Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trainstar: Review of Unstoppable

Trainstar, says that Unstoppable is "great train porn." While I may not agree with her wording, it's a great way to sum it up. Check out her review. With two of my own favorite actors, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Sgt. Getraer's son, Captain Kirk) in the lead, I realize it's about time that I check it out.

POTD - One Train, Part III

Continuing with part III of this week's theme:

Perhaps the most classic pictures known in railroad photography circles are the approach photos, where a train is approaching on a single set of rails toward the photographer's position. It's a simple shot that a lot of photographers rely on as their "go-to" shot when capturing a train. It doesn't depend much on topography or distance available, unlike the previous two POTDs.

The feeling is one of imminent anticipation. The train is a traveler, passing in only moments. It bears a load from incognito toward parts unknown. It is arriving in only seconds, unrelenting and unhesitating toward its eventual destination. In the moment, it is everything we know of railroads.  It can be a brawny diesel, like this one, or a speeding 4-8-4, a miniature 4-4-0 of the wood-burning, narrow gauge variety, or an F-7 (or even an E-8) with the graceful curves and beauty that made her an icon of American railroading.

By stepping down next to the right of way, Kevin Morgan has put the point of view into the same vantage point most of the world sees trains in their most powerful and acclimated setting. 

Headed by locomotive 5338, a BNSF double-stack intermodal train comes in
for a meet, holding the main with a rather quiet train tied down on the siding
Photo: Kevin Morgan

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

POTD - One Train, Part II

This week's theme is:

I have always been an acolyte of long lens work. There's something about being able to take a great distance and smash it into one 2-dimensional image. It's photography doing what it does best, and photographer Kevin Morgan makes it work well here.

In this case, a telephoto shot that doesn't close the distance, but instead takes a great distance of rail (a half mile?) and shows all the wobbles, variances and sags in something that--at least conceptually--should be stable, straight and strong. The haze on the horizon and subtle air distortions close to the rails makes the shot feel all the more heat laden as the rails all but melt into pools of silver.

A BNSF stack train trundles along under an ardent August sun
toward a meet over rails that look too hot to ride this afternoon
Photo: Kevin Morgan

Monday, August 29, 2011

POTD - One Train

I've had this idea for a theme of POTD, and I'm going to try it out. It's simple:

One train.

That's it. One train for the week. Obviously, we'd need five photos, and not just any photos. Five good photos that show different aspects. What's even better? The guy doesn't even know he did it for me.

Kevin and I have spoke very seldom, but he knows I am a fan. If you've read here for any period, you'd know it too. His web exposure is great because he has his own web site. This site lets you do searches by railroad, location, and even by weather. He e-mails his subscribers when he has new work, describing--sometimes in great detail--his shots and the stories behind them. He's doing what he can to get a core of loyal followers that take an interest in his work. Is he a regular producer? No, but if your work is of sufficient quality, that shouldn't matter. My point in this little diatribe is that it takes more than a good camera and average skills in railroad photography to make things happen.

In the decades before the internet, it took photographers the effort to find receptive clubs to come display their work, to sit down and organize their slides in trays, then haul them off in their car to the club meeting place, usually in the dead of winter, set up a projector and sit in the dark with a bunch of other grown men, and even women, and put your talent on display in front of everyone. Today, it requires a little less physical work, but effort is still a vital part. Learn how to use the tools like Blogger, Twitter, Flickr/SmugMug, Facebook, FeedBurner, Constant Contact, web forums and other, often free tools to increase your ability to interact and bring out your better photos. Making full use of the internet can change everything for you as a photographer and artist.

Diatribe over. Thanks!

Today's Photo of the Day is the basic high-angle, shot from a hill, overpass or other feature that enables a high view showing the tops of the locomotives and cars. Shot usually from the same side as sunlight, the effect is to show the train in the context of it's route. Interesting features of landscape fall second to the features of the train itself. This particular shot has the added benefit of the train curving between two trees that create a natural frame for the shot. The train is now part of the land, not just passing over or through it. What looks like just a shot of train at first glance is instead a carefully composed subject in its context.

Time: 11:52 AM

BNSF Double stacks are rare on the Front Range of Colorado
but this train seems as much a part of the land as the earth itself
Photo: Kevin Morgan

Friday, August 26, 2011

Amtrak's California Zephyr Hits Crane, Derails - 22 Hurt

Photo: Nebraska State Patrol
Amtrak's California Zephyr left Colorado and ran into a crane. That's essentially what happened to Thursday's train out of Denver in the early morning hours of today in Benkelman, Nebraska. At least 22 people were injured. The AP has the complete story.

