Monday, May 15, 2017

Chasing Union Pacific 844: Ogden to Green River

 This is now the Desert Empire Project facebook banner, and for good reason - on one end we have an FEF-2, UP 833, and on the other an FEF-3, UP 844, two classic Union Pacific Northerns in preservation.

In case you haven't followed our recent articles, Jacob covered April 2017's "Boise Turn" from Pocatello Idaho to Ogden Utah in the last post; I took up the baton and followed the 844 on its return journey all the way to Green River, Wyoming. The journey began on Wednesday, April 26th while the 844 was still on display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden. A Union Pacific Engineer's Special was passing through over the ex-D&RGW Soldier Summit route (today's Provo Subdivision) so I had to chase it from Provo to the Red Narrows before heading north to meet up with Jacob and Schon for a Desert Empire Project party (having our four editors spread between four cities and two states means that we usually only coordinate via internet chat).

 I met Schon and Jacob near Salt Lake City so we could drive to Ogden together; waiting for them gave an opportunity to photograph UTA's Trax system.

The reason for being in Ogden on Wednesday was that I, as a director for the Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (the group behind the restoration of D&RGW 223), was invited to the Steam Crew Banquet hosted by the Union Station Foundation to thank Union Pacific for bringing the 844 to Ogden. This is a tradition that stretches back decades, and in fact we have heard from several past and present Steam Team members that Ogden is their favorite place to stop because of the hospitality and friendliness. The banquet was attended by representatives of both government and rail preservation groups, including the Promontory Chapter NRHS, Golden Spike National Historic Site and Dynamic Rail Preservation.

Then it was off to bed - after confirming that the crew would be up and preparing the locomotive at 5:00 am the next morning, I knew that if I wanted to beat the crowds and get some good early-morning shots I needed to be up by 4:00. Seeing the 844 alone, yet alive, in the post-rainstorm night really set the clock back. Replace the crew's reflective jackets with normal overalls and the scene could have been any day at the Junction City in 1955. Once the sun came up the people started pouring in so I hurried to stake out a spot at 26th Street where I hoped the bulk of the crowds would not be. There I met with Mitch Harvey, who is developing a digital simulation of the entire Salt Lake and Evanston Subdivisions of the Union Pacific System for Railworks. He was my copilot and official out-the-window photographer for the trip; this was a good opportunity for him to perform field research for his project. Unfortunately, and perhaps it was because of the lack of sleep, I made several mistakes throughout the day that eventually struck me out from my plan of filming the entire trip.

After watching the 844 leave the Union Station (after minor problems with the electrical system) we raced to Peterson on the other side of Weber Canyon to catch it on the curve just before the highway bridge. I somehow messed up the settings on the video camera and overexposed the image there. It was also there that we realized the sheer magnitude of the crowds that also were chasing as I-84 became a parking lot within minutes of the locomotive passing us. Traffic was stop-and-go all the way to Emory and it was impossible to catch up. Here is an important lesson for photographers - NEVER PACE THE TRAIN ON A FREEWAY. The train was going 15 mph under the speed limit, and both lanes were trying to stay alongside, completely blocking traffic. Those idiots really made a lot of people angry (myself included) and the traffic was held up almost ten miles back until the I-80 junction where most of them jumped ship. Common courtesy is one commodity that is almost always absent from railroad related events.

Two shots of the traffic near Morgan.

Basically, the first four stops that we had carefully planned two weeks in advance were out of the question. Once past Emory the traffic cleared enough for us to arrive at Castle Rock with time to set up and wait as a westbound freight inched its way by before the 844 arrived. The canyon isn't called Echo for nothing, and the sound of the steam locomotive pounding the iron on an upgrade was incredible. Luckily the extra time there gave me the chance to find and fix the exposure problem for the remainder of the day.

This westbound freight entertained us and the dozens of other photographers perched on the edge of the bluff at Castle Rock. Spencer Peterson of was alongside us although we didn't recognize it until after we began posting our individual photos on our respective sites.

The Boise Turn passes the freight at Castle Rock

Then the traffic held us up again, preventing a stop at Wahsatch and forcing us to arrive in Evanston at the same time as the 844. Union Pacific shut down both east and westbound mains for the duration of the 844's half-hour stay there, effectively holding back several freights.

The Evanston yard, with both mains shut down, was flooded with people, many of whom followed the train from Utah.

