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Courier-Post archives, 1977: Model train buff tries real thing

In October 1977, Becker and Linda Spaun took the San Francisco Zephyr train on a week-long trip through the West. Amtrak photo


Hannibal Courier-Post Staff Writer

Oct. 27, 1977

HANNIBAL, MO. - The Zephyr passenger trains no longer come clacking into the Hannibal yards, and no one from here hangs onto the step and hollers “aaaaaaaaaaallaboard!”

But passenger service in these United States has been revived with Amtrak, and Becker Spaun and his wife Linda recently boarded the San Francisco Zephyr passenger train at Burlington, Iowa, and rode across the United States and back. A train buff who owns an extensive model train collection, Becker and his wife Linda took a week off from their jobs with the Hannibal Fire Department and the Social Security Administration to ride the train.

Amtrak claimed the best of the passenger equipment left over from the passenger trains operated by the Burlington-Northern, Santa Fe, Great Northern, Union Pacific, and other railroads. The San Francisco Zephyr included a dome car, a club-lounge car, a dining car, two sleeper cars, two coach cars, and the engines and caboose.

The Zephyr begins at Chicago and arrives at Burlington at 7:23 p.m., and Spaun said the train is almost always on time. Most of the passengers were ex-railroad employees, railroad buffs, retired persons, and young people. Most of the young people travel on the two-week pass, which costs $185 and permits unlimited travel in the United States.

In Kansas, the main line track is in excellent shape and the Zephyr traveled at 100 miles per hour. The best track is between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Ogden, Utah, on Union Pacific track. The train averages about 55  m.p.h. The Zephyr arrives at Denver every day at 9 a.m., and continues on to Ogden just north of Salt Lake City by 10:30 p.m. Most of the stops are only five or 10 minutes, but there is an hour stop at Denver.

The train was about three-fourths full between Burlington and Denver, Spaun said, and he found it easy to meet people on the train. Passengers play cards and socialize in the club car, and four persons are seated at each of the 12 tables in the dining car.

The food is reasonably good, with lunch costing about $2.50 and a full dinner priced at about $7. Spaun said the food service crews are out of the Chicago area, while the porters usually live in the Oakland area, the final stop of the Zephyr. There are six Zephyrs, three continuously heading east and three going west. There is a porter to every car and he puts out the platform step, stores the luggage, and gets drinks for the passengers in his car.

At Denver the dome car is removed because it doesn’t fit through a tunnel in Wyoming. At Denver the engines are switched around to the rear of the train and the passenger cars are pulled backwards from Denver to Cheyenne because it is too costly to turn the whole train around at Denver, Spaun said.

The Spauns rode the train for seven days, with stopovers at Oakland and Albuquerque and a long side trip down the California coast. They slept on the train four nights, in the small sleepers which the Amtrak calls bedrooms.

“My wife slept a lot, so she didn’t get tired. But I walked a lot, going through the different cars, up to the dome car. It was real nice. Everyone that works on the train is real nice, and it is a leisurely way to travel. Of course, most people are in a hurry to get where they are going, but if you have some time, the train is a good way to see the country. And there is always something going on in the train, so you never get bored. I love it. And they get you where you want to go. When the highways are snowed in, the train keeps going, and it is almost always on time because they pad the schedule. And it is a real comfortable ride. It’s just too bad they don’t service Hannibal,” Spaun said.

Jim Bryant, manager of special services for Amtrak in Washington, said the U.S.A. Railpass has been very popular with young people. During the summer the pass costs quite a bit more - $290 for 14 days - because the trains are full in the summertime. During the winter months traffic on the long distance trains is light, but Amtrak maintains daily service partly because it has extensive mail contracts.


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