POTD - Beneath One Bridge and Over Another

Rounding out this week's theme for Photo of the Day of Tennessee Pass, Carl Weber returns to Colorado Railroads with a worthy photo indeed! How could I not include Red Cliff? Those who haven't been, should, despite the lack of rail traffic. The town is as aptly named as any. Good way to go out on a Friday.

It's September 4, 1990 and the warmth belies the proximity to autumn and aspen gold.
Rio Grande SD40T-2 5379 passes beneath the soaring US 24 bridge at Red Cliff, Colorado
Photo: Carl Weber, B_And_A_Fan collection

PS: If you love Tunnel Motors, check out 5379's factory fresh paint job in 1977.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

POTD - Minturn Years Later and Months Before

We are in Minturn for the second time this week for Photo of the Day and our theme of Tennessee Pass. This time, however, we are only a few months away from the Southern Pacific merger with the Union Pacific, 5 years to the day before 9/11.

The sun glares off the remarkably clean and unaltered nose of Geep 3099 as
she leads a colorful consist and train into the yard at Minturn in July 1996.
Photo: John Jauchler

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

POTD - At the Summit, Cresting the Continent

Colorado Railroads continues the theme of Tennessee Pass for Photo of the Day by going to the summit of Tennessee Pass, where a tunnel pierces the divide, emerging after half a mile on the other side of the pass.

Railblazer is a veritable shrine to the Rio Grande. It hasn't been updated in 4 years and the photos are small by today's standards, yet I can't help but go to it to find vintage photos of the Grande in her glory.

Geep 3117 a GP40-2 is westbound on Tennessee Pass in September 1980.
In seconds, she'll plunge with her stable-mates into the tunnel beneath the summit
Photo: Railblazer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

POTD - Has Anyone Seen My Right-of-way?

It's hard to believe that only 10 years before this photo was taken, this right-of-way was part of a well-maintained transcontinental railroad system, a vital national link carrying goods and commodities from Pueblo and points east to Salt Lake City and points west. In 2006, It's hard to see it among the weeds as nature attempts to reclaim the land for its own use.

A ballast train eases itself along the weed-choked main at first is east of MP 325
east of Eagle,Colorado on June 29, 2006. Rusted rails makes you go slow as snails
Photo: Todd Busse
PS: If you'd like to see more of Todd's trip, he posted some of his photos on

Mudhen 463 Frame Mated To Boiler In Mammoth Crane Event

Some great news has come out of Monte Vista this month! Denver & Rio Grande Western steam engine 463 has taken a major step in her return to steam. The frame and boiler were finally mated back together at last. Everything appears to be on schedule for the K-27 class Mudhen to return to steam at the beginning of the 2012 Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad summer season.

Monday, August 22, 2011

POTD - Theme of the Week - Tennessee Pass

This fourth week of August, our POTD theme is Tennessee Pass. I know that a lot of folks would like to see the line return to service. Conversely, I know a lot of Eagle valley residents would just as soon it never run again. Yet Minturn was a railroad town from the start, and that's where we start today. Tomorrow, we'll visit Eagle.

EMD SD45 #5319 pulls into Minturn, a crew change point, on 11/12/76.
Rebuilt to SD40M-2 by MK Rail, she now works for the UP as 4704.
Photo: John Carr, CarrTracks Data: UtahRails.Net

Friday, August 19, 2011

Colorado Railroad Museum To Lay 300 Feet of Track August 27th

This next Saturday, August 27th, Colorado Railroad Museum will be laying 300 feet of track in one day, with some help. Here's the news straight from the Telegrapher,
FasTracks West Rail Line Contractors and Denver Transit Construction Group are donating all the materials, including track, ties, and ballast, equipment, and labor to build 300 feet of standard gauge track in a single day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

POTD - 737 Fuselages Rolling On Steel Wheels Make a Sight

There's something about loading a main battle tank on a plane, or a train crossing a bay by ferry, or more commonly, containers shifting from ship to train to tractor-trailer. It's a mixing of modes, showing that one mode just isn't going to make it all the way there. A hatch of 737-8 fuselages, still fetal but leaving no guess as to what they are, traveling by train is perhaps the oddest pairing. Rails are extremely efficient, yet confined to the path laid down. Jet flight is very inefficient but offers freedom in all 3 dimensions, yaw, pitch and roll. Juxtaposing the two is our Picture of the Day.

