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

Entries in Ramblings and Such (82)


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.


Union Pacific's ICTF Family Days 2011

Giving Back and Sharing the Magic

On Saturday, October 22, 2011, Union Pacific’s ICTF (Intermodal Container Transfer Facility) threw a party to honor the facility’s employees and their family members. It was also an opportunity to take off the hard hats and safety gear and just relax and enjoy good food and activities with other team members. The event was “ICTF Family Days 2011” and I was graciously extended an invitation to join in the fun and frivolity. So I cleared a couple of hours off of my busy schedule and headed towards the heart of the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor region.

What’s the ICTF?

Tucked in and nestled amongst the refineries and processing facilities of Long Beach, California and adjacent to the interchange of Interstate 405 and 710, lies Union Pacific’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility or ICTF. This 233 acre facility is a keystone component in Union Pacific’s intermodal business and provides a very valuable service to the shipping companies that dock at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.  A good portion of the shipping containers that are destined for locations in the interior regions of the United States are transferred to trains at the ICTF.

More details and photos are available in last year’s post: “Union Pacific’s ICTF - An Amazing Complex.”

Honoring the Past

On July 30, 2005, Union Pacific announced thier “Heritage Series Locomotive Program.” A press release decsribes the program as:

Union Pacific’s Heritage Series Locomotive Program“…an unprecedented new Heritage series of locomotives that will honor the people and the railroads that have made the company what it is today. Each locomotive will feature a unique paint scheme, incorporating elements of one of the six major railroads that have merged with Union Pacific.”

“It is important that we take an historical perspective of who we are and how we got here,” Davidson said, (then Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Dick Davidson). “Our reputation as America’s greatest railroad has been strengthened by the many lines that have become a part of the UP. It is time we pay homage to those railroads and the generations of men and women who helped to build a great nation and the foundation for our future.”

Since the ICTF’s heritage goes back to the days of the former Southern Pacific Transportation Company, the Union Pacific had UP 1996 on hand to help mark the occasion:

UP 1996, the Southern Pacific Heritage Unit. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

It was announced on August 11, 2011 that Union Pacific’s Heritage Locomotive Fleet Program was selected as a winner of the 2011 Brunel Awards International Railway Design Competition. The fleet represented the United States in the category of “Industrial Design, Corporate Branding, Graphics, and Furnishings.”

One of the static display booths featured the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department staffed by local agents with their vehicles and exhibiting old police memorabilia such as this helmet from the old Southern Pacific Railroad Police. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Honoring the Fight

Also on hand was UP 7400, Union Pacific’s GE C45ACCTE that is painted in a special “pink ribbon” scheme as a tribute to Union Pacific’s support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and the many lives – employees, community members, friends and family – affected by breast cancer.

Unfortunately the unit was partly obscured by “caution tape,” which can be seen the photo of the UP 1996 unit above, and I couldn’t get a good sunlit angle on the unit. (You can see the unit in the poster at the bottom of the post.)


The two units on display, UP 1996 and UP 7400, offered employees and guests alike an opportunity to safely see a modern diiesel-electric locomotive up close and personal. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Union Pacific’s Miniature Train

One of Union Pacific’s most popular “goodwill ambassadors”, and at this event it was no different, is their miniature train, the UP 956. The train was built in Union Pacific’s Omaha locomotive and rail car repair shops in 1956 and the mini-train is sometimes called the “Pride of the Omaha Shops.” It is often booked for company and civic events, including parades, for up to three years out. The train has two cars that afford full-size passengers an opportunity to be a kid again.

The hit of the party, UP’s miniature train, the UP 956. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

An apprehensive wave from a youngster who just boarded the miniature train for his first time. I am not sure if he was leery of the ride or of the unknown guy taking his photo! © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

After exiting the train from his ride, a youth takes a closer look at the caboose on the rear of the minature train. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

 A an apparent future sports hero settles in for the ride. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Up until 1998, the miniature train traveled around the 23-state UP system in a pair of special boxcars stenciled with “Miniature Train Service” on the side of the boxcars. Now the train moves to each event in a custom big-rig, akin to a racecar hauler, built exclusively for the mini-train. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Rounding Out the Event

Catering for the celebration was provided by the insanely popular In-N-Out Burger, Dogzilla (Not your typical wiener!), and Kogi (Korean BBQ-To-Go). Certainly not a bad way to dine by any stretch.

