In the early 1990s, Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass was the domain of EMD Tunnel Motors—distinctive six-motor locomotives specifically configured for the route to better accommodate the difficulties operating in tunnels and snow-sheds at high altitudes.
So finding matched sets of modern General Electric four-motor diesels (such as those pictured here) leading freights proved to be highly unusual in the greater scheme of daily operations.
I made this photo in June 1992 at Yuba Pass. Although it has appeared in several places, including Pacific Rail News, I thought it was timely to present it on Tracking the Light. Friday, May 10, 2019 will be the 150th anniversary of the completion of America’s ‘First Transcontinental Railroad’ of which the original Donner Pass crossing was a key component.
This image was exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens. To compensate for the inky shadows, I made a multi-pass scan using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 and then imported the hi-res TIF file into Lightroom for adjustment. What you see here are both the unaltered scan and the adjusted versions, both scaled as Jpgs for internet presentation.
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.
A little while ago, I found this old slide-scan of GP40-2 when searching for an image to advertise my slide program tomorrow night: General Motors Diesels in North America.
I thought: you might not believe what’s lurking right behind this freshly painted EMD!
As a reminder: my program will held on Thursday 28 February 2019 at 7:30 pm at the Irish Railway Record Society premises near Heuston Station in Dublin. Visitors are welcome!
Step back to Septmeber 2, 1991, when I exposed this view at Mott-Azalea, California on Southern Pacific’s Shasta Route. I was on assignment for Southern Pacific and traveling with photographer Brian Jennison who lent me his 300mm Nikkor telephoto.
I set up Brian’s 300mm with my F3T loaded with Kodachrome on my Bogen 3021 Tripod, positioning it nearly at rail level to make a long sequence of the approaching train.
What train was this?
It was an SP excursion with borrowed Lima 4-8-4 4449 and Daylightpassenger train. The GP40-2 was added for extra-power and braking on the grade from Dunsmuir to Black Butte.
I’ve completely hidden the vintage train behind the freshly painted GP40-2!
The flags are a nice touch.
There’s something about the West. I wish I was standing there, right now, taking it all in. It was a memorable weekend all around.
I avoid shrouding my work in mystery and I’ve happily discussed my technique, tools and materials with anyone who asks. This can lead to some interesting conversations, but also some peculiar observations.
Over the years, various people have offered curious comments on my photography (not including the written comments that appear in response to Tracking the Light). Below are some of the most memorable:
1) Commenter, “I like your slides, what sort of film do you use to make the photos?”
Me, “Kodachrome 25”.
Commenter, “Kodachrome 25! Isn’t that too slow?!”
2) Commenter, “That’s a beautiful scene but I didn’t think it would make a good photograph.”
3) Commenter, “Here’s a tip for you son, your photos are too head on, I couldn’t read the words on the side of the trains.”
4) Commenter, “I like your photo of the sunset, if I want to make a photo like that, which filter should I use?”
Me, “I don’t know, I didn’t use a filter.”
Commenter, “Yes, but if I was to used a filter, which one should I use?”
5) Commenter (via a 3rd party), “I don’t like Brian Solomon’s photography, it shows too many trees!”
6) Commenter, “You shouldn’t be making photos at night, it’s a waste of film!”
7) Commenter, “You still use film?!!”
8) Commenter, “So how are you adjusting from the transition to digital?”
Me, “I still haven’t adjusted from the transition to color.”
9) Commenter in regards to my Lumix LX3, “I can’t believe that YOU use THAT!”
10) Commenter in regards to a photo of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in the Berkshires, “That’s a beautiful photograph, pity about the train.”
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.
In May 1992, I was on my way back to San Francisco from a visit to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line. I stopped at SP’s Redding Station and made this afternoon image of a locomotive reflecting in the window.
Someday, someone might want to know what the Pacific Bell shelter was for, and wonder about the curious device positioned within!
Notice that I carefully included the station name in the view.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25, which was a good film for daylight scenes but tended to do a poor job of rendering shadows. Yet, because the shadow areas under the station canopy are a bit dark this effect helps emphasize daylight on the locomotive reflected in the glass.
How would I make this photo digitally? First of all, I’d preset the white balance to ‘daylight’ rather than use the automatic setting. This would give the shadow areas a slight bluish tint, while maintaining more natural colors in the reflection.
