Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Making History on the Nevada Northern Railway

History books claim that the last letter to be cancelled in a Railway Post Office was on September 30, 1978. After that, all mail was moved by truck and plane and the railroad contracts cancelled. Today, RPO postmarks are valuable among collectors, within and without railway circles.

But wait, what is this? This letter was postmarked September 3, 2016...in an RPO car! So are the books wrong?


Sort of. The Nevada Northern is known for the high quality of its preservation and interpretation efforts, and partnering with the U.S. Postal Service, opens RPO-baggage car number 20 as a functioning Railway Post Office. Postal employees set up their equipment and process letters that can be sent out or kept as souvenirs. The car didn't move the last time this took place this year's Labor Day weekend, so mail wasn't technically shipped by rail, but it was an actual RPO cancellation performed by the Postal Service in an RPO car.

Conductor and brakeman shoot the breeze next to the soon-to-depart Steptoe Valley Flyer, which uses the original wood-frame coach and RPO-baggage combination car from the early days of the railroad. Just inside the half-open RPO door can be seen the Postal Service employee working the cancellation seal.
This was only a small part of the events of Labor Day Weekend. In addition to the normally scheduled trains, Nevada Northern number 40 was rented as part of their "engineer for a day" program, vintage vehicles were displayed in the parking lot, and on Sunday the steam crane, Wrecker "A", was demonstrated to an enthralled crowd that included several European tourists. This was the sole reason why I packed my car on Friday on a whim and drove out to Ely on Highway 50, the loneliest road in America, with practically no planning. Work schedules had changed, freeing up the weekend, and at the last minute I found out about the crane and had to go.

Lonely? That's an understatement. This was the view that greeted me after an hour of driving since the last exit with services and another hour ahead of me to the next.
First night was spent camped just off the road south of Lynndyl, Utah, on the Union Pacific's Sharp Subdivision. Dozens of trains pass on this track between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City at night, so I only got a few hours of fitful sleep between the departure of the LUL58 from the Intermountain Power plant nearby and the passing of fast intermodal stack trains. The next morning, forgetting the existence of time zones, I arrived in Ely in time to catch and chase an early-morning light run of locomotive 40 to the Keystone mine and back. The bad news: my first battery died five minutes into the chase, and I didn't take my charger.

Steel paths, converging at the sunrise. The Lynndyl Subdivision was built as the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad ("the Arrowhead Route"). A few miles to the north it converges with the Sharp Sub, a remnant of the Utah Southern Railroad that later merged with the Oregon Short Line.


The number 40 emerges from the tunnel on her way back to Ely. The locomotive ran light from Ely to Keystone Wye as part of the NN's "engineer for the day" locomotive rental.


I spent the remainder of Saturday and Sunday trying to conserve battery to be able to film the crane demonstration. Luckily it worked out, but it was stressful watching that blinking battery icon Sunday morning. Regardless, a tour of the enginehouse was in line, I met the roundhouse cat affectionately named Dirt (ever self-respecting engine facility needs a cat, even Golden Spike National Historic Site has one!), saw the other Alco under restoration (rumored to be operational this December) and inquired about the replica 1960s hirailer that the railroad is building (it was in Reno stripped down to the frame). Then to get my envelope stamped; Mark Bassett, the railroad's director, was in line with me with an armful of papers, postcards and letters to be cancelled in the car.


This old mail truck is usually stored out of sight, but was displayed at the depot to represent the transfer of mail from Cobre (the Southern Pacific interchange) and Shafter (the Western Pacific interchange) from train to truck to be delivered in town. After the RPO left on the Steptoe Valley Flyer the truck was put away again.

The Steptoe Valley Flyer turning on the wye at Keystone. The stark beauty of this empty high-desert environment makes the perfect backdrop for the historic train.
 
After chasing the Steptoe Valley Flyer, night two was spent at Garnet Hill, in the mountains between Ely and Keystone. I wasn't able to find any garnet despite what the tourist guide I picked up in Ely told me, but it did offer an excellent view of the Keystone mine. Then, driving into Ely early in the morning, I watched the first train of the day head out, then set up to record the crane while one of the NN's two Alco diesels rambled around the yard. To add to the wonderful historical ambience, the 40 wandered around a bit too making up the afternoon train, its whistling and chuffing making the Nevada Northern a true immersive experience (it helped that I happened to be wearing my 1915 getup; every once in a while it's necessary to railfan in style, especially when style means a vest and bowler hat).


The crane itself was surprisingly quiet. Boiling water doesn't make much noise, and without a constantly idling internal combustion engine, the machine only made noise when moving, and even then not very much. It was loudest when raising and lowering the boom. Wrecker A was built by Industrial Works in 1907 as construction number 1789. Steam is provided by a vertical boiler situated to the rear of the cab, which in itself acts as part of the counterweight. I have often looked at the nearly identical crane on display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden (120-tons, construction number 2125) and wondered what it would have sounded like in operation. Now I know!


Long story short, I got my video, 16 of the 35 minutes that I watched the crane before heading out to make it back home before nightfall. The railway put on a show, the staff was friendly, and I was already planning my next trip before I even left Ely city limits Sunday afternoon. A few years ago the railroad had a publicity campaign announcing that "This Place Matters," and they were right.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Ghost Rail-Fanning the Tooele Valley



May 31, 2016; the Tooele Valley Railroad Musuem has some of the last intact segments of the Tooele Valley Railway. For example this segment in place to display artifacts such as steam engine #11.
The current display location is near where the engine's retirement ceremony was held on May 20, 1963. The engine was built in 1910, and operated into the beginning of the space age, until stricter boiler standards finally forced its retirement. When retired, #11 earned itself the title of "The Last Steam Locomotive to operate in Revenue Freight Service in Utah." The only way I can ever see it losing that title is if UP decides to plop the Big Boy onto a Z-Train (just kidding...) The somber moment is preserved in the archives of the Tooele Pioneer Museum: http://www.tooelepioneermuseum.org/gallery-museum-photos.html
And for those looking to see what this steamer looked like in action, a silent home video of it in action has shown up on Facebook: 

