The owner and general manager of Trains and Travel International is Chris Skow. In 2023 he is celebrated 58 years in the tour and travel industry. Below is a brief account of his life long love and passion for trains, railroads and guiding tour groups.
He became involved in railroads when he was still in high school in Victorville, California. In 1964 at the age of 16 he started to spend his weekends in Cajon Pass taking pictures of Santa Fe and Union Pacific trains. Then he started to hang out at the Victorville Depot after classes and was allowed to help load and unload the mail on the City of Los Angeles and Chief passenger trains.
The one spark that guided Chris into a life long adventure with trains happened in August 1964 when the family went on summer vacation and drove to Newton, Iowa to meet Grandma and the rest of the family. After the first day at Newton Chris was board and asked his father if he could walk down to the Depot and watch the Rock Island trains. After a couple of hours at the Newton Depot the local Rock Island switch crew made a stop in front of the depot and the conductor got off of the engine and came right over to Chris and asked if he would like to take a cab ride. You can guess where he spent the rest of the day and come dinner time his father had to come down to the depot and check up on Chris. No where to be found soon the Rock Island switch engine came by the depot and there he was riding in the cab and waving at his dad. He made it a point to ride in the Rock Island switch engine for the entire week that the family was in Newton.
Back in California after vacation he started spending his weekends in Cajon Pass taking pictures of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific trains. He became good friends with Chad Walker who worked at the Summit Station in Cajon Pass. He also spend a lot of time trackside on the Mojave Northern Railroad which was based in Victorville.
During high school he got involved with rebuilding Mojave Northern steam locomotive No. 2 after it was donated to the California Southern Railroad Museum and moved from Victorville to the Orange Empire Trolley Museum located at Perris, California. When No. 2 was moved in a freight train over Cajon Pass Chris was invited by the local Santa Fe trainmaster to ride both steam locomotive No. 2 and Mojave Northern No. 3 down the pass to San Bernardino watching for any hot bearing problems during the movement. Chris and Bill Garner rode the locomotives as a team. Once No. 2 was back in operation he became it’s fireman and sometimes engineer when Bill Garner would let him over to the right side of the cab.
He also became more involved with the museum and soon took over the editor’s job for the clubs monthly newsletter, The California Southern Express
During his three years in high school at Victor Valley Senior High he was the campus staff photographer for all events and this kept him very busy. In his senior year in 1967 he made arrangements with the Santa Fe Railway to have Train No. 20 The Chief spot the lead engine right in front of the depot for a PR photo of the high schools cheerleading squad.
Victor Valley Senior High School had a special arrangement with the local merchants where the seniors would take over running Victorville for a day. This was called Seniors Day. Chris was given the job of “Santa Fe Station Agent” at the Victorville Depot. Well of course!
He was able to make close friends with all of the Santa Fe employees at Victorville including the crew of the Victorville switch engine. On top of that he made friends with the trainmaster that handled Cajon Pass and Victorville. This friendship paid off on one trip where the Victorville Switch Job runs up to Summit in Cajon Pass with a water car once a week.
The day before Christmas in 1966 Chris rode with the crew up to Summit and back. The trainmaster just happened to be at Summit when they arrived and so the engineer asked Chris to sit on the floor of the GP 7 so he would not be seen. To the shock of the crew the trainmaster wanted to talk to the engineer so he climbed up on the engine and into the cab. When he walked into the cab the trainmaster looked right at Chris sitting on the floor and greeted him with “Merry Christmas Chris” then talked to the engineer and as he left the cab again turned to Chris and said “Get a lot of good pictures as I want to see some of them”. The crew was never disciplined for giving Chris a cab ride. Every year the same trainmaster would invite Chris to attend the annual rules class with the same crew at Victorville.