Secondly, I’d set the exposure manually, and pay careful attention to the density of window reflection, while allowing the rest of the scene to go a bit dark (about ½ half stop).
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.
Back in the day, Southern Pacific’s famed Daylight was often pictured crossing Santa Susana Pass—a scenic cleft in the rocks between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, California.
Once a remote area, this is now hemmed in by suburban development, freeways and public parks.
Riding Metrolink, I’d noted several potentially interesting locations on the west side of the pass (SP timetable west, today Union Pacific timetable north).
Reviewing Google Maps, I found that views of the line should be accessible from Corriganville Park, located a little ways to the east of Simi Valley. So one afternoon last week, David Hegarty and I made an exploration of the area.
There’s a flurry of Metrolink and Amtrak trains in the evening. We found some locations near CP Davis (location of a passing siding) with an aim to make images of BNSF GE-built AC4400CWs that have been working many Metrolink trains.
I exposed these images with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera, but I also made a few color slides that will be processed at a later date.
Back in 1994, I’d made a project of Southern Pacific’s famous Coast Line focusing on the line between Watsonville Junction and Santa Barbara, California.
Traffic was sparse compared with other SP mainlines. Yet there were 2-3 through freights in each direction daily, plus Amtrak numbers 11 and 14—the Coast Starlight.
Last week, I decided to revisit Gaviota, California to make photos of the Coast Starlight. I often require images of this popular train as illustrations in books and magazines, and my 1994 Kodachrome slides are now a bit dated.
However sparse through freight was on the Coast in 1994, it was busier then than now. I neither saw nor heard of any Union Pacific trains on the move during my exploration, and the only active UP presence I noted was that of a passing HyRail truck and a track gang.
Amtrak 14 was on time and the pleasant mix of sun and coastal mist made for a nicely lit scene that captures the spirit of this supremely scenic run.
The magnificence of the former Southern Pacific crossing of California’s Tehachapi Range is the antique sinuosity of the line combined with the bucolic nature of the terrain and unusually heavy freight traffic.
Last weekend, I made these views near Tunnel 2 between Bealeville and Caliente using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
A nearly new Union Pacific GE tier 4 in fresh paint was an added attraction to the uphill Z-train (UP’s term for a priority intermodal run).
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.
I featured Southern Pacific’s massive Suisun Bay Bridge in my 2008 book North American Railroad Bridges. In this detailed book, I traced the development of bridges on American railroads and featured many of the most noteworthy spans.
Southern Pacific’s Suisun Bay Bridge opened for service on October 15, 1930, allowing the railroad to discontinue its intensive car ferry operations. It was the largest double track bridge west of the Mississippi.
I made this photograph with Brian Jennison on a foggy morning more than 16 years before the book’s publication. However this was not the image used to illustrate the bridge in the book. Instead, I opted for a broad-side silhouette exposed on Ektachrome in 1993.
Here’s a bridge photograph tip: to make a large span appear enormous crop the ends of the bridge, thus allowing the mind to expand the bridge to unseen ends.
Tracking the Light will post tomorrow at the usual time.
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!
On July 10, 1993, I spent the day on Donner Pass, focusing my morning efforts in the famous Coldstream Canyon west of Truckee, California where Southern Pacific’s former Central Pacific line winds nearly three miles up the canyon, turns on a tight horseshoe curve at Stanford Flat to continue its ascent on the far side.
The area is rich in history. Yet, it can be a challenging place to capture in photographs.
Having thoroughly explored this area on foot on earlier visits, I’d located this angle at Andover that shows SP’s double track line on two levels. The tracks in the photograph are less than a half mile apart as the crow flies, but about five miles distant on the timetable.
Helpers had gone downgrade a while earlier and met a westward GJWS-Q (Grand Junction to Warm Springs ‘Quality’ manifest, ie a carload train) at Truckee.
In this view the freight is in run-8 (maximum throttle) roaring up the canyon. More than ten minutes would pass before it reached the upper level.
I exposed this photograph on Kodak T-Max 400 black & white film using a Nikon F3 with Nikkor zoom lens fitted with a yellow filter.
Key to the success of the image was shading the front element from the sun with my notebook to minimize flare.
Another subtle element is SP’s twin headlight arrangement on the leading SD40T-2: this had been a trademark of SP’s diesels, but by the mid-1990s very few locomotives still carried both headlights and it was getting relatively rare to find one leading.