Ghost Rail-Fanning seems to be a natural extension of the rail enthusiast hobby. As fun and awesome as it is to watch a 100+ car long Z-train barrel down the mainline at full speed with a trio of diesel's on the helm; much of the history of railroading is buried in lost fields, rusting and vanishing into the natural landscape. Ghost Rail-Fanning is the part of the hobby where we leave behind active rail tracks, and seek the unknown, hidden away in rural areas, or placed in plain sight in dense urban areas. Rather than seeking out active trains, the Ghost Rail-Fan wants to discover history; and see it for himself (although sometimes abandoned rails are just a stone throw away from active ones!). It is also a great reason to get out some hiking shoes, and discover the beauties of nature that exist where trains once ran.

I have already expressed my fascination with the Tooele Valley Railway. The railroad itself shuttered in the early 1980's; its track swiftly dismantled and its right of way gradually restored over the years. I was born in the mid 1990's, a decade and a half too late to have witnessed my "hometown railroad" in action. Thankfully the prudent and dedicated actions of volunteers has preserved this history in a local museum. Even as a Thomas the Tank Engine loving toddler, that local museum became a place of wonder and awe.  #11 in a way had become (has become?) what I consider to be my engine. Sure, its not like I own the thing, but as a kid there is something fascinating about sitting in the engineer's seat and looking out the windows and staring at the controls of such a beast. I still remember as a teenager the time I met Larry Deppe at the museum (Professor Emeritus and author of the Tooele Valley Railway segment in Mining, Smelting, and Railroading in Tooele County). He walked me into the cab and began to show me the functions of the engine, that after 50+ years of outdoors display, could still work. When I made my first railfan trip with a driver's license in hand, I drove down to the west side of Tooele where Warner Station once stood, the place that once was the meeting place between the Tooele Valley, the Union Pacific, and the Western Pacific (at the time a mysterious railroad I was just beginning to learn about too). After an hour or two of uneventful waiting, I was about ready to give up hope of seeing anything interest when this beauty showed up: 

March 19, 2010; Pretty good catch with just dumb luck ain't it? The railyard in the foreground was once the UP interchange track with the Tooele Valley Railway.

In retrospect the photos weren't great, but the memory still is. My first shot at railfanning by dumb luck resulted in catching heritage passenger cars on an executive special. With it, the allure of railfanning was cemented into my brain and body along with it was the image of the UP, WP, and the Tooele Valley Railway all coming together at Warner Station, as if it were all part of some forgotten story. My journey as a railfan who both chased trains and also searched the ground for hidden history, had begun.

August 10, 2016; when Union Pacific was running Family Days/Operation Lifesaver specials in Utah this year, I purposefully went to see it one day where Warner Station once stood on the west side of Tooele; both to relive the memories of my trip here six years earlier, and to also imagine what it was like when this spot was once home to a passenger station. The location I am standing on is approximately where a wye once stood connecting the Tooele Valley Railway into the Union Pacific (originally the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad)


As my interest and knowledge of railroads increased, so did my desire to understand the history of the Tooele Valley Railway. Incidentally as I investigated history further, I ended up traversing nearly the entire grade of the line in different segments and trips. A Boy Scout master took my troop when I was a teenager over the parts of the line east of Tooele's golf course, through what the railroad called "The Big Curve" and up to the edge of the Carr Fork Reclamation Area. In my spare time I have broken out my hiking shoes again, and have trekked over other hidden gems in the Carr Fork Reclamation Area, trying to imagine when the landscape was dominated by a massive, loud, and polluting International Smelter. I felt a vested interest in the subject, as my maternal grandfather worked brief jobs at the International Smelter, and my paternal grandfather would work at the brief lived Carr Fork Mine which succeeded it. 

July 13, 2016; the Tooele Valley Railway's abandoned fill over the mouth of Middle Canyon is easily accessible from the Oquirrh Hills Golf Course, and has been preserved to commemorate the railroad.
This view of the International Smelter complex from ca. 1920 is only a fraction of the massive complex. Copper and lead were the primary products of the Smelter. This photo has been preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ut0100.photos.158505p/

The modern view in the same vicinity on June 21, 2016; shows how modern environmental reclamation can transform the complete look of a historical location. Even though the EPA has capped the area to prevent further contamination, a quick look reveals broken bricks, glass, and metal wires in the ground; still testifying to the history that once happened here. This photo was taken near the location of the railway's engine house.

These Ghost Rail-Fan trips have resulted in sun burn, and tiredness; but often end in enlightenment. Sometimes I feel like I find true treasures hidden up in the hills, evidence that the history which occurred before I was born is indeed true, and it's veracity is verified by what nature has hidden itself.

While popular memories of the Tooele Valley Railway focus on the steam powered mainline, a full record would be amiss to not admit the use of electric powered switch engines which transferred materials from one building to the next. The history of these little machines is not well registered sadly, but fortunately the Library of Congress's archives provide a small look at them: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ut0104.photos.158520p/

June 21, 2016; the yards of the Tooele Valley Railway followed a terraced grade in the mountain side. This curve was once part of the upper rail yard in the smelter complex. The track is long gone, but the grade is still completely intact. I do not know which parts of the yards were served by the road engines, and which parts were served by the electric switchers, but the mystery helps to drive further inquires and searches.

Of course searching the grades of abandoned railroads can yield many surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise possible is entering an area were one thinks nothing remains, only to discover that something does remain. That has happened to me quite a few times while traveling the Tooele Valley grade, and it has yielded many surprises for me! 

