[media-credit name=”Plumas County Visitors Bureau” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Portola RR Museum Yard[/media-credit]


Have you ever had a fragrance of a perfume or the smell of biscuits baking in the oven take  you back to another time or place, stirring up fond memories of a time gone by?  Maybe it reminded you of a loved one or a treasured place. Recently I  had one of those  nostalgic moments that sent me back almost 60 years.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, many of my uncles and cousins worked for Southern Pacific and SantaFe Railroads.  They were conductors, porters, mechanics, and held other railroad jobs.  I remember as a kid, going down to the train station to pick up family members coming in from El Paso Texas, standing in the night air just waiting with excitement building… seeing and hearing the passenger train coming into the station. I remember the thunderous sound of the engine slowly pulling in with steam coming out the side like the wheels were on fire.  The enormous connecting arms that connected the drive arms to the other wheels, slowly came to a halt.  My aunt clutched my hand with a death grip, so I couldn’t touch this big black hissing, chugging steam engine.  The bell was clanging to beat the band.  Oh how wonderful it was, down to the smells and the sounds.

Even though most of my family was part of the rail system, I never had the opportunity to ride a train anywhere. So as I grew up, it was amusement park trains that filled the bill.  First Disneyland and later at Knott’s Berry Farm. Chug, Chug, Click Clack, Woo Woo, the bell ding, ding.  My children loved it, but really the big kid loved it more than them, woo woo eeh, haw!

As time went by, I had the chance to ride on dinner trains, small coastal train rides, short gold country rides (riding in a ore carts towed by small steam engines), wherever, whenever I got the opportunity, I would take what I could get.

Now, retired recently, kind of moping about, somewhat overworked (honey-do’s, you know). One day my wife calls me upstairs to the computer and asks me if I would like to go on this train ride called ‘The Northern California Explorer’.  “Yeah right, When? Are you kidding! We have our son’s wedding that following weekend and the reception is here!  Impossible!!.” She asks, “Do you want to see the video?”  That was all it took.

Ding Ding  WOOO….with a crackling voice I replied,  “Oh heck yes. We can’t miss this. Some how we will get the work done”. I couldn’t make eye contact at that moment. All kinds of emotions had flooded over me, Wow… on this train there was the California Zephyr.  I remember all those times I had seen her as a young man. The enchanting streamline engine, her silver flash, as she went flying by. Now I finally had a chance to ride on such a magnificent beauty. This must be a dream. This was all I could think about for the next two weeks,. Eeee-haw, can’t wait!

Finally Friday comes and we are about to leave for Chico.  Again, much to my surprise before we left, there was a surprise party just for me. A retirement party. Bet you can’t guess what I received. A pocket watch, wow! After a night’s stay and we made our way to the train where I soon found myself in the dining room car seating of the Silver Lariat facing forward. Pinch! How could this be?  It’s her and truly she is beautiful; I couldn’t speak at all.  I could only look about in total amazement.  The whistle blew.  We were moving in a dream come true.

Friendly and sincere, this wasn’t just a train ride to the staff, it is their life and love. The train is spotless from top to bottom. Staff stays onboard many hours after arrival to insure the same quality experience the next day.  Meals were so amazing!  First, that the Chef could even prepare such delightful, delicious beautiful meals in a small space and still be smiling and ready to answer your questions was amazing.  Beverage Service was available all day, whatever you desired.  Even the restrooms had fresh flowers in vases, fine soaps, and towels. We were able to visit all cars with our passes and met many people. Some people from very far away, New Zealand, England, Michigan and much of the East Coast.  Many have taken train trips all around the world, but share with us that this may be the most beautiful area, even with the rain and the clouds we had. We spent our entire day roaming about, enjoying all that we were learning and the wonderful people we were meeting.

It is incredible to see vistas of grandeur, rivers and creeks, unbelievable rock formations, fresh, vibrant greens and blues, canyons valley highs and lows. The Lakes are having a hard time holding the abundance of water, which produce the many waterfalls you are able to see along the way. There are lots of tunnels and stopping for freight trains to go by.  Volcanoes and their lava flows, vast forests that climb the steep canyons, and then to the flat juniper plateaus as far as you can see, fields of alfalfa, horseradish, potatoes, vast irrigation lines, ditches with abundant waterfowl everywhere, sun, rain, shadows, shades and overtones… so much for your senses, all this while being gently rocked from side to side.  She is everything I ever dreamed of and so much more. Where people take time to share with each other about their life and times in the past. A time to just slow down and be in the moment without cells phones ringing or a exact time to arrive.  Just time to enjoy!  The Northern California Explorer.

It is a unique experience to view the scenery of the great place we live, in a way you can never see by car or plane. You truly can see where you have been, from the outside deck of the caboose. Once, when I was outside on the vestibule after the people taking their photos left, I looked around stuck my head out the side a little a yelled…EEEEE—Haw!… at the top of my lungs.  When I went back in and found my wife, she asked where I had been. “Just enjoying the people and oh, by the way, did you hear anything?”  I said.  “No why?” she said.  “Oh nothing, just asking.”