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Staffer ‘Snowed Under’ … on a Train

By Bill Buchanan on March 5, 2019 in University

Considering that Davis gets snow maybe once a decade, I might be the first employee in my department to miss a day at the office because he was snowbound on a train.

But some kids got a singalong out of the experience. You might have seen the video.

Bill Buchanan, in rain jacket, on train platform
The author on the train platform in Eugene.

Late on Friday, Feb. 22, I boarded a train in Davis with my wife, Kathryn Monroe, and daughter Megan Buchanan to go visit family in Eugene, Oregon, for the weekend. Amtrak’s L.A.-to-Seattle Coast Starlight runs between Davis and Eugene overnight in each direction, so it’s a handy way to cover the distance and not worry about weather.

Usually. Unless you get caught in a “snow and ice emergency” delivered by a storm bad enough to earn a name, Winter Storm Ryan.

Most of the weekend was fine, but as our visit ended and we boarded our homebound train on Sunday, Feb. 24, snow was starting to fall. By the time the train had climbed several hundred feet into the mountains south of Eugene, and was nearing the small town of Oakridge, the accumulating snowfall was causing trees and branches to drop onto the railroad’s right of way.

A limb damaged one of the two engines, harming the brakes. The train stopped about an hour out of Eugene while crews patched together a fix. A couple hours later the train limped uphill into Oakridge, and then, as the storm worsened, the train parked. Storm damage closed the railroad both north and south, the town lost power, only some phones had service, and all roads to Oakridge were blocked.

The passengers and crew were stranded on board for two nights. The train didn’t move for 36 hours.

Amtrak kept the 183 passengers on the train, which had power, heat, water and working toilets. The dining car didn’t run low on food until Tuesday morning (Feb. 26). By then the storm had lifted, and crews had cleared the tracks back north. A rescue engine pulled the train back to Eugene, where we arrived shortly before noon Tuesday.

Singalong in the snow

Woman plays ukelele on train.
Never leave home without your ukulele: Megan Buchanan, a singer and music teacher, entertains children in the lounge car. That’s her mom, Kathryn, in the doorway. (Bill Buchanan/UC Davis)

So, you’re stuck on a train. What do you do?

Megan, seeing how frazzled some parents were, offered to sing songs with kids in the lounge car Monday evening. She has a degree in vocal performance (San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Class of 2013), teaches music to kids part-time, and had her ukulele with her (never travel without one!). The lounge-car attendant announced the singalong over the train’s intercom. A passenger recorded her singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm. When the snowbound train became a national story, the video went mildly viral.

After we arrived back in Eugene, and gratefully accepted coffee and food from a Red Cross table inside the train station, we still had to find a way to Davis. So we rented a pickup, bought tire chains, steered carefully through snowy streets that made Eugene look like Iowa in winter, and drove I-5 home late Tuesday.

I returned to work on Wednesday, a little groggy, but with a story to tell.

And, yes, I’ll travel by train again. After the snow clears.

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About the author(s)

Bill Buchanan Bill Buchanan is a writer-editor for Information and Educational Technology.

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