These days the only regular trains to use the old Santa Fe Raton Pass crossing are Amtrak 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief. The days of helpers over the three percent are all but a memory.
This day two weeks ago: Arriving on No.4, we had more than ten minutes at Raton to stretch our legs and take in the mountain air.
I used the opportunity to make some twilight images of Silver Splendor, the Budd-built Vista-Dome that I was traveling on.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and Zeiss 12mm Touit lens, I exposed several views in the blue glow of evening. Dusk is a great time to balance the light inside the passenger car with outside illumination.
It had been more than 20 years since my last visit to New Mexico. This was my first by rail.
I was on my way east with Dave and Rhonda Swirk and Derek Palmieri of New Hampshire’s Conway Scenic Railroad, documenting Budd Vista-Dome Silver Splendor on its journey from Los Angeles to its new home in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
As we glided east at the head-end of Amtrak number 4 theSouthwest Chief,we met or overtook dozens of freights, many of them intermodal trains, on BNSF’s former Santa Fe Transcon.
Wow, BNSF sure runs a lot of freight!
I exposed these photos digitally using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1.
Part of the challenge of making photos of trains from the train is trying to compose while in motion of moving subjects. Not only does this make if difficult to level the camera, but it leads to motion blur and other potential defects.
Last week, I awoke to sunrise east of Flagstaff, Arizona riding in Budd Vista Dome Silver Splendor as it traveled east on Amtrak no.4, the Southwest Chief.
The luxurious 1956-built stainless steel dome is a classic car from America’s streamlined era.
It was on its way to a new home on the East coast after years being based in California.
The pleasure of traveling in a Vista Dome is enjoying its comfortable elevated panoramic view of the passing scenery. An added bonus on BNSF’s former Santa Fe Transcon is the unceasing parade of freights.
These images were exposed digitally using my FujiFilm X-T1. Some of the photos were adjusted in post processing to compensate for the dome’s tinted glass.
The triple-track mainline at Fullerton, California is a great place to watch and photograph trains.
In addition to a steady procession of transcontinental container traffic, Amtrak and Metrolink passenger trains operate over the line and make stops at the old Santa Fe station.
Centralized Traffic Control with bi-directional signaling on all three lines allows dispatchers flexibility to route trains in either direction over any mainline track. There are crossovers immediately east of the station platforms.
The challenge of photographing from the pedestrian bridge is navigating the wire mesh. While my Lumix LX7 with its small diameter lens did a better job of getting through the fence, I opted for my Fuji camera because I wanted a longer telephoto lens to bring in the stack train which had stopped on the middle line waiting for a signal.
We were in hot pursuit of Pan Am Southern intermodal freight 22K with three BNSF Railway GE diesels in the lead.
The sun was out.
Rich Reed was driving.
I rolled down the back window, set my Lumix to the smallest aperture (f8) and set the shutter speed dial to ‘A’ mode, which automatically picks the corresponding shutter speed based on the aperture setting.
Since f8 lets the less light to the sensor, the camera program compensated by selecting a slow shutter speed.
I exposed a burst of images as we drove along side the locomotives.
Does it matter that we were in Shirley, Massachusetts?
A week ago, Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and I were making a survey of Pan Am/MBTA operations around Fitchburg, Massachusetts, when we came across intermodal freight 22K stopped east of Fitchburg yard.
Driving up to the head-end, we were surprise to find that the train was led by three BNSF Railway GE diesels, with one of the ‘C4’ (model ES44C4; a six-axle/four-motor riding on a variation of the A1A truck) in the lead.
The train was stopped just west of MBTA’s North Leominster platforms to allow the morning commuter rush to pass unimpeded. This gave us ample opportunity to make photographs.
I was keen to show these BNSF locomotives (nearly 1,000 miles from home rails) operating in Boston suburban territory.
Simply photographing the train/engines really wasn’t good enough, since without some geographically identifying feature, these images could be anywhere.
While I made some close photos of the engines for the record, but I also made a point of exposing images that included station signs and other features to positively identify where we were.
One the commuter rush cleared, 22K got permission to proceed and continued east toward its terminus at Ayer, Massachusetts, leading to more photographic opportunities. Stay tuned!
The old Western Pacific Junction at Keddie, California between WP’s east-west transcon line from Oakland to Salt Lake City and the Inside Gateway/High Line route north to Bieber was once one of the most photographed bridges in California.
