random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries by Joe Perry (166)


UP 844, a Mountain, a Mob, and Me

As I described in in my previous post, ““UP” for a Chase? 844 Comes to California,” Union Pacific’s famous steam engine, the UP No. 844, is in California and garnering quite the attention in the process. On Saturday, November 19, 2011, the UP 844 lead the Centennial Tour train eastbound from West Colton, California to Yermo, California. The route the train was scheduled to take was over BNSF rails up and over the scenic and challenging Cajon Pass. It was the making of a perfect photo opportunity and I headed out early Saturday morning, almost dutifully, to get in position.

I had settled on a location just south, geographically, from Cajon proper, where the rails round a bend at the curved bridge over Zuni Creek. I found a safe spot to park my rig and made sure that my radios (data and voice) where in working order and then watched the traffic flow as I cranked the heater in the cab of my truck. It was 5:00AM and the outside temperature was 40 degrees. 

The weather was not ideal as there was a low moving into the area and this brought low clouds and fog into Cajon Pass. I actually welcomed the the fog because it would add “atomsphere” to the photos but the lack of direct sunlight would make for less than stellar shots—at least from me.

I took a few test shots of a some passing BNSF intermodals and the westbound Southwest Chief to test out all of the possible spots and settings. As I did this I began to meet other folks that had come to see the train. During my discussion with of them I realized that I did not know which of four possible rails the train would be on. Three of them were side-by-side and didn’t present an issue, but the fourth rail did because it was obscured by a cut at my present location.

In a frantic fit, I posted a question on the Trainorders board to ask if anyone knew the exact route the special would take. Minutes turn into an hour and I began to second guess my prime spot. Ultimately I got a few responses that lead me to decide to move further up the hill, and I am glad I did.

As I drove east along SR 138, towards Summit, I passed one grouping of motorists after another pulled off onto the shoulder at every conceivable wide-spot in the road that might afford a glimpse of the train. It was quite the turnout for sure.

After learning the 844 was delayed leaving West Colton, I took a little extra time to find that “just right” spot. I didn’t want to shoot from some of the more obvious locations, for example at Summit. I eventually settled on Martinez, where the tracks converge from three main tracks to two. I leveled my camper and took my gear up to roof. The additional height was necessary to get me near the height of the grade at this spot.

Eventually the 844 began her assault on the hill and would be passing me within the hour. 

While I waited, and waited, the radio traffic betrayed the fact that there was a need for the 844 to “hold the main” at Martinez while a responder performed some sort of servicing. This was a surprise to both, the BNSF dispatcher and me. It also laid my plans to somewhat waste because the train would not be traveling at track speed as she came by my location. Oh well, so it goes, sometimes, when you chase steel.

Little did I know that it would get worse. Since the train was now scheduled to stop at Martinez, just west of me and out of view around a curve, that gave time for all of the folks, that so desired, the time to catch up with the train and continue the chase. This led to more than usual traffic that came along with the train and soon the area around “my spot” was filled with cars and people all over the scene.

The 844 eventually came into view and it was cool to see, no doubt. I took my shots, best I could because I found myself pausing to take it all in a little too long.

When I looked at my shots later that day at home, I was disheartened to see that many of my shots contained people in them right along the rails and on the right-of-way. Bummer. I could “remove” them in post-processing but, fortunately, my best-friend CJ was also on the hill chasing steel.

CJ gave me copies of his photos and I thought they were spectacular so I asked his permission to use them in this post. Of course he agreed. So, it is with great pleasure, and relief that I present the photographic work of CJ Hokanson of the UP No. 844 pulling the Centennial Tour train over Cajon Pass:

A short movie to set the mood…

Here are a few of my photos to round out the event:


"UP" for a Chase? 844 Comes to California

A Living Legend Comes to California

Today marks the beginning of the “return-trip” for Union Pacific’s “Living Legend,” No. 844, after participating in what Union Pacific dubbed the Centennial Tour to help New Mexico and Arizona celebrate their one-hundred years of statehood.

UP No. 844 - Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Pacific’s No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific, delivered in 1944, and will travel more than 2,900 miles from its base in Cheyenne, Wyoming during the 32-day, nine-state tour that will honor the rich railroad heritage of the scenic Southwest.

