Tehachapi Loop: Photo Accomplished

Tehachapi Loop: Photo Accomplished.

Two simple words that said to a railfan or train enthusiast mean for some a familiar place, for some a quest akin to the Holy Grain, and for some, just a unique, timeless and special place.

I was first introduced to Tehachapi Loop by the January 1977 issue of Trains Magazine.  Back then, it was the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads battling the hills and the curves.

It was… well, it was captivating.  Inspiring.  A place I had to see for myself.  A place I (naively) dreamed about fitting on a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood in HO scale.

Tehachapi Loop is timeless, and on the Bucket List for many a photographer and railfan.

Tehachapi Loop is timeless, and on the Bucket List for many a photographer and railfan.

It took over 22 years for me to get to Tehachapi Loop.  Mrs. Frog was there with me, and once she was over the Loop, she politely tolerated my excitement.

The Southern Pacific was in the process of being assimilated by the great yellow borg (a.k.a. the Union Pacific).

The Santa Fe was disappearing into the BNSF.

And the Loop was magnificent.

To describe the loop is kind of hard.  The reality is that the twists and turns are a result of the railroad needing to gain elevation in its’ climb from Bakersfield to the summit at Tehachapi.

I’ve seen it explained as what would happen if you gave a youngster too much track for a small layout with instructions to use it all up.

You just have to see it to appreciate it.

While I am not a fan of double-stack container trains, they are a reality of railroading today.  The often bright colors of the containers make it easier to see the train as it twists and turns heading east from Keene and Woodford.

It took me another six years to get back to the Loop again.  There were still vestiges of the Santa Fe left on that trip, but not much of the Southern Pacific.

I left somewhat unfulfilled, as I didn’t have a wide angle lens that could capture the whole Loop in one shot.

Fast forward to 2016.  I finally had a lens that could capture the Loop – a Tamron 10-24mm zoom.  I left the night before so that I could be at the Loop at first light – which, in my humble opinion, is the best time to capture the Loop.  The air had a chill as I walked to the overlook and waited.  And waited.  And wished I had a jacket.  And waited.

Modern locomotives are much quieter than they were in 1999.  I didn’t hear the train climb through Keene, and I barely heard it at Woodford.  The white and orange containers stuck out like a worm squirming uphill.  And it was finally time…

I caught three trains that morning before the sun angle became too stark for my tastes.

Mission accomplished, I left satisfied, checking one thing off of my list… (which isn’t to say I won’t go back!).

Those images are now in the Tehachapi Gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

I don’t normally do this – but all of the images in the gallery are cropped to accentuate the Loop in formats from 1h:2w to 1h:6w.  They’re different, that’s for sure.  They’d make a great gift for someone, or a conversation piece on your own wall.  And, even if you’re not in a buying mode, just go in and check out the images of something you can only see just west of the great little town of Tehachapi, CA.

The images from 1999 and 2006 are yet to be scanned, but they’ll be in the gallery some day as well.

If you find yourself on California Highway 58 between Mojave and Bakersfield, I invite you to make two stops: one in the town of Tehachapi – some interesting museums and things to see, and, of course, the Loop itself west of town.


Snow, Palm Trees, and the Local

Snow, palm trees and a train are not three things you would expect to see in the same picture – but they’re here in Snow, Palm Trees and the Local.

I don’t know how many places that it is possible to capture such an image.

There are certain days that it is possible in La Verne, California – it just takes the convergence of Mother Nature and BNSF to make it happen, as the palm trees are there every day.

The snow is on the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains north of La Verne and San Dimas in the background.

The palm trees are in a yard and on the grounds of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The train is the BNSF Pasadena Subdivision Local – it covers the Pasadena Subdivision as far west as Irwindale these days.  (From Azusa into Los Angeles Union Station, it’s now the Gold Line light rail passenger line.)

The Local is shoving a tank car of chlorine north on the MWD spur that leads to the F. E. Weymouth Treatment Plant.  This movement happens roughly once a week.

If you consider that there isn’t snow on the mountains on a regular basis and that the train can typically be seen here just once a week, you come to realize that this is a rare shot indeed.

All that said, I really wish that this consist was reversed and the 151, still sporting her red and silver warbonnet paint, was in the lead instead of against the train.

Realizing that there were only 63 GP60M locomotives built, I also think that I should quit my whining and be happy that I got the shot…

Snow, palm trees, and the BNSF Pasadena Subdivision Local in La Verne, CA.

Snow, palm trees, and the BNSF Pasadena Subdivision Local in La Verne, CA.


Snow, Palm Trees and the Local can be found in the BNSF ex- Santa Fe Pasadena Subdivision gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

It’s a long train! BNSF 7195 West.

Being from the Mid-Atlantic states, being able to capture a whole train in one image was something that just didn’t happen.  At least with normal sized trains.

One of the things I enjoy about the BNSF ex- Santa Fe Transcon Line in northern Arizona is the ability to catch a whole train in a shot.

Milepost 302 on the BNSF Seligman Subdivision is one of my favorite places to do this.  The lighting is perfect for about the last 30 minutes of daylight when the sun is just above the horizon.

You can see a westbound crest the hill just west of the Highway 99 Exit to Leupp (don’t ask me how to pronounce that properly) and photograph it over the course of a couple of miles.  The train drops down a slight grade, enters a curve to the left, disappears from sight, and then pops up as it continues to climb towards you.  As it nears you, it enters a right-hand curve and if you catch it just right – you’ve got sunlight that’s hitting the train almost perpendicular.  This is what is known as “golden light” or “sweet light”.

BNSF 7195 West. Milepost 302 Seligman Subdivision.

BNSF 7195 West. Milepost 302 Seligman Subdivision.  Click on the image to be taken to the BNSF ex- Santa Fe Lines Gallery to view the series.

This is one of the first shots of the series described above. I chose this picture, as it shows just how “big” northern Arizona is.  The engines are over four miles away from me.  The train itself is over a mile long (don’t ask just how long – I lost my note).  The smoke in the distance is from a power plant nearly 40 miles east in St. Joseph City.  It’s big country…  It’s a long train!

The light couldn’t have been much better, as the sun dropped below the horizon four minutes after the last shot.

While I wish I could have been at this location about 20 years ago when the trains were headed by Santa Fe’s Superfleet power in the classic red and silver “Warbonnet” paint scheme or the blue and yellow “Bluebonnet” scheme, I’ll take it.

Image details: tripod, ISO 800, 1/640 second, 500mm.

 There’s much more to add to the BNSF ex-Santa Fe Lines Gallery as slides get scanned and scans and images are processed.

Thanks for visiting.  Be sure to check out Laughing Frog Images for help on covering up that blank space on your wall.