Friday, August 2, 2002

We awoke at 6:30 a.m., took showers, ate breakfast and took a final tour of Pat Durand's shop.  Our stay was fabulous.  The Durand's are such great hosts.  We were on the road by 7:50 a.m. and made a stop at the post office so Randy could drop off the remainder of his mailers.

Although we did not have an appointment, we stopped by the Alaska Railroad headquarters building and asked to see Vice President Jim Blasingame.  The receptionist contacted his secretary who said she would try to locate him.  While we were waiting, Randy pointed out the sign that said,  "Today: The most important meeting of the summer."  So I was shocked when Jim left this meeting and walked out into the lobby to meet us.  We spent ten meeting catching up on the latest Alaska Railroad buzz.  The most significant thing we learned is the rock group The Goo Goo Dolls had filmed music videos on the train.

Aurora in the yardFinally, the magical moment had arrived!  We entered the car shop at 10:30 a.m. just as they were bringing the passenger cars in.  Our cameras whirred like mad as the Aurora entered the yard and headed to the car shop.  We got on the Aurora as they were still washing all the passenger cars down.  Randy and I hoped off and recorded the lineup: GP40 3010, GP40 3015 (my baby!), baggage 110, coach 210, Aurora 2000, dining cars 451 and 452 and coaches 200, 203 and 201.

We waited for departure in what seemed like an eternity.  Killing time, I worked on my laptop, sorting photos and writing in my journal.  We later found out that we were the cause for the delay.  Since passengers were now on board (Randy and I), a FRED had to be put on the back of the train.  Once they found the FRED, they couldn't find anything to attach it with.  Later on the trip, we saw the FRED on the back of the train attached crudely (but effectively) with some metal wire. Bob Stout, the Chief Mechanic for the railroad, was walking through the train for a final inspection and stopped for a while to chat with us.

For beginners only: FRED is an acronym for Flashing Rear End Device.  It is basically a blinking red light on the last car of the train used as an end of train sensor.  Trains use FREDs as replacements for cabooses.  It monitors important information about the train and relays it to the engineer.

At 12:13 p.m. we finally emerged into the daylight and the enormous windows started strutting their stuff.  These windows begin at waist height and continue well overhead, using only a thin frame between each other so the passenger has an awesome 360 degree view.  Once we hit the scenic mountain/inlet sections of the trip, I became overwhelmed and enchanted with the majesty of the views.  It is virtually impossible to describe this experience.  Thank you Alaska Railroad!  [Note: My video of an interior view of the Aurora can be found on my videos page - #02]

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Looking from one end Looking from the other end Beautiful scenery and a comfy chair
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Beautiful glass etching This was my seat for most of the journey A lousy view of the observation platform

There were four crew members on board, the engineer, fireman, brakeman and conductor, but we rarely saw any of them.  I spent the first half hour taking photographs of the interior of the car.  The Aurora has 32 chairs (orange straight back, pin striped swivels, mauve soft chairs and two love seat/couches), ten tables with silk flowers, a cut glass mural, bathroom, kitchen and a nice rear observation deck.  As we arrived at the scenic Turnagain Arm section, I joined Randy at the rear of the train to photograph it as it coasted through beautiful scenic curves.   (Note to self: move to Alaska immediately!).  We loved traveling through the old tunnel district and its majestic mountains.  At one point we encountered a north bound train pulling empty hoppers.  We took the siding and let the big boy pass.  Everywhere we looked we saw beautiful mountains, glaciers, and milky streams.  [Note: My video of a scenic stretch along this route can be found on my videos page - #03]

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Heading for the mountains In the old Loop District Arriving in Seward

The ride ended much too soon.  Rolling into Seward at 5:16 p.m., the engineer stopped the train at the car shops.  We grabbed our gear and high tailed it to the depot to catch the 6:00 p.m. north bound Coastal Classic.  After lugging the heavy camera equipment for a half mile, Randy and I decided it might be best to get a Sherpa for our next trip.  Along the way, we stopped at Burger King and picked up hamburgers.  Yes, the food Nazi was there taking our orders!

We grabbed our food and beat a trail directly to the train depot.  Our conductor, Gene Owens, found us a seat in the back of the last coach at 5:50 p.m.  Whew!  Ten minutes to spare.  Randy got some shut-eye while I worked on sorting my digital photos.  We pulled into the depot at 10:30 p.m. sharp.  Since I am "left brained", I had to take pictures of the entire train before heading for the condo.  The lineup was GP40 3009, baggage 111, Kenai Fjords Tours 502, diner 301, coach 209, dome 522 and coaches 204 and 202.

We arrived at the condo at 11:00 p.m. and found Don had already turned in for the night.  Randy went straight to bed while I spent half an hour doing miscellaneous things.  What a fantastic day!

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