As the crow flies, the operations of the famed Bingham Canyon mines and the smelting at Tooele were only a short distance apart. But the Oquirrh Mountains stand like a barrier between the two sites. While the Tooele Valley Railway hauled ores from off site locations and shipped finished product; the Highland Boy tramway was the main manner of shipping ores out of Bingham and into Tooele. The option of taking the railroad (over the DRGW routes from Bingham, interchanging through the WP or UP, and then finally into Tooele) would have taken more time compared to this direct method. I was really happy to discover the standing tram towers on my June 21 trek though the old smelter site. Photos of the tramway in use during it's heyday can be found here: https://donstrack.smugmug.com/UtahRails/Bingham-Canyon/Aerial-Tramways/

My June 21 trek also provided me a closer look at the Carr Fork Mine site where my paternal grandfather worked. Built by Anaconda in a move to increase production, after a socialist president in Chile seized Anaconda's Chilean mines; the Carr Fork Mine never became the source of prosperity Anaconda (or it's successor ARCO) was hoping for. The site is now owned by Rio Tinto-Kennecott, and is kept in place as a possible future method of extracting ores in the area, although it has been over 30 years since the site last operated. A keen eye will spot the Anaconda logo, still emblazoned on the tower.

Febuary 7, 2016, I visited Warner Utah again and discovered this abandoned foundation. A bit of asking around and researching revealed this was one of three fuel dealers trackside along the Tooele Valley Railway. These businesses would take coal or oil shipments by rail, and sell the product to the community. 



One of my favorite discoveries in the hills was this small remnant of the remote Elton Tunnel branch of the Tooele Valley Railway that is still in place. I returned to visit it on March 20, 2016, to check on the site, and noticed that this is a rather intact switch frog here in the ground! The second photo shows the 1937 opening of the Elton Tunnel. Planned to be a link between the mines on the east side of the Oquirrh's with the Tooele Smelter; the fortune it hoped to attract never materialized. Photo available as part of the Tooele Pioneer Musuem Archives: http://www.tooelepioneermuseum.org/gallery-museum-photos.html

I consider Ghost Rail-Fanning to be the best form of personally researching a lost railroad subject. While I cannot go back in time to railfan these lines myself, I can walk their grades and discover the lost and hidden secrets hiding in plain site. Historical books and photos take on new meaning, as I get the chance to walk in the spots where it had happened. By visiting these lost sites, we can relive history; and the only equipment we need is a good pair of shoes, some water, and a camera! So go get trekking!

-Jacob Lyman

The Challenges of the Digital Age when Nature Strikes


A UTA Frontrunner train pulls into the Ogden station in March 2016. In the September 22 storm, the Ogden area was hit hardest, with a tornado touching down in Washington Terrace, resulting in delays and damages to the Frontrunner rail system.
It's no question that practically every process in existence today involves some form of electronics to operate. Everything from automobiles to apple peelers have some sort of chip in them. The benefits to this are obvious; we can accomplish things safer, easier, and more efficiently with the help of digital programming. However, the complexities and frailties of the digital age raise their ugly heads at the least opportune moment, and especially when their functionality are needed the most.

Yesterday, Thursday 22 September 2016, an unusually strong storm raged across Ogden heading south towards Salt Lake City, which included high winds, intense rain, golf-ball sized hail, and even a tornado (a very, very rare occurrence in a mountainous state where drought and earthquakes are the biggest natural dangers). 7,200 homes were put without power, and that number does not include the number of business and industrial structures without electricity.

The power outage wreaked havoc on Utah's public transit system. Since grade crossings, signals and crossovers on UTA's Frontrunner rail system are all electronically controlled, a power outage means that the system cannot function properly. UTA has backup generators at strategic points on its system, but this case showed that these were not enough. Even where generators were up and running, crossing gates continued to malfunction and Maintenance of Way crews covered the line through the night on emergency overnight shifts to isolate and repair the problems. Even then, when services reopened on the morning of the 23rd, the trains still could not operate at maximum efficiency.

UTA's tweets regarding Frontrunner Service after the storm on September 22.

For example, the 6000 South crossing in Roy and the Jordan Gateway crossing in Salt Lake City were restricted to 15 mph, far below the 40-60 mph that the trains normally average running through the urban portions of the system. Problems with the Tesoro Crossovers, which allow switching access to the oil refineries on the north end of the city, required a restricted speed of less than 20 mph between 1700 North and 700 South within the city, a distance of almost 4 miles encompassing the two busiest stations, North Temple and Salt Lake Central.

While this is sure to have caused serious frustration to many commuters, it is a good thing that these issues are coming to light now and not during a more deadly disaster. Hopefully this incident will allow UTA to improve the physical aspect of its emergency preparations to avoid future issues. Naturally some disasters cannot be prevented nor prepared for, but it is important to do everything possible to minimize future damage and delay.

By 12:20 pm on September 23 all Frontrunner services were on time again, thanks to the efforts of UTA crews. Response was immediate and repairs made quickly, a testament to the work of its employees.

The interesting thing about this process was that things really started going wrong at 3 am, more than 9 hours after the storm had passed. Generators had power at the Layton and Clearfield stations before 11 pm Thursday, and the MOW crews thought they had things under control until early Friday morning as signals began showing occupied blocks where there there were no trains, switches weren't responding and crossing gates remained unworkable. Once new crews were brought in after 7:00 work proceeded quickly, and as UTA's Twitter account announced, full service was restored a little after noon.

This is not the first time UTA has been affected by severe weather. A few years ago an intense windstorm collapsed the pedestrian overpass at the Farmington station. However, this is the first time that a storm has caused comparable damage to the system to result in so many service delays.


