Planes, Trains & Automobiles...

Spencer Henderson November 10, 2023


You Foamer!

When your father has a birthday and is celebrating a successful battle with cancer it is a good time to go enjoy some things he loves!  I grew up a bit of a train foamer because of my dad.  What's a 'foamer'? Railroad workers out in the system, like engineers, conductors, brakemen, and the maintenance individuals that keep america's rail system working, often call the train buffs ‘foamers’ because they are often hanging out at different spots foaming at the mouth each time a train rolls by.


The Coast Starlight

We booked a trip on two trains!  First we boarded Amtrak’s Coast Starlight in Portland and went to Sacramento.  Now, just in case you are a bit of a train nerd, this consist had one of the new Charger locomotives on point with a Genesis backing it up, along with two Sleepers, a dining car for the meals, a  Sightseer Lounge car, and two coach cars, in addition to a baggage car.  I’m not sure how much the Charger had to do with it but we were flying….we were several minutes ahead of schedule the whole trip!  The trip was beautiful, first running down the Willamette Valley and all the farmland there and then across the Cascades south and east of Eugene towards Klamath Falls.  One minus of the southbound trip is the train hits the mountains south of Klamath Falls at night, which is a little unfortunate since there would be views of Mt. Shasta and the Trinity Mountains.  When the sun peeked over the horizon again for us we were in the Sacramento Valley and streaking toward our first destination for a dawn arrival. 


California State Railroad Museum  - 

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and headed to the California State Railroad Museum after breakfast!  If you enjoy trains and history this really is a gem.  They have some rare finds, such as the Cab Forward Southern Pacific 4294.  One fun fact about this machine was this exact example was the last steam engine purchased by Southern Pacific.  The guides at the museum informed us that the only bigger steam engine is the Big Boy locomotive, which you can see one in action if you wanted to, and trust me…IT IS IMPRESSIVE!  Check out

A couple other notables are several early era locomotives, and a F unit in Santa Fe Colors.  It’s absolutely gorgeous!  They also have a pretty extensive model train exhibit there, along with a great collection of rolling stock (railcars for the non foamers) to check out.  


The California Zephyr 

The next morning we were back at the station in Sacramento for the second leg of our trip on the California Zephyr!  The Zephyr was once one of the most, if not the most prestigious trains in the country in its day, but that’s a whole different story!  For this leg we would be traveling to Denver.  It was a similar consist as the previous but this time with two Genesis engines on point. The train heads into the hills west of Sacramento on its way up into the Sierras towards Reno NV.  The train goes through Emigrant Gap and Donner Pass on its way.  Past Reno we paralleled the Truckee River, then through the stunning Forty Mile Desert which was really a beautiful surprise approaching sunset. Overnight we passed the Ruby Mountains and Tonano Ranges before passing through the Bonneville Salt Flats and Salt Lake.

The next day is hard to describe the amount of beauty that was outside the window.  6 canyons, and the weather was beautiful.  Mother Nature was putting on quite the show.  You simply have to do it to understand this trip!  

After crossing the Wasatch Range and Soldier Summit we cruised along the Book Cliffs in Utah.  Then once in Colorado we went through one of our favorites, Ruby Canyon.  The red rocks and twisting river were just incredible!  After heading through Grand Junction we headed towards Glenwood Springs and immediately after the station stop, into beautiful Glenwood Canyon.  

Fun train foamer fact: they used to schedule the Zephyr Eastbound and Westbound trains to meet in the middle of Glenwood Canyon just for the spectacle of it!  

Then quickly it was into Gore Canyon and from there it was a climb up to Winter Park.  The next wonder was man made:  Moffat Tunnel!  Historically the Moffat Tunnel is pretty significant and was the centerpiece of the Rio Grand Railroads motto of ‘Through the Rockies, Not Around them”…literally!   It took 48 months to bore the tunnel at a daily rate of 21 feet per day until the first train went through in February of 1928.  At the time it was the longest tunnel in the western hemisphere at 6.2 miles.  It was also dug as a water tunnel, providing Denver with a significant percentage of its water source, still true to this day.  The tunnel cut 173 tumultuous miles off the rail trip between Denver and Salt Lake.  From there It was almost time to disembark in Denver, but not before descending down the front range and the Big Ten curves.  It was a trip we would highly recommend for some spectacular scenery and some special time with loved ones.

When in Denver don't miss the Denver Biscuit Company:

My dad loves buttermilk and the Denver Biscuit Company serves it with a big smile!

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