I won't lie to you - it's actually just one bridge. However, it was two separate visits to that bridge that made for one unforgettable pair of stories.
During the Great Race To Ogden, we stopped along a variety of places along the road and in just as many towns, but one spot sticks out in particular - a bridge in roughly, well, the middle of nowhere. Between the towns of Medicine Bow and Hanna, Wyoming sits a bridge that crosses over Union Pacific's transcontinental main, and it was here that many, many photographers wanted to get a few pictures of the UP #4014. We got the shots, but it was certainly not as easy as you'd think.
To get an understanding of what I mean when I say the middle of nowhere, I really mean it. From Google Maps, we can understand where we are pretty quickly.
Hanna was the closer town, at about 8-9 miles away, while Medicine Bow was a slightly less comfortable 11-12 miles away. Sure, there are places plenty more isolated - but the real kicker? There was no cell service at this bridge. Not even a little bit. It wasn't even just my provider, either - not a single person at that bridge had cell service. If they did, well, we would've been a bit better off, I'd say!
For the record, when I say no cell service, I mean that in the corner of my phone it said No Data. Literally, completely isolated in that regard. Not gonna lie - a little bit off putting!
May 4th was the first time 4014 would come to this bridge. It had already been quite a day, leaving Cheyenne, heading through Laramie and along US Route 30 to Medicine Bow, where 4014 would stop for oil, lubrication, photos, and other maintenance... but, there was still a ways to go - to Rawlins, that is. They were a little bit late getting into Medicine Bow, but not too bad really, given the issues they had on that day. Maybe an hour late, hour and a half tops.
After finding out Medicine Bow was beyond packed with people, we skipped it just before 4014 arrived into the tiny town, and instead began to search for our next photo spot. After a little driving through pure emptiness, we happened across this now infamous bridge. Seeing as the train was coming from the east, we wanted to get a shot of it coming at us, so we went across the bridge and parked where some other people were starting to set up. We weren't the only car there by any means.
However, just as we got out of the car, a Wyoming State Trooper told us we couldn't park there. Well, that was certainly annoying, and while our regard for the law during this trip was... questionable at times, we're not ones to directly disobey an officer. So, we get back in and find a spot to park on the opposite side of the bridge where other chasers were now parking. We had stopped there for a moment to figure out what we were doing, then we crossed over... and then we had to go back. Full circle, hmm?
Well, we weren't the only people who were told we couldn't park in the original spot, and everyone else wanted the same shot we did. So, we joined a little convoy of people walking across the bridge over to our earlier spot. Safe? Not in the slightest.
The real surprise is that all of us were allowed to do this. But we did anyways, and then we took our spot, facing east. What an incredible view it offered, too. Surely when 4014 came by in the next, oh, half hour or so, we would have an incredible shot!
Well, yes, but also no.
The thing is, 4014 did not have priority on this trip. It also had a lot of issues on May 4th. We got to this bridge around 4pm, but 4014 was very, very, very late. So while we got a shot, it sure did take a while.
But, that's not all! While we waited, we were greeted by a few freight trains as well as plenty of cloud-based-anxiety (those things can make or break a shot really easily), and moreover... a state trooper who would not let up.
Picture the scene. Standing on the embankment off of the road with, well, a lot of people. I would guess there were over 150 people on this embankment with us (as well as on the other side of the tracks, even more on the other side of the bridge facing west). So, naturally, space fills up fast. We were early enough that we got a front spot, nicely, and so we didn't have any issues with people in the way. Some people were smart and brought little stepping stools to stand on to get over our heads - some people online seem to look down on that, but let me tell you, they certainly looked useful at times. One person set one up right behind me, talking to their friends, and said something about "let me just set up behind the nice lady..." Well, guy, whoever you were... I understand the confusion, but, well, that was a little bit wrong...
Naturally though, with so many people crowding up here, there wasn't space for everyone. Some people got creative with their spot - I saw at least a few people standing right on the edge of the embankment, practically under the bridge and sort of hiding on the concrete supports. Brilliantly dangerous, of course. Other people took to standing up at the top of the embankment, off of the road of course, but on the edge of the bridge. Bridge guard rails tend to stretch out a ways after the bridge is fully passed, so a few people would sit on the edge of that and others who stood nearby - not on the road, but on the very, very edge of the concrete.
Let me tell you - those people at the top? That one single state trooper I mentioned above was not having it. He was constantly telling people to get off the bridge - you heard him say it at least once every couple of minutes, which he repeated multiple times of course... and so, not too long after, all we hear, is an endless stream of, "Get off the bridge! No standing in the roadway! Get off the bridge!"
I won't lie, there were some people standing dead in the middle of the bridge, right above the tracks. That's not smart, and he had every reason to tell them to move. A good idea, really. However, it was the other people not even on the bridge that honestly? Telling them to move wasn't helping anybody. Not to mention, he was still refusing to let people park on this side of the bridge.
Oh, man, that was a dumb idea. There was ample space for a fair amount of cars, but he didn't let a single one of us park there. That had some interesting consequences.
