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Train Travels with Myself
Part Two

In the summer of 1976 or 77, I bought an Amtrak Railpass. It cost about $200 and enabled me to go any place Amtrak went, with a few exceptions. I wanted to get away on a solo jaunt, coach class, and visit my buddy in Philadelphia, as one of the stops. Trained from Seattle down to Los Angeles, then switched over to the Union Pacific, actually Amtrak. By then, I believe Amtrak had taken over all passenger rail service in the country.

On a previous train trip two decades earlier, an experienced rail traveler advised me that upon meeting my porter, I should tip him big. The porter’s name here was Gilliard, a large youngish Black man who wore a huge smile. I slipped him twenty-five bucks and he smiled even more broadly, wishing me a pleasant journey.

Having never been in the Southwest before, I was taken by the scenery. Gilliard came by my seat frequently asking if there was anything I needed. The primary request was to go to the platform at the rear of the train that I think was open only to Pullman passengers. He arranged it. I had a still and movie camera with me, and by turning the movie cam upside down and shooting the receding tracks, by reversing the film in editing, it looked like I was in front with the scenery approaching.

We were going over Raton Pass between New Mexico and Colorado. Gilliard came to my seat and had an offer for me: he waved a ten-dollar bill in front of me and said, “Here’s what you do. We have a short stop at the depot and as soon as we stop, you dash real fast into the pizza place, wave the money and shout that you have ten bucks for anybody’s pizza. Someone always will take you up on it.” Skeptically, I asked if he had done this. “Oh yes,” he said, but I can’t today because this is a shorter stop. The train is a few minutes behind.” I asked him if he would hold up the train for me if I was late getting back, and he said he could not do that, but if I ran real fast I could get back in time for us both to have some pizza. Well, I demurred fortunately because it was a very short stop. Once again under way, pizza-less, I asked him how HE was able to accomplish the act. His answer is still memorable: “That’s because we are more fleet afoot than you White people!”

Somewhere in Western Colorado, the train was boarded by a large group of raucous and rowdy college-age people. The Coor’s brewery is in Colorado, and if you remember “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, along with reality, Coor’s was America’s favorite beer. The group that had gotten on the train was a bunch from University of Oklahoma on vacation, and soon they and I got acquainted, moved to the lounge car and proceeded to drink a lot of beer, sing and visit.

As evening descended, we were close to the Kansas-Colorado border. The lounge steward came to us and announced it was last call for alcohol. Why? Kansas was a “dry” state. Still is. No alcohol. As a matter of record, as of April 2013, it had still not ratified the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution ending prohibition in 1933.

Anyhow, we asked the steward to bring us every can or bottle of Coors he had in stock. This amounted to about two cases. We took up a collection and paid for it. We could drink on the train but the railroad could not sell any while on Kansas’s soil. My companions left the train at some point, I don’t know where as I was, er-uh, asleep.

In Chicago, I departed the train, gave Gilliard another twenty, and we even had a brief correspondence for a few months afterward. Wonderful guy. (I tried to track him down years later but he had retired.) Anyhow, I took the Pennsy to Philadelphia, met my buddy and accompanied him to New York where he worked. Amtrak had just introduced a high-speed train along the East Coast and it was the roughest riding train I have ever been on.

The train was fast—too fast for the ancient roadbed.

The rest of the trip was devoid of anything noteworthy, just a comfortable ride back to Seattle on the Great Northern, née Amtrak. It was not even a hint of the Empire Builder I had ridden in 1953.

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