Friday, December 23, 2016

Family Christmas Traditions

The Nevada Northern depot at East Ely is all decked
out for Christmas.
Christmas-time is a magical time of year when families come together to celebrate the season itself or the symbolism of the holiday that marks the night of Christ's birth.  However one celebrates the holiday, one thing remains constant throughout - traditions.  Whether it is a certain meal, or the reading of a favorite Christmas story, or even the way one decorates the tree, everybody has a tradition that was either passed down or started by that generation.

In my family, both kinds traditions apply.  For the handed down tradition, my father taught me the generations-old tradition of making homemade lasagna for Christmas dinner.  Our 'new' tradition was started about ten years ago.  For the last decade, our family has looked forward to riding the Polar Express at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum then driving through town afterwards looking at Christmas lights while sipping on hot cocoa.  Presented here some of the photos from our ride on the night of December 22, 2016.

One round trip to the North Pole please!

No explanation needed...

We are getting ready to board the Polar Express.

We are ready and waiting for the train to depart.

Me and my daughter, Audrie.

My wife, Angele, and our son, Anthony.

One of the servers, Angela, stops for a photo in between trays of hot cocoa.

Our conductor, Bill, punches tickets for the Polar Express passengers.

We have arrived at the North Pole!

More of the North Pole.

Here is where Santa lives!

This is the last little bit of the North Pole.

Santa graciously takes a moment to get a photo with my kids.

The look of pure happiness.  At 13 and 10, both of my children still believe!

Regardless of how you celebrate the season, take time to reflect on the traditions that you hold dear and maybe think about starting a new one that your family can enjoy for years to come.  Who knows, maybe 100 years from now, some distant grandchild will look back and thank his three times great grandfather for the tradition they will enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Snowfall: Railfanning in Downtown Salt Lake City

The snow got thicker than I expected and set the mood for the day pretty quick... Dramatic, cold, and hard to get good pictures in. But dang the atmosphere was awesome! The train pictured here was the second grain shuttle I had seen that day passing through CP 784.

Sometime nearly a year ago I made a joke in a Facebook discussion, that the decision to railfan in the snow is comparable to the scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker is crawling in the snow; only for the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi to appear to him ordering him to seek out Yoda. I joked that in a way railfans have their "Obi-Wan" calling them into the snow despite their better judgement. On November, 28th; I had an "Obi-Wan" calling me to go snow railfanning when I got the news that Union Pacific's Denver & Rio Grande Western Heritage Unit (number 1989) was coming through Salt Lake City that day on the KOASCX-17. I couldn't resist, and had to get out trackside to catch the unit.

I have seen UP 1989 multiple times before; the first time being nearly five years ago on a train being held on the track behind the bowling alley in my hometown in Tooele, Utah. However, knowing many people online who miss the old Rio Grande; I had a newfound desire to see the locomotive again.

The yard switchers working the southern end of North Yard today were a SD40N and a GP15.

I decided to hunt for UP 1989 around CP 784, a control point at the southern end of Salt Lake City's North Yard. My first catches of the day was the familiar sight of the remote controlled yard switchers at work on the yard lead. UP 1956 was on point of the yard switcher, with its roof mounted strobe lights blinking to indicate remote controlled service. Behind it was the smaller UPY 582, a venerable GP15 which had once served the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The ex-MP GP's are still used as road switchers in the prairie country UP serves back east, but their small size and lack of dynamic brake units makes them ill suited to road work in Utah. As such in Utah they are confined to switching duties in the yards in Ogden, Provo, and Salt Lake. The growl of the EMD engines from the yard switchers made the area around CP 784 resonate with sound.

I also encountered a four legged friend at CP 784. The dog was a bit goofy, chasing my car and running into the railroad tracks. Fortunately he wasn't hurt, although he ran behind my car a few times while I was backing it up! He perhaps had better sense than I, and was gone when the snowflakes began to fall again.

One of the great things about railfanning Downtown Salt Lake City is the constant parade of Frontrunner trains. North Temple Station sees two Frontrunner trains meet each other every hour. Getting to see these trains plow through the snow reminded me of a Trains Magazine article from earlier this year which stated, "UTA has created a modern, comfortable, six-day-a-week operation in an area of the country that experiences snowy, below-zero winters and hot, dry 100-plus-degree summers. (David Lusting, Trains Magazine, July, 2016.) It wasn't yet "below-zero" today, but the air was hovering at freezing and the snow flurries made it clear that winter's onslaught was upon us. 