You can read about the tornado HERE.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Abolishment of Railroad Heritage



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As Salt Lake City looms in the background, the MWCNP-15 is seen navigating into North Yard.  The train's power consists of a Union Pacific ES44AC, a Kansas City Southern ES44AC, and two Southern Pacific AC4400CWs.  A scene like this is becoming ever more rare, as the SP motors pictured are being rapidly repainted.
North Yard/ Salt Lake City, Utah
Utah was once a state that was rich with diverse railroads and equipment.  But as the seven First Class railroads progress into the 21st century, they have an underlined ambition to dispose of their predecessors' mark with their own brand.  Why are railroads determined to get rid of their history? How are the railroads getting rid of it? Are the Heritage Units successful as preserving that heritage?

Before we talk about the present, let's discuss the past.  The merger movement in the railroad industry originated in 1838, when the Wilmington & Susquehana merged with the  Baltimore & Port Deposit to create the first regularly operating railroad, the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore railroad.  Although the merger itself wasn't of great significance, but it would trigger combinations of various kinds as an integral part of the nation's booming railroad network which continued up until the late 1990.

We will start with the early 1980s, which will concentrate on the six primary Class I railroads that have helped make up the modern Union Pacific system, those railroads include:
  • Denver & Rio Grande Western
  • Western Pacific
  • Southern Pacific
  • Missouri Pacific
  • Missouri-Kansas-Texas
  • Chicago & North Western
These six railroads have had mixed histories of rather being diminished completely, or have managed to survive in the sea of the Armour Yellow roster.

It begs the question for why these railroads merged, for both the Missouri Pacific in 1982 and the Western Pacific in 1983, it was for a simple combination of entities within corporations.  Just a few years later, the flailing MKT was desperate for a trading partner and happily obliged when MoPac/UP offered to purchase the company in 1989.  Within a few years, any evidence of either railroad was scrubbed completely off the locomotive fleet, with some structures still carrying the heritage.  Unfortunately, when the UP merged with the WP, it was DRGW's primary trading partner.  The merger left the Grande in limbo, who was forced to combine with the financially unstable Southern Pacific in 1989.  As a common note of confusion, the DRGW bought the SP as Rio Grande Industries but retained the name of the SP, because it was more well-known.  Between the period of 1989 and 1996, most equipment was left in the DRGW paint with a few exceptions.  Following the acquisition of the Chicago & North Western (CNW) in 1995 and the SP just one year later, the foundation was set for the modern Union Pacific system.  Following the merger, the mega railroad had excess locomotives, primarily favoring their own over the predecessor schemes of the SP, CNW and DRGW.  The primary target for the repaint booth was DRGW, who saw a dramatic loss in motive power entering the 21st century.  By 2005, most unpainted locomotives carried a "Patch", usually characterized by a cover up of the previous logo and a yellow cab numberboard (below the windows) with red lettering, signifying of Union Pacific ownership.  
This is what is typically characterized as a "Patch" on the Union Pacific.  It is identified by the yellow banner with red numbering found below the engineer/ conductor windows on heritage equipment.  Occasionally the (optional) logo on the nose of the select locomotive will be removed and replaced with a Union Pacific Shield logo.  UP 6236 pictured above began service as SP 257.
Riverdale/ Ogden, Utah
In 2008, the last surviving (unpatched) member of the DRGW (under UP ownership), an SD40T-2 No. 5371, was proudly donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden, Utah.  From there, repaints were done on an "as needed" basis, usually resulting of when a locomotive comes in for rebuild.  Following the decline in rail traffic, linked to the drop in coal and other types of traffic, the patches then gave way to a mass pickup of speed with the repainting shop in North Little Rock, Arkansas.  From that exponential drop in traffic, locomotives across the UP fleet have been put into long-term storage all over the system.
Denver & Rio Grande Western 5371 has seen its share of a wild life.  Built in  August of  1975, the locomotive survived two mergers (first with the SP, then the UP) and stayed in operation until it was retired and donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum.  The fella pictured at the bottom left seems rather puzzled that a young railfan would have such interest in the old clunker.
Ogden, Utah
Up until recently, SP343, CNW 8646 and CNW 8701 were the last surviving unpatched locomotives on the Union Pacific roster.  That was until July 29th, 2016, just under 50 days until the 20th anniversary of the SP/UP merger, SP 343, an AC4400CW, was repainted and renumbered as 6308, while the CNW "Twins" sat in storage at the Illinois Railroad Museum.
SP 343 was the last unpatched SP locomotive on the Union Pacific roster.  My last visual of this special unit was at North Yard as 4th trail on the same train pictured above.  Just a few months later, it would be stripped of its former identity in favor of Armour Yellow and the number UP 6308.
North Yard/ Salt Lake City, Utah

There were several things that hit me hard following the sudden disappearance of these dependable machines, by the likes of which have stood the test of time.  What was the sudden hurry for these repaints? Answer, progress.  Railroads look to progress into the future with their current business model, for what will appear consistent and complete to a onlooking stockbroker/ investor.  As the modern railroads invest in new motive power that meets the latest emissions standards; older locomotives, several of which come of previous heritage, are rather sent back to the manufacturer per warranty, or sidelined for a hope of increased traffic in the future.  But in the meantime, NLR still continues to repaint former SP, CNW and SSW locomotives into Armour Yellow.  As of this writing, the CNW "Twins" are still stationed at IRM, with suspicions of being donated.
To a new railfan, they might never know that of these two freshly repainted Armour Yellow locomotive, one of them predates the other by a decade.  UP 6222's previous service life came as Southern Pacific 75.  The locomotive had been previously patched a few years earlier, but due to the increased efforts of the paint booth located in North Little Rock, Arkansas, previous heritage locomotives like this are quickly disappearing from the Union Pacific roster.
North Yard/ Salt Lake City, Utah

If you are looking for evidence of times gone by, there are:
  • 140 patched SP AC4400CWs
  • 17 patched CNW AC4400CWs
  • 12 patched SP GP60s
  • 9 patched SSW GP60s
  • 3 patched SP GP40-2s
  • 1 patched DRGW GP60
This number is depressingly going down by the day, with no expectation in the future of it stopping.

