Here’s what I’ve been up to since March.
In April of 2012, on the same trip that I took this picture, we spent a few days traversing the desert landscape of the Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision. This line was built in the early 20th century as the Los Angeles and Salt Lake, and much of its vintage charm is still readily evident along its right of way.
A long-disused LA&SL maintenance-of-way car, Cima, CA
The main feature of this stretch of remote mainline is Cima Hill, the ruling grade, which clocks in at a stout 2.2%. Westbound trains descending the hill are restricted to 10 MPH, to avoid runaways. This also ensures that photographing a train on this line is a rather simple affair, and given the beautiful terrain, the more shots the better!
A view from Cima siding, at the top of the grade.
In addition to the delightfully slow track speed, there’s a road that parallels the tracks closely between Cima and Kelso, the next “town” west. It’s easy to get carried away and drive too far ahead of the train for the next shot, only to look in your rear view mirror and see a tiny headlight miles behind you.
The bumpy (but luckily paved!) road that runs along the tracks
My Hasselblad was the preferred camera for this part of our trip, and it’s not hard to see why- loaded with Fuji Acros, the desert’s subtle gradations simply come alive. Factor in the brilliant silver paint of the half century-old signals, and you’ve got yourself a perfect recipe for good train pictures. Armed with my 150mm lens, I captured this photo of a faraway approaching train, as it neared Kelso:
signals, code line, and desert
As the train disappeared into the dusky skies of southern California, I photographed it once more, as the DPU at the rear of the train rounded the curve. Framed with the road we’d been traveling all afternoon in hot pursuit, I think this made for the perfect “final frame” of the day. I can’t wait to go back!
blacktop, desert, and a glinty train.
That’s all I can really think when I look back on 2012. Since we last spoke in August, I won a photo contest, I drove across the country, I shot some weddings, I shot a massive six-weekend event in Orange County, and I got a kitten. That’s a lot of stuff! Have a look!
Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s have a great 2013.
In case you want to see how things went last year (rather well, I’d say!), have a look here.
In September, I shot the wedding of my good friend Dave Honan and his beautiful bride Cortney. Since this wedding was just outside Seattle, and since this is my website you’re looking at, it should come as no surprise at all that the decision to drive out there for it was both the easiest and least surprising choice I’ve made in a while. My companion on this trip was the versatile and similarly self-employed Laura, whose stuffed animal business took a back seat to the duties of DeLorme navigator, food choice maker, and assistant wedding photographer.
Among the many things we did on the way there was a trip through some of my favorite terrain on the continent- the area west of Salt Lake City along the former Western Pacific and Southern Pacific lines that eventually meet in Wells, NV to head west through Palisade Canyon. Our mission was pretty specific this time, which stands in stark contrast to my normal western trips that are dictated by a complex math equation involving how many places I can get to if I deprive myself of enough sleep for the three days needed to make it back home before some very pressing engagement. Well, this time I left a full eleven days between departure and the wedding I had to shoot, and this left plenty of time for the foolhardy, but oh so awesome endeavor I’m about to explain.
2012 is Union Pacific’s 150th anniversary. UP, like most modern Class 1s, is extremely conscious of its image to the public, and to that end they maintain a stable of pristine vintage locomotives and passenger cars. This equipment tours the system to celebrate big events, important railroad functions, and sometimes I think they just take it out for fun, because if I ran a railroad, I know that’s what I’d do. Among this sparkling museum-like collection of railroad history is their lone steam engine, 844. It spent most of 2012 going from place to place to help celebrate the railroad’s sesquicentennial, and in late September it departed its homebase of Cheyenne, Wyo for an eventual terminus of Sacramento, CA. This meant we’d be in the same general part of the country as 844, and a plan was born.
West of SLC, but not yet to the lovely oases of Wendover or West Wendover (two distinctly different places, which if you’ve been there, you understand why) is a massive expanse of salt, craggy mountains, and, if you go far enough north from Interstate 80, the western shore of the Great Salt Lake. From a sightseeing perspective, I don’t think there’s much draw, but from a train nerd perspective, there’s a massive reason to brave the nearly thirty mile-long gravel road that winds its way from the off-ramp: SP’s Lucin Cutoff.
Because I’d hate for you to have to leave this page to google what the Lucin Cutoff is, I’ll explain it in a few long sentences: The original transcontinental railroad went from Omaha to the west coast, and its most treacherous, most all-around-pain-in-the-ass, slowest stretch of track happened to be just north of the Great Salt Lake, near Promontory. Remember reading about the Golden Spike in grade school? Well, this is the neck of the woods where that happened. In 1905, the Southern Pacific said “hey, this whole bottleneck north of the lake seems like a real mess, what if we just built a bridge OVER it and then reaped the monetary benefits of shippers using our new, easy way through Utah?” (paraphrased quote, may not be factually accurate) and built a massive, twenty mile-long wooden bridge over the Great Salt Lake, that also nearly bankrupted the railroad. Seriously, think about that: it was 1905, in the middle of a state completely devoid of trees, and they built a gigantic timber bridge over a lake. Awesome. The bridge continued to serve the railroad well into the 1950s, when they began constructing an earthen fill to replace the aging structure. Not quite as cool, but still, this was something I had to see.