Weighing in at nearly 1,000,000 pounds, the ground literally shakes as she rumbles by at track speed. It is a rare opportunity that shouldn’t be missed—and those folks that reside near the return route from Yuma, Arizona through California, Nevada, Utah, and western Wyoming, should take advantage of this opportunity to see one of America’s great steam engines plowing the rails. The following map shows a high-level view of the route:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No. 844’s excursion into California begins a mere hour or so from now (7:00 AM PST) as she leaves Yuma, Arizona after a day of rest while on display at the border town. As the following schedule for the day indicates, she is enroute to Bloomington, California—a.k.a. West Colton, where she will be serviced and then tied-up for the evening. She will also receive servicing at Niland, California on her way to Colton and this is a good opportunity to get an extended view of the locomotive standing still. If a steam engine at speed is more your thing then grab a wide spot in the road track side and wait for her to come blowing by:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Residents of Southern California will get the same opportunity to view No. 844 up close and personal as the folks in Yuma, Arizona did because on Friday, November 18, 2011 the No. 844 is slated to be on public display at 10359 Alder Avenue, Bloomington, CA 92316, from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM:

View Larger Map

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday presents a rare opportunity to watch a steam engine struggle against the grades and curves of the much vaunted Cajon Pass as No. 844 leaves Colton and heads to Yermo, California on BNSF rails over the pass. Traditionally, with events such as a steam train traversing the pass, expect a lot of traffic and sightseers all along the route on Saturday. Cajon Pass is one of the favorite locations for local railfans and the smoke from the engine can be seen for some distance in the pass which will garner the attention of travelers on Interstate 15 as well, which dances with the BNSF and Union Pacific rails throughout the southern section of the pass. (I plan on making this part of the trip—see you out there chasing steel!):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

For me, Sunday offers the crème delecrème portion of the trip through California—the run north out of Yermo towards Las Vegas, Nevada. This portion of the trip traverses some of the most spectacular scenery of the tour in California. Two areas rich in scenery are Afton Canyon and the Mojave National Preserve surrounding Kelso and Cima: 

NOTE: Afton Canyon is extremely remote and should only be attempted by serious four-wheelers, but the Kelso and Cima areas are easily accessible—just remember they are a long way from services such as food, water, and gas—so make sure to top off everything before you leave Yermo.

UP Cima Subdivision Chase Map and UP Tools

Since most folks rarely get into this remote area of California, I thought that I should provide my “Chase Map” for Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision to assist you in planning your chase. Simply click on each image below to downlaod:

Union Pacific also offers two methods of tracking the locomotive during excursions such as this one. The first one is the internet-based tracking applet on the UP Steam web site. The other one is the newly released iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app called UP Steam:

UP Steam app - available for both the iPhone and iPad

UP Steam Locomotive Tracking Map

Be Safe and Enjoy the Experience (My PSA)

Before you head out to enjoy the experience at the location of your choosing be sure to read my post called “The New Rules of Railfanning: Don’t Trespass, Be Alert, Report Issues” as it details some of the challenges and risks of being trackside.

Also, remember that any track is a live track and don’t assume that you can hear a train coming. Many times folks lose their focus when a steam train approaches and they mistaken assume that the railroad knows they are there and have closed other tracks for this steam train. This is not so! Since the railroad is private property the expectation is that you are NOT there. Also remember it takes a good deal of distance to stop a train so just stay off of the tracks—all tracks. A safe trip is a FUN trip!

Don’t Do This!

How NOT to behave around railroad tracks!


Union Pacific Leads the Way

So Much For Having a Plan

Last night I settled in to my usual haunt, the easy chair in the front room, and perched upon my lap was my trusty Apple MacBook Pro. I had plans to research and craft a blog post that was long overdue. You see, the Union Pacific Railroad is embarking on a grand tour of the Southwest with one of their treasured and glorious steam engines replete with appropriate carriages of old in tow. The purpose of the event is best left described by a few passages from their press release:

Omaha, Neb., October 10, 2011 – Union Pacific Railroad’s iconic steam locomotive, No. 844, will travel through the Southwestern United States to kick off state centennial celebrations in New Mexico and Arizona, respectively. No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific and will travel more than 2,900 miles from its base in Wyoming on a 32-day, nine-state tour that will honor the rich railroad heritage of the scenic Southwest.

