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

Entries from June 1, 2011 - June 30, 2011

Tuesday
Jun212011

Our Best Trip Ever - Part 5 - Chasing at the La Posada Hotel

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 4 - A Railfan Oasis, The La Posada Hotel)

Day 1 (Continued)

Track Side at La Posada

From a railfan’s perspective, the La Posada Hotel is blessed with a plethora of both, mainline trackage and plenty of traffic, that form the southern border of the property. Considering the hotel’s history, a place for weary travelers of the Santa Fe Railway Company to get some rest and good eats, this is by design. As such, the hotel’s grounds provide a welcome sign of sorts amidst the parch and arid landscape in this part of northern Arizona. Butted up against the platforms of the Winslow Amtrak station, a semi-circular brick plaza morphs into a walkway that leads directly to a portico and the lobby of the hotel. Today, as it was then, this area serves as fantastic train watching vantage point, complete with wood rocking chairs for the guests to rock their cares away as they watch the parade of trains, from all points east and all points west, go by.

From a photography standpoint, the track side location presents some challenges with respect to lighting. The orientation of train traffic is east-west but you will be shooting from the north side of the tracks which, given the latitude of Winslow, Arizona, puts you on the dark side of most shots. The early morning hours are great for eastbounds catching a clear indication out the Winslow yard while westbounds are best lit in late afternoon/evening. I favor the westbound shots as the sight distance is greater and often you can catch multiple headlights in one scene.

Winslow is the eastern terminus for the Seligman Subdivision which means trains coming west into Winslow are arriving off of the Gallup Subdivision which covers the territory from Belen Junction, New Mexico to East Winslow, Arizona.

Winslow is a crew change point for the BNSF. It marks the point at which a new crew takes over a train and runs it to the next crew change point down the line or the train’s final destination, whichever comes first. As such, the trackage consists of four main tracks and it is not uncommon to see four trains stopped waiting to be re-crewed and then get a clear indication (green signal to proceed) either west or east out of Winslow. Typically the re-crewing process can happen in minutes, but it can happen rather quickly too if the train’s priority warrants it and the new crew is ready to jump on board. All of this means that you will not, if ever, see a train blow by the La Posada Hotel at any measure of speed like you will out on the mainline but this affords you the opportunity to catch details that are hard to see at 70MPH.

“Well, I’m a standing on a corner — In Winslow, Arizona — And such a fine sight to see…”

After the day’s long drive, a short nap at the WalMart, and the shooting around Winona and Darling, I had resigned myself to take it easy at this point in the day and just enjoy what the hotel had to offer. Camera in hand, but no other gear, I headed track side to see what was going on.

It was late in the day and the sun had already begun it’s final plunge beneath the horizon. I took up position on one of those wooden rocking chairs and prepared to take the sunset in and just enjoy the moment. When I took a look towards the east to see if any headlights were on the horizon I was pleased to see that there was but I was also puzzled because the displacement of the lights were not those typically found on today’s motive power. I saw the “train” take the switch at East Winslow and begin to come down Track 1 — right in front of me.

Once the unit came closer I could discern that this was a “maintenance-of-way” consist and more precisely, a rail grinder. As the grinder slid by I could see that the train set was fully staffed — men at each station along the consist — which told me that this was not merely a move but rather a working job. It was great to see a rare consist but at the same time it was also a little disconcerting because it meant that some of the trackage would be out of service as the work was being performed and this could impact the traffic levels.

I was so inquisitive about the doings that I had completely forgot that I had camera in hand! Just as the head end passed me, it was moving in reverse, I remembered that fact and began shooting. The following few shots are of Loram’s (LMIX) RG402 working on the mainline in front of the La Posada Hotel:

Loram’s RG402 at Sunset - One of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Loram’s RG402 at Sunset 2 - One of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 5191 East at Winslow, AZ - BNSF 5191 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 4485 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 7876 (GE ES44DC) hold the point duties on this eastbound manifest out of Winslow, AZ as one of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

As the sun receded, I began to think of how cool it would be to get a shot of the grinder in action at night throwing sparks. Despite the fact that I had resigned myself to chill that night, I hesitated only slightly before making a beeline off to my truck to retrieve my tripod. A tripod is critical in low-light situations such as these.

Upon my return I saw the grinder in the distance waiting for traffic to clear so that it could switch tracks and make another run. I used the time waiting to some more shots of passing trains and of the Winslow Amtrak station.

