Sunday, October 11, 2009

A stop in Whitefish and the addition of a private car

Our Amtrak Empire Builder passenger train stopped just at deep sunset in Whitefish, Montana. It's a tiny town, but well known in the northwest (at least in the past) for its posh resorts and ski lodges.

It was one of the longer stops along the Empire Builder route, allowing train personnel to top up fuel and replenish food and goodies. Passengers can debark and stretch their legs. I didn't really need it - we had boarded at East Glacier (National Park) less than forty minutes earlier. But I didn't want to miss the chance to see us on the outside. Again. I hopped off the train at all of our longer stops.

So I wandered out onto the platform of the late Victorian (and beautifully maintained) train station. I didn't see it come up, but an old. wooden passenger car was being shuttled off a siding and staged behind our train by a switch engine. The car was ornate, old, gleaming in the lamplight. A party was in full swing, visible through the large glass windows. The music could be heard, rock-and-roll.

An Amtrak worker on the platform of the old car stood waiting for coupling of the car, so I asked him what this was.

"Private car," he said. It turns out that Amtrak will attach private cars to its scheduled runs, for a hefty fee.

"Look incredible," I said.

"It should," he said. "It was the private car of [here he inserted the name of a fabulous party-animal industrial tycoon of the late 1800s]. Crystal chandeliers, mahogany interior, even has a complete master bedroom suite with private bath and shower."

I didn't write down the name of the tycoon on my trip notes - I've been racking my brains and it may come back to me... but it may, and in fact probably, will not.

I took the photo which is the basis for my oil above, then watched as a switcher gently connected the old car. The 21st century rock-and-roll audible outside it was a strange, anachronistic touch.

As it turns out, the photo was not of the scene above. The Empire Builder swept straight off to the left. But the picture was so dark that a printout made the dark shapes of one-story shops along a street masquerade as our train. It looked as though our cars curved around to the right, pointing into the wall of mountains north of town. Only after I painted the little canvas did I revisit the photo and discover my mistake. Mistakes can make far more interesting pictures than reality...

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