Thursday, January 09, 2014

Cool Chromes -- My First California Trip (Part 1)

Cool Chromes is a semi-regular feature that looks at some slides that have recently passed through the scanner.
Union Pacific; Merlin, California; May 1991
I started shooting photos seriously in 1979, mostly near my home in New Jersey. In 1982 I took a plane for the first time, traveling to Denver for the National Railway Historical Society convention. In both 1986 and 1988 I did almost identical loops out of Seattle, circling down to the Columbia River, heading up through the Idaho panhandle and visiting the Canadian Rockies. But it wasn't until 1991 that I visited California for the first time, discovering that the Golden State is, indeed, rail photography heaven in many respects. I needed to see it all on that first trip, and I covered the entire state from the Oregon border to San Diego. In the 23 years between 1991 and 2013 I have visited California no fewer than 20 times (mostly thanks to attending Winterail, the big railroad photography exhibition in Stockton, each year since 1998). But that first trip was oh so special.

We start out with Union Pacific in the Feather River Canyon. Heading east from Oroville in northern California, the Canyon is the former Western Pacific and features around 70 miles of spectacular scenery, most with good road access. The shot above shows an eastbound train near Merlin, across from a rock formation known as Elephant Butt Butte.

Of course, any first time California trip has to include Tehachapi Loop (a bit below Bakersfield). The Loop is one of the best places (if not the best place) to watch trains in the U.S. This first trip was one of the few trips I would make to California before the Southern Pacific was absorbed by Union Pacific. In the shot below, an oil tank train has just circled the loop and is about to enter Tunnel 10; it has just passed through Tunnel 9 (seen near the center of the photo) and looped around to the right. There is no place like Tehachapi.
Southern Pacific; Tehachapi Loop, Walong, California; May 1991

Next up we're just above the Bay Area at Benecia as Amtrak's Coast Starlight crosses Carquinez Strait. Interstate 680 is just off to the right, and in the years since a second highway bridge has been added to the left of the railroad bridge. Across the Strait is Martinez, which in 1991 was served by a handful of trains. Today over 30 Amtrak California trains serve the station.
Amtrak; Benicia, California; May 1991
I had to check out the short lines, too, while there and a stop was made to see the Amador Central in Amador. Trains were not running, but the railroad's Baldwin diesel was outside the shop. The years have not been kind to this railroad, either -- the Baldwin vanished, and ultimately the entire line was abandoned.
Amador Central; Amador, California; May 1991
The reason I was in California in 1991 was to attend Railfair at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Guest steam locomotives were brought in, including freshly restored Southern Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2472. A large group of fans were waiting at the north end of the bridge in Benicia (see Amtrak shot above) to shoot the SP classic, and just as the train came into sight along Carquinez Strait it came to a halt for a lengthy servicing stop. We were all frustrated as shadows from the highway bridge moved in and messed up our shot. But after the train crossed the bridge we were able to get ahead of it for a shot before it made yet another servicing stop.
Southern Pacific 2472; Benicia, California; May 1991

We'll do more of California from 1991 in next week's Cool Chromes.

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