During my visit to California in the summer of 2016, I spent several productive days photographing trains on the former Southern Pacific Coast Line.
On the evening of August 2, 2016, a friend and I visited Santa Susana Pass railroad west of Simi Valley, where I made this telephoto view of Metrolink Train #117 led by F59PH 857. This was one of many train trainsets operating with BNSF GE diesels at one end.
Operation of BNSF AC4400CWs on Metrolink trains was a temporary safety measure while repairs/modifications were made to push-pull cab-control cars during 2016.
Six years ago, I made this trailing view of an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner bound for Los Angeles Union Station at Simi Valley, California.
The on-platform infomational signs were scrolling an ominous message about a Metrolink train that had been cancelled because of a mechanical issue. That’s a modern way of saying; ‘the train failed enroute and your going to be late’.
In June 2008, I visited San Diego, California for the day and traveled around on the famous San Diego Trolley.
I made this view of the Orange Line near downtown.
I can’t help but wonder, where is everybody?
I’ve photographed light rail in dozens of cities, and usually there’s lots of people about. This was a pleasantly warm weekday afternoon in San Diego and there’s virtually no one on the street. Bizarre!
Yesterday, I was discussing photography with my Fiancée, Kris as we drove through rural western Maine.
I explained that I rarely display the photos that I feel are my finest work.
Why? The reason is very simple. I made the best photos for me, and I can be selfish. I put a huge amount of work into some of these images and I’m holding them back for just the right moment.
In 1994, I spent months photographing Southern Pacific. One of my favorite lines was SP’s remote Modoc Line, especially the section built on the old Nevada-California-Oregon three-foot gauge alignment across the Modoc Plateau between Wendel and Alturas, California.
At the end of the day on May 21, 1994, I was poised near Indian Camp, waiting beneath a desert sky with chocolate clouds as a Wendel-bound freight worked across the desert floor. Beyond, the railroad twisted and turned through the Likely Loop and up toward the sinuous Indian Camp Loop.
For more than half and hour, I could hear the low harmonic pulsating exhaust of EMD 20-cylinder diesels as the train gradually drew closer.
Working with my Nikon F3T loaded with K25 slide film, I exposed a series of silhouettes as the long freight growled through Indian Camp.
In 1999, I published one of these images on page 11 of my book titled Narrow Gauge Locomotives.
In January 1991, I traveled with Southern Pacific Dispatcher JDS to the Tehachapis in Southern California.
Working with my Leica M2 loaded with Kodak 5063 (35mm Tri-X) black & white film, I made this photo of the helpers on the back of loaded unit coal train SNTA-C (Skyline Mine to Trona, California Coal) passing the signals at Bealville.
At the time, I was experimenting with Edwal FG7, a liquid developer that yielded high-contrast and fine grain while producing a deep black.
The other day, I scanned several rolls from this trip and others to Southern California and then processed the scans with Adobe Lightroom.
Below are two versions of the same image. The top is the unadjusted scan, the bottom reflects changes to contrast and exposure aimed a producing a more pleasing image.
I’ve only photographed Baldwin diesels a few times.
The most memorable was back on April 3, 1993. I was traveling with fellow photographer Brian Jennison, and we made a morning of following this Sierra Railroad Baldwin on its run from Oakdale into the Sierra foothills toward Jamestown, Califronia.
Near Chinese Camp, we hiked to this shallow cutting, where I used my Nikon F3T fitted with a 105mm f1.8 lens to expose a Kodachrome sequence of the antique diesel leading a train of Southern Pacific wood chip cars .
This Baldwin made a characteristic low RPM chortle, unlike any modern diesels.
A few weeks ago on Tracking the Light, I described my early experiences with Kodak’s Ektachrome LPP (a warm-tone emulsion with subtle color rendition), of which I received a free-sample from Kodak back in August 1993.
Among the other photos on that roll, was this view exposed shortly after sunrise of Amtrak’s Los Angeles-bound Coast Starlight crossing Southern Pacific’s massive Benicia Bridge near Martinez, California.
