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

Entries in Railfanning Trip (20)


Convergence at Crookton

After leaving the Canyon Diablo bridge we meandered west along Interstate 40 towards Williams, Arizona. By this point it was late afternoon and the lighting was getting good. I was hoping to shoot at a location we discovered during our last trip to this area in 2006. It is a cool spot near Williams that affords a semblance of solitude and the railroad track alignment offers some great curves to accentuate the struggle trains face climbing the Arizona Divide. We dubbed this area “Scary Bear Road” because the area was remote and certainly seemed like bear country to us. (We have “friendly names” for many of our railfanning locations to help differentiate them and make them easier to remember.)

At one point along the way west we discovered that our camper’s refrigerator was not staying cold. I stopped at a truck stop to have a look at it. After opening the rear access paneling and disconnecting the camper’s battery, I saw the potential source of the failure. A 25-amp fuse was not only blown, it was also badly burnt. I went into the store at the truck and tried to find the requisite components to effect a repair. I found only 2 similiar sized fuses - a 20-amp and a 30-amp fuse.

I put the 20-amp fuses in place and reconnected the battery for a test. The fuse didn’t blow but the solder holding the end of the fuse to the glass tube melted and the fuse came apart! Bummer. Not being an electrician myself, I concluded, either rightly or wrongly, that was due to the resistance being generated by the corroded connector on the fuse holder. I used a brass brush to clean the contacts best I could and put in the 30-amp fuse. I tested it again. This time it seem to hold although I was concerned that I had used a bigger fuse than was required.

After running the refrigerator for a good 20 minutes or so to no adverse effect, I put Deb on “Smoke Duty” and asked her to watch the refrigerator access panel in her side mirror for signs of smoke as we headed west on Interstate 40 once again. I put a note on my to do list to stop somewhere and get the right fuse soon.

We eventually reached the official location of “Scary Bear Road,” which is off of Garland Prairie Road, east of Williams. As I rounded the curve and expected to find our turnoff I was sorely disappointed. Apparently in last years since we had been to this area, the US Forest Service had graded a road right through the heart of the “Scary Bear Road” area. Gone was the nondescript single-lane gravel road we knew. It was replaced my a wide and fully-graded dirt road.

We decided to give it a try nonetheless to see if we could locate our previous campsite. As we traveled down the road and tried to correlate our memories with the current surroundings, we were passed by multiple folks on quads or ATVs and many people hauling boats on trailers. It soon became apparent that this area was no longer affording a removed sense of remoteness but rather one of a busy rural route. I did not feel comfortable camping in the area so we, unfortunately, moved on. Well, at least we have our memories of “Scary Bear Road” from 2006.

Route 66 Overpass at Crookton, Arizona.

Disappointed and tired from the day’s event thus far, I decided to by-pass the Williams area entirely and try to reconnect with BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision at the subdivision’s namesake - Seligman, Arizona. Near the beautiful Ash Fork area we found an exit, Crookton Road, Exit 139, which reconnected with Route 66 and, thusly, the tracks. We had been away from the tracks at this point because in 1960, the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe, part of the now BNSF, completed the Crookton-Cutoff which realigned the route between Williams Junction and Crookton, Arizona to reduce grades and curvatures in the area. The old alignment and roadbed can easily be seen from Interstate 40 which has accompanied us along our way since Williams.

Traveling west on Route 66, Crookton Road, from Interstate 40 brought us to location where the Crookton Cutoff crossed under Route 66. As we reached the overpass I slowed, as is my typical style, to look down the tracks in both directions to get see if there are any headlights on the horizon or signals which might betray a pending passing train.

There was no indication of an immediate passing train to be seen, but, being the BNSF’s transcon route, I knew it wouldn’t be long before one was hustling by. As I looked at the trackage from the overpass I was taken by the photographic quality of the location. The left side of the overpass had trackage which curved under the overpass and was baklit by the setting sun. The right side offered a straight alignment which was partly lit by the sun and passed through a cattle range.

I initially continued on passed the location and thought better of my decision. I made a u-turn and then another to reasses the possiblitites. I made up my mind. This was where I was going to make my final stand as the sun set below the horizon.

I found a safe location removed from the passing traffic on the west side of the overpass in which to park and left the engine running so that Deb could continue her present slumber in comfort with the air conditioning running. I grabbed my camera, regretably sans tripod, and made my way back to the overpass. I guess I hadn’t plan to be there long.

As I progressed back down the road I made a few test shots to assess the lighting and possbile framing of the scene. Some cattle were grazing down the embankment and I guess the sight of my long shadow cast down upon them spooked them and they began to run away, “mooing” all the way.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed smoke on the horizon in the west. Here comes one! I checked for traffic on the road and crossed to get into postion. It was an eastbound manifest train moving through West Crookton.

Had I thought to grab my tripod out of the truck I would have tried to capture the scene in HDR. The pace of the moving train would have presented a problem to HDR photogrphy, perhaps, but I have wanted to know what the challenges of photography moving trains in HDR would be so I could possibly figure out how to overcome the problems.

I set-up the camera for aperture-priority and closed the apeture as much as I could. These shots would be hand-held and manually framed. I fired off a series of shots as the train drew near.

