The Coast Starlight – to Portland by rail

7.47am, Sunday 15th September, somewhere in California south of the Oregon state line, USA

Morning, folks, and we’re riding the rails from San Francisco to Portland on the Amtrak train called The Coast Starlight, which runs from San Diego to Seattle. Currently we’re flying along at a rate of knots somewhere between Redding in Northern California and Klamath Falls above the Oregon state line. We must be roughly there because we can see Mt Shasta and its ‘covered for nearly the whole year with snow’ peak. At 14162 feet (yep, I’ve read the Coast Starlight route guide!) he’s the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. I’ve put some photos in to show you what I can – must talk to Amtrak about the rubbish on those lovely big windows! We were one and a half hours late leaving Emeryville station (across the Bay from San Francisco city) because they had to replace an engine in Oakland, but it’s a bonus really, as we would have missed seeing Mt Shasta in the daytime otherwise.

Any rate, why are we taking the train?

Because we’re still traveling in Fred Caley Smith’s footsteps, as he travelled north from San Francisco to Portland along a similar rail route back in 1893 when he was talking Yalumba – the wine and the canned fruit operations of the day – to the trade, as well as gathering information on orchards and vineyards throughout America. Only the difference is that we’re going to Portland direct – hauled along by two massive snub-nosed diesels – traveling time 16 hours overnight. Fred was on board the Southern Pacific Railroad for several days – with one of those smoke-billowing, old school metal monster locomotives fitted with the out front cow catchers getting him there – and he broke his journey at the township of Vina, more or less just north east of the current day Sonoma Valley wine country.

What was Fred’s side trip to Vina about?

Well, he had an appointment to meet with a chap called Stanford, who owned a vineyard, winery, orchard and combined ranch called Stanford Vina Ranch’. And yep, this would be the same Californian Governor Leland Stanford who had been instrumental in having Stanford University open two weeks earlier! It turns out that they had close to 10,000 acres under vine and and fruit trees, and it was one of the major viticultural operations in the country at the time. So a good stop off and much learned and exchanged, and Fred’s off to Portland for three days.

This is where he gets a major treat!

He’s doing all the right things, talking Yalumba to the local press and agricultural element in town, and they think he’s such a nice bloke that they extend him the courtesies of an ‘honorary pressman’ status and invite him on one of their official excursions. Where? Up into the mountains to inspect The Giant Sequoia Tree Grove! For Fred – our Indiana Jones horticulturalist – a major windfall! See, traveling for work does occasionally present treats that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see in two lifetimes. I’m in for a bit of a treat in Portland myself. Not on the same scale as Fred’s by any stretch of the imagination, but Portland is the home of the unforgettable Voodoo Donuts. My favourite doughnut … in the world. It’s the Voodoo Doll – pretzel stake through the heart, and when you take a bite, the limbs ‘bleed’ raspberry jam. You cannot beat that.

So, on to Portland! See ya when I’m in Oregon.

Oh, here’s the photos – sorry about the fly spots! In order – if technology cooperates – it’s two shots of Mt Shasta, then the Klamath Falls lagoon – the white spot bottom left is a community of herons, then Root Beer Falls, and the Cascade Summit.

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One response to “The Coast Starlight – to Portland by rail

  1. There’s a poem in here Jane

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