What’s not evident from most photographs is that this impressive looking bridge can be viewed from California Highway 70—the main road through the Feather River Canyon.
On a dull October 2003 afternoon I made this view of the famed ‘Keddie Wye’ (as the junction is popularly known).
Contrast and texture make this photo work. My color slides from that day of the train crossing the bridge are less impressive.
Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.
Tracking the Light Publishes Something New Everyday!
The sinuous alignment of the old Southern Pacific in the Tehachapis is ideally suited to lining up sunrise photographs.
A blanket of airborne particulates filtered the rising sun, softening the light and giving it a luminous golden tint.
In the 1990s, I made many glint photos on Kodachrome. This one I exposed digitally and adjusted contrast in post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
Where K25 slide film would have retained the ring of the sun, now I have to settle for a golden blob of light.
A key to making an image such as this one is manually setting the aperture to control the amount of light reaching the sensor. I metered manually and ignored the camera’s recommended exposure, which wouldn’t have given me the desired effect.
Since I was preparing a classic silhouette, I wasn’t interested in retaining detail in the shadows, but instead aimed to hold tonality in the sky.
Where my ‘normal’ daylight exposure with ISO 200 is about f8 1/500th of second, for this photo, I closed down the aperture to f20, which made for two and half stops less exposure.
Metrolink is nearly a quarter century old, having commenced operations in 1992.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed traveling and photographing the Los Angeles-area Metrolink. The comfortable coaches, variety of locomotives, and interesting route structure makes it one of the more interesting suburban railways in the United States.
In addition to lines focused on Los Angeles Union Station are several non-radial routes/services, which makes Metrolink unusual among American commuter lines.
All trains are diesel powered with double-deck cars. The newer Rotem-built cars are my favorite to travel in.
Using my Lumix LX7 (and other cameras), I’ve made dozens of images from the train, as well as interior views of the equipment, and of course views of the trains and stations.
Combine agricultural dust from the San Joaquin Valley with Los Angeles-area air pollution and you get some wonderful golden light. Throw in a few wild fires and it gets even better!
All that pollution acts as a huge red-orange filter.
On this evening in late July 2016, fellow photographer David Hegarty and I were fortunate to be in place in the California Tehachapis to make good use of the golden light.
As previously featured on Tracking the Light, the railroad was a bit backed up. This enabled us to find a train at the moment of sunset.
These images have not been altered digitally in post processing, except for scaling necessary for digital presentation. To maintain the rich rosy glow, I selected a daylight white balance, and was very careful with my exposure, which I selected manually to maintain texture in the sky.
And yes, I also exposed a slide using Fujichrome Provia 100F.
Having been stuck in a few Los Angeles area-tailbacks lately, I’ll say, it’s no fun. However, when the railroad gets jammed, it can make for some bountiful photographic opportunities.
Union Pacific owns and dispatches the old Southern Pacific route over the Tehachapis, yet BNSF (operating on a trackage rights arrangement inherited from the Santa Fe ) runs the lion’s share of the traffic. The mix of UP and BNSF plus outstanding scenery and blazing sun have the stage set.
To adapt a hackneyed Hollywood phrase; ‘Light, cameras, action . . .’
On this late July afternoon UP wasn’t having a good day. One of its northward trains developed braking problems descending near Cable and northward trains began to stack up behind it, including the BNSF ‘Earthworm’ unit grain train that we’d photographed earlier in the day (see: The Earthworm and a Joshua Tree)
UP’s southward trains hadn’t faired much better; as a very heavy manifest had struggled upgrade at a walking pace adding to more congestion.
By evening, UP’s northward train had reached Caliente, where it held the mainline short of the first intermediate signal (as instructed by the dispatcher),while a BNSF southward manifest was in the siding.
More southward trains were coming behind this train, as the loaded northward earthworm crawled downgrade and stopped at the pit of the Caliente horseshoe, short of the grade crossing.
Three trains at Caliente and nothing moving. Furthermore, a pair of UP Z-trains were making a meet at Cliff.
At this point it was like shooting fish in a barrel, to use another handy cliché, and the evening light was only getting better.
Last weekend, I gazed down upon that famous spiral officially known on the late Southern Pacific as Walong, but to the rest of the world as the ‘Tehachapi Loop’.
