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The California Zephyr


From Chicago Union

Across the USA

They rode the streamlined Zephyr

To Californ-i-a!


Left the halls of Twenties grandeur

Red-capped porters at their best

Moving luggage, guiding footsteps

Of the travellers heading West.


Settled in their private cabin

In their sleek and silver train

They swapped the towers of city commerce

For the homesteads of the plain.


Halting cars at level crossings

Flushing flocks from new ploughed earth

They arrowed onward, ever onward

Stretched out in their deluxe berth.


On the prairie, barns and houses

Dwarfed beneath a giant sky

Lonely diners, stores and townships

Like oases flashing by.


From Illinois to Iowa

The place names and the miles unrolled

Then they crossed the Mississipi

Where it parts the Cereal Bowl.


They hurtled t’wards a molten sunset

Hanging on the siren’s tail

‘Til the night brought forth the dining

Served upon the shining rail.


Where seats were once, their beds appeared

One up, another down

The motion rocked them both asleep

To join each slumb’ring town.


Through the dark to Omaha

Then across Nebraska’s line

They gained a state and lost an hour

And watches changed to Mountain Time.


They woke to scenes of cattle trails

Pockmarked with melting snow

As from behind, the wide grassland

Turned pink with dawn’s rose glow.


Breakfast set among such vistas

Had an extra special taste

Every mouthful, every sceneshift

Seemed at once too good to waste.


Then across the far horizon

Stretched the Rocky Mountains high

Snow-capped peaks of icy splendour

Reaching up to meet the sky.


Apeing them - Skyscraping Denver

Mile High City of the plain

Little of its cowboy history

Shown in multi-highway lane.


Next the climb to reach the mountains

Snaking slowly, surely higher

Running through the many tunnels

Blasted out with smoke and fire.


Far below the raging torrents

Cutting through the chasms deep

Frozen lakes like frosted jewels

Encased in rock to waters keep.


On ridges high the lonely lodges

Surrounded by the ramrod trees

Owned by those who seek the pleasure

Of the piste and swishing skis.


They waited in a snow-bound siding

For a freight train heading back

Through the six-mile Moffatt tunnel

‘Fore they entered in the black.


After minutes in the darkness

They burst out dazzled by the light

Where skiers made a splash of colour

‘Gainst the slopes of shining white.


Down the lovely Fraser Canyon

Pools of water in the snow

Chasing past the wires of shadows

Going with the sunshine flow.


Hoofprints on the snowy banks

Showed the paths of gentle deer

In their sanctuary of wildness

Roaming far and free from fear.


From the blue-topped bowl of Granby

Gateway to the National Park

Out to join the Colorado

Flowing through a landscape stark.


‘Cross the tundra into canyons

White water crashing round huge blocks

River beaches filled with driftwood

Strewn across the tumbled rocks.


Slowly wound the river’s wandering

Slowly wound the track on high

Unhurried was the locomotion

Sublime the scene that passed them by.


Four engines pulled the mighty Zephyr

Glimpsed on corners up ahead

As it contoured round the Rockies

Above the snaking river bed.


Geese and anglers, rafts and rapids

Shared the Colorado green

Overseen by wooded hillsides

Where Indian braves could once be seen.


Arid grew the land alongside

Angled cliffs towered overhead

Buzzards soared above the landscape

Picked out here in gold and red.


Down the gorge to Glenwood hot springs

Fractured walls on either side

Here Doc Holliday lay buried

Here Fork River joined the tide.


They rode through famous cowboy country

Of which the daring tales were told

And outside their picture window

The once Wild West slowly unfurled.


A perpetual panaroma

Was presented to their view

Cocooned and snug in air-con comfort

While past their eyes the country flew.


Now the monumental strata

Boldly carved by wind and rain

Still revered in Indian folklore

The awesome mesas of the plain. 

Heading for another sunset

Heading for another night

The ramparts of the Colorado

Bathed in shafts of golden light.


Last to be illuminated

Last to give way to the dark

The snowtopp’d mountains as a backdrop

To the sweeping National Park. 


As they slept the rushing Zephyr

Powered on towards the dawn

Utah reached and then discarded

Nevada’s where they’d meet the morn.


Once again the clocks went back

Another state line reached and crossed

From Mountain to Pacific time

Another sixty minutes lost.


Zephyr air horns blasted warnings

Signalled by a piercing light

There to stop a chance encounter

With the creatures of the night.


They ate the miles with mighty ease

Pushing further to the coast

As breakfast came with bacon, eggs

Fresh fruit and crisp French toast.


The double decker Zephyr

Rushed on and on full tilt

As coffee poured in dining car

And not a drop was spilt.


The horizon now was bounded

By a world of scrub and sand

On the way to Winniemucca

Forging through the sage brush land.


‘Cross a bowl of dusty flatness

Circled round by mountains grey

The balls of tumbleweed collected

Against the fence along the way.


At a linen-covered table

Talk with bearded Amish men

For one the first ride on the railroad

And he would sure be back again. 

Tales of horse-drawn agriculture

Quilts and buggy trips to town 

Working hard with little leisure

Farming skills still handed down.


They looked out now at dust clouds swirling

Round the observation car

‘Cross the salt flat desolation

Stretching westwards wide and far.


Leaning poles for telegraphs

Sentinels for mile on mile

Stretching now to gambling city

Divorce and roulette Reno-style.


From the neon lights and glitter

Back to river valley green

Climbing up to mountain grandeur

To a quieter, calmer scene.


‘Cross the state line in the forest

On the last lap through the pines

Past the timber homes of Truckee

Sensing ocean down the lines.


Then falling snow belied the sunshine

Enjoyed below upon the plain

As if Amtrak made the weather

For its special, magic train.


Through a winter wonderland

Of white-encrusted evergreens

The Zephyr ploughed on unaffected

By the snowy Christmas scenes.


Then they left the high Sierra

Dropping down past deep ravine

Silently they entered gold lands

Where the spoil could still be seen.


Heading now for Sacramento

Wilderness exchanged for towers

On the way the desert drabness

Swapped for brilliant green and flowers.


Now the home run to the West Coast

Memories of sounds and sights

How they spanned this mighty nation

In just two full days and nights.

Racing out across the wetlands

T’wards naval Portland on the bay

Lights reflected in the ocean

As the dusk wound down the day.


Close now San Francisco beckoned

Its rich history to relate

Famed steep streets and Alcatraz

Framed by famous Golden Gate.


They finished up at Emeryville

They’d crossed the USA

From out the Windy City

To Californ-i-a!



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