Just over two years ago, I returned home from a brief two day venture chasing the Union Pacific 4014 - the Big Boy - from Chicago to Des Moines. That had been a hectic couple of days, but good ones all the same. When I got home, I wondered when I'd next get the chance to see the Big Boy.
I didn't realize it would be over two years later. With a worldwide pandemic shutting down the 2020 excursion plans, neither 4014 or 844 had the chance to go anywhere, nor did we have the chance to go out and get them anyways. Of course, I would end up filling that void with IC deathstars and various shortline operations, among other things, so it all worked out.
The IAIS QJ 6988 had been the latest chance to see steam, but before that, it was the SOO Line 1003 photo charter (which I'll be participating in again this year, now that I've learned a decent bit more since last year). My summer this year has been quiet, photo wise, save for the LS&I, QJ, and the handful of ICs I've caught, so when the UP steam program came out with the announcement that 4014 would be running a month long excursion, one that came within spitting distance of home... Well, the only question was how many days off of work I could take!
Once again, it was time to return to a classic - the one and only Union Pacific Big Boy #4014.
This trip would provide various challenges that would be new for me - unfamiliar territory, difficult light environments, and more chasers than I could begin to count, to name a few. For that matter, it was also the first time I'd have my own car with me on a chase of the 4014, which is notable because it's a bit more limited in where it can go, what with it being a small little thing.
Nonetheless, I got to planning out the ideal trip almost immediately. The answer was pretty clear pretty quick - St. Louis was a no brainer, and Little Rock and Kansas City both made great locations to start and end at. This called for two days for driving, one day of rest, and four days of chasing, split into two legs. In all, 7 days across 3 states, all for 1 train.
With the schedule approved at work, there was another factor to add in: I wasn't going in alone for this. Not yet, anyway. My first train chasing experience came before I could drive - chasing the Milwaukee Road 261 back in 2017 with my parents. The Great Race To Ogden I didn't do alone either, my dad coming along, and even the previous Big Boy chase had been with my parents. Nobody else in my family is really into trains at all, though my parents do take an interest because I have an interest. They enjoyed the chasing experiences from before, and with it being the Big Boy, of course they were interested in coming down for part of it. Though things in the past two years have made it rather difficult to do, it was still possible.
The one person who hadn't come and experienced any of the train chasing was my younger brother, Owen. In many ways, we are opposites of one another - everything from how we act (I'm the quiet one, he's the loud one) to hair colour to even our cars (I have a relatively new Kia Rio, he has a 1963 VW Bug). We get along fine, but he has absolutely no interest in trains. We've asked him time and time again to come along on one of these trips, but he just hasn't wanted to do it. Until now.
After a little prodding, he agreed to come with on this, alongside his girlfriend, Trinity. With the reasoning of it's the Big Boy, and who knows when it'll come this close again? and it's a free vacation, alongside other employment-related factors, they were in. The caveat was that everyone else was coming along only for the first leg - Little Rock to St. Louis. The last leg, St. Louis to Kansas City, would be just me on my own. It made for a nice balance that I think worked out pretty well. The logistics worked out so that Owen & Trinity would come along in my car down to Little Rock and during the chase, then at St. Louis, they'd return home with my parents in their car, leaving me and my car alone.
Day 1 of 7 - The Drive to Little Rock
What should have been an uneventful drive of about seven hours or so became a mild hell. When I was looking at the route beforehand, I noted the drive down would take us close to Memphis, TN - the last known location of the IC1000, the IC SD70 class leader and a personal favourite of mine. I figured, hey, we'll take a 20-30 minute detour to see if it's hanging around, maybe it will or won't be, then we'll finish the short drive to Little Rock. Well, I wish it had been that simple.
Driving around the yard showed us no signs of the 1000, so we went to head out and get back to the interstate. I get the directions going, and my brother drove us out - he insisted on driving most of the trip, he's very much the car guy between the two of us. The thing about Memphis, the area we were in anyway, is that it very clearly wasn't a great area. Litter and downed tree branches covering the roads, more abandoned or wrecked buildings than anywhere back home, and just a generally unpleasant vibe. Suddenly, while changing lanes on the main road back towards the interstate, the car bumped loudly, and the sound was followed by a constant stream of thump-thump-thump sounds.
Flat tire. Chunk of metal in the road hidden by the slight hill and poor condition of the road that we would never have seen.
Problem: I don't have a spare.
Now, I know what you're thinking, and I agree, not having a spare is not smart and I should've had one long ago. Getting a spare has been on the agenda for months, but has fallen to the wayside as other things came up and was essentially forgotten about. Now, though, here we are, stuck under the I55 bridge in Memphis, with a tire to flat to even have a hope of temporary re-inflating.
Solution: Tow truck + tire shop.
Some frantic calling later, and we had a tow truck coming and a location to bring it to to get a new tire on, confirmed to have it in stock. Now we had to wait for it.
A two hour wait, filled with horrendous drivers nearly side-swiping us more times than I can count. We couldn't pull off the road thanks to the curb and distinct lack of air in the front right tire, so we were occupying one of the four lanes there. You'd think with nearly a half mile of visibility, hazards on, and three people standing beside the car, it'd be pretty obvious that this car isn't moving, maybe I should switch lanes. No, it apparently was not, because people would do it at the last possible second instead. Infuriating to say the least, and it brought about the only time I've ever had to shout unsavoury language and give the finger to shit drivers.
Well, we did end up with our tow truck, and we did get to a tire shop that was closing very soon (within a half hour, actually). Thankfully, everyone there was fantastic, and we got ourselves a tire and were on the road in mere minutes. I don't think it took more than five minutes to pull the dead tire off and swap the new one on. I think I can safely recommend Third Tire in Memphis, little store in a questionable area (in the words of our tow truck driver, "you in the hood now!"), quick and good work and nice guys.
After thanking them profusely, we were back on our way. We were in Little Rock before long, all exhausted after a rather eventful afternoon, and ready to crash. We all split up into our rooms after meeting with our parents, and I got to a bit more route planning for the day ahead.
And yes, I will be getting a spare tire.
Day 2 of 7 - The First Leg, Part 1: Return to the Big Boy
With a thorough examination of our tires before anything else, we headed out, off to find our first spot of the day. This would be tricky, as I really know nothing about the route. Quite literally, nothing. I had the map on UP's steam tracker, plus Maps, and that was it. It came down to just driving around until we found the right spot.
It didn't take terribly long. We scouted a few potential spots until we found one that would work nicely - covered in shadows from the trees but with enough open space to work with. We weren't alone there, and before long, other chasers began to show up. My parents ended up there as well - they weren't planning on following us everywhere, but that ended up being how it went most of the time anyways, which was fine.
The wait was something like forty five minutes, with a northbound UP freight passing through in the middle. We chatted with some of the people there, some of which were quite talkative from the get-go, and listened to scanner traffic a plenty. Finally though, that whistle split the air in the distance, and suddenly it was chase time. It really is an incredible sound, that whistle, not quite like anything else.
