Sunday, 30 March 2014

Snow bound

Sunday morning at Auburn dawned clear and calm, with patchy cloud. After consulting on line resources, the command decision to tackles Donner Pass without snow chains was made - just do it.

The upper ski-fields got just under 2 feet of snow overnight, and the snow clearing guys did an excellent job of clearing the roads.

We called into Colfax where there was no signs of snow or any trains, so continued on. Within a few minutes and at about 3000 feet altitude we hit the white stuff - the whole place looked stunning - I got the drive to Soda Springs on GoPro, so should look pretty good.

The ski-field car park where I wanted to park hadn't been cleared by the plow guys, but one further along had been, so we had asafe place to park and only about 50 metres to walk to the grade crossing - 3 short trains later we were happy, which is just as well as the cloud soon rolled in and it started snowing.

We continued east and stopped at Truckee for lunch, where there was still plenty of snow on the ground, but the weather hadn't caught up yet.

While feeding our faces we saw an intermodal pass through, however this was soon followed by an empty grain train. I decided to continue east to Verdi, Nevada where we arrived just in time to catch this same train again.

We then headed back to Auburn and called into Hirschdale and sat on the bridge for a while, only to see one Amtrak pass through. The drive to Auburn was a real doozy - lots of snow - and it was still falling.

Upon arriving back at Auburn, it was soon realised that the bad weather was passing over and the light improving, so a select few decided to return to the tunnel at Newcastle where just after 5 minutes a ballast Herzog train passed through - timing.

Back to Auburn for dinner, shower and a good sleep.

I got a sunburned head at Soda Springs. More to come no doubt.

Piccies below:

Soda Springs

Soda Springs

Soda Springs

Lead loco for the Flanger set at Truckee

Spreader sets at Truckee

Saturday, 29 March 2014

If it doesn't rain...

Today was supposed to be day one of exploring Donner pass, however a minor depression has swept over California bringing much needed rain to many areas, and where we were, lots of it.

Tackling Donner Pass was not on the cards, it was snowing and raining heavily with low fog - and chains were essential if you wanted to attempt the drive. So the command decision was easy; go back to Roseville and check out the conditions there.

We paid a visit to a model train shop where I was lucky to even spend $100 - one of the others flaunted over $500 and intends to spend even more. Shopping for Eastern USA models in the Western USA is a tad difficult.
The guy at the hobby shop said there was a model railroad club open in town so we paid them a visit.

The rest of the day was spent looking for places around Roseville Yard to photograph and film out of the rain. I managed to film about 6 trains, but all but one of the shots was ruined by billowing rain that was landing on the lens - not good.

No photos - crap weather.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Relocation to Auburn

Today we bade farewell to the bright lights and big (cold and windy) city of San Francisco and relocated to Auburn.

As always, it was never going to be a direct route, stopping off at Emeryville, Martinez, Davis, Sacramento,  Roseville and Newcastle. Each has it's own story to tell:

Emeryville - we arrived just as the California Zephyr was departing for Oakland, so we missed that one - only for it to turn up again about an hour later. The intention was to stay at Emeryville for only 45 minutes, but a Union Pacific freight turned up and got held up at a set of lights, giving us the opportunity to shoot down the road and film it as it crossed a grade crossing - we waited about 30 minutes before it finally turned up. Saw about 5 or 6 trains all up, only one freight though.

We did a wee bit of exploring down Christie Road in Martinez, only to see 2 BNSF freights pass us by as we were driving, to be followed by 30 minutes of nothing.

Davis was good for lunch - lots of places to eat - no trains though. Really nice town, very peaceful.

Sacramento encompassed the Cal State Railroad Museum and me adding a few more Blu-rays to my collection...ooops.

Roseville yard was all it was meant to be, but the light for photography was pretty bad. High cloud meant poor backlight and loss of colour and detail.

I reckoned we could beat a departing freight to the Newcastle tunnel and so we tried, and succeeded - only to realise the train sitting at the lights wasn't the one we saw at Roseville - it hadn't even turned up yet, so we got two shots at the tunnel just as it was getting dark. We also saw a guy sitting at the tunnel mouth, who then decided to take a walk though it. Unsure how he fared as he went in just before the train did - silly boy.

Checked in to Auburn Motel 6 without a hitch - tidy room, but the beds resemble a something between the kitchen bench and a slab of concrete.

What we get up to tomorrow depends entirely on the amount of snow that falls on Donner Pass tonight.

Photos below.







Thursday, 27 March 2014

Day trip to Oakland

The weather wasn't looking too promising, however the clouds soon disappeared as we spent 3 glorious hours in Oakland.

To get there we:
Drove 1 km from the motel to the Caltrain Station.
Took the Caltrain from South San Francisco to Millbrae.
Took the BART from Millbrae to Oakland.
Took the bus from Oakland to Jack London Square.

To get back we:
Took the ferry from Jack London District to the Ferry Building at San Francisco
Walked to Folsom Station
Took the MUNI from Fulsom Station to King Street Station
Took the Caltrain from King Street to Sth San Francisco and drove back to the motel.

Jimmy and Paul took off to see the sights of San Fran, while the rest stuck with me.

