Some years are just special. Opportunities present themselves in abundance. Unexpected challenges emerge. Enormous amounts of film are exposed (refer back to the statement about opportunities). At the time, it just seems that things are happening in a blur of motion. Then, looking back– looking back 25 years in this case– you gain a perspective that shows you what a blessing the time was. For me, such a year was 1994.
If you’re reading this, you know that I’m a huge railfan. Any chance to photograph trains should not be wasted– the only photos I’ve regretted are the ones I didn’t take– and at this point in my life we could finally afford more film and its attendant processing. Remember, this is years before consumer digital cameras were a thing. Raising a couple of small kids has a way of encroaching on the “fun” budget, but we were extending our lead over the wolf by this time. So, the fact that we happened to do a lot of traveling that year meant that I shot a LOT of railroad subjects.
And it worked out to a lot of travel, especially for a young family. The year 1994 included two trips from New Mexico to Denver to ride the Ski Train. I also attended a church men’s retreat in Mountainair, NM, within walking distance of Santa Fe’s Transcon. We bought a camper and took it to Oklahoma and back through southern New Mexico. We had to make two emergency trips to Boulder to attend to family medical crises. And I made a business trip to Colorado Springs. In all cases I took along the trusty Minolta and made time to get trackside. Several trips, in some cases. And as things turned out, I got some of my best photographs ever during the course of the year.
So, on to the exhibit. These shots are arranged chronologically, because I feel that it enhances the geographic and topical richness that was my 1994.
Click on the images to see full-size renderings.
|The first rail photo of 1994: February 18th, at the highway junction called Johnson Village, just south of Buena Vista. This westbound SP freight was approaching the highway overpass there. Shivering in the cold wind, I thought it would never pass! Too bad about that power line…
Now, of course, the Tennessee Pass line is mothballed and no more such scenes are recorded.
|Now aboard the Ski Train: February 20th. On this day we had bad luck with the power. The trailing unit up there, SP tunnel motor #8355, dropped its load near tunnel 13 and our speed fell to about 5 MPH. Here we’re limping into Crescent, where a pirated pair of locomotives was tacked onto the front for the rest of our westbound trip.|
|Fast forward to May 6th. I’m hundreds of miles to the south, east of Belen, NM on the AT&SF Transcon. Here, at what was then the end of the single-track Abo Canyon stretch, a trio of GP50s hustles west with yet another double-stack train.|
|Further to the east, this J.B. Hunt train is drifting down towards the upper entrance to Abo Canyon.|
|One of those rare planned shots that actually worked out: an eastbound TOFC train crests the summit at Mountainair. It’s a really deep cut in here, and you should never walk along the rails as I was doing– this train completely surprised me. Good thing I was on the near, empty track. (5/07/1994)|
|Later that same day, a trio of F45u’s go by me at Suwanee, NM. This is west of Belen, south of Laguna.|
|In one of my favorite exposures ever, a beautiful trio of Warbonnets roll past me at Suwanee, NM. The two Dash 840C’s and the C44-9W were still pristine. I was sitting cross-legged on top of a church van to get this angle. Yes, the driver was a friend, and tolerant…|
|Driving east on I-40 just west of Tucumcari, this SP train with an absolute riot of locomotive models passed us going the other way. The power includes: a GP60, B36-7 No. 7762, SD45T-2 No. 9375 (or 9325), an SSW B40-8, and another tunnel motor. A risky shot to take while pulling a camper, but here it is. (Late May 1994)|
|On June 4th we were in Alamogordo, New Mexico, taking in the sights in the area, when this westbound train paused on its way to El Paso. I had a perfectly-posed train and so of course I shot it on the shadowy side! Oh well. I have learned a few things since then. Two fairly-new GP60s and a couple of GP40s further back.|
|In July 1994 my father had a serious heart attack, and we traveled to Boulder to be with the family. I’m not a fan of sitting around in hospitals, so I dragged my family up into the mountains to burn some film. Since my dad owned an identical Minolta, I “borrowed” his 80-200mm zoom lens and recorded the scenes below.|
|On the morning of July 20th, a bunch of us went up to tunnel 1 at Coal Creek canyon. It was a foggy day and I was worried, but I needn’t have been. In this quick glimpse in the mist, SSW SD45T-2 No. 9398 emerges into view– running all by itself– and passes into tunnel 1 below us. I didn’t realize until picking up the film that I had just captured a spectacular image.|
|Another headlight in the fog! What could it be?|
|It turns out to be a trio of SD60MACs in BN paint! Evidently they were being borrowed to test the new AC traction technology on the steep grades of the Moffat line. Nos. 9500, 9502, and 9501.
These are three of only four SD60MACs built, which were also the only BN units painted like this.
|But the surprises just kept coming this morning. Here, EMD’s lowest-numbered SD70M demonstrator was working as a swing helper, paired with D&RGW tunnel motor 5365.|
|The following day was a more-typical summer day. At Pinecliffe I captured this westbound freight/coal combo climbing up the canyon, led by a pair of D&RGW SD40T-2’s.
