Monday, December 22, 2008

Fanning Montana Part 3

Greetings and Happy Holidays to all train fans out there. It seems that I dropped the ball, so to speak, on documenting the culmination of the big Montana trip Mrs. L4T and I made in September by failing to post the results of the last day of shooting. In an attempt to rectify this ommission, I now present episode 3 of the "Fanning Montana" series.

The morning of our final full day in Montana dawned bright and clear, as had the previous days. With no set goals for this last day, we were free to do whatever we desired and thus set out without a definite plan. We headed for West Glacier, and ended up on a little road trip up the west side of Lake MacDonald and back down through the National Forest to the Columbia Falls area. Surprisingly, while not able to approach the scale and drama of the scenery inside Glacier, the National Forest had its own charm and beauty with the North Fork of the Flathead River cutting a deep canyon along the road. There was also abundant wildlife in evidence.

Back in Columbia Falls, the Flathead River funnels between two mountains spaced close together. The railroad, river, and highway share this narrow pass and there are some neat views of the BNSF across the river. I was lucky enough to catch a westbound train as it traversed this narrow mountain pass and grabbed a shot from across the river.

Pay attention to the consist-you haven't seen the last of it.

Following the passage of this train we ran back to Whitefish to watch it pass the depot, then I was inspired to chase it west. We traveled through a beautiful mountain valley and ended up in the tiny village of Olney, where the tracks go through a cut in the foothills. The sun was wrong for a head on shot, but a stack train passing through town offered the chance at a going away shot and I grabbed this one of the same train I had shot earlier across the river:

The line is single track in Olney, and the likelihood of an eastbound was nil, so back to Whitefish it was. I decided to stop at the depot, and worked Rocky the goat into a shot of local power.

At this point, I was feeling kind of melancholy about the trip, as we had had a great time and the thought of it ending was getting me down. At the same time, while I was very happy with the shots I had got on the Pass, I still had the nagging feeling that "something was missing". I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was there.

Knowing that the odds of making it back to this area with this kind of weather in the forseeable future were not high, I decided (after consultation with Mrs. L4T) to run back towards Belton and try for that one missing shot. And so we were back on the road again, making the now familiar trip between Whitefish and West Glacier. This time I was lucky enough to locate a great vantage point over Tunnel 4.0, a classic photo location. With Mrs. L4T and her busy bag of magazines settled in the Rav4, I decided to stake out this location until a train showed up or the sun disappeared. I hoped as hard as I could for a westbound, and was rewarded with three in quick succession, the only problem being that they were of the inflatable variety, on the river. But as the final raft loitered in the tailwaters of the rapids while two fly fisherman tempted the trout, I heard the unmistakeable screech of flanges complaining about being forced around tight curves as they descended the west side of the pass. Eureka! I cried. I unlimbered my trusty Canon and started shooting. The most appealing image, to my eye, was this one:

I knew I had caught the train I had been waiting for, the one "missing shot" that had been nagging me. Now, I could return home in peace, knowing that this moment had been recorded for posterity for me to look back on and remember. If you click on the image and look closely, you can see the trout fishermen continuing their efforts while the train rolls by.

The next morning we boarded an on-time #8 at the Whitefish depot for the 20+ hour trip back to Staples. Montana is a broad state, and after a few hours we arrived at Havre for a short stop where passengers are allowed to detrain. I took the opportunity to make a photo of the statue of the original "Empire Builder", James J. Hill, in front of the Havre depot. After having viewed some of his handiwork, I could honestly say that "he done good".

A few stops and hours later, we de-trained for about 15 minutes in Minot. I took the opportunity to try a couple of night shots of the Amtrak train as we waited. I was actually pretty happy with the way they turned out.

We arrived in Staples about an hour late. All in all, it was a GREAT trip. I would do it again in a second. Mrs. L4T was not as enthused about Amtrak as I was, but I can understand that given that 20 hours in coach is fairly tough duty, especially during the night hours when there is nothing to see. She was a great partner for the trip and never uttered one word of complaint about the long hours in coach.

