In continuing the celebration of the 150 anniversary of completion of America’s First Transcontinental, I present this view of a ‘Kodachrome’ painted Southern Pacific ‘Tunnel Motor’ on Donner Pass.
In the mid-1980s, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe anticipated merger and so painted their respective locomotives in a bright yellow and red merger livery, similar to those colors once used on the familiar Kodak Kodachrome film boxes.
A few locomotives were lettered for the proposed new railroad, SPSF. Executives felt certain the merger would be approved.
The Interstate Commerce Commission wasn’t impressed and refused the merger, twice, so ‘SPSF’ came to mean ‘shouldn’t paint so fast.’
I made this view of an eastward SP train at milepost 140 near Colfax, California on the ascent of Donner Pass on February 9, 1990, using a Leica M2 and, yes, Kodachrome film!
It was one of the last trains I photographed with an SP locomotive in the lead with full-lighting package (headlight, oscillating headlight, red oscillating light and class lights) and dressed in the Kodachrome scheme. By 1990, both of these features were on the wane.
In the spirit of the first Transcontinental 150thanniversary celebrations, I’m posting these views that I made at Newcastle, California on an exploratory trip over Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass in November 1989.
I was perched atop the tunnel, railroad-east of where the line crosses Interstate-80 on its ascent from Roseville Yard to Donner Summit. The roar of EMD 645 diesels made for a great sound show as the train disappeared into the tunnel below me.
Although not my most memorable photos on Donner, these were among the very first that I made. Thousands more followed over the years.
Amtrak’s eastward Southwest Chief, train number 4, made a relatively long stop at Barstow, California, affording me time to explore and photograph historic rolling stock (displayed near the platforms) by the Western America Railroad Museum.
I find it strange to see once-familiar locomotives exhibited as static displays. In the 1990s, I regularly photographed Santa Fe’s FP45, such as number 95 seen at Barstow. Back then these were working machines. Today, 95 a decayed appearing vestige of another era.
Compare the static equipment—displayed like dinosaur bones to a curious public—with Budd Vista dome Silver Splendorin consist on the Southwest Chief.The dome is a functional piece of equipment on its transcontinental journey from Los Angeles to its new home.
Growing up in New England, I had a childhood fascination with Barstow, which I viewed as a treeless desert Mecca of all good things Santa Fe. Although I’ve photographed in Barstow several times over the years, this one short nocturnal visit was especially surreal.
All photos were made handheld with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit.
I exposed these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
Key to my success was the high ISO setting (ISO 5000) and auto white balance setting that adjusted and balanced myriad artificial light sources.
Lacking a tripod, I positioned and steadied the camera on the half open ‘dutch door’ of private passenger car Silver Splendor as it was paused across from the Metrolink train storage sidings in Riverside, California.
My exposures were about 1/2 second at f2.8 (ISO 5000).
To make the most of the photos, I imported the camera RAW files into Lightroom and adjusted highlights and shadows to make for more pleasing final images.
On November 17, 2018, I made this view of Metrolink train 662 eastbound on the old Santa Fe at Fullerton, California.
To make the most of the palm trees that line the platforms, I cross-lit the train, exposing from the north-side of footbridge over the line.
Metrolink’s white locomotive hauling a mix of white and stainless-steel cars effectively reflect light on the shadow side of the train, which make for a more even exposure and help balance the photograph by compensating for the otherwise inky darkness of the high-sun shadows.
These views are looking west . I used a telephoto lens that compresses the row of palms.
Some seven hours after I made this image, I was back at Fullerton again. Stay tuned for my nocturnal views from the same station.
Last Friday, November 16, 2018, as the sun dropped near the horizon and a layer of cloud and haze filtered the light, I repositioned myself from San Clemente Pier, northward to the Metrolink Station at San Clemente, California.
I selected my location in order to make photos of a southward, Oceanside-bound suburban train with the sun setting over the Pacific.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a 12mm Zeiss Touit lens, I exposed several sunset silhouettes as the train arrived onto the station platform.
To make the most of the sunset lighting, I exposed manually for the sky, allowing the locomotive and cars and other terrestrial objects to appear dark.
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.
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!
On the evening of February 9, 1994, I exposed the final frame on 36 exposure roll of a Southern Pacific eastward freight ascending Donner Pass at Yuba Pass, California near where I-80 crosses the railroad.
I used an old Nikkormat FTN for this view and exposed the film with the aid of a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell light meter.
This photo demonstrates two things. Firstly the enormous dynamic range of Fujichrome slide film. Secondly, my ability to get the most out of each roll.
