LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part Two

BLOG #34, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part Two
August 26, 2015

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As our long-time blog-readers know, I first wrote about trains a little over a year ago. A number of you responded to that series. Now we were back on the same route, but in late summer rather than spring. Each season, on Amtrak, is different. Indeed, no two journeys in life are ever the same for life never repeats itself.

The reason for this particular trip was a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. More on that at a later date.

I’ve become convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God takes special delight in vicariously traveling on trains. Again and again I’ve seen our universe’s Master Choreographer set up anything-but-chance meetings between His children on trains. For there is something about train travel that lends itself to introspection, to thinking deep thoughts about life, of posing Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who Am I? Where Have I Come From? And Where Am I Going?

When I travel, I habitually load myself down with comp books to give away to those who appear to be seriously interested in them. This time, since I was traveling by train, I took twelve of my most recent: Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten, My Favorite Angel Stories, and My Favorite Miracle Stories; all found homes by the time we detrained in Denver nine days later. In trains, people read.

Just to give you a feel for the people who shared the train with us, I’ll tell you about some of them:

On our westward-bound train two roomettes behind was a vivacious young woman and her in-love-with-life nine-year-old daughter. Since their door was often open and they were often reading aloud to each other, I stopped to get acquainted. Since the little girl loved books about animals, I inscribed Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten to her. Within only a couple of hours she was already part way through. The mother was using the train as a vehicle to teach her the geography of our nation. Clearly, the mother strongly controlled electronic gadgetry, for I never saw the girl with one. Instead, she was entranced with all she saw out her window and the people who walked down the hall.

One couple was only going over the Rockies and down to Glenwood Springs (one of the most spectacular train trips on the continent). They planned to stay in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, swim in the vast hot springs pool, wander around town, then board an eastern-bound train back to Denver. This section of the Rockies is extremely popular with Coloradans.

Sitting next to us at breakfast was an athlete from Fresno, California, who plays basketball for Wichita State. He was returning from attending a wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. He told us he much preferred train travel to air travel. Also at our table was a lady from Nevada City, Nevada who travels a lot, as often as possible by train.

A couple from Wisconsin sat with us at noon. In the Observation Car I sat next to a lovely young graduate in music from BYU. I’ve long been amazed at how many young people travel on trains, seeking answers for life problems. Turns out she was one of them. Deeply troubled by a romance with a young man who did not share her own close relationship with God, she had hoped to find someone on the train she could trust to listen to her story and perhaps offer guidance or suggestions. Above all: kindness, a quality she’d discovered to be all too scarce in this hectic society we live in. She read my own life-changing-story in the new Miracle book—and that convinced her that I could be trusted. Just before she got off in Reno, I inscribed a copy of the Miracle book to her; and she, in turn, inscribed a copy of her new CD release. I shall always treasure the words she wrote on it.

But by that time people to my left and across the aisle asked to see my books, and confessed to having overheard our dialogue. One of them, a grandmother of an eighteen-year-old co-ed was treating both her daughter and granddaughter with this train trip, coast to coast then south to San Diego and back to the East Coast. All in honor of her granddaughter’s graduation and birthday. I inscribed a book to the lucky girl. Two older women traveling together (across the aisle) stopped me and thanked me for taking the time to counsel the BYU graduate. It never ceases to fascinate me to see how open travelers are to share serious, even intimate, things with strangers they’d not even share with family members or close friends; reasoning, no doubt, that they’d never see their traveling listeners again anyhow.

After our five-day family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we boarded an Amtrak eastward-bound train). On board were two train historians who, on the intercom, pointed out places of historical significance as the train approached them.

Also on the train was Tony, a retiree from New England (and whose single great obsession in life was trains). Even his CHASE credit card was Amtrak-designated. All points translated into Amtrak trips. Also, he regularly attended all key get-togethers for obsessive train devotees like him. In fact, it appears that Amtrak employees across the country recognize him on sight, even calling him by name in the dining car. He regaled us with many fascinating stories about Amtrak culture. He even got to meet the Amtrak president – twice.

We ate lunch with a British family, owners of an ice cream establishment in the UK. Both of their sons are techies, who are so interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley that they both attended a special class for serious applicants there: the younger one was on the train; the older one was still in Berkeley.

At dinner, we got acquainted with an ER doctor and his wife from London. They enthusiastically praised all that they were seeing in America.

Then there was the young techie from Munich, Germany, who had landed a contract job in San Francisco. He’d seen most of our national parks already, and climbed a number of our highest peaks. Indeed, he was planning to climb Long’s Peak ( one of Colorado’s fabled 14-ers) next day. He even liked the relative slowness (up to 80 mph) of U.S. trains, pointing out that many of Europe’s bullet trains move so fast the scenery is just a blur.

Unforgettable too were the young family doctors who were on their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they were setting up a family practice. Their baby boy was the darling of the entire train—everyone, even the Amtrak employees, gravitated into his orbit.

All in all, on Amtrak, you will rub shoulders with people from all around the world. And if you have not yet traveled by train, put it on your Bucket List this very moment. Train trips will enrich your life in ways past quantifying.

