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

Entries in At the Throttle (2)


Review: Pentrex's "Doublestacks over Donner"

One of Pentrex’s latest releases, Doublestacks over Donner.

Back in May, when I ordered the “At the Throttle Cab Ride Volume 5 - The Surfline” from Pentrex, I also ordered their latest release, at the time, Doublestacks over Donner.

Donner Pass has always been one of my favorite locations for vacations with the family. The area is steeped in history and offers a myriad of outdoor activities to do and breathtaking vistas to behold.

For the railfan, Donner Pass is one of the premier locations due to the arduous climb that trains must make through tunnel and snow sheds to conquer the pass. This route dates back to the original transcontinental route that the Central Pacific Railroad completed in the late 1860’s to meet up with the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869.

Considering most of the line was built back in the 1860’s, many of the tunnels can no longer accommodate the longer and larger containers that are part of today’s international transportation system. As such, this line saw a marked decrease in traffic with many of the doublestack trains being rerouted through the longer, yet less-restrictive, Feather River Canyon route.

Through the years of mergers and acquisitions, this line eventually became part the Union Pacific Railroad and remains a core east-west corridor for the Union Pacific Railroad today. As such, UP decided it was profitable to increase the tunnel clearances on Donner Pass to accommodate the new doublestacks and shorten the distance for trains heading over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So in 2008, UP began modifying the tunnel portals and linings accordingly.

This video documents the renewed life that the line over Donner Pass is experiencing thanks to Union Pacific’s work in the tunnels. I couldn’t be happier. There’s little that rivals seeing Theodore Judah’s dream of a railroad over the Sierras come true with a nearly 2-mile long doublestack train clawing at the grade! But I digress…

The video presents the glory and splendor of the Donner Pass region unlike any other video I’ve seen in recent memory. The video quality and post-production work is good and the 16x9 format lends itself nicely to wide vistas and spectacle that is Donner Pass. The piece is well written and the narration is spot on. A nice surprise of the DVD is the little bits of historical and operational datum that the narration provides. 

If I could be critical of one aspect of the production, it would be the maps displayed in the video. They are just not on par with all of the other aspects this gem. A rework of the maps, with more details and a fresh look, would have completed this effort perfectly.

However, this is one of my favorite videos from any railfan video publisher. I highly recommend it. A job well done Pentrex, it is truly fun to watch. I will watch it often until I can get back to Donner personally.

My Rating:  A+

2 Hours
In Color with Stereo Sound and Narration
Presented in High Definition 16x9 Format
ISBN: 1-56342-295-6
UPC: 7-48268-00578-7


Review: Pentrex's "At the Throttle Cab Ride Volume 5 - The Surfline"

Pentrex’s latest episode in their popular “At the Throttle” series, “The SurflineMost rail enthusiasts and photographers have a few railroad DVDs or videos as part of our movie collections. At one time, it seemed, it was a requisite element for expressing your membership in the club - it was about ownership.

Before the proliferation of video cameras and content that we see today, it was rare to see a “movie” devoted entirely to railfanning in general, let alone on on a particular subdivision or topic.

Pentrex Railroad Videos and Books was one of the earliest suppliers of such content and have produced quality content ever since.

Due to my recent adventure in chasing the 3751 towards San Diego a few weeks ago, I ordered and watched one of their latest releases in a series of videos entitled “At the Throttle Cab Ride.” This particular video is Volume 5 in the series and covers the famous Surfline route of the former Santa Fe Railroad between Orange County and San Diego, California. 

For the uninitiated, “cab ride” videos typically provide you with an engineers view out the cab of the lead locomotive as it progresses over a particular subdivision or route. The are ideal to gain an appreciation for the line in general and to get a feel for the operational challenges that face the crews of the trains along the route. They also are invaluable in researching the next ideal location for a photographer to capture that perfect scene.

Owning all four previous volumes, I was eager to watch this offering covering the Surfline. Unfortunately, unlike the other volumes in the series, I felt that this release was hastily produced and offered little value to the researcher hoping to identify potential photo locations. There is not a complete run on one train over the entire route. Instead Pentrex opted to give you three different heavily segmented runs over the Surfline to include one shot from the third unit in the consist. Far from ideal in my opinion.

Given the quality videos that Pentrex is known for, I was disappointed in this installment of their “At the Throttle” series.

My Rating:  C

1 Hour 30 Minutes
In Color with Stereo Sound and Narration
Presented in Standard Definition 4x3 Format
ISBN: 1-56342-289-1
UPC: 7-48268-00572-5