2018: Annual winter retreat in Bridgetown

10 07 2018

For the past nine years, five quilting friends have gathered in Bridgetown, Western Australia for our annual 4-day winter retreat at the home of one of our group. It’s a weekend away from our normal lives, and a time for us to spend many hours sewing, talking, laughing, eating, drinking, hanging out in our PJs, great food, and roaring log fires. For the past few years since he retired, our host’s husband has been in residence too, so there’s us five, plus our ‘man slave’ (not really—he’s just one of us, though he doesn’t quilt; he plays golf and does woodwork and photography instead). But this year there were just four of us girls—one of our group just couldn’t make it. The pressure of her work meant she had to bail this time, something we’ve sort of expected for a while, as she’s super busy and burns many candles at all ends.

We stopped doing challenges a few years ago as it was getting too much of a time commitment for the two who own quilt stores; I work part-time, so it wasn’t such a stretch for me; and the other two are retired.

This year, I decided to do a stash busting exercise—making Xmas placemats for our state guild’s Community Quilts program. These will go to people in retirement villages and nursing homes, possibly hospitals. So I took all my scrap red, green, and white fabrics, matching backings, and batting scraps with me, and sewed up a storm. I ended up making 25 placemats (all 18 x 12 inches). Most were done using improv methods of joining random bits of fabric, and after making the tops, I backed, sandwiched and quilted them, then finished them off with machine-sewn binding.

Here they are in various stages of completion (click on a photo to view it larger). Below the photos of the placemats are photos of just a small section of the yarn bombing in Bridgetown’s main street for their annual Winter Festival—this year locals made tens of thousands of yarn decorations (I think it was more than 30,000!) and the yarn bombing was even judged for a Guinness World Record! One of the people who coordinated it was Ann, the owner of Sew Gentle Era, the local quilt and yarn store.

Yarn bombing:


May storms

27 06 2018

I’ve been a bit lax writing new blog posts and putting up recent photos.

A month ago (around 25 May) we had a big storm front come through, finally heralding winter after a very long mild autumn. The black swans that normally float serenely on the very calm estuary were tossed around on the wind-driven waves, and I saw a bunch of them huddled on the shore on my drive home from town. The writhing black mass of them reminded me of tadpoles in a small puddle struggling to survive.

There was a high tide combined with the strong winds, too, so water inundated places where it doesn’t normally go.


A few days later, after it had all calmed down, the swans were back doing what they do. This group were bunched around a stormwater channel that spills into the estuary from the paddocks on the other side of the road. Obviously, they found something good to eat there, but they swam away quickly when they heard me get of the car to take their picture.

When naturalisation means nothing

4 06 2018

I’ve been researching various parts of my family tree on and off since the mid-1990s. Most of it has been inconsequential — no famous lives, no famous connections, no connections to Australian convicts, no scandals that I can find. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Like every non-Aboriginal person in Australia, I come from a mixed, multicultural, immigrant background — South Africans on one side (going back to the Huguenots moving out of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s), English and German (Prussian really) on the other. Although I can find out quite a bit online about the English and the South Africans (those Lutherans certainly kept detailed family records!), finding out about my German ancestors has been much harder — I don’t speak or read German, and my ancestors lived in a place that has variously been under the control and jurisdiction of  Prussia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Russia, among others. Two world wars in the area also mean that many records have been lost forever, and even when you can find records, many are written in languages (such as Old German) that are almost extinct. Knowing the name of a town doesn’t help — town names have changed as various countries controlled the Prussian region, and often bear little resemblance to the current name (e.g. Posen [Prussia] became Bomst [Germany] and is now known as Babimost [Poland] — only the ‘o’ and the ‘s’ survived!; Marienburg [Germany) became Malbork [Poland], etc.). And the names of people have changed too — when my German branch came to Australia, they anglicised their name (or it was anglicised for them); e.g. a name like Wiegmann could easily have become Wigman or Wegman, or something else entirely. What this means is that this branch of my tree is hard to trace.

