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 Cascades 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 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.]