

At McComb, MS, we see the Amtrak depot has recently burned down (Yikes!), but the Illinois Central steam locomotive #2542, a Paducah-built 4-8-2 on display is fine. (photo credit to Trey Meador from rrpicturearchives.net)

Coming into Jackson, we blur past two loaded coal trains. Lots of passengers waiting to board at the depot as we arrive OT at 5:45pm, but suddenly there is an announcement that a freight has "broken down" ahead of us and the Canadian National dispatcher will be holding us here until...(pause while he reads his notes)...8:30pm. Noooooo! Luckily, the conductor corrects himself and says 6:30pm. Whew.

Dinner is delivered to our room. We both have the garlic shrimp and andouille sausage which is quite tasty. Fortunately, we are still motionless at Jackson, so we eat in peace. CN's notoriously rough track hasn't gotten any better since our 2019 ride and it's a pleasure to have supper without getting thrown around.

There's a small yard at Jackson and we watch trains switch cars in and out.

6:30 comes and goes with us still facing red signals. We celebrate with a coffee (from the diner) and some Baileys.

At 6:55pm with much regret, we finally depart Jackson in the darkness. There's nothing to see outside, so Will makes up our beds and we hit the hay. Blue night light!!!

Sleep is difficult as the engineer has been enthusiastically blowing the horn LOUDLY since we left Hammond. We both finally try earplugs which helps a little. Part of the problem is that previously-mentioned "tunnel of trees", with crossings seemingly every half mile. Because of the trees, motorists cannot see the train until it is right at the crossing, thus the continuous horn warnings. Also the tree tunnel acts as an amplifier bouncing the sound back at us. WOOOOOOOOOOOONK..... WOOOOOOOOOONK...... WONK..... WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNK all night long.

Wednesday, October 6

After a fitful night's lie down, I hit the shower early as breakfast will be "express" from 6am to 7am only. We made up some time overnight, now being 1 hour, 15 minutes late out of Champaign/Urbana, IL. I have my scanner along this trip and it's fun listening to the trackside detectors:

"C N Detector, Milepost 66.1. North. Bound. (pause) No Deeefects. Total axles three two. Temperature 65 F. Train speed seven nine. Out."

Soon, we hit the "Electrified District" just outside Homewood, IL, round a curve and then back into Union Station. Passing the Amtrak yards, I spy an Amtrak Midwest Charger locomotive and some of the new rolling stock (Amtrak Midwest Siemens Mobility Venture cars). Supposedly, the Pacific Northwest will get some similar equipment to replace the foolishly-scrapped Talgo 6 trainsets. It's a very foggy, but comfortable day in Chicago as we come to a stop at 9:45am, just 30 minutes down. Thank you, schedule pad!

We Lyft over to the Residence Inn to check in. Leave the bags in the room and march down South LaSalle St and up West Jackson Boulevard to (drum roll, please) Giordano's!

The pizza takes a while to make, but should I have this second beer before the pie arrives?  No!  I will resist temptation and save the suds for when the deep dish goodness arrives.

Gut! Grit! Chew! We stuff our faces with some of the finest pizza available on the planet. Whoa! Roll me out the door, Shink!

Baolu and The Bean!

After this culinary juggernaut, we go our separate ways: Baolu walking to the "Magnificent Mile" to do a little shopping, and me taking a Lyft to the Museum of Science and Industry. I'm headed to MS&I to see just two things: Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr and the BNSF-sponsored model railroad layout.

Pioneer Zephyr - inside and out!

Chicago to Seattle on one enormous layout.

Bonus!  New York Central 4-4-0 #999 complete with holographic engineer in the cab.

Great museum. I really enjoyed that. OK, time to Lyft back to the hotel. Today is actually the first time I've used Lyft on my own (Baolu has her own account) and I must say I'm impressed with the way the app works. As we were tooling along Lake Shore Drive, my driver was unable to turn left and asked ME if I knew what was going on! I replied that I think they are setting up for the Chicago Marathon this coming weekend (I had seen signs for that on my drive down.)

