Even back then, before Amtrak, American trains were lousy.
How on earth can it take 13.5 hours to get from Oroville, CA, to Salt Lake City?
I checked the route map, and it appears that the WP route went up the Feather River canyon, and then back south to Reno once it crossed the Sierra Nevada, so it’s a little longer than if they had gone straight across the Donner Pass, where I-80 is now. Still, it’s about 750 miles–so they’re averaging a scorching 55 miles per hour.
The other thing about this special: these were overnight trips, and these are coach, not sleeper tickets. I bet those folks on the train felt great when then got to conference Friday morning!
Finally, I wonder what air fare would have been. This was 1964–and most domestic air service would have been by jet airplanes. Why go by
Trains are leisurely, as you point out, allowing time and space for neighborly visiting, wandering in the aisles, and testimonials. You aren’t going to get that in coach on any airline, between the noise of the jets and the visual distraction of the “your seat cushion is a flotation device” instructions.
Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 4, 2008 @ 8:58 am
My hunch is that SLC airport couldn’t accommodate jet airplanes in 1964, but I could be wrong.
Comment by Bro. Jones — December 4, 2008 @ 9:33 am
Wow, it stops in Fremont, but not in San Jose. That’s a surprise.
SED = Sunday Evening Discussion. Whatever in the world were you thinking of, Steve? /she cooed ingenuously/
Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 4, 2008 @ 11:37 am
Is an SED anything like an STD?
Bro. Jones: you’re wrong. My dad used to fly from SLC to Los Angeles quite regularly for some consulting work he was doing, and sometime in the early 60′s began flying on jets. I tried to track down an exact date, but couldn’t. (I did find a reference to a November 1965 crash of a Boeing 727, but that only proves that jets were crashing in SLC by then.)
But, even if there were no jets, there was the lovely DC-7, or the Lockheed Constellation, which provided pressurized cabins and the breathtaking speed of almost 400 mph.
I agree, Ardis. There is no better way to travel than train. (Except over water, which would soon become under water, of course.) But you can have the romance of train travel at 150 mph as well as at 50 mph. And 750 miles at 150 mph still gives plenty of time for flirting with the girls and listening to post-conference testimonials.
Sorry to derail (ha) the conversation. I don’t know what the youth think, but what Mark B said is what I hear every time they announce it over the pulpit. (But what does that have to do with anything?!)
I love trains after traveling that way for 17 months in Europe. So much nicer than going by bus. Even if it’s not at 150 mph.
I think it such a shame that former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson was not appointed as Secretary of Transportation eight years ago, because he might have actually done something about train travel in the United States.
Comment by Researcher — December 4, 2008 @ 11:55 am
I’ll see your European trains and raise them one Japanese railway.
(Yeah, I know, the TGV is faster than even the Shinkansen’s Nozomi trains. But the Japanese trains are cooler, and they speak Japanese, not French.)
That is a magnificent part of the Sierra Nevada through which to take a train. But the speed? I lived in Northern California for many years. We could drive to Salt lake in under 14 hours. And with the price of gas being much less than a $1 a gallon at the time it would have been faster and cheaper to drive any family larger than one. We did it many, many times.
But if cheap isn’t the primary goal, the train would be far nicer.
FWIW, construction of I-80 over Donner Pass completed sometime in 1964 (see http://www.interstate-guide.com/i-080.html); the California Department of Transportation has a website with an aerial photo of Donner Pass (presumably taken during construction) dated September of that year. (http://www.dot.ca.gov/interstate/). Chances are that in April of 1964, Donner Pass was clogged with construction equipment and/or limited the existing US 40, which I suspect was a narrow two-lane road like most other highways in the Sierras.
MarkB, I’ve done the Oroville-to-SLC drive (via Marysville and CA-20 to I-80) several times, and I don’t think I ever made it in under ten hours (even when I didn’t have kids). Factor in bathroom breaks and meals, and even today thirteen and a half hours doesn’t sound too far off the mark.
And I agree with Jack and Bruce C.–CA-70 through the Feather River Canyon is stunning.
I checked out the route on Google Maps and it does look spectacular. And I read somewhere this evening, Wikipedia perhaps, that the Feather River Canyon route was built to break the Central Pacific monopoly on the Donner Pass route, and has the advantage of being almost 2,000 feet lower than Donner Pass.
It appears that the Amtrak California Zephyr takes the Donner Pass route, although their map is lousy and gives no description of the route, other than to name the stations. (And there’s nothing between Sacramento and Reno.)
Here’s a blog entry about a special passenger run through Feather River Canyon, with photographs. It does look spectacular!
I should have kept looking before I posted that last one. It appears that we all could have taken the trip this past summer, courtesy of Amtrak.
Since the Amtrak train would be a whole lot cheaper than a special excursion train, maybe we should plan to descend upon Sacramento for a trip through the Feather River Canyon the next time they have major track work on the Donner Pass line. We could have our own testimonial car!
It was in the January 1964 Improvement Era, J. Paul.
And Mark, you do have romance in your soul! or at least an eye out the window on the scenery.
The Mormon History Association meeting was in Sacramento this year, and I considered taking Amtrak. It would have taken nearly 24 hours from Salt Lake, though, and was scheduled so tightly that had there been any delay (e.g., sidetracking to give freight trains the priority, the way it always happens — for hours — on the Salt Lake-to-Las Vegas run), I would have missed a chunk of the conference. Some other time …
Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 5, 2008 @ 8:12 am
I have been told that taking the Zephyr between SLC and Denver in September (when the leaves are changing) is breath-taking. I’m gonna do that someday.