“Good mornin’ America how are ya?….”

The rising sun from the train, eastern ND, June 2, 2019

Thinking of our now complete voyage to the northwest and a piece of California and Colorado, I kept thinking of the toe-tapper, City of New Orleans.  Listen to Arlo Guthrie sing Steve Goodman’s 1971 song here.

We spent our 14 days nowhere near New Orleans, and rode the rails near 50 years after the song was written.  Nonetheless, change the names and the characters, and you still catch the essence in 2019.  Here was our route map, from the AMTRAK magazine.  We trained from Minneapolis to Seattle; stopped a few days; trained to Salem, OR; stopped two days; trained again to Davis CA; then flew to Denver to visit family, and home again, by airline.

Route map of trip June 1-15. (St. Paul to Davis CA via AMTRAK, plane from Sacramento to Minneapolis, via Denver).

First AMTRAK rest stop, Minot ND June 2, 2019

Long and short, we covered an immense swath of the U.S., visited,  some great people, saw some interesting places and things…but it would be foolish to pretend we did more than a quick once over.

We visited the wonderful Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle (beside the space needle); also Pike Place and Underground Seattle, and the immense Boeing operation in Everett; we had a wonderful visit with a friend in Mt. Angel OR; crossed the Cascades in southern OR; toured the Leland Stanford mansion and the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, and saw the Big Trees in Calaveras County; walked the campus of UC Davis; drove a ways up the mountain to overlook Boulder CO.

On board the train we dined with people we’d never met before and would likely not see again.  One couple I’ll particularly remember were native American.  The husband noted that his most recent article was a cover story in the well-known magazine Sojourners.  I looked it up on return home, read it myself, and you can read it here: “How Indigenous world views offer hope to a besieged planet”.

A particular priority for me was to visit Redmond WA, which Microsoft lists as home, and in which my long-time friend has lived for many years.  I specifically was interested in the setting of a book written by a survivor of the North Dakota Depression Years, whose cover is below, and is twinned with another book, written in 1995 by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and today one of the worlds richest people, and with his spouse Melinda, head of one of the greatest philanthropic Foundations.

Gates, pictured below at age 13 (from “The Road Ahead“) did look ahead near 25 years ago and was, in my opinion, quite right on about the present he and other foresaw.  As for Unrestorable Habitat, Lois Phillips Hudson looked ahead with less enthusiasm about the Microsoft World.  She had spent most of her school years in then  tiny pre-World War II Redmond, graduating from high school there, and then editing the local newspaper.  And after retiring from the University of Washington, she made her home in her old hometown.  Her book was published as she had left it when she died…near, but not quite finished. She had worked on it from 2001 to 2010.  I found the book to be full of food for thought, with many vignettes from both North Dakota farm life during the Great Depression (which she richly recounts in the still available Bones of Plenty) and Redmond WA in the not so good old days of the 1930s.

Ideas are wonderful things to explore.  In my opinion, these two largely unknown books are ‘twins’ of a unique kind.

Paul Allen (left) and 13 year old Bill Gates at Lakeside School, Seattle, 1968

There are many stories I’d like to tell about our fourteen days on the road; over 400 photographs, many of which might be of interest to you.  How to sum up, though, I think I’ll include just a single photo from the magnificent Calaveras Redwood Forest in Caliifornia.

Redwood Forest Calaveras Co California; no, the red at the top of the photo doesn’t belong there…some unsolicited color entered the camera.  I still like the tree.


Some Acknowledgements:  Our Dad had something of a rule, which to the best of my knowledge he followed: “after three days, dead fish and relatives smell”.  June 1-15 was as much an opportunity to touch base with persons we knew, and I hope we didn’t wear out anyone’s welcome!  In the process, we met some others who we’d like to stay in touch with.  With no intent of making a complete list, here are those whose hospitality was gratefully accepted:  Emmett, Kathy, Leon, John, Wests, Parrish’s and Knutson’s of Petaluma, the Colorado Bernards, Robin and David, Flatleys and Hagebocks and Heather, of course.  On the AMTRAK we met Dwayne and Mary from Albuquerque [see coment at the end of this post], and Edith and Randy from Portland area (his article in Sojourners is referenced above.)  There are many others whose names I didn’t get.  And an array of friendly people.  I don’t recall any sour notes.  We’re glad we went and we’re glad we’re back home!  Thank you all.