Also for several years during high school and college he started a program with all of the elementary schools in Victorville, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Adelanto, Oro Grande and George Air Force Base to come into the 4th and 5th grade classrooms during “Transportation Month” and give a talk and show his movies on railroads. Then he arranged for all of the classes to take a ride onboard Union Pacific’s westbound City of Los Angeles No. 103 Victorville to San Bernardino where they were given a guided tour of the Santa Fe Depot and diesel workshops. Chris would always be the guide for all of the trips down Cajon Pass with the elementary students and then come back with these groups on the school buses. So it was in 1965 where Chris caught the bug for guiding and leading groups on special trips.
During his high school years he would sit in his car and do his school homework parked next to the famous Santa Fe Crossover just west of Victorville and near the spur of Frost and watch all of the trains go by. As Chris put it, doing his homework was not so bad if he could watch the trains. He also would drop in at the Victorville Depot and do his homework there too as he caught all of the trains that went by.
Then in 1967 he requested to be placed on the crew for the private rail car Mt. Rubidoux which was owned by the California Southern Railroad Museum and is a former Soo Line open observation business car built in 1927. He worked on this car for a number of runs out of Los Angeles. This further enhanced his enjoyment of working with railfans and folks who enjoyed trains and train travel.
While in college at San Bernardino in 1968-69 he was hired by the Santa Fe Railway as a station operator full time with his home terminal at San Bernardino. When classes were in session the railway worked him on night positions over the entire Los Angeles Division. During summer vacation he worked day and night positions. His duties included: Train Order Telegraph, Towerman, Ticket Agent, Clerk, and General Agent. Some of the positions that he worked includes: San Bernardino Telegraph, Riverside Tower, Fullerton Ticket Agent, Azusa General Agent, Pomona Ticket Agent, West Yard Tower, Hemet Agency, and Mission Tower to name a few.
During his college years Chris continued his elementary school programs, working on the Mojave Northern locomotive, crew member on the Mt. Rubidoux Business Car, editor of the California Southern Express newsletter and finally working for the Santa Fe full time at night and holding down 18 ½ units of college credits. Since his major was in Photo-Journalism and Broadcasting he also took on yet three more jobs: Sports Editor for the Hesperia Reporter newspaper, Sports Photographer for the Victor Valley Daily Press, and the college campus newspaper as Sports Editor and Photographer.
During his 2nd year of college he lived with his folks at Hesperia for awhile and would commute to San Bernardino Valley College everyday. Three times a week he would ride Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles from Victorville to San Bernardino doing his homework in one of the dome cars before classes began then in the evening rode Santa Fe’s Grand Canyon back to Victorville.
While working for the Santa Fe Railway he became very good friends with a engineer who had a run between Los Angeles and Barstow on the Super Chief, El Capitan and Grand Canyon trains. As the friendship grew Chris was invited into the cab and rode with his new friend several times between Los Angeles and Barstow.
Chris recalls on one run in the cab of the eastbound Super Chief on a five mile stretch of straight track just west of Barstow the engineer Walter Hodson said he would try and get our train up to 100 mph. As the train came around the curve and onto the straight track Walter pulled out the throttle to 8th notch and Chris stood next to the F unit speedometer with his camera ready to take a picture when the needle hit 100 mph. As everyone was watching the speedometer it hit 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 as we got closer and closer to the end of straight track. Just prior to the engineer being forced to apply some air to the brakes for the next curve we reached 99.5 mph. Chris recalls what a thrill that was.
Additionally he arranged a number of cross country train trips for many of his friends and professors from college. On a number of occasions he was asked to be the escort and soon he found it very enjoyable planning and leading tour groups onboard the passenger trains.
Needless to say during his college years he had very little extra time to get into any kind of trouble like some of his classmate would. This does explain why almost all of his railroad and train tours are packed full of highlights and things to see and do. Chris is known by his customers as running tours that are packed full of things to see and do. This is his calling card and most of his clients love it. His clients remark that going on one of Chris’s tours you get your money’s worth and then some!