In case you decide to visit the Marias Pass and Glacier Park area, a couple of invaluable resources for new fans to the area are here and here. Feel free to contact me if you have questions-I would love to discuss the area with any interested railfans.

We had so much fun on the trip that we were buying maps of the southwest within two week of arriving home, and starting to plan another trip that would bring us to the Grand Canyon and the Santa Fe trans-con line. Hmmm...careful planning might allow one to get there via the Powder River basin....who knows what next fall holds?

Jim, out.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowy Saturday

First, no, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. I have been fairly busy with work related tasks over the past couple of months, as well as challenged by some of the most miserable photography weather I have encountered in a long time. Thus, the lack of posting in October and November.

The recent snow has rekindled my railfanning bug, though. Some of the photos I have seen have inspired me to go out and try my hand in the snow, and this Saturday morning dawned with a couple of inches already on the ground and more coming steadily. With no other pressing demands, I thought, why not? And off I went.

My first location was the reliable old curve just west of Wadena. I set up in a heavy snow shower and waited. I expected to be surprised as I didn't trust my scanner to pick up the detector to the west, and had no hope of any radio heads-up from the east. Sure enough, I spied a headlight approaching from the west and jumped out to shoot him.

I didn't have to wait too long for another intermodal train to pass by. This one I had notice on as I had plugged in my external antenna and heard the 174 detector go off. I was on the other side of the tracks as this old warbonnet Dash 9 blew by.

As the snow seemed to be getting stronger and there had been some trains tied up in Staples the previous afternoon, I decided to run over there and see what I could see. As I came into town the same two DPU motors as the day before were still resting on coal loads.

Next, here came a short merchandise train accelerating past the Dower Lake station sign. I decided to grab a shot.

A trip to the east end of the yard revealed that one of the loaded coal trains was preparing to leave for Superior. I walked down the north side of the yard to attempt a shot with a railroader out cleaning switches and throwing the derail.

Back in my truck, I heard the coal train ask the Staples dispatcher for permission to head for the Brainerd. The dispatcher told him he would have to wait for Amtrak. That perked me up some, and I called Mrs. L4T and told her I would be a little late getting home.

I parked at the 6th St crossing and walked back toward the depot. I could see the headlights of #8 as he drifted through the heavy snow. A couple of shots as he passed the depot:

I shot one more of the passengers loading, then set off at as close to a dead sprint as I could manage in the deep snow and my poor physical condition. My hundred yard time is probably longer than Ian's 800 meter time. I still made it just in time for:

You can see the coal loads waiting on the yard lead to head for Superior. The strange 3rd unit on the Builder is also evident. I shot him again as he passed by. This is the first time I have seen one of these units in a Builder consist, and I don't think it was on line, but I'm not sure.

That was all for the day as I needed to get back to Wadena. All in all a great morning, with a fair amount of traffic and something unexpected. I don't expect to have frequent chances to fan in the winter, given the short days and frequent clouds (not to mention the cold) but I have a few shots from the autumn that I may share, and still have the shots from our last day in Glacier I haven't posted. Hope you enjoyed this little sojurn.

Jim, out.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fanning Montana Part 2

Day 2 (Thursday) dawned clear and bright, with just a hint of autumn in the air. I intended to spend some time dedicated to railfanning today, instead of grabbing what I saw as we travelled along the tracks. I had grabbed a ride to the depot the previous morning to pick up our rental car, and the eastbound Builder was waiting when I got there. With no camera, I made a mental note to try and get some shots the following morning. I had intended to run to the depot for the shots while Mrs. L4T prepared for the day but she surprised me by being up and at 'em by the time I was ready to leave. So we decided to head east right off the bat.

We first encountered #8 at Belton after a wait of only a few minutes. Photos were uninteresting as there were no good angles to be had at the West Glacier platform. I decided to proceed east on a chase and off we went. Even the 70 mph speed limit in Montana was not sufficient to prevent the Builder from passing us on the straight stretch around Nyack. I hoped that the curves and grades to come would slow him up, and I knew he would probably be stopping at Essex as well. I flew by at road speed, and found a likely location well up a hill. Or at least it looked like a hill from the bottom. By the time I reached track level I was sucking for air, and could barely hold still. My shoes were soaked, and my heart felt like it would pop right out of my chest. The Builder rounded the curve as I was tying my shoe, and I grabbed this shot with one shoe untied.