At the time I had very little money and yet spent what little I had on film and fuel for my car. I would routinely save the final frame of a roll for something special.
About this time I submitted a page of 20 35mm color slides to the well-known editor of a major railroad magazine, all frame number 37 and 38. I did this to check his attention to detail to see what he’d say.
Years later when I met him face to face, I’d mentioned this effort to him, and he admitted that he’d never even noticed.
You do know that I like to hide things in plain sight? Right? It always astounds me when no one seems to notice. (Rest easy, there’s nothing to see here except a California sunset.)
Consider this composition. Since the eye is naturally drawn to the front of the on-coming locomotive, I’ve made for a more complex image by placing this primary subject off-center.
When setting up this photograph, I was interested in secondary emphasis on the jointed rail, then still in use on Southern Pacific’s mainline at Oyster Point, railroad-timetable east of the old Bayshore Yard.
I was also interested in the wafting sea fog, a common atmospheric condition of the summer climate in San Francisco.
Key to my interest and another crucial compositional element was the dual-headlight arrangement on the Cal Train F40PH-2 locomotive. Although not purchased by SP, these were the last locomotives delivered new to feature the once-standard SP lighting arrangement—a classy characteristic of SP diesel operations.
By 1991, the application of oscillating headlights (commonly called ‘Mars lights’) had fallen out of favor and the practice was already on the wane. The headlights standout because of the slightly backlit lighting that leaves the front of the locomotive dark.
Last summer, I spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the old Southern Pacific Coast Line between Simi Valley and Moorpark, California.
At CP Madera, I ascended this cutting and made a series of digital photographs of passing passenger trains.
These were exposed using my Fujifilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens. I calculated the light using the camera’s center weighted meter and set aperture and shutter speed settings manually. Although bright, exposures can be tricky, especially when dealing with flat white locomotives.
It was a real pleasure to make photos in the warm California sun. (As recall, while sitting in Dublin on damp evening composing ‘Auto Pilot’ posts for Tracking the Light!)
My visits to California’s Tehachapis in July and August (2016) made me curious to dig deep into my archives and revisit the photographs I made there in the early 1990s.
I traveled with J. D. Schmid on my first visits to Southern Pacific’s Tehachapi crossing. (Then Santa Fe operated in the Tehachapis via trackage rights on SP, as does BNSF on Union Pacific today).
I made this Santa Fe FP45 photo on a rainy morning February 1991. We were on our way back from a detailed study of the SP’s Beaumont Hill and environs.
While hard to beat the great sound of EMD 20 cylinder diesels working the Tehachapi grades, it was difficult working with Kodachrome 25 to capture the experience. The film was slow and its spectral response didn’t favor dull days.
Certainly the weather was better on my more recent visits. I traveled with David Hegarty, and we had ample opportunity to make photographs in the bright California sun.
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.
During one of my recent Metrolink blitzes, I rode from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Ana where I changed for an Inland Empire-Orange County Line train running from Oceanside to San Bernardino.
I timed this brief visit to coincide with a flurry of Amtrak and Metrolink trains. I had just 45 minutes to make images of this classic Santa Fe station having never previously explored here.
I found Santa Ana to be an excellent mid-morning location.
The footbridge is photographer friendly and the old Santa Fe building makes for a suitably California setting. The height of the bridge allows for both distant telephoto views as well as wide-angle down-on photos.
I exposed these views digitally using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1.
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.
Forty years ago in Mrs. LaFond’s Fifth Grade class (Main Street School room 22) we were tasked to research a National Park. I think the big name parks were more popular, the likes of Yellowstone and whatnot.
I asked if I could research and write about the Joshua Tree National Monument. At the time this wasn’t a full National Park, but Mrs. LaFond agreed, and so I wrote to the Park Service and they sent me some literature about the odd ‘trees’ and the National Monument.
So why was a ten year old living in Monson, Massachusetts interested in Joshua Trees?
At that time, I’d taken a interest in the Santa Fe Railway, stemming in part from some Lionel F3s that my dad had bought us a few years earlier. This manifested into a desire to make an HO scale model of the desert. I’d read about Barstow, California, and the nearest relevant Park to this Santa Fe hub was the Joshua Tree National Monument.
Fast forward to the early 1990s. My friends and I made regular trips to the southern California desert to photograph trains, and finally had the opportunity to see a real live Joshua Tree.
Last weekend, I was exploring the Mojave Desert with fellow photographer David Hegarty, with an eye on photographing Union Pacific and BNSF trains. Again I had the opportunity to place a Joshua Tree in some photographs.
