Sunday, July 22, 2012

A very rare California Zephyr train meet at Switch 9:

It was a beautiful day in the Sierra Nevadas, and I was again train-chasing with scanner, camera and video.

I first caught the eastbound #6 California Zephyr near Secret Town, running up the hill at full passenger train track speed of 30 mph. I immediately noticed there were three units pulling; normally Amtrak only places two locomotives on each Zephyr.

Those familiar with the California Zephyr know that the route runs between Chicago, Illinois in the east, to Emeryville in California. The westbound Zephyr is the #5, and the eastbound Zephyr is the #6.

Those familiar with train-chasing also know that catching a train meet photographically or on video is extremely rare; it is even more rare to catch a meet of the two California Zephyr trains, as they run only once per day, each direction.

With that in mind, please see my video below. Click here to visit the YouTube link itself, where you can enlarge the video completely on your screen.

You can see that I catch the eastbound Zephyr, first, near Secret Town and approaching Gold Run. The eastbound #6 Zephyr features GE P42B #203 on point, with #201 in second spot and #189 in third position. I found this unusual, because Amtrak customarily runs only two engines on the Zephyr. I soon discovered #189 was dead and likely being transported for repairs or service. All three of these engines were manufactured by GE in 2001 and feature 4,200-hp engines with DC-driven traction motors.

The westbound #5 Zephyr, at Switch 9, has GE unit #192 on point, with #161 trailing. Both of these engines come from the same pedigree as the #6 Zephyr locomotives.

My apologies: as the eastbound #6 enters the Switch 9 tunnel, I fell from the rock where I stood whilst attempting to pan.

That said, as I hiked down to the tracks from the top of the Emigrant Gap area, I felt a certain "something" -- a bit like my Spidey Sense was tingling. Like this:

Mountain lions in the western United States have been re-populating exponentially. A recent mountain lion attack in my general area put an older hiker in the hospital with very serious head, neck and shoulder wounds, when a big cat ventured into a camper's tent at night.

Up in the high Sierra Nevada elevations where I live and customarily shoot video and digital photographs, mountain lions and black bears range. They are the pinnacle predators. Plus, the deer populations have rapidly expanded as well, creating a wonderful food source for said apex predators.

Two things I fear, because I primarily hike alone: a lone mountain lion -- old and addled or young and stupid -- or the cubs of a black bear. Because that means Mom is nearby and mostly unhappy.

I've seen much bear scat with berries and large animal prints over the years -- in the dust, the mud and the snow.

That day, the hair on the back of my neck raised and my radar lit up from behind. Mountain lions will take you from behind and you mostly won't see or hear them.

I started making noises, talking, and snapping my fingers. For those of you so interested, I am also customarily armed with a handgun whose caliber never falls below the first digit of 4. And a number of speedloaders. Mostly, I carry a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull.

I grabbed my video and hiked back uphill. I felt I was being watched. It felt like a large, bloody X was painted on my back.

Ever have that feeling when you're hiking?


Monday, July 9, 2012

Tunnel 18 In Newcastle

Union Pacific finished their tunnel enlargement program in November of 2009 (above) -- in order to accommodate double-stack or container traffic (as shown below) over Donner Pass. I summarized UP's new container traffic capabilities over the Roseville Subdivision here.

I created this post to illustrate one way that UP had altered tunnels so that the extended heights of double-stack well cars could be accommodated. Those photos in that post included:

Those photographs were, oddly enough, of the western portal to Tunnel 18 (excellent historical reference to Tunnel 18 here, from Tunnel 18, finished in 1909 -- the year of its construction is engraved in granite atop each portal entrance -- is at UP's milepost 119 and is 991 feet long, double-tracked. Its west and east portals and "wing-walls" are constructed from granite blocks hewn out of the rock through which the Central Pacific had to blast in the 1860s, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Tunnel 18 was holed in 1909 as part of Southern Pacific's double-tracking program at the time. The original line -- built by the primarily Chinese workforce of the Central Pacific Railroad -- contained only one roadbed. The second line was laid in order to lessen the severity of grade for newer (also heavier and longer) trains and engines, but it necessitated the creation of more tunnels (as well as more cuts and fills) to enable that purpose -- hence, Tunnel 18. Probably the finest overall reference material for Donner Pass is John Signor's book "Donner Pass: Southern Pacific's Sierra Crossing," published by Golden West Books.

Below, you can see my video reference for Tunnel 18:

This video is a "first" for many reasons. It represents my first attempt at video editing, as limited as it may be by the software. It represents my having to become much more familiar with YouTube and how it is handled and massaged. And it represents an attempt to make this blog a bit more professional.

Since the assembly of the video, I've shot a number of additional videos for editing, awaiting insertion into my YouTube channel.

My sincerest apologies for not having created a post here for two months but work is, after all, work, and frequently gets in the way of what I'd certainly prefer to be doing.

Take care and be safe. More videos coming.


If you have any comments or reactions to the video, please respond.