So, while a cop continuously yelled "Get off the bridge!" behind us, the rest of us simply stood in wait for 4014. Like I mentioned earlier, 4014 was very, very late. We got to see some freights though, which was nice.
You really could see these trains appear from the east from miles away. They would snake into and out of sight, then all of a sudden pop out from behind the hill. Then the cop would tell everyone to get off the bridge again. Truly, it was a brilliant spot to shoot from.
So, 4014, right? It was meant to arrive in Rawlins itself to end of the day at 5.
It didn't get to the bridge until 5:30.
But when it did... Well, it was quite the sight.
Well, we got the shot. And a whole lot of them, too. As soon as the train started rounding the corner, everyone went dead silent, and the only sound was the howl of the Wyoming wind... and a few camera shutters here and there. There were a few more clicks the closer it got, then it got just behind the signals and they slowed. Finally, the boiler passed the set of signals.
I have never once in my life heard that my camera shutters going off at once.
To make things really interesting - I got that on video, too! The wind does make this hard to hear at times, but you can't miss the shutters when 4014 passes the signals. It was amazing. Enjoy a little clip of 4014 and a whole bunch of photographers!
(Heads up for people on mobile/data plans: this is a fairly large video file, so in addition to buffering, it'll use up a fair chunk of data most likely).
Once 4014 had passed us by, it was time to head back to the car and run for the next place (which ended up being Rawlins, no other suitable locations between here and there thanks to traffic, the speed of the train, and the distance between the road and the tracks). One problem though... remember the cop who wouldn't let anyone park on the side of the bridge that we were all stood on?
Well, the mass exodus across the bridge was both a little disconcerting and hilarious. Ironically, by not letting us park where we wanted to because he said it wasn't safe, the cop made it actually more dangerous, as now ~150 people were walking across a two lane bridge with oncoming traffic following the train! I grabbed a 7 second clip of the walk with my phone for my Instagram story...
Despite the foolishness of that little journey, we all made it back to our cars in one piece and got going. It worked out in the end but man, that cop... That certainly could've gone worse!
And thus, the bridge was left behind, but not forgotten. Many chasers I talked to later during the trip referenced it - some were there with us, others had heard about it by word of mouth or social media. The cop was always the villain in that story.
Of course, we did have to come back this way still. We weren't done with this trip yet - the race back to Cheyenne had the 4014 taking the same tracks naturally, which meant we would have to see this place again. And we did.
On May 17th, we got to return to the bridge after a rather grueling day in Hanna (more on that in another post). This time, the cops were letting people park on either side of the bridge... guess they learned something between the 4th and then, hm?
4014 would not be coming from the east this time, instead heading east, coming from the west. Our earlier spot was pretty filled up, and I'd already gotten the shot I wanted there, so I elected to have us park in the same place we did last time and walk down to the bridge to shoot, facing west.
As we walked towards the bridge, a state trooper that was pulled off on the side of the road just between the temporary parking lot and the bridge itself called over to us from his car and informed us that we were not allowed to get on the bridge itself or go between the metal guard rails. Well, as it happened, we didn't plan on doing either of those things, so we said, sure, no problem, thanks for the heads up, and continued along. I'm not sure if that was the same cop as before or not, but I feel like it was. Tough to say, really.
The wind was very strong on the 17th - it made the walk a bit rough. An issue we had encountered before was that my tripod was not heavy enough to counteract high winds to setting it up was out of the question at first. However, later on, I did decide to drop it down but not extend any of the legs. The audio is pure wind noise, but it is video nonetheless.
Anyways, our western view was frankly stunning.
Despite the incredibly long delays from earlier in the day, we soon discovered 4014 was arriving much sooner than expected. In the distance, we spotted the headlight and a hint of smoke, and a quiet set over the group of people around us - just like last time, this time with less loud police.
Soon, the Big Boy would race past us. It doesn't matter if you're up high and away from the tracks - that thing will cause an earthquake when it rolls past.
After peeking up over the bridge railing and shooting across the two lane highway, we grabbed our equipment and fought against the high Wyoming wind back to the car to continue our chase. Little did we know that in a few more hours, we'd be in prime position to get the best pacing segment of the whole trip.
The bridge was left behind once more, and this time, we wouldn't be returning to it. The infamous bridge of Medicine Bow & Hanna made for great shots and even more fun as a story to tell - everyone knew about this bridge because people kept getting told to get off of it!
Coming up, we'll be looking at the oh-so-fun events in Hanna on the same day, more detail on the Grandeur at Granger and its 4AM starting time, and even more cops yelling at us - even at another bridge! Plus, more stories from May 4th, a talk about the nightmare of Sherman Hill, another brief moment in the middle of nowhere... and then the true middle of nowhere, standing inside of a one hundred-and-five year old building that was abandoned forty five years ago.
This post is part of a series on chasing the Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 on its Great Race To & From Ogden. For more, find the "UP 4014" category on the sidebar!
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