Homelessness:  During the trip I decided to keep the front section of one daily paper each paper from the area we were visiting.  It would not surprise that the front page never matched the reality we experienced in Seattle, Salem or Davis.

June 4, our second day in Seattle, The Seattle Times banner headline was “Angst over homelessness drives many Seattle voters”.  The issue appeared to be homeless folks living in their cars and parking on city streets in neighborhoods.  It caused me to look for other evidences of ‘homelessness’ as we travelled.  It was often noted, but not so often apparent from day to day life on any of the streets we frequented.

Down the block from our hotel, (I frequented the local Starbucks each early morning),  I watched Seattle come alive at the corner of 4th and Pine (below photo), a few blocks from the flying fish of Pike Place.  An occasional person of the street stopped by the trash cans across the sidewalk and street, trolling for whatever.  They bothered no one, no one bothered them.  Off they went.  It was a daily dance.

Days later, when our train approached Sacramento in the very early daylight of June 10, we saw occasional ‘settlements’ along the railroad.  They were difficult to photograph, below is one of them.  In the June 11, Sacramento Bee was a guest column by Joe Perez, which I found quite interesting.  You can read it here. Here’s the pdf of the Perez article: Homeless – Perez001

June 10, 2019, from AMTRAK coach, approaching Sacramento CA

The issue is endless, of course, and without a single ‘one size fits all’ answer.  Who is the last actual street person you saw in person?  Who was the last one before him or her?  What do you know about him or her?  Homelessness is a complex problem.  Not every street person wants a home to live in, with rules, etc.  But it did occur to me that the typical conversation about the issue infrequently acknowledges the other side of the story.  Every single homeless person, anywhere, at minimum has a mother and a father; is an absent member of some family somewhere; perhaps has brothers and sisters; may be an uncle or aunt who has gone missing, and is missed by somebody.  The issue is never clean, over and done.  (The wonderful lady who conducted our tour at the Leland Stanford mansion by the State Capitol in Sacramento used to counsel girls who were residents there in its day as a residential facility, many of whom came from difficult and highly unhealthy home environments.  People I suppose would have been called ‘wayward girls’, from tough circumstances.)

I got to thinking back to the most powerful speech I ever heard, in May of 1982, to the Board of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities.  It was delivered by the then-director Mgsr. Jerome Boxleitner, and someone asked it to be reprinted in the Charities newsletter, which it was.  I still send it on from time to time.  Here’s the story in its powerful brevity: Mgsr Boxleitner May 1982001

Sandwich Boards:  First day in Davis, John took us on a walking tour of the campus of University of California at Davis.  The link takes you to a history of this phenomenal university, which is quite youthful, but has a deserved world-class reputation.

Along the way, we came across an array of Sandwich boards, announcing a diverse collection of organizations seeking student attention.  There were more than I could get in a single photograph.  They stood silently and orderly, presumably ready to be called into action.  It seemed an excellent idea.

UC Davis leapt to national notoriety during the Occupy Days of fall 2011, probably something they’d prefer not to call attention to.  Google UC Davis pepper spray incident for more information if you wish.  [POSTNOTE: see John’s comment at the end of this post.]

My brother John pointed out ‘ground zero’, sitting quietly on our route.

Several days earlier, at Pike Place in Seattle, a solitary figure carrying his placard caught my attention, as he was respectfully making his cause known to anyone who expressed an interest.

Here he is.  I never talked in person with him, but the website is a working one.  Take a look.  Agree or disagree the man was presenting his views, respectfully.

The Gallery: One of the most interesting side trips was to tour the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, and the most intriguing part of that was to be introduced to the recent Governors of California, including Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – among others.

This should have been routine…an endless of array of distinguished white men in suit and tie, looking distinguished.

The wall in front of us included portraits of six former Govs, but none of Jerry Brown, the last incumbent governor (term ended in 2019), and also governor in 1975-83, and also son of one of the former governors.

But where was Jerry  Brown?

The tour guide noted one Governor who violated the dress code for ex-governors.  He had on the appropriate garb, but not a suit coat like the others.  Jerry Brown?  His portrait is outside the Secretary of States office.  Of course I had to take a look.  Below are the photos,


The Governors Wall on the Tour – included six recent past Governors, but not Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown, hanging alone outside the Secretary of States office, State Capitol, Sacramento

Needless to say, Gov. Jerry’s portrait attracts attention.  There’s the old saying, “clothes don’t make the man”.  Neither do the portraits.  Personally, I like the governor, the motive for the portrait and the spirit.

