Tennessee Pass Trip

Home Around Las Vegas South of Las Vegas North of Las Vegas Cima-Kelso Nevada Southern Desert Wind Trip Steam to Las Vegas! Tennessee Pass Trip Royal Gorge Durango

'This article appeared in Water Station No. 25, the monthly publication of the Southern Nevada Chapter, NRHS.

Feather River, Tennessee Pass & Royal Gorge Special
By Chuck Brandt

Each year the American Association of Private Car Owners (AAPRCO) holds a convention to which owners bring their private railway cars from all over the country. In October 1993 the convention was held in Sacramento, Ca.   Amtrak ran two special trains to bring the cars to ‘Sacto'. One from Los Angeles and one from Chicago. I was able to book passage on the Eastbound return trip - and what a trip it was! A rail enthusiast's dream: a private train consisting of privately owned cars traveling through some of the most scenic parts of the country over some extremely rare mileage.

Sunday, October 24th was spent touring the 42 privately owned cars on display at the Old Sacramento depot and also a visit to the California State RR Museum. After the public display closed we began boarding for an overnight stay in preparation for a Monday morning departure. I was assigned to Roomette 3, Car 1201, the National Border. This car is an ex-U.P. Pullman sleeper in original configuration with 6 roomettes, 4 bedrooms and 6 section beds. Three other cars were available to our group: dome diner Columbia River, where we had many delicious meals and coffee, beer and soft drinks were always available, dome lounges Native Son and Silver Lariat (an ex-Zephyr stainless steel car). During the night the cars were assembled into a train by the RR museum crew. One of the switching engines used was their exWP F-7 #913!


The switching took longer than expected and our 9AM departure time came and went, but finally the train was made up and pulled into Sacramento Amtrak depot for final boarding.

We departed east Monday, October 25 at 12:18pm with 19 private cars and three Amtrak F-40's on the point. At Haggin we made the turn onto the U.P. (ex-WP) tracks and headed for Oroville and then a ride over the freight only Feather River Canyon route. We twisted and turned through the scenic canyon. The fall foliage throughout the canyon was spectac- ular. The U.P. dispatcher put us in the siding to meet a couple of freights along the way.  We held at Paxton, just short of the famous Keddie Wye for track work to finish and a new crew to be sent from Portola. The 'DS' knew our original crew would 'die on the law' before reaching the regular crew change point at Portola.

As darkness fell we continued our journey past Keddie Wye, Portola and across northern Nevada, arriving at Elko for a crew change at sunrise. Onward we went thru Silver Zone pass, around Arnolds Loop, then thru Wendover. Still on U.P. trackage we entered Utah, passing the Bonneville Salt Flats and great Salt Lake (and meeting a total of eight westbound freights) before arriving in Salt Lake City at 2:20PM Tuesday. This was the end of the Union Pacific portion of our trip. The train was doubled over on two station tracks for a complete servicing as local fans looked on in awe at the multicolored passenger special. Ninety minutes later, with the addition of another F-40 on the point we ventured out on SP (ex-Rio Grande) trackage for the next leg of our journey. We were running as Second #6 and the SP dispatchers kept us moving past eight opposing meets - some of the best handling of the trip. Darkness came again as we were held at Rio siding for a double meet with a westbound SP UPS train and then a Utah Railway coal drag.  Underway, the night time view from the dome was great and the conversation hushed as we watched our long train winding around the curves, the headlight bouncing off the hills and the block signals coming into view. 

As planned, the train was spotted overnight at Grand Junction, Co. in order to have daylight for the "main event' of the trip - a ride through Tennessee Pass and Royal Gorge. Departure came at 6:10AM Wednesday as we headed for Minturn, where two SP SD-40 helpers were put on the point for a total of five engines to assault the steep twisting 3% grade up to the 10,240' summit of Tennessee Pass where the helpers were removed. Then it was all downhill through the high Colorado countryside of snow-capped mountains and along the Arkansas river as we finally entered the steep-walled canyons of the Royal Gorge. No passenger train had traversed this line since the late 1960's! Amtrak graciously slowed down to 15mph so we could take in the marvelous scenery. We passed under the famous suspension bridge 1,053' above at the top of the Gorge at 3:30PM. The Gorge is narrow and twisting with only enough room for the single track running alongside the river. Up in the dome necks were craning and you could hear the shutters of multiple cameras clicking continuously! 

After exiting the Gorge the line continues past Canon City and on to Pueblo where the train was serviced prior to our run to La Junta, Co. We left Pueblo at sunset on the freight only trackage of AT&SF and it was some of the roughest riding roadbed I have encountered.

The yardmaster at La Junta held us out of the depot (Santa Fe mainline) for an hour while eastbound Amtrak #4 and a Barstow bound freight went by. Five cars and one F-40 returning to Los Angeles were set out on the house track by the depot overnight. The rest of the train (including the sleepers) continued east to Chicago. Most of us over-nighted in local motels near the depot.

Thursday morning dawned clear and cool. We were all waiting for Amtrak #3, the westbound Southwest Chief to arrive and our five car setout to be placed on the rear for our return journey to Los Angeles Union Station. With no yard switcher on duty the Amtrak road crew had to make the move themselves. After cutting off their engines they backed in the house track and picked up the F-40 unit and doubled back onto the train. Then they pulled forward and backed the entire 12 car Southwest Chief onto our five car setout. If anyone was still asleep on the Chief that morning they surely woke up with a jolt when they made a jarring hitch to our cars. Glad I wasn’t sipping coffee in the diner! 

We departed La Junta 43 minutes late with our cars on the rear of the Southwest Chief. Our motive power was quite a sight. A GE P32 500 series lead the parade, with a brand new 800 series AMD unit in the middle and the F-40 as the trailing unit. Three generations of Amtrak engines together on one train! The three units were necessary to get the 17 car train over Raton Pass. This portion of the Santa Fe is one of the few remaining main lines that still use semaphore signals.

At Albuquerque I had previously made arrangements for an econ bedroom on the Amtrak portion of the train for the remainder of the trip. Despite all the negative things said about Amtrak my experience was quite enjoyable. A good steak dinner in the diner while passing Gallup, N.M. and a good night's sleep as we crossed Arizona. Friday morning we arrived at LAUPT via the Pasadena sub. After a short layover at the majestic Union Station I was on the Desert Wind heading home for Las Vegas.

Five days and 2,705 miles over some of the most scenic rare mileage anywhere. Truly the trip of a lifetime, one that won't be forgotten!

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