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

Entries from July 11, 2010 - July 17, 2010


Much More Than Just a New Pretty Face

Earlier today, via a “tweet,”  the Union Pacific Railroad’s Steam Program announced the release of a new look for their program’s web site.  I called up their site on my iPad and was extremely pleased with what filled my screen:UP Steam Programs new look as seen on the iPad. 

I was very impressed and it was apparent to me that this was much more than just a face lift. To me, the new site has a fresh and current look - quite unlike the previous site which was getting a bit long in the tooth. 

The colors complement each other nicely and and the graphics add the perfect touch. I love the “map” element that successfully conveys the historic nature of the site’s purpose and the dual use of it as a navigation mechanism is innovative. I have been toying with a similar concept for ChasingSteel.com for some time now.

The photos and videos, which change occasionally, apparently will eventually include fan-submitted content at some point. This is a great implementation of interactivity and public involvement which is the keystone of the program’s purpose.

Beyond the good use of elements and sound execution on the overall design, the site conveys a sense of commitment on UP’s part to both, the steam program and to remaining technologically current to reach the public and fans alike in this age of new media. 

I extend a “job well done” to all involved. 


The Circus Has Come to Greater Los Angeles, On a Train

On Monday, February 12, 2010, I learned from a railfan site that a special train was arriving from Fresno about the time I would be getting home. The train, known on the Union Pacific Railroad as SFRLA-12, was a special, customer unit train - the “Blue Unit” of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus!

For the uninitiated, here is a short description of this awesome and historic show from a press release:

Since its first show in 1871, the spirit of artists performing in what has become know as The Greatest Show On Earth® has fascinated onlookers and established the foundation for success of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus. The all-live performances, full of comedy, grace, color, precision, athleticism, suspense, music and the harmonious interaction of humans and animals, bring people back time and time again. Ringling Bros.® is part of the American cultural heritage and is the only show business phenomenon to run in three consecutive centuries. 

Ringling Bros. is a 139-year tradition that combines the classics – extraordinary animal performances, captivating clown escapades and daring high-wire acts – with contemporary surprises and thrills to make the circus-going experience memorably unique. Families can depend upon Ringling Bros. to return the same time every year with a new show, and it is a family tradition handed down from generation to generation. Ringling Bros. has three independent units, the Red, Blue and Gold. 

Ringling Bros. hosts millions of visitors and travels to more than 90 cities in North America each year.

I wasn’t expecting this opportunity so I found myself trackside, on my way home from work, with only my Apple iPhone 3GS with me to record the event. I grabbed a roll of electrical tape from the trunk of my car and taped my phone to a nearby signpost to steady the shot best I could.

After a few minutes wait, she came into view. Here is the video I shot of the “Blue Unit” train going through Ontario, California:

The train is comprised of mostly very historic passenger cars from the days when Amtrak was considered a misspelled word that have been modified and extensively upgraded by the company’s dedicated staff of shop forces. For example, the first four cars of this train are where the elephants and horses are housed and maintained during the trip. There are sleeping quarters, shop cars, offices, and even a “pie car.” The pie car is circus vernacular for a “dining car.”

Extreme Trains: The Complete Season OneThere is a very interesting show that I recommend to anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating train and the dedicated men and women who maintain and live on the train. It is the episode called, appropriately enough, “Circus Train” from that awesome History Channel’s series Extreme Trains.

Truthfully, I thought that this episode of Extreme Trains would be my least favorite one of the whole season but it was not. After re-watching it to bone up on the facts for this post, I came away with a a greater appreciation of the entire Ringling Bros. outfit and for circus trains in general. I highly recommend it.

In fact, you can purchase the entire season of Extreme Trains for just $9.99 plus shipping right now. Simply click on the DVD photo on the right.

If you live in the Los Angeles area and missed the move or would like to see it again, you are in luck because the circus is scheduled to play Ontario, California next followed by Anaheim, California. Both dates will require the train to move again, not to mention when the circus moves on to the next area, the Bay Area for shows in mid-August.

Revive the magic of your childhood, go to the circus, or at least see the train go by!