It was, and still is, one of the great places to watch trains; and on this day it didn’t disappoint. I’d been away a long time and now I was back.
The last time I was here, I’d stayed with my friends Dave and Helen Burton, who lived just over the hill on the north side of the spiral. Back then, Southern Pacific still owned the line, and the merger that was to consume the Santa Fe Railway was still more than a year away.
Now, SP, Santa Fe, and Dave and Helen are all just memories.
It was strange to watch a train traverse the loop. I was delighted to see it, but sad. It was like seeing some weird vision of the future.
So, I made these images—my first digital photos of this often-photographed landmark—while thinking back to earlier times.
I dedicated books to both of my friends: to Dave, I dedicated my BNSF book of 2005.
It was the evening of June 15, 2004, and I was out along the old Burlington C&I line at Chana, west of Rochelle, Illinois. The sunset was this amazing tapestry of color, like a Turner oil painting. I had a few minutes to make the most it.
The old General Railway Signal searchlight signal with its classic finial and the code lines beyond made for good silhouette subjects. I blasted through about a half a roll of film before the color faded. I’ve found you have to make the most of these cosmic moments when they happen.
Often there’ll be a great sunset, but I won’t be in a position to use the light for anything constructive, and so I’ll just have to gaze at it with regrets. Seeing a missed opportunity in a sunset; that’s one of the downsides of being a photographer.
Was it January 11th 2015, when word came over the wire?
Fellow photographer Pat Yough said to me, and I repeat, ‘the Golden Swoosh has been sighted at Buffalo and is heading this way.’
‘The what?’ said I.
‘The Golden Swoosh! It’s all the rage. Something about the black swoosh is yellow on one of the BNSF GE’s.’
‘Whoa. Back the trolley up. What’s all this about?’
So far as I can determine, sometime ago a four-lettered shoe company produced a special runner (that’s an ‘athletic shoe’ in American parlence). And, this deluxe edition shoe carried a yellow tinted zinger on the side and was known as ‘the Golden Swoosh’.
This curious term, it seems, was then transferred to a BNSF Railway General Electric Evolution-Series locomotive painted in a one of a kind variation of the company’s livery.
Instead of black lettering with angled underline (a ‘swoosh’ as it were), the ‘BNSF’ lettering and corporate underline logo was painted yellow thus creating a unique adaptation of the BNSF image on locomotive 7695.
And this curious painted variation was eastbound on CSX leading a laden oil train destined for Philadelphia.
The wire was live with reports. It was seen south of Selkirk and rolling down along the Hudson on CSX’s River Line.
But then, just as it seemed that this locomotive note-worthy for its yellow underline, was nearly upon us, word came in that it was at Kearny Yard where it was tied down and without a crew.
And so, another day passed, swooshless.
Finally, after long last, on the evening of January 13th the famed ‘golden swoosh’ was again on the move.
The weather was cold and the sky was dark. Pat and I visited Neshaminy Falls on the old Reading Company. No swoosh. Then to Langhorne where CSX’s Q417 passed in the gloom (144 axles led by engines CSX 8768 and 8836). This was followed by CSX’s Q191 led by 5359 and 509 followed by containers.
In the end we went to Woodbourne: finally a headlight appeared on the horizon. The catenary glistened. and the low chug of a GE engine shook the ground.
And there, leading a mighty train of oil, was the ‘Golden Swoosh.’
I racked up the ISO to make some effort to mark its passing.
‘There it is!’
And there it goes.
Sort of reminded me of the time Britain’s Queen Elizabeth waved to me on one of her trips through Dublin in 2011.
On a blustery winter morning I find it nice to look through photos made on warm summer afternoons.
In June 2010, I had just bought my Canon EOS 7D DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and made an extended drive around the Midwest to visit friends, gather materials for a book, and test the camera. This went on for several weeks.
On the afternoon of June 24th, I revisited familiar territory along the Mississippi River at Savanna. Not yet fully trusting the digital camera, I exposed a number of slides from the top of the bluff.
I made this pair of images from river level of an eastward BNSF double stack was headed toward Chicago.
Of the two, I much prefer the second photo. For me this better portrays the railroad in its environment with a variety of secondary subjects to add interest.
Finding an old EMD Locomotive at Work Near its Birth Place.
