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.