Friday, November 30, 2018

And To Finish Up November...

Continuing some discussion from the previous posts this month, November started with a bang in the trip to the La Mesa club in San Diego, CA, and then continued with this year's hosting of the 'November Interchange' annual event back in Northern NJ.  This is a round-robin group of modelers and operators from Northern NJ, and from the greater Washington DC areas that operate in one region this year, and the other next year.  This was the second time the Onondaga Cutoff has hosted a session for this event and was a fun success.  Here NYS&W power lays over at Onondaga Yard, before the session began:

In hindsight I should have taken more photographs and especially of the operators doing their thing.  Something to keep in mind for next time!

Other recent projects include putting into service two of the new Scale Trains SD40-2's decorated for Conrail.  They turned out well, and with the Helicon software, even the photos look sharp:

Then, suddenly it was Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday and one that each year is a nice blend of family chaos and low-key community time.  It's hard to overstate just how much it means to be part of a tight community, and I feel a responsibility to help create an environment where good camaraderie and community will flourish.  The same energy carries over to the OC and its operations:  it's people that matter most, and by looking out for others, we create a community for ourselves.  

Over that weekend I was able to get out with the kids to spend some time trackside, something they all enjoy.  Watching them grow is fascinating. We got the last of the fall colors along the Lehigh Line, and even managed to see a few NS freights.

Here's NS train 20R in the S-curve eastbound at Stanton Station, NJ:

Now, on to December!  Lots of good things coming.  Thanks for your readership and time!


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

From West to East

Building upon the early November 2018 trip to San Diego, CA to operate the LaMesa Club's Tehachapi Pass layout, we took a scenic route back to the airport and made time to railfan Cajon Pass in the morning and Tehachapi Pass in the afternoon.  Our first stop was 'Hill 582', a well-known mecca for train watching in Southern California.  On the west side of Cajon Pass, BNSF and UP trains from the east descend steep winding grades into the LA basin, with a backdrop of deserts and mountains.


It's a great vista for trains in both directions from both railroads!  BNSF Eastbound stacks on the former ATSF/UP line, beneath the watch of 10,064 foot Mount Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and west:

Then some UP westbounds, up on the former SP "Palmdale Cutoff":

More BNSF westbounds on the former Santa Fe:

It doesn't take long to see trains here, even on a Monday:  the pass can see more than 100 trains daily on three routes owned by UP and BNSF.  It's a great show.

Then, up to Tehachapi.  One of the most magical places to watch trains, and my favorite in the world, so far.  We narrowly missed an eastbound BNSF manifest at Caliente and Bealville, so rushed back uphill to see him cross over his tail headed up Tehachapi Loop:

He took the siding at Walong/Marcel to meet a westbound UP manifest that we chased until sundown.  First, afternoon light at Marcel:

Late afternoon at the Loop:

Downgrade at Allard in the horseshoe curve.  Check out the golden light on the golden wildgrass..."The Golden State" indeed!

One surprise was to see a handful of boxcars lying on their side in the tight curve west of Tunnel 2.  WOW - stuff like that makes you realize how dangerous trains still are.  Trespassing is illegal for a reason!   Sometimes the dramatic shots are trackside, and even when legal, if you'd happened to be there for this event...

I think one of the things that has captivated me about the American West since my youth has been the vastness of it all, and the perspective of loneliness and absolutism that it conveys. I have explored parts of every Western state with the exception of South Dakota (on my list), and I love parts of all of them.  Out here you really can be ALONE - as in hundreds of miles from anyone else - after just a short drive.  The vastness of the scenes and territory dwarfs human ambition more often than not.  If you are out there and you make a mistake, take a fall, run out of gas, etc, you are in real trouble.  Not 'first world trouble' but actual, real trouble.   I love that accountability.  Even railroads, larger than life in so many ways and especially so in the East, out here are just threads of transportation across an incredible landscape.  The men and women that work them need to be prepared for the territory.  

Our train curved out the mountains at Caliente and Ilmon, and headed west. One fascinating part of this is that each of the locations above is faithfully reproduced in HO scale at the LaMesa Club, to the point of being able to recognize specific bluffs and ditches along the scene.  It is spectacular modeling, and an equally spectacular operation.  

