These are a few excerpts from "Trans-Continental Train Trip", my story about riding in a sleeper car from California to Maine.
The full story is available on as an ebook and a paperback.

Going By Rail

Every year, as part of my vacation, I usually traveled from wherever I lived back to where I grew up in Maine. Because of the distance and the time it takes, I had been going by air. This time, in July 2002, I went by train.

I rode AMTRAK's California Zephyr from Emeryville, California to Chicago. Then I boarded the Lake Shore Limited to get to Boston. From Boston, I rode the newly restored rail service to Portland, Maine, aboard the Downeaster.

Boarding the Train

Emeryville is a small city on the east side of San Francisco Bay, jammed between Oakland and Berkeley. There's an AMTRAK station in Oakland (where the California Zephyr starts), but Emeryville was closer to where I lived in Berkeley.

San Francisco doesn't have a station for long-distance trains. People coming to and from San Francisco by train connect via bus in Emeryville.

I got to the Emeryville AMTRAK station by local public transit -- two buses from my apartment to the station. I got there well before the train was due.

The Coast Starlighter passed through, heading south for Los Angeles and San Diego. I got a look at sleeping cars, like those I soon would ride. A Capitol train came through, heading for Sacramento.

Then I heard the thrilling announcement: "In 6 minutes the California Zephyr will arrive, with service to -- Martinez, Davis, Sacramento, Roseville, Colfax, Reno, Winnemucca, Salt Lake City ... ." The names rolled on, ... Denver, Omaha, Ottumwa, Galesburg and finally Chicago.

The Zephyr rolled majestically into the Emeryville station, with three huge engines rumbling up front, ready to pull us over the mountains.

The sleeper cars came first, then the dining and observation cars, followed by the coaches. At the end of the train were a few shabby-looking freight cars. Later, I was told they carried "express freight" and mail.

The long train filled the station and beyond. We passengers gathered up our luggage and started walking along the track to where we could board the train. I kept walking past the coach cars, and was directed to my sleeper. "You're in 6023 room C, sir. That's the next car."

First Night on the Train

Continuous welded rails have replaced the old jointed rails pretty much everywhere, so in July 2002 I didn't hear the "clickety-clack" as the train rolled on. There were plenty of other rhythmic noises. Something in the wheel assembly in the front of the car made regular clunks, and there was a squeak in the wall of my room. The train noise level was just right to drown out conversations from within the other rooms. I felt very private, even with my room door partly open.

At 7:50 p.m., we stopped in Winnemucca, elevation 4300 feet. Then we sped off into the desert, getting up to 80 mph at times.

The porter told me I could have the bed made up whenever I was ready. I kept reading for a while longer, then the next time he came by, I let him do his job.

I watched with interest, staying out of his way. The couch folded out, like a "hide-a-bed." Above the couch, an upper berth was folded against the front wall of the compartment. The porter retrieved a thin mattress and sheet kit from the upper berth, and then folded the upper berth back, because I wasn't using it. He then flopped the kit onto the expanded couch, turned down the top sheet, and bid me a good night. The bed filled most of the room. I clambered over it to close the room door and brush my teeth at the sink. I then got my clothes off for bed. I didn't draw the shades on the window, because we were rolling through empty dark desert at 80 mph. I crawled between the sheets, put my head on the pillow, and relaxed.

Read "Trans-Continental Train Trip" as an ebook on

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