Thursday, August 17, 2017

Railfanning the Yellowstone Branch / Eastern Idaho Railroad

By Josh Bernhard
(Click on the links embedded in location names to see them on Google Maps.)

Right at the border of Yellowstone National Park is this monument to the railroad's influence in the development of the park.
Among all the states in the union, Idaho is one of the least represented states as far as railfanning. If you follow our Facebook page, the first photo I posted there of the Eastern Idaho Railroad received a slew of comments from Idaho natives who apparently took light-hearted offense at this idea. Apparently some thought that I meant that there are no trains in Idaho but I meant quite the opposite. It's true that there are great locations to photograph trains in Idaho but the state is on nobody's bucket list as far as places to visit, giving way to the Colorado narrow gauge, or Pennsylvania's East Broad Top, or California's dozens of excellent preserved lines. I think this is a shame considering Idaho has some amazing scenery and while daily traffic may not be on par with the Arizona Transcon, once you find a train, it is more than worth the effort. This is especially true of the old Oregon Short Line Yellowstone Branch, the line that opened the west side of Yellowstone National Park, established the town of West Yellowstone and brought thousands, if not millions, of people to enjoy the world's first national park before the age of the automobile.

The branch was built by the Oregon Short Line from 1905 to 1907 to tap into the growing tourist traffic that exploded in the late 1890s. Yellowstone National Park had railroad access via the north entrance from the Northern Pacific so the OSL sought to break open the NP monopoly and allow access for tourists from the southern half of the country. The west entrance and the town of West Yellowstone themselves are the direct product of the railroad and would probably have never existed without it - before the railroad began construction from Ashton, West Yellowstone was simply unsurveyed Forest Service land. Unfortunately Passenger traffic on the Yellowstone Branch ended in 1960 and the rails were torn up from West Yellowstone to Ashton. Today the remainder of the branch, from Idaho Falls to Ashton, is operated by the Eastern Idaho, a Wabtec company with the reporting mark WAMX. The line is fairly well known for its fleet of GP30s and safety cab Canadian GP40-2LWs, most of which are stationed on the western portion of the railroad. The northern portion, which operates the Yellowstone branch, uses mostly GP35s.

The Eastern Idaho Railroad operates the Yellowstone Branch using these smartly-painted black and yellow geeps.

If perchance you find your way to the old Yellowstone branch on the way to the park, the bad news is that trains are few and far between. In the four years that I worked in the Yellowstone area, I only saw one train on the branch, running North to Ashton in the late afternoon. Over the week that I was there in 2017 I saw two trains, one coming off the branch into the yard at Idaho Falls on a Friday afternoon and one leaving Idaho Falls on a Wednesday morning. In speaking to locals in some of the towns along the way they all agreed that trains run simply as needed, with no guarantee of when or how far they will run when they do. In addition the Yellowstone Branch has two smaller branches that break off, one at Orvin on the north end of Idaho Falls going to Newdale, and the other at Ucon going towards Menan. Neither of this smaller branches parallel a road for any good measure of distance apart from where they pass through towns so photographing a train on these lines is even more difficult.

The good news is that the main branch runs almost due north, so sunlight is good almost all day, depending on whether you take Highway 20 (afternoon) or the old Yellowstone Highway (morning). The downside to the Yellowstone Highway is that it is no longer an uninterrupted road but rather appears and disappears at random every few miles, so chasing a train will require hopping back and forth between it and Highway 20 where on ramps are available. Traffic on the Yellowstone Branch consists of three main commodities: grain, potatoes and fuel oils. Tank cars, hoppers and those white Union Pacific ARMN refrigerator cars are the staple rolling stock seen. Since agricultural traffic is largely seasonal, traffic levels fluctuate through the year as harvests wax and wane.


Potato packing plants are equally as common as grain elevators on the branch, playing well with the Idaho stereotype. Cruddy, rusty ARMN reefers are used for this service.

Your tour begins at Idaho Falls, where the Eastern Idaho Railroad interchanges with Union Pacific. A few daily UP locals from Pocatello terminate there and EIRR switching traffic is fairly constant throughout the day. The best time to see the yard is in the morning from the northern end, where a parking lot and street parallel it on a bluff giving a slightly elevated view. In the afternoons you can see the other side of the yard in sun from Centre Avenue (the Union Pacific end) and Emerson Avenue (the EIRR end).

The Idaho Falls yard sees a lot of traffic as EIRR and UP trains switch local industries as well as prepare trains to head out on the Yellowstone Branch. Here the Yellowstone turn pulls out of the yard while another GP35 switches in the background and an SD24 rests near the yard office.

