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The California Zephyr stopped in Omaha, NE

Kev’s Trip Planning: October and November 2019

If you have been following me over the past year-plus, you might see a travel theme, family. For October and November travel, my travel is to transport my niece’s grandma, aka my mom. She is going out to Nebraska to spend some time with Mackenzie, my sister, and Abby the Newfie while my brother-in-law is training. My mother is not comfortable traveling out there on her own right now, so I am helping her out.

Since my sister moved to Nebraska, my travel changed to mostly road trips, but one trip, my last trip started as my first Amtrak west in a long time but ended as a road trip home. I went out there to help drive my sister’s family back to Wisconsin.

I told my folks I didn’t want to drive out this trip, so instead, we are hitting the rails. My mom is not new to train travel, but she is not used to riding coach on Amtrak long-distance train; actually, she has been in coach class on the Hiawatha.

Mack and Abby
Mackenzie and her bigger furry sister, Abby the Newfie

I am going back and forth

This trip will be in two segments for me; the first is to take my mom to my sisters and then come home that week. Part two is a few weeks later when I go back to bring her back home.

I thought of staying out there the whole time, but being an organist, I didn’t want too many Sundays off. Now, if  I wanted, I could record my playing on to floppy disc, yes, like from the 1990s and early 2000s.

I have a fantastic friend, and she “plays the organ for me when I am gone.” I am thankful for you, Jen! When I am gone, she presses play and the next button so the church can still sing while I am gone.

During planning this, something else happened; I agreed to play the organ at another church. Due to lack of forethought by the builder, this organ does not have a recording device; well, maybe the issue is that the organ is from the 1880s, and they probably never thought that technology would ever be possible.

Since I could not leave the Sunday, I decided to embark on Monday and stay for about a week leaving the following Sunday. I will record the service I am missing at my church, and Jenn agreed to “play for me.” As I roll through Iowa that Sunday, the congregation will be singing to my music as I relax. The other option was going out there, have a day on the ground, and then leave right away to come home.

Ca Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr stopped at Ottumwa, IA.

Transportation choices

  • Driving – but not the option I want
  • Train – I think you picked up the point that this is the one we picked
  • Bus – almost happened on this trip
  • Flying – not very cost-effective in this case
  • There isn’t any maritime transportation between Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Looking at how to get out to Nebraska with “grandma,” I could eliminate flying, not only because of her fear of flying, but it is the most expensive way to travel there. I found a few flights that took longer than ground travel when you included going through the TSA and other waiting times. She picked Amtrak because she is not keen on a bus, and we had companions coupons.

CA Zephyr OMA
Train 5, the westbound California Zephyr in Omaha, NE

The Amtrak trains for this trip.

Hiawatha– Sturtevant, WI to Chicago (Union Station), IL

If you look at my past trips, you know I use the Hiawatha often. I have been on the Hiawatha more than any other Amtrak train.

The trip from Sturtevant to the Windy City is 63 miles and about 63 minutes, isn’t that odd.

This midwest regional train has fourteen daily trips with two trainsets. These trains have WI-fi but no food service. The Hiawatha is an unreserved coach class train (reserved around Thanksgiving) with six cars in length, one Quiet Car, and five others, and your ticket is valid for any seat on the train.

California Zephyr– Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE (the train does go to Califonia)

The Zephyr has a special place in my heart, for it was the first train long-distance train. I took it to San Fransico, CA, for my first solo cross-country trip.

I was on this California Zephyr when they shot the video.

The Zephyr has three distinct vistas as you ride it from end to end. From east to west, you start with the midwest planes, agriculture, windmills, and industry. The next day you wake up going through pastures, industry and start your journey through the Rockies. After your final slumber aboard the Zephry, you wake up to see the Sierra Nevadas before reaching the ports and industries of California. If you only take one big train trip, this would be one of the ones I suggest.

Amenities on this train include a dining car, a Sightseer lounge car with the cafe on the lower level, baggage service, coach class, and sleepers. The Califonia Zephry has a traditional dining car menu and cafe menu (these menus can change at any time).

Buying tickets

I booked my tickets using both and also the Amtrak app. It was easier to use the website to log into my dad’s account to access the companion coupons for the two one-way tickets. I used the app to purchase my round-trip tickets from Omaha to Sturtevant. All of our reservations are for coach class.

The cost from Sturtevant to Omaha leg was $122 for both of us with the coupon. Coming home originally was $104 for the both of us, but I changed the date to Sunday, which dropped that cost by $3. The savings came off the Hiwatha portion of the ticket because there are not weekend priority train prices. Priority trains tickets are slightly more.

The round trip is from Omaha, NE, to SVT. and back in a few weeks was $184.50 with my Rail Passenger Membership discount.

The gear & packing

For this trip, I am using both of my travel backpacks. I am using my eBags Professional Weekender for the first time out because it is slim, and I am only packing a few things. My second trip 40-liter bag from Tortuga (mine is no longer in production) will come along. I will need a few more things because I am staying out longer.


  • One Sweater
  • A pair of jeans
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Bottoms to sleep in or wear around the house
  • Shirts, socks, and underwear for up to three days (less for the first trip)
  • I often wear two jackets one, a fleece with a coat that can protect against wind and light rain over it. If it is not too chill out, this works well for changing temperatures


  • A small blanket
  • Blow-up pillow (mine is similar to that one)  plus a neck pillow
  • In the 3-1-1 bag that I use, a “dop kit.”
    • Toothbrush and paste
    • Floss
    • Deodorant
    • Sleep aids and vitamins
    • A reusable container with mouthwash
  • Waterbottle
  • Battery pack
  • iPad and chargers
  • Computer to work on this site. A newer tablet could even replace that

Safe Travels


I want to thank my sister for the photo of Abby and Mackenzie; aren’t they adorable? Maybe I have a bias.

For more information on traveling on Amtrak, check out this page.

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Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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