Boeing's latest iteration of the venerable 737 makes it's journey from Kansas City
to Denver strapped securely aboard the spacious and quiet flatbed cars of BNSF
Photo: Joe Blackwell

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm Still Gathering Steam

Well, guys and gals, I'm still catching up from this weekend. Sorry there is no POTD yesterday or today. I don't travel well like I used to, so what looked like a simple trip on Sunday afternoon became something I needed all of yesterday to recover from. It's very frustrating, but it can't be helped, I guess. Thanks for your patience while I gather some steam to tackle the rest of the week.

Friday, August 12, 2011

POTD - Silent Testimony in Buena Vista

Editors note: POTD continues, but after today, most will have a photo and a brief caption without the essay. Essays need to be fact-checked for accuracy, each of which can require significant blocks of time.

Life in Buena Vista since 1997 has been considerably quieter than the previous century, thanks to the Union Pacific's decision to mothball the Tennessee Pass route in favor of the Moffat Tunnel route. It's been considerably cleaner, as well. In the 40s and 50s, the Rio Grande's monster steam engines caused a smoky haze to hang over the entire Arkansas River valley, causing respiratory issues for soldiers training at nearby Camp Hale.

Such days seem foreign to the summer scene below captured by Adam Lutt. The Rio Grande bridge has eluded the paint cans of Southern Pacific and--thus far--Union Pacific. The former main line has sat dormant for so long that nearly all the kids in this scene have never seen a coal or TOFC unit train come through this valley. The thrum of diesel engines, the rumble of a rail grinder, and the chuffing of iron horses are all as foreign as can be from this simple day playing in the creek, their echo fading from human memory as the paint slowly fades from the bridge above. It's only a matter of time before the railroad vanishes completely from Tennessee Pass, a matter of time, and money, unless a client develops on these once-heavily traveled rails or Union Pacific gets serious about preserving and maintaining their future options. Yet if they do, they could just as easily paint over the bridge's Rio Grande lettering altogether, disturbing the nostalgic reverie of Grande Fans like me.

I think I'll go skip a rock.

Locals and their guests play beneath a railroad bridge of the Rio Grande in a tame
and cool Arkansas River in Buena Vista, strictly a summer activity in Chaffee County
Photo: Adam Lutt

Thursday, August 11, 2011

POTD - Big Ten 16 Years Ago

Denver's altitude is 5,280 feet above sea level, earning it the obvious moniker, the Mile High City. The railroad route directly west was built as Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad and came to be owned by its successors, Denver & Salt Lake Railroad and Denver & Salt Lake Railway, as well as Denver & Rio Grande Western, Southern Pacific, and lately, Union Pacific through a series of mergers. It's apex was first at Rollins (Corona) Pass at 11,680 feet ASL and then inside  Moffat Tunnel at 9,239 feet. Making up the difference (6400 and 3959 feet respectively) while at the same time keeping the gradient manageable and cost efficient was a balancing act that meant gaining altitude as evenly as possible. If there was a ramp of earth, much like Sherman Hill in Wyoming, the construction engineers would have had little trouble. As it was, construction from Denver into the foothills was the most difficult part. They had to claw and scrape for elevation to reach Boulder Canyon and the Flatirons. A tongue of land jutting out from the foothills became the stepping stone between the western high plains and the east face of the Rocky Mountains. The long, winding turns climbing onto and upon the butte are both ten degrees curvature, thus named the little ten and big ten curves.

On April 8, 1995, a Southern Pacific coal train descends through Big Ten and
approaches Little Ten curves west of Denver, 18 months before the UP merger
Photo: Rolf Stumpf

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

POTD - Westward To Adventure and the Unknown

Living on the Front Range of Colorado, it's possible to take for granted the access to so many wonderful, scenic places. Having been to most of them (and loving almost every time), I miss the sense of adventure I had as a child, the feeling of going to an unknown place. Someday, though, I'm going to travel to someplace I've never been before, and I'm going to feel like a little kid all over again.

The photographer's daughter, Bella, watches the scenery change in front of
her as Amtrak #5 carries them westward through tunnels toward adventure
Photo: Kevin Morgan

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

POTD - Isolated in Leadville

The last remnant of the Denver, South Park and Pacific being operated today is the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad. From 1899, it was part of the C&S consolidation of narrow gauge lines--the ones not associated with Rio Grande. In the 40s, the line was standard gauged, operating for a short time with 4 rails to prevent any service disruption. From the 40s to the 60s, C&S #641 moved cars from the Climax mine at the top of Fremont Pass down to the connection with Rio Grande outside Leadville. After 641 retired, she was put on display in Leadville while a Burlington Northern road switcher took over her duties.