Between Idaho Falls and Rexburg the branch is pretty straightforward, literally. A clean straight shot north with a siding here and there for potato packers. After Rexburg the tracks get a bit more interesting, curving a bit with more sidings branching off at right angles for sawmills and fuel dealerships. However, they run at an angle through the city so there is no one road that parallels them. Following the tracks involves a zig-zag going from one block to another until the track reaches the other end. Just make sure to stop at every track because Rexburg is the only city I have been to where every single grade crossing is protected with a mandatory stop sign - it is easy to forget this when most non-gated crossings are protected only with crossbucks.

This cluster of elevators in Rexburg looks like it may be built around the old freight depot. The building closest to the tracks looks very much like an OSL standard depot.
  
While in Rexburg, be sure to stop at Smith Park near the hospital to check out the steam tractor there. It is a monster of a machine.


At St. Anthony the elevator districts start cropping up and at Ashton the tiny town is filled and surrounded with a maze of spurs, sidings and a wye servicing Elevator Row right on Main Street. Ashton is in my opinion the most interesting of the towns, being the current end-of-track and former junction with the Teton Valley Branch that ran to Victor Idaho.

Garry, Idaho is a typical example of the scenery seen along much of the Yellowstone Branch between Idaho Falls and Rexburg. A potato packer is served by a spur at this location.

 The spurs at Thornton were being reballasted during my trip.
If you wish to continue from Ashton for a bit of ghost railfanning, the grade for the old Yellowstone Branch has been reclaimed by fields. However, it turns east to parallel the Henry's Fork River until it pops out as the Yellowstone Branch Line trail at the Warm River Campground just off the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. No roads parallel the trail for a long time but it can be hiked or biked through Island Park to West Yellowstone (more on that later). The Teton Valley Branch likewise runs far away from any parallel roads until France Idaho where it more or less parallels the road to Tetonia. The abandoned elevators along this line are as interesting as the railroad grade itself. From appearances where it crosses roads it appears that it is an open access road, but I have not been able to confirm how much is driveable.

Ashton's elevators have their own trackmobile to switch cars when an EIRR locomotive isn't around.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to search out the abandoned grades, the best part of ghost railfanning this line is at the terminus at West Yellowstone. There, the Union Pacific depot, baggage building and Union Pacific Lodge still stand, donated to the City of West Yellowstone. The depot itself is an excellent museum (entry fee $6.00) with a short bit of track relaid along the platform and a car from the Montana Centennial Train representing the once busy passenger traffic on the branch bringing tourists to the park.





Just to the east of the depot are the baggage building, now used by the West Yellowstone Police Department, and the Union Pacific Lodge. Interestingly, the linens from this huge hotel were shipped by train to Ogden Utah where the world's only railroad-owned industrial laundry facility existed. The building still stands and is part of the Utah State Railroad Museum complex although it is closed to the public due to its poor structural condition.

This little stretch of track is a definite bonus to a vacation to the park, so next time you head to the Yellowstone/Teton area be sure to look for it. Maybe you'll be lucky and get some great shots.

Links
Eastern Idaho Railroad website
Eastern Idaho Railroad on Railpictures.net (check out Russell Watson's pictures of the Yellowstone Branch)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Winds of Change

January 2017, this has been the last SP-patch unit I have photographed so far. Although I did see one patch up in Pocatello during the 844 trip I couldn't really get close to get a nice view. Since then I haven't seen any patch units. The last patch unit to enter the State of Utah a few days ago was as celebrated as the unpatched units were a few years back... Its a dying breed for sure.

It has been stated that there only certainty in life is "death and taxes." A world of constant change and flux definitely effects the world a railfan sees trackside, as favorite locomotives disappear, flags fall, and traffic patterns ebb and flow in the economic tide.

From a rather young railfan as myself, it seems rather strange to be complaining about changes. The only major American railroad mergers to happen in my lifetime were the UP-CNW-SP mergers, and the formation of BNSF; I was to young to notice any of them. I have never had the experience to go trackside and railfan a Class 1 railroad, only to come back and find that area completely changed due to mergers or abandonment. The only piece of railroad I have seen a train on to later have it go out of service was oddly enough the "Yrigoyen Branch" (officially known as Ramal C16) in the Ferrocarriles Argentinos rail system, a line I witnessed in action but never photographed a train on. The small branch which once extended to Oran before being scaled back to Yrigoyen, was dramatically cut in two by a flash flood on the Rio Colorado on March 6, 2015. However seeing that line is half a world away from where I am now, I have never had the chance to go back and assess the damages. For all I know that bridge has been rebuilt and trains still run the line to this day, yet considering the lack of railfans in rural north-western Argentina, I have found no sources on that line's fate. Furthermore considering that the branch had only one active customer, I find it likely the line was killed by the sudden flood.