It stopped just short of us, then got rolling again, giving us a very fine first viewing. Tricky light conditions and being slightly out of practice - having not shot much around home lately - meant my shot wasn't perfect, but no matter.
After the train had passed us by, we got in the car and got moving quick. The arrangement of having Owen drive worked great here, giving me ample time to navigate and find a better route to get ahead of the 4014. This allowed us to catch it four times before its first scheduled stop - I was only expecting to catch it once per scheduled stop, frankly!
At Austin, I caught it at the overpass, with little time to spare. There wasn't enough time to park and make the run, so they dropped me off and picked me up in the span of about two minutes. Nowhere to park at the bridge itself, irritatingly, just a nearby gas station.
From there, it was a race to the next spot - McRae, where we got there well ahead of the train as it apparently stopped or slowed between the two towns. That gave me plenty of time to find the right spot to shoot from, which included climbing an embankment and crossing the tracks. A nice signal bridge made for a good place to shoot it under, and while waiting there for a few minutes I ran into one of the people I met while chasing the QJ the weekend prior (more on that another time).
A little closer to the tracks than ideal, but once I got the shot I took a few steps away to be sure.
Then it was another race of out town after everyone piled back into our cars. We were stuck behind pacers, though, so catching up was rough - and impossible. We made it halfway up the length of the train but couldn't get further up, so I did a little recalculation on the directions front and got us ahead of the train by jumping onto the highway near Higginson and going around to a spot near Judsonia. The road to the crossing was definitely the road less traveled, but it got us there in plenty of time, so that's all that really mattered. It was a short wait, thankfully.
Not a huge fan of the results on this either, what with the focus being... not focused. Too low of an f/stop, I think. Ah, well.
The train would stop at the next town, Bald Knob, giving us a brief break. The route from then on was simple enough - a direct paralleling road for a long while. We caught it coming out of town at a nearby crossing, though in retrospect I wish I would have gotten it at a different crossing instead.
It was a relentless chase to get ahead from there on. Pacers jockeying for position and no quick alternate roads meant we weren't going to quickly get to it. Only when the tracks and road split away from one another briefly did we make ground, and we hurried to a crossing north of Possum Grape. A bit of gravel led us to a crossing that wasn't incredible, but it was a close and nearly private view of the engine, with only two other people there, which was nice.
The road was surprisingly open once we got back to it, and it turned out that the train was slowing to a stop near a control point just ahead. We saw all of the spectators nearby, on the side of the road and at the handful of crossings ahead, more people than I could even begin to count.
Once it was clear that it was stopping, I gave another look at the map and made the decision to try something bold and possibly very stupid. A mile of gravel roads to a bridge by Newport, AR. I was hoping that the greenery would be more cooperative, but it really wasn't, so I fell back to the concrete approach span of the bridge to catch it from down below. At the time, I was feeling somewhat disappointed by the shot, but looking at it now, I'm quite happy with the results. Simplicity is best sometimes.
Watching the train slowly roll across the bridge from down there was quite the sight. The creak and groan of metal stressed by the weight of the heavy engine did a good job of explaining why they were moving so slowly across it. Interestingly, the bridge there - a swing bridge no less - is slightly older than UP4014 - 1938 vs 1941.
Getting back to the road and through Newport was slow, but at that point, I knew we weren't catching it until after the next stop. With so much traffic following the train, catching up was impossible. Just getting through town at the next stop was painful - practically at a standstill.
After a brief stop in Tuckerman, we found a small spot just outside of town, though we didn't have tons of time to set up for it as traffic had slowed us greatly. As such, the shot I got wasn't incredible, pretty standard run.
Chasing it to its next stop in Walnut Ridge was painfully slow. There were too many chasers packing the single two-lane road that we could take to get there. We were stuck in that traffic for so long... It wasn't fun. After sneaking out of the line of traffic and taking residential streets for a few minutes, it was clear that the run out of town would end up having the same problems.
I had a new plan, which was to get a shot outside of town once it left, then head back to town and take higways up towards Corning, and hopefully catch it between there and Poplar Bluff, the final stop of the day. With more paralleling roads ripe for pacing, I didn't want a repeat of the past hour or so, being stuck behind others the whole time.
Well, we did catch it outside of town, though in retrospect the spot was not great and I don't overly love any of the shots from it. The pitfalls of not knowing the area, really.
While we made good time on the highways, the Big Boy did even better, and its slow order was increased up to 30mph instead of, what I believe, was 15mph before. We were neck-and-neck shortly after passing Corning, but stuck behind slightly slower traffic for portions of the drive (and town speed limits, no less), really hurt us, and so when we got to the spot in Poplar Bluff I was hoping to reach, we were short by hardly two minutes. So close, but so far.
The train had a reverse move to make still, so we were able to catch that near the depot farther in town, so we weren't totally empty handed, but no really worthwhile photos, anyway. If we all weren't as tired we were, I would've possibly tried for some more shots around the area, but I decided to leave it be.
That was the end of day two, the first chase day. A very long day to be sure, but with some good moments and photos to come from it. Far from ideal, but better than I was expecting in some ways. All five of us rejoined at the hotel, went out for dinner (first time I'd even eaten all day, funnily enough. My food habits on these trips are definitely not ideal, but it works for me anyway), and called it a day. Quite the introduction for Owen and Trinity both into the train chasing world, to say the least
Day 3 of 7 - The First Leg, Part 2: The Chester Sub
With the second day of the chase ahead, it was pretty clear it was going to be a long day. The 8am departure and an arrival in St. Louis scheduled for almost 12 hours later meant we would be out there for a pretty long while, and the heat wasn't going to diminish at all, either.
On our way out of Poplar Bluff, while gassing up and getting fully ready, I made the decision to improve our luck from the day prior. Owen had wanted to get up close and pace the Big Boy, but we were always stuck behind the other pacers - thus, it was time for us to do it ourselves for once. I gave directions and explained the strategy, and with our parents following directly behind us, we waited for it.
The 4014 got out of town a few minutes late, and we could hear the whistle - we were parked on the side of the road just outside of town, very close range. With Owen driving still, I was in the passengers seat, on the side of the tracks. I leaned out of the car and watched, waiting for the smoke or lights...
And then it was there. Slow, probably 25 or 30mph, but the light shone first and it was steadily approaching our position. That was our queue to jump onto the road and move real nice and slow - literally 5mph - and get the engine to come up beside us. In the backseat, Trinity was using the old 90s-era tape camera to take video of the train coming up to us, while I hung out the passengers side window and got photos.
And before we knew it, it was there, right beside us.
Time to speed up.
Video camera rolling and my camera filling up its 20-image buffer (this is the first chance my newer 80D has gotten to shoot Big Boy!) quickly, we paced the engine for a few miles. I was a little worried when a police car passed in the opposite direction and I was still half-hanging out the window, but thankfully our fellow pacers and chasers behind us meant that he couldn't do anything if he wanted to. The sights and sounds of a steam engine, and an articulated one at that, are incredible when you get to see it directly side by side like that. The clanking of the side rods, the hiss and whoosh of steam out of the cylinders, and that deep, growling Hancock 3-chime whistle... Nothing else like it.
