Writing on the Rails: From Edmonds to New York City for the holidays

The Edmonds Amtrak station

Follow along as Edmonds resident Michael W. Hall keeps a journal of his trip on the rails for the holidays. Hall left the Edmonds Amtrak station Christmas Eve, and is headed east by train to “The Big Apple” for New Year’s Eve.

Christmas Eve

5:12pm PST-

Boarded the Amtrak “Empire Builder” at the Edmonds Station at 5:12pm sharp.  They don’t mess around with their schedules on the rails. Found a spot on the main level of the second-to-last Coach car to stow my heavy rollaway luggage, then walked up to the second level to be seated by the conductor next to a perky young woman from Ephrata, Wash.  I’m surprised how roomy and spacious the Coach class seating spaces are. Plenty of room to stow the immediate gear I will need for the next few days’ trip to Chicago. 


6:16pm PST- 

On the train

Heading north out of the Edmonds, WA Station. This is a blast…..!  The gentle rocking and rolling of the rails are so relaxing…..! I’m seated at a linen-covered table in the dining car, just relaxing with all the wonderful holiday travelers….. 

HO, HO, HO…..!  

Christmas Morning…! 



7:30am MST- 

Breakfast in the dining car.

Christmas breakfast in the dining car; great coffee, scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon and croissant with orange juice.  Enjoying the wintery white of my first real glimpse of snow outside the slowly emerging dawn on Christmas morning as Whitefish, Montana flows effortlessly by my window.  

Listening to Christmas stories and hometown holiday conversation emanating from the breakfast tables around me. A woman mentioning her memories of Christmas morning when her mother would prepare homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve, then pop them in the oven early Christmas morning and the house smelling cinnamon sweet for Christmas.


Conservative Amish travelers dressed in black, sitting down for breakfast as we pull out of Glacier National Park. A slow meandering creek mirrors our path through the bare cedar forests gliding silently by on either side of the train in the frozen world, just inches away outside the dining car windows. It’s warm and congenial here in the dining car as the picture-perfect winter world passes by on Christmas morn…. 

8:20am MST- 

West Glacier Park

Passing by West Glacier Park. Snow-covered mountains and placid, frozen lakes. Evergreen forests under a milky-gray sky that glows in the stubborn morning light.  

I can’t help feeling, as we head further and further into snow country early Christmas morning, that we are on the Polar Express, slipping further and further toward the North Pole to Santa’s workshop and the Kingdom of Elves, for ‘The First Gift of Christmas!’  Quickly, I check my pockets to make sure there are no holes in any of them, just in case.  


Observation Car

Izak Walton Inn

The Izak Walton Inn is a small destination resort lodge tucked away in the Montana evergreens next to a winding winter river. 

Amish Friends are speaking a rapid-fire dialect of Pennsylvania-Dutch Low-German from Minnesota, with a few English words sparsely peppered throughout their congenial conversation.  


Gliding through mountain valleys full of snow and alpine forests, passing a freight train paralleling our way on a nearby mountain. A trio of conservative Amish Friends softly singing (accapella) Pastor Franz Gruber’s Classic, hastily composed, “Silent Night;” their dulcet tones accompanying the frozen spectacle outside, reminding us all of the real meaning of Christmas.  



The morning sun peeking out from behind large, lonely clouds set against an otherwise clear blue sky. The winter countryside becomes bathed in warm sunlight, brightening the rolling mountain terrain that stretches as far as one can see in every direction. A frozen, snow-covered lake fills the valley below our winding track through the winter wilderness.  


Browning, Montana Station 

High mountain plateaus.  Almost expecting a massive herd of reindeer to come pouring over the light-brown tundra.

10:58am MST- 

Shelby, Montana

A 25-minute stretch stop.  

Beautiful snow-covered winter plains as far as the eye can see…!

Outside the train in Shelby..



Christmas morning

11:55am MST- 

Rolling through the vastness of our land, as it stretches endlessly in all directions, it’s easy to get lost it’s vastness and the hours and hours of glorious empty spaces, just waiting for us to behold….