Followers of Tracking the Light may have noticed that I have a penchant for Electro-Motive Division 20-Cylinder diesels. Not only have I featured these in many of my books, but also they have made regular appearances in my Daily posts.
In 2013, true 20-cylinder EMD locomotives have become really rare machines. Many of the surviving SD45/SD45-2 locomotives have been ‘de-rated’ and are now actually powered by variations of the 16-cylinder 645 engine.
Not that this difference really affects the photos, but for the purest, a true 20-cylinder locomotive has no match. For me, it’s the sound that makes the difference.
When I lived in California, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe both still had substantial fleets or 20 cylinder diesels. These days there are probably more old EMD F units in daily service than 20-cylinder 645s. (Maybe? Anyone know?)
Last week (Tuesday November 12, 2013), John Gruber and I were driving from Madison, Wisconsin toward Chicago to meet Chris Guss and Pat Yough. Chris rang me before lunch to say that an Illinois Railnet freight was ready to depart BNSF’s Eola Yard and had an old SP SD45 in the lead. A real SD45.
I stepped up the pace, and with creative driving and some vital landing instructions from Chris and Pat, John and I arrived at the old Burlington bridge over the Fox River west of Aurora just in time to catch this relatively obscure Chicago-land freight railroad at work. I owe this image to teamwork and the ability to react quickly. Hurray!
I’ve posted this image as another example of my work with a perspective control lens. This was a tool I made excellent use of in the early 1990s. On the recommendation of J.D. Schmid, I bought a Nikon 35mm PC ‘Shift’ lens for my Nikon F3T.
Among the advantages of a perspective control lens is the ability to shift the front element. This can be used to keep vertical lines from converging, but also to alter the image in subtle ways.
It was a clear Saturday morning in the Bay Area, and Brian Jennison and I were on one of our jaunts looking at area railroads. We stopped near the old station location at West Pittsburg (no ‘h’), California. (I believe the palm trees in the distance are an indication of where the building once stood.) Here we photographed several trains.
For this eastward freight, I positioned the camera relatively low to the ground and raised the front element of the 35mm PC to near its maximum. I didn’t quite keep the camera level. The result includes a large amount of crystal blue sky, while minimizing the foreground and keeping the vertical elements of the lead locomotive nearly parallel with the image frame.
I feel the subtle effect allows the locomotive visually surge forward, seeming to charge along. This was my intent. Santa Fe 5809 is an SD45-2, a machine powered by EMD’s 3,600 hp 20-cylinder diesel.
In their heyday these were powerful machines that produced an awe inspiring low-base sound in the high-throttle positions. I hoped to convey that power visually while making use of the California sky.
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General Electric Genesis Diesels and Style T Semaphores.
Railways can offer tremendous technological contrasts. Among my photographic themes is juxtaposition of the oldest technology along side the most modern. When I made this image, there was roughly 60 years between development of the signals and the locomotives.
I made this image during an exploration with Mel Patrick of the former Santa Fe mainline across northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado. At that time BNSF still maintained many of the old Union Switch & Signal Style T-2’s dating from the steam-era.
The Union Switch & Signal Style T-2 was featured in my book Railroad Signaling published by Voyageur Press. Here’s an except from my text: “US&S’s T-2 is a three-position upper quadrant type with a top of mast mechanism. Typical semaphore height measured 22 feet 6 inches from the ground to mechanism.”
Traffic on this line was relatively light, with only Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a couple of BNSF freights daily. Then, as today, most of BNSF trans-con freight was routed via the Belen Cutoff (through Abo Canyon) to the south.
In mid-July 1994, I spent several days photographing along Burlington Northern’s former Northern Pacific mainline in western North Dakota. Here the railway snaked through the Badlands, with the landscape characterized by unusual geological formations.
On the evening of July 12, 1994, BN sent a fleet of westward empty coal trains (described as ‘coal cars’ on the railroad) over the NP between Mandan, North Dakota and Glendive, Montana. At 7pm I caught this empty led by an SD60M at Sentinel Butte. Fast moving fair weather clouds made for some complicated lighting and a tricky exposure, but ultimately resulted in a more dramatic photograph.
This was my second experience with this line. My first was viewing the line from the dome of the North Coast Limited some 24 years earlier. I was only four years old on that trip, but the train ride gave me lasting memories. My dad exposed slides from the dome and dutch-doors of the train and from the Vista dome, but I wasn’t yet working with cameras.