|BNSF Railway; Gillette, Wyo.; July 8, 2016|
The morning of Day 5 of the trip wasn't good -- a peek out the window showed rain. Lots of rain. After a few extra minutes of sleep, I rousted myself up and head out of the Sturgis Super 8. Today's quarry would be the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern shortline. Pre-trip intelligence told me there was a reliable train that left Belle Fourche, S.D. (just a few miles to the north) each weekday morning. Upon arrival at Belle Fourche (which would mark the northern-most point of the trip), I couldn't find the locomotives. Was the intel wrong? I hung out near the yard office, and finally a crewman showed up. A quick chat with him and I discovered the power was just north of town. Whew! And they would be running to Rapid City today. Double whew!
As they switched an industry in Belle Fourche I noticed a distinct clearing line to the north. The weather would be improving. The only question was would it improve fast enough? The key shots I wanted were two back at Sturgis. The rain let up and I began the southward chase. One shot was at a campground just south of Belle Fourche. The train was in complete clouds, but you can see the clear sky behind the train. The first several shots would be like this.
|Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern; Belle Fourche, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
|Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern; Sturgis, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
I wheeled into the cemetery (I had actually checked the shot out in the rain earlier in the morning so I knew exactly where I had to go). I wheeled to the spot, jumped out of the car and waited... And waited... The train shouldn't be more than a mile away... And waited... Finally, after about 20 minutes the train showed up. I don't know if they worked an industry back in Sturgis or went to breakfast, or what. But the bottom line was I got both shots.
|Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern; Black Hills National Cemetery, Sturgis, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
|Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern; Piedmont, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
I found the train in Hill City ready to go, and got a shot of it leaving town. I should have stopped somewhere on the six percent grade coming out of Hill City, but instead pushed farther ahead. The road between the railroad's end points at Hill City and Keystone crosses the tracks about a dozen times, providing plenty of photo opportunities.
|Black Hills Central; Keystone, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
|Black Hills Central; Hill City, S.D.; July 7, 2016|
|Black Hills Central; Keystone, S.D.; June 7, 2016|
To start Day 6 I turned south at Gillette and headed down to Wright, Wyo., then made a left at Wright to head east into the coal fields. While rail traffic was busy, it wasn't as busy as a couple of years ago but certainly busier than my last visit to the basin (in 1994!). The first mine encountered heading east from Wright is Black Thunder West along the mainline. A Union Pacific train was coming out of Black Thunder's main mine, while a set of distributed power units (DPUs) pushed a train out on the mainline past Black Thunder West's massive silo.
|Union Pacific; Reno Junction, Wright, Wyo.; July 8, 2016|
|BNSF Railway and Union Pacific; Bill, Wyo.; July 8, 2016|
|BNSF Railway and Union Pacific; Converse Junction, Bill, Wyo.; July 8, 2016|
For Day 7, I finally broke out my drone, SkyRail1 (I name things...). The previous days I was either too busy to fly (it does take some set-up time, so if you're in a run-and-gun chase it slows you down too much) or I really wanted to concentrate on the scene with my real camera (it's hard to shoot with both simultaneously). But there were plenty of trains in the Powder River Basin, so the drone would give me some different angles. I broke it out, started to fly it -- and immediately discovered I couldn't see what I was doing with my phone (which you use to get a drone's-eye view for composition) in the bright western sun. I did manage to kind of guess when to shoot for one shot where the drone allowed me to get some mining operations in the background. Alas, this would be my only attempt at flying for the rest of the trip (I have subsequently ordered a sun shield for the phone).
|BNSF Railway; Wright, Wyo.; July 9, 2016|
|Union Pacific; Gillette, Wyo.; July 9, 2016|
|BNSF Railway; Wright, Wyo.; July 9, 2016|
|Union Pacific; Reno Junction, Wright, Wyo.; July 9, 2016|
|Union Pacific; Douglas, Wyo.; July 9, 2016|
I wanted a shot at the summit of Sherman Hill at the ghost town site of Sherman. Google Maps and my GPS gave conflicting information as to the location of Sherman, but finally I just followed my nose to the tracks and was soon shooting trains passing a sign marking the highest point on the transcontinental railroad.
|Union Pacific; Sherman, Wyo.; July 10, 2016|
|Union Pacific; Dale Junction, Wyo.; July 10, 2016|
|Union Pacific; Tie Siding, Wyo.; July 10, 2016|
|Deseret Power; Dinousaur, Colo.; July 11, 2016|
My next destination was pretty much in the middle of nowhere -- somewhere near Dinosaur, Colo. Leaving Sherman Hill, I headed down some remote highways to Dinosaur, where I found the tracks of the Deseret Western. Reportedly there would be a train on the line sometime after 6:30 a.m. With no motels nearby and a very early wake-up call, it would be another car camping night. I found the tracks of the Deseret Western around midnight and did some shots of the star-studded western sky at a grade crossing. I then found a flat spot to park and set my alarm for 6:15. I was now 3,993 miles into the trip. We'll pick it up here next week.