I made a point to make it a brief pace. Pacing is dangerous and causes traffic problems - which we've experienced plenty - so after about two minutes, give or take, I called it off and had Owen take us farther down the road to find somewhere to pull off and get a shot from the side.
We found a spot, where I encountered a group of 5 or so folks I had met on the QJ chase! We had barely 30 seconds to get things figured out, and in retrospect, this was not the ideal place to get a shot, and I don't care for the shot I did get. Knowing what I do now, I would have continued on for a little ways, but that's the way it goes. Alternatively, if there hadn't been so many people there I didn't want to get in front of, I would've hopped down the embankment and gotten a close up shot by the corn.
The new plan was to head to Dexter and catch it on the curve there. This would make for an excellent spot, as we'd get to see it crawl through a tight curve on a switch, probably see some articulation, etc. The steam tracker map showed as much, anyway.
It was a great spot for it!
However, there are two curves in Dexter. The steam map highlighted one, the Big Boy took the other. We didn't know until a guy there - someone I'd met the day before even, funny coincidence - was flying his drone and announced it took the western track instead.
Well, shit. Nothing we can do there... It was barreling through and that other track was too far to get to in time. My telephoto got a terrible shot to prove the point:
Unfortunate to say the least, but there was no time to dwell on it. I returned to my navigational duties and started plotting out potential options while checking the tracker to get an idea on the speed at which we'd need to beat it.
And then it stopped.
Just north of Dexter, the train stopped, giving us some time to figure out where to go. I opted to take us down some slight backroads towards Avert and Guam, hoping to find a suitable location. We went back and forth a ways trying to find the right spot, but couldn't quite find something suitable thanks to the light. I finally decided that we should try a little further south, around Idalia. At this point, we were in an area with no data or cell service, and I was working off of what Maps had pre-saved into my phone (which wasn't much).
This presented an issue when we couldn't see the UP steam tracker. Not to mention, the distance and trees/hills had put us out of radio range, so my scanner wasn't picking up, well, anything. We were halfway between Avert and Guam when Trinity realized she couldn't find her phone.
We pulled over for a second as we were scrambling to find it. Reviewing potential options where it could have fallen out would place it in Dexter or the field between there and that pacing spot, which meant we would miss everything. But we couldn't simply leave it behind. We tried calling it, Find my iPhone, everything - but with zero cell data, we couldn't make a call or anything.
As we start changing plans to have the two of them hop in my parents car to go back to look for it, leaving me to chase on my own, we hear the whistle. The train was moving again, and it was close. We started to make the switch, and the second I got up, we found it. Somehow, her phone had fallen into my seat and I had been sat on it the whole time, but with no cell service, every attempt to call it meant I couldn't feel or hear it - because it couldn't accept the calls in the first place!
With absolutely no time left to lose, we hopped back in our seats, confidence restored, and whipped the car around.. As soon as we got moving the other direction, the Big Boy broke through the tree line and came flying across the field between us and the track.
And before we knew it, we were pacing it again!
At just 1.66 miles long, it was a short pacing venture, and with a massive amount of vegetation, it was hard to get much of a shot - only one spot was actually clear! But just the experience of going alongside it, with no other drivers, was fantastic. No danger as there was nobody else there. It was really perfect in that regard.
There were road options that would have let us follow them directly for longer, but there were bound to be more chasers up there, especially around Bell City, so I opted to take 25 north towards Delta and that area.
It looked close to start with, and it was, but we found a spot just outside Delta that would make for a simple but nice shot. As the 4014 slowed for town, we had more than enough time to set up. I debated heading for the bridge farther down, but opted to stay where we were. It actually worked out quite well, the light was with us there for sure.
Now, the 4014 was headed for Scott City where it would stop for a little while - one of the only scheduled stops for the day. We used that break to grab something to eat (well, the others did, I didn't, in classic me-fashion) and look for another area to shoot the train.
The trick with our next spot was that it could be the only one for a while. Entering the Chester Sub, the 4014 would have space to open the throttle wide, plus with only a two lane highway - Illinois 3 - paralleling it, chasers were going to be hell.
Thebes was out of the question. Light positioning alone was a problem, and what with there being nowhere easy to really get to it... it wasn't happening. Had I known what I do now, I would've opted for the Big Muddy River Bridge, but I didn't know it was there, so I picked a random field to the south of it, near McClure, off we went. Well, rather I did, as Owen asked if I would be willing to drive so he could eat lunch with Trinity in the backseat, which was fine. My parents, who were following our moves for the most part, would later comment that they were surprised to find I was the faster driver between the two of us.
A short drive later and we were at the field. It turned out to be better than I was hoping in that it was nice and open, the wide angle field shot I'd been searching for. I'd gotten a decent number of low-angle crop shots with deathstars lately, photos like All Day Long, Out For Bongas, and Heavy Right Now to name a few (All Day Long II, with the QJ, being another one), and I wanted one of these with 4014. Well, I finally got my wish. There was a decent photo line near the crops - soybeans, I believe, which is great because it wasn't the tall corn that would've blocked the shot - that I waited at with my dad while everyone else hung back by the cars for the time being, as we still had a wait ahead of us. The Big Boy was taking its sweet time crossing Thebes, that was for sure. A fun note was that one of the photographers in the photoline had brought out a camera made in the 1890s, easily recognizable with its large wooden box frame, to get one shot. Dedication there, if ever there was any.
After a decent wait, we got our wish, and the Big Boy had arrived. It was on the far track of the double-tracked main, but I'll still take it.
They were at a good pace already, and we hurried back into the cars and got moving as quickly as possible. I was unfortunately correct in my prediction that IL3 would be a nightmare as hundreds of chasers crowded the road to follow the train north. Finding a spot to shoot it was almost a laughable question, as getting in front of it was the real challenge. The only route around it all would take us so far out, we'd probably miss the thing.
Hurry we did, but it mattered little as we were stuck in the slow moving horde of chasers. Eventually, we were all moving at a decent speed as the tracks got far enough away that pacers were no longer an issue, but it wasn't enough to beat it.
And once again, the train stopped. Near Howardton, between there and Gorham, to be exact. Why it stopped I don't know, but it did which gave us options. Options that were hindered by lack of familiarity with the Chester Sub. We ended up going to the IL3 bridge over the tracks, but in hindsight I'm disappointed we didn't go into Gorham and get the old MoPac signals there. A friend of mine got that shot and I admit to being envious of that. It plain and simple was the better shot.
Still, a bridge shot is a bridge shot. Not the last for the trip, either.
Once it came by, it was the dangerous race back to the cars - people parked on the bridge, oncoming traffic beside them, dozens of others making that same trip? Not ideal. So much so that it actually went spectacularly wrong for me and I slipped and fell on the bridge. Thankfully I was on the edge of it and near the guard rail, as otherwise I would've probably gotten a hand run over, but despite scrapped hands and a knee, I made it out fine. Lens hood saved me though, so let that always be a reminder to never skimp on the lens hood. 15-30 bucks versus damaging a $600 lens? I know what I'm doing.