1:16pm MST- 

A short stretch stop in Havre, Montana.


Looks like “The Polar Express!” This is the last of the great “Empire Builder” Steam Locomotives. It was retired on permanent display in 1964. Fast and powerful, it’s a real beauty…!

3:19pm MST- Somewhere near Glasgow, Montana…

Hard to get much more relaxed than this…..
WiFi and internet connectivity is few and far between here in Montana…. Probably a good thing, settling the Soul….

3:42pm MST- 

“Montana Bar” (Still no WiFi….)  It’s like being on ‘The Dark Side of the Moon.”  Actually, they probably have better connectivity on the Moon!  Just saying….

4:40pm MST- 

“Not a creature was stirring; not a cell tower in sight….”


11:55pm CST- 

Williston, North Dakota.  (Dark outside) 


To be continued…

— By Michael W. Hall

Michael W. Hall, a 1971 graduate of Edmonds High School, is a local attorney who enjoys fly fishing, writing and “all things Fortean.”



    1. You should! It’s wonderful. Spring may be best, with a bit more light for sight-seeing. Also, the route Seattle – LA – Chicago, though an extra night, is magnificent.

      I always take a sleeper, though, for better rest.

  1. I took this trip home from Ann Arbor MI late Sept. this year. That was the weekend Glacier Park got 3′ of snow; one young man got off there to help his bud close down the park for the winter (a little tougher with snow?) and a couple women, without gloves and boots, also got off there!!
    Great job taking photos, Michael! Nice commentary, too.

  2. What an adventure! Loving the commentary and . Look forward to following you as your adventure continues! Definitely a memory making trip!

  3. I did this same trip but in reverse from New York to Edmonds, with my daughter and my 13 year old granddaughter. It was in July 20 years ago.

  4. I have great memories of this, in reverse. In 1975 I took the train from NY to Seattle right after college graduation. I was on my way to a Great Adventure outwest. At that time, it was the Broadway Unlimited NY to Chicago, then the Empire Builder to Seattle, and two weeks later the Coast Starlight to LA. 20-something new college grad on an adventure, always in coach. A year later I moved to Seattle via Canadian Pacific from Montreal to Vancouver. Two years ago we took the Empire Builder to Wisconsin, this time in a sleeper. Love train travel! Keep writing. Love the stories.

  5. As a fellow passenger commented on one of our many Amtrak trips from Edmonds to Baltimore -“it’s the civil way to travel “. On one of our trips we rode on six different trains visiting family along the way.

    1. I met Mr. Hall at McDonald’s one day because I admired his hat. Love reading this story and seeing the photos. Looking forward to more of the story.

  6. Reminds me of Emile Zola’s masterpiece novel ‘La Bete Humaine,’. where he explores the effect on his people when, for the first time in their restricted lives, they were able to take a train from their village near Paris and visit aunt and uncle across France. Even now, a train journey, especially in the winter, still holds that allure, that je me sais quoi. I am wondering: Would my Kindle also not work? Well, I have plenty of paperbacks…. Looking forward to the next installment!

  7. Sorry for my typo: ” Je ne sais quoi.” Instead of typing on the iPhone, I should’ve used the bigger keyboard on the desktop…

  8. Great article Mr. Hall. I’ve taken the Coastal Starlight to L.A. and back twice and enjoyed it both times. I decided to take it again when I head back to Tucson in a few weeks. You transfer to the Yuma – Tucson and further East train in L.A. It’s the Southwest something or other. I go Coach as I have the mysterious ability to nap virtually anywhere under any conditions, day or night. The club car eases the pain, of course.

    Trains aren’t for everyone. There are always lots of stops and unpredictable things like cars on the tracks and transients almost burning down a wood trestle. Both these things happened on my last adventure. Arriving in downtown L. A. around midnight and having to track down a rental car wasn’t much fun. If you aren’t in a big hurry, are easily entertained, and don’t mind paying quite a bit for food and drink, a train ride is a great adventure.

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