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September 2000

   On Tuesday, September 5th, I headed up the Columbia River Gorge (Washington state side) for another railfanning trip. There are two lines running through the Gorge, UP on the Oregon side and BNSF on the Washington state side. I had decided that I have enough pictures of Armour Yellow engines, so I wanted to bring some different colors into my pictures. The BNSF line, originally built by Spokane, Portland & Seattle and later merged into the Burlington Northern, is a great place to see lots of different colored engines.

   I managed to be in the Gorge before eight in the morning, and also got my first picture before eight. I was rolling east on Highway 14 paralleling the tracks and saw a set of headlights coming toward me about a mile away, next to the Bonneville Dam. I just stopped along the road and took a real quick picture. I didnít have time to set up my lighting just right, so the train is a little dark in the picture.

   Just up river from the dam, the tracks go through Tunnel 1.5 and then under the highway. I stopped near the overpass and set up to shoot an eastbound train coming out of the tunnel just before it went under the bridge. I only ended up waiting about ten minutes before I got my shot. The garbage train that runs from Vancouver to Wishram and back every day came out led by three SD40-2s still in their BN paint.
   After getting my shot I continued up river. Just before getting to Stevenson, I discovered an old F-unit and a wooden caboose sitting outside of the Columbia River Interpretive Center. I snuck around behind the building and managed to get a decent shot of them both. The cab unit is painted primer red and lettered with BN reporting marks. The caboose is red and appears to be in its original Spokane, Portland & Seattle paint.
   On the other side of the town of Stevenson, I found a small hill between the highway and the tracks that I could stand on and shoot. I expected the picture to have the engines up close and the rest of the train visible behind it twisting around an S-curve along the river, but the hill just wasnít high enough. I couldnít see the S-curve behind Superliners, and the train was too short anyway. I might have waited for a freight train to try again, but I didnít think the shot would have been good enough to make it worth my time.
   From Stevenson the highway and the tracks run parallel right along the river, and both the highway and the tracks go through a series of parallel tunnels. I happened to pass the garbage train holding the siding at Cooks. By this time the morning clouds had burned off and the sun was in the east and south of the river. This was a problem because there would be fewer places to get the light on the right side of the trains. After several tunnels, the highway crosses a bridge over the tracks and ends up between the river and the tracks. Standing on the bridge looking west, the track curves around to the left. It makes an excellent spot to shoot eastbound trains taking advantage of the morning light. I had just barely picked my spot on the bridge when a westbound manifest went under the bridge. I took the shot of it going away. As soon as the manifest had cleared the east switch at Cooks, I heard on the scanner that the garbage train had permission to continue east. The light was perfect and the shot turned out just beautifully.
   I cruised up river a little farther, but I heard on the scanner that there was a westbound coal train coming my way. Unit coal trains never run near my house, so I wanted to make sure I had a good shot of it. I went back to the bridge over the tracks, but instead of standing on the bridge I went around the small hill that sticks out in the river so I had a little bit different angle to shoot from.

   The train was going the wrong way, but I still had a chance to make a good shot out of it. My first shot was taken of just a little too early, and trailing engine is partially hidden by a tree. In the second shot the engines are a little too far away from the camera. The third shot I thought that I would be able to see the engines going into the tunnel, but itís just so far away you need a microscope to see anything. After taking those shots I moved around a tree on the hill to get a little closer to the tracks. I didnít expect to take any more pictures since the engines were gone, and I wanted to see what the rotary couplers looked like. Not only could I not see the couplers (they were all on the wrong end), but the end of the train came along with another two engines pushing! I did take a picture from where I was standing, but this wasnít as good of a location (and I got another tree in front of the engines). I was a little disappointed by these shots, but itís one of those things I can always go back and give it another try.

   About this time the scanner told me that the dispatcher was going to give a bunch of track warrants to the Maintenance of Way guys, so I didnít expect to see any trains for awhile. But I know from experience that as soon as you decide you wonít see a train, thatís when they show up. So I set up near Tunnel 11 (the last tunnel on the line) hoping that the scanner was wrong. Tunnel 11 is fairly short, and I wanted to use my zoom lens to shoot through the tunnel to just as the train entered the other end. Iíd seen it done with models in Model Railroader before, and I decided I could duplicate that shot. Turned out the scanner wasnít wrong, and I ended up staying there for about three hours. Even though I had brought something to read, I finished it too quickly. I did get one westbound when I needed an eastbound, but I knew it wasnít going to be all that good of a shot. After that westbound had passed, I had to switch ends of the tunnel because the sun moved too far west. After switching ends I didnít have to wait too long before another westbound (intermodal) came through. Even though I had a long wait, the effort was worth it because the picture is this monthís Image of the Month.
   Beyond Tunnel 11 the Gorge flattens out a bit, and thereís just no good places to shoot. I turned around and headed west to see what I could do with afternoon light. I ended up all the way back at Tunnel 2. I had heard over the scanner that two westbounds would be coming through, and it looked like the west end of Tunnel 2 would be a good place to shoot one of my westbounds.

   The power of my first westbound was greatóan SD40-2 in Heritage I, a Warbonnet unit still lettered for Santa Fe, a GE in Heritage II, and finally another SD40-2 in BN paint. The last SD40-2 had been painted in the white-face scheme, but the paint on the nose was peeling off to reveal the tiger stripes underneath. Unfortunately I couldnít get a shot of this. At this point the highway is below the tracks so I was looking up at the train, and it turned out pretty good.

   I expected the second westbound to be right on the tail of the first, so I went up to Tunnel 3 real quick to get it coming out of that tunnel. I knew I had a little time because the detector up the track hadnít gone off yet. I decided I could climb the hill on the other side of the highway and get a shot looking down on the train as it came out of the tunnel. I waited for quite a while and never heard anything about my second westbound. I did hear the dispatcher talking to an eastbound that was downriver coming toward me, and I ended up getting a shot of it from my spot on the hill. But still no indication of a westbound coming.
   I climbed down (mistake!) and followed that eastbound to see what was going on. My westbound snuck up on me (turned out to be the garbage train on its return trip), and almost passed me. I got stuck behind a slow truck and the train was going faster than I was for awhile. Luckily the train had to slow down at Cooks, and I managed to get ahead of it. I never had a chance to take the shot from the hill at Tunnel 3, but once I got ahead of it, I did get an interesting shot of the train going under a wooden highway bridge at Home Valley.
   By the time I had gotten that shot, the sun was getting low in the sky and I was about ready to head home. I was going to wait to get a shot of the eastbound Empire Builder, but it was so late I gave up on it and called it a day. All things considered, a very satisfying day in the Gorge. I haven't decided where I'm going in October, but with fall on its way I hope to get some colorful leaves as a background to trains. The update will come around the first of November.


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