I raced back down the mountain to the vehicle, and off to the races we went. My next target was Goat Lick, where the mountain goats come to lick salt off the exposed rock. I made it with a couple of minutes to spare, as the road is much straighter than the tracks. I was thankful that the sun rose a few degrees so the train would be lit in this shot.

A note about Goat Lick, in case anyone else ever visits-there is a highway bridge just west of this overlook site that appeared to me would have a much better viewing angle of the trestle. If you intend to photograph an eastbound at this spot I would investigate the shot from the highway bridge. I know I will if and when I go back.

I intended to leave the Amtrak at this point, and wait to see what other trains we would catch. However, after a short wait I decided to head east to see what was out and about. To my surprise #8 was still at the East Glacier depot, so I scooted out of town to shoot him crossing the Two Medicine River trestle.

That is really a great spot to shoot. The next move was back west, to see if we could catch some freight coming down the hill and shoot the more arid eastern side of the pass. This seems to me to be the more photogenic side of Marias Pass.

We were waiting at a chain up area when another vehicle pulled up. I walked over to talk to the driver and it turned out to be an English couple who were touring some of the National Parks in the western US. He told me that they had just passed a couple of eastbound trains and they should be appearing soon. I was excited and ready when the first train came down the hill behind an ES44DC.

Since another train was due shortly, I cut off the chase for the 7562 to wait for the next one. Shortly, a vehicle train showed up, again drifting down the grade at a relatively slow speed. I followed him all the way to the Two Medicine River, shooting him in a number of locations. I like these the best.

After lunch at the Two Medicine Grill in East Glacier, I was in the market for a westbound to take me back over the pass. I didn't have to wait too long as a Z train behind a quartet of Dash 9's soon showed up.

I expected a fairly quick trip, but was surprised when he came to a stop at Bison West. A little investigation revealed that he was waiting for an eastbound stacker. Here is the meet at Bison West.

The Z was back on the road in less than 5 minutes, including a display of smoke as he started his train on the upgrade. From here on out it was jump in, drive, jump out, shoot, repeat. I snapped him in a number of locations.

And finally, as he left one of the tunnels on the west side of the pass:

That was all the trains for day 2, and I was glad that I had captured the tunnel and Goat Lick shots, but still had a vague sense that something was missing. But not to worry, we still had a day left.

Jim, out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Big Sky Adventure

I want to share the first part of our trip to Western Montana. Mrs. L4T and myself, having not taken a serious vacation for going on 20 years, decided late last summer that such a trip was in order. At the time I was lobbying for an Amtrak trip from Staples to Chicago, with one of the projected highlights being a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry's "Great Train Story" exhibit. As it turned out, a job change led to a fair amount of upheaval in the L4T household about that time, effectively putting the trip on hold. We decided to reschedule for this year.

After extensive discussions, we settled on an Amtrak trip to the Glacier National Park area as our vacation. It offered easy Amtrak access, a manageable length train ride (as far as we knew, not being veteran Amtrak riders), great scenery potential, and for me, a chance to spend some time railfanning Marias Pass.

With the location decided, we settled on a date and made reservations with Amtrak, the Whitefish Holiday Inn Express, and Hertz. Time seemed to pass quickly until departure day. We were scheduled to leave Staples at 0142 Tuesday morning and arrive in Whitefish at 0856 Tuesday evening. We didn't go to bed Monday night, choosing instead to sit up anticipating the trip with the hope we would be able to sleep in the train. This proved to be a questionable decision as sleeping in coach is a challenge, especially for the light sleeping Mrs. L4T. The nightime riding is...boring is probably the best word for it. I did manage to sneak in a few catnaps between stops, and acutally slept through Fargo and Grand Forks. However, as the sun rises, so do one's spirits. After spending an hour or so sightseeing we headed for the diner to have breakfast. We were seated with a couple of older ladies from Wisconsin who were headed to Williston with 4 of their friends for an outing. We had a pleasant conversation and after eating headed back to our seats to settle in for the ride.