Here are several views of a heavy BNSF ‘earthworm’ grain train crawling upgrade across the desert floor. (The nickname stems from the prominently brown color of the grain cars, their curved body shape and the crawling effect of the long slow moving consist across the landscape). I’ve juxtaposed the freight with a scruffy Joshua Tree. Knowing what you do now, which do you think is the main focus of my photographs?
Here’s an irony: after all these years I’ve never been to the Joshua Tree National Park [https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm ] (upgraded in 1994). I have visited Barstow on several occasions. This features a massive yard and a fascinating old Harvey House and railway station, but is a shocking bland town; ugly, sprawling and commercial.
On the morning of April 18, 1993, I made this Kodachrome slide of an eastward Amtrak train on the shore of San Pablo Bay at Pinole, California.
Exposed using a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC (Perspective Control lens). Note the level horizon.
Compare my use of foreground of the image below with that featured in this morning’s post at Gurtnellen, Switzerland. In both situations I’ve held the camera close to the ground, while standing on a hill side above the train.
The other day I was scouring the files for a photo Amtrak’s Sunset Limited as an illustration for an article I was writing.
Instead, I found this slide; one of hundreds of images I made along SP’s Sunset Route in southern California during the early-mid 1990s.
I’d been following this eastward Southern Pacific freight over Beaumont Pass and I exposed this view near Cabazon on the east slope. The setting sun was enhanced by the effects of Los Angeles-area smog that acted as a red filter (an effect of heavy particulates).
I was working with my Nikon F3T and Kodachrome 25 slide film. Always a favorite combination for image making on Southern Pacific Lines.
Tracking the Light presents new material every day!
Seven years ago today, I exposed this photograph on Fujichrome slide film while working on my book Railroads of California (Voyageur Press, 2009).
This appears on page 58. My original photo caption read:
Union Pacific SD70M 4772) works east on the old Western Pacific on 10 May 2008. Railroad enthusiasts have long praised the WP’s Sierra crossing because of its easy access to parallel Highway 70. This view was made from a pull off on Highway 70 east of Portola, California. Alternative angles on the same spot are available from the old highway below.
As it turned out my final caption as published in the book was more elaborate.
Related to this image, although not specified in the caption is today’s date: May 10th.
This is a significant day for American railroading. On this day in 1869, the famous golden spike ceremony marked the joining of Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory, Utah, an event signifying the linking of east and west.
Also on this day in 1893, New York Central & Hudson River Railroad engine 999 made its legendary sprint across New York state where west of Batavia, New York it was reported to have hit 112.5 mph, a figure that was often claimed as a world speed record.
After WinterRail 1997, Mel Patrick, John Gruber and I spent a day photographing the Amador Central, a short line that was rumored to be making one of its final revenue runs.
I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using my Nikon F3T. It was a clear Spring day in the Sierra foothills and a nice time to be outside making photographs. For me K25 and California sun were always a winning combination.
On August 15-16, 2009, I’d been camping in California’s Feather River Canyon near the curved Rock Creek trestle. In the early light of dawn, I made a series of photos of this Union Pacific container train crossing the bridge.
This image features the tail-end ‘Distributed Power Unit’ (a radio controlled remote locomotive). After making this photo I followed the train west down the canyon and made more images.
Thankfully Union Pacific paints its bridges an aluminum color which helps visually separate the girders from the inky blackness of the trees beyond. Would this photo work if the bridge were painted black?
Union Pacific on Donner Pass; Standing in Steinheimer’s Footsteps.
Among my favorite locations in California is the spectacular overlook at ‘American’ or ‘Old Gorge’ (if you have a really old time-table) located on the former Southern Pacific crossing of Donner Pass east of Alta.
Here the railroad crawls out on ledge high above the waters of the American River. It’s a on sustained 2.2 percent grade, so eastward trains are in full throttle which makes for sublime sound show.
I was in position on an overcast afternoon, October 30, 2003. The American River Canyon was filled with a thick fog. To the west I could hear traditional EMD 16-645E3 diesels roaring in Run-8. That meant SD40-2s. Real locomotives.
As the train approached, the atmospheric pressure changed and the fog rose out of the canyon and enveloped me. Although it was only the day before Halloween, all of sudden it began snowing furiously. Visibility dropped to nil, and the roar of the eastward freight grew intense.
Working with my Rolleiflex Model T loaded with Kodak Tri-X, I exposed a series of images. It was a memorable moment on Donner.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.