Winslow Sunset Silhouette - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Track Side at the Amtrak Winslow Depot - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 6073 East at Dusk - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Amtrak Winslow, Arizona Postcard - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

During our visit the Amtrak depot is still in use twice a day. There are plans underway to convert the building, which is owned by the La Posada Hotel, into a museum. This would cause the stations functions of being an Amtrak facility to move to the La Posada Hotel proper. A new gate, fitting of such a role, is currently being hand-crafted and assembled to welcome passengers from the Amtrak service to the hotel. Based on what Allan and his team have done with the La Posada Hotel renovation and reopening, I am confident that the new museum will be fantastic and I hope to be there for it’s grand opening.

Southwest Chief Route Map - Click to view larger version.

Amtrak Service at Winslow, AZ - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Eventually the Loram crew were given the rights they needed to occupy Track 4 and perform their work of grinding the rails. I set-up my tripod and prepared for their run. This was the moment I waited for. As she came by I snapped photo after photo.

When I left the tracks and got back to the room I uploaded the images onto my Mac. I was a tad bit disappointed. I had underestimated the speed the grinder would make as it went by and the result, see below, is blurrier than I had hoped for. However, it was fun to see firsthand and you can clearly see the shower of sparks produced by the train’s effort. (Sorry folks — I am still learning this thing they call photography…) ;-)

RailGrinding Train at the La Posada Hotel - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

In my next post I’ll cover Day 2 of our trip as I “chased” at the La Posada Hotel all day.

 


Bonus Content - What is rail grinding all about?

As I began to write this post I wondered what the benefits of a rail grinder were so I did a little digging. Here are some of the key benefits of rail grinding as extolled on the Loram Maintenance of Way web site as well as a link to a rather progressive advertisement for their new RG400 series of rail grinders:

Loram’s “There’s a Better Way to Rail Grind” ad.

 

  • Extended rail life
  • Fuel savings
  • Reduced surfacing cycles
  • Extended track component life
  • Reduced wear on rolling stock
  • Increased axle loads
  • Increased train speeds
  • Improved ride quality and passenger comfort

 

The next best thing to being there and seeing this activity in person is watching a video of a rail grinder in action at night. Here is a good one from Shemanta’s YouTube Channel:

Great video of a rail grinding train at work at night. Shot at MP 116 on the Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Line by Shermanta.

Wednesday
Jun152011

Our Best Trip Ever - Part 4 - A Railfan Oasis, The La Posada Hotel

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 3 - The Run East Continues)

Day 1 (Continued)

La Posada Hotel Background

There are some, but not many, places that offer a spectacular railroad viewing opportunity coupled with truly refreshing and luxurious accommodations track side. Our favorite, to date, is located in Winslow, Arizona and it is truly an oasis for railfans and travelers alike. It is the La Posada Hotel , a National Historic Landmark, and billed as “Arizona’s grandest estate.

The La Posada Hotel’s historic and notable story begins back in 1901, when the Fred Harvey Company, of the famous Harvey Houses, offered the job of decorating the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to an aspiring interior designer Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.

Mary Jane Colter, an American architect.Eventually she began working full-time for the Fred Harvey Company in 1910 and remained in their employ for the next 30 years. In her career she designed many notable lodges and hotels - many of which are located in or near the rim of the Grand Canyon including the Phantom Ranch, Hopi House, Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, and the Desert View Watchtower.

As part of the landmark collaboration between the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railrway Company and the Fred Harvey Company, she designed and decorated the La Posada Hotel in 1929. She had a part in every design aspect of the project right down to the china and the modified Harvey Girls uniforms.

The hotel remained in service with the Santa Fe Railway until it closed in 1957. For the next 34 years the property was used as the headquarters of the Santa Fe Railway’s Arizona operations with Colter’s charm and character hidden behind false walls and vinyl flooring. In 1994, with the risk of demolition looming, Allan Affeldt, a self-taught architect and a man with tremendous vision, purchased the property from the railroad — saving this piece of history from certain doom.

Allan Affeldt’s vision was to restore the La Posada’s grandeur to what Mary Colter had created and open the hotel once again despite his lack of hotelier skills. So in 1997, Allan and his wife, artist Tina Mion, moved in to the La Posada Hotel and began their over $12 million restoration effort. No one, not even the Winslow City Council had faith that the effort would ever be completed. Fortunately, they were wrong. Thanks to the tireless dedication of Allan and his team the La Posada Hotel has reopened replete with Mary Colter’s original vision and feel, and, just like Mary Colter, and with selfish interests duly noted, I consider her La Posada Hotel her masterpiece — and today it is also Allan Affeldt’s masterpiece.

La Posada Hotel Postcard - © Copyright 2011, Debra Parra

La Posada Hotel Gardens Postcard - © Copyright 2011, Debra Parra

Check-In Time

Perhaps not unlike train travelers of years past, just under twenty-four hours after we left our modest abode in Ontario, California, we checked-in at the La Posada Hotel. Once we had keys in hand, we headed out to the truck to gather our luggage and cherished belongings because for the next two days we were to figuratively bathe in luxury and, literally, an in-room jacuzzi tub!

