The California Zephyr
From Chicago Union
Across the USA
They rode the streamlined Zephyr
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