So kudos to my uncle for going to Germany and Poland a few years ago to find out more about his grandfather’s family (my great grandfather). My uncle was able to get the correct name (my great grandfather was named Johannes, but he was known in Australia as James), the name of the town he came from, and some other records — enough to continue to research James’ life once he came to Australia in the 1890s, at the age of 23.

By 1900, when he married my great grandmother, James was living on the Western Australian goldfields and working on the gold mines and the power stations as an engine driver (likely called an engineer these days). They went on to have 5 children. In 1903, he became a naturalised British subject (Australian citizens weren’t known as that then — they were known as British subjects), with all the ‘rights and capacities of a natural-born British subject’ (see first document below).

During the 1900s and early 1910s, James was an expert marksman, receiving certificates and awards from the military through the local rifle club. He was well-liked and newspaper articles of the day (as well as employment references my uncle found in the National Archives) show that he was reliable, sober, and a hard worker. He and his family continued to live in the Kalgoorlie area, and he continued to work as an engine driver for various gold mines, holding down jobs for several years at a time.

And then came the Great War.

Family folklore has it that the family was forced out of town because they were German, and that they came to Perth where they set up a vegetable market garden and poultry farm. No more engine work for James. By the outbreak of World War 1, his children ranged in age from 9 months to 13 years. Three of them were at school, and were no doubt ostracised there too. Remember, this was the family folklore. I didn’t have verification, or dates.

My uncle hunted the National Archives and found the document (below) that verified this tale, and in many ways it is worse than the family folklore led us to believe. James was ‘reported to be an enemy subject’, his ‘natural born British subject’ status is questioned (despite his Certificate of Naturalization 1903 stating that he has the ‘rights and capacities of a natural born British subject’, and it is stated that ‘advice has been received’ (advice from whom? gossip? allegations? someone who didn’t like him?) that he has ‘pronounced German sympathies’.

All this happened in September 1916, some two years after he’d lost his job at the Main Reef Gold Mine because he made ‘disloyal utterances’. He was 45 at this time, and had lived in Australia almost his entire adult life. His Certificate of Naturalization meant absolutely NOTHING.

I’m not sure what happened between 1916 and 1919, or where the family was living, but by mid 1919 he had purchased some land in Perth for a poultry and vegetable farm (by this time the children’s ages ranged from 6 to 18 years). More police investigations into his ‘allegiances’ followed as to whether he was a ‘proper’ person to own land, and he wasn’t granted Certificate of Title to that land until 2.5 years later.

I can’t imagine how harrowing this was for James, his wife, and the whole family. All their children (all born in Australia) were brought up in an environment where they could have seen their father taken to prison or a prisoner of war camp at any time — all because he publicly stated he wouldn’t fight against Germany because he still had family living there (his parents, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, and 2 step-brothers and 3 step-sisters).

What makes me particularly angry is that he was officially a British subject, and had been for some 11 years before World War 1 started. But that meant diddly. The parallels with what’s happening with immigrants in Britain and the US today are frightening.

Note: I had no idea what a ‘non-efficient member’ of a rifle club was, so I looked it up. There’s not much, but this letter to the editor from 1909 explains it quite well [Source: “RIFLE SHOOTING.” Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 – 1952) 6 March 1909: 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74881360]:

Smoky sunsets

24 05 2018

We’ve had the warmest and driest May almost on record. It’s been an ideal time for the fire services to do burn-offs and reduce the fire fuel before the winter rains set in. As a result, we’ve had some stunning sunsets the past few weeks because the smoke has created all sorts of weird light filtering.

Here are some photos of the sunset over the estuary that I took on the way back from the shops a week or so ago. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t seem to capture the blood red of the sun that the human eye sees, but no matter — I thought some of these shots turned out pretty well. And the one where it looks like rain? That was smoke particulates dropping out of the sky! I’d never seen that before, and the black swans didn’t seem too perturbed by it (yes, those black dots on the water are our native black swans).