I hopped back in the car where the others were already waiting - they had stayed back - and we got moving rather quickly. Surprising given the traffic, but with them having to slow for the pedestrians, it worked nicely.
We actually got ahead of the train rather quickly, but finding a location to shoot it from proved impossible. We needed to cross the tracks to be on the south side, but there was nowhere to do that and still be ahead of the train. By the time we reached Rockwood, there were literally zero options.
However, just outside of Chester, at the small yard there, we managed to find a way to sneak into the crowded area and get a spot. It would be a tighter cropped shot, but it would have to do. And in all actuality, it came out pretty well. We ended up next to a bunch of kids who were rather excitable about the prospect of seeing the 4014 and very clearly railfans-in-training. Makes you wonder what this hobby will look like in the next decade or two, to say the least.
It came out better than I was expecting, honestly.
With that shot complete, we had some time to regroup thanks to the break in Chester. My parents were already in town, and we were sort of on the outskirts. Of course, as it turned out, everyone was in Chester. Everyone. It took us well over 20 minutes to get to the Casey's my parents were at thanks to the sheer volume of traffic on roads not meant for that kind of capacity.
It was also at this time that, upon realizing how much longer we had to go in the day, Owen and Trinity were both feeling pretty exhausted, and not quite enthusiastic about more and more hours of chasing. My parents agreed with that and they were planning to just head into St. Louis and call it a day, and then the others decided to join them for that. It was hard to blame them - it's a long and hard couple of days, these chases, and this was in every way a trial by fire.
So, we all met up at Casey's - truly, the greatest gas station in the Midwest - and they joined my parents to head to the hotel while I got gas and tried to prepare my next plan. It would be harder to do this chase without Owen driving for me for sure, but I knew I could do it. We said our goodbyes for the time being and then I scurried off.
And now we're back to my sort of normal, chasing alone. The upsides and downsides of going it alone vs with others become apparent quickly. Alone, you can be more bold, and pull off more shots in rapid succession on spur-of-the-moments decisions, then get moving again much faster, as there's only one person who needs to get in and out of the car. The downsides are that looking at the map or tracker or, well, anything, become a lot harder. For better or worse, I have become more adept at multi-tasking while doing this sort of thing - and I have to say, having one of those little phone holders in my car is a lifesaver - but it's still far from ideal to do that sort of multitasking in any way. Those few minutes of waiting for the train or during whistle stops become incredibly valuable for scouting or planning a shot.
The traffic in Chester had caused us a major delay for sure. By the time everyone had switched cars and I pulled out of the gas station, the Big Boy was mere minutes from leaving according to their schedule. I knew I would have a few more minutes as leaving Chester would be slow for sure, but a few minutes can be both simultaneously a lot of time and no time at all.
The handful of minutes I'd had in the gas station had given me the idea of heading to the Kaskaskia River Bridge. I noted two roads heading down there and figured at least one would be good. When I came up on the first one a few minutes later, I had to hope the second one was better - and not a dirt-track. Thankfully, I was right, as it was a gravel road that was definitely a bit nicer than most. My initial plan was to head down to the tracks there and make a short hike down to the bridge, then get a shot of it coming out under the truss.
I promptly discovered that no, I would not be doing that, as Maps was deceiving and the tracks I reached were in fact not a crossing but a bridge with steep embankments I wouldn't dream of climbing. I was out of a shot and the train would be leaving any minute now.
Then I noticed another chaser keep going, past the failed bridge, and tentatively, I decided to follow. The chaser ended up leading me to the Kaskaskia Lock & Dam. The dirt-track road I avoided earlier continued here, and initially I went to take that, as this side of the tracks was much smoother, more manageable for my car. And almost as soon as I turned, I had a gut feeling that just said no. This wasn't it.
A glance down the embankment showed maybe a dozen chasers, including the one I'd followed, down by a boat launch along the Kaskaskia. With my options limited, I decided to join them and see what was up. And man, I'm glad I did, because that spot provided a marvelous view of the bridge. I broke out the telephoto and tripod and took some time to set up a simple, but clean shot. I tested the focus frequently to make sure the bridge would be in the shot and then worked with the area as best I could - others had taken up the spots that would give them a fully unobstructed view, but if I angled it just right, I could get some of the greenery in as a nice bit of framing, while still getting plenty of river and, of course, the bridge.
My earlier worries about time were unneeded, as the sheer volume of people in Chester delayed the train a good half hour. They wouldn't get there for another forty five minutes since I'd hurried out of that Casey's. Once we saw on the tracker that the train was moving, it wasn't long, and within five minutes it came flying across that bridge.
I had to call this one True Faith, obviously a reference to the classic New Order song, because I put all my faith in following a chaser I'd never met. I'd never seen this spot because on Maps, it's a flooded area. I had no idea I could get a view over a kilometer away that would be so impressive, but I'm glad I did. Faith in strangers and my own abilities with my camera netted me what has to be one of my best shots from the trip.
Of course, once the train had passed, it was time to try and get it again. This, though, was a tall task. From Chester to St. Louis, there are very few road options, not unlike Scott City to Chester, and there would be just as many if not more chasers out here. I could either take a long way to IL3 and try to beat it somewhere, or I could follow a smaller road, Route 7, also known as Bluff Road, and try to get ahead there.
I chose Bluff Road. Ultimately though, I don't think it would have mattered which route I chose, as one would be filled with chasers and onlookers while the other would take me farther away from the tracks. At any rate, I decided to take the closer route that ran alongside the bluffs of Illinois. Here and there I could catch a glimpse of the distant train, but I could never get close enough to get anything, and never once got ahead of it.
I can say, though, that Bluff Road is fun to drive. I threw on a playlist of some of the best high-speed driving music there is and hit the ground running. Going about 60mph the whole way in a big ole convoy of chasers, bouncing up and down the worn road and taking those curves they say you should reduce speed a little for (but of course not actually doing that unless it was suggesting a big drop) at speed is just fun. It was an un-winnable race, but it made for a fun ride. I doubt that road is winning any "best roads in the world" awards, but something about that drive was far more entertaining than it should have been.
By the time we made it towards Fountain and the Columbia area, the 4014 had actually slowed down, but there was no shooting it at that point. Too many people, not enough time to make a shot, and really, I'd end up shooting straight into the sun, which I wasn't terribly interested in doing. So, I abandoned Bluff Road and hoped onto IL3 again, speeding off to run into St. Louis itself. The crowds in the Dupo area were so bad that shooting there would be impossible - I then heard Ed, or maybe someone else, I'm not sure, remark on the radio, "A hundred thousand photos today and most of them are just black blurs." If ever there was a statement about those who stand too close, this would be it. Well said, Ed.