I was really loving that lens of my dad’s… Too bad I had to give it back.
|In September I had to make a business trip to Colorado Springs. Several times in the morning or evening I got out with my camera and got photos. Not knowing that the Santa Fe / BN merger was only a year away, the pictures were even more timely.|
|September 15th, morning: an southbound BN train is led by C30-7 No. 5051. This is where the tracks cross Main St. in Fountain.|
|That evening I captured this scene of a northbound freight near Woodmen Road. The leading SD40-2 has ditch lights but they’re not switched on. Cheyenne Mountain is in the distance.
(now my daughter lives about 200 yards from here!)
|The same evening I went downtown by the depot and discovered this pair of AT&SF Dash 8-40C’s with a northbound freight. Here they were doing a little switching, cutting out some cars before proceeding north.|
|On the following day the railroad was quiet, and I finally discovered why: a long string of maintenance-of-way equipment was traveling north on the single track. Here, a D&RGW tamper trundles up the line north of Woodmen Road.|
|Back downtown again, I found this D&RGW GP30, the resident switch engine at the time. No. 3006 is showing her age and gave off a pungent smell of heavy gear oil, as any old machine will, but she still had a few years of life in her.|
|In November my dad had another health crisis, and we headed up to Boulder again. You guessed it. I headed for the mountains with a camera. Twice.
The first time, November 22, was a sledding trip with my daughters, which coincidentally took us to Tolland, just east of the Moffat Tunnel. Howling wind, below-freezing temperatures; perfect railfan weather!
|I had incredible luck with the rare power sightings in 1994. Here a trio of SP SD70M’s were leading a PSCX coal train down through Tolland. People tell me this may have been their only trip up this line as a set.|
|Here’s the mid-train swing helper on this train: a pair of D&RGW tunnel motors (5376, 5373).
|We chased the train down to Pinecliffe and hiked down to tunnel 29. Here the train is curving past us on the 12-degree curve and into the shadows.|
|One more look at this train: here are the swings as they emerge from the 78-foot bore. I was thrilled to still find some Rio Grande power working in its traditional setting like this.|
|Three days later– November 25th– I was back at it, this time with my cousin’s family in tow. We drove all the way up to East Portal this time. On the way up, we overtook a westbound freight at Tolland, led by a solid suite of cruddy SP cinderblocks, but couldn’t beat it to the crossing at East Portal siding and was unable to get any photos.|
|We stuck around at the tunnel and were rewarded by the westbound Amtrak California Zephyr, here led by P40 No. 822 and its mate 812. I’d been reading about the Genesis units for a while but this was my first time seeing any.|
|The westbound parade wasn’t over quite yet, though. Soon this westbound coal empty showed up, led by a consist that was a study in SP paint schemes. SD40T-2 repaint No. 8560 was the leader, wearing a new Speed Lettering scheme. Behind are: SD45R, SD40M-2, two tunnel motors, and another EMD.
Click here for a view from the exact same place but in 1968.
|One more look at the same train, since it shows (1) the tunnel portal here, and (2) that nice Kodachrome SD45!
The train consisted of about 100 BN hoppers, although I speculate they may have been second-hand CTRN cars. I’ll never know, though.
|To round out the year, we took a second Ski Train trip on December 29th. I borrowed my brother’s camcorder for the day, so a lot of my energies were spent on video rather than film stills. That being said, I still got a few timeless exposures on the Minolta.|
|In this view at Fraser, a pair of SD45T-2’s were staying occupied on a very quiet day on the railroad. SSW No. 9401 now wears speed lettering; the unit in traditional paint is No. 6850 (which makes it an SD45-T2R). They are shoving a D&RGW maintenance-of-way tank car up the 2% grade out of Fraser towards the Moffat Tunnel. It was as cold as it looks. Back in the Moffat Road days, entire trains used to freeze to the tracks in this area.|
|In this cluttered but unrepeatable view, the Ski Train is ready to load for the return trip to Denver. I’m standing on top of the water tunnel; the main tunnel of course is to our right. The train was powered by a pair of shiny SP GP60’s. Also note in the background a Fairmont track speeder, and the light blue Chevy truck (Rio Grande vintage) with the scissor-lift platform used for tunnel inspections.|
|In this view from the other side, SP 9752 is ready to proceed into the tunnel (once the passengers have entrained, which is a good thing for me, since I’m a LONG ways from the platform!). The Ski Train power would always pull up to this point when it was time to board, maximizing the trackside access (and I suspect allowing the crew to see into the tunnel– and be seen).|
Looking back at these photos, I’m struck by how much has changed since 1994. None of the railroad companies pictured even exist anymore; all were merged with or into others within a couple years of these photos. The Ski Train soldiered on until 2009 but is also a thing of the past now. Most of this equipment has been retired, with just a couple of exceptions. The paint schemes are no longer used. It just goes to show, you never know how valuable a photo might become in subsequent years.
So you can see why 1994 was special. But who knows? Someday I may look back on 2019 and realize how great it was. There are always more scenes just waiting for someone to point a camera at them.