Photos of the Ramal C16 bridge fall in Argentina courtesy of Conner Thompson (used with permission). The dramatic collapse suspended operations on the line. It is the only line I have ever seen in action which was later abandoned due to natural disaster. I don't know if it will ever be rebuilt due to the lack of customers on the route.

June 2016, I was pleasantly surprised to catch this ex-CNW unit in the consist of a westbound manifest passing through Tooele, Utah.

I know Schon, myself, and several other local railfans speak ad-nausea about our encounter with SP 343 in April of 2016; but I hope our readers forgive our indulgence on the subject. SP 343 is the ONLY non-patched Southern Pacific unit I have photographed in my life outside of a museum. My brief chase of it from one end of Erda, Utah to another was my last chance to catch a memory of my childhood; when SP painted locomotives dominated the local railfan scene.


UP 6379 (ex-SP 333) was on the outskirts of Pocatello in February 2016 on a waiting train.

Despite this I feel as if the SP, CNW, and DRGW were part of my life. There was a brief era in the early 1990's and 2000's where UP rostered a large fleet of post-merger locomotives that had not yet visited the paint booth. My parents have almost always lived in viewing range of the Lynndyl Subdivision, and I could see the trains in the distance climbing through the valley. UP's fleet was colorful and vibrant, new bright yellow engines decorated in the post 9-11 American Flag paint scheme; trailed by gray and black engines of SP/DRGW heritage. I was oblivious to the histories to the respective railroads, as a kid it seemed as if real life trains were as colorful as what I had seen in children's literature. If Thomas, Toby and Percy dominated my childhood thoughts, so too did their American diesel friends "Rio Grande","Southern Pacific" and his brother "Union Pacific." If it seems like a sweet and somewhat optimistic view, it is an appropriate description of how I felt as a child then.




While on the subject of vanishing locomotive paint schemes; BNSF has taken a far more slow approach to repainting its pre-merger paint schemes. I just have the poor luck that every time I catch one of BNSF's predecessor schemes in action I am either in a moving car or there is some form of obstruction in the way blocking my view. The photos above seem to demonstrate my bad luck! While not nearly as endangered though as the SP units on the UP, BNSF is slowly but surely deadlining and retiring many of these ATSF/BN units.

By the time I began going trackside to railfan and was studying the real histories of American railroads, the vibrant era of post-merger paint schemes was already on the wane. Union Pacific's bright American Flag units had grown weathered, tired and beaten. DRGW 5371 had already retired, and the only patched DRGW unit left had been banished to switching service in Texas. The Southern Pacific and its fleet of General Electric units brought only a few years prior to the merger were the last bastion of color on the Union Pacific trains, with the occasional CNW unit popping in as an additional splash of color. By 2015 though that era began to close too. The subject of the disappearance of the remaining SP patch units was discussed in greater detail by Schon Norris on this blog last year. Since his post was published I have only seen one or two patch units, a constant reminder of the fast work of Union Pacific's North Little Rock shops. Just like the DRGW, I fear my only chance to see a SP unit in the near future is to travel to a museum or a shortline such as the Kyle Railway which has delayed painting its units.

Utah 5005 in October, 2016; in Provo Yard. This unit along with the other five MK50's are now on the Kyle Railway in Kansas and Colorado.

Speaking of the Kyle Railway is the remaining shock from the loss of Utah Railway's MK50-3's earlier this year. I had not intended to be caught unguarded with a lack of photos of the Utah Railway, like I had been years earlier with the loss of the DRGW units. So as previously recorded in this blog, Josh and I went down to Helper to watch Utah Railway run one of their final coal trains. The snowy mountain scenery was a memorable trip, and I can't think of a more fitting place to watch the MK50-3's in their prime. In spring when rumors came that the MK's would soon be gone I remember sitting trackside until after dusk, to watch a duo of MK's run a Provo-Ogden freight through Salt Lake City.

As the MK50-3's left the Utah Railway, I spoke of my belief the Utah Railway could survive in a post-coal traffic market. I based my thoughts off watching the nearby Salt Lake Garfield and Western shortline revitalize itself and grow its traffic base despite a limited reach and a lack of resources. Many railroads could survive as a local traffic handler, and it had seemed the Utah Railway was prepared to do the same. In a way my original blog post on the topic was also deflecting some of the strange rumors coming from railfans from far out of state, many of whom were taking random guesses to the fate of the Utah Railway despite having no firsthand experience observing it.