My first through-freight train catch of the day was a stack train being lead by four SD70M units (I suspect it was the KG3LB). The SD70M's are one of the most common units on the UP, but catching an entire train being powered by just  SD70M units is an increasingly rare sight. From conversations I have had with railroad employees, it seems the older DC traction units used on SD70M's don't make them quite as popular among train crews as the AC traction models which were released later. With that said, the SD70M is growing to become a railfan favorite engine, an opinion which is furthered thanks to the engine's unique production features. For example the train in the photo includes different production series of the SD70M from an earlier flat radiator model, to three flared radiators, and one cab with slights indents in the nose which was a harbinger of the future cab on the SD70ACe model.

UTAH 2006 and UTAH 2003 were on point on the Utah Railway train. Both engines are ex-SP units.

A few Frontrunner trains passed through after the stack train; and the snow began to fall at a furious rate. It was in this mini-blizzard like storm that a Utah Railway train began to peak through the fog and pull up alongside CP 784. The train pulled to a stop on Main 2, preparing to back up along Grant Tower so it could interchange freight cars (box cars, hoppers, and low-level radioactive waste) with the Salt Lake Garfield & Western shortline railroad. 

When the Utah Railway train came to a halt I was surprised by the attire the conductor was wearing when he left the cab! While the safety vest was nothing out of the ordinary, his festive Christmas hat instantly caught my eye. With heavy snow blanketing the area, it was easy to imagine that it was Santa Claus himself, conducting a train loaded full of goodies (and radioactive waste too!). It seemed as if this conductor had decided to make the best of a snowy day at work, by dressing the part!

Even in the snow, the fresh paint on UP 7719 is instantly noticeable!

After the Utah Railway train had backed down Grant Tower I saw the headlights of an incoming UP train. Was it UP 1989 after all my time waiting for her? No, to my surprise it was a unit train of grain hoppers being lead by UP 7719, aa AC45CCTE sporting a fresh paint job. The grain train rumbled slowly through CP 784, and I began to get anxious waiting for the eventual arrival of UP 1989. The storm kept getting thicker, only taking brief rests before kicking up again with even more snow!

 The snow stopped for a brief moment just as the Utah Railway train returned to CP 784. Having dropped most of its cargo off at the SLG&W interchange, the train was now carrying a short string of tank cars bound for the oil refineries north of Salt Lake City.

I was getting cold, and decided I needed to take a break from the tracks for a moment. I had gotten word that UP 1989 was still waiting for a crew change up in Ogden, so I made the quick drive to North Temple to pick up a hamburger! Railfanning in cold weather is actually a bit of a tricky challenge, and requires taking shelter in car and buildings to keep warm. My shoes weren't up to the task, and snow was melting into my socks. 

Shortly after I began eating my burger the snow began to fall again in earnest. The fog seemed to creep further in and blocked visibility. Headlights of trains were visible long before the train itself, and when I saw another set of headlights approaching on Main 1, I was hoping that UP 1989 had finally arrived! Instead it turned out to be UP 8194 heading the second grain train I had seen that day. The numberboards were lit up making the train even more visible in the soupy fog. 

A few more Frontrunner train whizzed by before I finally saw the familiar gray nose of UP 1989 pull into North Yard. The train was covered by clumps of snow, and the gray paint seemed to blend with the fog. I can see why the actual Rio Grande painted the noses of their units in a black and orange "zebra stripe" scheme; which surely would have been easier seen in a snow storm than UP 1989's gray hood! The locomotive stopped its train just short of the leaving the yard, and I would later learn that it was delayed here to wait for a train up ahead at the Salt Lake Intermodal Yard to clear the offloading area. I sat for 30 minutes or so waiting for UP 1989 to began the last leg of its journey. Finally a little bit before 4:40 pm, I saw the headlights of the engine brighten to cut their way through the fog as the train began to lurch forward. 

