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.