844 was slated to depart Ogden on September 22nd, so the idea was to get up to Lakeside and survey the shooting opportunities the afternoon before, and then camp out that night. Here’s the thing about the drive to Lakeside- it’s LONG, and pretty spooky in its overall desolation. The many signs warning you of unexploded ordnance, military exercises in progress, and to “drive at your own risk!” would be enough to scare off most people, but we were on a mission involving trains, so throwing caution (or common sense, whatever) to the wind was imperative.
The roads weren’t bad, for the most part: pea-sized gravel, nicely maintained, it all felt sort of like a really easy rally stage on an old Colin McRae game. That is, until we came to the end of the military installation and passed into Huge Potholetown, Utah, adjacent to Upper Rocky Switchback City. Mind you, I was in my Subaru WRX, a fine vehicle for many things, but getting up a gigantic rocky hill? White knuckles, copious swearing, and a fair amount of luck got us to our vantage point for the next 18 or so hours:
(click all photos to enlarge them)
Here’s the thing about camping a few hundred feet above a lake to the east and a massive dry lakebed to the west: you’re going to have a lot of warning of oncoming trains. I was getting scanner reception for thirty miles in both directions, and were it not for the smoke in the sky from the late-summer forest fires out west, I would have seen trains from just as far away. This was the first time I’d ever experienced anything quite like this, and the fact that we were pretty much the only two people for dozens of miles was a weird feeling. The wind was fierce, especially once the sun had gone down, but considering we were on the highest point in the middle of a flat expanse of land, this was not surprising. The coyotes calling from hilltop to hilltop all night was a bit unnerving, I’m sure they were as interested in us as we were of the passing trains. And the trains were plentiful! From the moment we got there, UP had them running like streetcars all night, to the point that getting out of the car to shoot them all got a bit tedious. Eventually, a fitful sleep came over me after a few hours of some of the most fun night shooting I’ve ever done. Moonlight, stars, and trains twenty miles away- there aren’t a lot of places where you’re going to see that!
The Main Event.
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Morning arrived, eventually, with the sun shrouded by clouds. This wasn’t a massive deal for me since the shot I was going to get of 844 was directly into the morning sun. The freight trains dried up in preparation for this special move, so we were left with some time to make tea and eat a fantastic car trunk breakfast of Triscuits and avocados, which sounds horrid but was really quite good and would keep us full for most of the morning.
Around 8:30, 844 toned up the dispatcher…
…and in a little more than a half an hour, a VERY short train with curious little puffs of smoke following it, slowly crossed the lake in front of us. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this train was completely dwarfed by the lake, even at 300mm it was hilariously small, as you can see:
As per their plans, the train parked itself at Lakeside siding for a half an hour to do routine maintenance. This worked out wonderfully for my purposes, because that happened to be directly below our perch, so many pictures were leisurely snapped while the tool car guys did their thing:
The sound of the idling steam (do steam locomotives idle? I’m a bad railfan for not knowing the proper term) and intermittent whistle blasts reverberated off the walls of the hills and mountains that surrounded the lake’s shore, and the whole area was awash in the glory that is UP 844. Seemingly just as quickly as the train had arrived, though, it was gone, its drivers thundering across the lake’s salt-crusted evaporation ponds, and eventually out of sight. What an experience!
Not gonna lie, I’m having an awesome year so far. I’ve been all over the place, I’ve had some really fun gigs, I’ve met a bunch of really awesome people, I got glasses, and i am taking some REALLY good pictures. Well, at least I think they’re good. I’ve made a little gallery of the first half of 2012 so you can see what I have been up to. Here’s to a strong finish to the year, and hopefully many more photos to put up on this here website!
My professional life and my recreational life are, at times, rather intertwined; I’m someone who loves railroading, and all that goes along with it, and I’ve been fortunate (VERY fortunate) to derive a fair amount of my actual work from that love. Fans of my website will recall some of the work I’ve done with NS, but what I’m going to share with you here is something slightly different- my work with, and for, tourist railroads. The past few years have been wonderful in that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many fascinating people involved with the friendly world of tourist railroading. Here are some of my favorites.