Colorado & Southern standard gauge steamer rests outside the Leadville,
Colorado & Southern depot in Leadville, Colorado one hot day in August 1999
Photo: Jeff Jordan

Monday, August 8, 2011

POTD - Fort Collins Municipal Railway's Birney Car 21

Before T-Rex, before Light Rail, even before buses, there were street cars. If a town had any aspirations of being a city of some importance, one of the first items on the agenda was creating a municipal railway or other rapid transit. It was a mark of distinction to have a trolley system and the bigger and more refined it was, the better the populace felt about the city.

Then, depending on who you listen to, it seems a motor company decided it wanted to sell buses. The best way to do that was to buy up municipal railways and discard them as soon as possible, doing away with the efficient steel wheel on steel rail and electric power in favor of inefficient rubber tires on asphalt and gasoline power that was cheap as dirt. No more yellow trolleys in Denver. Done to death are the streetcars of Trinidad and Colorado Springs. But a single flickering flame in Fort Collins survived.

Kept by volunteers, the Fort Collins Municipal Railway plies Mountain Avenue, connecting City Park with the central business district on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays during the summer months. There once was much more to this municipal railway, but it's lost to the march of time and mankind's notion of progress in the 1950s. It once crossed the rails of the Colorado Central (now BNSF), and traveled in a loop, from Mountain and College, east to Peterson, south to Magnolia, east to Whedbee, south to Pitkin and Ft Collins High School, west to College and back north to Mountain. It covered a lot of ground and, had it survived intact, it would be an even greater asset to Fort Collins than it is today.

Ft Collins Municipal Railway #21 makes its familiar trip down Mountain Avenue
passing the siding at Mack Street, long out of service, on July 23, 2011.
Photo: James E. House

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Railroad Yards Contain Locomotives, Rolling Stock, and Danger

BNSF Police
shoulder patch
As a railfan just 15 years ago, it was hard for me to appreciate the railroads' point of view when it came to allowing access to their yard. I can remember at least one encounter when, looking into a railroad policeman's eyes, I could tell what frustration and anger my "idiocy" had caused. Moments before, I felt I was safe because it was a hot summer day and no one was out there making any moves. No one except the police man, I found out. His face reminded me of how my father's looked when I had one time wandered into danger. I didn't enjoy either experience.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Railroad Radio in Colorado

If you've never listened to Railroad Radio, you've missed an opportunity to learn all about how freight moves in Colorado. It takes a bit of patience and knowledge of the nature of railroad operations, but, having it on in the background, you'd be surprised what you can pick up.

It's also a good indicator, given how expensive gas is recently, of how busy these rail routes are on a given day. Careful listening will help you know where the trains are, and how likely a photo run will produce good results.

All three live audio feeds are linked below and in the near column.

Railroad Radio in Colorado


POTD - D&RGW 315 Leads the Parade of Trains

Denver & Rio Grande Western Consolidation 2-8-0 pulls the first of several
trains into the depot at Durango during Railfest on August 21, 2010
Photo: Kevin Madore

Thursday, August 4, 2011

POTD - Grande Colors In Strange Places

Just south of where I-70 and I-270 meet, there's a place unknown to most Denver railfans. It's even--probably--unknown to most Denver Railroaders. If you would think this is Commerce City, you would be wrong. First, very few areas in Commerce City are capable of sustaining green plant life. Second, the junction of I-70 and I-270 is roughly 1,400 miles to the east of Commerce City in Frederick, Maryland. Why then is this the Photo of the Day on CR?

When you look closely, Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway has no connection to Colorado with the exception that many of the upper management of W&LE used to call Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad home until they followed head executive Larry Parsons to the smallish short line in Ohio. Their love of their old railroad comes through in big and small ways. Recently, the railroad's ample power pool and tenacity in business led to their units showing up in other locations, including CSX trackage in Point Of Rocks, Maryland, many miles east of Rio Grande's old headquarters in Denver.

Wheeling & Lake Erie shows her Rio Grande colors in the muggy heat near
Point of Rocks, Maryland last week on July 30, 2011 waiting for a green light.
Photo: George W. Hamlin
PS: Interested in the Grande scheme of things in Ohio? Check out this fan page detailing the Wheeling & Lake Erie's motive power. It's a big page!