(Click on a photo to view it larger)

Iggy Marley: Susan Carlson workshop

24 05 2018

The lovely Susan Carlson was in Perth a couple of weeks ago to run a 4-day workshop at Handcrafters House. There were 120 people on the ‘expressions of interest’ list for only 20 places, and I was lucky enough to get a spot! I’d first come across Susan’s unique style of fabric collage some years ago in Quilting Arts magazine and had used her techniques to make a fish. That fish now lives in Alaska! Then in 2014, Susan was one of the teachers at Empty Spools, Asilomar; she was my second choice after Pam Holland (I got into Pam’s class, so they didn’t need to go to my second choice).

For this class, we had to use a photo or drawing, blow it up nice and big, then start cutting out scraps of fabric and gluing them on to create our fabric collage art quilt. In 4 days we made a real mess and had a lot of laughs! There were bits of fabric EVERYWHERE, but I think we had had a lot of fun and pushed our boundaries. Most people went wild with their colour choices, and their subjects ranged from patterns Susan had, through to favourite pets and people. Even a set of work boots and a hard hat!

I love lizards of all varieties, so chose to do an iguana. I found a copyright-free picture in the British Library’s archive of old books and illustrations. The artist had listed the Latin name of the species, which had the common name of ‘Jamaican Iguana’, so I named him ‘Iggy Marley’ — ‘Iggy’ for iguana, and ‘Marley’ because of the Jamaican connection to Bob Marley and his son Ziggy Marley (no, I don’t know if my iguana was a male, but he is now). These Jamaican Iguanas are typically in shades of greens and browns to blend in with the vegetation where they live, but I chose to go wild and do him in oranges and purples — I want him to stand out against the background, once I choose it.

Some of the photos of my process and progress are below. Iggy’s not finished yet, and it might be a while before I get back to him. Deciding on the background (realistic or stylistic) is my hardest issue with him right now. But for the moment, I’m pretty pleased with how he looks, though I might change the green on his ‘crop’ and instead do an orange folded piece…. decisions, decisions….

(Click on a photo to view it larger)

See also: Susan’s blog post about this class and her time in Perth: https://susancarlson.com/2018/06/02/on-the-road-perth-australia/


Amtrak: California Zephyr: Day 3: Colorado to Chicago, Illinois

21 04 2018

Day 3: Sometime overnight we passed into Nebraska from Colorado, then around 6:30 am we passed into Iowa (IA), so I missed Nebraska entirely. Some may say that was a good thing. Fortunately, I’ve driven across Nebraska before, so I know what it looks like (from the Interstate, anyway) and how pretty it can be. (Bonus: I just added another US state to the list of those I’ve visited — Iowa! I think I’ve now visited some 40 of the 50 US states.)

This is the third and last day on the train. We’re scheduled to arrive at Chicago’s union Station at 2:50 pm, but as we were an hour late leaving Denver last night, I don’t expect us to get there on time, unless they made up a lot of time overnight. This is possible, because we’re no longer in the mountains and so the train can go faster.

Observations from today:

