The passenger lead is a railroad term referring to the main track into a station or passenger yard for passenger trains. From the passenger lead, the individual station tracks branch off to create a yard. This is of course a very basic description, rail yards in themselves are a maze of leads, branches, spurs, cutoffs, house tracks, run-arounds, mains, and sidings. Now after that; I was to pickup my friend and his fiancee from Denver Union Station after their trip on the Amtrak California Zephyr to Glenwood Springs. I was able to get out and make a couple shots off the side CO 72, but wasn’t able to catch them again until downtown Denver. Short trip, a couple shots, a nice little exercise to keep the photo muscles in shape.
So after a long sabbatical from photography (due mostly to lack of inspiration, work, and other silly excuses), I was able to go for a long needed road trip. Myself and long time best friend Kevin went out to the eastern Utah desert for a couple days of chasing trains and photography. Since the first trip we made there more than thirteen years ago, I was enchanted with the desolate beauty of the desert. While this trip was less about landscapes and more about trains, the two subjects are intertwined. The trip truly began when we made our way down to the north rim of Ruby Canyon where we would wait for the westbound Amtrak California Zephyr to pass by below us. We exited I-70 at Rabbit Valley, two miles from the Colorado state line where there is an OHV recreation area on the south side. One of the funnest parts of these trips is the frequent four wheeling required to get to our photo spots, and this area is no exception. The views are awesome and it’s really easy to sit there for long periods of time watching time pass. Our train came and went, and we made our own rough tracks back to the highway to continue westward. One problem with chasing trains between Grand Junction and Price, Utah is that there are only four trains a day. With our only train for the day passed, we made for Price. I passed the time watching the landscape go by, taking the occasional shot out the window. Since this was first road trip in years that I wasn’t driving, I was taking plenty of shots of the Book Cliffs in the evening light. While a moving vehicle doesn’t make for the most stable shooting platform, I was able to get some nice images, most of which I turned into panoramas. My camera has enough resolution I was able turn out some good size prints from the panos.
The next day saw a lot more rail action, as we headed westward toward Soldier Summit. The near 2% grade on the trackage from Helper to the summit, and the fact that loaded coal trains have to go up that grade makes for some exciting train chasing. We caught Amtrak #6 heading east at Castle Gate, which was still in the shadows at 6:30 am. From there we worked west listening to the radio chatter, looking for either a westbound to chase toward Provo, or an eastbound to chase back east to the desert. We were in luck as we encountered an eastbound Utah Railway coal train headed east toward that railway’s branch line, which serves a very productive coal mining operation. The rising sun was perfect for eastbounds, and the resulting shots were great. We kept with this train all the way to the Wildcat coal load out, and were able to kill some time while it was loaded. Once loaded, the train headed west once again toward Salt Lake City, where it would interchange with the Union Pacific, and ultimately the coal was destined for China as export coal. We left the coal load a way up Price River Canyon and headed back east to catch Amtrak #5 westbound out in the desert, since we planned to camp in the desert the second night. Our sources told us that there would be a special surprise in today’s California Zephyr; ex- Rio Grande business car, and ex- Ski Train private car Kansas. Since the discontinuation of the Ski Train several years ago, the cars were sold here and there to special charter rail lines. Our beloved Kansas was headed to a west coast luxury charter from the American Railway Explorer charter line. After a shot at Thompson Springs, we bid it farewell at Green River, and returned east to the desert siding at Sagers. Knowing we were essentially out of trains for the rest of the evening, we set camp and waited for darkness so we could do some star gazing and astrophotography. When darkness comes to the desert, it is the most spectacular kind of dark. The moon hadn’t risen yet, and you could literally see by starlight. I had done plenty of star trail shots with long exposures, but what I really wanted was to capture the galactic core in a shot. After a bit of experimentation, I found the formula (which I will keep to myself for now). And to add to the night shooting fun, we had two trains pass by in the dark as well.
After about two hours sleep, we woke with the dawn, took some sunrise photos and headed off. Once again we found our selves chasing Amtrak #6 east at Thompson Springs. We decided to chase it as far east as we could without losing it. Or it losing us, as the case ended up being. We were only able to stop occasionally as passenger trains make 75+ mph through the desert almost all the way to Glenwood Springs. Fortunately the California Zephyr makes a station stop at Glenwood Springs, which allowed us to catch up and stay with it along the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to Gore Canyon. For probably the first time, I was able to try to get some photos of Glenwood Canyon from the car. Let me tell you, it is not as easy as it sounds to get a decent shot without a convertible! Nonetheless, I tried and actually ended up with a couple good ones. We left Amtrak at Inspiration Point at the mouth of Gore Canyon near Radium and headed back home a bit sooner than we would have liked. However, the trip was still good for the soul, and I had once again found my photographic inspiration in the Utah desert; always the last place you look!