January 2017, a Utah Railway train works in the "Small Arms Industrial" park.

I wish I had the same optimistic attitude now. Rumors of great changes began to fly about the Utah Railway, but now they were in the closed circle of Utah railfans. Rumor has always been a part of the railfan community, and most rumors must be dismissed since plans for the future are always up in the air. But then in an embarrassing moment that seemed to validate the rumors, a Provo-Ogden train powered by two aging SD50S units died on the mainline shortly after the MK50's left the property. Since then the rails of Soldier Summit are now rarely graced by Utah Railway's presence. By summer Utah Railway retired two more units, this time a pair of the SD50S units; leaving only three of the aging units on property. Rumors suggest that Utah will receive ex-Norfolk Southern GP units to replace the two SD50S units; but the rumors have yet to materialize.Darker rumors put an ominous date, suggesting the Utah Railway might vanish on the eve of the Golden Spike celebration with BNSF taking over their remaining traffic. Only a year ago I felt assured Utah Railway would be a staple in the local railfan scene, only months ago I figured it could survive on what little luck it had left, and now I am not so sure. As I mentioned I have yet to see any railroad flag fall in my lifetime, so the potential that Utah Railway now rests on the brink has me unsettled. It is a strange prospect indeed, however it is another sign of my youth as surely many older railfans can tout their memories of the fall of the great railroads of their age too. Even if Utah Railway manages to limp along, it is clear the era of its "Cowboys on the Hill" hauling heavy coal over the summit in some of the world's most abused locomotives, is clearly at an end.


A few of the Arrowedges I have seen over the last few months, including the a first and second generation version of the container.

Yet in a brighter thought, the future of railroading has many opportunities which excite me. Where it once seemed SP patch units were common on select trains, now I have begun to discover the same sensation with Union Pacific's newest experiment; the Arrowedge. These intermodal containers, chopped and shaped into a wedge are the newest advance in fuel saving technology for railroads. In the last month and a half I have seen three trains fitted with various Arrowedge models, and photos on Facebook suggest dozens more have passed through the area without my notice. Often leading the trains are the new Tier 4 units. The GE T4 is so abundant I see it now on a regular basis. I have yet to spot EMD's T4 units, but from the photos I have seen of them their high roofs and chiseled cabs remind me a bit of those MK50-3's which have wandered away from the roost...

A new T4 locomotive leads an intermodal freight through the Tintic Junction last November. The large antenna behind it is for PTC, another change coming online which is affecting how railroads are operated across the nation.


Monorails like the "hyperloop" are a form of innovative rail transportation. Seen here is the "Monorail Red" gliding above guests at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Despite the many promising aspects for rail commuting technology the monorail offered, it never gained much popularity in America beyond tourist heavy areas such as the Disney Parks, Las Vegas, and World Fairs such as the one in Seattle. This treatment of the concept as "an amusement park ride", the lack of a standardized gauge system across different Monorail manufactures (or lack of standardized parts), along with the heavy anti-commuter rail pushes made by automotive companies such as General Motors in the 1950's meant that the monorail never had much chance to catch on. The faster maglev monorail concept sees limited use due to the cost of construction (with no operating example in North America at all). The monorail though due to its brilliant elimination of grade crossing has caught on in congested cities in Asia. If the new "hyperloop" concept proves more successful has yet to be seen.

Then I read the news and hear things about Elon Musk's "hyperloop" concept. Although not rail transport in the traditional sense, I am taking notice all the same since it is reliant on a fixed guideway. Perhaps its impact will be nothing more than that of the Monorail; to be praised as innovative and unique to only be brushed aside by traditionalists and wary transportation planners... Sure Musk has a bit of a habit of promoting strange and innovative concepts which either stick or fade away, yet perhaps the loop will be the biggest advance in ground transportation since the automobile.

If Futurama like speed tubes between cities are a bit to far away from our blog's subject about railroads, I am also excited for future prospects in rail preservation for our historical equipment. In only a few years we will soon see a Big Boy rumbling down Union Pacific rails, taking back its rightful throne as king of Sherman Hill. Locally, it is only a matter of months (if not weeks) until UP 1011 a 1940's vintage EMD NW2 returns to service at Heber; joining the recently acquired GP on property as an accurate collection of the vintage early diesel age of the Union Pacific, and clearing up shop space for the neighboring UP 618 steam engine restoration in the same shop.

