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Couple celebrate 25th anniversary with first-class trip riding the rails

October 05, 2005 - By BILL MILLIGAN

For the Mail Call

Lou and Donna Gualdoni of Concord de-cided to take a first-class trip in June 1990 to celebrate 25 years of marriage.

They actually took three trips in one after boarding a train in St. Louis in late May.

"If you want to get to your destination fast, then naturally, flying is the only way,'' said Lou Gualdoni, 85, a former United Press "newsman.'' "If you enjoy beautiful, unusual scenery, and people from the entire world community, then you're ahead by taking the train.''

They spent five days in Las Vegas, Nev., before traveling to Los Angeles, Calif., for a four-day stay. They then traveled by train along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, Calif., before turning east for a five-day visit in Lake Tahoe, Nev.

"We were in a double-deck train,'' Gual-doni recalled. "My wife doesn't go for scenery, but I love it. They have a lot of stuff on that train. I hope they keep it around.''

Traveling with them on the train were couples from Alaska, Germany, Hawaii, Italy and Japan, as well as the United States.

"We met a lumberjack from Sweeden on that trip,'' Gualdoni said. "There were people there from Paris and London. The English were very polite.''

While talking to their new friends, they saw the Western states unfold before them around every bend.

"We saw ranches, beautiful log homes, irrigation systems, sparkling mountain streams cascading off of cliffs along the canyons and everywhere there were millions of sky-high pine trees,'' Gualdoni said. "Both going and coming, the trip was just one awesome, one beautiful panorama after another. The scenery by itself made the trip worthwhile.''

While aboard the train, they were berthed in a small cabin equipped with a dual-use shower and toilet stall.

"You had to be careful in there,'' he said. "If you hit the wrong button, you'd be taking a shower.''

They arrived in Las Vegas and rented a car to take to their hotel, Circus, Circus. The couple enjoyed several shows with "big-name stars'' and visited nightclubs. Gualdoni's favorites were the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana Hotel and the Alexis Park Resort.

Gualdoni said he got a kick out of watching people swim up to the blackjack tables at poolside to place bets.

"They had drop boxes to dry paper money and towels to dry hands and coins,'' he said.

The couple arrived in Los Angeles in early June and looked up Shirley Wigge, a childhood friend from south St. Louis who had moved to Hollywood and adopted the show-business name Shirley Lynn.

"She grew up with my sister,'' Gualdoni said. "She won a Shirley Temple look-alike contest as a kid. After her parents died, she moved to Hollywood.

"She appeared in many movies, TV shows and commercials. She made the gossip columns when she dated Raymond Burr, who people knew for his television role as Perry Mason,'' he said.

Wigge had made arrangements for them to visit Universal Studios and attend a taping of the "Tonight Show'' with Johnny Carson.

After leaving Los Angeles the couple traveled to San Francisco, where they stayed at the Claremont Resort & Spa, which opened in 1915 and gained a reputation as a retreat for wealthy San Francis-cans to escape the fog on "the sunny side of the bay.''

They also spent time with another childhood friend, John Iacometti, who owned art galleries and a San Francisco nightclub, Jackson's.

Iacometti, too, dabbled in the movie business and had several jobs as an extra in films made in San Francisco.

Their final stop was the Lake Ta-hoe/Reno area in Nevada, where it snowed seven inches one evening.

"The next morning I walked through the snow with sandals, swim trunks and a shirt to the health spa. The resort was once owned by Frank Sinatra and guests could swim from California to Nevada and back again while doing laps in the pool.'' Gualdoni said.

"We've been on many trips together, but this three-in-one trip was by far the best,'' he added.

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