A favorite activity trackside has always been to pace trains, and the stretch of high-speed mainline between Bakersfield CA and the foot of the big grades is a perfect example.  Here our manifest is quickly up to 60 MPH, rolling into the setting sun towards a crew change at Bakersfield.  The foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, north of Tehachapi Pass, line the horizon some 10 miles distant.

The trip was coming to a close, and so was this amazing day of watching trains in Southern California.   The smokey and golden sunset backlights our manifest as a green block signal calls the crew home to Bakersfield.  

An amazing month of November continues in the next installment, which I need to squeeze in before December begins.  

More soon!

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Busy Autumn Season

These continue to be amazing times for model railroading, and I continue to be amazed and thankful for some of the new experiences I am continuing to have in the hobby.

First off, at the start of this month, thanks to the graciousness and tenacity of my wife and children, I was able to spend a few days operating on the famous Tehachapi Pass layout of the La Mesa Model Railroad Club, housed in the museum facilities of Balboa Park in San Diego, CA.  Words and photos cannot describe the experience - it's a must see for anyone who enjoys modeling that can get there.

Check out the details.  The tie fenceposts, the earthwork, ballast, and maintenance roadways.

A brief overview of the trip is in order:  we flew out Thursday 11/1 early in the morning so as to have a day to get to the club and assist in staging the railroad for operations on Friday 11/2, Saturday 11/3. and Sunday 11/4.  Thursday night allowed some time to 'get qualified' on the physical characteristics of the railroad - and to be amazed at the scope and scale.  WOW.  For instance, one of the club regulars was moving this 105-car train of refrigerated boxcars ('reefers' in railroad jargon) west to Bakersfield for the following day.   105 cars!  You don't see that every day, and certainly not on an operating mountain railroad.

The railroad climbs about 15 real feet in elevation, close to the correct scale for the actual line.  The scenic feature most recognizable from the pass and the layout is the Tehachapi Loop, a full helix-in-real-life on a 2.5% grade eastbound.  Here an SP manifest comes down the hill, crossing under its own tail as it moves west.

My first solo trip on the railroad on Friday morning was Santa Fe's #23 train, the westbound Grand Canyon, a first-class passenger move.  Since westbounds are superior to eastbounds by timetable direction, I had an easy run with no opposing moves to worry about - they all had to get out of my way!  But even with no waiting, and track speed the entire trip, my journey from Mojave at the east end of the railroad to Bakersfield at the west end took about 45 minutes.   Amazing.

Here that same ATSF train #23 comes down through the lower part of Caliente, CA, having traversed most of the railroad by now.  This scene is one of the most remarkable in all of model railroading, as it is nearly a dead ringer for the prototype.  Caliente in the foreground, the horseshoe curve up the hill, and then successive levels behind the operator in the distance up to Cliff siding, which is a mile away as the crow flies, but 7 miles away by railroad milepost.  Incredible - because that's what we see here, in HO scale!

A good portion of the scenery on the middle areas of the run are above the head of viewers, leading to angles like this one at "Cliff" siding - very appropriately named.

There is no way to really capture the vast expanse of modeling on the railroad, and the attention to detail throughout the finished portions with scenery.  But, here's a tailing off image of ATSF Train 23, with his markers passing the east switch of Ilmon siding.   Bena is ahead with double track from there to Bakersfield.  You get the sense that you are actually running trains on a railroad here, not a layout:  it's so grand in scale to be prototypically vast.

This post is long enough already, so I'll end with a quick reflection.  As time goes on, my definition for 'busy' seems to change.  In the past I used to think I was busy, with different activities demanding time and energy, and yet those times seem to pale in comparison to these days.  Still these things go on, and there's something reassuring about that.  Holidays like Thanksgiving really allow one an opportunity to sit and breathe and appreciate some of the good things that go unnoticed most days.  Walking without pain.  Food to eat.  The colors of nature, the smiles from happy people, the faith of friends and family, and loyalty of pets.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!