Since I have begun to work with HDR photos, it is clearly apparent to me now, how cameras tend to fall short in capturing the scene as I see them. Sure is gives us an essence of what was but the subtle nuances in the details are often washed out and lose relevance in the final shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the shots I took and would consider them good, but they don’t do the scene complete justice, in my opinion.

After I got home I played with the images and was able to tonemap some into psuedo-HDR images:

BNSF 4782 West 1 - BNSF 4782 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 4432 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and 2 more unidentified BNSF GE DASH 9-44CWs are on the point of this eastbound manifest train passing West Crookton, Arizona on BNSF’s transcon as the sun sinks low towards the horizon.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.
BNSF 4782 West 2 - BNSF 4782 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 4432 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and 2 more unidentified BNSF GE DASH 9-44CWs are on the point of this eastbound manifest train passing West Crookton, Arizona on BNSF’s transcon as the sun sinks low towards the horizon.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.
BNSF 4782 West 3 - BNSF 4782 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 4432 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and 2 more unidentified BNSF GE DASH 9-44CWs are on the point of this eastbound manifest train passing West Crookton, Arizona on BNSF’s transcon as the sun sinks low towards the horizon.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

All in all I caught four trains at this location before both, the sunlight and my energy waned. I took a parting shot and thought of the fortune that had brought me here at the right time to get some cool shots despite this was not my intended shooting location.

Sometimes the railfan gods smile upon you, I guess.

Sunset at West Crookton - The sun sinks below the horizon at West Crookton, Arizona.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.


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… 


The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 5

(Continued from: The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 4)

It felt good to rest. So much so that I rested the entire next day, Sunday, as well. I took that time to reflect on the trials of the Cima Subdivision experience and the triumphs from the Needles Subdivision. I still did not have my fill of chasing steel yet so I sat down with my iPad and made plans for Monday, Memorial Day.

I sought some location that would work best with the rising sun during sunrise. To that end, I used an application that I have for my iPad that graphically plots the sun’s location as an overlay on Goggle’s map application for a given location for any given moment in time.

Considering my lack of sleep thus far over the weekend I wanted some place that I could reach in relative short order so that I could sleep as long as possible. Given all my requirements I settled on a curve location on BNSF’s San Bernardino Subdivision at a place called Prado Dam by the railroad.

The time to rise came quickly and I gathered my gear and set out. I reached the target location in no time at all and drove around looking for the right spot. I finally settled, for various reasons, on a location that passed under Prado Road which leveraged the road’s bridge to gain a good vantage point.  

I set-up my cameras. Looking at track side signals I could see that a westbound was lined through.  It now just a matter of time. As I waited, many locals passed me either walking or jogging. After about 30 minutes it became clear that I was “that weird guy” that just seemed out place. Here I was standing on a bridge next to a camper for no discernible reason. People were crossing the street before approaching my area. But hey, I understand, better safe than sorry. I didn’t take it personally.

Soon I heard the westbound train blow her horn for the grade crossing near the Metrolink’s West Corona station at Auto Center Drive. I instinctively looked at my watch to calculate the time it would take another westbound train to come into view once I heard them blow the crossing so I could make use of that information for future shots.

A few short minutes later a westbound unit train of tank cars, one of my all-time favorite types of trains, came into view under Interstate 91. I was in position and took a series of shots that I am rather proud of because I planned for it and it worked out:

BNSF 7415 West at Sunrise - On Memorial Day 2010, BNSF 7415 (GE ES44DC) is the lead unit on this unit train through Prado Dam, CA, just after sunrise. [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

BNSF 7415 West at Sunrise 2 - [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

Unit Train at Prado Dam - [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

As if to compensate for the strike-out I suffered out on the Cima Sub on Saturday, the BNSF served up another gem for me. Shortly after the unit train cleared the area the westbound Southwest Chief, Amtrak Train #3, graced my viewfinder:  

Southwest Chief at Sunrise - AMTK 42 (GE P42DC) and AMTK 124 (GE P42DC) provide the power for the last 35 miles of the run of the westbound Southwest Chief, Amtrak #3, rounding a curve near Prado Dam, CA at sunrise on Memorial Day 2010. [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

Once the sun had shifted I decided to move on. I headed east out of Corona bound for Union Pacific’s Yuma Subdivision in San Timoteo Canyon. I really enjoy the chase in the canyon because of the curvature of the tracks and the overall rural feeling that the area has.

Once again though I was bitten by the reduced volume of traffic and only saw two trains the entire 4 hours I spent there. Here is a one of them, a loaded eastbound auto train:

The weekend had come to close as I headed west towards home. As I leisurely motored on, I reflected on the weekend’s activities. Looking at the odometer on my truck’s speedometer I saw that I had covered nearly 675 miles! All total I “chased” 6 subdivisions to one degree or another: 

  • BNSF’s Cajon Subdivision
  • BNSF’s Needles Subdivision
  • Metrolink’s San Gabriel Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Los Angeles Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Yuma Subdivision

I had planned to just spent a nice and quite few days camping near the Cima Subdivision. That wasn’t to be. Instead I went on “the mega tour,” and enjoyed the experience, but next time I think that I try to be less mega and more patient.

Perhaps I should call the Union Pacific ahead of time…