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.

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