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…