  • I slept reasonably well last night. I took an Advil (?) PM tablet before I went to bed, AND I put in my much better ear plugs (not the little foam ones given out on the plane). Then there was the wine, and the fact I had hardly slept the previous night. All in all, my sleep was much longer and stronger, though I did wake several times during the night.
  • For breakfast, I had the omelette and asked for it with guacamole, which came in a squeeze packet!!! I’ve never seen that before. Tasted fine, but there was a LONG list of unreadable ingredients, so who knows what was in it to stop it discolouring.
  • 8:15 am: We’re currently stopped at Creston, IA. There’s no cell service that I can connect to here, so I’ll have to wait a bit before I can post.
  • It’s very cloudy today — that overall grey nothingness that casts a dull pall over everything and just absorbs any light. As expected, the landscape is gently undulating farmland, with silos (grain?, corn? soy?), barns, farmhouses, and little towns. The trees appear to be bare — no leaf and flower buds are discernible yet from a passing train, though you can see birds’ nests. There are some patches of green grass, but mostly the fields are bare soil, waiting for the spring burst of life for the crops. Some fields have cattle in them. The predominant colours? Grey, brown, and yellow, with small patches of green.
  • Haha! Announcement from the conductor that marijuana is a federal class 1 drug, and that while it is legal in Colorado, it’s only legal there and not on this train, which is run by the federal government. She said that the DEA would be happy to invite anyone carrying marijuana to the DEA’s ‘hotel’, and she suggested if you did have marijuana that you get off at the next stop or dispose of it. I think the implication is that the DEA may get on the train at a stop in the future, or that the Amtrak Police officer I spoke to the other day has the authority to act on the DEA’s behalf. While the announcement was quite funny in its delivery and the words she used, there’s a bit of an issue here — passengers in rooms and roomettes CANNOT lock their room from the outside, which means that while you’re at meals or out of your room for any other reason (in the viewing car, perhaps), anyone could come into your room and plant drugs there.
  • After 2 days of travel, rain, and snow the windows aren’t looking as spotless as on Day 1.
  • I sat with the Amish couple at breakfast — they have 8 children, 33 grandchildren, and 7 great great grandchildren. She had her last child only a few weeks before her firstborn had their child. One of their daughters also has 8 children. They sold their farm (Elkhart [?], Indiana) to one of their daughters.
  • 8:40 am: 10 mins out from Osceola, IA, and still no cell service…. now I have cell service, but my laptop isn’t connecting to my mobile hotspot. Reboot everything… 1 bar, but no connection. 2 bars, no connection, but at least Google Maps on my phone has updated itself with Iowa locations. Got connected very briefly, then lost it again.
  • 8:55 am Next stop is in 75 mins, so hopefully I can connect properly by then. This time my SIM is from AT&T (previously T-Mobile) and up until now, I’ve been impressed with the coverage I’ve had in places where I didn’t expect to have it. But so far it’s not so great out here in the flyover states.
  • 9:20 am: Cariton, IA. No cell service…
  • 9:50 am: And today is brought to you by the colours grey and yellow! Fortunately, I’ve lived in this sort of country [Ontario, Canada] and I know how pretty it can be in full spring, summer, fall, and the depths of winter. It’s only during this nothingness between winter and full-blown spring that the colours are so dull. Add to that a very dull cloudy sky, and everything just sucks the light.
  • 10:20 am: 10 mins outside Ottumwa, IA, I got a little bit of cell service, the first all day that allowed me to do anything.
  • Early lunch today, which they started announcing at 10:30 am!! They’ve run out of a few items, so I had the Black Angus burger again. It’s still grey and yellow outside…
  • 12:00 noon: Crossed the mighty Mississippi from Iowa into Illinois, at Burlington, IA. Final stretch to Chicago now underway. We’re currently about 90 mins behind schedule, so if they don’t make up that time (unlikely with the freight traffic on this line), then we’ll be into Chicago after 4:30 pm. That’s OK for me — online reviews had indicated you could be an hour early or up to 8 hours late on this train, so I booked a hotel room for tonight so that I wasn’t under pressure to collect my rental car at a particular time. In hindsight, that was a wise move!
  • After the Mississippi, the undulating land turned into FLAT land. Still greys and yellow, but now flat. Flat as a pancake, except even pancakes have rounded edges. Did I mention it was flat?
  • We were late into Naperville, and are now 20 mins behind the time we were due into Chicago, which is about an hour away. No surprises there, with the accumulated delays we’ve had along the way. So instead of the scheduled 52 hours, the eventual trip will be about 53.5 hours. Actually, it took 53 hours — we got in just one hour late.

Bottom line: Was taking the train halfway across the US worth it? Absolutely! A great way to see parts of the country you may never have seen before, a great way to relax and let someone else take care of the driving and navigating and the meals, and for some I’m sure it’s a great way to meet people (I only went to the viewing car once, so only met new people at meals).

