Night time photography is one of my favourite types of photography. The challenge of shooting in dark conditions is one that takes some adjustments compared to usual daytime shooting, but when it works, it's often absolutely spectacular. Such is the case when looking up at the stars - a challenge to photograph, but when it works...
There are many night time and night sky types of photography, though I only practice a mere handful. Primarily a more basic type of light painting, using the headlights of locomotives passing by to illuminate a subject and act as their own focal point as they shoot across the frame. However, I've wanted to expand those horizons a bit further and try a different type of long exposure photography - by pointing my camera up to the sky.
Star trails are something I've wanted to try for a while now, but committing to actually doing them didn't come easy. They take time and careful setup on the camera side, and it's easy to screw up and waste all that time. All it would take is one tap on the tripod and a few late hours have now been wasted. Learning to use my intervalometer properly was also necessary - for the last year or so I've had all the tools but not the know-how. Thanks to some quick tutorials and tests at home, I had figured out how to work it all properly.
The question then, is what to shoot? Yes, I could just go to a dim parcel of land anywhere and look up, but adding in a subject to a star trail photo takes it to the next level, and I wanted something more than just the trails themselves.
Thanks to light pollution maps and some previous knowledge, I knew exactly where to go. It only seemed fitting to visit my favourite control point on the NS Bloomington District - CP Osman!
The rumour mill had been saying it for about two years at this point that the IAIS QJ 6988 would be doing a few runs when the official announcement came that this oddity would be performing fundraising excursions for local fire departments in Iowa in August 2021. From what I gathered, 2020 excursions were supposed to have happened, but, well, the obvious. But, with extended boiler time, the QJ had a few weekends to do things in 2021 - and they used them well!
As the dates for trips for my summer and fall began to pile in and organise themselves, the QJ happened to line up really nicely. Slated at less than a week from the Big Boy 2021 trip, it would be a tight squeeze for sure - one that meant I had barely enough time to put out a few QJ shots before the Big Boy would envelope the next few weeks of my life. In trying to get the photos and words edited and put out with that big trip, paired with the next few coming up, the QJ fell by the wayside, and I never really made note of it here except for the photos that appeared in the gallery one day.
Well, I'd say it's about time to correct that!
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.
Something I frequently talk about is my ongoing hunt for the IC Deathstars, where I always say that "you never know when they're going to disappear one day." It's an unfortunate truth, in that everything does come to an end eventually and we won't be able to catch everything. One hundred years ago, the thought of steam locomotives going away would be strange to most folks, yet within three decades, almost the entire country was dieselized and steam was a rarity. The first and second generation EMDs are a dying breed, and now catching a pair of SD40s on a road freight is rare. The oldest diesels are entirely gone from revenue service, and even newer engines have disappeared completely.
Now, we are down another unique class. As of May 8th, 2021, the CN/Illinois Central's Blue Devils are retired. Their numbers dwindled down to a mere seven, with some lost to CN noodle paints and the Dash 8 purge last year. Now, though, six of the seven blue devils are listed as retired on CN's roster. Only 2466 wasn't listed, but the most recent sightings showed in storage in Canada, essentially marking it as dead now too.
With only seven to catch, spotting them was something I didn't expect to do. I only ever saw three of them before they were all retired.
2020: The Year of the Deathstar
In years past, when asked about the things I take photos of, I always answered with trains - of course - but always specified something to the effect of: "only really interesting ones, like steam engines. I would never go chase a diesel because they aren't very interesting."
Well, suffice to say I don't say that anymore.
I happen to live at an interesting railroad crossroads of sorts. The old east-west line, owned by too many companies in years past to list but including the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail, and now Norfolk Southern, certainly acts as a bit of a dividing line in town. But it's the north and south mainline of the Illinois Central that is the true split. It literally divides the town in half and is very much a focal point in the town. In fact, this mainline is the reason the town exists at all.
The Illinois Central went through many changes over the years, including a rebranding into the Illinois Central Gulf after its merger with the Gulf, Mobile, & Ohio, but its parent company finally dumped the railroad on its own in the 1980s. Finally, the IC was on its own again, and ready to rebrand. The new Illinois Central saw a dip back to its classic black paint, but with a new set of logos - a big "i" overtop a circle made up only of parallel lines. The birth of the Illinois Central Death Star.
Well. I don't think I need to bore you with world events as of late. I think we all get the gist.
So, furloughed, no classes, no work, and really anything else going on, there hasn't been much to talk about. It's been depressingly quiet for the most part - until somewhat recently, at least.
If you've seen the Gallery lately, or my Flickr or Instagram, you might have noticed a few new shots crop up. A few things happened in the last two months which have given me a few nice photo opportunities. Shameless shoutout where I ask you to follow me on either or both of the aforementioned platforms - stuff appears there first almost always. Links to those (and others) in the sidebar.
So, let's start from the beginning.
Welcome to part two - and coincidentally, day two - of chasing the Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 across the Midwest! If you haven't read part one, I recommend it - I'm just gonna jump straight into things. Here's a link to part one if you missed it: Link
The Union Pacific certainly has a thing for Great Races - which certainly makes sense, as chasing down their trains certainly is a race!
Throughout July and early August this year, the Big Boy #4014 embarked on its second journey - called "The Great Race Across The Midwest." The locomotive visited Minneapolis, Duluth, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, North Platte, and many, many towns and cities along the way. It took routes a Big Boy has never once travelled before, making it a prime opportunity to chase. Of course, it was about a full month, so there was no way I was to be able to follow it the way I did during the Great Race To Ogden because it was prohibitively expensive (as we all know from the Ogden trip...) and getting that much time off work was difficult.
Nevertheless, I managed to secure a short trip - July 30th & the 31st. The route for these two days was simple: West Chicago to Cedar Rapids on the 30th, then Cedar Rapids to Des Moines on the 31st. In Part 1, we'll cover the first day, the 30th, and the ridiculousness that was chasing a Big Boy in Illinois & Iowa.
Going back to the beginning of the Great Race To Ogden, there was one particularly early day in the schedule. Specifically, May 6th, 2019 - when the Union Pacific #4014 & #844 left Rock Springs, Wy at 4:00AM. This was because it allowed them to get around scheduled track maintenance - but more importantly, this caused the train to go through morning light.
Of course, before it could be seen in said light, it had to actually leave Rock Springs. At four in the morning.
So, leaving our hotel somewhere around 3:45AM, we headed over to the yard in Rock Springs to take a quick peak at the giant locomotive and its smaller - yet still sizable - companion in the darkness.
Now, I am not a night-time photographer - I don't claim to be. My photos have a bit of grain and often some shakiness from longer exposures, so they're not perfect. I never really planned to do night shots - and my flash refused to fire for whatever reason! So they're a tad bit weird. Still, I grabbed as many as I could in the little time we had.
I am very glad I did.
Hundreds, even thousands, of pieces of railroad history are lucky enough to be saved and cared for, many restored cosmetically, operationally, or even just sitting quiet in a collection. Unfortunately, not everything has that luxury, and many pieces of history have been lost or have nearly been lost, and others sure feel lost. One such example is a little place called Loweth, Montana.
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