The Big Boy was making great time - their estimated time of arrival for STL was around 8pm, but they were rolling into East St. Louis closer to 5pm. I was well across the river by that point though. Earlier the night before and that morning, I had made my decision of where to go for St. Louis, although I had no articular spot in mind, just the general area. Now, me not knowing the STL area very well, I just figured I'd get a low angle bridge shot in a parking lot there.
As it turned out, the old Route 66 entrance ramp was right where I was going. The ramp that took 66 onto the MacArthur bridge, which the 4014 would be coming over... Well, you know, one of my hopes for this trip was to be able to shoot something Route 66 related with the Big Boy. If that doesn't count, I don't know what does.
It was a long wait for the train, but well worth it. I originally planned for a wider angle shot, but as well over two hundred people crowded around and on top of the ramp, my shot was quickly blocked by people. You can see here what I was originally hoping to get.
I would've preferred that shot, but as someone literally crawled into that greenery and others planted tripods right beside it, I was out of luck. I had to go for the tighter shot. While that plan was a bit messed up, one thing did improve in that the engine came in on the south track instead of the north one like originally expected. Hard to complain about that one.
To get the shot, I had to straddle the old guard rail and hang out over the side. Not the easiest task, not the hardest either, but it was strenuous enough to hold that position as the massive engine slowly, so slowly, rolled into view and across the MacArthur bridge.
An incredible sight to witness. It crawled across the bridge, giving everyone there a stunning view of the engine in the light that was beginning to turn gold. It was hard to ask for anything more than that.
I also don't think I need to tell you which song inspired that title.
With the train past me, I called it a day there. I didn't know about it, but they would actually do a reverse move back towards the arch, and had I known abut it, I would have gone there. Unfortunately, I didn't, so I just went off to my hotel instead. That was enough for me anyways, as it was nearing 7pm when I got in and I'd been up since before 7am. Almost twelve hours on the chase - yeah, I'm tired.
At the hotel, I ran into my parents at the lobby right after checking in. We talked about the day briefly, then I retired to my room to finally rest. All in all, day 2 had been pretty successful all things considered.
Day 4 of 7 - The Rest Day
The Big Boy and its crew got its rest day on Sunday, and I did too. All five of us ended up meeting up again in the morning and we talked briefly about the chase so far. My parents and Owen and Trinity would be leaving for home soon enough, while I would stay behind to continue the chase later. We said all the usual goodbyes, good lucks, be safes, etc. and then they all took off.
For a good chunk of the day, I didn't do tons - getting some time to be lazy in the middle of a hectic multi-day chasing trip is wonderful - but eventually I did hop outside and do a little exploring. I previewed some areas to possibly try for next morning, most notably Valley Park. A friend has been putting together a virtual recreation of the old Frisco Cuba Sub, and with the 4014 going through there, I wanted to check that out for sure. He asked if I could grab a few reference photos while I was there, so I did. Interesting little area for sure
After a fair bit of wandering around the area, I called it and returned to my hotel after running some errands. A simple and quiet day, just how I liked it.
Day 5 of 7 - The Second Leg, Part 1: The Ozarks
Ah, the third chase day. The toughest one by a longshot, and one of the more interesting days to be sure. My ever-present issue of not knowing the route was made significantly tougher thanks to the fact we were now chasing in the Ozarks. Plenty hilly and with road access minimal, getting a good shot was going to be a tough one no matter how I played my cards.
Still, I had a plan for the morning. One shot closer to St. Louis, one in Valley Park. Easy enough, no?
The St. Louis shot was indeed easy enough and went off without a hitch. I looked around Maps for a while the night before and the morning of and had a rough idea of where I wanted to go. I made my way there in the morning and found a decent little spot. With a nice parking spot by some apartments, I was all set, and waited there.
It didn't take terribly long. They were delayed a bit, for sure, but nothing out of this world. Before long, the 4014 was leisurely rolling across the small bridge I had situated myself at.
With that shot done, I just had to get to Valley Park - easy enough. The traffic wasn't bad at all and I was there with plenty of time to spare... only to find a madhouse.
I can't even begin to estimate how many people were there. Hundreds, and dozens of them trespassing hard. I should have known right then and there to find a new spot, but I didn't. In my head, all I thought was that the train was on the near track when I had seen it before, and the sightline was good for it...
For some reason, it hadn't clicked in my head the train was on the far track. I discovered this once the Big Boy came into view after its momentary stop at the Museum of Transportation, with how close I was to the embankment, the shot was ruined.
Frankly, I should have gone to Quinette Road. It would have been packed and hellish, but I think I could've pulled something off. At any rate, Valley Park was a failure.
Finding the next shot was hard, and I don't particularly feel like I chose that spot well, either. I obviously wasn't winning the race to Pacific, so I carried on to some roads that loosely followed the tracks out of town, but there were so few places to shoot. I ended up going pretty far down and deciding to circle back after I realized the spot on Maps I was looking at was inaccessible.
I ended up at a curve near Purina Farms. Not a bad spot by any means, but the potential for some of the more interesting viewpoints was limited by how many people were crowding at awkward areas, the position of the sun, and just general access. There were tunnels in the area that would have made for really interesting shots, but access was nearly impossible for most (without major trespassing anyways). There was a bridge over the highway a few miles farther down I considered, but with chaser traffic bound to be following, it could've gotten awkward fast. Not to mention, parking.
So, I waited at the curve with others. Behind us were some great rock cuts, but getting to a position to shoot them would have been a tough one. No wide angle lens to use there, either, which is what I would've tried there.
The light at the curve wasn't ideal, but hey, its a curve, and it didn't come out too bad anyways.
Catching it again before its next stop in Washington would have been impossible, so I just hurried to find a spot between Washington and Hermann, the stop after. That proved to be simultaneously easier and harder than I had been expecting it to be. Harder in that there were few options for places to actually go, but easier in that when I found a spot, I knew that was the place to be almost immediately.
New Haven was the area I was looking at generally, but then I noticed a small area to the west - Etlah. I decided to meander up there and see if anything worked - there appeared to be a few decent roads between there and Berger, so if I couldn't find anything in all that, I would have been doing something wrong.
It turns out, I didn't need to go far. Etlah was the site of the shot - I pulled up to find a few dozen cars already waiting at the crossing there, with a few folks standing atop a large pile of gravel beside the tracks. Well, you know what I had to do.
After a steady climb up a gravel mountain, I met a pair of guys that were out chasing the 4014 as well. We shared some anecdotes from the past few days and they told me about a shot they were going to try after Hermann, plus another one near Jefferson City that could be worth a try. It sounded good to me, anyway!
Others joined us or got near us as time went on, and most were friendly as well. That's one of the best things about chasing these things, is all the interesting people you meet. Everyone is there for the same reason, so there's a sort of common bond that instantly breaks the ice. One older gentlemen that climbed up the rocks with us talked about how it was his brother and father that were the train people in his family, not him at all, but he still came out and saw the 4014 leaving Kirkwood and was so awestruck by it, he had to keep following it for a while yet. I know the feeling.
Eventually, after a decent wait with service so spotty I didn't have it more often than I did, the Big Boy came blasting around the curve. I don't think it ever really gets old to see it, frankly.
