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 Post subject: Bill's Rail Adventures
PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 7:23 pm 
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Location: Needles, California
In a thread on the Marching Band forum, a poster made comment about the little electric train I am now using in my signature. It was completely off topic but I want to say more. So this is the appropriate place.

My dad was an employee of the Santa Fe Railroad for over 30 years before retiring in 1991. One of the perks they used to give to rail employees was a passenger pass. I tried to get a job a few years ago as a conductor for Union Pacific and was disheartened that this isn't one of the benefits anymore (that wasn't the reason why I didn't take the job.)

Dad started in San Diego, where he worked for about a year before he transferred to Oceanside. During that time, we used to ride the San Diegan from either San Diego (1962) or Oceanside (1962-66), where we walked to Philippe's and rode the train back home. This was back in the days when Santa Fe ran the train.

In summer 1965, we took the went from Oceanside to Norman, Oklahoma. Now, believe it or not, in those days, that was a very doable trip.There were restrictions. We couldn't take a "premium" train, like the "Chief," "Super Chief," or "El Capitan." The El Cap was an all chair train (no beds) but it cost extra.

Instead, we took the train called the "Grand Canyon." This was a completely no frills train. It stopped everywhere, including about ten stops between Barstow and Needles! Where the Super Chief went from Los Angeles to Chicago in 39 hours, the Grand Canyon did it in almost 50 hours.

We took the San Diegan from Oceanside to Fullerton, where we got on the Grand Canyon. It took two days to get to Newton, Kansas, where we had to wait almost four hours to catch the Texas Chief. Being seven at the time, for a kid from Southern California it was amazing to see insects in the middle of the night in Kansas that were the size of an average bird!

Going back to California was easier. When we got to Newton, we only had a two hour wait. It seemed the time on the Grand Canyon was longer, but maybe that's just because I was a little kid.

They didn't hook up the dining car at the beginning or the end of the trip. I never really understood why that was. We got to Barstow about 5:30 in the afternoon and we were there for maybe an hour and a half. They served meals in the Harvey House there (Fred Harvey, which was also the company that serviced the dining cars on Santa Fe trains.) When we came back, the train arrived in Barstow about 7:00 in the morning and it was the same thing. The menu at the Harvey House was almost identical to what they had on the train, except the prices were higher on the train.

I wouldn't take another long train trip for ten years until I went to the First National Tuba Symposium-Workshop at the University of Illinois in May 1975. And that was Amtrak.

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 Post subject: Re: Bill's Rail Adventures
PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2008 7:25 am 
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I really enjoy trains. I took one from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and back once and got a big kick out of standing just behind the yellow line while the trains that weren't stopping at my station went barrelling by just a couple of feet away. It's hard to convince your brain you're safe...kind of like a roller coaster. I wonder what the locals thought of me. :)

I haven't done any long trips like yours, but few things are as pleasant for me as the 2-4 hour train rides I have taken. I usually take long drives to get places, so it really is nice to just be able to look out the window.

My grandfather worked at Union Station in L.A. for many years. He died when I was 3, but apparently he used to bring home all manner of stuff that he pulled off the freight cars...lobsters, steaks, chocolate and I'm pretty sure my parents' solid dark cherry dining room set they received for a wedding present. According to my dad, this was just how things went down there. Someone was greasing his wheels to get something done and I'm sure he had to return the favor somewhere up the chain of command.

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 Post subject: More Stuff
PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:10 am 
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Part of my Army career was spent at Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was there where I lived when I married my first wife (we actually married in Rialto). I remember looking at old pictures of Fort Dix and there were trains everywhere. I thought, "Wow! I'd love to be stationed there." Of course, those pictures were taken during World War II.

When I got to Fort Dix, I was saddened that all those train tracks were abandoned. The freighthouses were used for gear storage or armories. I will say this... They didn't get rid of any of the old tracks. But they did pave over them!

:roll:

Now the best place to be for trains in my military experience was West Berlin. When I was stationed there there were three ways you could go:

1. Fly (very expensive)
2. Drive (cheap, but, if you stopped at a rest area in East Germany, you had to leave when a non-Allied vehicle [not from USA, UK, or France] stopped there)
3. Take the train (The American and British trains were free, you had to pay a "berth fee" on the French train... The British train had full dining service... a full meal for five marks [about two euros today]. The trains were run by the respective Armies, pulled by locomotives of the Deutsche Bahn [in West Germany] and the Deutsche Reichsbanh [in East Germany].)

About 80% of the time, the 298th Army Band of the Berlin Brigade went there by train. Since the US Army owned all the rolling stock of the US Army Duty Trains, they would often negotiate with the West German and Austrian railroads so that we could stay in one coach for the entire trip.

The longest part of the trip was when we crossed the border into East Germany, either from West Germany or West Berlin. They had a little ceremony they went through (for the American train it was usually about 1:00 am from West Germany and about 9:00 pm from West Berlin) involving the military personnel who were charged with running the train: Train Commander (usually a captain), Train Conductor (usually a staff sergeant or sergeant first class), and a Russian Translator (a German civilian). They met up with their Soviet counterparts: Station Commander (a captain), Aide de Camp (a lieutenant), Guard (a private), and an English Translator (an East German civilian). They would have our passports or military ID cards. I don't know why, but it always took almost an hour to go check the names on the list and all. There were never more than 200 people on the train.

Once they made their final salutes and we got out of there, we got to move on ahead. The train was slow for the whole trip and we would usually get stuck for about two hours in Magdeburg, where they had a huge freight yard (and we were in the middle of it).

That's what the American train was like (the French train was similar). There were actually two American trains from Berlin: The early train went to Frankfurt and the late one went to Bremen/Bremerhaven. Additionally, there was another train that went from Frankfurt to Bremerhaven for military personnel to get their cars that were sent from America by ship.

The British train went the shortest. It ended/started a few miles west of the East German border at Braunschweig (which is where the term Braunschweiger sausage comes from), but the British called the city "Brunswick." You could ride the train to Braunschweig at 7:00 in the morning, spend some shopping and eating, ride the train back to Berlin, and get in about 8:00 in the evening.

The French train went to Strasbourg, France. While it charged a "berth fee," all meals on that train were free. So it balanced out.

Some interesting facts:
-Alcohol was served on the British and French trains. Drinking on the American train could get you thrown off.
-The military trains were often targets by anti-American/British/French folks in East Germany. The British trains British Union Jacks were removed upon entering East Germany and replaced going out. The American train had American flags painted on. The French train had no flags. It looked so black and solemn (American train was olive drab; British train was Royal Blue.)
-The British train used former first class German day coaches.
-The French train used surplus French rolling stock.
-The American train used old chair cars with added bunk beds. There were no chairs, just bunk beds. There were private compartments, although each stack of bunks in the compartments were stacked three high.
-The only way to get on these military trains was to secure permission from the Commanding General of the nation whose train you wanted to ride. Being stationed in Berlin, the British and American trains were easy. Orders could be had in as little as an hour. The French train took a little longer, since Americans had to have a passport to go to France (military personnel in Germany at this time were not required to have passports). For those coming from West Germany who just went for fun, orders would take up to a month to get.

Oh, those were good days.

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