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.
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.)