I tried taking pictures through the windows as we passed some of the more scenic areas in western North Dakota but the scratches on the windows combined with the speed make photography from the moving train a lesson in frustration. We stopped long enough to get out and walk around in Minot, of course, and Williston as well. The train was on or ahead of schedule at almost every stop on the westbound journey. Here is a shot from the platform in Williston:

A stop in Havre gave me the chance to get a less than great shot of the power on our train.

We also made a stop in Shelby where we were allowed to detrain as the Builder was ahead of schedule. I clocked mileposts in a few locations along the route and came up with speeds of 74 to 76 mph on a consistent basis. The mileage of the trip on the timetable showed as about 1070 miles and we made it in around 20 hours, for an average speed of nearly 55 mph including stops-not too bad!

Wednesday was our first day in the area and we intended to travel the Going to the Sun Highway from East to West. Upon arrival in East Glacier we learned the highway was closed part way through and we wouldn't be able to make the entire trip. While disappointing, this did provide the opportunity to parallel the tracks back to Whitefish after a trip into the park, so it wasn't all bad.

I caought my first train on the drive east through the pass. Contrary to what I wrote in my last post (last night) the eastbound grain train shown there was taken that afternoon. This eastbound vehicle train led by a cascade green SD40-2 (yay!), drifting down the eastern slope of the pass past a waiting westbound stacker was my actual first train. That's what posting with no sleep for 36 hours will do.

Knowing that the Two Medicine Trestle was just east of East Glacier, I decided to set up there and take a traditional Montana shot-this has been referred to as "the most photographed barn in Montana" on a couple of websites I have found.

I know I've lived a sheltered life, but this was just awesome scenery to me. We proceeded to head into the park, but before we even got to the park entrance I shot this mountain.

I've aleady posted one shot of the westbound grain load I got later that day, but here is another one as he approached East Glacier.

One more train made it into my lens as we made the drive back to Whitefish for the evening. This one was waiting at Summit, as the grain train I just photographed had stalled on the grade and was waiting for a train behind him to give a push. We didn't have time to wait for things to work themselves out, as the light goes away quickly in the mountains. So this shot turned out to be the last of the day.

Trains aren't quite as numerous as on the Staples Sub but you sure can chase them as speeds are much slower than I was used to. Next post will include some Amtrak shots including one at the traditional Goat Lick overlook of the Sheep Creek trestle.

Jim, out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Westward Ho!

I know it's been a long time since I have posted, but forgive me, I've been busy. I do have a backlog of shots, but the last few days I have been tied up with vacation. And not just any vacation, this one took Mrs. L4T and myself out west to the mountains with a visit to Glacier National Park and Marias Pass via Amtrak. Since neither of us had been there before, we were excited to see what it was like.

The mountains were more spectacular than I can describe with words. Rail photography and fanning was equally impressive.

Having arrived at Staples on the Empire Builder about 5 AM today, I am tired and not in any shape for a lengthy post, but I wanted to share a couple of shots from our trip just as a taste of things to come. The first one is a night shot of our coach as it waited in Minot last night on the trip home.

I also got a shot of the power on this train while we were out stretching our legs at the last extended stop of the trip. 20 hours in coach is a long time!

Here's a taste of Montana railfanning-my first train shot after we arrived. A loaded grain train approaches East Glacier, working hard upgrade with two Dash 9's up front and two more in DPU mode.

Much more to come later, including the actual mountain shots. I look forward to sharing with you over the next few days. I will probably have enough photos for at least a couple of posts.

Jim, out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Western Adventure

On Sunday, August 24, having missed out on a run to Staples for the weekend, and inspired by a post to the OMR list, I got the bug to head over to the western end of the Staples Sub for some photo ops. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day, so Mrs. L4T who is always up for a drive, said "why not?".