July 2015, UP 4012 at rest at the Steamtown Museum in Scranton, PA. Hopefully in a few years its sister engine UP 4014 will be roaring down the tracks of the American West, bringing back what is arguably the steam age's most famous icon.

With changes abounding it is hopeful to look at the positive things we will see in the coming years. With that it would be remiss to omit the exciting prospects the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike will bring in its 2019 celebration to Utah. Our local area will briefly enjoy the focus of the railfan community, as conventions and celebrations are held to celebrate the joining of the nation in the deserts of northern Utah so many years ago. As I look at all the changes that have occurred in the past few years I yearn to see the good that comes out it all too!

-Jacob Lyman

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Many Stations of Elko

A Brief Railroad History of Elko, Nevada
Elko, Nevada is a community that was founded in 1868 when the transcontinental railroad was building across Nevada.  The Central Pacific established a station there and soon a town sprung up.  There was plentiful water in the nearby Humboldt River and the land was suitable for small farms and ranches to operate.  Not long after the golden spike was driven in Utah, the Southern Pacific took out a long term lease on the Central Pacific and began operating the railroad as their own.  It wasn't too much longer before the Western Pacific began it's push to the Pacific Ocean and they built their line roughly parallel to the SP from Humboldt Wells (later renamed to simply Wells) across the state to just west of Winnemucca.  During the first World War, the US government created the United States Railroad Administration and took control of the railroads for the duration of the war.  As a result, the parallel lines across Nevada were treated as one route and thus the paired trackage arrangement was born.  After the war, the SP and WP voluntarily entered into a formal agreement that kept this arrangement in place right up until the merger of the WP into the Union Pacific.  The UP after merging the WP continued to honor that agreement until they eventually merged with the SP.  To this day, that arrangement is still used where the northern track (ex-SP) is operated westbound and the southern track (ex-WP) is the eastbound track.  This arrangement meant that both passenger stations in Elko would remain standing and in use until a line change in the early 1980s relocated both tracks a few blocks to the south in order to remove them from the city streets.  Only the Western Pacific depot survives today and is serving a second life as an office building.


The Central Pacific Depot
When the Central Pacific reached the area that is now Elko on December 29, 1868, work halted briefly and a station was established.  It had rooms for 80, a dining room for 112, a billiard room, a bar, and a barbershop.  From what I can find in my research, the station was known by several names: Cosmopolitan, then Chamberlain and finally Depot Hotel.  It was located on the southwest corner of 4th Street and Railroad Street.  The depot was completely demolished by July 1, 1903 and Southern Pacific erected a new depot on the same spot by mid-1904.  The SP had acquired control of the CP effective April 1, 1885.

Original Central Pacific depot at Elko in April 1869.  It was a boarding house,
restaurant, and bar, plus it had a billiard room and barbershop.
The Southern Pacific Depot
When originally built, the Southern Pacific depot was a wood frame building built to one of SP's standard plans.  The following photo shows it in 1912, a mere 43 years after the rails of the transcontinental railroad were laid through the area and only 8 years after it opened its doors.
Eight year old Southern Pacific depot which replaced the Central Pacific depot.
Gone were all the amenities of the CP station since Elko had grown to a full
service city by the time this depot was built and trains were now equipped with
dining and sleeping cars.
Elko in the 1930s.  A lot has changed in 18 years, but the depot still looked
much the same as it did in 1912.
Sometime between the 1930s and 1950, the depot was remodeled with a more modern art deco style.  Here are two photos that show the remodeled depot.  The first photo was taken in 1950 and the second photo is from 1955.


Elko March 11, 1950.  The depot has been extensively remodeled, though
retaining the original footprint.  It's wood exterior has been covered with a
stucco and brick façade and the station signs that were a signature of SP depots
has given way to a modern art deco styled sign over the operator's bay.  The
change in the Elko cityscape is remarkable to say the least.

Elko 1955.  Very little has changed in 5 years with the depot, but there is a
marked change with the Commercial Club behind it.
Then sometime between 1957 and 1962, the Southern Pacific moved the depot from it's original location to a spot roughly 3 blocks east for reasons unknown to this author.  These two photos show the SP portion of the City of San Francisco and the WP portion of the California Zephyr on the night of April 11, 1969 at the new location (compare the background buildings to previous photos and you can see the difference).
City of San Francisco pauses at the SP depot in Elko.  Mel Patrick photo
courtesy of Bob McKeen.
California Zephyr pauses at the SP depot in Elko later that same night.  Mel
Patrick photo courtesy of Bob McKeen.

