Tag Archives: #Southern Pacific

Classic Chrome-Modoc Beet

Among my thousands of ‘lost’ Kodachromes is this view from 32 years ago on Southern Pacific’s Modoc Line.

‘Lost’ is a relative term. In the 1990s, I was exceptionally prolific. I spent lots of time making photos: Not just of railways but of just about everything. If you were standing next to me in the 1990s, I probably made a photo of you too.

Anyway, while I made a great many photos, I was especially picky in my editing and rejected thousands of images. Today, many of the ‘rejects’ look pretty good. In some instances, I was diligent and labeled even my substandard slides. In other circumstances, I never got to the yellow boxes and they went straight into a carton full of more slides.

These ended up packed away in my parents’ attic for more than 25 years. Gradually, I’ve been retrieving the cartons, going through the ‘lost’ slides, and pairing them up with my notebooks.

So! This box was labeled ‘Modoc Beet’. Luckily, I took pretty good notes on the trip, and I have a good memory of making the photos.

On November 18, 1991, Brian Jennison, J.D. Schmid, and I chased the ‘Beet Hauler’ compass east on SP’s Modoc Line from Texum near Klamath Falls, Oregon to Stronghold, California and back. This was led by three 1950s-era SP SD9s (rebuilt as SD9Es).

I noted that we photographed the outward (empty train) at Texum, Malone, Oregon, and Stronghold, California, paying special attention to the locations of wigwag grade crossing signals, and the semaphores at Stronghold, where SP crossing BN’s former Great Northern.

This particular image didn’t make my cut in 1991. It sat in the box for 32 years until Monday, when I scanned it.

Unfortunately, I cannot specifically identify the location, although I suspect it is near Malone.

So what’s wrong with this photo? To my 1991-eye, I would have rejected it because: 1) the sun was obscured by a cloud; 2) It didn’t feature a wigwag signal, 3) the SD9 had its ‘Mars Light [oscilating headlight] removed, and 4) I had better photos of the same train from the same day. Despite all that , this image looks pretty good to me now! Kodachrome slide exposed with a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens.

There’s enough unlabeled slides in my lost Kodachrome files to fill years’ worth of posts on Tracking the Light.

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Seeing with a 300mm.

In September 1990, I made a trip over Donner Pass.

What was special about this trip was photographing the familiar piece of railroad on Donner in new way.

Between Autumn of 1989 and Autumn 1990, I made dozens of trips over California’s Donner Pass to photograph Southern Pacific trains. What was visually significant about the Sept 1st, 1990 trip was that I’d borrowed a Nikkor f4.5 300mm lens from Brian Jennison, with whom I was traveling.

Over the course of a long weekend, I used this novel focal length to take ‘new’ photos of familiar places.

Among the variety of 300mm views, was this photo that I made at 7:37am on September 1, 1990 of SP 6713 west at Yuba Pass, California. It was one of several from a fixed tripod sequence.

The novelty of the extreme telephoto compression had caught my interest and I made the most of this borrowed lens. Up until that time, the longest lens in my camera bag was a Nikkor f4.0 200mm.

It was only on reviewing my notes from this trip did I realize how much this telephoto had impressed me on that trip. Ironically, a new Nikkor 300mm was completely out of my price range at the time.

It is interesting to see how working with this one lens influenced the way I made photos on that trip.

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Donner Pass- March 22, 1991

Below are two images from my ‘lost’ Kodachrome file.

These were exposed on one of my many trips on California’s Donner Pass to document Southern Pacific in the 1990s.

On this day, SP had called a train with its BIG snow-service Jordan spreaders at each end to help clear the line over the pass.

I was set up at the east end of the snow shed complex at Norden near Donner Summit. While SP’s crew adjusted the wings on the Jordan for an eastward move to clear snow, I made a series of exposures using my Nikon F3 on Kodachrome 25. Back in the 1990s, I had deemed the two images displayed here as less than optimal.Until I scanned them the other night, they had never seen the light of day.