I tried to frame UP 1989's train underneath the signal bridge at CP 784 in a sort of recreation of a similar shot I had taken of Heber Valley's 1813 earlier this year (both engines are painted in a faux-Rio Grande inspired paint so it seemed appropriate!) The train crawled along Main 2 gaining speed as it rolled down to the Salt Lake Intermodal Yard. The golden orange sides of the locomotive were far more easier to spot in the snow than its gray nose, and seeing the Rio Grande flying letters conjured up images of yester-year when SD40T-2's battled their way across snowcapped peaks in Colorado and Utah. Of course with UP 1989 rolling out of sight I quickly jumped back into my car. I wasn't going to stay in that cold any longer! :)

Railfanning in cold weather certainly has its challenges and issues, but it also offers an amazing glimpse of railroads at work during even the harshest conditions. Even if my toes get a little cold, and my hands and face turn a bit red in the chill air; I always have fun railfanning in the snow! The sight of snow falling on the ground is one of the most stunning visuals of the intermountain west, signalling with it a change in seasons. Railroads are affected by snowfall, and watching them work in it is one of the most amazing ways to railfan.

Hasta Luego
-Jacob Lyman

Dedicated in memory of my Grandfather Rodney Lyman (March 26, 1937-December 12, 2016) who was with me and my father nearly five years ago the first time I saw UP 1989 in Tooele, Utah; parked behind the local bowling alley.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Day on the Lynndyl Subdivision (Part Two)

11/19/16 UP 6767 one of the myriad of recently repainted locomotives coming out of Jenks Shops; was doing duty as the DPU unit on the GSMFPR-19, a grain train which departed from the Circle Four silo in Milford, Utah.

Note: This is part of a two part article series covering a railfan get together that both Jacob and Josh participated in. This article is about Jacob's perspective of the day.

Nestled between Milford and Salt Lake City, Utah; is a stretch of iron rail known to the Union Pacific as the Lynndyl Subdivision. This remote desert mainline is part of a vital route between Los Angeles which connects at Ogden into Union Pacific's original Transcontinental Route. Originally built by the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railway; this line has been known for most of its history as Union Pacific's critical route into Los Angeles, and before the WP and later SP mergers, it was Union Pacific's only connection into California.

For most local Utah railfans, the Lynndyl Subdivision is a favorite territory to visit. Along its route between Milford and Salt Lake City; the line snakes past extinct volcano beds, through empty alkaline deserts, alongside forests of small desert trees, and finally alongside the shores of the Great Salt Lake until feeding into Union Pacific's Intermodal Yard and North Yard, both of which are located in Salt Lake City. The desert, often seen as desolate by a casual observer; is teaming with scenic opportunities for a visiting railfan. Train traffic can be rather high on a busy day, especially with intermodal stack trains racing down the single mainline track, and slow manifest trains meandering between passing sidings. The desert climate hosts a myriad of industries served by the railroad, from quarries, a military base, grain silos, industrial depots, and a massive coal power plant supplying energy to the distant Los Angeles.

With Josh filming his upcoming documentary Trackside, our group decided to visit Milford on Saturday November, 19th; to film and photograph the rail history in the area.

For me the trip began the night before as I left my work in Salt Lake City, heading to my parent's home in Tooele. Even in the cold and dreary darkness of the short drive between the two cities, I could see that the Lynndyl Subdivision was busy with a stack train plowing its way eastward alongside the Kennecott Garfield Smelter. This northernmost portion of the Lynndyl Subdivion near my home is aptly where I have spent most of my time railfanning in my lifetime, but the southern half of the route was somewhere I hadn't visited before. I had never railfanned the line south of Delta, and the remote Caliente Subdivision which stems south from Milford was a place I had never seen properly, despite driving pass its southernmost portions near Las Vegas during family road trips to southern California. 

 My first train sighting of the day was a lone SD70M idling in a siding at Lynndyl, Utah.

I departed Tooele around 5:30 am in the morning. The air hovered a crisp winter chill below freezing, and the driveway of my parent's house was covered in a light layer of snow from a storm earlier that week. The sky was a dark hue as I set out southbound. I passed through darkness during my trip through Rush Valley, and by the time I had entered the Tintic Valley the sky had begun to turn into a dark shade of blue with orange lines streaking across the distant eastward horizon. The communities in Rush Valley and Tintic Valley have historic ties to Utah's mining history, and honestly dozens of blog posts  could be written about the lost mines and railroads in the area. 

When I arrived in Lynndyl the sun was still hidden behind the mountains, but the sky had turned a shade of light blue with orange clouds. I caught my first sight of a train that morning on the siding with a lone SD70M at idle.

