November 18, 2011

Chasing UP 844

UP No. 844 in all her glory, climbing Donner Pass in April 2009. (click pics to enlarge)
Union Pacific's goodwill ambassador, 4-8-4 no. 844, is barnstorming the southwest to celebrate the centennial anniversaries of Arizona and New Mexico. In a surprise move, UP extended the tour to include California, and as I write this, the big Northern is on display today in Fontana, Cal. Tomorrow she'll steam up Cajon Pass (following Route 66) and spend the night near Barstow; on Sunday, she'll continue on to Las Vegas and points east. The remaining schedule can be found HERE.

It was hard to resist a steam chase, especially when 844 is storming up Cajon on my birthday! So my family kindly let me loose for a road trip. To get in the mood, here are a few photos from the last time I followed 844, an April 2009 trip over Donner Pass.

Crowds are part of the modern steam experience. I'm expecting about a zillion people on Cajon Pass tomorrow.
Then again, people are what make these chases fun. Above, fans snap pictures of 844 departing Truckee in 2009.

November 6, 2011

Changing of the Guard

Twilight at East Oro Grande, Cal., in June 2010: the headlights of an eastbound BNSF train illuminate old Santa Fe signals and their replacements. (click to enlarge)
 Over the past several years I've made a habit of photographing the signals I grew up with as they're retired in favor of modern replacements that resemble silver erector sets. When I was a teenager, photographer Dave Busse pointed out that when he was on vacation he could easily identify any railroad he encountered based on the unique signals that guarded the line. That won't be the case for much longer. Just like the classic semaphores succumbed to progress, so too are veteran searchlights and cantilevers coming down in favor of high-tech but largely lookalike masts and towers. A few California lines still make use of these aging classics, but the population is dwindling. On my recent trip to the Salton Sea, we encountered a scene in transition along the old Santa Fe (now BNSF) mainlines at East Oro Grande, east of Victorville and beside Route 66. We spent much of the "blue hour" shooting BNSF and UP freights as they blasted by the doomed target signals. The shot above was part of a favorite sequence, and a nice farewell to the old guard.