Back in the room, I started getting caught up on my trip notes with Baolu showing up an hour later. The highlight of her walk and shop was the pair of Van's Tiger Shoes she got for herself!

It's six o'clock, but neither of us are hungry. Maybe a drink or two in the hotel bar? We roll downstairs and order a couple, but the bartender is distracted and eventually forgot us (a blonde had parked herself in front of him), so we walked a block over to Walgreens and got a nice "Duck" cab for dessert, finishing with a Hennessey chaser in the room. Do it yourself to the rescue!

Thursday, October 7

Up and at 'em, for today we are riding the Empire Builder to Edmonds, Yah-HOO! Very nice breakfast at the hotel, then it's upstairs to pack up and lollygag until lunch calls.

Lunch called and we are seated at the bar at Giordano's. Our bartender is having a bit of a quandary. I ordered a Bud Light from the tap, but what comes out is a bitter IPA (yuck). After much experimentation (as well as a great floor show from the barkeep), he discovers the IPA and Bud Light taps have been reversed and I eventually get my beer. B keeps it simple ordering a rose.

This time we order a small pizza which is much more manageable than yesterday's onslaught. And this guy knows how to pull the cheese!

Back to the hotel to pick up our bags and Lyft over to Union Station. 30 minutes before train time we board #7/#27. Erik is our car attendant -- young fellow. Once again we leave the big suitcase downstairs and we climb the stairs of our Transition Sleeper #39021. The T.S. is a little different from a regular sleeping car. #39021 has two bathrooms AND showers upstairs - all roomettes, no bedrooms.

Downstairs is a storage area with seats (a lounge) for the crew, one shower and a couple terlets. Also downstairs, is an enormous handicapped room running the width of the car. It was not in use during our trip.

We depart on time and are soon rocketing north out of Union Station. When we made our reservations four months ago, the Seattle sleeper was completely sold out. Thus we got a pair of roomettes (21 & 22) across the aisle from each other in the T.S. Walk down the hall to use the john. It'll be fun!  Almost like camping!

We toast the start of our journey with an H3 Merlot and...what the heck is THAT thing?  Approaching Milwaukee, I text up an old friend, Carl over in Waukesha, and we have a sparkling exchange of repartee.  Carl explains the big blue ball we saw, is part of a Foxconn factory complex that's under construction near Kenosha, WI.  As an aside, not only does Gorilla tape mend crippled suitcases, but it is great for holding wine bottles, scanners and water flasks upright (see above photo).

At the Milwaukee depot, I spot 3 PV (Private Varnish) on side tracks. One is the "Caritas" in Iowa Pacific dress, the other two are "Imperial Leaf" and (I think) "Golden Moon".

Once out of the Beer City, we really start to fly as our Lady Hogger keeps it pegged at 79 mph. She is such a good runner, we are early into each station and have to wait for time all the way across Wisconsin.

Arriving at Columbus, Wisconsin which has a nice, hefty stone block depot. Yours truly used to detrain/board here when visiting my Grandparents in Madison. In this vintage 1968 or 1969 view is myself in Pennsy engineer's cap (yes, I used to be a towhead), my brother Mark in his Dirty Harry Baloramas & Austin Powers paisley shirt, and our Mom just in off the Milwaukee Road's Morning Hiawatha from the Twin Cities.  Third picture?  Da Dells...

At La Crosse, we visit the diner for our 7:15pm reservation. In another happy coincidence, we are stabbed for 30 minutes at the open Mississippi River bridge for barge traffic, ensuring a very smooth, motionless supper.

As I toast Baolu with Amtrak's Dark Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon, you can see our very tall waiter, Craig in the background. Craig did a fantastic job the entire trip keeping his first class passengers fed and watered.

