2014 Amtrak-VIA Circle Trip: Day 5

It was about dawn as I woke up after my first night aboard the Canadian. It was Day 4 (Monday, May 26, 2014) of my Amtrak-VIA circle trip and the day I had most anticipated because we would pass through the Canadian Rockies in daylight.

I threw on some clothes and headed for the nearest dome car. Unlike the night before, the dome section was virtually deserted. The only other passenger was a woman with a camera who had the same idea that I did of seeing the scenery as the sun rose.

Our train was following the Blue River in British Columbia and cutting through some mountainous territory. I watched this for a while before returning to my sleeper to take a shower and get dressed.

There are two trains of thought, if you will, pertaining to which direction to ride The Canadian. Starting your trip in Toronto results in saving the most spectacular scenery for the last full day aboard the train.

The argument for riding westward is that the Canadian Rockies are the trip’s coda. Starting your trip in Vancouver means seeing the best scenery early in the trip and ending it by seeing lots of forests.

I had been told that the schedule provides slightly more mountainous scenery going eastward, so I chose to begin in Vancouver.

Another factor was that I would rather ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Seattle rather than to Chicago.

In theory, I could have made a same-day connection from the Builder to the Capitol Limited or Lake Shore Limited, but with the erratic on-time performance of No. 8, I didn’t want to risk it.

If I was going to have a hotel stay at the end of riding the Empire Builder, I wanted it to be in Seattle rather than Chicago. I’ve seen Chicago many times. I hadn’t been to Seattle in 14 years.

After getting dressed, I made my first foray back to the Park series car on the rear. It was a long walk.

My train had been assigned No. 8707, the Kokanee Park. Also motivating me to go visit the Park car was the fact that the diner was filled with passengers having breakfast.

Pastries, fruit, juice and coffee had been set out in the Park car and I had a muffin and orange  juice. The muffin was very good. I took some photos and decided to try the diner again.

I was seated with a couple from Bend, Oregon, who would turn out to be the only Americans I would dine with, unless you count the guy from Ohio who had long since moved to Vancouver and apparently now considered himself a Canadian.

Breakfast was an omelette of feta cheese, bacon and spinach accompanied by hash browns and toast. It was very good. In fact it was excellent. I never thought I’d ever rave about toast, but there some something about this toast that stood out.

I had thought about trying the cheesecake stuffed French toast. I’ll bet it was delicious, but also very rich.

Fred Frailey’s article in Trains magazine had said the breakfast menu didn’t change during the trip so I decided to try to French toast on another day.

But the breakfast menu did change slightly during the trip and I never saw the French toast offered again.

I spent most of the day either in one of the dome cars or in the Park Car. The weather could have been better. It was mostly overcast and rainy throughout the day.

At one point during the trip I saw a guy in a dome car with guidebooks spread out and I thought that I should have studied up on the route of the Canadian and brought some reference materials along. But I didn’t.

The crew was good about announcing in advance such scenic highlights as Pyramid Falls and Mount Robson. They also announced a moose sighting, but by the time I saw it I didn’t have enough time to get a good photo. Besides, the animal was not out in the open as I had hoped that it would be.

Pyramid Falls was right next to the tracks so it wasn’t hard to see. But the peak of Mount Robson is obscured by clouds most of the time and today was no exception.

I made some images but only after studying photos of one of North America’s most famous peaks was I able to determine that I had indeed photographed it.

The Frailey article in Trains and other sources I read had discussed how the Canadian had been delayed during the winter by Canadian National freight traffic.

I got a chance to see this first hand. Much of the time, the freight trains would be in the siding waiting for us. But not always.

On a number of occasions we went into a siding and waited for one or more CN freights to pass in the opposite direction.

At one point, we backed up quite a ways to the siding at Money. A CN stack train ahead of us had stalled and the motive power of train 302 had been directed to cut off and help push the stalled stack train up the grade.

The radio was filled with chatter and at one point the rail traffic controller – dispatcher on other railroads – sounded exasperated by that, saying he could hear trains talking for a couple hundred miles. That included some trains doing switching maneuvers.