Visit this website to see several photos of the depot in the 1970s (post-Amtrak):
http://www.trainweb.org/usarail/elko.htm


The Western Pacific Depot
Like the Southern Pacific, the Western Pacific constructed a wood frame depot consistent with company standard plans.  Since Elko was already a well established city by the time the WP arrived in later 1908, a large two story depot was constructed.

Western Pacific Elko Depot as built.  Probably 1930's to 1940's judging by the
cars.

In 1958, the Western Pacific looking to rehab the aging structure, removed the second story and installed a new roof and clad two of the four walls in brick, with the other two walls receiving stucco.  This is how the building has remained to this day (with some minor changes to windows and doors).
Front of the WP passenger depot on December 26, 1981.  Photo courtesy of
Ken Rattenne.  Used with permission.


Trackside view of the WP depot on December 16, 1981.  Photo courtesy ofKen Rattenne.  Used with permission.
After the depot was abandoned, a private developer bought the building and extensively remodeled the inside and converted to office space.  I ran into the building owners son during a trip to Elko and learned that during the remodeling, it was discovered that when the second story was removed, the original flooring was left intact and roughly one foot of the walls remain from the second floor.  As far as I know, the 'attic' has never been cleaned and all the original flooring is still in place.  Another interesting note is that during the extensive remodeling, the building was widened by approximately 15'-20'.  The building is largely original, in a sense, but so heavily rebuilt, you would never know it by just looking at it.
A view of the front and trackside wall of the WP depot after it was
converted to offices.  February 2006
The rear and north walls of the depot showing the stucco walls.  February 2006
The Amtrak Shelters
As mentioned before, in 1983, the two mainline tracks through downtown Elko were moved in order to alleviate traffic problems for both the railroad and the city.  At that time, two structures were erected along the relocated tracks to service Amtrak passengers getting on and off at Elko.  Since the station was to be unstaffed, simple shelters were erected to keep passengers out of the weather, reflecting the general decline of passenger service in America, and particularly in sparsely populated northeastern Nevada.

Ribbon cutting celebrating the opening of the newly constructed bypass around
Elko and the opening of the new Amtrak shelters.  October 1983.  Photo
courtesy of Northeastern Nevada Museum.  Used with permission.


Sometime between February and November 2007, the shelters were removed due to vandalism and the occasional homeless person using the buildings as a makeshift home.  In their place were installed bus stop style shelters and benches which is how it can still be seen.

The last time I photographed these structures before being demolished.
February 14, 2007
The replacements.  Not very glamorous for a city that has had 4 different stations
and hosted the world renowned California Zephyr in its life span.
- Matt Liverani

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Another Day of Sun: A Trip to California and Back

6/25/17 A southbound Amtrak train arrives at the historic Santa Fe station in Downtown San Diego, California.

California the Golden State. Few other states have the rich railroad history California has; as the state was the draw for many railroad companies who built across the west. As distant as California is, for us in the intermountain west the railroad history here is linked inseparably from that of the Golden State. The Central Pacific (later the Southern Pacific), the Los Angeles and Salt Lake (later Union Pacific), and the Western Pacific were all intermountain roads which linked from California back into the Great Basin region. As such the history and happenings of railroading in California must be understood to grasp the bigger picture of railroading in the western states.

Of course we here at DEP often joke about California's dominance in western railfan culture due to those factors (along with its absurdly large population in comparison to our home states of Utah and Nevada)! It doesn't take much effort to see that many western roads such as the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific were predominately railfanned and studied in California, leaving the rest of their routes in obscurity. Ironically though, this continues into rail preservation and it turns out many artifacts significantly related to Utah's rail history are in California railroad museums!

One of the other great opportunities of a trip like this is that I was able to see many historic rail lines on the drive alone. I passed the majority of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake route from point to point during the drive along I-15 and backroads. Driving through Cajon Pass is always a railfan spectacle, even if the camera is not used. Of course I have to make mention I even saw UP 1983 outside of Barstow on my final day of the trip! However much like a fisherman's story you'll have to believe me on that one, since it figuratively was "the one that got away" seeing as how I couldn't photograph it at the moment!

Sunny San Diego

The main reason for this trip to California was my sister's wedding. Rather than get married locally with all the wedding traditions that seem to come in Utah (luncheon, mid-day photos, family dinner, reception, etc.); she figured a trip to the San Diego Zoo and some Mexican food in Old Town the day before her wedding would be far more interesting for everybody involved (it was).