Mitch and I decided to continue on to find a good spot; after much thought, some confusion, and multiple last-minute decisions, we chose a spot called Leroy, the site of a now-demolished section house. Only the trees planted by the railroad and a small dugout mark the site as having once been inhabited. It was here as well that the wind really picked up, blowing over my tripod which luckily was caught by another photographer who Mitch had met a year ago in Salt Lake City.

From Leroy it was a mad dash down a muddy dirt road to reunite with the interstate and reach Granger before the train, which luckily we did. The gentleman at Leroy advised us to run straight through Granger to the bridge just west of town, which was some of the best advice I have ever received. We had the location all to ourselves as the 844 slowed from track speed to enter the town, where it stayed for another half hour. Unfortunately I set up the tripod on a stack of ties which turned out to be very unstable and with each gust of wind pushed the camera further and further to the side.

The bridge at Granger. Note I was not on the bridge or the track but took this photo from a distance with a zoom lens.

Then on to town to find a sudden and unexpected population explosion as the little town was invaded with people who were there to see it the 844 despite strong winds and alternating hail/snow/rain/sun that hit us every five minutes or so. Granger's existence depends on the junction between the Transcontinental mainline and the ex-Oregon Short Line Pocatello subdivision to Idaho so rail traffic is heavy through there. As temperatures dropped I realized I didn't bring a jacket, so the emergency raincoat was pulled from the back of my car to improvise. Two westbound freights passed through, one of them a Herzog ballast train, while we waited, and then it was on to Green River where the real party began.

 A westbound ballast train approaches Granger

UP 844 highball Granger!

Winds kept getting stronger the further we went until they exceeded 40 mph; when we reached Green River we thought the pedestrian overpass spanning the yard would be a great place to film the train coming in, but the wind was strong enough to sway the bridge enough to cause nausea and vertigo. In addition, a long line of freights and intermodal trains were backed up in the yard so the 844 was held for hours as one westbound after another pulled out.

The 844 was held here for several hours while westbound freights poured through Green River. Dozens of people were crowded on the pedestrian overpass waiting for it to move which it never did.

 A yard job passes under the overpass. Extremely strong winds caused the bridge to sway back and forth, yet this tenacious crowd stuck to it for hours despite the 844's lack of activity during that time.

One of many freights that passed through while waiting for the 844.

After waiting for more than two hours we decided to head back to Ogden, where we caught one more freight in Echo Canyon before parting ways for the day.

This was a great chase. Upon returning to Utah, several friends remarked that we were crazy for going all the way to Green River. In a way we are, I guess. You need to be crazy to devote so much time and effort into following a steam locomotive.

You can watch the video from this trip here:

And my video from the last time UP 844 passed through Utah here:


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Union Pacific 844, April 2017: Pocatello to Ogden

UP 844 Rests on Track 1 at the Ogden Union Station on April 25, 2017; finishing a trip which had it trek across southern Idaho and northern Utah during the day.

When Union Pacific 844 was restored to operation in 2016 many of us in Utah were excited for the prospect that in the coming months the "Living Legend" would visit us in the Beehive State. Early 2017 brought rumors that the 844 would trek west again in a Wyoming-Idaho-Utah tour which would take it through some of the most scenic areas of the Great Basin, including the rare sight of seeing the steamer trekking down the Ogden Subdivision, a stretch of track which runs between McCammon, Idaho, and Ogden, Utah. 

Immediately we began talking about how the Desert Empire Project would cover this trip and I was excited for the chance to follow the 844 down from Idaho into Utah, returning to an area I hadn't been to in over a year. Monday, midday April 24th, my Dad and I left Salt Lake City in my Dad's truck and headed due north, bound for Pocatello. The chance for a road trip was very much an opportunity for me to relax a bit amidst the stresses of the final weeks of the school semester, and for my Dad to celebrate his coming birthday. After copious amounts of candy, soda, and even a quick stop at the quirky surplus store Smith and Edwards (where I found and bought a cool Western Pacific Railroad pin); we finally arrived in Pocatello where 844 was waiting.

April 24, 2017; having just arrived in Pocatello shortly before us the Union Pacific steam crew was hard at work preparing the 844 for another journey the following morning. The diesel helper which had been with the engine from Pocatello to Boise and back, had been cut out; and the steam crew brought in fuel and water to feed the voracious appetite of a large steam engine.