It was early morning on September 2, 1969 and he was working the nighttime 3rd trick at Mission Tower in downtown Los Angeles which controls all of the passenger trains coming in and out of LA Union Station. At 5am Bob Larson, a Western Pacific engineer and close friend of Chris’s from Portola called him to ask if he would like to get on the interview list for a brakeman’s position. The only catch was that he had to be in Portola that same day no later than 3pm. The trainmaster was going to hire ten brakeman. Chris said yes, and so when he got off duty at 7am he drove back to his apartment in San Bernardino changed his clothes, packed a few items and headed for Portola some 450 miles to the north.
Upon arrival he reported right to the trainmaster at around 3:30pm. By this time the 10 brakeman were already hired but the trainmaster was so impressed that Chris drove up from Los Angeles that he hired him to be a temporary clerk and crew caller at Portola Depot until a brakeman's job became available. Chris accepted the position and the next day drove back to San Bernardino gave notice to the Santa Fe that he was just hired by the WP and on September 9, 1969 reported to work for the midnight shift at the Portola Depot.
The highlight of this job was servicing and watering the California Zephyr which arrived at 7:10am. When it departed one of his duties was to set up the washing racks and make sure the silver lady departed Portola nice and clean. The trainmaster kept his word and two months later gave Chris his brakeman's job.
Meanwhile now being a Western Pacific employee he was able to enjoy several cab rides on the California Zephyr in the Feather River Canyon as seen below.
In early 1970 the US Army draft caught up to him so with Western Pacific’s blessing he enlisted just before receiving his draft notice and in turn was given the job of his choice after basic training. The Army put him in as PR Photographer which kept him out of Viet Nam. By the start of 1971 he found himself stationed at the Pentagon in Washington DC as a US Army Public Relations Photographer and photo lab tech. This gave him close access to all of the railroads on the East Coast.
His Army job at Washington DC allowed for all of his weekends to be free and in fact most of the time he could arrange either Friday or Monday off and many times both of these days so that many of his weekends turned into four day mini vacations. Chris covered the first run of the Auto Train for Railroad Magazine. The train departed Lorton, Virginia on December 6, 1971 and he was invited onboard for a ride as VIP press.
With all of this extra time to enjoy the East Coast he joined up with the High Iron Company out of New Jersey as a crew member on their big steam locomotives. During his time with this company he was able to work on the Nickel Plate 759, a 2-8-4 Berkshire and the Reading 2102 a 4-8-4 Northern. He worked a number of excursions with these two large steam locomotives over the Jersey Central, Erie Lackawanna, Reading, Baltimore & Ohio, Delaware & Hudson, Western Maryland and Norfolk & Western Railroads.
Other positions that he has held with the High Iron Company was Onboard VIP Photographer, VIP Passenger Relations and also worked on preparing some of the cars for the American Freedom Train. A number of his VIP photos were used to promote the American Freedom Train. Chris recalls that one very important PR shot that he took was when Ernest Borgnine from the popular TV show “McHale’s Navy” come up into the cab for this special photo.
If all of this was not enough the general manager for the High Iron Company was also an engineer for the Black River & Western in New Jersey. Chris was invited to go to work for this company by this manager as his fireman on No. 60 a 2-8-0 Consolidation and No. 148, a 4-6-2 Pacific.
After release from active duty in Washington DC in 1973 Chris returned to Portola and went right back to work for the Western Pacific. He also started to arrange train tours to South Africa and South America mostly for fellow Western Pacific employees.
In 1983 he ran his first ever international tour which went to South Africa to see the steam locomotives and ride their trains. This small group had 5 customers plus Chris. The following year he arranged a tour to Brazil and then back to Africa. Perhaps one of the most exciting tours he arranged in Africa was when his small group of railfans and himself rode the trains from Cape Town, South Africa all the way to Nairobi, Kenya traveling through South Africa, Botswana, Rhodesia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya.