This is one of my favorite black & white photos that I exposed on Donner Pass, and reminds me of the work of the late Richard Steinheimer who had been photographing in this canyon decades before I made my exploration.
It’s rare that I’ll display one of my all-time favorite photos (if you are not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full image).
This has been published several times. It’s a simple image, but it wasn’t easy to make.
I exposed it in September 1991. As I’ve previously told, Southern Pacific’s Bob Hoppe had hired me for the weekend to document an event involving engine 4449.
Following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop, where the railroad spilled toxins into the Sacramento River above Dunsmuir, California, SP organized the historic streamlined engine and train to make public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture.
Brian Jennison and I made the most of the three days of Daylight steam specials. Over the years, I made great use of these photos.
My choice image is this one. It clearly shows SP’s famous engine, yet captures it in motion and in silhouette.
I had two frames left on my roll of Kodachrome 25 (actually I thought had had only one left, but I also managed a photo of the tail car).
I opted for a ‘wrong side’ view of the engine, in order to make this silhouette with the oaks that characterize the rolling valley along Hooker Creek north (railroad timetable east) of Tehama, California.
To insure I kept a hint of rail in view, I needed to gain a vantage point slightly above rail level. Rather than pan the locomotive, I set my F3T on a tripod and used my Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens nearly wide open.
The locomotive approached at speed; I had only one shot at this, and timing was everything. I wasn’t quite ready when I could hear the distinctive exhaust of the locomotive rolling up the valley. Some last second fumbling with my meter, convinced me to lower my shutter speed. Thus the hint of motion blur.
Five minutes later, it would have been too dark to capture this scene on Kodachrome 25, which was the only imaging medium I had that day.
Often it’s the details that make a difference. In April 1991, I made a few photos at Cal-Train’s Bayshore platforms near the San Francisco-end of the old Bayshore yard.
By that time the yard was but a ruin—a vestige of another era. Southern Pacific’s operational presence in San Francisco, still its headquarters at that time, was a shadow of what it had been, and diminishing.
What caught my eye was the old wooden speed-restriction post with Southern Pacific written on it. Here was tangible evidence of the SP at Bayshore.
I made a point of featuring the sign in this pair of photos of passing Cal-Train ‘Commutes.’ Interestingly, these Cal-Train F40PHs were the last locomotives delivered with the classic SP ‘full lighting package’ which included headlight, white oscillating lights, a red oscillating light, and class lamps.
Pan photo exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T fitted with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens.
It was August 1992 and Southern Pacific had just recently introduced the Golden West branding on some freight cars. I was on my way back from work with a free roll of Agfachrome 50 slide film and I made these photos at SP’s South San Francisco yard.
It’s hard to resist fresh paint and so I made a variety of detail shots.
At the time I was managing an E6 color film processing machine for a photo studio nearby, so the next day I ran the film through the soup and mounted the slides at home.
Back then I only used E6 films for ‘supporting’ photographs and extra shots. Anything that I deemed really important, I exposed on Kodachrome 25.
What I recall about the Agfachrome was that it had a decidedly reddish bias as compared with K25, but was less contrasty.
We heard the thunderous roar of EMD 645-E3 diesels laboring upgrade in ‘Run-8’ (maximum throttle.) Thick fog at Bealville in the California Tehachapis amplified the sound.
I was traveling with my friend and fellow photographer Brian Jennison, a veteran of Tehachapi railroad photography.
As the sound faded in and out, I looked for an angle; walking back and forth, I finally settled on this view on the outside of the curve at the often-photographed Bealville horseshoe.
On Southern Pacific all train movements were deemed either ‘eastward’ or ‘westward’ in their relation to the direction traveled from milepost 0 in San Francisco, regardless of the compass. In the Tehachapis, a train may be traveling in all directions at the same time owing to the exceptional sinuosity of the trackage.
This uphill freight was moving railroad timetable east.
In the lead was a Rio Grande SD40T-2. It had a transitional lighting arrangement, that included its as-built headlight and oscillating lights, plus recently added ditch-lights and a ‘gumball’ rotating yellow light atop the cab. Again the fog has accentuated the locomotive’s lights.
I was working with my Nikon F3T with Nikkor f1.8 105mm telephoto mounted on my Bogen 3021 tripod and loaded with Fuji 100 slide film (what I used to call ‘Fujiahundred’). I metered the scene with a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell.
