(First in a series of two columns)
Saturday, July 6 — It is 9:30 p.m. as we leave the VIA Rail VIP Panorama Lounge in Toronto, Canada, headed toward VIA Rail Train 1, Car 113, Sleeper Cabin C, for a cross-country journey to Vancouver, near Canada’s Pacific Coast.
This trans-Canada rail trip is one of our post-retirement goals, combining our enthusiasm for Canada with our enjoyment of rail travel.
Having learned the hard way that trying to sleep sitting up in a coach car is contrary to the laws of God and Nature, we have elected to get a cabin for our four-day journey.
As soon as we enter Cabin C, the words of the Roger Miller classic, “King of the Road,” begin ringing in my ears:
“Two hours of pushing broom buys an eight-by-12 four-bit room.”
Our cabin measures eight feet by five feet, less than half the dimensions of Miller’s 50-cent freight car accommodations.
The upper and lower bunks, when lowered by the porter, take up most of the eight-foot length and more than half of the five-foot width. The size of the cabin is more reminiscent of a walk-in closet than a bedroom.
It gives new meaning to “togetherness.” Since this trip is a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary, togetherness seems appropriate.
Since neither of us is into climbing ladders much these days, we decide that the best use of the upper bunk is as a platform to hold our two carry-on bags, into which we packed nine days worth of clothing, a couple of books, and our ever-present iPads.
Paulo, our porter, tells us to press a button in the morning when we are ready to have the bunks cranked into their storage area and our two “reclining” chairs set into place. We discover that they recline about two inches.
But the purpose of our trip is to see Canada, from one coast to the other (with a few days in Vancouver after the train trip). Several spacious activity and club cars, two with a domed second level, are comfortable and inviting.
The sleeper car, after all, is for sleeping.
And meals, which are included in the sleeper car fare, are delicious.
Sunday, July 7 — Walking on a moving train is a little like walking on a cruise ship, except that the pitching of a ship is more gentle and predictable. Since passenger train hallways are one-way passages, and cabin space, as just described, is extremely tight, it is almost impossible to fall. You just bounce off the walls and think of it as part of the adventure.
Our first day’s scenery is predominantly wilderness: forests, rivers, and lakes, probably about what the region has looked like since before the railroads were built.
It is well past noon on our first full day before we see our first signs of life, other than a few water birds, outside the train: two men and a dog waiting patiently for our train to pass so they can cross the rails.
The backwoods settlements we pass typically number fewer than a dozen small houses, sometimes only one or two.
Almost every truck we see bears the CN logo of Canadian National Railway, the government-subsidized rail line which owns the tracks in this part of the country. It appears that in the Canadian outback, rail maintenance is the principal industry.
Our first stop is at the village of Hornepayne, pop: several. Half of its city hall is a two-bay fire station. We spot a sign marking Third Avenue, suggesting the existence of two other streets somewhere.
Its principal signs of civilization are a hardware store and a two-story Masonic lodge.
In a town which neither has nor needs a traffic light, we take presence of the Masonic lodge as an indication of the strength of the organization in the Greater Hornepayne Metropolitan Area.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired, and enjoys traveling with his friend Mary. He will never again complain about the size of a hotel room. Next week: Winnipeg Parliament: me and the premier.)