Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Columbia River Gorge Fall

Each year we have the Autumn Leaf Railroad Slide Show which is located in Centralia, WA. During the time surrounding the slideshow, there are many railfans that head into town early to take part in some of the railroad photography including the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. This year was no exception.

I ventured down to the Gorge a week prior to the rest of the clan dropping in to do some site scouting. In the past I have car-camped at the west siding switch at Maryhill but noticed this year new "no trespassing" signs posted which was unfortunate because the previous trip sans signs resulted in a some dramatic results

Well faced with the prospect of finding another location this year, I camped out at Avery which is located west of Wishram. This is a great place, but the downfall is the traffic on the gravel road and the proximity to the grade crossing. Thanks to the grain traffic a higher than normal traffic pattern set up most of the night, they were "running like streetcars".....

A full moon and a high cloud deck greeted me the first night where I set up over Wishram of a shot of the River and the Oregon side of the river, I-84 and a northbound BNSF train off of the Oregon Trunk line snaking into and out of the tunnel below Moody.

The grade crossing at the east switch at Maryhill is also a great place to work photos of the signals and passing trains. A dispatchers favorite, the Maryhill siding is in constant use and this night was no different. A grain empty is holding the main while the dispatcher has a grain empty already lined out the east end of the siding.

Many local photographers know that the a strange thing sometimes happens when you go east in the Gorge - the sun most of the time shines bright. This trip was no exception with rain and clouds socking in the west side of the Cascades, it was a nice and bright morning in the Gorge as an eastbound V-PTLBLU glints along near Lyle, WA

A nearly on time Amtrak Empire Builder hustles across a fill almost to its station stop at Bingen, WA. This is the Portland section of the Builder and has coaches, sleepers and the observation lounge. The Seattle section at the same time is crossing Stevens Pass with a slightly larger train after having split in Spokane.

Night can be a magical time in the Gorge - especially when you can work in the local "color". The Dalles, OR is a town that is steeped in railroad and industrial history. Here a westbound stack train skirts through town in the pre-dawn hours with the Sunshine Mill standing tall in the background. Built in 1911 after the previous mill burned, the Mill was at one point served by the Union Pacific and the Great Southern Railway. It is now home to a local winery.

A cloudy morning has yet wielded to the sun, but the traffic still moves and the grain is in full rush. Framed by the bridge at The Dalles, a westbound load is making trackspeed heading for Tacoma, WA and the export terminal.

The following week a group of us descended on the Gorge again with us setting up at Camp Avery. Busy traffic kept us awake for most of the night with BNSF sending 12 trains by in just over 6 hours. We had decided that we would spend out time between Maryhill and Celilo since the traffic was forecast to be pretty constant. Here an EB empty is trying to make it as far east as it can before encountering a fleet of 7 westbounds. The gravel road to the left is the original SP&S grade prior to the building of the John Day Dam.

The line relocation required some extensive cuts and fills along the line. This long cut is located just west of Maryhill and a 4wd vehicle makes for quick access to the top of the cut. Maryhill is a favorite area of our friend Dan Schwanz for which we nicknamed this spot Schwannies Cut.

The locations on the Oregon side are as dramatic as on the Washington side but can be even more so with the addition of the Oregon Trunk line into the center of Oregon and into California.

A big thanks to those that made it out to this trip to the Gorge including Dale Skyllingstad, Joel Hawthorn, Drew Mitchem, Ted Curphey and Paul Petersen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 A Year in Review

In looking back through the year 2010 it became quite apparent that I managed to cover quite a bit of ground this past year. I set out on my own on many trips, and teamed up with others during a few. Over the year I treked down the the desert southwest, the Great Plains, and all parts of the Pacific Northwest. I managed to visit a few new places, while refocusing my efforts on old haunts. There were some successes and probably just as many "fall shorts". I've chased light, dodged rain, waited it out and burned many a bit and byte. Along the way was the trusty Canon 40D and no shortage of tenacity or determination. Here is a shot-a-month reflection on the year that was 2010.

