Friday, August 21, 2009

Winterail-fanning -- 2009 Edition (Part 2)

With a busy travel schedule, we haven't posted anything for about a month. Whew! But we're back and should get on to a more consistent schedule once again. One of the trips was to Duluth, Minnesota, for the convention of the National Railway Historical Society. We'll get to that trip in a couple of days, but first let's finish up our California trip from March 2009.

Part 1 of this story can be found here.
Photos for this story can be found here.

Day 4: March 13, 2009 -- Around the Upper Central Valley
We have a bit of a time constraint on this day. We're hosting the annual Railfan & Railroad/NRHS Stockton Slide and Pizza Party in the evening, and the afternoon will be spent buying wristbands and pizzas, and generally getting set up. Still, there's some time in the morning to look around the area between Stockton and Modesto, California.

We wander the fields around Escalon, looking for a spot to shoot. A northbound San Joaquin service Amtrak train is due; the bad news is the trains run in push-pull configuration with the locomotive always on the north end, making properly-lit photos a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, we find a broadside-ish location and snap the train as it rolls through.

From there we head down to Riverbank, which has a former Santa Fe yard. A northbound BNSF Railway train is ready to depart, so we set up at the bridge over the Stanislaus River north of downtown and get a nice broadside shot. We then travel south of the Modesto Amtrak station (which actually sits quite a ways out of town) and get a southbound passenger train on a bridge; once again, the locomotive is on the north end, making for a challenging shot.

The big attraction in the area east of Modesto is the Modesto & Empire Traction, a former electric railroad now powered by diesel and serving a large industrial park. Until recently, a fleet of General Electric 70-Ton end-cab switchers was the railroad's primary power, but environmentally-friendly genset locomotives (as well as larger second-hand EMD switchers) have eroded the ranks of the 70-Tonners. With a little bit of poking around, we find one of the genset units busy at work near the yard.

Further exploring the industrial park, we encounter a large group of railfans, and we soon see what has caught their eye -- a trio of the 70-Tonners is working near the railroad's offices! We join the group of photographers and watch the classic workhorses switch around.

Soon, though, it's time for us to move on. Heading back towards Stockton, we note that a southbound San Joaquin train is due through, so we pause at Escalon to shoot it. We're rewarded with a southbound BNSF local first, however, with the Amtrak train not far behind. It's only a little past noon, but duty calls and our shooting comes to an end for the day.

Day 5: March 15, 2009 --- Heading Back To San Francisco
Okay, actually this is day 6; the previous day was spent at Winterail watching the multitude of high-quality slide shows, but no trains were photographed. Thus, this is actually our fifth day of shooting.

The weather is iffy in most places, but the Central Valley almost always has sun, so we abandon our plans to go to Altamont Pass in favor of sticking with the Valley. We start out back at Riverbank for a northbound Amtrak train, then peek in over the fence at the Modesto & Empire Traction shops for a look at the 70-Tonners sitting outside. It's back to Riverbank, however, to get a southbound San Joaquin on the Stanislaus Bridge.

Continuing south beyond Modesto, we find a former Santa Fe unit behind a razor wire fence at a grain elevator near Denair. It wasn't that long ago that this elevator's units sat unprotected in the open overnight, but the proliferation of graffiti (which used to be confined to freight cars, but is spreading to locomotives in the west) has led to higher security measures. A northbound Amtrak train is shot nearby.

Bruce needs to be at the airport before me, so we start working our way to the Bay. On the way, we make a quick stop at the yard in Tracy, where we find Union Pacific power tied up with California Northern diesels. From there, it's off to the airport; it's raining in San Francisco.

After dropping off Bruce, I decide to head into the city to photograph MUNI streetcars. My first choice is to hit Market Street and the restored PCC cars, but a parade has just finished and all of Market Street is jammed with traffic; parking is non-existent. I circle back and follow the Church Street line up the hills outside of town and soon wind up at Mission Dolores Park. Hmmmm. I decide to shoot in this area, but problematic parking puts me several blocks away. Not to worry, though -- the rain is letting up, and a pleasant walk back to the park reveals some very interesting architecture in this residential area. There are places where the J-Line swings through tight spaces between houses to travel on private right-of-way (and avoid Church Street's steep grades), and I pause to get a few shots there on the wet streets.

At the park, I find that not only do the modern streetcars of the J-Line pass here, but the vintage cars of the Market Street (F-Line) pass here as well on their way to the carbarn. No PCC cars come by, but I do get a few shots of ex-Milan (as in Italy) cars passing the park.

Finally, evening is moving in and my red-eye flight time is getting closer. I finish off my day at the Millbrae station on Caltrain, located convenient to the airport as well as an In-N-Out Burger location. A couple of night shots and I pack up the gear and head to the airport, leaving California behind until next March.

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