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29th Zane Grey Convention Concludes

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION
Part 5
CONVENTION CONCLUDES

This blog for August 17

(Insert #419 – Group of Zanies at Jamestown)

Wednesday evening, we held a discussion on the last Zane Grey novel to be published, George Washington, Frontiersman. This book, Grey left unfinished. University of Kentucky historian, Carlton Jackson, edited the final manuscript many years later. Grey fans had long been looking forward to seeing it since it represented the final fourth of Grey’s Ohio Valley quartet. Furthermore, it featured George Washington, a friend of the Zane family (Zane Grey’s maternal ancestors). Such a spirited book discussion developed that it was decided to schedule another next year, on two Grey books: Wyoming and Maverick Queen, both set in the Wyoming Territory region.

(Insert #454 – Reconstructed Jamestown church – being excavated inside)

Thursday morning, what members label “the fastest [and shortest] four days of the year,” began with what has become one of the high points of the convention. Prof. Charles [“Chuck”] Pfeiffer attended the very first Zane Grey convention in Keene, Texas; indeed, he parked his faithful VW van on our lawn, back in 1983. Since that time, Pfeiffer has become the world’s foremost authority on the settings of Zane Grey books, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles, criss-crossing the nation, (often with college students taking classes for credit, traveling with him). Pfeiffer has reduced Grey’s settings to a science. Prior to Pfeiffer’s studies, we were often confused about some of Grey’s settings for they don’t always fit exactly on maps today. Given that Grey always maintained that the settings of his novels were more important than the characters themselves (since people are so much a product of their environment), Pfeiffer has been performing a huge service for today’s readers of Grey. Nor did he disappoint us this year, with his slide show (digitized), “The Locations of the Novel George Washington, Frontiersman. Pfeiffer is also author of the stupendous tour de force, Zane Grey, a Study in Values: Above and Beyond the West (Aurora, Colorado: Zane Grey’s west Society, 2005).

Following a break, we proceeded to the annual election of officers (some have two-year terms, others one). Years ago we discovered (during a period when we almost lost the Society) that so close is the bond between members that they adamantly refuse to run against each other. Consequently, today there is little suspense in our elections. The election process is handled by the Executive Director of the Society.

Afterwards, a visual presentation was made to dream up additional interest in the June (third week), 2012 convention to be held in Spearfish, South Dakota (our first convention in the Black Hills). Our members will also be visiting Mount Rushmore, Chief Crazy Horse site, and the Badlands National Park.

Following that, a presentation was made by Dr. James D’Arc, inviting us all to bring the 2013 convention to Provo, Utah. There we will be feted with a Zane Grey film series at Brigham Young University, as well as being part of a celebration centering on all the Zane Grey collections BYU has been acquiring over the years [they also purchased my collection several years ago]. BYU is well on its way to becoming the greatest repository of Zane Grey manuscripts, films, memorabilia, books, etc., in the world. It is being set up as a research center for western scholars around the world. For instance, the 10,000 note cards I hand-wrote for my doctoral dissertation on Grey at Vanderbilt University have already been digitized so people anywhere may access it, not just students and scholars.

We often have mini-convention weekends following a given convention. 2013’s will feature one at Bryce Canyon National Park. Such weekends offer attendees the opportunity to experience places they’ve always wanted to see, in the company of cherished friends.

After a business meeting, we adjourned. Most members took this opportunity to revisit Williamsburg, Jamestown, or Yorktown. Except for the officers: we had to remain behind for the annual board meeting. Connie got to visit the Jamestown dig.

At 7:00 p.m., the most poignant meeting of all, the annual banquet. Poignant because so many Zanies are getting along in years that everyone realizes that for some, it may be their last convention. Dress-wise, attendees can be as casual or as formal as they like. Highlights of the banquet are: the President presents special awards, usually the coveted Purple Sage Award, for outstanding contributions to Zane Grey awareness; I present inscribed books to those members who made the previous convention such a success. To this year’s participants I presented them with a book depicting American ghost towns they may wish to visit. Another thing we always do is have a roll call of our alumni. This being our 29th convention, there were a lot of convention destinations represented. As each past convention is announced (with place and date), all those who first joined us on that occasion stand, and we all applaud. Then, that saddest moment of all: For the last few years, we’ve called upon David Leeson (who comes all the way from England to the convention each year) to lead out in the closing act of the convention. We all link hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne” – “May old acquaintance be ne’er forgot . . .” During that beloved old Scottish song, tears come to many of us.

And another convention is history.

* * * * *

If you’d be interested in learning more about the Society, drop me a line (to P.O.. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433), with your mailing address, and I’ll send you a complimentary copy of our beautiful Society magazine, The Zane Grey Review. We’d love to have you become a member of our extended family.

HOOKS:
George Washington, Frontiersman
Jackson, Carlton
Washington, George
Wyoming
Maverick Queen
Pfeiffer, Chuck
Zane Grey’s West Society
Spearfish, S.D.
Provo, UT
Brigham Young University
D’Arc, James
Zane Grey
Bryce Canyon National Park
Purple Sage Award