January - The annual San Diego sabbatical found this day the calm before the storm - a unseasonably wet winter was in for the city boasting the best weather in the US. This shot was the day before it went sideways - literally with storm force winds, torrential rains and a general gray cover that lasted for almost a week - precisely as long as our visit.

February - This month can be as unforgiving in the Northwest as any a winter month - as the days of the month wane - there is a growing anticipation of nicer spring days - A rare nice day finds the Simpson Railroad at the Dry sort yard about 5 miles up from Shelton, WA - new signposts remind that this railroad is back under operations after repairs were made from a washed out bridge.

March - Leaving the long lasting winter behind for a week I set off on a trip to the desert southwest. I am in an emerald green Tehachapi at the beginning of a multi-day trip which has been the standard for us for the past few years. Here a BNSF reposition train is climbing between Caliente and Bealville - in the upper right you can see the train that went past less than 15 minutes prior as it exits tunnel 5 and is at the siding at Cliff.

April - A local shot of the Puget Sound and Pacific with its hodge podge scrambled consists as it rolls off the 1% downgrade between Rochester and Gate. As the saying goes those April showers will bring the May flowers...I sure hope that's not too far off!

May - The days are growing longer, and the rain from April resulted in green grass - at home the lawn required attention every 3 days from the John Deere. Also needing attention was the remaining cantilever signals of the Seattle Sub - a few had been replaced in the previous year and I made a point to get out and capture as many as I could in different light and conditions. Here a northbound train with a couple of Canadian visitors starts the pull on Napavine Hill at Vader. Before you know it Memorial Day is upon us and the unofficial beginning of summer....although we know better in the Pacific Northwest.

June - The days were long, the temperature is warm and this month. It's nice this time of year at N46 degrees in which it's still daylight out at 930pm and the sun is up at 5am - lots of great time to shoot. I managed to do quite a bit in this month including hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, a trip to the east coast, melting in the humidity of New Jersey afternoons, and getting myself ready for the best time of year - summer!

July - Well June teased us just enough as July started cold and wet but by mid-month we were in full swing summer. Mid month I set out for the Klamath Falls area. This was the first trip to the area for the Jeep - it didn't disapoint in its ability to take me where I wanted to go. I managed to catch some photos in areas that were new for me and focus on trains as part of a scene instead of the main focal subject.

August - This was the annual family trip to North Dakota - something that has been done for the past 5 or 6 years. Heading to Hebron, ND is like taking a set back in time. We traded the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives to a more simpler wholesome visit where everyone greeted you like you were their neighbor. Here storm clouds are gathering as a couple of old cowboys talk about everything from the old days to the last cutting of wheat while watching the calf penning at the Taylor Horsefest in Taylor, ND. Sometimes its nice to disconnect from the world and relax.

September - A trip back to the desert southwest proved to be a new exploration of some new areas along the LA&SL between Las Vegas and Barstow, CA. Situated in the middle of the high desert of the Mojave at the foot of Cima Hill lies the small town of Kelso, CA. The anchor of the very small collection of houses is the former UP depot - beautifully restored and is used as a desert interpretive center - a place to duck in out of the scorching sun.

October - As the days grow short, there is a crisp in the air as October rolls around. There is the first hint of frost and the last warm days quickly dissapate into night. Each year the Autumn Leaf Railroad Slide show brings in over 75 photographers from the Pacific Northwest and Canada - each year prior to the show many of us head out for a few days photographing the region. Here is first light (first light of the lower sun into the Gorge) mid-Gorge at Cooks.

November - The first real good rain and wind of the winter season is upon us. There is always a chance at capturing some great light especially in November but it was the night shots that captured the most this year. A strong chilly wind out of the east set up the scene for backlit idling power on a coal load waiting at Wishram, WA yard. Wishram is a place where the wind seems to blow incessantly - from a dry hot wind in the summer to a cold biting one in the winter - this night would be no different than the latter.

