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

Entries in Lance Camper (3)


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.


I Finally Met the Devil

The date was August 11, 2010. I awoke earlier than Deb, as is the usual case because she likes to stargaze into the wee morning hours. I was feeling a bit anxious. I knew the day’s activities could be challenging based on all that I read and heard.

I let her sleep in as I made preparations for us to leave the Meteor Crater RV Park where we had stayed the night. We were there to witness the Perseid meteor shower and since we were in northern Arizona we concluded that there was no more appropriate place to see the meteor shower than at Meteor Crater, Arizona, some forty miles east of Flagstaff. 

EBCS West Canyon Diablo - The eastbound control signal at West Canyon Diablo shows a clear indication and flat terrain ahead.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Once I packed up all the gear and checked the truck over completely, I awoke Deb and made her breakfast. After we got cleaned up we pulled away from our spot and headed for a rendezvous four years in the making.

The last time we were in this part of Arizona was back in 2006 when Deb and I “chased steel” on the BNSF Seligman Subdivision from Needles, California all the way to Winslow, Arizona. On that trip I was driving a far-less-capable vehicle that would have had issues getting to today’s destination so I opted to defer going there.

In railfanning circles, Canyon Diablo is a coveted and remarkable location. In part due to the fantastic bridge that spans the canyon but also due to the fact that the road to Canyon Diablo is challenging and rugged. I was determined to make the trip this time.

We headed west a few miles on Interstate 40 and eventually took the exit at Two Guns, Exit 230 which is the beginning of the road that leads to the bridge. As the road changed from asphalt near the freeway to a graded dirt road we passed a sign that read “Rough Road Ahead.” I looked at Deb, having previously disclosed the reputation that this road has with her, and asked “You ready for this?” She smiled hesitantly. 

Soon thereafter the road changed composition once again to one of rocks and ruts. Did I say rocks? I meant to say “ROCKS.” I carefully picked my course through the openings and over the ruts best I could. My vehicle weighs in at nearly 11,000 pounds when loaded down with all of our gear and the Lance Camper on the back. It was challenging to say the least.

My main concern was keeping forward momentum as we traveled. Should I stop on a sandy patch of road or desert, I might not be able to get her going again. About 15 minutes into the journey I noticed that the GPS indicated that we still had 2.2 more miles to go to get to the bridge. All I kept thinking about was how am I going to get help if I get stuck. At one crucial point I disclosed my concern to Deb over the road and questioned the value of the effort we had undertaken but it was only fleeting in nature. I pressed on.

We passed more than a few discarded and blown tires along the road. I pressed on. As we neared the bridge and the canyon the GPS became useless. Roads indicated on the GPS’ display simply weren’t there or weren’t there anymore. We had to dead reckon and pick our own way, so to speak.

Despite the challenges of the road and the fact that August is THE rainy month in Arizona, which threw a few “lakes” in our path, we made it to the bridge intact. That is more than I can say for the contents of the camper which were strewn all over the place inside. Oh well, fun, travel and adventure - right?

As we closed on the bridgehead I kept second guessing our location because I had expected to see a bridge. (No duh, uh?) Well, the bridge is almost entirely below the rim of the chasm which, if you are not careful, you could easily drive right into!

Once there I took a celebratory walk and a smoke break to regain my usual calm and collected self. As I meander around I noticed remains of long ago buildings and all things discarded in the course of living. There were old rusted tin cans, glass bottles of yesteryear, and even a grave - well adorned and maintained considering it was from the late 1880s. Wow what a place.

I had known a little history of the area before going there like how the place came to be when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad were laying rails west out of Albuquerque, New Mexico towards California when the crews ran into the obstacle that is Canyon Diablo. After a failed attempt to build a bridge over the chasm, which occurred because someone misread the plans where the bridge parts were preassembled, the A & P was forced to sell out to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, due to near bankruptcy, which eventually spanned the canyon with a viable bridge in 1882. This was just part of the story. After I returned home I researched the area and the town and learned even more interesting details that I wish I knew when I was there.

Slight Historic Departure

During the time the railroads were waiting for the bridge to be completed the “town” of Canyon Diablo came to be. As with any railhead location, where there are railroad crews there are saloons, prostitutes, and chaos. Canyon Diablo was no different, except in one respect - reputation. Apparently the town of Canyon Diablo had more lawlessness than all of the “wild west” towns that you may be familiar with. Towns like Dodge City, Kansas, and Tombstone, Arizona were peaceful by Canyon Diablo standards. In fact, legend has it that the first sheriff of Canyon Diablo was sworn in at 3:00 PM and buried by 8:00 PM the same day!