With that shot taken care of, now we had our run to the recommended shot from those couple of guys earlier - I never did learn their names, come to think of it. To get there was plenty easy, just follow Route 100 to Gasconade.
When we reached Hermann, we found ourselves ahead of the train - barely! It was literally right behind us all, crawling into town and blasting the whistle plenty loud for the whole town to hear. I couldn't get a photo while driving, and I didn't want to stop yet, either. I can say, though, that it was quite the sight to behold.
With the Big Boy stopping in Hermann briefly, getting to Gasconade was plenty easy. The bridge over the river there was pretty much perfect, and with ample space on the side of the road lanes to stand and wait, we wouldn't even be putting ourselves in that much risk. Mostly. The only complication were the powerlines between the road bridge and the rail bridge. Thankfully though, they left a perfect gap from which to view the rails, so some careful time in Photoshop could neatly take care of them.
A decent group of us made our way out onto the bridge, most of us parking off of it but some on, and we waited. The heat there was tough to say the least, but we just had to bear it. Thankfully the wait wasn't too ridiculous, but it was hard to know when the train would get moving again because this area - and much of the Ozarks for that matter - is a large gap in Verizon's coverage network. Similar to Hanna, Wyoming as it happens... Thankfully though, one of the other people at the bridge had an AT&T phone with service, so he was able to let us know where the train was.
There wasn't even a whistle blast to signal us it was close. It was just there.
With no more stops between Hermann and Jefferson City, getting another would be tough. The day ends in Jeffy City, but there's still a good chunk of miles to go - catching it wouldn't be impossible, just unlikely.
One of the two guys had suggested a small bridge just outside of town. It was far enough away that it was possible to get there, but it would be a race. I decided to try to go for it. If I got it, there was my last shot of the day, but if I didn't, Gasconade was the end-point.
Presented with two route options, there was no easy way out. US 100 came to a T-intersection shortly after Gasconade, with one route continuing 100 and somewhat following the tracks for a little while before heading straight south (with a branch making 89 south as well), and the other route was State Route N, a directly south line towards US 50 that eventually merged with 89.
No matter what, I'd end up on US 50 and racing west to try to beat the train. So, which to take?
US 100 was not the answer. Most of the traffic was going there, and with railfans coming onto the road after getting their shots, it would be a constant speed-up and slow down back and forth that would never get me to Jeffy in time. So, route N it was.
60mph, tons of uphills and downhills, sharp and embanked curves, and not nearly enough barriers. A sweaty palms drive by any stretch, but I took it as fast as I could anyways. Only two other chasers were with me on that, the rest following 100 instead. I threw the same playlist of songs on from the Bluff Road chase in Illinois earlier and really tested myself and my car on this run.
Merging with 89 and coming onto 50, dealing with the pair of towns that reduced speeds by over half... I had a few opportunities to check the steam tracker once on 50, and it was a close, close race. As the train reached the Osage river and its bridge, it seemed to slow - and by then, my scanner was picking up radio traffic again. All seemed good, they appeared to be slowing to a crawl for that bridge. Perfect.
One exit off of US 50 would take me to a one mile road to a crossing, and another mile or so west and I'd be at that bridge. I was just about halfway down the first mile when the 4014 blew through that crossing at 45mph.
Well, shit. That's that shot gone.
It had been a gamble and I'd lost, and by barely a minute. A solid hour of driving ended up meaning nothing at the end of the day. That was a spirit killer, to say the least.
I followed the roads anyway, and of course the train was well ahead of me. It came to a stop near the old MoPac station in town, then moved up again. I joined the fray briefly as it came in, but no interesting shots to be had there. Awkward scenery and fencing, plus distance, didn't really work in my favour.
Some careful driving later and I called it there. Quite a day, to say the least, with many ups and downs. Not many shots, either. I wasn't sure whether to be hopeful for the next day or not.
Day 6 of 7 - The Second Leg, Part 2: Back to the Farms
Well, this is it. The last day of the chase, the last opportunities for proper shots. It was set to be another very long day, but with so many stops planned, there were more chances than any other day for shots. With at least one shot per stop easily doable, it was going to be a good day, with luck.
The difficulty of shooting a westbound in the morning was rather conveniently minimised as cloud cover appeared over horizon. Thank god for that! I found myself exploring old US 50, the Lookout Trail, between Centertown and Elston, and eventually found a spot on Old Stage Road on a curve. From there, it became a waiting game.
It became a rather long waiting game for that matter, as there was a massive delay. The 4014 didn't get of Jeffy City until an hour after it was scheduled to leave. The plus side to that is that I was able to do a bit of "gardening" on the trackside. Couple of large weeds were in the way of my shot, so I climbed down the ROW and snapped them out of the way. I managed to get it pretty much perfectly, if I do say so myself.
While I was waiting, another chaser joined me in my spot and we talked for a while. I don't remember learning his name, but we would run into each other a few times afterwards. It's always nice running into people like that, where we can talk for a while and kill some of that long downtime.
Eventually though, the Big Boy did show up, and moving pretty quick to make up for that long delay.
That went smoothly! Much smoother than I expected, given the slightly awkward lighting we were dealing with.
I hopped back in the car and got going again, managing to get behind the guy I had met there, and together we ended up leading the pack of chasers. I didn't really expect to beat the train to California, but we did actually beat it. I followed him down a quick gravel road to a curve where we barely beat the thing. I was still crossing the tracks on foot when the gates started to come down.
With another good showing behind us, the race to California had already been won by the Big Boy. As I passed through town, radio chatter told me they were shortening the whistle stop by a little bit to help make up for that lost time earlier. The time to find a good spot was now.
A quick glance at a map told me the roads here would be simultaneously easier yet more difficult to work with. On one hand, there were multiple routes to follow the train, but on the other, some of these - the closer ones - were gravel. Not ideal. Still, though, the gravel road that paralleled the tracks for a little while just outside town was too good to pass up, so I followed that for a while.
Up by the 90 degree turn to the north, I found a couple vehicles parked in a small clearing there. I checked behind me to confirm nobody was behind me, stopped, and jogged over the clearing. What I found was a group of three people in lawnchairs on the maintenance road opposite the tracks waiting for the train, with an incredible perfect straightaway view, no obstructions for half a mile. They noticed me and said hello, offering to let me join them, and I said sure, why not? I backed my car into the clearing, facing straight north, grabbed my camera, and joined them.
We chatted briefly about the days events, how I'd been chasing since Little Rock, and even the QJ momentarily, before the 4014's whistle made itself apparent. With quiet excitement, we watched the Big Boy slowly round the corner and crawl towards and past us. It was going real slow, maybe 5 to 10 mph, really giving us a chance to admire it. The long straightaway here made catching the whole trainset nice and easy.
Once the train had passed, I said goodbye and hopped across the tracks back to my car. A handful of chasers were passing by then, but no more than three of 'em - the gravel scared off the rest! Aiming my car north meant I could just blast out of the clearing and rejoin the race immediately. Before I knew it, I was alongside the engine on its slow crawl out of the siding. At one point, I pulled over near some other photographers to step out and grab a shot, but they were accelerating, so I hopped back in and put my foot down.
