"First of all, I started on the Zephyr on June 14, 1969 as Cathy Moran," writes Cathy von Ibsch. "My career ended on March 22, 1970 with the train coming off. I have a spike dipped in sterling that has engraved on one side my name and title, on another side the three railroads and their locations that I worked for and on the third side it reads California Zephyr Trains 17 & 18 and the dates of service. This was a gift from my husband."
As the train neared its life, the age of the cars began to show, and equipment breakdowns continually plagued the train. "Things were in disrepair but amazingly it stopped no one in the service of the train from doing their very best to serve the people and to make the trip the best for any rider. You must remember, that most employees were very dedicated and the train was their life in many ways depending on their years of service. I guess I could best describe that many were in a sense of denial and just really didn't believe the train would be taken off. (Now has the price of Zephyr mementos goes up; some have asked why I or Ernie didn't acquire some then? We ourselves ask that question and realize it was because we just didn't think it would happen to our beloved Zephyr. Who would want to dismantle such a wonderful train??)
"As for myself, I started in the summer and had the opportunity to meet wonderful people. I had my student runs with Mary Brickner and Gail Constatine, both Zephyrettes who had been around many years and who willingly and graciously showed me the ropes. I was welcomed by all crews, and my meeting Mary Lou Gordon who supervised us in Chicago was another good experience. She looked over the Zephyrettes with great care.
"I was surprised on my first run how the porters, stewards and other crew would all get dressed, spit and polished as they came into Chicago at the end of their run. They would sing 'Chicago, Chicago'. It was a great feeling of pride and happiness. They were getting off the train to go home see, wives, children and girlfriends. You had to be a crew member to usually note this happening. They always returned with the same smiles and geared up for another trip.
"From a hostess' perspective, it was a shame that not all cars could here the scenic and informational PA announcements, because the sound system didn't work in all the cars at the end. I walked many miles however, trying to relate them to the passengers in person.
"Often, the heat didn't work. But it was not unbearable. People generally were understanding and also knew that the crew was doing everything within their power to make them comfortable. Yes, there were delays, due to equipment failures. But again the passengers were generally understanding; remember, many were riding the train because they didn't like air travel, and would not think of going any other way but on the Zephyr. Others had saved up to travel cross country to see the country, and then there were those who rode it realizing that their trips might be numbered with all the railroad politics.
"There were two men who would always meet the Zephyrettes. Herb, who would pass out flowers from his garden and candy bars, and a gentleman, well known to Grand Junction Station, who would also pass out candy bars to the Zephyrettes. At Christmas he gave me a pint of Whiskey, and on my last run, when I told him I was going back to college, he gave me 50 cents for my tuition.
"Another trip I met a man who had traveled across country to California. He wore moccasins and carried a guitar; sort of a hippie, but not quite. We had a trainload of children in the coaches and it was really full. He would play the guitar and we would have sing-a-longs. It was amazing how all the children would quiet down and participate, and what a great sense of community there was as you traveled the rails. Later this man asked me to a family picnic in Aurora; he sent a limousine to pick me up.
"On my last working run on the Zephyr I met a baseball player. He actually called the hotel room in Chicago to speak with another Zephyrette and did not realize I was not her. After the confusion was settled we talked for several times and I agreed to meet him for lunch. On an elevator I punched him lightly in the right shoulder and he told me to be careful, as he was a pitcher on the Minnesota Twins. Of course, Zephyrettes got lots of lines, so I didn't really believe him. The next day he put me on the train. Some sailors traveling on the train came up to me and asked me if I knew who that was. I replied yes, and they told me he was Rookie of the Year for the Minnesota Twins.
"I went back to college in September of 1969; however I did make runs on call as needed. I had a wonderful arrangement. Most of my professors understood my work on the train and I was able to go to school and still make trips during holidays and on an 'on call' basis. My last working trip, if my memory serves me, was in January, 1970. That was my last on call request. From then on I kept track of the situation via friends, news etc. I remember the famous "Moldy Rolling Donut" article which quoted Susan Hill, Zephyrette.
"I did ride the train on the last run from Oakland to Sacramento and back; today, I regret not traveling the entire trip, to say good bye to so many wonderful people. The train was packed: it was a time for reminiscing and recalling all the experiences on the train. The train was filled with news people wanting to get information and pictures. The most impressive memory is the photo shot in front of the engine in Oakland of the last crew. My future husband was on that last crew.
"Ernie von Ibsch, a brakeman who I had meet previously on my runs had asked me out to dinner that night after the last train. However, he stood me up. A love of his life, the Zephyr and the loss of it, meant he stayed with his railroad friends to commiserate. Later he asked me out and on July 17, 1971 we were married. We had a Zephyr train with vista dome cars all around our wedding cake.
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