As a follow-up to yesterday’s post; while waiting for Pan Am Southern 14R with Union Pacific SD70Ms, Mike Gardner and I photographed an empty ballast train with an old GP40 departing on the East Deerfield Loop, where it will travel a short distance to crusher for loading.
I thought it made an interesting juxtaposition to show the old EMD with its battered ballast hoppers departing the switches at the west-end with the Union Pacific locomotives waiting in the distance.
Which train was the main event? In the future, which may be of greater interest? The lowly ballast train or the symbol through freight with ‘foreign power’? What do you think?
I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm X-T1 mirror-less digital camera.
On the afternoon of July 24, 1993, TSH and I explored Nevada’s Palisade Canyon—a scenic cleft in the desert where the Southern Pacific-Union Pacific (former Western Pacific) east-west ‘Paired Track’ mainlines were in close-proximity to one another.
We made several photographs at this location under brilliant sunny skies. Today, both lines are Union Pacific.
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?
There’s a certain thrill to photographing in California’s Feather River Canyon. This massive cleft in the Sierra offers numerous vistas with ever changing light around each bend in the river.
It’s easy to follow the railroad west from Keddie (location of the famous Keddie Wye) to beyond Pulga (in the deep lower reaches of the canyon.
The morning of May 23, 1993 was clear and bright; a radiant blue dome capped the canyon walls as the occasional ray of sun penetrated the shadows.
I’d picked up a Union Pacific westbound and followed it on Highway 70. There’s a pull off near Rich Bar where the sun had illuminated a retaining wall, where I made this broadside view with my Nikon F3T on Kodachrome film.
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!
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.
On October 4, 1992, Brian Jennison and I gave a Donner Pass tour to a pair of Union Pacific officials visiting from Omaha.
We started the morning early and drove to Andover on fire roads to witness a westward freight climbing through the curves in Cold Stream Canyon west of Truckee. Later we went up to Troy on the west slope and made an inspection of the Cascade Bridges.
Southern Pacific was busy that day. My notes indicate that we photographed nine trains, including Amtrak 5 and 6 (California Zephyrs).
At 3:40pm we caught this westward freight near Donner Summit at the snow sheds in Norden, California, then followed it west to Yuba Pass.
I climbed to the top of a hill over looking the line and exposed a sequence of Kodachrome slides with my Nikon F3T fitted with a f4.0 200mm lens mounted on a Bogan 3021 tripod. This slide was exposed at f4.5 1/250th of a second. (I bracketed up and down 1/3 stops to insure I made an optimally exposed slide).
Classic Image in California’s Feather River Canyon.
In the early hours of May 18, 1990, I departed Sacramento, California destined for the former Western Pacific mainline through the Feather River Canyon.
On the drive, I saw a pair of eastward trains in the Central Valley north (railroad timetable east) of Marysville. This sighting influenced my decision to work the lower regions of the canyon, rather than driving through on Highway 70 toward Keddie and Portola, as I had done on previous trips.
A bit west of Pulga, there’s a long and winding dirt road that drops from Highway 70 down toward the North Fork Bridge. Finding it is counter intuitive. On an earlier trip I’d become rather lost trying to find the bridge. A Northern California DeLorme Atlas ultimately provided me the necessary navigational tools.
Having reached the bottom of the road, I hiked into position before 8am and waited on the side of a hill overlooking the modern open spandrel concrete arch bridge. This is late-era construction, built in the 1960s when construction of the Oroville Dam resulted in flooding of the lower Feather River’s North Fork which required relocation of Western Pacific’s line out of the canyon via a series of tunnels and bridges.
At 8:15 am, Union Pacific DASH8-40C 9174 rolled westward across the bridge with an APL double stack train. The sun hadn’t fully hit the bridge and I was happy that the stacks bought me additional time on my anticipated pair of eastbound trains.
The westward stacks must have met the first eastbound at James, a CTC siding immediately west of the Canyon (and another favorite place for photos). Just 20 minutes after the stacks had passed, the first eastward train emerged from the tunnel on the west side of the bridge. I made several exposures, bracketing from f4.5 to nearly f5.6 1/125th of a second on Kodachrome 25 film.
Exposure in the Feather River Canyon can be deceiving. Because of the depth of the canyon, less skylight reaches the tracks than in open territory. Also, the dark green trees and bushes lining the canyon walls absorb a considerable amount of light. The result is that direct and unfiltered sunlight isn’t as bright as it seems.
Careful use of my handheld meter was crucial in calculating the accurate exposure, but I still felt compelled to make fine adjustments as the train rolled into view.
The second eastward train was 20 minutes behind the first. I stayed for the rest of the day in the lower reaches of the canyon and photographed five more Union Pacific trains by 6:09 pm.