As it turned out, it stopped raining and the stack train was finally able to get some traction on the wet rail, keeping a steady 12 mph pace. The power of the 302 didn’t need to give the stacker a boost.

The stack train and the other freight made it to Red Pass Junction and the RTC told VIA 2 that he had ordered a signal for us at Money. That phrasing sounded odd, as though he had ordered a pizza.

We started moving again and passed the stack train and the other train at Red Pass Junction.

It was time for lunch and I had the grilled shrimp and scallops. Lunch and dinner always began with a first course of soup or salad along with rolls. I ordered the soup.

My entrée came with potato salad, greens and a chutney garnish. I skipped the potato salad, but enjoyed everything else. Desert was a fudge brownie with whipped cream. This lunch would have made a very nice dinner.

The crowding in the dome cars that I had experienced upon leaving Vancouver did not occur during the rest of the trip. At times the domes were nearly empty and other times there were numerous people there, but plenty of seats were available. The Park car also has a dome section, but I didn’t visit that during the afternoon on this day.

My biggest challenge was photographing through the curved glass windows. The curves tended to distort my photos and I spent much of the trip trying to figure out how to address that. I’m not sure if I did. Sometimes the photos turned out fine but at other times they were not so good.

Another challenge photographing from the dome was that insect carcasses built up on the front windows. The dome windows were washed at least twice en route to Toronto, but it didn’t take long for the bug residue to build up again.

Although it was late May, there was still plenty of snow in the Rockies. There were glaciers to see and plenty of lakes along the tracks. The scenery matched my expectations and then some.

We had an hour-long layover in Jasper. Most passengers disembarked and I was able to walk to the front of the train and get some photos of the motive power.

But VIA personnel didn’t want passengers lingering on the platform. We were shooed to behind a fence, probably because service vehicles were on the platform. One of those had the task of washing all of the dome windows.

The snow-covered mountains surrounding this resort town in Alberta made a nice backdrop. The clouds had even parted and I got a little bit of sunshine.

I walked around town a bit, photographing a Canadian National steam locomotive on static display near the station.

Jasper is a major tourist destination and buses filled with tour groups pulled up and a group of German tourists got out to wait to board the train. I also encountered tour groups from New Zealand, Australia and the United States during my time aboard the Canadian.

It was time to reboard and I went to my room, which overlooked the CN yard. Luck was with me as I was able to photograph departing and arriving CN trains with the snowy mountains in the background.

My dinner seating was called not long after we left Jasper. I was seated with a man and his young adult son. They were not very talkative.

I ordered the pan seared scallops, which came with pasta, roasted new potatoes and vegetables. I also had the onion soup and red wine. Desert was raspberry-chocolate cheesecake. It was all excellent.

As dinner was served, we were still in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and I took a lot of photographs. Some of the best scenery occurred during this segment of the trip.

We passed a CN Rail Diesel Car that I presume is used as a track inspection vehicle. I wished I had known that it was out there so I could have gotten better photos of it.

I also forgot to photograph my desert. I wanted made it a point to photograph all of my meals on this trip, but this wasn’t the first time that I had forgotten to photograph something.

I had been so engrossed in the Columbia River gorge that I forgot to photograph the French toast that I had aboard the Empire Builder.

Many of my tablemates during this trip were amused at my photographing what I ate. My two dinner companions out of Jasper may have been, too, because  I saw both of them get their cameras out and photograph their own dinners. During one dinner, another table mate even held up his prime rib dinner for me to photograph.

There were, of course, many folks aboard the Canadian making photographs but I never saw anyone documenting every facet of the train to the degree that I did.

A couple of people even made note of that saying something to the effect of “you’re the guy taking all the photos.”

I was aware that my first trip aboard the Canadian might also be my only trip on it. I had been prompted by the warnings of Frailey and Phillips in Trains that VIA Nos. 1 and 2 face an uncertain future and if you always wanted to ride it, the time to do it was now.

During the night we stopped in Edmonton. I was sound asleep and missed it completely. I’m starting to get to like those VIA mattresses and comforters.

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