The ITSAHX was the first train I spotted in the early morning. The sun had yet to fully enter the horizon, and the lack of lighting made it near impossible to shoot a good picture of this train. The lead unit UP 2687 is one of the new T4 EPA Emissions rated units bought by the UP, and the third unit is CSXT 566.

I had slightly better luck with the ITSAHX, catching it just north of Salt Lake City a few hours later.  Between Lynndyl and Salt Lake City, trains must traverse more than 120 miles of terrain.  After Jacob saw the unit at about 7:00 AM, it showed up in Salt Lake around 10:00 AM, leaving it at an average speed of 40 mph.  (Schon N. photo and description)
Not far south of Lynndyl, I found the eastbound ITSAHX charging through. The low morning light did not want to cooperate with my camera... Still it was a good sign that I was going to have plenty of trains to see this morning! The blue CSX unit was a welcome sight, even if my camera didn't want to get a good photo of it.

North of Milford, the MSCWC is seen holding in a siding waiting for higher priority trains to pass it. This train soon reached Milford, where it changed crews and dropped off cars.
Shortly after I had left Lynndyl the sun had fully emerged and light flooded the area. The morning was cold, and still below freezing; yet the desert sand and sage brush stood as a reminder of the hot dry summers which affect the area. Snow capped some of the distant mountains, while the ground was soft and muddy. As I approached Milford, I began to see a myriad of trains holding in sidings and preparing to enter the yard. Despite its remote location, Milford hosts a division point yard. Crews change trains in Milford, and manifests frequently stop to drop off freight cars before continuing their journey to larger cities. Several industries are served by spurs off the mainline, including a grain silo, a limestone quarry, and a ballast quarry. Milford wears its railroad heritage proudly, greeting visitors with a retired Union Pacific caboose.

 I think an argument could be made that UP 25729 here is one of the best maintained cabooses on static display in Utah. The clean exterior with its holiday decorations is matched with a pristine interior with carpet, clean paint, and displays showing how a railroad crew would have operated out of a caboose. 

Across the street from the Milford Station is this vintage hotel building. 

I had thought that the other railfans would have arrived before me, but to my surprise I was the first one to reach Milford. I couldn't help but take a photo of the vintage hotel across the street from the train station, and I swung by to visit the gorgeous Milford caboose on display in town.

I noticed the ZCIG1 was at the Milford station getting a crew change, and I was immediately drawn to the two Norfolk Southern units on the train. The Norfolk Southern is arguably my favorite of the eastern railroads; and last year I was able to railfan the NS around Altoona, PA. Like the UP, the Norfolk Southern is famous for supporting a mainline steam program and a large heritage locomotive fleet. I drove north out of Milford and caught this train as it was gaining speed out of town.

I took my time to trek around Milford while waiting for the other railfans to show up. It was then I discovered a train at idle at the Circle Four farms silo, which to my surprise had a Norfolk Southern (unit 8831) C40-9 on it! The GE C40-9 was built exclusively for the Norfolk Southern, although visually it looks a lot like the previous GE C40-8 model. The most distinct spotting feature is the spartan cab, a feature which GE would replace with its now ubiquitous safety cabs. I had only seen these older GE units in deadlines or working shortlines, so this was my first chance to photograph one doing work on the mainline. I was excited to get a chance to see this locomotive. Plus it was also the third Norfolk Southern unit I had seen that day, and getting to see foreign road units this far deep into Union Pacific territory is always an exciting moment!

My lack of a decent zoom feature on my camera really made it impossible to get a good photo of the "Milford Caboose" stationed in the yard, but I couldn't resist trying to get a photo of it anyways. This "crummy" is an ex-Missouri Pacific caboose acquired by the UP during the merger. Although the "Screaming Eagle and Buzz Saw" logo of the MP has been removed, the paint is still in the original shade of red that the MP applied to this caboose.

According to UtahRails.Net the Milford Station is the newest station built on the Union Pacific, having been built in 1982 to replace the former station. I honestly don't know if this has ever been used by regular passenger trains; although Amtrak's Desert Wind did use this route before its cancellation

Honestly I was starting to wonder if the other railfans were going to show up for the planned meet at this point. I hadn't heard from them, and wondered if they had decided not to go as far south as Milford. Fortunately I soon began getting messages from Spencer Peterson and Matt Paulson who were heading to Milford and had just entered cellphone reception again. They informed me that a unit train of ballast was heading south towards Milford. I decided to catch the train on the Caliente Subdivision, the track leaving Milford towards Las Vegas. As I was standing setting up for the shot, two of the railfans who came to the meet showed up; Chaice Moyes and Sean Paul Anderberg. Finally, our group was getting together for the day! Once the ballast train passed through town we set off to meet up with Spencer, Matt, and Josh Bernard north of town where I had caught the ZCIG1 earlier.