San Diego is a beautiful city. I have not been there since 2005. However fellow DEP editor Schon seems to make it down there annually, and he answered many of my questions about area railfanning opportunities. It was all quite an interesting sight and change of pace from the desert highlands I frequent at home. Commuter trains raced through tracks above beachside cliffs through places such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar. The sound of the sea crashing on the shore, the throngs of tourists, and the smell of seafood in the air all mingled with the high powered grunts of EMD and GE motors at work. BNSF was king in San Diego, with Blue Bonnets and Heritage III's working local trains alongside a few G&W "Borg Orange" switchers. In all the excitement of the area, the only thing that felt familiar was the electric light rail system buzzing along San Diego's streets.

Even in downtown there was evidence of this coastal rail scene. As we walked the entrance up into the U.S.S. Midway museum, I could see beneath me in the pier the embedded remains of a rail spur to the docks. In the distance the Southern Pacific Railroad's ferry boat Berkeley was docked at the neighboring Maritime Museum, although time constraints prevented our family from visiting it. In much the same way a mountain railroad fan could wax on about the links railroads provided to the mines and the smelters; a coastal railfan could speak the same of an era when every pier had a rail head, when every boxcar was loaded from ship loads in a bay connecting into the great Pacific.
 
6/23/17 The Balboa Park Railroad is a minature railroad outside of the famed San Diego Zoo which loops around a corner of the park. Its consist is painted to look like Southern Pacific's famous Daylight scheme. My dad sits in the middle of the train waiting for me to take a seat.

6/24/17 A northbound Amtrak Surfliner train roars past Torrey Pines beach near San Diego, with a cab car at point and a Genesis engine on the rear.

6/24/17 I have a confession to make, this is the first time I have photographed an F40 in active service... It seems strange to me that it took me this long to finally see the railfan popular unit in action, but I am glad to finally have gotten the chance with San Diego's Coaster unit 2104 leading northbound train through Torrey Pines.

6/25/17 The highlight of La Mesa Model Railroad Club's display in Balboa Park is the large bi-level layout based on the Tehachapi Pass route. I considered this to be the most photogenic layout on display.

6/25/17 Crossing the Coronado Bridge, I was able to look out the car window and snap this view of the railyards in downtown San Diego. The BNSF yard dominates the foreground, with its autorack off-loading area, a line of orange engines to the left, and a ATSF heritage Blue Bonnet in the far right! In the distance is the maintenance shop for San Diego's light rail system.

6/25/17 I have another confession, these F59PHI 's are the first I have photographed period... I need to get out more! Anyways, the preserved ATSF Historic Station in downtown San Diego serves as a busy transit hub a short walking distance from the harbor front.
Travel Town Museum

One of the quick visits we made  Monday morning in Los Angeles was to the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. The museum is free to enter, and open regularly. Touring the museum site I was struck by how oddly familiar it was, the train around the border, the black steam engines needing a touch of paint, the limited track available, etc... It reminded me of the many small town museums I had visited beforehand, just with a much larger collection of rolling stock and located not far from the busy studios of Hollywood.

An observation of the engines and the wear and tear which comes from outdoor display, reminded me of the constant needs these museums have. With my experiences starting to help on the Columbia Steel #300 project it dawned on me the amount of elbow grease needed to get work done on these heavy machines. The most valuable resource of a place like Travel Town and countless other museums besides money, is volunteers who give their time.

Los Angeles has a rich and vibrant railroad scene, and I feel my brief stop at Travel Town only scratched the surface (I missed the opportunity to see the Rail Giants Museum in Pomoma to the east completely this trip too). Its an area I would like to return to someday to railfan further.

6/26/17 I had the chance to see the California and Western a little bit in a vacation in Northern California several years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to find another "Skunk Train"-alumni preserved in Los Angeles.

6/26/17 The diminutive and rare EMD Model 40 switcher is a sight to behold. This unit "Travel Town 1 Charley Atkins" is the only operating standard gauge unit at the museum.

6/26/17 Conrock #1 rests alongside Sharp and Fellows #7.

6/26/17 WP 326, a 2-8-0 was the highlight of the steam collection at Travel Town for me. I can't help but wonder if this engine ever worked the WP branchlines in Utah, exchanging whistles with my own hometown engine Tooele Valley #11 at the Warner Interchange? I would have loved to have seen that happen.

6/26/17 A broad view of the train shed at the park with WP #26 and Sharp and Fellows #7 at the entrance.

