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

Entries in Ramblings and Such (82)


The Big Trip: Overview

Burned Out

Having worked on a major project at the office for nearly a year — and, to a lesser extent, needing to take a break from my studies in order to create my commercial for the Union Pacific’s “Great Big Rollin’ Railroad” video remake contest — Deb and I planned a rather ambitious two-week road trip across the Midwest. As planned, the trip contained several key elements that made this trip one of our most anticipated journeys and it did not disappoint.

The General Idea

The timing of the trip was dictated by the annular eclipse which occurred on May 20, 2012. After studying multiple possible locations, with the help of Google Maps, I picked a location on the Union Pacific’s Caliente Subdivision at Barclay, Nevada to view and photograph the eclipse from. I have never chased on the Caliente Subdivision before and this location offered a decent alignment between the center-line of the eclipse and the UP trackage. My hope was to get a photo of a train with the eclipse occurring in the background. Once the eclipse had subsided, we were clear to go anywhere and do anything.

In considering additional possible destinations for the remainder of our trip, and thus the route as well, I decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to go see several places we have always wanted to visit. For me that were the mainlines in Wyoming, including the famous Powder River Basin, and Nebraska. For Deb it was the historic overland trails in that part of the country and Yellowstone National Park. She is a big fan of wildlife and there are few better locations to see wildlife than Yellowstone.

Our Planned Route for the Trip.
The dashed line is our return leg. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

For the uninitiated, the region we chose to visit is steeped with historical significance as the Nebraska/Wyoming area is where the main routes of the immigrant and homesteader trails pass through. Deb and I have always appreciated the struggles of the American pioneers and mountain men that led the way west. In fact, the American western history is one of our favorites periods. As such, our two desires dovetailed nicely together — we would chase trains on the heavily trafficked mainlines throughout Nebraska and Wyoming and visit key historical locations that we have always read about. Yellowstone National Park turned out to be the icing on the cake.

After much discussion and even bartering, we decided on a route that would afford us an opportunity to see the following locations and sites:

Due to the length of the trip and the distances involved, we had to forgo a few locations such as Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands of South Dakota. Also the return portion of the trip, in which we chose to return by a different route than taken during our outbound track, was expendable, should it be necessary.

Hurry Up and Wait

We had about five weeks to prepare our gear and make final preparations. We both looked forward to the trip immensely and the weeks before passed every so slowly it seemed.  We packed anything and everything that we thought we might need along the way and then I packed some more stuff — tow gear, emergency equipment, and personal protection devices — just in case.

It turned out to be a great trip, despite some things not going in our favor, to say the least. In the next post, we’ll begin our Big Trip!

Our Rig - Our home away from home. A Ford F-250 4x4 with a fully-equipped Lance 845 Camper.


Unique Track Side Photo and Viewing Opportunity

NASA’s Annular Solar Eclipse of 2012 MAY 20 Web Site

First Off, An Apology

I want to apologize for being rather remiss in my upkeep of this blog. Since my last post a lot of things have happened for me — all good — which left me over committed. I am working on a major project that required me to learn new computer graphic technologies that I have never done before. Also, I have received numerous requests to publish some of my work which required my attention as well. I will strive to keep current posts coming as I continue spread myself a tad bit too thin.

Coming in May 2012, A Rare Opportunity

Now I am not an astronomer, nor a scientist, at any level so keep that in mind as you read this post. I do, as does Deb, enjoy amateur astronomy though and we try to follow or view most astronomical events as time permits. As such, there is an upcoming event that we are excited about along with the photographic possibilities that come along with it.

The event is a solar eclipse — an annular solar eclipse to be exact. (From Wikipedia.org: “An annular eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun. Hence the Sun appears as a very bright ring, or annulus, surrounding the outline of the Moon.”) It will happen on May 20, 2012.

Having never photographed during an eclipse event, I am curious about what opportunities might exist so we are committed to being in place to see the eclipse somewhere track side. As good as the map on the NASA web site is, it didn’t speak to traffic volumes on the various subdivisions that I am not versed with so I opted to make a map specifically for my research efforts.

I took the eclipse trajectory datum and overlaid it on a map of the railroads with line size denoting traffic levels, which I got from the FRA web site, and then placed that on top of a geographic representation of the western states. Click on the map below and you too can use the map for your planning efforts as well.

There are precautions and requisite equipment required to not only photograph the event but also to protect the health of your eyesight so use the NASA web site as a starting point to do your research and gain an appreciation of, not only the risks, but also the rewards of photographing the event. (You can click on the web graphic on the right to open the NASA web site in a new window.)

We are presently planning our adventure so I don’t know where exactly we will be but we will be somewhere shooting video and photos — of that you can be certain.

(If any of you have experience in photographing an eclipse or during an eclipse feel free to give me your story and/or recommendations. Thanks!)

The path of the centerline of the solar eclipse overlaid a rail map. Click the image to download a high-res version.
[3/24/2012] © Copyright 2012, ChasingSteel.com.

REMEMBER: Do not attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness!


A Short Seasonal Sojourn to Siberia

Cabin Fever

Despite being on vacation for nearly two weeks during the Christmas holiday, I had yet to venture trackside at any capacity. My time was filled shopping for Christmas gifts, preparing the house for the holidays and entertaining our guests. Eventually Christmas came and went, followed closely by New Years, and, at last, my time had come. It was time to chase some steel before I had to return to work and I began to consider possible destinations.