This is Rick. Rick runs the Indiana Railway Museum, in French Lick, IN. He’s also the single hardest working, chicken-with-his-head-cut-off, constantly busy dude I’ve ever met. To show Rick at rest would be a gross misrepresentation of the man, so here he is leaning out of a moving coach in 20º weather during Polar Express, doing what he does best- “putting out fires.”
Close on the heels of Rick in the fictitious contest of “He who does the work of twenty people, while getting less sleep than any of those people,” is Rodney at the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railway, in Romney, WV. Rodney does it all, every weekend the Eagle is open, from driving people around, to running locomotives, to staying up late with me to spot engines for a night shoot, to taking tickets from passengers. He’s a guy who will do anything and everything to keep things running smoothly and safely.
This is Allan, he’s the head guy at TVRM’s shops. I mean “guy” because from what I gathered from talking to him, he’s someone who is in on everything from turning the massive drive wheels to UP’s 844 to welding and fabricating the new firebox for the museum’s own steam engine of renown, Southern 4501. He’s a guy with more stories about more crazy train happenings than anyone I’ve met in the business, and I only hung out with him for a few hours! If you ever have the chance to see the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, check it out- it’s an amazingly run place from top to bottom, and Allan is at the top of that list.
Meet Courtney Wilson. He’s the Executive Director of the B&O Museum in Baltimore. If you want an example of a Guy Who Gets Things Done, look no further. He’s got his finger on the pulse of every bit of the Museum’s operations, and just so you know, the B&O Museum is pretty much the granddaddy of them all- huge collection of one-of-a-kind equipment, second-to-none preservation facilities, and all set in a truly historically significant place. Here he is in the Museum’s shop building.
While in Bryson City, NC I had the opportunity to do some shooting on the Great Smoky Mountains RR for RailEvents, during their Dinosaur Train weekend. Here’s the GSMR’s senior engineer, Eric “Spider” Pittman. I shot this in the cab of their venerable GP-7, during a switching move. Between shoves, Spider had a story for every crossing, curve and wayside building- truly a guy who’s “qualified” on his railroad! He answered my copious questions about the history of the line, the lineage of the motive power, and everything else, and if you’ve met me, you know I ask a LOT of questions!
Last but not least, this is Jesse. I’ve been down to the Potomac Eagle a few times, but it wasn’t until recently that I had the pleasure to meet Jesse. He was a longtime C&O employee, who now runs trains on the weekends for fun in his retirement. He and his wife come to Romney from Eastern Ohio multiple times each summer- she works the ticket office, he runs the shuttle trains, and to spend time with either of them is to know what it means to live life to its fullest. Just make sure Jesse gets a cab with air conditioning, and he’ll tell you stories of railroading as it once was until it’s time to head home for the day. A class act, all the way.
So there you have it. To see a few more photos of train stuff, and train people, check out the gallery below.
2011 was a hell of a year for me – I was published more this year than any year previously, I expanded my commercial business exponentially, and enjoyed some great trips with some great friends in between all that boring business stuff. I also spent a LOT of time shooting film, something I plan on doing even more of in 2012. Hope this was as great a year for you as it was here at louiscapwell.com! Here are some pictures:
Commercial photography is a large part of what makes me such a versatile shooter. Some of that work was recently showcased in this month’s issue of BizNS, Norfolk Southern’s company magazine. In October, Alex Lang and I shot extensively inside NS’s Juniata Shops in scenic Altoona, PA. His shooting, and my lighting, made many of our portrait subjects come alive, and the photos picked to go along with the article are testament not just to the hard work being put in at Juniata day in and day out, but to the fact that railroads are a living, breathing thing, and a vital part of what keeps America moving into the 21st century.
To see the full issue, check out this PDF link:
A wonderful benefit of going to the Center for Railroad Photography and Art’s yearly conference is that it’s a great excuse to go to Chicago, meet up with some friends, and shoot trains. This year, I met up with Mike Johannessen (known for his excellent nighttime pans) and later in the week, Alex Lang, for some travel, excessive Dunkin Donuts consumption, and overall fun.
Every year, Alex and I endeavor to concentrate on one of the many aspects of Chicago railroading – in 2009 we shot extensively in northwestern Indiana, last year we shot one of the two remaining EJ&E “J Ball” units in Joliet, and explored that area’s many great spots. The focus this year was on documenting some of the disappearing searchlight signals on the former CB&Q and ATSF mainlines that point westward from Chicago, and to that end, we were very successful. Signal bridges still stand on both lines, and the trains (at least on the Santa Fe) were plentiful.
This was also the first year that I made an effort to shoot the CTA in downtown Chicago. Mike’s current passions lie very much in the transit-at-night realm of railroading, and it was fun to be swept up into his world for a few days, as we spent two very late nights shooting the L from many vantage points throughout the city.
Here are some photos from my week in Chicago. Enjoy!