But to do it properly and without feeling claustrophobic, and if you have the funds to do so, consider a ‘bedroom’ in preference to a ‘roomette’, or a ‘roomette’ in preference to ‘coach’. With the bedrooms and roomettes, all your meals are included in your fare AND you get a bed to sleep in (though it may be the top bunk!). With the bedrooms, you get your own (tiny) toilet and shower, and power outlets; with roomettes, you have shared toilet/shower facilities (and possibly power outlets). I’m not sure if coach passengers get the option of a shower, and they have to pay for their meals, and sit up the entire way.

There was no wifi on the train I was on (California Zephyr), but with cell service (patchy and non-existent in places), I was able to hotspot my phone and get connected. For some, no connection at all for 3 days would be part of the charm.

Despite not having much contact with people (my choice), I wasn’t bored. The landscape changed so frequently that you didn’t have a chance to be bored. I just wish I knew more about geology so that I could’ve appreciated the Utah and Colorado landforms better.

Other hints: Take ear plugs for sleeping, and possibly a sleep-inducing drug if you have trouble sleeping on things in motion, such as planes. You can bring your own snacks and drinks, but be discreet and consume them in your own room, not in the public areas (there’s a snack bar that sells food, drinks, and alcohol, but they may not have the brands you want). Don’t bring in marijuana from Colorado! 🙂 Bring your own toiletries. The car attendant just showed me the storage area in my room near the hand basin where there were toiletries, wash cloths, tissues, and spare toilet paper!

Would I do it again? With enough time, a route that suited my plans, and sufficient funds — YES.

 One final thing: They have accessible bedrooms in the lower level of the sleeping carriages. I’m not sure how they deal with meals for those in these rooms — perhaps the staff bring them down? The stairs to the upper level are very narrow, though they do have handrails on both sides. Very large people or those with mobility issues may have trouble negotiating the stairs, as well as the toilet/shower facilities in the bedrooms (I believe the shared toilet/shower facilities downstairs for the roomette people are bigger.)

See also:

Amtrak: California Zephyr: Day 2: Utah to Colorado

20 04 2018

We stopped at Salt Lake City, UT around 2 am, then continued on through Utah throughout the night and into Day 2.

Observations from Day 2 (some photos are here, but there’s a link to all 200+ photos below):

  • I hardly slept. And I know why. It was the constant vibration. It’s the same on planes and is why I don’t sleep on them either. Sitting up you don’t really notice the movement, but once you’re prone, the movement is constant. When we were going through the areas where we were at full speed, I tried to count the number of movements in a minute — there were well over 200. It’s not heavy rocking and rolling, but constant small and uneven movements. When the train slowed down, it was better, but the most I got was a couple of short cat naps. I wore my ear plugs to cut the noise, and they helped, but they don’t stop the moving. Let’s see what tonight brings…
  • The landscape this morning is similar to that of late yesterday in northern Nevada, with lots of dry high desert vegetation, salt pans, dry gulches etc., but this time we have more undulations in the land as well as rocky and craggy mountains and formations in the distance. I’m hoping we get to see some classic Utah canyons — we’re currently headed towards Green River and then Grand Junction (following I-70 now), which are not far north of Moab and Arches National Park. (Note: Green River is most definitely NOT green, and I’m not sure if there’s a river! Update: Yes, there was.)
  • Breakfast this morning was scrambled eggs (a bit dry) and bacon (very dry and crisp), breakfast potatoes, which I didn’t eat, and a square thing they called a croissant — it tasted good with butter and Vegemite!
  • Taking a shower in the tiny cubicle actually works and I didn’t fell too crammed. The water was very hot and the pressure was great. Once I got used to the controls and the auto shut-off every couple of minutes (you just press the button to restart the flow for another minute or two), it was easy to get my hair and body washed. Amtrak supplies towels, but no toiletries or wash cloths, so you need to bring your own and toiletries, wash cloths, and tissues (they’re in the white cupboard above and next to the hand basin, as I found out on the last day! They also supply hand soap and a hand towel at the small wash basin in the main room.
  • Saw a few cattle while I was having breakfast, and some wildlife! Either deer or antelope — I’m not sure, but there was a small herd of them. They didn’t prance, so I suspect not (pronghorn?) antelope, and they had white backsides, so perhaps white-tailed deer? (the elderly Amish man suggested mule deer?)
  • There’s nothing like a decent canyon with mesas and all sorts of rock formations to affirm your insignificant place in the universe!