The sound show was far more impressive than any image I could have made of the train’s approach and passing. I wish I could stand there again in the fog on that April 4, 1993 morning!
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.
Back in the early 1990s, Southern Pacific was still serving the Northwestern Pacific route as far as Willits, California where it tapped connections, including its former line that was still in operation all the way to Eureka.
Sometimes on Sunday mornings, I’d drive north from San Francisco across the Golden Gate to Petaluma on Highway 101. There wasn’t much traffic at that time of day. Occasionally, I make this run with fellow Bay Area photographer Brian Jennison.
Although the Willits-Petaluma portion of the run was often nocturnal, on Sundays SP’s ‘NWP Sprint Train’ made a turn from Petaluma to Fairfield and this often called for groups of SD9s.
On this day, normal California blue skies were muted by a dull fog. Yet, I persevered and chased the train. It was hard to argue with the great sounds produced by a quartet of 1950s-era 16-567 diesels in multiple. Also, dull days have their moments too.
At Novato, I made this image featuring the gently rolling green hills that characterize Marin County as a back drop. Admitted, I was disappointed by the ‘lobotomized’ leader, which had its classic SP lighting package disturbed; its oscillating headlight was missing leaving a scar on the short hood. Oh the shame of it all!
Looking back, I’d quite happily take this again. It was an era before graffiti covered freight cars, the uniform proliferation of locomotive ditch lights, and when SP was still the SP!
At first glance this might look like a train heading downgrade toward the camera. In fact it is an image of rear-end helpers working the back of a eastward freight ascending Donner Pass.
In December 1989, I was familiarizing myself with SP operations on Donner Pass. I had just recently moved to Roseville, California and this made for a good base of operations to explore ‘The Hill’.
I’d been following this eastward freight. Although it was December, California was in a drought and there was very little snow in the Sierra.
I parked at the rest area off the westward lanes of Interstate 80 and walked down to the snow-shed that protected Switch 9—located east of Emigrant Gap.
I framed this trailing view to take in I-80 as well as the railroad.
How can you tell this the locomotives are trailing? There are three clues: SP normally assigned more than two locomotives to the head-end of trains on Donner Pass. The train is working the normal eastward main (although this was CTC territory, so in theory train could have used either track). For me the real tip off is the headlight, which has been dimmed, a standard practice for helpers.
I’ve long been intrigued by the short section of the former Southern Pacific Bayshore Cutoff at the old Potrero Wye, where the railroad runs beneath I-280.
This location offers a graphic contrast; the immensity of the highway shadowing the railroad both literally and metaphorically.
The location also poses a photographic challenge. During high light, the tracks are completely within shadow, so I’ve found the best time to photograph is early in the morning or late in the day, when sunlight is below the bridge.
Yet, low sun also poses a problem, as calculating exposure is neither intuitive nor can a camera meter be relied upon. The overwhelming highway structure will tend to result in overexposure as a camera meter tries to compensate for the darkness, yet the side of the train reflects the full brightness of the sun (which to further complicate matters, may be less than sun at midday).
I made this photograph of an inbound Cal-Train ‘Baby Bullet’ in April 2008, using my Canon EOS 3 with a 50mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I used my Minolta Mark IV handheld meter in reflective mode to sample the exposure on the side of a gray highway support column, and preset my camera accordingly. (I didn’t make note of the exposure, but it was about f5.6 1/500th of second.)
The resulting color slide looks just about perfect, but my exposure/contrast problem was repeated when I went to scan the image.
Here, I found the scanner software’s auto exposure had the reverse problem of my in-camera meter and tended to underexpose the scan. The result was not only too dark, but unacceptably contrasty.
I switched off the auto exposure, and instead used the software’s exposure histogram to set exposure manually as to better balance the highlight and shadow areas. Using this setting, I made a another scan. Afterwards, I fine-tuned the improved scan using Photoshop to make for a more pleasing image by adjusting both contrast and color balance.
This image is an exception; most of the time I’m satisfied with my first scan. Incidentally, the pictures reproduced here are scaled Jpgs from very large Tiff scans. The file size of the Jpgs is just a fraction of the original scan size, which is adequate for small-size internet viewing.
Mount Shasta looms more than 90 miles to north, as Southern Pacific’s most famous locomotives races railroad west through along Hooker Creek (near Cottonwood, California).
