A Day Chasing Steam - The Santa Fe 3751 Heads South with San Diego Steam Special II - Part 2

(Continued from:
A Day Chasing Steam - The Santa Fe 3751 Heads South with San Diego Steam Special II - Part 1)

The face of history, the face of progress - the Santa Fe 3751 waits at Fullerton, CA for passengers to board the San Diego Steam Special II on May 1, 2010

As I pulled away from the Fullerton Amtrak station parking lot, I began to estimate an approximate meeting location for both Dan and I and the 3751.  Ultimately we decided to meet at the Junipero Serra Road in San Juan Capistrano, mostly because it was the closet point at which our paths converged. However, it turned out to be rather fortuitous for us with respect the 3751 as well.

After meeting up with Dan we both needed a break to stretch our legs and devise a strategy for the upcoming day’s chase.  After a quick soda break we hopped into my rig and located a street that paralleled the railroad tracks and right-of-way. We began to search in earnest for a decent location with ample scenic elements to complement the 3751 as she rolled by at speed.

We did see a great location that was set back from the road a good piece and afforded that “woodsy” appeal that is rare in the coastal region. It appeared to be accessible from a bike path that transversed the location. We looked for a decent and “approved” parking location but none was to be had.

The lack of parking, combined with my concern about the amount of time it would take for us to get back to the truck and then head off after the 3751 again, convinced me to not try to get “that” shot.

Instead I used my trusty Tom-Tom GPS to gain an appreciation for other opportunities. Just then I saw it! I quickly remembered that this was also a location I identified as a “possible” location during my initial route planning activities with Google Maps from my desk. It was a road which turned out to be a driveway for an assisted living center which bordered the right-of-way.

I found a parking spot and we realized that we were not alone. Soon we were joined by at least three other “chasers” who also parked and scampered up the slight embankment on which Dan and I had taken up as our photographic position.

One of the gentlemen commented “You looking for the train?”.  We affirmed his question with a healthy response to which he replied that he had “heard it pass my house in Santa Ana and I just had to come out and see it! So I raced after it. Why wasn’t there anything in media about this?”

I thought, good question.  I had known about the run since last year but I have my finger on the pulse of all things rail-related. Was there not conventional media coverage? “I saw an article in the LA Times,” I retorted.

“Yeah, I saw that but nothing in the local paper, I mean” was his reply.

Just then I heard another guy shout at us, “You guys gonna shoot? You can stand anywhere in front of the sign but not where you are now because you will be in my shot.” I looked behind me and noticed a thin man perched on the side of the slope leading to the creek that the tracks crossed right where we were.

I asked him for clarification about which area comprised his shot and he gave me two areas to stay out of.  As I was considering my remaining options I heard someone yell “Here she comes!”

“No way!” I shouted.  I hadn’t found “my shot!” I took the thin man’s viewing angle into account, after all he was there first, and ducked in behind a tree sure to be out of his shot.

I pointed my camera down range towards the hustling steam engine and quickly discovered that my options were going to be limited given my location and my angle to the rails. I was essentially left with a long glass head-on shot from a distance so that the train would not entirely fill my frame.

I quickly composed a composition and thought to myself, “This guy is moving!”.

Moving he was.  It was a dead straightway and he was probably doing track speed. In no time at all he was gone and left nothing but the vacuum of the train, the sound of motion, and the sheer excitement of having just witnessed the event!

I had fired off three shots in short order. Here is the best of the three:

The Santa Fe 3751 leads the southbound San Diego Steam Special II through San Juan Capistrano, CA on May 1, 2010

It was far from ideal but that is the way it goes.  This is especially true if you are shooting in unfamiliar territory. Had I scouted out the route or if I was more familiar with the area I might have had time to set-up for and attain a killer shot. I had no one to blame except myself.

Not nearly as fast as the 3751 scooted off to the south, Dan and I rushed back to the truck. Parked in a fashion to afford a quick get away, I fired up the truck and then we were off chasing her again.

We were filled with excitement as we turned the corner and accelerated up the on-ramp to the southbound Interstate 5 freeway. Much to our chagrin, we were greeted with some heavy traffic. It turns out the “tarball” of fellow chasers and the general commuting public has almost brought our vital thoroughfare to a crawl.

Bummer! I made my best efforts to get ahead of the traffic by bobbing and weaving - probably pissing some folks off in the process, sorry - to no avail. I pulled out the crystal ball of traffic flow, Google Maps on my iPhone and it showed no relief in sight. The one saving grace of seeing the red “clogged” representation on the Google Maps display was that it offered  a realistic approximation of the head end of the San Diego Steam Special II as she flew, unimpeded, southbound towards San Diego.

After much discussion and effort our on part to make progress, it quickly became apparent that there was no way we were going to keep up with her, let alone get in front of her for some shots.

So finally at Oceanside, CA, we opted to see if the Pacific Coast Highway, US 1, would be our saviour. Once again our hopes were dashed as we faced even more traffic and stop lights. I decided to cry “Uncle.” The chase was over. We had a good time and a good run but the railfan gods were just not on our side. And besides, I was hungry!

We passed a Del Taco restaurant and I convinced Dan to stop and get some grub. After we parked we took a moment to console each other on the loss and brag about the little victories we had along the way. Our level of excitement started to wane as our appetites grew.

Just then we were approached by a man accompanying his family. He inquisitively asked “You guys chasing the train?”

“Actually,” I replied in a losing tone, “we were chasing her but not anymore. The traffic is just horrible.”

“Not so fast,” he gleefully added. “There’s still a chance to catch up with her.”

(Continued in part 3…)

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