December - In most cases you have to head east of the Cascades to encounter a traditional white winter and this year it along with a new discovery was a welcomed event. Driving over I90 in the driving rain after topping over at Snoqualmie the temperature plummeted. The next morning the area was blanketed with a thick freezing fog and a nice base of snow. As this year would end - this was not only an encounter with the newly fallen snow, but it would also be a meeting with a new railroad - The Eastern Washington Gateway - here it heads east with a train heavy with wheat out of the fog at Coulee City, WA.

And just as quick as 2010 entered it is also gone - 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months. Yet here we are in 2011 and we start our trip around again.

We have come full circle -

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 6 - UP Sunset Route

Poised to strike head out early in the morning for first light we were optimistic at the prospects. The weather was calling for strong winds for most of the day - they werent kidding! As we moved closer to the Salton Sea from Indio, the winds were getting stronger and stronger - winds sustained 40 with gusts to 50 with temperatures in the low 40s made it almost unbearable. Our first shot was to be outside Mecca of an eastbound auto train. During the set-up, Mikes camera acted more like a kite - flipping back onto its back on the ground breaking his newly acquired 1.4 extender. An additional shock to the camera caused it to partially function, glad we were close to the end of the trip.

We ventured down to the south end of the Salton Sea - the winds were whipping up white caps on the Sea. Our attempts to access some areas off road east of Niland proved to be next to impossible due to the mud and water from the rain from a few days previous. While driving around Niland we ventured into Slab City, a very eerie site to behold - a site void of any running water or electicity in most of the "sites". We were relieved to drive out of Slab City and head back to the mainline.

Hazy light from the dust and wind caused for some interesting shots for the morning. Traffic on the line was loaded for the morning, but there was a period of time there was maintenance scheduled on the line which would impact our train count.

Auto train east at Mecca

Three lights at the double siding at Niland

Mike and his slightly damaged camera - managed to get it working again

As the afternoon wore on the winds died down along the Sea, but so did our train traffic - only a few more were along as maintenance set up for the afternoon.

Eastbound at Wister

Calculating how much light we had left, we chose to head towards Beaumont Hill to try to catch some traffic out of West Colton. The vengeance of the winds came back as we neared West Palm Springs, but completely dissipated as we crossed over into the Basin.

Last train shot along the Sea

DAY 7 - Travel Day to Home

Day 7 was out travel day from Corona, CA to San Diego. After a great outside breakfast at Swami's Cafe in Encinitas, we took a couple of last shots along the Sunset Route, showed Mike and Steve around - checked out the KSAN approach from Albatross Street, Balboa Park and lunch at Fillipis in Little Italy. Overall with the exception of the rain and wind it was a memorable trip - as they are always. A multi day photo trip is good, and it becomes a great one when you are with good friends that have similar photographys styles. Thanks Steve and Mike. We were able to meet up with Mike (NScaleMike) from Vegas, and Darren Megowan from Bakersfield - we will look foward to meeting up with them again in the future. Total train count shot for the trip; 71 - many of them multiple times in different spots - total seen was probably in the 150 area. Thanks for experiencing out trip by looking at the stories.

Last shot of the trip from Del Mar

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 5 - BNSF Transcon and UP Sunset Route

The sunrise on Day 5 found us heading eastbound on I-40 - the rain from the previous day was long gone, but fog of all things hang low over the lands east of Ludlow. We decided to work east to the Cadiz area before moving over to the land of the UP. Arriving at Ludlow with a few trains coming at us, we drove up on top of the small hill to the north of the mainline. Light was working for eastbounds this early so this would be our plan for a couple of hours. The only thing that could be heard over the slight breeze was the dull drone of the trucks and cars on the adjacent highway - one of the few places where this is an issue in the Mojave.

Ludlow, CA is the location where eastbound trains dropping off of the grade from Lavic start the climb to Squaw summit at Ash Hill. A set up reverse curves across the alluvial fans and Bajada to maintain gradient. Its in this area west of Ludlow, the old alignment laid down by the SP can be found with its cast rock and brick bridge abutments. Ludlow remains but a short stop on the travel east on I-40 for motorists, and the jumping off point for Route 66.

