Tag Archives: #transcontinental railroad

Dark Sky Over Donner Pass—150th Anniversary of America’s 1st Transcon.

Multiple pass scan adjusted.
Unadjusted scan with inky shadows.

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.

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Kodachrome on Kodachrome: Donner Pass, February 1990.

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.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SP_8286_eb_mp140_near_Colfax_Calif_Feb2_1990_Kodachrome_livery_KM©BrianSolomon_592858-3.jpg
Colfax, California on the ascent of Donner Pass on February 9, 1990