As a matter of background old-timers recall that friendly,helpful SBB employees staffed rail stations along the Golden Pass line from Luzern to Interlaken. Untourists who lived in Sachseln were fortunate to have met Stefan Gretener and several other friendly SBB staff associates, including Barbara Blatter. We fondly remember their independently created “take-out coffee service”—enjoyed by early morning travelers, and their helpful ideas for special rail journeys. As station automation arrived, Stefan moved on to dispatching responsibilities in the large rail center in Olten, and Barbara is a train driver.
Some will recall that Stefan came to California some years ago on an SBB/Lufthansa program assigning employees to work for transportation related companies in the U.S. Stefan was assigned to Lufthansa at San Francisco International. While in the United States, Stefan and his colleagues made a point of visiting as much of the west as possible—creating memories and friends along the way.
Back in Switzerland, Stefan and his rail enthusiast friends (they volunteer many hours on the Furka Steam Railway) travel by rail throughout Europe on some very intriguing remote (to most Westerners) rail lines.
His desire to return to the United States was fulfilled in August when he arrived for a six- week sojourn throughout the western United States with his friend and Furka colleague, Koen De Decker. Koen is a native of Antwerp, Belgium, now working as an engineer for the Stadler Rail Group in Bussnag, near Winterthur. This company fabricates articulated railcars, such as we see on the local lines.
Their journey began in Colorado where they visited Untourist friends near Grand Junction. They visited the Rockies (and a rail shop near Pike’s Peak), Yellowstone, Tetons, and Jackson Hole. They traveled further west on Amtrak’s Golden Zephyr, through the Rockies and Sierra’s, arriving in the bay area where we met them and transported them to San Francisco. They left the next day by automobile for a journey that would take them over 6,000 miles, including a ride (and delectable meal) on the Napa Valley wine train, Lake Tahoe, Sequoia National Park (watching a frolicking bear family), Las Vegas (reportedly not gambling, but shopping), Death Valley, Bryce and Zion National Parks, returning from southern California via the coast, up 101 through Big Sur country, Monterey, and back to San Francisco--revisiting favorite "pubs".
On their last evening in San Francisco, with the Navy’s Blue Angels flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed for dinner at Sam’s in Tiburon on a perfect October evening. Protecting our onion rings from the wily sea gulls, we watched the sun go down, and San Francisco lights twinkling in the background. We could not help but think about how the dream of one man, Hal Taussig, and his vision of Untours made this evening and such friendships possible.
I encouraged Stefan to join the Café and write some impressions of his repeat visit to the United States.