This morning I took my bud Kevin, his daughters Jaina and Bella, and his sister Kris to Denver Union Station. They had planned to take Amtrak #5 to Glenwood Springs for a couple days, and this was to be Jaina and Bella’s first train ride. The morning started with an early downpour driving toward downtown, which didn’t really ignite my creative photographic juices. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last, and when I decided to actually chase the train westward, a dense fog was the only remnant of the nasty weather. I waited for the train to show up at a spot just off CO-72 called Chemical. The fog was actually getting me in a creative mood, though it started to lift a bit just as the train came into view. Next, I drove west on CO-72 up Coal Creek Canyon with a perfect spot in mind for my next and final shots of their train. The problem was, I had to hurry because Amtrak trains waste no time getting to where they need to be; passenger trains have a higher speed limit than freight trains, and my spot was not exactly easily accessible. So I drove west and with the occasional update text from Kevin, I was able to get into position with plenty of time to spare. From there I snapped some shots and waved them off from atop a rock near South Boulder Creek, and began the climb back up to the truck, but not without a few incidental nature shots on the way. Most of them are black and white because the colors didn’t thrill me when I got back home and started to download the images from the card. I saved myself some time by shooting simultaneously in RAW and JPEG also using the monochrome picture style in the camera. These shots are basically straight from the camera, save for the watermark added for publishing!
My friend Kevin called me and told me to clear my schedule for April 2, because Union Pacific was running it’s 844 steam locomotive on an excursion train east from Cheyenne, WY. For more info on 844 click here. Needless to say, I was excited since I hadn’t had a train of any kind in my viewfinder since last August. We started the day early at 5:30am, headed north to Cheyenne to pick out our spot among the almost certain crowd of railfans that would be out and about chasing the same train. We reached a spot east of Cheyenne, known as Archer on railroad timetables. The wind was howling at around 25mph, and the temperature was hovering around the same number, causing the wind chill to be around 12. Kevin and I decided long ago that we would rather get a couple great shots, rather than a hundred crappy ones, so we walk the 1/2 mile down along the tracks to get a better view of the S-curve that was offered, leaving the others standing near the road overpass. While we were waiting for 844 to depart, there was no shortage of other trains to shoot during our wait. There was no question as to when 844 was leaving Cheyenne, the towering plume of smoke and steam was a bit of a clue. For an old steamer, this locomotive can haul! We left Archer, and headed east. The next place we caught up with it was at Pine Bluffs, WY nearly 42 miles to the east! Next stop was in Nebraska at a spot called Point of Rocks. Now, I learned quite quickly that places were named quite literally out here on the plains. After a short walk to a nice high vantage point, we waited in the wind and sleet for a few minutes until 844 passed us once again. The schedule had 844 stopping at Lodgepole, NE too take on water and for the crew grease up the running gear. This was where we let 844 continue on its way to point east, and ultimately Haringren, TX. We then explored the area of Sidney, NE where Union Pacific and BNSF mainlines cross and interchange. We chased a couple BNSF trains both northbound and southbound before heading back south to home. I gained a new appreciation and fascination with the Great Plains and hope to make more excursions myself. The land itself holds its own kind of grandeur, as well as a plethora of railroad history. Hope you enjoy the results of the day!
While my lovely wife and I were in Montrose this past weekend, I had an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. After we went out to dinner at an AMAZING restaurant, we passed the power for the Montrose local sitting ready for a Sunday morning departure, and what do my eyes see? Class lights! Class lights lit up! For those outside the railfan circle, class lights are located on the nose of a locomotive that change color with the direction of that locomotive. They have not been in use for sometime since the early 1990′s, since FRA (Federal Rail Administration) rules change quite often regarding the visibility of locomotives. So with that pontification out of the way, back to the story. The sun had long since gone down, and the moon was rising, I had my tripod with me, so I stopped for some low light photos! I was quite happy with the results, given the limited time I had to shoot.
Last Saturday, I was able to get out for a few minutes with a buddy and snap a couple of rail shots. We started out east of Denver, at the Mesa siding, and caught an eastbound. Unfortunately for us, the only other train we could catch before dinner was another eastbound coming in on the Moffat. On the way west we stopped to shoot a derailed car near Federal Blvd; this car had rolled free all the way from the Coors brewery in Golden, downgrade until it derailed near Federal. Fortunately no one was hurt by the runaway, especially since a single railcar won’t activate crossing signals. We finished up at Kipling in Arvada shooting an eastbound coal load.
Like I said, camping and night photography go hand in hand. Here are some more while I am thinking about it.
This was a full hour exposure. I actually set the camera and tripod, clicked the shutter and took a nap.
Those twinkling lights on the left are from the rear end device on a freight train.
Again, being a slowpoke, here are some shots from my railfan trip August 20-22.
I learned some things about the Great Salt Lake that I never knew on this trip. The most surprising was that the lake itself is ony 35 feet at its deepest point, and the average depth is only 14 feet!
In 1902 the Southern Pacific Railroad built a trestle across the Great Salt Lake, cutting off 43 miles of the original Central Pacific route from Ogden UT to Lucin UT. In the 50′s the trestle was replaced with a dirt and rock causeway.