Now that we've talked about the decimation of these cultures, what is Union Pacific doing about these diminishing figures?  As most railfans know, Heritage Units.  In 2005, with the introduction of Electro-Motive Division's SD70ACe, Union Pacific specially painted and numbered 6 units to honor the primary class I railroads mentioned above.  The "Fabulous 6" were dressed in fictional, or "Fantasy", paints of their select railroad, and were used as public relations tools on UP's 'Heritage Fleet' as an addition to their 4-8-4 steam locomotive No. 844, their DDA40X No. 6936, and their 'Challenger' class steam locomotive No. 3985.  These "Heritage Units" both served as a splash of color for the UP, but also served as protection for the predecessor railroad copyright and trademarks.  Since the idea with UP sparked in 2005, three other railroads have caught on with their own heritage units.  In 2011 Amtrak unveiled 6 locomotives in 4 different heritage Amtrak schemes for its 40th anniversary.  A year later NS unveiled 22 heritage locomotives with schemes created by railroad artist Andrew Fletcher.  Then in 2015, CSX revealed locomotives with heritage emblem stickers on the noses of the units.
Union Pacific 1996 serves as the Southern Pacific heritage unit.  The fantasy paint scheme it's modeled after is a combination of SP's "Black Widow" and "Daylight" schemes.  On the nose of the locomotive, a "Southern Pacific Lines" logo is featured on the short hood (nose) of the locomotive.
Salt Lake City, Utah

So do these paints honor or disrespect the heritage of the railroad they are attempting to represent?  That is a personal answer.  But here is some food for thought, and where I leave this post at.  While the Heritage ACes put on a show in the foreground, little attention is shed on the true stars in the background.

- Schon N.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

BNSF, the Utah Railway, and the Railfan Joys from Anti-Trust laws.

August 9, 2016; five BNSF locomotives stand at the ready facing south in Provo Yard.

Today has been a bit busy on this blog, and depending on when I finally finish this post it might be one of several posts from the different contributors today. As nice as it would be to wait a bit to write another post later this week, my schedule means today is the only day I have time to write anything on here until Saturday. 

Also thinking of different subjects I could perhaps provide insight into, I was met with a myriad of ideas. My longterm goal is to get a nice post (or series) talking about my hometown Tooele Valley Railway, but I want time to polish my ideas before I publish info on a subject I find so endearing. I have also considered a few other ideas, but I just need time to find the info and take photos for those subjects.

Fortunately I decided the subject of the unique relation between the Utah Railway and BNSF is something I have learned and witnessed  a lot of over the past few months. My move from Logan to Salt Lake has meant I am finally within the territory that BNSF and Utah Railway serve. I actually wasn't able to get great photos of the BNSF until recently with this move. While both Schon and Josh are probably a bit more familiar with these trains than I am due to their locations, I hope that my bit of insight will help those curious as to how BNSF operates in Utah; and could perhaps be used as a spring board for future posts from either myself or them.

One of my first photographs of the BNSF was taken on July 30, 2011 in Nevada somewhere paralleling Interstate 80 while on a family vacation. I was riding in the backseat of a car, and for the next few years the only time I would see BNSF trains was either when I was in the backseat of a moving car with my family, or worse; without my camera. It wasn't until the vital help of social media allowing me to contact local railfans that I finally was able to figure out how to track down the BNSF.

Before 1982, Utah was the crossroad point for four vital interstate railroads; the Union Pacific, the Denver and Rio Grande Western, the Southern Pacific, and the Western Pacific. Among them ran regional railroads such as Utah Railway, or Kennecott Copper's massive private electric railroad line. The railroad scene in downtown Salt Lake and Ogden was vibrant, as these different railroads intersected and changed cars with each other. Many Utah towns had access to one or two of these different railroads.
 A sample look at a few of the locomotives representing the railroads of Utah before the mergers that consolidated them all under the Union Pacific name. The first photo was taken on August 1, 2011; and showcases the preserved Western Pacific 805 in Portola California.


The second photo shows the last Southern Pacific locomotive that ran on Union Pacific rails with it's original paint and number; SP 343. This photo was taken in Erda, Utah on April 4, 2016. This day would be both the first and last time I (among with a few other railfans) would see this unit. A few months later, it would be painted into the Armour Yellow and Harbor Mist paint of the Union Pacific.
The third photo showcases two of the preserved locomotives at Ogden Union Station on November 29, 2015. DRGW 5371 to the left, and SP 7457 to the right. Both show evidence of cosmetic restoration on their noses, work which was provided by Kerry and Derrick Klarr, and Chris Fussell.

1982 and 1983 marked the beginning of an era of mergers that would last until 1996. The Western Pacific was consolidated (along with the Missouri Pacific) into the Union Pacific brand. 1989 brought about the merger of the Rio Grande with the Southern Pacific. 1996 brought about the final round of consolidations, as the Southern Pacific was absorbed into the Union Pacific.

The Southern Pacific and Union Pacific merger left a problem that had to be resolved, what to do to prevent a railroad monopoly by the Union Pacific in areas dominated previously by the two railroads? Utah was particularly at risk , as every single interstate railroad that crossed into it, had fallen under the Union Pacific banner. The only other rail competitor in the western USA, the newly formed BNSF railroad didn't have a single piece of track which crossed into Utah (or Nevada for that matter to). A concession granted by the federal government during the SP-UP merger made the Union Pacific grant the BNSF trackage rights into Utah and Nevada over the former Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Rio Grande routes from California to Colorado; with Utah as the middle ground. With this Utah Railway got the new role of running local freights, allowing BNSF freight dropped off in Provo to make it to industries through out the Wasatch Front and to local shortlines such as the Salt Lake Garfield and Western, and the Utah Central. This critical decision allowed competition to remain in the railroad transportation market in Utah.