So it came to pass that around 3 PM we loaded up and headed west with a destination of somewhere around Lake Park sometime today. The sun was still pretty high in the sky and quite a ways south so I decided I would stake out the Frazee area for a little while as the s-curve gives you decent afternoon light for eastbounds. We waited for a train with no luck, and after about 45 minutes I decided to head to Detroit Lakes to get gas, since I had heard it was the cheapest location in the state at the time.

While we were gassing up at Holiday, an eastbound coal train cruised through DL with a 1x1 DPU consist. I knew I could beat him back to Frazee so we headed back to the s-curve. As I turned off Highway 10 I spotted an empty headed my way as well, and really moving. I wasn't able to get ahead of him for a shot. I did set up for the loads and got BNSF 9999 leading the train. The engineer gave a friendly toot on the horn as he passed.

I knew the DPU was pointed to the rear and quickly ran down to where the track curves toward the east so I could shoot him going away. The sun angle wasn't the greatest, but this was the first time I have seen an ES44DC used in coal service, especially as a DPU. They aren't unknown on grain trains, leading or DPU, but the coal trains are pretty much all GE AC units or some type of EMD. Obviously there is no rule that can't be broken. After all, BNSF has ACe's leading manifest trains as well.

Having captured that train, hunger pangs were starting so Mrs. L4T and I stopped at the Burger Time in DL and grabbed supper, eating as we continued west. I heard the dispatcher give a warrant to an eastbound and tell him there were two Z's headed west so I knew there would be some traffic into the sun this evening.

I set up first at the old wooden bridge just west of the Highway 32 overpass near Hawley. I'm new to this area so was just experimenting. Shortly after I arrived I saw a headlight to the west. Turned out to be another coal load, and he was working hard dragging the coal up the hill. This train had two units up front and one at the rear.

Quite a change from the trains that fly through Wadena at track speed. Here you could really feel the power that is needed to lift heavy trains up the grade.

Mrs. L4T encouraged me to work the curve under the Hwy 32 bridge into a photo. Soon the first Z train of the evening showed up.

With that I was off to Mt Muller, my destination for the evening. I knew another Z was on the way, and I heard him hit the detector at MP221. I had no idea how close I was cutting this, though, until I parked and started climbing the hill with a pop in one hand and lawn chair in the other. I heard a curious roar and suspected a train. Dropping my cargo, I sprint-waddled up the hill as I unlimbered the camera, only to be greeted with this:

I felt like the Navy SEAL who has to take a shot after a 3 mile dead run. I literally had less than 5 seconds to zoom, compose, and release the shutter. I was pretty happy with how it came out.

After taking a minute to gather myself and find my cargo, I took a seat at the top of the world and waited. The scanner was in the car, with the antenna, and soon my cell phone rang. Mrs. L4T reported that "someone was talking on the radio about Wadena and Richards Spur and stuff". When I asked if they mentioned Main 1 or 2 she responded that if I wanted that much detail maybe I should come down and listen myself. She did offer that she had hear Glyndon mentioned as well so I surmised an eastbound was getting a warrant. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later I heard a horn drifting across the landscape from the west. I got a shot of the power as it rounded the curve heading toward Lake Park. You need to click on this one to see the power.

As I watched the train recede into the distance, another headlite popped up right beside it. Another westbound! This one was a merchandise train with two Dash 9's up front, the lead one in H1 paint.

It was getting time to head for home, so we packed up and pointed the Escape east. I spotted a CP northbound as we entered DL and got permission for one more chase. After an interminable wait at the Hwy 10/Hwy 59 light, I scooted north and caught up to the slow moving freight just a few miles north of town. I tried to catch him at the slough where MN Chris once took a great reflection shot (can't find a link to it now), but the light was poor, so I settled for this instead. The CP train had a single GE for power.

All in all, a fun and rewarding afternoon and evening with a cooperative partner. The weather and scenery could not have been better. Thanks for listening to this long-winded story, and be sure to keep looking for trains.

Jim, out.