Besides all of the booths for various interests and vendors, activities included music, raffles, games, and activities for the children — including the requisite carnival-like games .

There where numerous static displays of vehicles including units from the Union Pacific Railroad’s Hazmat Unit and Railroad Police, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Fun was had by all.

Thanks to agencies such as the Los Angeles County Fire Department donating their time and equipment, there were cool things to look at up close. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.


I wish I could have stayed all day and ate to my heart’s content and enjoyed all of the events, but my schedule did not permit it. I did manage to burn through one camera battery and two SD cards as I took nearly 325 photos during my time at the event.

I would like to thank the Union Pacific Railroad for extending an invitation to my family and I. It was extremely considerate of them to do so. I had a great time and look forward to being part of any future events they might have because they know how to throw a party!


A poster featuring my representaion of the Union Pacific’s ICTF Family Days 2011 event held on 10-22-2011. Click for a larger version. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.


Changing the World

I was on my way home via an eastbound Metrolink commuter train out of Los Angeles when I, like others, received a pop-up notification on my iPhone from a national news source that delivered the terrible news. The notification read, “Apple reports Steve Jobs has died.

I was stunned and shocked. I was seated on the floor of the trains “quiet car,” I boarded too late to get a seat, and I took a look around to see if other’s had received a similar message. Most of my fellow passengers were reading a book or already fast asleep, although there were a few others busily burying their faces in their mobile devices. I surfed the web for confirmation and quickly received it. I was devastated. I sent a text to my closest friends and a “tweet” as tears filled my eyes.

I got home in a somber mood and spent some time reading myriads of news stories, posts, and tributes late into the night. I was drawn to the reason I was so moved by Steve Jobs’ passing. Obviously, part was to do the fact that someone I was familiar with had died. But now, after several days of introspective reflection, I realize that Steve Jobs was someone I admired immensely.

For long time readers of my blog, you may recall that I have only recently become a fan of Apple products. I work professionally in the technology industry and for nearly 25 years now I have worked with Microsoft-based solutions primarily. It was only after purchasing an iMac computer for our home use that I began to appreciate the zen of Apple — and the masterful vision, leadership ability, and the intense level of commitment of Steve Jobs.

As my ownership of Apple products increased in number so did my use of Apple products on a day-to-day basis. I began to develop a deep sense of appreciation, and connection, with Apple and Steve Jobs. As anyone who owns an Apple product will tell you, there is something very appealing about being an “Apple user.” It begins with the unboxing process. As I unboxed our new iMac back in 2009, I thought, “with so much consideration given to something as simple and fleeting as unboxing a product, the rest of the experience is going to be amazing!” And it is, with all Apple products.

Much has been written about the successes, and failures, of Apple over the years, and a simple search of the internet will reveal a ton of content on the PC vs. Mac debate, so I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say — I am proud to be a Mac!

Through my appreciation of Apple and Steve Jobs, I began to read books regarding both and researched the “Steve Jobs story.” Suffice it to say that I would not be mistaken in saying that Steve Jobs was truly one-of-a-kind in our era. He was a prolific visionary, the best CEO of our time, and an amazing innovator. His talents will be unrivaled, unfortunately, for some time to come.

Over the course of the next few months there are sure to be many stories and television specials about his life and the contributions he has made for the betterment of all and I encourage everyone to watch or read them because Steve Jobs was truly unique and an amazing individual that had a far reaching impact on us all. There is much that we can learn from his story, struggles, and triumphs. For the uninitiated, and a little insight into what I mean, here is a video of Steve Jobs delivering a commencement address before the graduating class of Stanford University in 2005:



In my discussions about Apple and Steve Jobs to many in the last few years, you can tell those who “get it” and know exactly how you feel and/or what you mean from those who don’t. I think to “get it” you have to really use an Apple product and then you will see that Steve “got us” from the very beginning.

Steve, I get it and you will be missed.

Image of Apple Inc.’s web site honoring Steve Jobs. (Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.)

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs



And for those, like me, looking for a little levity…