On Patriot Day (September 11) 2016; Utah Railway 2008 a GP38-3 locomotive is switching cars for the soon to depart RUT 611 local. The RUT 611 takes cars delivered by the BNSF, and moves them from Provo to Ogden were they can be delivered to industries and transferred to the UCRY industrial shortline railroad. 
Of course most of the time in Provo Yard, rather than use their own GP locomotives; Utah Railway crews tend to switch trains using power brought to them by the BNSF. Few railyards see GEVO's and SD70ACe units working switching jobs, let alone do they often see heritage units taking that job. But such was the case on August 9, 2016 when BNSF 6805 and Norfolk Southern 1073 the Penn Central Heritage unit, alongside NS 8401 were manned by the Utah Railway to switch cars that had just arrived on BNSF's Denver Colorado to Provo Utah train.

The BNSF bases most of their Utah activity in Provo Yard, sharing tracks with the Utah Railway. Their symbiotic relation is evident as Utah Railway crews often man BNSF locomotives to handle Utah Railway switching; and BNSF crews arrive to work in vans marked with the G&W (the parent company of the Utah Railway). While UP let's their aged GP units work yards, the Utah Railway and BNSF often let modern GEVO's and SD70ACe's do their yard switching. BNSF trains are stacked with lots of locomotives, ready to blast through the Union Pacific owned tracks, without causing delays for other trains on the line. 


Look closely at these two photos. Both are the same train (a Provo to Lincoln Nebraska run) as seen on 9/11/16. The first photo was at Provo Yard, the second as seen north of Thistle on the former DRGW line. Taken only an hour and a half or so apart, there is evidence of BNSF's method of using lots of locomotives to a train and running it as fast as possible. The second photo shows on closer inspection that a fourth engine has been added to the consist, and that the addition was apparently fast enough it didn't cause significant delay to the train.

BNSF's process of fast freights running on the former DRGW and WP routes has lead many a railfan to comment that BNSF understand's how to run a railroad better than the often slow and under-powered trains of the Union Pacific. Other than the practical reasons of running fast trains, BNSF has also created a railfanning spectacle, as railfans bored of the monopoly of yellow engines, seek out the fast orange trains of the BNSF. It can be a bit of a race to follow these trains; as Josh can attest to ;)

 Utah Railway 3000 passes Control Point 784 in downtown Salt Lake City, as it makes one of the many local jobs that Utah Railway operates in the area.
Other than their coal and oil trains down the old Rio Grande, Utah Railway's RUT 611 might perhaps be one of their flagship trains. The majority of the large six-axle road power of the Utah Railway continues to display their pre-G&W paint scheme, a unique combination of red and gray. Here the RUT 611 is taking it's train on Union Pacific's Main 3,  formerly part of the Rio Grande mainline to Ogden.

Meanwhile the BNSF partnership has benefited the Utah Railway in a myriad of ways. With coal traffic reaching low levels, the Utah Railway still continues to find work transferring freight from the BNSF to local industries and other local shortline railroads. Many Salt Lake industries have the ability to chose to move their freight over the UP or the Utah Railway. This service provides competition in the railroad market for industries, and for railfans it helps to provide even more variety to the Utah railroading scene. Furthermore the Utah Railway (along with UTA and Savage) helps to operate nocturnal runs over tracks the Union Pacific abandoned after the mergers (but that is a story for another day.)

In conclusion, the BNSF and the Utah Railroad continue to provide competitive shipping to the Wasatch Front area. For railfans who missed out on the grand era of the DRGW, WP, SP and UP all calling Utah home; the Utah Railway and BNSF help to diversify the railroading scene. As these two railroads continue to work, they are defining what will someday be a notable part of railroad history in the early 21st century. 

Nos Vemos
-Jacob

Greetings from a Scone


 

EMD power old and new idles at North Yard
Salt Lake City, Utah

Before anyone raises an eyebrow, an actual scone is not contributing to this blog.  But before I dive into the cyberspace blogworld, it's best to do a proper introduction of myself.  I am Schon Norris, a lifelong Salt Lake City resident and a local railfan.  I have been invited due to my extensive knowledge of operations of many things and would be happy to contribute.

Born on the end of the 20th Century, my life has been surrounded by trains ever since I was but a wee infant, beginning with the basic toy train set for Christmas.  Nowadays I still reside in the greater Salt Lake area as a Senior at Cottonwood High School.  I primarily find myself railfanning in the downtown Salt Lake City area, but occasionally others can find me in areas like Provo and Ogden.  Being the youngest member of the blog, I have grown up with the evolution of the city's transportation and railroad operation, which I often reference local history back to.  I look forward to majoring in the Civil Engineering (with a Structural/Transportation specialty) field, hopefully working alongside the development of this rapidly growing city.

 
A Daybreak-bound Utah Transit Authority Red Line TRAX train navigates down 4th south while the University of Utah looms in the background.
Salt Lake City, Utah

My railfanning interests primarily focus on the modern-day operations in and out of Utah.  That being said, I also have a great interest in the state's (and railroad's) history.  My keen eye pays a special attention to detail when observing locomotives and rolling stock, taking mental notes of those that had a previous heritage.  My favorite railroad's include: Denver & Rio Grande Western, Burlington Northern, Chicago Northwestern, Pre-G&W Utah Railway, Southern Pacific and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF).

Now, the fun part.  My railfanning specialty is taking notes of former locomotive and car numbers.  I plan on assisting with this blog, with a general focus on the underminded past of railroading.  It's guaranteed that contributing to this blog will be fun, which will give me the opportunity to enlighten others, and for the matter, myself!