Still digesting the Giordano's, B wasn't terribly hungry, having just the Lobster crab cake appetizer and wine. Yours truly, however, had the salad (with mini brie cheese), Flat Iron steak and strawberry cheesecake. All 4 plates were absolutely sublime as Amtrak has recently upgraded the food on long distance trains. Interestingly when I got home, my November 2021 issue of "Trains" magazine in the mailbox, had an article about Amtrak's improved cuisine.

Just about the time our lady hogger gets a green signal, we finish dinner and head back to our sleeper. Erik has made down our beds as promised, so we both hit the hay. The track was as smooth as glass on the Canadian Pacific from Chicago to Milwaukee to LaCrosse. From LaCrosse to Winona to Red Wing (Minnesota side) however, the roadbed was very rough. CN rough.

Once back on home rails (BNSF, nee-Great Northern) out of the Twin Cities, the track is much better again. Sweet dreams.

Friday, October 8

Bon Jour! After a good night's sleep, I wake up about 5:45am and hit the shower. We depart Devils Lake, North Dakota OT at 6:02am.

Breakfast is come as you are, and Baolu is pleased to discover the Empire Builder is offering Starbucks-branded coffee! She orders the Railroad French Toast with pork sausage while I opt for the 3 egg omelet and sausage. Both are VERY good.

Just like out of Chicago, we are early into every station and Minot, North Dakota is no exception. In fact, we arrive 15 minutes early giving us dwell time of 50 minutes. That's some serious pad built into the schedule.

As a result, everyone gets off and walks the train for exercise, from one end to another. Except for the head end where they are refueling the P42DCs, #135 and #205. At the baggage car, stands a grumpy car knock shooing people away.

I use this long stop to take pictures of the entire consist. Here's how the "full" Empire Builder looks:

Amtrak GE P42DC #135 facing west

Amtrak GE P42DC #205 facing west

Baggage # 61022

Transition Sleeper #39021 (0732)

Sleeper #32019 (0730) 

Diner #38057

Coach #34113

Above is the Seattle "section".

The train splits at Spokane. #135 leads a train to Portland. #205 leads a train to Seattle.

Below is the Portland "section".

Sightseer Lounge #33044

Coach #34097

Coach #31047 (2715)

Sleeper #32057

As we're walking the platform, a CP Grain train clatters across the diamonds in front of us. Pulling into the station, I also got a picture of the former Soo Line depot.

Time to go! One more selfie (photobombed by Erik) and we're off. At Soo Tower crossing, we set our clocks back one hour to Mountain Time.

Just west of Minot, our train soars over the Gassman Coulee trestle.

As we trundle closer to Williston, ND, some observations:

1. Much of the way through here was double tracked during the fracking boom. Main One is north side track and Main Two is south side track (as we head West).

2. I notice at each talking detector, the Engineer clicks radio button twice to acknowledge, Conductor clicks once (or is it the other way around? ;p)

3. One of our units is a "smoker" as it accelerates from about 20 mph up to track speed.

4. Groups of oil derricks line both sides of the railroad.

5. It looks like the wheat has mostly been harvested in ND & MT.

6. Fall colors are starting to pop out all over.

7. LOTS of train traffic. Hot intermodal Z's, Q & S trains (domestic & overseas double stacks), grain trains, oil trains, even frac sand trains are in abundance.

8. It's very hazy outside. I swear I smell smoke. Do farmers burn off the field stubble after harvest, perhaps?

Entering Williston, I manage to schmuck up my iPhone camera settings JUST as we're passing Great Northern O-1 class 2-8-2 #3059 AND the depot. Hmpf.

The consolation prize is watching this conductor switching a yard job. Hey, BNSF GP39-3 #2524 is a former EMD GP30 locomotive - my favorite "Geep" four axle unit.  Whoa!  Look at this green dinosaur happening by!  An EMD SD-40-2 still in Cascade Green and demoted to yard service.  BN used to have hundreds of these.  They were the bane of my young railfan existence because: 1.  They were common as dirt. and 2. They would disappear into the trees (blend in) when taking pictures in the mountains.  It speaks volumes of their ruggedness that there's still a few around.  And, I must admit, they had a very aesthetic look, with the "porches" front and aft.  Long live the 40's!