A Union Pacific steam crew member stands in the open doorway of the Art Lockman support car, staring at the gathered crowd in Pocatello.

UP 6961 which had served as the helper unit on 844's train from Pocatello to Boise the weekend prior, slowly slinks away from the steam special leaving the steam engine to take its coming trip into Ogden by itself. The aged and weathered diesel drew the ire of many Idaho based railfans who thought it seemed a poor working partner for the clean and shiny 844 and passenger cars.

Speaking of clean; UP 844 really was shining when we found it in Pocatello. The last time I saw 844 in 2011 was after it made a massive trek across the southwest through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. By the time it had reached Utah dust and grime made it look worn and tired. In comparison the short jaunt across Idaho and Wyoming meant the 844 had little time to accumulate road grime and it was looking mighty fine! The rain showers probably also helped keep it clean too. The clean exterior also bore testament to the thorough restoration job the steam crew had performed on the engine in the years prior. 

The steam crew gathers at the drivers of UP 844 preparing to grease the running gear. Another crew is working the running gear on the opposite end of the engine.

I would like to comment on the sense of order Union Pacific was able to bring to the crowds surrounding 844 in both Pocatello and Ogden. Steam trains can sometimes lead to trackside stupidity as bystanders put themselves into risky situations. The display area chosen for 844 in Pocatello was isolated from the mainline on a relatively little used spur. Railroad police, private event security, M.O.W. workers and the steam crew all stood on standby. In Pocatello as soon as the blue flags went up and the blocks were placed under the rails; people were allowed to walk up to the engine, take photos of it from in front, and get close to the Living Legend. It was a jovial feeling with the added security of the railroad insuring things went well on their property. We felt like invited guests, and UP played the part of gracious host very well.

My Dad was excited to find the fuel truck used for the 844 had his name on it! ;)

A westbound manifest departs Pocatello on the mainline, while two railroad police officers stand guard to ensure the visiting steam engine crowds do not cross into the mainline tracks.

Itchy and Scratchy roll by on the manifest freight!

In-between the rainy downpours of the day, bright splotches of sun illuminated the passing trains, such as the two DPU units on the manifest freight engine.

"Work never stops on a steam engine" as crew members continue attending to the drive rods while the 844 is resting in Pocatello.

A modest crowd of onlookers gathered around the engine in admiration and awe. A steam engine feels like a living being in many ways, snorting and hissing even while at rest.

After checking into our hotel room my Dad and I stopped again at 844's Pocatello resting spot. The fires had been dropped for the night, but the engine sat like a Thermos; warm and hot to be ready for the coming day's work. With the maintenance work stopped, we used the opportunity to get closer to the engine and admire it at rest. We left shortly afterwords for a game of laser tag and a late dinner, then we went off to our hotel. I slept very restlessly that night, much like a kid waiting for Santa on Christmas eve, the following day would be the main attraction; getting to watch this beautiful engine roll across the Ogden Subdivision!

Man when will I get an opportunity like this again to take selfies in front of the pilot of a live mainline steam engine?

My Dad snapped this picture of me admiring the tender and cab of 844. It should be worth noting that due to safety photos like this on live rail equipment are rarely recommended. As previously mentioned, the watchful supervision of the UP Police and other private security allowing the crowds to do this is an exception to the rule; not the norm!

Custom Union Pacific shield shaped valve plates on the 844.

An early morning alarm at 6:30 am, and we started our Tuesday back where the previous day ended; on the lone spur in Pocatello where 844 was at rest. At 8:00 am with Steam Chief Ed Dickens at the helm, the shrill whistle blowed and the engine in reverse began to back out of the stub track and onto the mainline. The crowd was ecstatic, and a chain of cars began to follow the engine as it crawled out of the city and into the country side.

A cloud of white vapor envelops the 844 as it reverses out of the yard lead, and onto the mainline.

Trekking through the yard was slow, the 844 crawling along until it could highball on the mainline outside of the city. One of the highlights of this trip was seeing the large amount of older signals on the route from Pocatello to Ogden. Many of the other busy mainlines are being modified with LED signals and PTC control, but the Ogden Subdivision is still ruled by classic target signals and controlling not very different from the technology in place when UP 844 was new to the railroad.

UP 844 is already picking up speed as it runs out of the city.

