Monday, March 30, 2009

We might … just maybe … get the Pioneer back!

Amtrak’s train # 25, the westbound Pioneer, left Chicago as part of the California Zephyr consist, splitting off at Denver and heading up into Wyoming and Utah. From Ogden, the Pioneer continued toward the northwest, ultimately ending up in Seattle. The eastbound Pioneer, train # 26, reversed that whole scenario, departing from Seattle and joining the Zephyr in Denver for the overnight run to Chicago. As a cost-cutting move, the train was discontinued in 1997.

May 10,1997 - The Pioneer is prepped in Seattle before its final eastbound run to Chicago. (Warren Yee Photo)

My wife and I rode the Pioneer from Chicago in 1996. We got off in Cheyenne, rented a car and spent a week just driving around Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, visiting historical sites. We ended up back in Cheyenne and resumed our journey on the Pioneer, west to Laramie and from there through the Wasatch Mountains.

Does the name Medicine Bow ring a bell? Well, the town was the setting for a novel called The Virginian, first published in the early 1900s. In a famous scene from the book, the main character is playing poker in a hotel bar when one of the men at the table calls him an S.O.B. Our hero looks across the table and says, very quietly, “When you call me that, smile!” The book is fiction, but Medicine Bow is real enough and so is the hotel, which you hotel which you could see as the Pioneer rattled through town.

From there, the Pioneer went across Utah, up through Idaho and into Oregon, following the magnificent Columbia River to Portland and on up to Seattle.

And here's the possibly-good news: One of the provisions in the $1.3 billion stimulus package calls for a study to determine the feasibility of restoring this wonderful train.
Let us hope, because it was a glorious ride!