6/26/17 Santa Maria Valley #1000 caught my eye due to remembering the history of one of its stable mates Santa Maria Valley #100 which worked the Heber Creeper in Utah in the early 1980's. #100 is now kept in Oregon. From what I have been able to read up on the Santa Maria Valley was a produce hauling line in California.

6/26/17 The Travel Town minature train loops around the museum border.

Hollywood Faux-totypes

In the heartland of the movie industry, it is no surprise fake train related props exist which have been used in film or displayed in theme parks. This form of "large scale modeling" is rather interesting to me. Especially considering that for many in the public these theme park displays or silver screen stars are the closest to railroading they might get.

 6/26/17 This facade on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour caught me immediately as looking like an old train station. Perhaps it has been used as such in film and t.v. and a sharp eye could find it in their film collection... The grassy knoll to the right has been used as a filming set to represent Central Park in t.v. shows such as F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

 6/27/17Great Western Railway 5972 the "Olton Hall" was used in filming the Harry Potter series in Britain. What looks like a 1:1 scale (or really close to it) replica of the engine is displayed in Universal Studios Hollywood. The prototype Olton Hall is preserved at the Warner Brothers Studio in Britain after having been retired from use in excursion service.

6/27/17 The regular steam whistles and smoke effects did help create the illusion this static display was ready to roll at moment's notice.
On the Road Home

Wednesday my mother and I set out from Los Angeles early morning to travel back to our home in one day. While this travel arrangement meant I missed the chance to see UP 1983 when it rolled past us on I-15 out of Barstow, it did give us a few other moments to stop along the way. At the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada; while we basked in the strange history of the nuclear age I also spotted a few ways the railroads played a part into that. On the final leg of the journey we found a Union Pacific train passing through the Tintic Valley near Eureka, Utah; where I got my first look at the new Arrowedge 2.0 (and only my second look at any type of Arrowedge period!)

6/28/17 One of the stops on the ride home was the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. While not a rail museum, it is not surprising to see that railroading was present during this strange, bizarre, eclectic and twisted era of American atomic history. The first sighting of railroading within the museum was in a replica of a housing/office unit in Mercury, Nevada with the vintage Union Pacific calendar placard to the wall.

6/28/17 Although the Union Pacific never was built to reach Mercury or the Nevada Proving Grounds  (later Nevada Test Site then the Nevada National Security Site); the atomic testing complex was home to one of the nation's most bizarre and unique private shortline operations, the Jackass and Western.

6/28/17 This N-scale (I think?) model layout was used to train employees of the Jackass and Western, featuring a rather condensed version of the route across Jackass Flats. There were no interchanges, no revenue freight cars.

6/28/17 The cargo though was a bit, nuclear dare I say? The Jackass and Western was used to haul experimental nuclear rockets from their assembly building to their tower test stands, then retrieve them after testing for disassembly and decontamination. Despite the radioactive nature of the cargo, the two Jackass and Western locomotives are now preserved in Boulder City, Nevada where one of them is used in excursion service! The pressurized cab which was meant to keep radioactive particles out of the cab during testing was a unique feature used on at least one of the engines.  Visiting the museum in Boulder City is something I will save for a future trip through the area.


6/28/17 On the drive back home later in the day through the Tintic Valley in Utah; I ran across an eastbound stacker with an Arrowedge 2.0. This Arrowedge was developed by a team at BYU, and will be entering service across the UP system as more are made to increase fuel economy.
 
My sojourn to California turned out to be very exciting, not just for the trains I wrote about here; but the memories and family experiences. I wish my sister and her new husband happiness in their new relationship; and am glad their wedding plans offered the rest of us an excuse for a vacation! I am glad to have gotten to see and explore a bit of Southern California's rail treasures, although I feel I just barely scratched the surface! Hopefully I get the chance to get out and see it again!
 
-Jacob Lyman
 
 
 
A Note on Museums and other attractions on the trip:
 
Although railroad museums are some of my favorite highlights on trips like this, I feel it is worth mentioning the full list of attractions and museums we saw on the trip. Getting out and exploring the area often requires more than an understanding of just the railroad history, and sometimes places devoted to other subjects such as the National Atomic Testing Museum do have a few railroad related nuggets in their collection. So without further delay, the full list:
 
  • Cove Fort Historic Site
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Balboa Park Railroad
  • Mormon Battalion Historic Site
  • Old Town San Diego/Café Coyote Restaurant
  • Torrey Pines Beach State Park/Poseidon Restaurant
  • Del Mar, California
  • Coronado Island
  • U.S.S. Midway Museum
  • Travel Town Railroad Museum
  • Warner Brothers Studio Tour
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • National Atomic Bomb Testing Museum