Southern Pacific Donner Pass

DAILY POST: Sculpting with Light and Shadow.

Southern Pacific Truckee River Canyon Silhouette.

During the first half of 1994 I spent a lot of time photographing Southern Pacific on Donner Pass. I was especially interested in making images of hard to reach or rarely photographed locations.

June 21st is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and provides unique lighting opportunities. On this long day, I’d hoped to make some unusual images in the deeper reaches of the Truckee River Canyon.

At the time I had good access to train information, and I knew SP had a westward DVOAF (Denver-Oakland Forwarder) heading up ‘The Hill’ (as SP’s Donner Pass crossing is known, ironically).

Rather than catch this at one of many easy to reach locations off Interstate 80, I decided to hike west of Floriston, California toward old Iceland—where SP’s grade separated mainline came back together. My intention was to photograph the Harriman-era truss bridge with the train in evening sunlight.

Southern Pacific Donner Pass
Southern Pacific’s DVOAF Denver-Oakland Forwarder) works west in the Truckee River Canyon near Iceland at 6:00pm on June 21, 1994. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film using a Nikon F3T with f4 200mm lens. Image was scanned full-frame (with edges showing) using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner. One of the benefits of Kodachrome was the ability to expose images like one this with deep inky black shadows. In comparison, other media tend to suffer from bland shadow definition.

As was often the case with SP, my desired westward freight ‘fell down’ (it was delayed) and didn’t reach my location in time. I stayed in place despite this set back. I was rewarded with a dramatic sequence of images, culminating with this silhouette.

The front of the locomotive has plunged into deep shadow, yet a shaft of sunlight has illuminated the engineer. It stands out among my hundreds of Donner Pass images, and is one of my favorite. I just can’t believe its been nearly 20 years since I exposed it!

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