Monday, 27 May 2013

A train trip to Portland

[Dawn on Mt. Shasta from the Amtrak “Coast Starlight”, 13 May 2013]

I took the train up to Portland and back earlier this month to cover a hearing in the matter of John Brennan, the Naked American Hero who took off all his clothes at a TSA checkpoint at the PDX airport to help the “screeners” see that he wasn’t carrying any explosives or weapons, and to protest their practices of insisting that all air travellers submit to being seen as though naked by imaging machines and/or have their genitals palpated. The TSA is proposing to fine John $1000 for “interfering with screening”, even after he was acquitted of all criminal charges. (Nudity as a form of political expression is not a crime in Oregon.)

Anyway, I didn’t want to have to go through a checkpoint staffed by the same TSA personnel who testified against John Brennan, the day after they had seen me at his hearing and might have flagged me as a “protester”. So I took Amtrak.

One of the most scenic portions of the Amtrak “Coast Starlight” route between Los Angeles and Seattle is the section through the Siskiyous between the north end of the Central Valley in California and the south end of the Willamettte Valley in Oregon.

Unfortunately, the regular schedule is such that if the Starlight is on time, it passes through this section in the middle of the night. Only when the train is late (it has one of the worst on-time records in the Amtrak system, due to the freight railroads that own and control the tracks rather than anything under Amtrak’s control) or when the schedule is adjusted for track maintenance (as at present), do Amtrak passengers get to see Mt. Shasta in daylight. I’ve been on this train several times, in both directions, but this was the first time I got anything like the view of the route through the Cascades that I got on the northbound leg this time.

In the 1880s, my great-great-grandfather, James Scobie, an engineer originally from Scotland, was the prime contractor to the Southern Pacific Railroad for the masonry work on the original line between Redding, CA, and Ashland, OR. On this trip, for the first time, I got to see some of the stone tunnel facings, abutments, and retaining walls whose construction he had overseen.

Great-Great-Grandfather Scobie was one of those smart enough to seek their Gold Rush fortunes building infrastructure rather than digging for gold. At one time he owned houses at 601 Steiner St. / 900 Fell St. and later at 874 Fell St. in San Francisco and in Dunsmuir, and other real estate in Dunsmuir including the California Hotel. My great-grandmother Marguerite Scobie Davis, who had been one of the first women to graduate from U.C. Berkeley in 1884, moved east after the death of her mother and settled in Princeton, NJ, where her husband taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. Most of Scobie’s estate went to his second wife, not to my branch of the family in Princeton.

If you’ve been thinking about a trip on the Coast Starlight, this might be a good time to go, while the days are long and the schedule allows a rare view of the best of the scenery.

[Monument to my great-great-grandfather James Scobie and great-great-grandmother Jeanie Ross Scobie in Cypress Lawn Cemetary, Colma, California.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 27 May 2013, 18:22 ( 6:22 PM)

Story of your Great-great-grandfather is cool..

Posted by: Robert, 28 May 2013, 05:38 ( 5:38 AM)

Great article about making the best of Amtrak's terrible track record with this train.

Posted by: John B, 28 May 2013, 16:21 ( 4:21 PM)

I took the Coast Starlight last spring and also go to see Mt. Shasta in daylight! The train limped into San Francisco, where I boarded, an hour late, and didn't leave for another two hours. Turned out one of the locos had broken down, and we wound up being pulled by a freight loco. I was in no hurry (having no faith in the timetable to begin with) and was thrilled with the view. I should say that the California Zephyr, which I also took on that trip, was only 10 minutes late in to SF.

Posted by: Kathy, 1 June 2013, 12:29 (12:29 PM)


I came across your article while researching James Scobie b. June 29, 1845, in Blackford, Perthshire Scotland, son of James Scobie and Janet Scobie. He also had a sister Catherine born in 1841. I see from the 1880 US Census that your James would have been born in about 1837. Do you know who your James' parents were? I also found this article posted online:

Siskiyou Co; California
October 30, 1897


Col. and Mrs. James Scobie have returned from a stay in Scotland, accompanied by Mrs. Scobie's sister.

Mr. and Mrs. Scobie who were married in Scotland, spent the summer in the old country having a delightful trip and passing most of the time on their native heath around the Banks and Braes off Blackford. Since returning they are occupying their palatial mansion on Fell Street in San Francisco, and Mr. Scobie, former masonry contractor during building of the railroad North from Redding to Ashland, Oregon, now retired, is putting in most of his time looking after his vast interests in that city and elsewhere.
San Francisco realestate is looking up owing to abundance of gold coming in for wheat and other supplies from Alaska and the Klondike, and Mr. Scobie has his hands full trying to concentrate on his interests. Later this Fall when he gets time, he and his wife expect to visit Dunsmuir and all this section, as he has property in Dunsmuir, Montague, Ashland and several other places.

The Scobie mansion will always be notable, as it occupies the highest point in the Bay City.

I also found this on Findagrave:

Hope to hear back from you soon!



Posted by: Anonymous, 10 July 2013, 18:42 ( 6:42 PM)

Thank you, I hope I see this someday.
Your James Scobie left money for the poor in his home town of Blackford, Perthshire, Scotland and my grandfather James Scobie helped his father William (1st cousin) deliver it.

Posted by: Jane, 14 July 2013, 07:39 ( 7:39 AM)

Hi Edward, I too am the great-great grandchild of James Scobie 1836 - 1902 of Blackford, Scotland. Did you know that when his daughter Marguerite moved to New Jersey she had twelve first cousins living in California? The youngest cousin got saddled with the name Jimima Scobie Ross, poor girl. I'm researching and writing about James and Marguerite. I'm part of the Swift clan, descended from Anne Davis and Emerson Swift.

Posted by: Kersten Tanner, 3 October 2016, 12:06 (12:06 PM)
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