Mudflow, Debris Shortens Route of Durango Train

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had to shorten its route today after high water and debris--mostly mud--from rains made a mess of things in the Animas River canyon. Tuesday's trips had already made it to Silverton when the mudflows occurred, tying up the track and forcing at least two trains to return to Silverton and wait for buses to take them from there back to Durango via US 550.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

POTD - Empty Hoppers In the Sunset

From a river named "The Animas" in the San Juan mountains to a town named Las Animas on the eastern plains, it's hard to believe they're in the same world, let alone the same state at the same rough latitude (0.5° difference). From narrow gauge Rio Grande rails hung precariously on canyon walls to standard gauge Santa Fe rails somewhere in a vast prairie, these are Colorado Railroads!

Empty Hoppers In the Sunset - Coal hoppers wait their turn for service in beside a
piece of disused rail in the quiet town of Las Animas, Colorado, on June 16, 2008
Photo: Jenny Vaughn

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

POTD - D&RGW 315 Crossing the Animas River

John West is an accomplished photographer with many years of experience and hundreds of publishable and historic photographs under his belt, 13 of which are available for purchase. His pictures bring narrow gauge enthusiasts immeasurable joy and pleasure.

Originally Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad engine 3, the Denver & Rio Grande numbered it 424 before the Denver & Rio Grande Western numbered it 315.  Durango Railroad Historical Society restored the engine from March 2001 until she moved under her own steam in August 2007.

On August 23, 2010, during last year's Railfest, Mr. West captured #315, a former Denver & Rio Grande Western 2-8-0 steam locomotive as it crossed the Animas River near Tacoma, Colorado, on former Denver & Rio Grande Western rails, now operated by Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which will host its 13th annual Railfest later this month.

D&RGW Consolidation 2-8-0 #315 leads a photo freight over the Animas near
Tacoma on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad August 23, 2010
Photo: John West


Monday, August 1, 2011

POTD - 135 Years of Statehood, Rail Tourism

Today's POTD honors Colorado and her 135 years of statehood. Prior to August 1, 1876, Colorado was a territory carved out of portions of Kansas Territory and Utah Territory with smaller parts of the Nebraska and New Mexico Territories. Since it was the only state admitted to the union that year, the centennial of the United States, Colorado became known as the Centennial state.

Property speculators and railroads were anxious to entice settlers and pioneering families to come west and generate revenue by living and working out there. While trappers and later miners were eager to make a fortune off the land, farmers, tradesmen and other people that make lasting communities weren't typically as anxious to risk all in a move out west. Unscrupulous promoters wrote fifictitious accounts, one even going so far as to claim that steam boats were departing daily at Denver on the South Platte River. As you can see from this photo, even with modern-day dams keeping the South Platte flowing year round, the river--if you can call it that--would not be navigable by such craft. Such fiction was unfortunately common and many would-be settlers would not trust written accounts. Therefore, it was all the more important that photographs were taken and reproduced as much as possible showing Colorado to be a land open to new settlers and the skills they had or were willing to learn. Photos that depicted the scenic wonders of the west were just as helpful in promoting the nascent tourism industry.

Railroad travel and tourism in Colorado got a healthy boost from the work of William Henry Jackson, whose photographs brought on a continuous flow of curious and moderately wealthy tourists who had never seen such drama and beauty. One such photograph is of Toltec Gorge along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Jackson made trips up and down the line in a photographer's special train that usually included a mobile dark room for his plate glass negatives. His train is just barely visible (top right) from this point in the canyon, nearly 800 feet below the tracks.

[No. 1021. Rio de los Pinos, (Rio San Antonio) and rock formations in the Toltec Gorge, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Shows a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad train near the Toltec tunnel high on the rock cliff].
A D&RG train steams above the floor of Toltec Gorge on the San Juan
Extension. The undated photograph is between 1878 and 1898 (maybe 1880?)
Photo: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Such a view (from the top, anyway) is still available today on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which took the Rio Grande's property and turned it into a thriving heritage railroad.

If you are interested in the history, the Colorado Railroad Museum has a new exhibit, Trains and Tourism in Colorado. It opened this summer and has a great deal of historic artifacts. Imagine columbines, Colorado's state flower, being gathered by the armful on "Wildflower Excursions" over a century ago, where the ticket was $1.50, which would be about $34.92 today.1

1 - Converted per scale at