Perhaps not a wise move on gravel, but I know my little cars handling well, so despite what should've been a disaster, I piloted us out of there with little trouble. My car doesn't like the gravel, I can tell that much, and I'm sure one of these days, it's going to bite me in the ass, but for now...
I hit pavement at Clarksburg and pulled over pretty quickly to join a group of photographers on the other side of the tracks. Some nearby signals made for a decent, simple shot - I may not be winning awards with it and the signals may not be anything stunning, but I think it came out alright.
Already, today was shaping up to be one of the best, just on sheer volume of shots alone - and we were still early in the morning! Getting out of Clarksburg wasn't too hard, but it was slightly annoying all the same. More importantly, this meant joining US50, which would be the primary artery for lots of the chase from then on. It was a blessing to be on a proper bit of highway for it, not to mention just generally being closer to the tracks unlike the previous days fiascos.
From there to Tipton, it was a game of catchup, which we all lost because of a one-lane closure for road work on a two-lane road. Notably, Amtrak was stuck in the siding there alongside a myriad of railfans. I heard from someone else later in the day that that had been particularly hectic, but I didn't get any of the details. Still, though, I wasn't having any luck catching up towards Syracuse, which was frustrating to be sure. There was just enough traffic, combined with some unlucky stoplights, that held me a bit farther back than I wished.
Shortly after passing Syracuse, the tracks and US50 split up a bit, and they'd rejoin near Otterville. Also at Otterville, the highway went over the tracks. So, in essence, you know exactly what I was there for.
If I were more vain, I'd be complimenting my own driving here, as the slip into the parking along the road for that shot was a bit tight, and it did take a little bit of finesse to get to that spot without interupting the rest of the chaser traffic. Just saying.
There were a bunch of folks on the bridge there, and I think all of us got a really neat shot. A smooth curve, plenty of greenery, and enough open space to easily capture the engine without obstructions. Perfect.
I didn't want to repeat Gorham's mistake, so while I ran back to the car, I was a little more cautious about it, and made it back without slipping this time around. Score yet another one.
Returning to the road again, it wasn't far from the next stop, at Sedalia, so I wasn't confident about making the catch. Still, I hurried ahead. I was surprised to see some stunning clouds some up overhead though. Man, I need to shoot weather more.
A glance at the tracker and my position told me I was actually well ahead of them, they must've slowed for Smithton, so with other chasers, I pulled to the side to watch for it. There was a nice clear area ahead, ripe for pacing... Smart? No, but I was feeling confident, and I was tempted to try to pull off a shot reminiscent of Barrel Down again. That one had been all luck, so I was wondering if my luck would hold out here with the storm and all.
Well, it didn't as the Big Boy roared past me with unrelenting speed. I just had to laugh it off and rejoin the race into town. I still fired off a few shots, but with having no way to control the camera while also driving, they were pretty terrible. An attempt was made, shall we say.
With the train stopping in Sedalia, shooting it there wasn't happening obviously, so I pressed on. I ended up behind the fellow I met back at the first shot at the day. Clearly, we had similar plans to move on past town and find a shot there. It did start pouring rain while I was there, and a quick weather radar check seemed to suggest that rain would go away relatively soon, hopefully leaving no more than just sprinkling between then and the next shot.
When he pulled off on a road just outside of town near a gas station, I did the same, but while he went in for gas, I went and checked out a road I was spying on maps. A quick scan of the area told me that it could work, and a closer look at maps suggested I could try something interesting here. First, though, I decided I had enough time to stop by that gas station for something to snack on during the wait. I typically don't eat at all on chase days, not until the end of the day, so sometimes when there is a chance here, I'll take it if I feel like it. I ran into the chaser from earlier there and we chatted for a moment about some of our tenative plans for the day.
I returned to the spot, a crossing on road MM. I kept an eye on the tracker and radio scanner, took a little break, and eventually hauled out the camera to go find just the right spot. I decided I wanted to try something a little different, a little closer to photos like Every Little Counts or The Distance. In other words, another focal point and wide angle. Would it work? Dunno.
After another ten-fifteen minute wait, the train came through, and I got the shot. I'm still not quite sure if I'd call it a success or not. On a certain level, it was, as things were a bit better in the focus department than some of the other wide angle attempts from the trip, but something about it still feels off. Some more time in the editing booth and I'll cobble something together, at any rate.
Then, jumping back into my car, I sped down Menefee Road, paralleling the tracks and getting a brief pacing opportunity. Due to the volume of trees and brush there, there really wasn't anything to say about it, but it was great to do anyways. A particularly nasty pothole I hit convinced me to put down the camera and just go beat it somewhere else, so I hurried into the town of Dresden, just barely crossing the tracks as the lights came on, and hurried back to US50. Of note was that the school in town had come out trackside to come watch the Big Boy fly through, which was wonderful to see.
As I got onto US50, the 4014 passed through town, but began to slow. I noticed this mostly as other chasers - up and coming pacers - did the same. It really began to slow, in fact, so much so that I was literally directly beside the thing for a little while. Holy damn.
By the way, it is really hard to take a shot out of the passenger window when you're the driver. I don't recommend it that much!
I followed alongside, slowing with it as I passed a massive spread of chasers parked roadside, and other chasers behind and in front of me did the same. The scanner was spitting out some info, but it was garbled enough I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It turned out to be stopping on the siding here to wait for Amtrak.
With it at an unexpected stop, I ran forwards to find a new spot to shoot it. I first was at the crossing at Prairie Grove Road, but after looking at the spot, I decided to, once again, treat my car to some gravel, and took Martin Road towards La Monte and stopped at the first crossing there. Fewer people and a bit of a nicer view! Amtrak had whooshed by while I was trundling along Martin Road, so I knew it would be soon.
If I had noticed it in time, I would've gone and done a little "gardening" further down the tracks...
Racing back onto US50 and down said highway, I snuck ahead of the engine, but not enough. I saw a chance to get an overhead shot at Knob Noster, but I was, no lie, not even 30 seconds too short. So close, yet so far. I returned to 50 and rejoined the mass of chasers as we followed the Big Boy along the highway. With the tracks on the far side of the highway (but on the drivers side at least!), shooting it was basically impossible, but that didn't stop me from trying. There were a lot of familiar cars all on that stretch there for sure!
I followed until about Montserrat and then broke off from the pack, surging ahead to find the next opportunity. This was where things were going to get interesting again, as US50 would no longer follow the tracks, and new roads had to be found. MO58 was going to become the new primary for a while, but between the next whistle stop - Warrensburg - and Holden, it was much more sparse.
Well, hello again gravel. Some three miles of gravel roads led me to an isolated crossing outside of Centerview. While there, a local farmer rolled up on a classic John Deere green tractor to come watch it. Man, it could've made for a hell of a shot to include him and the tractor in it, but the area was an awkward one to say the least, no way to really do that without a lot more time and effort than we had. At any rate, the spot was real neat, as it was on a startlingly sharp grade, and a bit of a curve. It wasn't a terribly long wait, either.