Lunch Time!

Let's see here. It looks like Baolu had the "Artisan Grilled Cheese" with bacon (mmmm bacon...) and Lindsay had the "Natural Angus Burger". I just can't resist.  More cheesecake, please! Oh, but that "Flourless Chocolate Torte" looks mighty good too. Might have to sample that for supper.

The afternoon wears on as we approach Havre, MT. Passing the engine facility, we stop short of the depot to once more fuel our locomotives. This takes about ten minutes, then we pull forward to the platform. While we wait, there's an Engineer in the cab of BNSF 7328 ready to head east.

Although not as long as the Williston stop, there's a lot to see and do here -- like getting our pictures taken with both the head end diesels AND Great Northern #2584, an S-2 class 4-8-4 steam locomotive.

Near Hingham, MT, we overtake a monster grain train on Main One with 3 units up front, 3 units mid-train and 2 units pushing on the rear.

At Chester, MT, I get a picture of the former GN Depot, sporting a new steel roof. Chester is located about midway between Havre and Shelby...the one section of the former Great Northern Hi-line I have never railfanned. Until now.

By late afternoon, we are way ahead of schedule, and pause for yet another platform boonie stomp at Shelby, Montana. (Hi big brother, Mark! I know you wanted that sign. Next time, I'll bring a crowbar...)

The Rocky Mountains are getting closer as the sun sets over Cut Bank, MT (Hometown of Mark Meyer AND Rob Quist). Just leaving town, we cross another high trestle over Cut Bank Creek.

Camp Disappointment! Yep, erected by GN Ry. in 1925 to commemorate the northern-most point in the Lewis & Clark expedition. And just coming into Browning, MT is this cool, old "beehive" slash burner.

Henceforth, it's getting dark and my pictures are getting fuzzy, well, fuzzier, so apologies in advance.

Coming into Glacier Park station (at East Glacier, MT), we soar over Two Medicine bridge and past the Glacier Park Lodge.  I was surprised the seasonal Glacier Park stop was still being used.  Usually at this time of year, the stop reverts to Browning, MT.

We begin our climb to the Continental Divide with some beautiful views in the last glimmers of daylight.

And finally, dinner! Baolu is not too hungry, so partakes of a salad and lobster crab cake washed down with a little Chardonnay. I enjoy the Green Chile Cheese Tamale, Tortellini with Pesto Cream & chicken and the "Flourless Chocolate Torte".

Once more, our beds are ready after supper so time to hit the hay as we approach the darkness of Whitefish, MT.

Saturday, October 9

Bonjour, Madame! Breakfast! Voila! French Toast, French Toast is too good for me to pass up, for our final onboard repast.  Baolu and Tiger concur.

As we climb Stevens Pass, it's way too dark to take any decent pictures. Coming down the 2.2% grade from Scenic, WA, there's some decent Fall color at the Bonneville Power line crossing and Foss River burbles beneath as we coast above on a high, curved trestle.

At Skykomish, we give our flashlight salute from Baolu's roomette (those two pinpoints of light) to the famous Virtual Railfan webcam located atop the Cascadia Inn.

Rolling downhill out of Sky, there are scenic views at Eagle Falls, Sunset Falls, Sultan (with fisherman) and Monroe (that ramshackle trestle is the old Milwaukee Road branch line to Duvall, Carnation and Cedar Falls).

Everett! Almost home. We are greeted by a couple stored Sounder trains and a lone Amtrak policemen. Time to pack up and get downstairs to detrain at Edmonds.

Farewell, #7! We had a great trip and coming home on the Empire Builder was icing on the cake. Highball!