Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chasing A Train Through The Tehachapi Pass

BNSF Executive Train - Bealville, California
Back in July I made a trip to Arvin, California to visit the DMV and photograph the small downtown area there. On my way home I chased a train through the Tehachapi Mountains.

I was on California Highway 223 turning east onto California Highway 58 when I caught a glimpse of a silver train. It isn't unusual at all to see trains in the Tehachapi Pass because this is a well-known railroad location--people travel from all over the world to see The Loop. It was, however, unusual to see a silver train. No passenger trains traverse this line.

The view from the highway intersection is obscured so I didn't see exactly what the train was. But I knew it wasn't typical. I thought that it might, perhaps, be the Ringling Brothers circus train, which I have seen in the area a few times before. I turned north on Bealville Road towards Bealville, hoping to get to a crossing there before the train did.
Pass - Bealville, California
Bealville is a small, rural place that you would miss if you blinked. There isn't much there at all. It's definitely not a town. However, from the mid-1860's to the mid-1870's this was a happening place, complete with a train station and post office. It was the southern end of the railroad before the line through the pass was complete, and hundreds of people lived there. Once the pass opened in 1876 the town disappeared.

I arrived in Bealville barely on time. There is a crossing that I knew would be a good place to photograph the train. There were four or five other people already there with cameras waiting. When the train arrived I realized that it was BNSF's executive train (which, as you might imagine from the name, is a passenger train for the railroad's upper management). BNSF's locomotive #8233 was pulling the cars. A Google search says that it's a General Electric ES44C4 built sometime in 2014.

My one-year-old son was in his carseat in the back seat sleeping, which meant that I was tethered to my truck. Thanks to the telephoto lens I had attached to the front of my camera and the open landscape I was able to capture several different images at this spot.
The Executive Train - Bealville, California
As soon as the train disappeared from view I drove back to Highway 58 towards Tehachapi. I exited at Keene and took "old U.S. 466" towards The Loop.

I noticed that the same people that I saw at Bealville were waiting at Keene, plus a few that weren't there. I found a spot where I could park and photograph from the truck. It didn't take long for the train to come rolling through.

Like all the other people, I got back on the road and chased the train again (but not quickly--this is not a road conducive to speed due to all of the twists and turns). Most everyone stopped at The Loop but, because my son was still asleep and there aren't any good photographic vantage points from the road, I continued on just a bit further.
Cliff Side - Bealville, California

Just beyond The Loop there is a small pullout that offers a good view of the tracks exiting a tunnel, known as Tunnel 10. I parked and waited just a couple of minutes before the train emerged from the darkness and into the light. It quickly snaked it's way out of sight.

After that my son awoke from his nap. There was one last stop that I wanted to make, and since the little guy was no longer sleeping I would be able to do so.

There is a park in Tehachapi called Meadowbrook Park. From the park a paved walkway leads to a picnic bench that overlooks the tracks. I knew that we didn't have much time to get down to the bench so I quickly got my son into his stroller and jogged down to see the train.
Rounding - Keene, California
A freight train was already there waiting. The tracks go from two mainlines to one through the mountains west towards Bakersfield, so it is not uncommon to find trains waiting here for their turn down the pass. It didn't take but a few minutes for the executive train to emerge around a bend. With excitement, my son said, "Choo-choo! Choo-Choo!"

As quickly as the train came it left. I didn't follow it any further. It was time to go home. I didn't intend to chase a train--and the midday sun was less than ideal lighting for photography--but it was a fun excursion nonetheless. And I was able to capture a couple of interesting images. This is a place where passenger train cars are a rare sight.

I used a Nikon D3300 DSLR to capture all of these photographs. A Nikkor 55-200mm AF-S DX f/4-5.6G ED lens was attached to the front of the camera. The images were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 7 software.
Observers - Keene, California
From Darkness To Light - Tehachapi, California
Two Trains - Tehachapi, California

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