The old Western Pacific Junction at Keddie, California between WP’s east-west transcon line from Oakland to Salt Lake City and the Inside Gateway/High Line route north to Bieber was once one of the most photographed bridges in California.
What’s not evident from most photographs is that this impressive looking bridge can be viewed from California Highway 70—the main road through the Feather River Canyon.
On a dull October 2003 afternoon I made this view of the famed ‘Keddie Wye’ (as the junction is popularly known).
Contrast and texture make this photo work. My color slides from that day of the train crossing the bridge are less impressive.
Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.
Tracking the Light Publishes Something New Everyday!
Seven years ago today, I exposed this photograph on Fujichrome slide film while working on my book Railroads of California (Voyageur Press, 2009).
This appears on page 58. My original photo caption read:
Union Pacific SD70M 4772) works east on the old Western Pacific on 10 May 2008. Railroad enthusiasts have long praised the WP’s Sierra crossing because of its easy access to parallel Highway 70. This view was made from a pull off on Highway 70 east of Portola, California. Alternative angles on the same spot are available from the old highway below.
As it turned out my final caption as published in the book was more elaborate.
Related to this image, although not specified in the caption is today’s date: May 10th.
This is a significant day for American railroading. On this day in 1869, the famous golden spike ceremony marked the joining of Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory, Utah, an event signifying the linking of east and west.
Also on this day in 1893, New York Central & Hudson River Railroad engine 999 made its legendary sprint across New York state where west of Batavia, New York it was reported to have hit 112.5 mph, a figure that was often claimed as a world speed record.
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!
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.
Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.