Once we reached our impeccable room the grit and grime of a full day’s travel and chase became apparent. After I got my items situated, as I need to be organized, and while Deb slumbered on the bed, I took a shower, all the while eager to watch the night’s train activity on BNSF’s vaunted transcon from less than a stone’s throw away from the hotel.

Check-Out Time

No, we weren’t scheduled to check-out of the hotel for two more days, rather I am talking about checking out the hotel. Once showered, and after bidding Deb a brief farewell as she rested, I armed myself with my camera and made my way towards the lobby for a few interior shots of the beautifully restored and appointed hotel.

The following two shots give a glimpse into the spectacular furnishings and accoutrements of the public areas of the La Posada Hotel:

La Posada Hotel Ballroom - The Ballroom of the gorgeous La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

La Posada Hotel Cinderblock Court - The Cinderblock Court of the gorgeous La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry
As I went outside to have a smoke and check on the train action I saw something novel and unique. I ran to the truck to grab my tripod to try to get clean photos of the something that should make for a killer image.

In the next post I’ll show you shots from the grounds around the La Posada Hotel.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Our Best Trip Ever - Part 3 - The Run East Continues

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 2 - The Run East)

Day 1 (Continued)

The Townsend Winona Road overpass provides a nice vantage point to take in the action of BNSF trains as they transit the area near Winona, Arizona. Looking west, most of the elements that comprise an interesting composition, at least for me, can be found from the overpass — sweeping curves, a discernible grade, a distant view, and a nice, mountainous backdrop. The view from the eastern side of the overpass is less spectacular but similar.

My first stop at this location was in July of 2006, and, as the following graphic reveals, little has changed since then. Originally we had happened upon this location not by design by but happenstance. We were following the signal indications while paralleling the Seligman Subdivision from Interstate 40 when the signals indicated that an eastbound would soon be coming by our location. I took the next exit, which happened to be the Townsend Winona Road exit. I was a tad bit disappointed to see that the train was a “baretable train” (empty flatcars and well cars). The photo on the left is the train from July 2006.

Five Years Apart - Winona, Arizona from the overpass. The left photo is from July 2006 and the right is April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

On this latest trip, in April 2011, I had planned specifically to shoot from this location again. This time, I hoped to spend more time there and, hopefully, catch a few trains. In turns out that luck was on my side as the lineup of trains coincided with our arrival. As we have since learned from this trip, the traffic patterns would suggest that the BNSF (dispatcher) likes to run trains in bunches, either east or west, or sometimes, both.

BNSF 4713 East 1 - BNSF 4713 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 1039 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and two more unidentified DASH 9’s have the head end power duties for this eastbound stack train rounding a curve at Winona, Arizona as a westbound “Z” Train blows by on track one.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 4713 East 2 - BNSF 4713 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 1039 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and two more unidentified DASH 9’s have the head end power duties for this eastbound stack train rounding a curve at Winona, Arizona as a westbound “Z” Train blows by on track one.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

After I had shot several trains at the overpass I realized that we still had some time before were due at the La Posada Hotel for check-in. Looking at the map, I was intrigued by the presence of a large curve that the tracks made nearby. I wondered about the photographic possibilities at the location so off we went to see if we could get close enough to it to get some photos.

We spotted the curve from the road but the scene appeared too cluttered for my liking. We drove further down the road a bit and then turned around. I had seen a dirt road just prior to the curve that might offer a better opportunity. After seeing no signage indicating that the road was private we used it to access a cool spot much closer to the curve that had an amazing angle and the sun at our backs. Perfect.

As Deb took a hike in the surrounding area, on “snake patrol,” I watched and photographed several trains go through the curve. All of them were westbound, heading away from me, which wasn’t ideal. We hung out some more.

Eventually I could see the head end of an approaching eastbound. I shot the following sequence of shots as it hustled by: 

BNSF 7521 East 1 - BNSF 7521 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4017 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 7856 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 7698 (GE ES44DC) ease this eastbound stack train around the dogleg curve at milepost 331.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 7521 East 2 - BNSF 7521 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4017 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 7856 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 7698 (GE ES44DC) ease this eastbound stack train around the dogleg curve at milepost 331.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry
BNSF 7521 East 3 - BNSF 7521 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4017 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 7856 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 7698 (GE ES44DC) ease this eastbound stack train around the dogleg curve at milepost 331.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

At this point it was time to move on. I was tired from the night’s travels and the little rest I was able to attain. We were going to spend two days chilling out at the La Posada so as I packed up the gear, I looked forward to a relative short drive to Winslow and the comfort of a freshly made king size bed…

In the next post I’ll cover our time at the amazing La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.