Caption: Union Pacific C30-7 2474 works an eastward train over the North Fork Bridge near Poe, California on May 18, 1990. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 135mm lens on Kodachrome film. The camera was mounted on a Bogan 3021 tripod with a ball head.
On the evening of August 15, 2009, I was photographing along the former Western Pacific near Oroville, California. At that time, Union Pacific was doing heavy work on its parallel former Southern Pacific line over Donner Pass, and it was understood that double-stack container traffic would soon be shifted off the old WP route in favor of Donner Pass. Time was running out to regularly catch double stack trains on the WP route and I focused my efforts on making the most of this while I could.
At the end of the day, I made this image of a westward double stack train stopped at a signal east of Oroville. Wildfires had filled the atmosphere with smoke, which lend to a surreal painterly light. Low sun accentuated the effect and the combination of California golden grass with smoke tinted glint light offered wonderful photographic opportunity.
I exposed these images on Fujichrome slide film with my Canon EOS 3 using several different focal lengths. It was a spectacular finish to a productive day of photography. I’d made my first visit to the Western Pacific in October 1989, nearly 20 years earlier. Hard to believe so much time had passed between these trips. In 1966, my father, Richard Jay Solomon, rode west over this line in a dome car on Western Pacific’s famed California Zephyr.
Significantly, this portion of the Western Pacific route (between Oroville and the lower reaches of the Feather River Canyon) was built new in the early 1960s as part of a line relocation forced by construction of the Oroville Dam.
In this case, I’ve walked (or scrambled) further down the hillside from my parking place on Carquinez Scenic Drive. The road is gated overnight and opened to the public in the early morning hours. Finding the right street in Martinez to reach Carquinez Scenic Drive can be a trial to the uninitiated, a good map or sat-nav device is recommended. I used a Northern California DeLorme Atlas and Map Quest, (plus vague memories of having photographed from this road in the early 1990s).
Working with hard silhouettes requires careful exposure. Also, I’ve found it helps to avoid excessive lens flare. This is one of those things you rarely read about. If the sun (or other bright light) hits the front element of your lens it will cause flare which will change the contrast of the image and may cause patterns (light streaks or blobs).
While in some instances it may be desirable to include flare (Hollywood discovered the dramatic use of flare in the 1960s and 1970s), often it is best to minimize it.
What to do? Shade the sun from hitting the front of your lens. Traditionally a lens hood will solve this problem . However, when the sun is very low to the horizon, a simple lens hood isn’t sufficient. To compensate, I’ll try to find something to stand behind (such as a hedge, awning, convenient sign post). If this fails, I’ll use my notebook (which I carry with me everywhere) to shade the lens. For this reason, I often carry a 5×7 in size notebook with a dull charcoal gray cover (to minimize reflection).
I’ll position the notebook in such a way so its shadow covers the front element, but the notebook itself isn’t in the image. This is a handy trick to use for night photography too. It helps to have the camera on a tripod (or have a capable assistant to hold the notebook!)
In this instance, my intent was to emphasize the glint off the rails and signal bridge in a hard silhouette. Notice where I’ve positioned the locomotives in relation to the glinting sun. I’ve deliberately exposed for the highlights, allowing the shadows to consume most detail.
It’s been nearly 18 years since Union Pacific absorbed the Chicago & North Western system. I was fortunate to have been in position to photograph C&NW in its final year of independence.
C&NW’s busiest route was its largely double-track Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline. Yet, long before C&NW was formally merged with UP, this route had functioned as an eastward extension of UP’s east-west mainline. In the early 1990s, many trains operated with UP run-through locomotives.
I found C&NW’s surviving secondary lines even more photogenic. Yet, these lines represented just a shadow of C&NW’s once sprawling empire. Many routes had been fragmented or abandoned. Once busy secondary mainlines, served as little more than lightly served freight feeders. Several C&NW operations had been physically isolated from its core network, with the railroad relying on haulage arrangements in place of its own lines.
C&NW held onto its identity into its last days. Its historic herald was still proudly displayed on equipment and infrastructure. Vestiges of its former greatness survived as visual cues to an earlier era. So its final year, C&NW retained these threads of corporate continuity. While the appearance of C&NW continued for a while under Union Pacific operation, once it was part of the UP system, these threads were less meaningful.
I made roughly a thousand C&NW images between June 1994 and May 1995 (UP’s intended merger date in late April 1995 was ultimately postponed a few weeks, despite reports to the contrary). These are just a sampling of those efforts.
In June 1993, I traveled with fellow photographer Brian Jennison to eastern Oregon to make images of Union Pacific’s Challenger (locomotive 3985) which was working its way east over the Blue Mountain grades. After a couple of days with the steam locomotive, we wandered into central Idaho, exploring locations along the Union Pacific mainline. This image was made looking east toward the Snake River at UP’s timetable location called Reverse (Idaho Division, Third Subdivision at milepost 393 between Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home). Have you noticed there’s been a theme over the last few days?