- Schon N.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Echo Canyon, Evanston, and the abandoned tunnel at Wahsatch

While I love the former D&RGW routes, and generally focus my time there, every once in a while it's good to take a break and see something else, especially if I haven't been there for a long time. A week ago was the first Intermountain Rail Prototype Modelers Meet, an event hosted by the Utah Free-mo club at the Union Pacific roundhouse in Evanston, Wyoming. While driving through Park City to Echo would have been the faster route, I decided to drive to Ogden and head east through Weber Canyon to see what trains I could find. I was not disappointed.

This was taken at the first eastbound exit at Morgan. The sun had just barely peeked over the mountains, illuminating the range in the background but leaving the remainder of the valley in shadow. The train scared a herd of deer that was congregated along the track.

Early morning railfanning, especially in the mountains, can be an interesting and frustrating experience. First, because the narrow canyons don't offer many places to safely pull off from the highway, and second, because the shadows can cause havoc with exposures and light ranges. It is very difficult to get an evenly exposed view when one half of the frame is in dark shadow and the other in blinding morning light.

Just west of Echo. This train's slow speed allowed me to set up some unique shots in hard-to-reach locations.

While I was only able to catch one train, I followed it all the way from Uintah to Evanston, thanks to Union Pacific's policy of longer trains with less locomotives. This train fairly dragged itself upgrade to Wahsatch Summit, speeding up to about 50 mph on flat portions but generally grinding along at about 10 mph or less on the grades (at Wahsatch cut, for example, it was barely faster than a brisk walk). I'll write more about this subject in a future post.

The train approaches Wahsatch Summit and the abandoned station there, passing through the cut that replaced the tunnel to the left in 1943.

The highlight of the trip was finding the abandoned Wahsatch tunnel. It's extremely hard to reach; I found it quite by accident while wandering around waiting for the train to reach me, and involved a bit of off-roading, almost getting my vehicle stuck, then sliding down a steep embankment to find a suitable place to set up my tripod. This tunnel was built in 1916 (one hundred years ago!) when the eastbound main was added to the original route, which runs directly above as the current westbound main. It was later abandoned in 1943 when the cut was extended, allowing larger equipment to run through without worrying about overhead clearances.

Then there was this car...much of the Denver & Rio Grande Western's "great steel fleet" of three-bay coal hoppers still exist, although they are quickly disappearing, many of them being recycled into steel tubing at McWane Ductile in Provo. Boxcars, however, are a rarer catch, and while this one was marred by graffiti, it was still a pleasant surprise to see.
Nos vemos
-Josh


Friday, September 16, 2016

The Cache Valley Branch, a Window into Yesteryear

This photo from the Library of Congress's online web archives shows the starting point of the Cache Valley Branch as seen circa 1933. From here the Cache Valley Branch connected into the Oregon Shortline Railroad's mainline from Ogden to Pocatello Idaho (the modern day Union Pacific's Ogden Subdivision)


In the early days of railroading, branchlines and shortline railroads served a crucial role in connecting small towns and industries into the national rail network. In an era without Interstate Highways, Semi Trucks, and a gas station every couple hundred of miles, branchlines were often the only way to bring goods into a small city. In some cases branchlines served large industries on the edge of an urban sprawl. Famed branchlines in Utah included the Denver and Rio Grande Western's Bingham Branch (Midvale Tramp), the Tintic Branch, The Marysvale Branch, the Heber Branch; the Western Pacific's Warner Branch; and Union Pacific's branches to Little Mountain, Cedar City, Malad Idaho, and the Cache Valley Branch.

In many cases the post-war era changed the operation of branchlines and lead to many being abandoned or converted into other purposes. For example part of the DRGW's Heber branch became the modern day Heber Valley Railroad, while the remainder of the line was abandoned. The Bingham and Garfield Branches owned by the DRGW (affectionately known as "The Midvale Tramp") would be cut of from Copperton, and were partially converted into the right of way served by the UTA Trax Red Line (freight service continues, after the fall of night). Both the Warner Branch (WP) and the Little Mountain Branch (UP) fell after mergers made their purpose redundant, seeing that the railroad acquired in the merger owned a mainline to the location the branch had served. Some of the branchlines were destroyed by natural disaster, as was the case when the Thistle Landslide cut off the Marysvale branch from the rest of the DRGW system, leading to the DRGW to abandon the rest of the line. Other branchlines have become caught up in scandal and theft, as the fate which befell the Tintic Branch just this year when businessman Al Mckee hired a scrapping agency to 'remove' the line illegally for the purpose of selling off the scrap (a bizarre story that deserves to have it's own post on this blog someday...).

This view taken by the author on August 23, 2016 at Midvale Utah shows the transformation of the Denver and Rio Grande's branchline to Bingham and Garfield, into the modern day UTA Trax Redline. The line does remain in use by freight trains (as evidenced by the boxcar in the industry at the right, and the distant freight locomotives idling down line), but the freight trains are now forced to work it at night after UTA operations have been silenced for the day. The modern look of this location contrasts with that of historical photos of the line in operation, as seen in the link to 1994 photo of this location (linked photo by James Belmont): http://www.railpictures.net/photo/469938/


But while many branchlines have fallen, a few still remain in service, intact and still making a living. One of the most resilient branchlines in Utah is the Cache Valley Subdivision, a stretch of track from the far end of Cache Valley, down into Hyrum, and then back up into Preston Idaho. While the equipment might be modern, the modern day workings of the line are not far removed from the work done on it say 50, 60 or 70 years ago. During my time at Utah State University before I transferred schools, I had the ability to frequent the line and record it's operation and history.

This shot taken on September 8, 2015 by the author is at Cache Junction, the same location as the 1933 photo at the start of this article. UP 3687 (SD40-2) and UP 1977 (SD40N), are seen here after having exited the lead into the Cache Valley Branch, and taking a load of covered hoppers to the grain silo at Trenton.