I had loaded the film into a second-hand Nikkormat FTN that I fitted an f4.0 Nikkor 200mm telephoto.
This slide sat in the dark until I scanned it on October 6, 2020.
In the summer of 1993, I attended an event in San Francisco hosted by Kodak to debut a new Ektachrome slide film. As part of the event, Kodak gave everyone a sample of LPP, a warm-tone emulsion with subtle color rendition.
I had recently bought a Nikkormat FTN from a co-worker, and promptly loaded the camera with the new film.
It was mid-August, when I climbed to the top of a hill over-looking Southern Pacific’s Cal-P route with a view of Suisun Bay/Carquinez Straits and the stored navy ships anchored there.
Curiously, this SP westward freight had a Conrail C32-8 in consist. This was one of ten built as test beds for Conrail in summer 1984 and routinely operated on the Boston & Albany route through the 1980s. They were known as ‘camels’ because of their hump-back appearance. It was odd to see such a familiar locomotive so far from home.
Here’s a classic from my Kodachrome file: Southern Pacific SD40T-2 8378 West ascending Beaumont Hill on the Sunset Route at Cabazon, California on January 30, 1994.
I had Kodachrome 25 loaded in my Nikon F3T, which was fitted with an f5.6 Tokina 400mm lens.
My focus point was not on the front of the locomotive, but rather on the searchlight signal to the right of the train. Since the signal was the emphasis of the photo, you may wonder why I didn’t move a little closer to make it appear larger. The reason is simple: I wanted to include the ‘Cabazon’ sign on the signal relay cabinet, which identifies the location and was key to the interlocking.
Just in case you are curious, the second locomotive in the train consist is a Conrail SD40-2.
On this day four years ago, I re-visited the former Southern Pacific crossing the Tehachapi mountains.
At Walong, popularly described as the ‘Tehachapi Loop’—where in the 1870s SP’s chief engineer William Hood applied this spiral arrangement to gain elevation while maintaining a steady gradient—I photographed this BNSF eastward intermodal train. (train direction is by timetable, not the compass.)
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with an 18-135mm Fujinon zoom, I made this photograph with the lens set to 21.6mm in order to take in most of the helical track arrangement. Exposure was f8 at 1/500 of a second at 200 ISO.
I’d left San Francisco in the wee hours of the morning and drove to the Sierra.
In the early hours of July 14, 1991, an SP eastward freight ascending Donner Pass had stalled near Alta. This resulted in a pair of following eastward freights being held; one at Colfax and one near Alta.
This was the second of two following freights, which developed its own difficulties at Gold Run when the train went into ‘emergency’.
I made the most of SP’s difficult time, by photographing the procession of trains at various points on The Hill (as Donner was known).
As the summer sun approached midday, I drove to Troy, where I’d previously scoped out this high vantage point with a commanding vista.
My project for the day was to find ways of suitably using the harsh high light in the Sierra, conditions that had been vexing me.
This was among my more successful images. Working with my old Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron, I exposed Ilford FP4 that I later processed using Edwal FG7 developer. At the back was a two unit helper. The sounds of EMD 645 diesels toiling in ‘Run-8’ (full throttle) was impressive and not soon forgotten.
Many of my other images from the day were exposed on Kodachrome 25, some using a circular polarizing filter as a means to mitigate the effects of Sierra high light. I’ll save those for another day.
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I liked the old Boeing-Vertol LRVs. (Light Rail Vehicles).
The shape of the cars lent well to photography.
The San Francisco cars reminded me a the old orange creamsicle frozen treats.
Back in December 1990, I made this view of a Boeing car leaving the Geneva Street car house for a run on the M-Ocean line. I was working with my old Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens on my F3T loaded with Kodachrome 25.
I made great use of that lens, but sold it in 1996 when I bought my 80-200mm zoom. In retrospect, I made better photos with the fixed 200mm.