Trip Report – From On Board the Empire Builder

The Chicago-to-Seattle segment of the trip did not start out well. Because of flooding somewhere in Wisconsin, we were treated by Amtrak to an 8½-hour bus ride from Chicago to Minneapolis. And I hate buses!

However – and amazingly – the time passed almost enjoyably, thanks to an excellent paperback book (The Innocent Man by John Grisham) and conversation with my seatmate, a recent college graduate traveling around the country checking out medical schools.

We reached Minneapolis about 8:30 in the evening. The Empire Builder was there waiting for us and by 9:30 all passengers had boarded … “all passengers” meaning five bus loads. The train was packed.

Once again I am reminded of the infamous and outrageous statement made a few years ago by George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta: “Amtrak operates trains no one rides to places no one wants to go.”

Well, ol’ Norm should be aboard the Empire Builder today! Four coaches and four sleepers are included in the consist, with almost 400 passengers on board and only a few empty seats which will be filled as people get on and off along our route. (Additional equipment includes a dining car, a lounge car, a “transition sleeper” used for overflow passengers and some crew, a baggage car, and twin locomotives.)

When I woke up this morning (Thursday), we were passing through vast open spaces in North Dakota. Everything is quite green because this entire region has had unusual amounts of rain so far this year.

There were lots of grazing cattle and plenty of wildlife: ducks and geese paddling on ponds and lakes, and even in ditches filled with rainwater near the tracks; antelope interrupting their grazing to stare as we rumble by; and multitudes of other birds — red-winged blackbirds, starlings and occasional brown hawks soaring overhead.

My car attendant, Amanda, has just handed me a copy of the Minot Daily News. The big story in today’s paper: inches and inches about the 38th Annual Threshing Show. The large color photo dominating the front page is of a farmer standing proudly by his bright red tractor. Fascinating, but I will end this post and search their Sports Section for the box score of yesterday’s Red Sox game.

This will be posted as soon as we stop somewhere my wireless connection works. And more to come after that.

(Note: The above was written Wednesday and posted Friday from Seattle … such is the state of wireless connections across the upper tier of the country.)

Tomorrow morning I will board the Coast Starlight for the ride from Seattle to Los Angeles. As far as I know, no bus rides will be involved!