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.