Glimpses at a few Lives:  Waiting for our train at Salem was an old man.  He asked us to watch his duffel as he used the bathroom.  He was neat and clean, and his sleeveless shirt revealed a US Marine Corps tattoo.

We engaged in conversation.  He was 86, Mexican, had been in the Marines as a young man, and was heading home to the Los Angeles area.  He had seen heavy action in Korea (the action called Bunker Hill), and lost two fellow Marines in combat – the memories still follow him.)

Some months back he and his wife of 63 years lost almost everything in the Paradise fire; two weeks later she collapsed and died in a doctors office of a heart attack.

He was starting over, reminiscing as folks can do.

In the conversation, he said they had prepared for the worst, and put aside a package of essential papers just in case they needed ever to leave their home suddenly.  As fire danger increased, his wife said, “don’t forget your dress blues” – his Marine uniform, which still fit.  His grandson was about to conclude Marine basic training, and asked Grandpa to be there in uniform so he could be the first person with whom to share a salute.  Best I know, mission was accomplished, or will be, soon.

We didn’t get his name, even a first name, but we’ll never forget him.

On another occasion, we met three people, husband, wife, son, who were among the group that is intended to be the target of the latest announced sweep to rid the country of illegals.  Our meeting was brief, at a home, and we didn’t take photos or get names.  They were very nice people, “tax payers” hardly a public enemy as they have been declared.  They were moving to another community and I will always wonder about how they’re doing in this ‘lock em up and send em back where they came from” era.

Headline News:  Each day we were on the ground, in Seattle, Salem and Davis, I picked up the local papers and saved the A section, which includes the front page.  I have them all, and just looked at them again.

Suffice to say, the daily headlines “above the fold”, do not reflect the America we experienced in their communities when we were there, at the exact same time in history.  Our country is full of far better people, and thus a far better place than the news portrays us.  Yes, there are hugely serious problems, and I’m not dismissing them.  But at the basic level, far ‘below the fold’, most people want to figure out how better to simply get along.  To be otherwise, is suicidal for them and our society.

I look again at that map of the AMTRAK, and the lines we rode June 1-15 in the northwest of our country.    That map shows a reality: much of our country is still relatively empty.  It is possible for someone to live out in rural America to believe, really believe, that they can survive on their own,  without having to tolerate any messiness from outside.  “Just leave us alone”.

The problem is very obvious.  Our nation, and our world, and all of us, are tied together in a way that will come unbound only with an unmitigated disaster that will kill or severely damage every single one of us, present and future.  We are not in the nostalgic times of my youth back in the 1950s.  It wasn’t that great then, and it certainly isn’t now.

Imagine, for a moment, even the possibility of cutting the internet, which has become our communication circulatory system – the blood vessels of contemporary life.  Imagine it being destroyed, or severely damaged, or infected with some terrible disease (think ‘fake news’).  For most, now, in our country and most others, internets of all sorts make us completely interdependent on each other.  And vulnerable in ways formerly unknown.

But, the trip was wonderful.  A time to enjoy, but also an important time to reflect on who and where we are, an where we are going.

Thanks for reading.

If you have a Facebook Account, I have posted a Facebook album including over 200  snapshots of our 2016 journey.  You can see it here.  It is as yet un-captioned.  This is a work in progress.  The photos are in the same sequence as our travel.



from Lois: It is so nice to have you back posting on various subjects!  In January 1961, at 1am I boarded the Amtrak in VC [Valley City ND] headed for San Francisco; not sure if we took the Seattle loop or just the track from Spokane to Portland.  It was winter in Spokane and astonishing to see green grass and trees everywhere by mid day after a miserable night in a coach seat.   I stayed in SF [San Francisco] area in California for 25 years, then 5 in Sacramento so reading your blog reminded me of those very different years….albeit from the headlines of today.    I enjoyed your recent journey as much as mine.

from Dwayne (a person met on the train) Thanks so much for the wonderful books by National Geographic. They are delightful. I am particularly interested in the possibility that an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker might still be living in the southern woods, so I read the story in your book about the search which they went through to try to find and document an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  It was amazing. They hauled with them some huge battery powered recording equipment. When they found the woodpecker the nearest road was impassable for the truck carrying the equipment. They had to disassemble everything, put it into a horse drawn wagon, re-solder all the necessary connections and then use four horses to get everything close enough to the nest to record the calls. That was nearly the last verifiable sighting of the woodpecker. The few sightings reported since then are mostly open to question.