The Cady Mountains provides a sunrise backdrop from Ludlow - This range stretches from Ludlow to the southern edge of the UP at Afton Canyon

BNSF 7256 East is in charge of S-LHTPTR at Ludlow - The Bullion Mountians are in the background

Todays H-BARTUL (Barstow, CA - Tulsa, OK) is close behind the PTR train.

Timing is everything - A Ludlow meet between Q-CHILAC (Chicago, IL - Los Angeles, CA) and a S-LHACLO (Los Angeles Harbor - Clovis, NM)

The previous year, we were shown the top of Bolo Hill by Kit Courtier. This shot looks downgrade into Saltus and Amboy and then upgrade to Bagdad and the approach into Siberia - a distance of 25 miles in a viewfinder. According to the radio, there was a Form B in place for maintenance around Saltus - We knew that we would have a couple of trains backing up rolling into Amboy, setting up a shot with at least one train that could be seen in the shot. Access to this part of Bolo Hill is made by off-roading from Route 66 a couple of miles down to the tracks and a couple of more miles on dirt paths. During the travels, I would use the Garmin Nuvi as a waypoint marker to find locations again on my next visit. At Bolo Hill, I marked 3 locations for future reference.

In this series we are looking down towards Saltus and Amboy, a train can be seen charging upgrade while in the distance another heads downhill toward us.

The Bristol Mountains serve as a dramatic backdrop with its forests of Creosote Bush leading up to it.

On a line dominated by containers and trailers, a manifest would be the last train we would see on the Transcon

After a hour and a half drive through 29 Palms we arrived in Palm Springs and the former SP Sunset Route. Now UP Yellow, this is still big time railroading. Over the past few years, UP as been double tracking the Sunset Route but the area where we planned to focus on was still single track. Dont be fooled - this is high iron railroading with trains being fleeted across the subdivision back to double track at Yuma. This section lies along the Salton Sea, in the Imperial Valley part of South Central California. Beyond Indio, the area where the mainline drops below sea level to an eventual point nearly 200 feet below sea level. This area can best be described as odd. Simply drive around the small settlements in Niland, Bombay Beach and North Beach and see the flora and fauna both two and four legged. In the land of unbearable heat, this time of year, people flock from all over North America to enjoy more reasonable winter temperatures.


Rain from the previous night had made the usual hardpan a soupy slick mess, so when driving or walking off road we had to tip-toe to keep our footing. As we headed down Highway 111 we encountered an I-LBMN (Long Beach, CA - Marion, AR). Track speed is 70, but the highway is limited to 55 and 65 so it takes some time to catch up, overtake and setup for a shot. There was a train with some problems at Ferrum, so that allowed us to move forward to set up for a shot. A shop crew brought out a set of jumper cables in attempt to restart a dead DPU.

After the problem was resolved, our catch was the I train over the classic SP bridge over Salt Creek.

The one advantage of railfanning in this area is that you have the ability to see for many miles in each direction. A train in the siding at Rogoza allowed us to set up for a slow roll for the I train coming in from Bertram.

Going inside for 1 at Rogoza

K-G3LB (Global 3 Chicago - Long Beach, CA) charging west out of Rogoza

A Tucson - West Colton manifest (M-TCWC) has a 90Mac leader at Wister

The TickWick at Bertram

Eastbound pulling out of Bertram

There are only a few places where a shot can be taken with the train and the Salton Sea in the same frame. This point high above the siding at Mortmar (North Beach) the reverse curve allows for this combination to happen.

WB Manifest pulling into Mortmar - WB Auto train can be seen approaching

Mortmar Meet
A the light was ready to drop behind the Santa Rosa Mountains the westbound manifest rolls on - its train and crew only a few more hours from the terminal at West Colton.

West into the Sunset along the Sunset