Thursday, November 30, 2017

Milfordfest 2017!

The ILXG3X 24 rolls south of Bloom, Utah on the 25th; with three locomotives elephant style on point and a "BYU-Wedge" on the first well car.

Over a year ago we went to Milford as a large railfan group; and this year we decided to repeat the venture with a longer overnight trip! The central portions of the historic Los Angeles and Salt Lake route in south-west Utah are some of the least frequented areas for railfans on the Union Pacific system, and it is always a pleasure to join friends and trek out into the high desert looking for train action.

See that concrete curve going through the grass? That is part of the remnants of the Lynndyl Roundhouse. One of the largest steam era division yard shop facilities on the LA&SL; trains north of Lynndyl ran with coal and those south ran with oil. The variety of steamers coming in and out kept the shops busy. Diesels rendered the shops useless, and the crew change point was eliminated in Lynndyl.

Our first day had our group meeting in different points across the desert; keeping an eye out for any incoming trains. We ended up finally all together at last in Delta, Utah; a small town (with a few interesting local museums worth checking out if you happen to be in the area). Two stack trains traveling opposite directions met in the center siding in town.

 The ZC1G1-23 rolls into the siding at Delta (November 24) with the ISCLB-24 holding the main. The meet was well timed, with the two trains pulling into opposite ends of the siding at the same time.

Almost as soon as the Z-train pulled through the siding, the ISCLB-24 began to throttle up; continuing its trip west. The ISCLB-24 is a regular train which runs from Salt Lake to Long Beach nearly every day. With the holiday rush, it takes high priority on the rails due to the UPS or FedEx trailers it often carries.

We headed down south and found a nice spot south of Bloom, Utah. There our group set up and as the sun set, watched the trains traveling through the desert. Other than the highway and the nearby limestone plant, there were few other signs of civilization. In-between trains, the area is nearly silent with the occasional jack-rabbit jumping through. 

 An ILXG3X-21 interrupts the quiet desert, with two UP units and a trailing CSX unit on point.

A desert sunset as seen from our perch south of Bloom.

Prior to the Union Pacific's acquisition of the Western Pacific in the 1980's; the Los Angeles and Salt Lake was UP's only route to California (and even after the WP merger remained the UP's only route to the Los Angeles area until the 1996 merger with the Southern Pacific). High deserts, and long distances meant that the LA&SL had to work hard to remain competitive against the shorter SP Sunset Route and the Santa Fe mainline; for lucrative traffic between Los Angeles and Chicago. The desert meant that water was in short supply, and many of the early diesels on the Union Pacific began to work the desert line almost as soon as they arrived on property. CTC signalling, long unit trains, lengthy sidings, and containerization all joined forces with the diesels to make the LA&SL routes a pioneer in modernization. In the present day, it is common to see over one mile long stack trains on the LA&SL; traveling at full freight speed through empty landscapes. 

At night, in the dark desert sky it is easy to see thousands of stars above. Trains continue to move through at night under the star light, with the new LED signal system installed over the last few years lighting the way for them. 

An ILXG3X 24 approaches the southern end of the siding at Lund, Utah.

The next morning (the 25th) we ventured out to the ghost town of Lund. The junction of the Caliente Subdivision and the branch to Cedar City was once UP's gateway to Utah's national parks. Trains full of vacationers from across the country would travel through here to see the beauties in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and the Grand Canyon. Visiting coaches from lines as far east as the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central joined the UP consists in the summer time National Parks specials; where they passed through Lund on their way to the balloon track yard in Cedar City.

C40-8's, SD60M's, and Gensets are among the many pieces of old motive power stored at Lund.

Now, Lund is a few empty buildings watched over by the local ranchers. UP uses the spacious yard for locomotive storage. The area became infamous a few months back when a group of vandals tagged one of the SD60M units in storage there. The "Rail Beast" caused quite the stir, and the unit was almost immediately dragged out of the desert storage line and sent back east to have a visit with the paint booth in Jenks. The unit though has already become part of local railfan legend, and the orange paint stained rails reminded us we were at the site of the units infamous creation. 

I never photographed the real "Rail Beast" but the unit's claim to fame in the local railfan sphere was forever immortalized in plastic in this model on display at the Intermountain Train Show a few weeks back (model made by Dave England).

Also at Lund, this awesome trackside sign with a reminder of the long gone Amtrak Desert Wind which once traveled this route!

Back up north near Read, Utah; was our next train watching spot. We got a chuckle out of the ironic sight of a coal train rolling past the Milford area's array of wind, solar, and thermal power complexes. Coal has seen a small upswing in traffic on the rails recently, however it is still a shadow of its former-self in the Utah market compared to the strong demand of coal many years ago. The days of DRGW or Utah Railway trains "running through" the LASL with black diamonds are sadly long gone.

The MSCWC-24  at Read, Utah crawls on its journey westward.

As our day wound to a close, we returned to the hill near Bloom we had visited the day before. As we watched the final trains roll through the daylight hours, we talked about the hobby. Everything from the trains we had seen in the day, to our dreams for the model railroads we would love to someday have; kept us entertained while the last freights ran through the dwindling daylight hours. We tried to follow a speedy stack train out of Bloom back up north, but it ran well ahead of us and we lost it at Delta. Finally our group split at Lynndyl, ending our trip.

The ISCLB-25 going through a cut near Bloom.

The ZLAG1-24 at Bloom.

Over 100 years of service, and the "Pedro" still holds a unique place in America's railroading system. Not as favored by western railfans as the Overland, the Sunset Route, or the Northern Transcon; the Los Angeles and Salt Lake's desert portion still languishes in obscurity. The LASL is a true hidden gem. Empty desert flats, with towering mountains on their edge, all serve as a strange and scenic backdrop for the railroad. In places such as Milford, the railroading blood still goes deep; with crewmen from the yards in Salt Lake and Las Vegas meeting together in small town diners between runs. 

Where the SD70ACe and the GEVO now rule, is the faint echo and memory of the days when FEF's, ALCO PA's, and EMD E7's charged the desert with their passenger trains in tow. Its always a pleasure to get out there and see how little railroading has changed in the desert.

-Jacob Lyman