A few days after reading your book I got my monthly publication from the Cornell Library. Lo and behold, the feature article was about the trip I had just finished reading about in your book. I was dumfounded. They had obviously been doing research in the National Geo. books.
I feel guilty having those all to myself so I may put them in the care of a friend. The University of New Mexico has one of the largest collections of bird skins in the U.S. in their Museum of Southwestern Biology. They have a very active graduate school for those wanting to study Ornithology. Chris Witt is the director of the Museum and is active in some of our local birding activities. I might talk to him about making the books available for his graduate students. Would that be OK with you?  [see my response below].
I really enjoyed your piece on your family farm. Our family experience in Colorado was somewhat similar but nobody was committed enough to make and keep photos. We have a few but no one knows who the people are.
Thanks again for your kind generosity. I really appreciate it.
Response from Dick: Great to hear from you.  Re the books, they are yours to do with as you wish.  I’m really glad you have a desire to pass them on.  Better than lying in a box in my garage, which they’d done for the last five years!  I was interested in the coincidence you reported re the geographics.  Many people dismiss history, especially this sort of thing.  Who cares?  My response is, all it takes is one person [who cares], and I have no idea who it will be.  But someone will be glad someone unknown to them did the spadework back then.  I hope we can keep in touch.
3 replies
  1. John Bernard
    John Bernard says:

    Stellar travelogue – great to host you in Davis. Always nice to see your hone turf through the eyes of another!

    A few more side notes about the UC Davis Pepper spray incident:

    1)The University president at the time kept her post for another couple of years; was then quietly demoted to tenured professor status; and has since fully retired.

    2)The “pepper sprayer” was suspended for a time and “chose” to resign; and collected a small PTSD settlement

    3)The University PR department mounted a relatively expensive campaign to attempt to shove any google search of UCD so that the pepper spray would NOT be on the first page of any results – turned out to not be very successful.

  2. Larry Gauper
    Larry Gauper says:

    Excellent article and photographs, Dick. Quite the trip! I can relate somewhat. When I was about fourteen years old, my Dad, a depot agent on the Soo Line, took me on the Great Northern’s (at that time) “Western Star,” cousin of the almighty Empire Builder train. We rode from Minot to Portland and back again. Visited relatives on my dad’s side in the Portland area. Off subject, but I had just discovered paperback books. Before we boarded the train in the Magic City, I purchased “The Search for Bridey Murphy” by Morey Bernstein, a popular non-fiction book at the time. Read it all the way to Portland during our two or three nights on the train – and then, while in Oregon, I tried to hypnotize a couple of my cousins based a technique I learned from the book. What a hoot!

    But the trip was memorable. I had an upper sleeper “birth” and my dad had the lower one. Sounds like you had classier sleeping accommodations that we experienced. Glad you mentioned that Arlo Guthrie classic, “City of New Orleans.” I love trains and the tracks they ride on, and, as I read your mention of that song – an absolute all time favorite of mine – I thought of these lyrics: “Nighttime on the City of New Orleans, changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.” Every time I hear those words, I think of waking up in Spokane in the middle of the night, peeking out the little slider window, and realizing we were changing cars. The train was being split between one part going to Seattle and other cars going to our destination of Portland.

    I noted your observation that “train travel soon loses its glamour.” I’ve thought about doing the kind of trip you describe, but not quite as extensive a stopover list. However, I get to thinking about the details of train travel, and set the idea aside.

    Growing up in Valley City, ND, the 3,860 foot Hi-Line bridge was and still is a living landmark. It was built by the Northern Pacific over a hundred years ago and is still being used by lengthy oil trains going east from the Bakken oil formation near Williston. I would go to sleep each night, listening to the rumble of trains going across that bridge. Thinking about where those trains might be going, I’d drift into slumber.

    Living in Fargo, ND, since 1967, we’re far enough from the several main lines going through our city into Minnesota and I love to hear the sound of locomotive horns off in the distance. There’s something about trains, railroads, and the places you visited that stimulate memories of similar explorations of the wonders of America. Thanks for your work on this, Dick. Informative and fun to read.


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