  • From the train I can see just the red tips of the rocks at Arches National Park across the plain, about 2+ miles away according to Google Maps. But from the train, the colours of the rock formations are muddy browns, yellows, and greys. Totally different from Arches. How can something so close be so different?
  • The train is so much more relaxing than driving, even as a passenger. As a driver you don’t see much except what’s in front of you and immediately to the side, and as a passenger, you’re either concentrating on navigating or are a pseudo-driver, looking out for danger on the road or beside it. On the train, your time is your own and you can relax and just enjoy the vistas around you.
  • We’ve just gone under I-70 and are heading towards the Colorado River. I don’t think we’ll see it for quite a while, if at all. Update: We followed the Colorado for much of the day.
  • Finally, some green grass and bushes (somewhere near Cisco, UT) — there must have been some rain here in the past week or so.
  • McInnes Canyon National Park – spectacular! I don’t think you can get to it easily from the road. As we went through the canyon, we skirted the Colorado River (on the train’s right; I’m sitting on the left). I didn’t see any ‘mooners’ though, but I did see one campsite with 2 tents and 4 rafts on the bank. It was probably too cold for the mooners!
  • Once we came out of the McInnes Canyon, we crossed under I-70 and were back into undulating (dry desert) ranchland, near a dot on the map called ‘Mack’. We’ve now left Utah and are in Colorado. And I just saw my first cattle feedlots 😦
  • About 10 mins late into Grand Junction, CO — not bad for 24 hours straight travel time. First time I’ve stepped of the train. Cool temperature, but then its elevation is 4578 feet.
  • Coming out of Grand Junction I saw a freight train heading west — it had three locos on the front and two on the back. That must be some climb it’s done! A later one had 6 locos, all at the front.
  • Fruit trees are starting to blossom near Grand Junction.
  • It snowed while we were having lunch (between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs). I’ve been told that we’ll lose cell reception totally for at least 3 hours between Glenwood Springs and then we get it back again as we go through the Colorado mountains and tunnels. We’re following the Colorado River now and it’s raining quite heavily, so I don’t think I’ll be taking many photos for this leg.
  • For lunch I had the Black Angus beef burger. It was pretty darned decent for a burger produced on a train. Burger, cheese, bacon, dill, onion, lettuce, and maybe tomato too? with potato crisps on the side. No mayo etc. in the burger so it didn’t turn into mush.
  • Between the narrow gaps of the canyon walls and the train track, the overhead wires change from a ‘t’ formation to an ‘i’, with all the connectors running down the pole instead of across the top of it on the t-bar. Update — not the case — see another note further below.
  • Many of the boulders that have come down from the tops of the mesas and canyon walls are as big as cars, some even as big as houses.
  • Ain’t modern communication wonderful! I’m on a train going through the mountains in Colorado, following the Colorado River, and I have cell phone signal. A fellow Aussie (from Queensland) is with her family at the Menin Gate in Belgium waiting for the end of day bugle call. I know this because she’s posted on Facebook where she is. I let her know that my great uncle is memorialised in the Canadian section. She asks which division etc. I just happen to have my family tree software and database on my laptop so I tell her Canadian Infantry, 58th battalion. Within a minute she sends me a photo of the plaque he’s memorialised on, and a close-up of his name. My mind is officially blown!
  • Mountains. Great big towering and close-to-the road mountains. And a fast-flowing Colorado River, with a double-decker I-70 on one side and the train track on the other side of the canyon. Unfortunately the rain precludes taking any photos so you’ll just have to believe me when I say how AWESOME these mountains are and this trip is. And tunnels. There are tunnels too! (no snow on these mountains — yet…)
  • Stopped at Dotsero (sounds like Dot Zero!) while we wait for the westbound California Zephyr to pass us. Conductor now telling us no more phone service very soon as we’ll go north of I-70 and leave the towers behind.
  • I saw two beaver dams and lodges in a side stream of the Colorado — I think the beavers had made the side stream, by the way! Saw quite a few more beaver dams and lodges on the Colorado later in the day – those little guys can certainly change an ecosystem in a short period of time.