On a normal operating week the Cache Valley local operates at a predictable and steady pattern. Departing the Union Pacific yard at Brigham City, the train travels north through Wheelon and then travels south into Cache Junction. The train crew ties up for the night at the junction, departing Tuesday morning for the JBS Swift slaughterhouse and meat processing facility. After switching at JBS, the crew ties up at Logan, Utah right besides the historic depots preserved there. Wednesday morning takes the train up from Logan and at least as far as Presto, a plastic products plant located in Lewiston, Utah. If needed, the train will run further up into Preston, Idaho at the terminus of the branch. Once all work upline is completed, the crew returns to tie up at Logan.

Thursday's schedule works as Tuesday's in reverse, the train leaves Logan to work at JBS Swift again, then it comes to Cache Junction. If necessary, the train will travel up the mainline to Trenton to switch out a grain silo. Friday morning is the return trip to Brigham City. 

This regular (almost clockwork) pattern of work, plus the scenery of northern Utah; has made the Cache Valley local run one of the favorite trains to chase for railfans in Utah. A yearly tradition is beginning to emerge called "Cache Valley Rails" were rail enthusiasts from as far south as Salt Lake City, will be gathered in Logan, Utah as early as 7:30am to catch the movement on the rail line. 

June 8th, 2016; evidence of the popularity of the Logan Rails event is shown here in this photo taken south of Smithfield Utah. A line of cars belonging to the attending railfans' is parked at the side of the road, with their occupants standing trackside, waiting for the perfect shot of a southbound photo of the Cache Valley local. Below is a photo of the local lead by UP 1736 (SD40N), once it arrived at the group's location.

Of course this clockwork regularity on the Cache Valley branch can be easily disrupted by the arrival of northern Utah's harsh winter storms and cold spells. A particularly harsh storm hindered the line's work in the first week of Febuary 2016. Since many portions of the line only see a train once or twice a week, snow removal is infrequent. As snow melted, water slipped into the joints of rail at road crossings, were it then froze in place. The passing cars above melted the ice again, and further compressed it in between the rails and the roads. When the train finally arrived to travel the line, the railroad discovered it was almost impassible due to the ice frozen in their path. Maintenance of Way crews worked at cleaning out the rails, while the train slowly crept through the line. Trips that would only have taken an hour or two on a clear line, became gruelingly slow 8 hour journeys. 


Febuary 4th, 2016; the storm crippled Cache Valley Branch show's evidence of slow progress cleaning the rails. The train is tied up at Presto in Lewiston, Utah; and not it's normal location in Logan, Utah. This is evidence suggesting the long trip to clear out the snow to this point of the line resulted in the crew reaching their legal work shift limits, and rather than return the train to Logan, the decision was made to leave it at Presto. The broom left hanging on the hood of the UP 1729 (SD40N),helps to covey the sense of struggle against the snow. UP 2327 (SD60M), is the trailing unit in the consist.

The second photo was taken on the same day near Franklin, Idaho; showing a portion of the line that had yet to have been cleared.

On Febuary 16, 2016; evidence of Utah's fast changing weather is seen on the Cache Valley local at Logan Utah. Only a few weeks after the disastrous snowstorm, the line is now clear, as snow begins to melt away from it. The blue sky stands in stark contrast to the whiteout that dominated only a few weeks earlier.

Of course one of the greatest assets of any branchline is it's sense of history. In some areas the Cache Valley Branch traverses, few has changed in a hundred years. Near the line is a large collection of abandoned rail spurs and industries, testimony of a once busier line that saw daily rail service. One of the railroad treasures of the line though is the amount of preserved stations. Next to the track's in Logan, the old station stands having been preserved as a Mexican restaurant, south from it is the former freight depot, itself having undergone a miraculous restoration. It is easy to imagine the era when these rails were not ruled by SD40's or SD60's; but traveled by 2-8-0's and GP7's. 

June 26, 2013; at Heber Utah. The Union Pacific 618, the famed 2-8-0 currently being restored on the Heber Valley Railroad; is recorded to having worked from 1945 to 1955 on the Cache Valley Branch. https://hebervalleyrr.org/ourtrain/help-get-the-no-618-back-into-service/ 

September 30, 2015; Logan, Utah. The Logan Utah train station has been restored, and now houses the restaurant Cafe Sabor. The tracks behind it still remain in use as part of the Cache Valley Branch. Nearby is the preserved freight depot, and a few blocks away is the current location of the former Smithfield depot. The valley also hosts a few stations left over from the Utah Idaho Central, an interurban electric railroad that ran from Ogden to Preston.
May 3, 2016; this building (currently a private home) north of Mendon bears witness to having once been a rail served industry. The windows are built into what was once the loading docks. Allegedly this building once served farmers who transferred equipment and goods to the railroad here.
May 28, 2016. An abandoned sugar factory in Preston Idaho, is yet another relic from an era were the branchline served many large agrarian based industries. South from here in Richmond Utah, is another large abandoned factory located near the rails.
 May 24, 2016. An abandoned spur leading towards grain silos in use by IFA in Logan. This spur once lead to a condensed milk factory and the silos pictured here.
Yet another abandoned spur as seen on Febuary 27, 2016 at Smithfield, Utah. The Morgan Pea Company (later part of the Del Monte brand), was one of the largest shippers on the Cache Valley branch, and one of the largest sources of rail traffic on the line. The tracks remain mostly intact leading into the facility, although it is unlikely that they will ever see use again.

The ability to feel like one has stepped back in time is ever present on a small town branchline. Simple and steady operations combined with eclectic bits of history help to convey the sense that something truly special exists with this rail line. Of the many branchlines that once existed or still serve Utah, the Cache Valley branch has a special character that is truly unique. 


June 8, 2016; a few of the rail movements captured at the Logan Rails event was the rare sight of a self powered rail crane, moving along the branchline. Another sight of the day was UP 1736 running long hood forward, and with only one hopper in tow, proof of the fluctuating nature of traffic on a branchline.

Until next time,

-Jacob Lyman