I can’t do the complete history of Canyon Diablo justice so I won’t even try. I do strongly encourage those of you who might be interested in learning more to check out this sites which have more information:

As I heard the distinctive low rumble of an approaching freight train, a sound all its own, I raced back to the truck to grab my camera and gear. I proceeded to shoot photos over the next two hours or so, some of which are posted here: 

BNSF 4836 West and The Canyon Diablo Bridge - BNSF 4836 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 7338 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4027 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 651 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 4759 (GE DASH 9-44CW) lead their ethanol unit train over the formidable Canyon Diablo east of Flagstaff, AZ.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

BNSF 7625 West on Canyon Diablo Bridge - BNSF 7625 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4193 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5233 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the power for this westbound manifest train seen here crossing the Canyon Diablo Bridge.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Westbound Manifest Crosses Canyon Diablo Bridge - A westbound manifest train, BNSF 7625 West, rolls over Canyon Diablo Bridge just east of Flagstaff, AZ.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Rusty Barrel at Canyon Diablo - A long forgotten barrel rusts away in the forbidding Arizona weather and sun at Canyon Diablo.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Our Rig at Canyon Diablo - Our rig near the bridge over Canyon Diablo. Very little of the bridge extends over the rim of the canyon. The only telltale indications visible from a distance that you are near the canyon and the bridge are the runs of underground fiber cable coming to the surface and braced to span the canyon by those “telephone poles.”
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Eastbound Intermodal by the Ruins of Canyon Diablo - BNSF 7497 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7221 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 5262 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the lead units of this eastbound intermodal consist as she passes the ruins of an old trading post at Canyon Diablo, AZ. The middle part of the train is currently on the bridge in this shot.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

BNSF 7497 East - BNSF 7497 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7221 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 5262 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the lead units of this eastbound intermodal consist approaching the eastbound control signals at East Canyon Diablo, AZ under an awesome summer sky.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

As the clouds began to amass on the horizon I began to become concerned about flash floods and the already difficult road out of here getting more swamped than it already was. We had come and met the devil. I had got some good shots so it was time to go. Best not to tempt the devil… 


One of My Recent Projects - The "PerryScope"

Despite the long weekend, we opted to stay home and keep the pets company during this year’s 4th of July celebrations. The downtime gave us an opportunity to do some maintenance and modifications to our vehicles. One project that I am proud of in particular, that we did this last weekend, was to finally install a remote searchlight and night vision gear on our “rig.”

Some time ago I had purchased a very cool searchlight from Magnalight.com called the “Golight Radioray.” This is a reasonably high-powered searchlight that can rotate 370 degrees and tilt about 140 degrees up and down - all with the use a remote control. The remote is radio-based (433MHz) so line-of-sight is not required to control the light. The base contains a 200-lb magnet to ensure the light stays in place yet remains removable. Way cool. Yukon Advanced Optics’ Digital NV Ranger 5x42

Another item that I have had for some time and used on occasion was a digital night vision device called the Digital NV Ranger 5x42, from Yukon Advanced Optics. This device is essentially a monocular with some impressive night vision capabilities. Two nice features of the device are its capability to run off of 12-volts DC and the ability to output what the device sees to a video device.

Considering we are often out  in the middle of nowhere with the complete darkness of a new moon night, I have sought to marry the two devices and find a viable mounting option that made use of the wireless capabilities. After many design considerations and testing I finally settled on a solution that should afford an effective and stable mount while still providing flexible deployment options.

Winegard RM-DM61We never watch broadcast television (or satellite TV for that matter) when we are on a road trip so I decided to leverage our Lance camper’s satellite and analog TV antenna system, which is the Winegard RM-DM61, as the mount for the scope and searchlight. By using the antenna as a mounting location it affords the searchlight to be manually elevated by a crank in order to clear rooftop obstacles and still be retracted and stowed for travel.

The antenna system had a large disc-shape analog TV antenna, which is now obsolete, that I removed to provide a location to mount the searchlight.  

Here’s What I Did… 

The chosen mounting location for the “PerryScope” was the location of the obsolete analog television antenna on our camper.

Here are the two main devices of the “PerryScope.” The Golight has the capability to display clear, amber, red, and Infra-red light through the use of lenses. Here, the Golight is shown with a red lense attached.

The night vision device is attached to the Golight through the use of a surplus tripod mounting head with a quick connect element that allows easy removal of the night vision monocular. The tripod mount allows the monocular to tilted and the whole assembly rotates 370 degrees with a remote control.

Here is the obligatory “action shot” with the red lense removed.

The night vision’s output is piped into the camper to be displayed on the television for all to see. It is cool to sit in the dinnete and control the unit with ease.

Prelimnary testing in our driveway suggests that there will many uses for the “PerryScope.” Obviously campsite security should benefit but also we are excited to watch the night wildlife from the “safety” our camper.

I’ll let you now how the field tests go.