Before meeting up with Matt, Spencer, and Josh; we stopped by the Milford Station to watch the MSCWC pull into town.

Matt Paulsen crouches in the grass to frame his shot of a northbound MWCNP "Flagship" freight train.

With all six of us in place we joined to watch the MWCNP pull out of town. The MWCNP is a notoriously slow train, and although it was leaving Milford well in the morning; when I went home in the afternoon I found it stopped in a siding near the border of Juab and Tooele Counties. This train is known as "The Flagship" since it pulls freight from one proverbial end of the UP system (West Colton Yard in San Bernadino, California) to the heart of the UP system (North Platte, Nebraska).

With some of the power pulled off the MSCWC, this train began making switching moves in the Milford Yard.

This yellow crossbuck was an eye-catching oddity that got the whole group chuckling about how bizarre it was.

 Josh told me this device sitting on top of his camera is a called a "Dead Cat". It helps muffle wind noise to allow for better sound while filming. I told him I wanted to call it a "Tribble"...

Thanks to the radio scanners some members of our group had brought, we got word that the grain train spiraled around the Circle Four silo was going to depart in the next hour. We were excited for the chance to watch the coveted NS C40-9 in action. Josh and I made the decision that would be the last train we would see in Milford, and when this grain train stopped to refuel we would leave and head back north. Josh had to get to an operating session he was filming as part of Trackside, and I was going to be joining my family to see a movie. If this was going to be our last train in Milford, we wanted it to be a spectacular one!

Running under the symbol of the GSMFPR-19, the grain train slowly pulls out of the Circle Four silo as it is heading back to the main yard for refueling.

I couldn't resist grabbing a photo of the rare sight of a Norfolk Southern C40-9 unit with the backdrop of a desert mountain.

Our group of railfans stood watching the grain train slowly pull out of the silo. It was a stunning way to finish our time in Milford, and I was a little sad that I would be leaving soon. After the grain train came to a stop to refuel, we collected our cameras and went to grab a sandwich at a nearby restaurant. After a brief stop to see the Caboose Park one last time, Josh and I left town heading back north.

I dropped Josh off at his car parked in Lynndyl, and the two of us drove north towards the Tintic Valley in Juab, County. Schon Norris who was in Salt Lake City at the time had sent us a message notifying us of one of the southbound trains he had seen leaving the city, so I was on alert for the possibility of catching one last train before the trip ended.  I soon noticed the distant headlights of a train in the distance, and I pulled over to photograph it at Tintic Junction. Next to the tracks at Tintic Junction is a water tower built upon the foundations of an old water tower which was used for steam trains before the route was dieselized.  Josh followed me trackside, and the two of us jumped out of our car just as the train began to approach the crossing.

The train Josh and I found was the ISCLB, and to my surprise the locomotive on point was another T4 unit of the same model as the one I had tried to photograph earlier in the morning! I was glad to get another chance to catch one of these units on lead, and this time there was plenty of daylight to allow me to grab a few good shots. 

As the ISCLB ran off into the distance, Josh and I parted ways. I went north and drove past the MWCNP from earlier in the day in a siding while what I believe was the KG1CI was passing by it. I was in a rush to make sure I got home on time to join my family so we could go onto our evening plans. Shortly after pulling into Tooele, I jumped into my parent's car and rode with them into Salt Lake City. I couldn't help but notice that today I had been lucky enough to see the Lynndyl Subdivision from one end to the other. Driving pass the familiar stretch of track between Tooele and Salt Lake, I felt a sense of appreciation for the uniqueness of this particular part of Union Pacific's system. While the Lynndyl Subdivision isn't the most famous route in the world, it has a unique captivating charm that rewards those who visit it. From one sparsely populated desert valley to another, trains snake alongside foothills, through grasslands, and over salt flats as they make their journey to and from California. Frankly, I can't wait to get out there and see it again!

-Jacob Lyman

For more perspectives on our railfanning trip to Milford please read Josh's previous article and visit Spencer Peterson's UC Rail website for his detailed blog post about the trip.