Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Empire Builder - day 2

After a good night's sleep on the lower bunk, I got up as the sun was rising. After getting dressed, I left Marianne still lounging in the top bunk and got some coffee that is available in the middle of the sleeping car.

I had a good long conversation with the Sleeping Car Attendant, David. He was very friendly and quite happy to talk about life on the rails. He had been doing the job for five years and still enjoyed it. However, the pay is not wonderful and Amtrak management is trying to get the attendants to agree to a 20% wage cut. On the trip from Chicago to Seattle he uses cabin 1 but only gets about 5 hours sleep total. 

A Superliner sleeping car like ours has 16 separate compartments so if there are two passengers per compartment, there are thirty people to look after. In addition he has to keep three toilets and a shower clean as well as the facilities in the bedrooms. Beds need to be made up at night and dismantled in the morning. The sleeping car needs to be kept clean. Coffee needs to be prepared before the crack of dawn. He helps putting your luggage on the train and taking it off and makes sure that you are ready to get off if you not not going all the way to Seattle. There are probably a host of jobs that need to be done that I don't know about.

David is married and he used to be a CNC machine operator. I hope he remains on the trains because he is really good at the job and it was a pleasure to have the long talk.

For most of the day it was quite gloomy and overcast outside but at least there was less glare from the sun on our windows.

Minot is pronounced My Knott. It's the fourth largest city in North Dakota with just 41,000 people.

Fortunately it was not raining. These longer stops are the only way for cigarette smokers to satisfy their craving because smoking is not allowed on the train. The two Amtrak employees in the foreground work in the dining car and David is walking towards us in the background.

The little yellow stool helps you get in and out of the sleeping car.

Inside the station at Minot.

I used the opportunity to walk down to the back of the train. The train splits into two at Spokane. The front half goes to Seattle and the rear part goes to Portland, Oregon. The last carriage is a sleeping car.

Looking back to the east.

Soon we were out in the rolling hills of North Dakota.

It is really pretty out here but it has to be brutally cold in Winter. We thought it might be an idea to repeat the trip when there is snow, but there is only about eight hours of daylight.

The usual rolled hay bales.

Every now and then a small town appears. 

Oil wells.

More about Ray here.

Towards the right of the photo is the yellow flame from the burning gases from the oil well.

That is quite a collection of silos.

Marianne needs to keep the devil at bay so she knits gloves. She also eats my fruitcake. I cooked a new one shortly after returning from England and we are taking some of it to our friend in Seattle who likes it.

We arrived in Williston which oddly enough has the highest apartment rents in the US because of the oil boom in the area. It's worth reading the Wikipedia article which mentions more about the amount of oil in the area.

The Missouri River. It's the longest river in the US at 2341 miles.

Oil wagons.

I think this is Fort Union Trading Post. It's close to the border of North Dakota and Montana.

Montana is supposed to have 'big skies' but they were still covered with clouds. I have never quite understood the concept because wherever the land is flat then the amount of sky is still the same except perhaps at the poles where the earth curves less.

Missouri River again.

The train rolls past the small towns without stopping. Most of them appear to be very utilitarian places to live. Perhaps there are more attractions than I think but somehow I doubt it, particularly in winter.

Everybody has to come from somewhere and Steve Reeves came from Glascow. I wonder if he went back very often.

Somewhere near Harlem we met the Empire Builder going in the different direction to Chicago. By the way if you click on this web site, you can see the location of every Amtrak train, its speed and whether it is on time or late. Our train was number 7 and the one in the photo is number 8.

The train stopped for a while at Havre so we had the opportunity to look at this magnificent steam engine. The driving wheels are close to eight feet in diameter.

Many passengers got off to get some exercise. It was reasonably cool so I wore a jacket.

If you read the Wikipedia article, here is a link to more information about the hundred year old underground mall built by the Chinese.

This little red buildings looked quite strange out in the middle of nowhere.

The next stop was Shelby.

Not too much to see.

We got our first view of the Glacier National Park mountains.

About this time, we went for dinner in the dining car and I got a seat by the window so I could continue taking photos. By the way I had the steak and shrimp meal again and it was much better than the version on the Capitol Limited.

A fence to stop snow blowing onto the rails.

More about East Glacier here. There was not time to get off. Last year when we drove across the US our initial plan was to drive up here and go though Glacier National Park but the road across the mountains was blocked by snow so we traveled further south to Missoula.

The first snow of the season had arrived the previous night. There had been extensive fires in the area so there was still some smoke in the air.

Avalanche protection.

We met quite a few passengers in the dining car who were going to Whitefish which is a popular tourist destination.

It was cold out there so I didn't linger and scurried back into the carriage.

During the afternoon I went up to the Observation Lounge to listen to commentary from a couple of people from the Trails and Rails Program who describe what you can see outside. Unfortunately I arrived just before they started and had to sit right beside one of their portable loudspeakers. It was so loud that I started to get tinnitus in my ear so I left and returned to the peace and quiet of my roomette.

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