Wanting to keep involved in the history of the Western Pacific Chris contacted Mr. Flannery, president of the railroad with suggestions on repairing and repainting the last four F units and again repainting a unit into Bicentennial colors.
He also was the hand picked VIP Conductor based out of Portola to run most of the WP and UP special passenger trains. This was a very exciting change from working the same old freight train assignments. In fact this is how he got to know Mr. Flannery who in turn introduced him to some of the Union Pacific CEO’s , President’s and upper management.
Chris was always keen on getting hand picked for any special assignments and one such adventure took place in 1978-79 when he was asked to be conductor on the movie train set for the NBC pilot program called “Super Train” The in field filming was done just east of Oroville. After that filming was complete the director invited Chris to come down to Hollywood and be present at some of the studio filming as an adviser.
Not wanting to let any grass grow under his feet in 1981 he joined the Promontory Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in Salt Lake City and helped arranged and operate some of their excursions and tours including the Union Pacific steam fleet. With trains pulled by the UP 844 and the UP 3985. This all was in keeping with Chris’s desire to be involved with running train tours.
Next in his desire to seek out new adventures in 1981-82-83 he agreed to be the Conductor Pilot for the Sperry Rail Detector Car tests on the WP. Chris would fly to Salt Lake City a couple of days prior to each Sperry test and would pick-up the detector car from the Rio Grande and then would proceed to assist the Sperry crew in testing the Western Pacific all the way to Oakland including some of the branch lines , Tidewater Southern and the Highline before returning to Utah. The WP scheduled four Sperry Car tests per year and each test took about 30 days. This continued until the Union Pacific took over in 1983 and then canceled the Sperry contract.
The next adventure was getting involved in forming the Feather River Rail Society and the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Being a founding father for this museum he ended up on the board of directors and started the museum gift shop and the display room and spent countless hours working on some of the rolling stock. He is now the last museum founding father that still lives in the Portola area.
In 1983 Chris helped organized some of the events for the First Annual Feather River Railroad Days Festival and then a few years later joined up with the planning committee for this event. The Railroad Days Festival is what gave him the idea to run a charter passenger train from Emeryville (Oakland) to Portola up the Feather River Canyon for this event. Several trains were run prior to Amtrak’s new CEO canceling most all charter trains.
As if his life was not busy enough every summer from 1974 until 1982 he would go back to New Jersey and put on his overalls and work on the steam locomotives of the Black River & Western and High Iron Company as fireman . He would always drive back east and would line up a number of sound movie programs to railroad clubs and groups all the way across the country all the time promoting upcoming train tours that he had on the drawing board.
Wanting to stay active and up-to-date with his love of trains and steam locomotives in 1984 he took over the job of editor for the Steam Column of the CTC Board Magazine. This job kept him in the loop of what was happening with the steam locomotives of North America. He kept this job for several years.
In December 2007 he chartered the California Zephyr Silver Solarium rear end observation/Pullman/Dome car for his 2nd marriage. The Silver Solarium was attached to Amtrak’s San Joaquin Oakland to Bakersfield and return. At 85 mph somewhere between Merced and Madera he said his “I Do’s”
Moving forward into the 2010’s he joined the Central Coast Chapter of the NRHS in Santa Clara and got on the excursion committee to help the club plan and operate train tours and excursions. During his time on this committee he was involved in a number of trips including the ATSF 3751 steam excursion from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon and return.
To date Chris has been involved in arranging hundreds of charter trains and private rail cars in 47 countries including the USA. He has made more than 50 trips just to Latin America. According to Chris his passion for working with railfans and folks that love train travel will continue for the rest of his life. He hopes to see you on one of his tours in the future.
TOUR CONDITIONS PRICING - PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
All tour prices are subject to change without notice, at any time. All prices based on double room occupancy. Those people that use a credit card for payments a 3% conveyance fee will be added to the tour price. We reserve the right to change tour prices if necessary without prior notice.