“Union Pacific long has been a part of the Western United States landscape,” said Scott Moore, vice president of public affairs for Union Pacific’s western region. “It is fitting that No. 844 will be the flag bearer for these centennial celebrations.”

The “New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour” begins October 29 when No. 844 departs Cheyenne, Wyo. The train’s consist, which will include passenger cars from Union Pacific’s renowned Heritage Fleet, will stop in each of the following cities before arriving back in Cheyenne November 29…

Map of the scheduled route compliments of the Union Pacific Railroad.

UP No. 844 - Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad.

Obviously this is a big event with a lot of visibility that, over the course of a month, will bring joy and stir the hearts and imagination of many throughout the Southwest. Sure, the UP runs trips like this now and again, but there is something about seeing a steam locomotive, and particularly a large locomotive such as UP Np.844 roaring by at track speed that makes these events special each and every time. Hence, I felt the need to help spread the word about the event and to enlighten the uniformed of the opportunity to chase this train as it makes it way on a circular route through Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and finally returning to Wyoming.

The most appropriate place to start, for me, was crafting a colorful map detailing the route and stop-overs. Also, I wanted to mark the locations that I am familiar with that might present some amazing photographic opportunties and help identify good, safe locations for non-fans to see the train up close. I turned to the Union Pacific’s web site to gather details.

While I was reading UP’s material on the subject, and “hitting the links,” I came across a page that, excuse me, gave me the cause to exclaim aloud, “Holy Shit!”  The page is titled “Union Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotives Join the App World.”

Now i have praised the Union Pacific in the past, not only for their steam program, but for their prolific use of current technology to inform and entice the general public to become part of the event. It is clearly an excellent marketing strategy that I, as a die-hard railfan, am thankful for. Here is the complete press release from the Union Pacific Railroad:

Union Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotives Join the App World

Free UP Steam App Now Available

Omaha, Neb., October 28, 2011 – In the golden age of steam locomotives, trains were tracked using a timetable and a pocket watch. Converging old and new technology, Union Pacific’s legendary steam locomotives now can be tracked with the touch of a screen. The free UP Steam app is available at Apple’s App Store in iTunes for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users.

Combining new technology and Union Pacific’s historic steam locomotives, the UP Steam app offers users the chance to keep up with the locomotives on their latest excursions.

App features include:

  • Real-time GPS location of Union Pacific’s steam locomotives.
  • Up-to-the-minute schedules of the latest Union Pacific steam excursion.
  • Notification if Union Pacific steam is scheduled to be within 50 miles of the user’s current location.
  • Photos, videos, descriptions and history of Union Pacific steam locomotives No. 844 and No. 3985.
  • The ability to submit photos taken with an iOS device for inclusion in the Union Pacific Facebook photo album.
  • Real-time Tweets tied to twitter.com/up_steam.
  • The ability to “check in” with the Union Pacific’s steam locomotives using Foursquare.

In addition, the app includes an “About Union Pacific” section describing the company’s operations, shipping information and an overview of the products Union Pacific routinely ships.

As you can glean from the release, it is a rather comprehensive application — offering some great features. Based solely on the description it seems like the application was conceived purposefully to present the technologies that most folks would care about. Now, I say “based solely on…” because I haven’t actually had a thorough oppotunity to test the application. I intend on doing a complete review sometime soon.

So, rather than putting together a traditional blog post about the excursion event, I cracked open a new program for me and used it to craft an homage to the Union Pacific’s effort and desire to put out the app. Hopefully it will serve to inspire and encourage you to try out the app and follow the excursion on your iOS device, along with me. My thought is that application could, and should, serve to enlighten and inform, fans and the general populus alike, about the doings of Union Pacific’s Steam Program.

Chasing Steel’s Homage to Union Pacific’s Steam Program iOS App



Thank you Union Pacific.