Whilst at Sth City Caltrain, I bumped into a guy who we shall call Dennis, and he turned out to be a loco engineer for Caltrain. He was catching a train to start his shift and he said he would give me a wave and toot when he took his first train through, which was going to be about 5:30 pm. He lived up to his promise and gave me a huge blast on the horn and a big wave out the window as he went sailing through doing about 70 mph.
I'd been in that particular spot (32 feet from the tracks) for near on 2 hours by then and had filmed about 14 trains going through, so it came as a bit of a surprise when the local sheriff turned up and told me and Chris to stop what we were doing as we were too close to the tracks (15 feet is the legal requirement). The concern was that the rubbish might blow up and hit us - yep a piece of paper can do some serious damage.
This little guy in his black uniform was spoiling for an argument (hand clap, followed by hands on cuffs posture). He said that someone had phoned to voice their concern. The odd thing was that people on the platform waiting for trains were way closer than us.
So instead of giving the guy what he wanted, he happily obliged saying "we've got enough footage now and the sun is getting too low anyway". This took him aback a little bit as I'm sure he was expecting us to get upset and argue with him.
We drove off and he then drove off, giving the guys at the Union Pacific shack a big friendly wave which was returned in kind.
We'd learned yesterday that one of the UP guys vehemently hates railfans, and I was wondering if he had anything to do with what happened, also, 30 minutes beforehand, a bunch of kids were skateboarding on the platform, inside the yellow line as an express went through - they were close. I don't know if it was the UP guy or if it was a Caltrain loco engineer that was genuinely concerned or a misunderstanding - we'll never know.
Overall, it was no biggie and was no great loss as the sun was getting too low and the tummy was starting to rumble.
Observations: one vehicle got hit by a barrier arm at Oakland, two others had to reverse up so they wouldn't get hit. Walked passed a car with 3 females in it stuck at traffic lights - all 3 were furiously texting and totally oblivious to me staring at them. There's a lot more homeless people in San Francisco than there was last year. They're now out in the middle of the day living on the streets. The BART is fast - really fast. The guy at the Millbrae Station who helped me figure out the BART ticket machine was really helpful. The couple at the Folsom station that explained where the MUNI trains went were really helpful. The old African-American lady in the Chinese market store tonight who said I was young got a hug that put a smile on her face. Lots of genuinely friendly people here.

Photos from today below:

Why Oakland ? Street running !

Tourists on the Oakland Ferry - silly tourists...

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Arrival at South San Francisco

We all made it safe and sound to San Francisco - albeit a little worse for wear after spending 11.5 hours flying.
No hiccups at all with the car rental or the accommodation, or customs, or flights or anything so far. Paul insisted we have In & Out Burger for lunch - the meal was OK but getting there and back was a bit of an adventure. The Hertz Neverlost is dreadfully slow at "recalculating". Mind you, if I didn't take any wrong turns, there wouldn't be a need to "recalculate"...

The afternoon was spent at the South City Caltrain Station where the notorious San Francisco wind picked up and cut right through us. Jimmy then turned up later that night, making it a full complement.

Chris & Judy turned in early - Chris was looking a bit jaded - it was a big day. Jamie was in bed at 8:30 pm and when I got back from dinner with Paul, he was long gone - poor wee fella. Paul and I went to a Chinese restaurant at just the right time - 40 percent off everything after 8:30pm. It was filling and only cost 6 bucks - awesome.

As for the trains, all the usuals were at the Sth City Caltrain - Caltrain F40's and Baby Bullets, Union Pacific geeps, and one nice surprise: a Helm leasing GP38-2 newly refurbished. This non-turbo EMD sounded stunning, and was the lead loco for a switching move that started up while we were there. Piccies below.

 Chris, Paul, a local railfan and Jamie doing their thing at Sth City Caltrain.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

So it begins: the second of my escorted tours to the USA. For those of you not up with the play of what I get up to, I organise and run an escorted self drive tour to the USA, driving around California and Arizona for the sole purpose of photographing scenery - and any trains that might get in the way - yes, it's a trip for railfans, or trainspotters.

I held the first trip in March/April 2013 and it was really really good. One of the guys on that trip was so impressed he's doing it all over again this time.

This year's trip is almost the same, but I've made some subtle changes to the itinerary (dropping Las Vegas, staying an extra night at Auburn and Flagstaff etc.) which will improve it ten fold.

Attendees on this trip are myself (Erin Johnson), Jamie Barrow from Upper Hutt, Paul Richman (token Pom) from Wellington, Chris Smith and his partner Judy Davidson from Feilding (yay!! Feilding) and Jimmy Bruce from Australia. Jimmy went on the last trip, but because he was in the other vehicle, we only really bumped into each other during the evening meals, so it will be cool to listen to his stories all day as well.

At 21, Jamie is a young pup compared to the rest of us, so I've promised his mum to keep him out of trouble and to ensure he washes behind his ears !

Because of the Air New Zealand time travelling machine we'll be flying on, we depart Wednesday evening and arrive Wednesday morning. Cool. Apparently it's raining in San Francisco and expecting snow for Donner Pass - can't wait to report on that one.

Touch wood, we all get over there safe and sound, with the next blog being from South San Francisco from the Comfort Inn & Suites.

I hate flying long haul sitting in a seat - give me the comfort of a C130 Hercules any day. The things we have to put up with...

A special shout out to Maree Thompson at House of Travel, Papamoa. Maree fully understands what my requirements are when it comes to running these trips and never questions my judgement when choosing motels to stay in or places to go. No-one in their right mind would ever intentionally choose a motel beside the railway tracks, but in this case, it's preferable.
Yes, I could have done all the bookings myself, but when it comes to getting people from all over the country (world) to meet in one place at one time, a Travel Agent (especially a good one) is the way to go. It saves me the hassle, for which I have no time for. Her efforts are always appreciated and I'll always go back to her for future trips.


PS. The blog is dated for USA time, not NZ time.