The Proverbial Silver Lining
By Gordon Wilson – TCA 76-10233
There is an old adage which states that behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. Between March 11 and March 20, a truer axiom there never was. On the 11th of March I received word from the Bay Area in Northern California that a friend of some 58 years had passed away. Owing to the prohibitive cost of “spur of the moment” airfares and the relative proximity of the area, we opted to drive.
Following the funeral services and interment, we started making preparations for the return trip to Fountain Hills. Status quo was maintained quite well until a stop at the AAA office in Bakersfield, CA. It was here that the silver lining emerged in all its glory. It is hard to imagine that AAA, a nation-wide entity, could have such a disparity in services. However, it is my opinion that this Southern California AAA office in Bakersfield is among the finest which I have yet to encounter. I suddenly realized I was relatively close to that railroad engineering marvel called the Tehachapi Loop.
Although I had been there before, it had been more or less “dumb luck” which allowed me to find this place. Certainly someone at an AAA office would be able to direct me there with a positive degree of certainty. I was then provided maps beyond my wildest expectation. Furthermore there was a telephone available to use in order to secure lodging that evening in the railroad town of Barstow, CA.
In addition to an abundance of railroad interests in that area, the American icon highway, Route 66, just happens to more or less parallel the Interstate Route upon which we were traveling.
Call it good fortune, or good timing, whatever; this AAA office was having a close-out promo on some major Route 66 book titles. I bought several of them.
We arrived at the west end of the Tehachapi Loop in time to witness an eastbound freight going through the tunnel. We passed by one or two obvious viewing spots, but continued on the narrow winding road to another overlook containing two Tehachapi Loop Historical Markers, not to mention a panoramic view of the entire vista. We had been at this site for only a very few moments when another vehicle stopped and the occupants exited. Immediately we struck up a lively conversation, which somehow modulated from the 12” to the 1’ scale trains to the model variety. It wasn’t until the magic word “York” popped up that we realized that we were both members of the TCA.
The person with whom I was speaking was Paul Adams, TCA #98-47620, of Akron, Ohio. He and his wife were visiting the area. During the course of our conversation, another three freights passed through, all of them westbound. Before bidding farewell, we agreed to seek one another out at York and at the National Convention in Pittsburgh.
That evening in Barstow, we made our way to the best and most famous restaurant in the area, the Idle Spurs, on Old Route 58. Aside from the moderate prices and wonderful food, the place is a veritable museum of railroad and mining memorabilia. Should you find yourself near here, don’t miss it. Be sure to request Tiffany as your waitress. Her ESP, impeccable service, and ready smile will make your meal even better than advertised.
Do NOT, however, order dessert here. Get back on I-15 North for 7 miles to a dot on the map called Yermo. Exit onto Ghost Town Road, and Peggy Sue’s Diner will be one block south of the exit. Follow the signs to Peggy Sue’s, a ’50’s style diner and pizzeria. Everything about the place will transport you back in time at least 50 years. Memorabilia, autographed photos, jukebox tunes should whet your appetite for such things as pies, giant sundaes, or a Carmen Miranda banana split. (You might wish to share this “monster”) Entry into this 50 year old diner is gained by walking through a giant replica Wurlitzer jukebox. “Oh,oh,oh, Peggy Sue,” sings Buddy Holly.
All of this brought us to the final leg of our trip back home to Fountain Hills, AZ. We now continued to parallel both Route 66 and the mainline of the BNSF. There may be other equally good places in the US to watch trains – however, I simply cannot fathom a better place. Mile long east and west bound consists of every imaginable type happen along at roughly 10 minute intervals. Some are so long and heavy as to have the need for pusher locomotives. It is extremely easy to exit I-40 and access a portion of the old Route 66 for a scenic spot from which to photograph the plethora of passing trains. Route 66 goes nearly continuously from the Arizona-California border to Flagstaff. Seligman, which coincidentally is more or less on the western end of the Grand Canyon, is one of my particular favorite spots. The Copper Cart is a 50 year old restaurant located just a few yards north of the Seligman Train Depot. Every train between Flagstaff, AZ and Barstow, CA will pass by this site. Scattered throughout Seligman are a variety of “tourist trap” stores jam-packed with Route 66 “instant antiques.” There are, however, some legitimate throw-backs to the days of Route 66. Vintage Edsels, Fords, Chevys, Studebakers, and even a Route 66 Museum dot the landscape. Should you opt to stay on Route 66 going east from Seligman toward Williams, you will find yourself within a few feet of the BNSF mainline.
Finally, a few miles further east will bring you to the railroad renaissance town of Williams. Yes, Route 66 runs smack through the center of town, but Williams’s main claim to fame these days is that it is the “hometown” of the Grand Canyon Railway. Sixteen years ago, when this now thriving business re-started following its demise in the 1950’s, it was literally operating on a shoestring. We were fortunate enough to have been among its passengers on its first full weekend of operation in 1988. A Santa Fe diesel was hired to follow at a discreet distance, just in case the steam locomotive pulling the train on which we were riding broke down. That is how unsure they were about its operation. Today that is not an issue. To quote an old TV cigarette advertisement, “You’ve come a long way, Baby!”
That concludes the silver lining of the dark foreboding cloud. We headed the car south and two hours later were safe and sound back home again in Fountain Hills, AZ, home to the tallest Water Fountain in the World. It doesn’t bring my friend back, but it did make the two-day journey home a whole lot easier to bear.