H. B. Plant High School Class of 1954

Panther Tracks Archive - March, 2010

This edition of Panther Tracks documents Billy Clarke's two trips on the California Zephyr - one in 1966 and the other in fall of 2009.

We think you will find Billy's train ride down memory lane interesting, and we look forward to Billy sending us some pictures of the spectacular scenery he saw.

Please feel free to share your experiences and memories with your classmates!

Below are some Highlights of trips, CLICK HERE for the entire story!

Part I, July 16 & 17, 1966

This is my 1966 railroad trip on the California Zephyr. The Zephyr runs between San Francisco and Chicago. The passenger cars were owned by three individual railroads spread across the United States. It was inaugurated on March 19, 1949 with four sleeping cars and five Vista Dome cars. The three railroads were The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (Burlington Route), the Denver and Rio Grande Western (Rio Grande), and the Western Pacific—through some complicated arrangement of locomotives, right-of-way, coach cars, Pullman cars, dining car, china, and so on. My trip was part of a three-week temporary duty (TDY) assignment to ferry a C-47 twin-engine World War II era transport from Sacramento, California, to Saigon, South Vietnam....

From the tiny town of Suisun near San Francisco to Salt Lake City, the California Zephyr was an overnight trip, and military TRs call for a bedroom. Thus I had my own railroad compartment with a sink, toilet, shower, and bed. To me this was real living—riding on a famous train through God’s scenic wonders with sleeping accommodations and meals included. During daylight during the most scenic portion of the trip through the Sierrra-Nevada Mountains, I kept my eyes glued to the window. (Actually if you ever see a window with two eyes glued to it, it’s a pretty funny sight.) Overnight I was zonked out and soothed by the clickty-clack of the rails and wheels. I enjoyed the whole train—the Vista-Dome cars, my first class meals in the dining car, the Pullman cars, and the observation car at the tail end. Being a rail fan, I naturally wanted to-and did-experience all the pleasures of passenger train travel that I possibly could....

California Zephyr Part II, October 19-21, 2009

Let me spend a couple of sentences on the history of the California Zephyr in between my two trips (see Part I). In the 1960s two unstoppable forces were attacking passenger rail—the comfort and reliability of air-conditioned passenger automobiles and the proliferation of jet passenger airliners. By the late 1960s, luxury, long-distance rail was all but over. Railroads were desperate to terminate their expensive and now-unprofitable passenger trains. The California Zephyr lasted barely 20 years-1949-70; then it was all over. With the creation of government owned and run Amtrak, cross-country passenger rail was restored in 1971 with much hoopla but also with much suspicion and disappointment...

Our early arrival was a real blessing. We drove to Merced and checked into our AAA Hampton Inn. This was really nice. On Wednesday we drove around town seeing things slightly familiar from 50 years ago. We then drove to Atwater, found our first duplex at 208 Mitchell Drive (base housing), found the first house we ever bought (138 Fortuna), and went to the Castle Air Museum. This is a wonderful museum with a wide range of WWII planes, jet bombers (e.g., B-45, B-47, and B-52), century series fighters, and last but not least, an SR-71. From here we drove to Mariposa and into the south entrance to Yosemite National Park. We stayed two nights in the historic Wawona Hotel, visited the giant sequoias, and spent lots of time in Yosemite Village, Yosemite Valley (probably the most beautiful scenery in the world-not exaggerating), the Wawona Tunnel, and lots of other things. But this is a California Zephyr report, so this is enough on Yosemite. We turned our car in at the San Francisco Airport and flew to Tampa. Now we rest on our memories and photographs....

Now that you've read some of the highlights, why not read the entire story?! CLICK HERE



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