The top exposure was part of a bracket sequence and is a bit ‘hot’ (1/3 stop overexposed). It was challenging to select the correct exposure in bright sunbleached snow , which is why I’d made the bracket to begin with.

The middle image was exposed using a circular polarizing filter in my effort to reduce glare and obtain better highlight detail. Unfortunately, this was a cheap filter and lent a slightly cyan tint to the scene. Also, I didn’t compensate properly for the effect of the filter on my exposure, so the image is about 1/2 stop too dark. The bottom image is an adjusted/color corrected version of the middle image.

Kodachrome 25, exposed using a Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm lens. Approximate exposure f5.6 1/250th.
Kodachrome 25, exposed using a Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm lens and circular polarizer. The image below is from the same scan.
Same scan as the middle image: Kodachrome 25, exposed using a Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm lens and circular polarizer. This image was adjusted in post processing to correct for the cyan color balance and improve overall appearance.

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Union Pacific SD70ACe—Colfax, California

Fifteen years ago today—May 20, 2008, I made this telephoto view of a Union Pacific SD70ACe leading an eastward freight at Colfax, Calif., on the ascent of Donner Pass.

I was working on my book ‘Railroads of California’ and looking to update my coverage of the Donner Pass crossing.

The photo was exposed on Fujichrome using a Canon EOS-3 with 100-400mm Canon zoom lens. Telephoto compression accentuated th effects of the gradient at Colfax.

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Approach Solitude

This is among my favorite signal photos. It has appeared in various publications over the years including my original book on railroad signals.

I made the image on a trip along the old Denver & Rio Grande Western in the Utah desert on September 3, 1996 the mid 1990s with Mel Patrick and my pal TSH .

This shows an ‘Approach’ aspect for an eastward train at the west switch of Solitude siding. Seen in the distance is the headlight of a westward train taking the siding.

I made the image in the minutes before sunrise when the light in the desert is rapidly changing. Exposed with a Nikon F3T.

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Southern Pacific on the West Valley

In 1991, Southern Pacific was still routing through freight over its West Valley route between Tehama and Davis, California.

Photographer Brian Jennison and I were on our way to photograph streamlined steam locomotive 4449 at Redding on August 31, 1991 (featured yesterday on TTL), when we intercepted a westward SP freight working its way along the West Valley route.

Although we were a little tight on time for the steam locomotive, we decided to make the most of this fortuitous find, and photographed the freight twice, once just south (timetable west) of Willows, California and again 15 minutes later near Delavan.

This was one of just a few SP trains that I photographed on the West Valley route that was sold off a couple of years later to a short line start-up called California Northern. I revisited this territory in 2003 and again in 2005, to photograph and travel on California Northern’s local freight.

Photos were exposed on black & white film with a Leica M2 fitted with 50mm Summicron, and cropped slightly for effect.

Although 31 years after I made this image, the subject matter resonates with me more than ever, in my opinion, I released the shutter just a moment too soon. I wish I’d centered the locomotive between the signals.
Looking timetable East at Delavan, California. I also made a color slide at this location when the freight got closer.

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Holding Back the Best

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.

The rest remain sequestered.

The best way to perceive this image is to view it projected from the original Kodachrome slide upon a reflective screen in a darkened room.

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Dark Chrome at Talent

July 3, 1992, I was poised on a hillside in Talent, Oregon to photograph Southern Pacific’s eastward RVME-M (Roseville to Medford manifest) on the sinuous Siskiyou Line

My Nikon F3T was loaded with Kodachrome and fitted with a 35PC lens.

An unfortunate cloud drifted in front of the sun moments before the freight descended into view.

Last night I opted to import a scan of this dark chrome into Adobe Lightroom where I imposed a series of small adjustments.

Below are two images: a scaled version of the othersie unadjusted scan, and my re-interpreted photo.

I can’t change the clouds, but I can lighten the image and adjust the color temperature and contrast to make for a nominally more pleasing photo.

Unaltered scan of SP’s RVME-M at Talent, Oregon.

