Weso is a contraction implying ‘Western Pacific Southern Pacific’. This is the control point at the western end of the famed ‘paired track’ where SP’s and WP’s single track mainlines were coordinated during World War I to function as directional double track to ease operations.
My long-time photo pal TSH and I camped here in July 1991 and made a promising morning exposing Kodachrome of the parade of trains that passed after sunrise.
This view is of an eastward SP Modoc Line freight on Union Pacific’s former WP line just east of the crossovers at Weso, mile post 537. Weso is near Winnemucca. The parallel SP line is off camera to the left.
Weso, Nevada on July 21, 1991. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikon F3T fitted with a f1.8 105mm Nikkon lens, mounted on a Bogen 3021 tripod.
At 9:49am on July 29, 2009, I exposed this image of Union Pacific 5526 leading an eastward double stack train on the former Western Pacific at Sand Pass, Nevada. At the back of the train, another General Electric diesel is working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio controlled remotely operated locomotive).
Phil Brahms and I were exploring the former Western Pacific route across one of the most remote and lightly inhabited regions of the continental United States. This is lonely, barren, wind-swept and wide-open country where you can see for great distances.
Rail traffic was sparse, but we found about four to five freights per day in daylight.
The desert gets much bigger after sunset; the haunting sounds of the wind blowing across the desert floor in the dead of night and the radiant sky with stars blazing above cannot be captured on film. Yet these things stay with you.
That morning, I wrote in my notebook, ‘at dawn, before sunrise, I climbed a hill—coyotes were howling to the east (of me).’
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
The afternoon of July 26, 1993 was one of those lucky times when everything falls into place.
Fellow photographer TSH and I had hired a Chevy van at the San Francisco airport and drove to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, then worked our way back following Union Pacific’s Western Pacific route across Nevada.
Near Wendover (on the Utah-Nevada line) we came across a struggling westward coal train. One of its locomotives had failed, and it was making poor progress. It had three manifest trains stacked up behind it.
Armed with this knowledge, and having the best light of the day ahead of us, we drove west to the famed Arnold Loop, where Western Pacific’s engineers had designed a sweeping curve to maintain steady elevation. (Running west from the Nevada-Utah line the railroad ascends a continuous 35-mile 1 percent grade, and crests at 5,907 feet above sea level, 15 miles beyond Silver Zone Pass.)
While not a complete circle, such as that used further west at the Williams Loop near Blairsden, California, this loop arrangement is an excellent place to photograph trains.
To the east is the wide expanse of desert punctuated by Pilot Peak some ten miles distant.
We got ourselves in position; cameras loaded with Kodachrome 25 and planted on tripods, and a clear blue dome above us. To the east we could make out the four trains in the distance, seeming to crawl over the landscape like tiny worms. Soon the first of the trains was upon us. These followed every ten minutes or so for the next 45 minutes.
I’ve used my images from this day in several books and calendars. This one slide is well published.
We were spoiled by the experience. The next day on the Western Pacific wasn’t as productive. Such is the luck of desert railroading!
In the mid-1990s, I made numerous trips to California’s remote and desolate Modoc County in the far northeastern portion of the state. Here Southern Pacific’s rolling Modoc Line hosted big trains which made for a stunning, but difficult, subject.
Not only was the line exceptionally far away, but also traffic was unusually sparse and often erratic. SP had built the route in the late-1920s, piecing together the old Nevada-California-Oregon 3-foot gauge with bits of new construction and other trackage.
My favorite part of the Modoc was the old narrow gauge N-C-O section, where it looked as if tracks had been laid down on the desert floor with little concern for heavy grading.
This raw construction was evident at the Indian Camp Loop (compass south from Alturas) where SP’s line curved around to gain elevation.
In the second week of February 1994, Brian Jennison and I set out from Verdi, Nevada making the lonely drive up to the Modoc Line where we spent two rare days photographing trains.
We scored big with an EUCH-Q (Eugene-Chicago Quality) manifest freight that was led by a pair of brand new EMD GP60s.
Here’s a tip: when working sparse or erratic lines it really helps to have an inside track on operations, yet all the information in the world can’t help you if you’re not trackside! When you are trackside it’s helpful to know where the best locations are in advance of trains. In this case we had both the needed operational knowledge as well as prior location knowledge, and made the time to be trackside to take full advantage of it.