The last Amtrak passenger trains traveling with Nisqually Delta, the Narrows, Salmon Beach, Northern Pacific’s Point Defiance tunnel, and Vashon Island views will run on December 17th. Beginning on the 18th, passengers will board at the new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square in downtown Tacoma. Departures and arrivals will use the new Bypass Route which will take passengers through South Tacoma and Lakewood and travel alongside I-5 past DuPont. While shaving time SoundTransit says, “The new inland rail route will create room for Amtrak Cascades to add more daily trips between Seattle and Portland, shorten travel times, and reduce delays.”
My wife Peggy and I with a few of our friends had been talking about a trip to Centralia before the new schedule changed. November 12th was the day. We all made our reservations and dressed warmly and dryly (umbrellas) so we could walk around town a bit between trains. They last time we had all ridden together on Amtrak it resulted in a trip to Tuscany. We began the planning while we waited at Powell’s Books in Portland for the Coast Starlight from California about twelve years ago. No trip to Italy this time, but we did have fun.
On our first leg of the journey along Ruston Way, an original Santa Fe orange covered freight engine whizzed past us pulling cars in the opposite direction. The BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) unit momentarily blocked our view of Vashon Island and Quartermaster Harbor.
We had great seats in the middle of the car. There were two rows facing each other with folding tables in-between. What a great day for traveling. The weather was always threatening rain, but only paid off with dull gray skies, which actually were an excellent background to highlight the autumn leaves on trees and bushes, and the ground. Coming out of the Pt. Defiance Tunnel we could see Salmon Beach as we left it behind and traveled the Narrows, under the bridge, and then past Titlow Park and Day Island. On one side of our car we saw the links of Chamber’s Bay and on the other we were treated to McNeil Island. Soon we passed Chamber’s Bay itself and flashed through Steilacoom. Past Steilacoom we looked out on Ketron Island with a grounded ferry sitting on the shore. Past Ketron was Anderson Island and then the fantastic Nisqually Delta. We quickly passed the Nisqually Delta, the Nisqually bottom lands and stopped at East Olympia (a station run by volunteers). After passing through the Mima Mounds we arrived in Centralia.
We walked around downtown on our own. The second annual Centralia Christmas Market is coming to historic downtown Centralia Dec. 9 and 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the past, shop owners would dress is Currier & Ives style clothes like an old time Christmas card and welcome visitors. I don’t know if they’ll do that this year, but you never know. The current market features local craft vendors selling unique and handmade items, so you can come pick up Christmas presents for friends and family! And after it’s all done, stick around in downtown Centralia and catch the Lighted Tractor Parade, an event that grows in popularity each year for good reason!
There are lots of antique stores in downtown Centralia. We visited the Centralia Square Grand Ballroom and Hotel. The basement features small booths selling various antiques. On the second floor is the grand ballroom. Two of our couples danced around in the grand ballroom, which features a stage, too. Rooms are available for rent – www.centraliasquare.com/. While I waited for Peg and our friends I sat on the corner across the street from the park/Carnegie Library. The maple trees at the park were fantastic as were the trees at Centralia Square. When we first started walking around a man in a wheelchair asked if I had any spare change. I spared him some. The second question of the day came as a young man stopped his car at the intersection and asked, “What are you talking pictures of?” I simply pointed at the trees and Centralia Square.
Our next stop was the Olympic Club, which is a McMenamin’s property. Years ago Peg and I along with our friends Jan and Mike had gone to a movie there and enjoyed sitting in a love seat (per couple), eating dinner, having wine or beer, and enjoying a movie. Like Centralia Square, the Olympic Club has rooms for rent also – www.mcmenamins.com/olympic-club.
The six of us crowded into a booth for lunch. It looks like most people who dine there are single, a couple, or some configuration equaling four. It took some time to have our food served, but we had no place to go anyway. Everyone seemed happy with their food. Peggy and I shared our orders. Peg had the steelhead club sandwich with a salad and I had the oysters and tater tots. The tater tots were smaller than most others of the same name, but I hesitate to call them tiny tots . . . it sounds so cannibalistic. The ketchup which is bottled in Portland was excellent. Peg loved the club sandwich and I thought the oysters were perfectly crunchy.
After our lunch we moseyed on down the street window shopping and then we entered True Value. The hardware store is one of my favorite places to visit in Centralia. They always have great items for sale near the entrance. Our friend Donn poked around at an $80 BBQ. If I still had really young grandchildren, or had been by myself, I would have purchased the one plastic cutlass they had for sale. I also liked the ice chest/cooler that stood about three feet tall and had long legs and wheels. It was bright red. You never know when you might need to wheel drinks around.
The train was a few minutes late. We boarded and had room to make our own chart for sitting. The Amtrak Coast Starlight engine was larger than most of the local Cascades engines. We made up more of the lost time and enjoyed relaxing and looking at the Pacific Northwest landscapes. The Amtrak ticket clerks in Tacoma and Centralia where friendly and efficient. The on board crews explained everything and were very helpful. Parking was easy. I don’t know how the new Tacoma station will work for people, but I do know that time is short for anyone who wants to ride Amtrak with the water views of the southern Puget Sound. I recommend it – www.amtrak.com/tickets-reservations.