  • I wish I knew more about geology than I do. This is a geologist’s paradise!!
  • The Roundup River Ranch looks like a BIG operation on the banks of the Colorado River.
  • Sometimes the colours of the rocks changes dramatically — from muddy browns, greys, and yellows to vibrant orange reds and terracotta. Then there are the blacks in the red rocks (indicating iron?) and greens in some of the lighter-coloured earths (indicating copper, perhaps?). And the layers go from horizontal strata to clines and anticlines (I think I have the right words), sometimes in a few feet. The power of the forces that did this boggles my mind.
  • You know, I bought along ebooks and magazines and other stuff to read and halfway through the trip I haven’t touched any of it. The ever-changing landscape has completely captured my attention.
  • Some of the people I’ve met at meals:
    • A truck driver who had an accident near Los Angeles, fortunately after dropping his load off. He and the other driver are OK, but his truck has about $50K damage done to it (other driver’s fault) and it has to stay in California for repair, so he’s catching the train back to the Chicago area (he won’t fly any higher than 500 ft in the air). He doesn’t have income protection insurance so in addition to the repair (covered by insurance), he’s also out of work for several weeks, then has to get back to California to pick up his truck once it’s done. Yes, he owns the truck and drives it on behalf on another company.
    • A couple whose children bought them tickets to various places in the US for their 50th wedding anniversary.
    • A retired sports broadcaster (sound guy) who figures he’s flown enough for several lifetimes. He started in Minneapolis and trained to Portland, OR, then down to Sacramento. This train takes him to Denver where he’s catching up with a friend, then flying home to Minneapolis. The train legs will take 5 days to do that loop from Minneapolis to Denver.
    • A father, his adult son, and his son-in-law, all living in Indianapolis, who are just doing this as a bonding exercise and because they can. They were surprisingly well-versed in the Australian political system!
  • The Rockies are aptly named — there’s a helluva lot of rock. And much of it is precipitous and completely impassable, which makes you wonder how on earth the early settlers traversed this inhospitable country with their wagons. Horses and people on foot might have been able to make it, but not wagons — at least not in many of the places I’ve seen in Colorado today. The river valleys can’t be guaranteed to have pasture lining the banks — in many cases it’s sheer walled canyons, or massive strewn boulders. And the rivers themselves are dangerous — fast flowing, deep in places, with impassable rapids.
  • Rock slide alarm system — who knew? They are like phone lines that alert the engineer that rocks may be on the railway line (see the first photo below). They don’t stop a slide. We’ve now stopped in the Lower Gore Canyon as the alert system is showing red, which means there may be rocks on the line and the staff have to shift them. The drop-off is STEEP. REALLY STEEP. Not good for me, so I’ve come back into my room to sit down on the left (mountain) side. This track is one way only, not two tracks. And it’s freakishly high and close to the edge of the canyon (I took the canyon photos below just after we entered Gore Canyon, and before it got really scary — I didn’t take any while we were stopped and EVERYONE was on the river side of the train!). And now they’ve just said there’s a rock on the track and the staff just have to go up and hopefully move it/them off the track. Far out, brussel sprout. I’m definitely NOT in my comfort zone… 5 mins later and we’re moving again, very very slowly. I really don’t want to look out the right side down the very steep drop to the Colorado River – there be my mental ‘don’t go there’ dragons!!! We’re now through to an area where it’s much less precipitous. I can breathe… And it’s now 3:45 pm, so I think it’s time for a wine! Engineer/conductor just told us the rocks were a decent size — about 200 lb each, and it took a couple of guys to get them off the track. We’re now through the Upper Gore Canyon and into flat pastureland, and I’m feeling a little more comfortable. A freight train was waiting for us to pass on the other side, ready to tackle that line heading west. That was certainly a scary 30 mins! I’m still trying not to think about the thousands of tonnes of train balanced precariously on a narrow ledge high above a fast-flowing and freezing cold river and the STEEP drop to that river…

