By Maggie Kildee
After visiting my daughter in Seattle for a few days near the end of February, I boarded the train for the return trip to Oxnard. Looking forward to a two-day trip, I had reserved a sleeper, loaded my Kindle with books, and generally looked forward to a relaxing trip. It had been cold in Seattle, but the earlier snow was mostly melted. As we traveled south into Oregon however, the landscape began to change. There was snow on the ground in Eugene and lots of snow everywhere as we began to climb into the Cascades. By now it was getting dark and beginning to snow. We were about 40 miles south of Eugene when unexpectedly the train came to a stop. The conductor informed us over the speaker system that the wet snow was so heavy that it had broken trees and limbs, and one had fallen across our track. He assured us that the crew would go out, remove the tree, and we would continue. However, it was not to be! One of the engine’s airbrakes had been damaged! We struggled a few miles to the small town of Oakridge, which turned out to be completely snow-bound and without electricity. And there we parked! And there we stayed, in the train, for Sunday night, all day Monday, and Monday night. We had food and water, heat and electricity, but the train couldn’t move! It continued to snow until more than a foot had accumulated! An engine had been dispatched from Eugene to pull us back north, but it was delayed because of falling trees. Finally Tuesday morning it arrived and we SLOWLY limped back to Eugene. The Red Cross met us there with hot coffee and bagels! The press also met us, labeling us “Amtrak Survivors”!
We continued north, letting people off at each stop, arriving in Portland about 3 o’clock. For many, the last straw was being told that there was a fire on the bridge over the Columbia, and we would be delayed a few hours until we could use the bridge! Many left the train at that point. I, and only six other passengers, continued to Seattle, where I was met by my daughter who was glad to see me safe and sound!
Those of us in the sleeping cars fared much easier than those in the coach! While there was food and heat, not having a place to sleep, and having small children to keep entertained created some problems! There was a call for safety pins so diapers could be fashioned out of napkins!! But it was also a good example of people helping each other out. Phones were loaned so people could contact families or make alternate travel plans. Mothers were relieved while children were entertained with storytelling and songs. All of the Amtrak personnel helped, making sure that everyone was fed in the dining car, including the coach passengers.
Amtrak reimbursed us all, I had an extra day with my daughter, and, all in all, it was a train adventure to remember!