Simple shot, but that's alright with me. One of the crew, maybe Ed, said something on the radio about passing the tractor and it needing some new rings, which got a laugh out of me.
A quarter mile of gravel and some racing across Country Road VV and State Highway U brought me to Holden just before the train, surprisingly enough. It was looking pretty packed, so I continued further on until I found a somewhat open little spot not far away. It was a quick wait there, too!
MO58 made for a decent chase route, what with being right up beside the tracks and all. Plenty of pacers, for sure. Kingsville slowed us down a bit, but I somehow found myself near the front of the pack again. Kingsville, too, had brought out the schools to come watch the train, which is always fun to see
The Big Boy slowed drastically, making the pacers do the same, so the rest of us quickly found ourselves doing a risky, long-pass around half a dozen cars. One of those pedal-to-the-metal moments that always gets my adrenaline going. Pacers, man. I know I'm part of the problem sometimes though, so it's hard to be mad.
I continued ahead until I found a solid spot for a simple shot. Your basic wedge, really, but a little elevation makes it a bit nicer. Sometimes, a simple shot is the best one. Not every shot can be some incredible, unique angle or what have you, after all.
Incredibly, I got back onto the highway with surprising speed and made my way close up to the front again somehow. By this point, though, the train was nearing Pleasant Hill, it's next whistle stop, and the end of MO58 as our go-to route. It was going to be back to skipping around from here on. Which was hard, because most of the crossings in town were closed in anticipation for the Big Boy.
Still, with some work, I found a crossing just north of town to try, and made my way there. It got pretty packed pretty quick, and not to mention hot as well. I shed my jacket after this shot, which came out okay.
Next challenge: Lee's Summit. Thankfully, they had a lot of stops in this small area, so I was able to work with it a bit better. It was hard to find a spot there though, as the tracks are clustered by so many trees that your only real option is a bridge shot, but most of the bridges are unusuable, either because of fences or powerlines or lack of parking options.
The last bridge, however, on Colbern Road, did work, so I was able to head there and wait with a crowd of others. I didn't even notice until a few minutes later that I was stood directly by the carcass of a dead raccoon, which one of the chasers I ended up talking to jokingly named Rocket.
After a decent little wait, the 4014 got moving once again, and on it came down the perfect corridor we had. A lot of chasers appeared literally out of the woodworks around that point, too.
Once I got back to my car and studied a map, I realized there was only time for one more shot. Independence was the final whistle stop of the day, so the next shot would be coming into Kansas City. Christ, how do you pick a final shot like that?
Well, a little looking later, and I had my area. It took one false start until I found the right place. A set of curves on and near Arlington Street. Tight enough to hopefully see some articulation, wide enough for a decent shot. Maybe not winning any awards, but worth it to me. I then headed off.
I got there to find just a handful of others waiting there, having spied more on the other curves just before it. Those looked like decent spots, but with the position of the sun where it was, there was only one spot to really nail it.
During the wait, I met and chatted with a pair of older gentlemen and the wife of one of them, all about the past few days adventures, as well as the steam tracking stuff, and other rail related topics. It's as I always say, you really do meet a lot of people doing this stuff, and there's so many interesting people willing to talk about almost anything. It really is a wonderful way to bring people together.
Then, the steam tracker updated, and the train was moving. Time to get set up.
It was on us in less than five minutes.
And... that was it. That was the Big Boy done. Oh, sure, I could've followed it all the way to KC proper and all that, but I knew that was going to be a clusterfuck and then some, not to mention it was about 5pm, which is never an ideal time to be driving around a city for obvious reasons. No, no it was better to call it here and now, after a fine, successful shot.
It was hard to pull away and not go after it one more time - just one last shot! But it was time. It had been such a long, long day, full of thrills and ups and downs. And after a two day block of chases, plus the days prior? I was tired and due for a rest. A very good day, and a very good chase indeed.
I packed up, headed off, and checked into my last hotel for the trip.
Day 7 of 7 - Returning Home & Conclusions
The next morning, I lounged around for a little while before taking off for home. I debated checking out the Big Boy on display, but decided no, I'd seen it plenty over the past few days, and I didn't fancy joining a huge crowd at that point. I gathered my things and drove on home. It was pretty uneventful, as it was just interstate driving for some six hours or so.
The drive home, and the time between then and now as I write this, has given me time to think about the whole trip. Overall, it was fantastic, and I came out with a number of fantastic shots I'm really happy with. It's also taught me a few lessons about using my camera and using the settings more effectively. Not to mention, it proved I can handle a tough chase on my own with the second leg and all. A challenge, but one I was able to meet and overcome.
It was also nice to do one big sort of family outing with this. For Owen and Trinity to get to experience and understand what I do and why I do it was great, as I think it probably both explained a few things for them and also opened up more questions (most of them probably starting with "is this guy a lunatic?"). Just the fact I was able to have a few days of the chase as a passenger, to focus entirely on navigation and photos, was also great, and I'm thankful to have gotten that there. My parents also enjoyed the run, which was great, and my dad would mention he wanted to come along for the rest of it if he could've. I would've gladly said yes to that if circumstances had allowed, but at any rate, it did give me that opportunity to try and do a really big chase like this alone, and I'm glad for that.
I know what I'd do differently if I could do it again. Placement, angles, camera settings - the works. There were mistakes made along the way and a general lack of knowledge on the territory on hand that would have been valuable to have. Filling those gaps now wouldn't solve the problems on the trip, but if I or the Big Boy venture that way again, I'd know more for then, at any rate. It does tell me that for future chases like this, I definitely need to spend more time on researching the route!
Really though, I'd know to skip Memphis back on day one.
But overall, the trip was great. It was amazing to see the Big Boy again after a two year haitus and to visit new territory and new states was also fantastic. Sure, I'd been to Missouri before, but never west of St. Louis, and Arkansas was entirely new to me as well! New sights, new people, and a really wonderful long trip made for a hell of a journey that I'm very glad to have the opportunity to take.
Big Boy 2021 was a rousing success.
With that said and done, the last trips of the year are coming up. I write this the day before I leave for the Milwaukee Road 261 and just three days after arriving home from London, England, and with Soo Line 1003 coming around in a month and a half, you can expect to read a lot more from me about this year.
There is one sort of last note, more of a teaser really, but, you know how I've said "not winning any awards" in regards to many shots in this post? Well, true, nothing has won an award, but apparently at least one of these photos has caught the attention of a certain someone. Or, rather, group of people... it's a company. You do the math. You'll hear more about that in the next post and another one in the future, but it's safe to say, there was one little surprise to come out of this trip after-the-fact!
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! This has been a long one, but I wanted to make sure it was done right. I'm still editing some photos and not even half have been posted to Flickr, IG, or even SMWorks itself. Stay tuned for more photos of the Big Boy, the 261, and a whole post about London soon!
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