I exposed this image on September 2, 1991. Southern Pacific had organized the historic streamlined engine to make a public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop which spilled toxins into the river above Dunsmuir. The railroad had hired me for two days to make photographs of the PR event.
Brian Jennison provided transport, and the two of us spent a long weekend making numerous images of SP 4449 with the matching Daylight train. I borrowed Brian’s 300mm Nikkor telephoto for this dramatic image. SP ran one of my photos in their company magazine, Southern Pacific Bulletin.
While SP’s public runs ran from Redding to Dunsmuir and beyond to Black Butte, after the train returned to Dunsmuir, it would run light to the wye at Tehama for turning. It was on this portion of the journey(s) that I made some of the most dramatic photos because they occurred in the evening when the lighting was most pleasing.
I’d chosen this angle to feature Mt. Shasta. Unfortunately, owing to the time of year, the famous volcanic cone wasn’t covered with snow in its higher regions.
This photo has appeared in books, and I’ve used many of the images from the trip in publications. SP 4449 remains one of my favorite locomotives.
Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.
My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.
Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.
Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!
When I was a kid, change puzzled me. I’d look back over my father’s photographs and collection of timetables and books and wonder what had happened to the trains and railroads he’d seen and experienced.
But as a young child, I’d assumed that all change was in the past. Certainly things had been different. New York Central had become Penn-Central, and Penn-Central had become Conrail. But I naively assumed that everything else would remain constant!
Then I began to notice change myself: My favorite GG1 electrics were replaced by modern AEM7s and E60s. Those old Penn-Central black diesels were become ever more scarce. Boston’s PCC cars had become fewer and fewer.
By the late-1980s, I’d witnessed enough changes to recognize that documenting the railroad required careful attention to detail, and it was important to anticipate change before it begins.
Too often, railroad photographers wait until change is already underway before they act to make photographs. Sadly, sometimes they wait too long and miss the best opportunities to photograph.
With this in mind, in the 1990s, annually I drafted lists from which to work. It’s one thing to ponder photographing time-worthy subjects; its better to have a clear and prioritized strategy!
In 1993, I was remarkably organized: I’ve included a portion of that year’s ‘photo projects’ list. If you read through this carefully, you’ll see there’s considerable foresight in my approach. I was doing my best to predict the future and act upon that knowledge.
Below are pages from that list:
I’m really glad I made these lists! We can look back today, 21 years after I wrote this list, and see that many of the subjects I hoped to document have indeed vanished or changed. The pen-marked ‘ticks’ indicated that I’d made an attempt at the item.
How did I draft this list? Did I have a crystal ball? How did I know in 1993 that SP was soon to vanish? Why did I give SP’s Modoc line high priority? What caused me to anticipate changes to Canadian Pacific east of Sherbrooke? Pay special attention to my notes and comments for the clues. In some cased my anticipated dates were premature, but my vision was pretty accurate (I’m sorry to report.)
What is on your list for 2014?
Change is on-going. Think! What can you photograph now that will soon change unrecognizably? Remember, it is the common everyday subjects that are too often ignored until it’s too late to make photographs. Don’t wait until the last minute. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the rail. Anticipate, plan and then act.
During the first half of 1994 I spent a lot of time photographing Southern Pacific on Donner Pass. I was especially interested in making images of hard to reach or rarely photographed locations.
June 21st is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and provides unique lighting opportunities. On this long day, I’d hoped to make some unusual images in the deeper reaches of the Truckee River Canyon.
At the time I had good access to train information, and I knew SP had a westward DVOAF (Denver-Oakland Forwarder) heading up ‘The Hill’ (as SP’s Donner Pass crossing is known, ironically).
Rather than catch this at one of many easy to reach locations off Interstate 80, I decided to hike west of Floriston, California toward old Iceland—where SP’s grade separated mainline came back together. My intention was to photograph the Harriman-era truss bridge with the train in evening sunlight.
As was often the case with SP, my desired westward freight ‘fell down’ (it was delayed) and didn’t reach my location in time. I stayed in place despite this set back. I was rewarded with a dramatic sequence of images, culminating with this silhouette.
The front of the locomotive has plunged into deep shadow, yet a shaft of sunlight has illuminated the engineer. It stands out among my hundreds of Donner Pass images, and is one of my favorite. I just can’t believe its been nearly 20 years since I exposed it!