To be honest, I was caught by surprise with the intensity of the chase to follow the 844. The engine made good speed, often faster than the cars that followed it like ants in a line. I did miss a few of the photo locations I wanted to catch the engine at; although for most of the journey we could usually see the engine up ahead of us in the distance. We found our next spots to photograph the engine in McCammon, Idaho; where we met a few other railfans such as Adam Pinales, and Dale and Karyn Angell. 

 Gray overcast met the engine in McCammon. Crowds of school children, many of whose classrooms were located near the track; had greeted the 844 only minutes earlier; before it arrived at the spot the railfans were waiting.

"The Chase" was an experience of both wonder and frustration, as seen here with 844 blowing through Red Rock Pass. Frustration in the feeling of never being able to quite catch up to the steaming engine. Wonder in the amazing sight of vintage passenger equipment rolling along a green countryside with plumes of steam ascending from the engine up front.

It wasn't long until UP 844 left Idaho and crossed the Utah state line (after passing a waiting manifest freight south of Swan Lake, Idaho). At Cornish, my Dad and I waited at the very first grade crossing south of the state line and watched the Living Legend cross the Emerald State and Beehive State boundaries. A massive mob had descended in anticipation at Cache Junction; where crowds of locals greeted the engine. Steam engines make many who are not a railfan come out and enjoy them, their allure attracting young and old alike.

Having just left Idaho a minute ago, UP 844 blasts past the first grade crossing in northern Utah on its route to Ogden.

Looking over my Dad's window to the distance or looking at the road ahead showed the same thing; the spectacular image of hundreds of cars descending on Cache Junction to meet the 844. This small hamlet of a few homes seemed extremely busy as people rushed to get a chance to see the living legend.

Our next stop was below Cutler Reservoir where the tracks rise above the river bed, passing through two bridges joined by a tunnel. The steam train crawled at slow speed into the canyon, and the whistles bounced off the rock walls mingling with the roaring of the river below the dam. Rhythmic chuffs permeated the air as the engine made a spectacular display crossing the high bridges. A few of the railfans present with us at Cutler were Ben Kuhns, Adam Pinales again, and Parker and Garrett Christensen. Kent Bankhead and Mitch Harv were also at points further west in Wheelon and Collintson. For us, it seemed we had the best seat in the house, as the engine made its spectacular crossing above our heads.

 Parker, Garrett and Adam; admire the scenery while preparing a drone to gain a higher vantage point of this awesome area.

Nothing short of spectacular could describe the stunning awe of seeing steam crawl through this scenic canyon!

As we followed along Highway 89, we watched 844 make its approach into Brigham City passing all the small farming towns nearby on the way. We set up our next opportunity to see the engine in Ogden, where it arrived 20 minutes after we did. Mitch Harv and Jacob Morgan were also there to great the engine; and indeed it had felt that during our jaunt across Utah we had ran into many of the active railfans in the state. 844 arrived to a massive crowd, and as it came to rest in the station platform it was as if the glory days of the station had returned; as the busy crowed bused in and around the train. It was a spectacular finale to a stunning day, one which I do not want to ever forget!

Then vs. now? The UTA Frontrunner flies past the station, almost as a reminder of how the modern age of railroading compares to the gilded age 844 comes from.

The masses gathered in full force to watch 844 make its entrance to the Union Station!

UP 844 chuffs along the Ogden Yard at steam as it approaches the station.

With the train in reverse, the steam crew stood guard watching the track ahead.

Like a wake behind a boat, the crowd follows after the 844 as it enters the grand station platforms. Alongside the 844 are its historic brethren of the past, such as UP 26 a Gas Turbine, and UP 833 a FEF-2 which predated the 844 by a few years.

Railfan Dale Angell takes a break from filming footage for his YouTube channel "Toy Man Television" by chatting with a passerby.

UP 833 stands at the far end of the Eccles Rail Center, while in the distance its sister 844 hisses amidst a large crowd.

The face of 844, at rest in Ogden where it will stay two nights until it departs April 27th along the famous Echo Canyon route (Evanston Subdivision)! Two American flags flank the ears of the engine.

This has been a spectacularly fun adventure. I had a blast chasing the 844 across the area, and I am sure my Dad enjoyed it too! It was a blast seeing so many fellow railfans, and I am excited to see what the coming days bring as UP 844 continues its trek through a slice of Utah! We got some ideas as part of the Desert Empire Project on how to cover the rest of the 844 trip in our state, so stay tuned! Until next time.

-Jacob Lyman