Train Trip Out West, 1982

Father and Son

by Don Chesnut 2005

Donald's school got out early one spring, much earlier than other schools. I thought that he and I could take a train trip out west. I called an Amtrak information number and was told about the Circle Trip and the Family Fare for certain trips. I received a train schedule and map of the various rail lines. In the Circle Trip, one can go for unlimited miles (west of the Mississippi) as long as you don't go on the same line twice. In addition, you have to submit your exact schedule and times. The Family Fare was a discount for a parent and child going on the same trip. In looking over the map and going over the schedules, Donald and I came up with a trip that we thought we'd like. The only place certified to sell Amtrak tickets in Lexington was a travel agency. I went there to talk to them, but they had never sold an Amtrak ticket before. I knew more about it than they did, and they asked me to help them make out the ticket. I did. This was all before websites existed, but now one can go to for Amtrak information. I don't know if these special fares exist today.

The following is our trip with linked photographs for May, 1982. Or you may just want to view the photographs in the thumbnail directory (no maps or descriptions).

We drove to the Cincinnati International Airport which is in northern Kentucky and I parked our car in long-term parking. We flew from Cincinnati to Chicago in order to catch our train.

The Southwest Chief to Flagstaff

We went to the train station and caught the Southwest Chief to Flagstaff, Arizona. The Southwest Chief was a double-decker Superliner. Our travel through most of the Mid-West and Great Plains was at nighttime, but the next morning we were able to see the western part of the Great Plains, the mountains and interesting landscapes al the way to Flagstaff. See the orange route on the map.

Grand Canyon

It was just getting dark by the time we got to Flagstaff. I had reserved a rental car to meet us at the train station and we stayed at a hotel that night in Flagstaff. The next day we drove to a motel near the Grand Canyon. We stayed several days there, hiking around the canyon.

Wapatki National Monuent

I am missing all my slides from our visit to Sunset Crater and Meteor Crater and most of my slides from Wupatki and Walnut Canyon monuments. I'm assuming that a whole carousel is missing.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

The Southwest Chief to Los Angeles

We drove back to Flagstaff and I turned our car into the rental agency. We got back on the Southwest Chief and continued to Los Angeles, California. This trip was at nighttime, so there are not photos. See red-orange route on map.

The Desert Wind to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City

After a few hours walking around Los Angeles, we went back to the train station and took the Desert Wind to Salt Lake City. I took photos of the California and Nevada parts of the trip, but it was nighttime between Caliente, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah. See light green route on map.

The Pioneer to Seattle

We went back to the Salt Lake City train station and caught the Pioneer to Seattle. It got dark just after leaving Salt Lake City, but came morning again in Oregon. See light-blue route on map.

We got a motel in Seattle and visited there for several days.


The Empire Builder to Chicago

We then went to the Seattle train station and caught the Empire Builder to Chicago. By the time we reached Spokane, it was nighttime and was dark till we reached Whitefish, Montana. See pinkish-purple route on map.

Donald and I arrived in Chicago and stayed one night in a motel downtown. We walked around a bit and had sushi and sashimi for dinner.

The next day we went back to the train station and caught the Cardinal to Cincinnati. See dark-blue route on map. This was the worst train trip (i.e., Chicago to Cincinnati) I have ever had any place in the world! The rail bed was in such bad condition from all the freight traffic, that the train had to creak along at about 35 miles per hour. Even then, one had to use both hand to hold onto the seats in order to walk down the aisle. These were not the Superliner cars of the western part of the US. These were old, very-poorly maintained, single-level cars.

When Donald and I went to the train station in Chicago, I really had to use the bathroom, but I didn't want to leave Donald alone in the train station. So I waited till we could get on the train. When we finally got on the train, I had to wait for the conductor to check our tickets. Meanwhile, Donald walked through all the cars and came back to tell me that all the bathrooms on the train were out-of-order except for the one in our car. There was one to each car. The bathroom on these old coaches is in the front of the car, so that everybody can tell where you are going. Anyway, I made my way up to the bathroom and noted that it had a very wide door. I slid the heavy door shut and locked it and then turned to see a very well-lit room with mirrors from floor to ceiling all the way around. Very unusual. I walked up to the john and proceeded. I had to hold on to the rail in front of the john with one hand and aim at the john with the other hand. It was very hard to keep my aim with the train lurching this way and that and it took a lot of concentration. I looked up momentarily at the mirror and noticed all the people in the train car looking at me and then I returned to concentrate on the task. Wait a minute! People aren't supposed to be looking at me here! I looked up again and saw three little old ladies staring directly at me, and there were others too. The heavy sliding door had slid wide open and, with the mirrored walls and excellent lighting, everyone in the front half of the car could see what I was doing. And I couldn't stop! And I couldn't reach the door because the room was so big. I had to wait till I was finished. Then I walked to the door and checked to see what I had done wrong in closing it. The latch plate was broken and the door couldn't be latched. The lurching of the train forced the door open. I turned around to face the audience and tried to walk back to my seat with the attitude that I do this kind of thing all the time, no big deal. I guess my son was the only one not to notice what had happened. After a few minutes, I walked back to find the conductor and told him what had happened. I could tell he was trying to bite his lip to keep a professional demeanor. I saw him walk up to the bathroom door a few minutes later to check it out and then he put some tape on it to keep people out of it. So then there were no bathrooms on the train that were in working order.

We finally got to the train station in Cincinnati. It was not the one now at Union Station, but the unglamorous one in the rail yard on the Ohio floodplain. We caught a cab to the Cincinnati airport, got to my car to find that I had some flat tires. The caretakers at the parking lot helped me fill them up and then Donald and I drove back to Lexington. Overall, it was an excellent trip. Even the bad experience on the last leg of the trip has become an interesting story to tell.

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