  • Back into rangeland, and snowy fields. Much more undulating hills now than precipitous mountains.
  • And now into Byer’s Canyon, also with lots of rock slide alarm system wires — earlier, I thought these were phone/electric lines and that they were an alternative to ‘t’ bar ones. But they’re not — they’re the alarm system.
  • And now back to flatland, still following the Colorado River.
  • If anyone suggests whitewater rafting the Colorado River, be aware that many parts are treacherous, unable to be reached by anything if there’s an accident, and have HUGE boulders either sticking out of the water or silently waiting for prey underneath the surface. Not for this little black duck!
  • Estimated time into Denver will be about 30 mins late, likely because of the stop we did in Gore Canyon to get the rocks off the track. Plus the 15 mins we were late into Grand Junction.
  • I find it amusing that when we come to a designated stop, the announcer mentions a fresh air break followed immediately by info regarding smokers! So much for fresh air…
  • We went through a 3-tunnel thing where the front of the train was coming out of the third tunnel, while the back was going into the first. The announcer told us that the Steven Seagal movie — Under Siege 2? — was filmed there. Something about the hijacking of a train…
  • And now an announcement about dinner and getting in quickly because they have to do something with power (at Fraser/Winter Park?) which means no power to cook food! Seems we’ve been operating with one loco since Green River, so they have to cut normal power for a few minutes to go up the grade to the tunnel as they need one loco to go up and one for power. Cutting the power (air con etc.) gives them full power in the one loco for going ‘over the hump’. Likely to be only a few minutes. Tunnel built 1923-1927, 3rd longest railroad tunnel in the US, and 4th longest in North America.
  • Fraser is about 8500 ft, higher than anywhere in Australia. After Winter Park, we go through the Moffat Tunnel (about 9000 ft, and 6.2 miles long). This tunnel crosses the continental divide. We can’t go between cars while we’re in the tunnel — residual coal dust, diesel fumes etc.
  • And into the tunnel… Pitch black outside, as you’d expect, but they didn’t need to cut power because the first loco had enough grunt to get us through. It should all be downhill from here…
  • After we come out of the tunnel, we’ll be following a different river — the Colorado only flows on the western side of the divide.
  • And we’re out… into the light, though with low cloud/snow skies. Lots of recent snow on the trees and on the coal in the rail trucks in the siding. There was heavy snow on a solar panel for the railway line too — I hope they have another option!
  • Dinner for me tonight was the steak, and it was cooked to my liking and tasted great. I’ve been impressed with the meals. It’s a limited menu, for sure, but more than enough to choose from for two days and nights.
  • The only downside of the meal was the gentleman who sat with me and two other ladies. He was very charming, but was a preacher and certainly wanted to preach! I’m not a fan of proselytising of any sort, religious or otherwise, but especially religious. Fortunately, we were able to steer the conversation away to more general things.
  • The views coming out of the mountains into Denver were AMAZING! Unfortunately, they were on the wrong side of the train and I was having dinner at the time and was squashed in next to ‘Charming Gentleman’ and couldn’t get out to take photos. Also, BIG dark grey clouds over Denver and the plains, so I’m not sure they’d have come out well anyway. But those views were to die for! We’re only 20-30 mins late into Denver, after nearly 36 hours on the train, and the delay while we went slow, stopped, and they cleared the rocks from the track.
  • 25-minute stop in Denver to change some of the crew. Then 8 hours to Omaha. Still another nearly 20 hours to go… But I’m hoping the worst of today’s excitement is over. The wine is helping 🙂

See also: