Saturday, March 29, 2008


I learned a new term for what I and many trainfans do--"foaming."

I'm guessing it's because we tend to foam at the mouth at the sudden strident ringing of a bell at a crossing, because we froth a bit every time we see a red and white striped gate lowering, and irritated motorists speeding up to beat it through.

Me, I've had my fair share of foaming, all this last Friday.

For the past two weeks the KATLB (a very impressive domestic-traffic stack train) has been off it's usual route and passing through our humble little Boyce as frequently as three and four times a week. It passes right in front of my office, and I get to watch three, four, somtimes five big UP engines struggling to haul the load up to speed after it crosses out of the Alexandria city limits. And, true to form, I foam. I foam because I can't get out there to chase it, a dog at an SUV's wheels.

Yesterday, arriving back at the office from lunch I found myself in the questionable position of having a little overtime on the clock. I knew I had to burn it off, but knew that it'd make a good excuse. When a text from Vulgar Wizard south along the line told me that the KATLB was headed toward me, five engines strong, I leaped into action. Begged the boss to let me flee for a few minutes to a) chase a train and b) burn off my last little bit of OT. She relented, and I exploded out the door like a racing dog released from it's box.

Now, one day I'm going to learn that trains don't function according to normal physical rules. A distance that takes any other train any other day to travel in eight minutes doesn't apply when you're actively chasing/spotting a train traveling that same distance. I roared off on the bike up into Boyce, got set up at what has been a past favourite spot (on the main street road that leads by the Boyce Co-Op) and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I test-framed shots. I walked up to the track to stare longingly down them for headlights. I walked on the giant stack of old ties that are stacked there awaiting pickup later. No train.

Fearing I'd already burned half an hour of my fifteen minutes, thinking that something untoward had happened (perhaps the train had taken MacArthur Drive instead?) I headed back toward work, dejected. Fretting, and distinctly not foaming I headed back. About half-way up Hwy 1 I saw--yes, you got it. Headlights, and a distinctive smudge of blue-grey smoke. I locked up the back tire, swung the bike around in the middle of the highway and headed back into Boyce at a good clip.

I arrived in time for nothing but simple setup--no artful setup, no playing with layout, just get there, get the helmet and gloves off, secure the bike and get the camera out NOW!

The Tropicana cars were at the front of the consist this time, rather than their accustomed spot somewhere in the middle but it gave me ample opportunity to frame a nice shot of deep well cars with some deep blue PacerStacktrain boxes in.

(You can read the Yahoo Groups discussion I inadvertantly started concerning the rerouting of the KATLB here.)

I arrived back at work fifteen minutes over my intended time but utterly bubbling over with enthusiasm and leftover adrenaline. Finished my day's work up with a manic smile constantly threatening to erupt across my face and as the clock slowly turned toward five I began to hear a distinct, heavy rumbling from southwards.

Knowing I'd not be so lucky as to catch something truly important I didn't get into too much of a rush as I packed and settled my gear. Perhaps I CAN be taught eh? Well, I was slow and stable until I saw a pair of big SD90MACs creep into view, heded into Boyce. UP 8047 and 8225, and directly behind them? Bronze coal cars, each with a heap of black mineral showing above the gon's walls. The Rodemacher coal shipment. The chase was back on!

I got into Boye with plenty of time to spare and took up a new favourite shooting position: stopped on the shoulder of the Hwy 8 overpass that leads out of Boyce and into Colfax. Again, thank heavens for a bike because I can fit my beauty comfortably in that lane with room for me to move around her and not bother traffic, which while not steady nor heavy is still fairly frequent.

She approached slowly, (I matched her speed through Boyce at just over 40mph) letting me set this shot up.

I don't know what it is but there's something in me that thrills to the sight of a miles long series of identical rolling stock. Chalk it up to foaming and leave it at that. Watching the local GPs doing run-through carrying a week's production of tankers from UTLX gives me the same thrill as seeing all those rotatable coal gons.

Here's where the learning part comes in.

The UP was moving slow, naturally. I got well ahead of it to what I thought was the entrance to Rodemacher, and stopped. There were two Sheriff's deputies there directing traffic at the spot where the tracks cross Hwy 1, and I thought for sure this was the spot that it was going to cross. Then I saw the sign: "Boise Cascade." The lumber plant. I panicked. I got flustered. I realied I didn't really KNOW where Rodemacher WAS, and that this wasn't it. So, I hopped back on the bike and went further up into Boyce, thinking I'd soon see it.

*sigh* Yeah, I'm not the brightest bulb in the box.

I knew if I hung a right at the entrance back onto the interstate it'd bring me back, after a time, to the UP line, way back in redneck country. I'd been there before with Vulgar Wizard--right around Patterson Ln is some lovely, quiet country, very scenic, very picturesque. So I hastened down there, got onto Patterson, set up a beautiful shot with tracks and bike and signal tower with it's red light glowing and two horses with a foal. I was so proud! Two "iron horses" and some real horses in a single shot, with a good sky and lots of green trees. Triumph!

I heard engines approaching. I readied. I steadied. I heard engines moving away, and the signal light went out, along with my hopes. Rodemacher Power Plant, it occurred to me, must be BEHIND Boise Cascade.

Cursing and spitting I tore back up very poor roads to get to the intersection where I'd passed the officers, and sure enough, the road is blocked by...wait for it...coalers. Headed to ROPS, which lies BEHIND Boise Cascade. I arrived just in time to see UP 6066 pushing across the intersection.

He CAN be taught! And since I knew which general direction it was headed, I figured I'd see if I couldn't let it point out the location of ROPS for me. I rolled back up Hwy 1 to the four-way stop and this time turned LEFT. I drove all of a quarter mile and saw a big sign: W. Donner Rodemacher Power Generating Station. *sigh* It's the hard lessons that you remember the best.

I drove in and stopped at the guard shack, and was in awe of the long curve of coalers laid out in front of me. (As as aside I strongly recommend this spot--beautiful grounds, lots of good light, amazing scenery behind and around, and trains of very regular frequency.) The old guard that met me was very friendly and no doubt could see my enthusiasm and let me take a few shots.

That huge black mound in the deep center background? Coal. A veritable mountain. 150,000 tons burned a day, I was told, and they're stocking up for the summer season. I was further told that the train pulled head-first into a large shed where a specialised crane releases each car, tips it into a huge hopper and replaces the cars one at a time, while the hopper loads the emptied coal into a conveyor belt that drops it way at the top of that gods-awful pile.

This was my favourite shot of the entire set, though. The train passes through what is essentially a 30 foot wide steel culvert. The road into the plant literally passes over it and the curve of the rails combined with the trees and the perfectly manicured rails with the plastically-identical gondolas makes this look for all the world like a kid's toy train set with a tunnel made out of a big chunk of dryer hose.

Next time I WILL catch a pair of engines in that curve. For now? Live and learn.

The complete Flickr sets of these photos can be seen at these links:

My account on Flickr


Rodemacher coal shipment

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Blogger Nancy Dancehall said...

I love the last shot. It looks like a model.

April 1, 2008 at 12:55 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

You are a continuing adventure!

April 6, 2008 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Mona Buonanotte said...

Have you ever seen the movie, "The Station Agent"? I think you'd dig it. Trains. Beautiful.

April 7, 2008 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Irrelephant said...

Doesn't it though, Nancy? I love love love that the landscape is so PERFECTLY done. I think that more than anything lends the photo that "HO scale model" look.

Jean, you're a complete angel to say that. And you're gonna give me a big ego!

Mona, I have! Our own Miss Dancehall pointed me to it. Excellent movie! And to see more of Peter (the dwarf) watch "Death At A Funeral." He's got a very...surprising role. *g*

April 7, 2008 at 7:47 PM  

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