My re-interpreted image.

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Drama on Donner!

In March 1991, I exposed this view of a Southern Pacific coal train ascending Donner Pass.

Working with my Nikon F3T and Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens, I focused on the loaded hoppers of the coal train as diesel exhaust poured forth from tunnel 8 on Donner Pass.

SP’s SNTA-C (Skyline Mine to Trona-coal) had been routed over Donner Pass via Track 1. This was the historic 1860s alignment that involved a difficult sinuous climb around the north face of Mount Judah.

Backlighting aided capturing this contrasty scene, that I preserved on Kodachrome 25 color slide film.

In 1993, SP lifted Track 1 over Donner Pass (between Shed 47 and Norden), opting to route all traffic on its newer alignment on Track 2 via Tunnel 41.

I’ll be featuring SP and Donner Pass in my September 2021 Trains Magazine column that looks back at Southern Pacific 25 years after its merger with Union Pacific.

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Helpers at Cape Horn

It was a lazy late-summer evening in September 1990, when I hiked up to the tunnels at Cape Horn, east of Colfax, California on Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass crossing.

East and westward freights were converging upon me, and I wondered which would reach me first. Listening to my scanner, I knew the down hill train was close, when I hear the eastward freight roaring through Colfax below me, on its approach to Long Ravine.

In this telephoto view, I’m focused on the rear-end helper on the uphill eastward freight.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm Nikkor lens.

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Amtrak’s California Zephyr along the Truckee River

In June 1994, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using a Nikkormat FTN fitted with a Nikon AF28mm lens (focused manually) of Amtrak number 5, the westward California Zephyr as it worked upgrade along the Truckee River on Southern Pacific’s famous Donner Pass crossing.

The other day, I scanned this slide and then imported the unmodified scan into Adobe Lightroom to make corrections.

Kodachrome 25 was an amazing film with very fine grain and a tremendous exposure latitude. Among the difficulties with the Kodachrome emulsions was its cyan/red color bias. When the film was fresh it tended toward a cyan (blue-green) bias, and as it aged it shifted red.

The roll I used was relatively fresh and required significant color adjustment to produce a near neutral bias.

I’ve included scaled versions of: the unmodified scan, the color and contrast adjusted scan, and the Lightroom work window. 

Uncorrected scan.
Adjusted scan.
Lightroom work window showing contrast and exposure adjustment sliders and the corrected histogram. Notice that I manually moved the black point to the left, while lightening shadows and reducing overall contrast. This helps correct for the effect of midday sun in the California Sierra.

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Searchlights and a Tunnel Motor at Cabazon

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.

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Smoky Sunrise Caliente

Four years ago fires in the hills around California’s Central Valley contributed to the high level of particulates in the air.

This made for a stunning smoky sunrise at the Caliente horseshoe on the former Southern Pacific crossing of the Tehachapis.

I was set up near the crossing of Cal Bodfish Road to make this backlit view of a northward BNSF intermodal, one of three, that were threading their way toward Bakersfield.

Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera with 18-135mm Fujinon lens.

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Bealville Grade Crossing at Sunset—August 6, 2016.

We were visiting the California Tehachapis four years ago. After more than two decades absence, it was my second trip there in as many weeks.

At sunset, I positioned myself at the famous Bealville grade crossing, where I photographed a passing Union Pacific intermodal train (historically on Southern Pacific this would have been an eastward train, but my notes from the day indicate that it was a ‘southbound’.)

Working with my FujiFilm XT1, I made a series of photos. Two variations of one of the head on views are presented here. One is the in-camera Jpg, the other is an adjusted image the I made in Lightroom from the Fuji RAW file.

In camera JPG, scaled for internet presentation.
Adjusted RAW file; contrast and color balance was altered to improve the appearance of the image.

The last image is a trailing view showing the signal and grade crossing gates.

My monthly column in September 2020 Trains Magazine features a photo that I made near this same crossing.

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Southern Pacific at Troy, California—July 1991.

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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