I ran through some of the options in my head. After considering Tehachapi Pass, Cajon Pass, and the Sunset Route, I settled on my favorite BNSF’s Needles Subdivision. It was NOT summer and the weather was beautiful — I couldn’t resist.  However this time I would try a new spot that has been on my list for sometime but I never had enough intel to attempt it. This was time to see if I could get there.

That place was between West Siberia and Klondike, on the normally westbound track as it ascends the grade of Ash Hill replete with the requisite s-curve to gain elevation. I checked the sun angles for the time period during my trip and it seemed ideal. My plan was set. I packed up my gear and got but two hours of sleep before my restless spirit took hold and I was off chasing the sunrise.


As it seems to be the norm these days, I missed being in a good spot for the sunrise. I must have messed up my drive time or the calculations thereof. Oh well, on to Siberia. After a steady push, and a refueling stop or two for me and my truck, I eventually reached the turnoff that lead to the summit of Ash Hill.

I spent a few minutes surveying the scene and checking the traffic on the computer. Nothing was in sight or would be for some time. This was the perfect time to get into position so I did just that. I returned to the pavement of the National Trails Highway and continued east towards Siberia.

Eventually I crossed the tracks at West Siberia and found myself on virgin ground, at least for me. I took the road that I had previously surveyed with the help of Google’s satellite map and arrived at my intended destination after a slow and deliberate drive. I had to drive as far as I could up a mountain, and then continue on foot, to gain elevation over the track otherwise my photos would show a whole lot of earth and not much else.

This photo, taken later in the day on my second visit to this location, shows the general lay of the land from my mountainside perch:

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE - The setting sun illuminates the s-curve of BNSF’s trackage near Klondike, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

I decided to focus on taking some video first so I set-up my gear and I didn’t have to wait long for the first few trains to arrive:

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE 1 - A BNSF four unit intermodal train negates the s-curve as it climbs Ash Hill near Klondike, CA on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.
BNSF 7478 West - BNSF 7478 (GE DASH ES44DC), BNSF 7395 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 5168 (GE DASH 9-44CW) and 6738 (GE ES44C4) are all in Run-8 as they pull this westbound hotshot intermodal consist through the s-curve near Klondike, CA on the Needles Subdivision.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE 2 - A BNSF three unit intermodal train negates the s-curve as it climbs Ash Hill near Klondike, CA on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

It Turns Out That I Am Not a Mountain Goat Afterall

After spending sufficent time to photograph and shoot video the trains through this area I sought a more level footing from which to ply my skills. I decided to take a short run further east to East Siberia and give my aching legs a break. Here is a panorama shot of the sweeping curves that can be found at East Siberia:

East Siberia Panorama
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

The first train to greet me at East Siberia was a massive grain train. I thought, ever so briefly, about chasing this behemoth back to the s-curve near Klondike which would make for a compelling photo. “Nah, not gonna do it.” As so, here are two shots of the mega grain train at, and only at, East Siberia, California along with a baretable moving east.

BNSF 5418 West - BNSF 5418 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 5013 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5229 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are up front of a heavy westbound grain train negoiating the s-curve near East Siberia, CA on BNSF’s Needles Subdivision on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 5418 West 2 - BNSF 5418 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 5013 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5229 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are up front of a heavy westbound grain train negoiating the s-curve near East Siberia, CA on BNSF’s Needles Subdivision on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 7228 East - BNSF 7228 (GE ES44DC) and another simliar unti are relagated to “baretable” duties as they bring a string of empty intermodal cars through the OS at East Siberia.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Onward To Amboy

Eventually a lull in traffic developed that left me restless. I decided to head further east to seek out the trains. This effort brought me to the trains and to Amboy, California:
BNSF 7282 West - BNSF 7282 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 6755 (GE ES44C4), and BNSF 5507 (GE DASH 9-44CW) bear down for the climb out of the Amboy Sink with a westbound intermodal train at Amboy, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Westbound “California Coal”
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

I planned to shoot the sun setting over s-curve near Klondike so I opted next to back west to get into position. Along the way the traffic became plentiful once again and I took advantage of it by staging at the crossing just east of Bagdad, California:

Short and Stout - BNSF 7391 (GE ES44DC) leads six other units, and a DPU on the rear, on the point of this very short westbound manifest consist out of Amboy, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Three Trains from the Crossing Near Bagdad, CA - I caught three trains pass the crossing just east of Bagdad, CA. The second train in the video has a vintage warbonnet unit on the point and two more buried in the consist and the train is a manifest train to boot! Old school railroading again!
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 528 East - BNSF 528 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 523 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 541 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 542 (GE DASH 8-40BW), and BNSF 160 (EMD GP60M), a rare lash-up these days, provides the horsepower to this eastbound manifest train through Bagdad, CA and reminds me of railroading from yesteryear.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

S-Curve Sunset

As previously stated I intended to shoot the sun going down behind the s-curve so I made my way there in sufficient time to do so. I set-up my tripod and made a series of shots and waited. However, no train showed up before the sun went down so I was left with the shot at the top of the post — sans train.

Next up I wanted to try and do some night signal photography so I went back to Siberia. When I arrived I started to set-up my tripod and I proceeded to pull one of the legs completely out of the tripod! Damn it! This is the third tripod that I have broken. What gives? Doesn’t anyone make a DURABLE tripod?

Without a stable platform, or a sufficient backup, I was forced to head home, which I did. I felt the day was productive and I, as always, was eager to do some post-processing and evaluate my efforts.

Until next time.