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.


It’s Christmas now – the train is up!

It hasn’t seemed much like Christmas time in SoCal – it was 80F yesterday.  Not being a native, Santa in shorts doesn’t quite do it for me. I was in quite a rut as I heard a lawn being mowed.  After all – it is December 24th!

But, there’s one thing that screams “it’s Christmas” – and that’s the train under the Christmas tree.


I put the trains up today, and I have to admit, my attitude and demeanor changed when I was done as I sat there watching them run around their ovals.

Etta makes here blog debut above – she’s checking out the trains.  I couldn’t get her to pose for her debut – she was too busy trying to figure out who the interlopers are that smell of plastic and metal.  While the awe of Etta and Ella over seeing trains under the tree for the first time was heartwarming, it’s nothing compared to the feeling I still get when the trains go up.

It’s not the best picture that could have been taken of this – I took it with my phone – and I almost dug out my D-90 and flash to make it “right”.  And then I took a  breath.  And then I remembered the family photos as I was growing up weren’t much different – a Kodak Instamatic with a fixed lens and a flash that usually gave a hot spot.  And then I smiled, and I decided that the picture was just fine as it was.

There’s a story behind the trains.  In the foreground, the Budd RDC cars are the first new Lionel set I ever bought.  It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, far away.  Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert were still playing – it was that long ago!  In the background is my newest Lionel set – the Peanuts Christmas train, a gift from J-Frog last year.  So, there’s family history in the making.

But…  As I was crawling around on the floor setting up the Lionel, I paused to wonder if it’s the same these days for kids.

“Back when”, it was the excitement of getting the platform out, and then getting the train out.  The excitement built as the track was assembled, and then as the engine and passenger cars came out of their boxes.  Switches were wired, and the power section wired to the big ZW transformer.  And then… it  was time…  The sparks flying under the engine and the cars as the oxidation wore off the rails and power rollers.  The acrid smell of the transformer as it warmed up.  The sights and sounds of the holidays!

Growing up, the family train set was a Lionel Santa Fe passenger train from circa 1958.  For decades, Lionel imprinted the Santa Fe into America’s youth via the F-3 diesel in the Santa Fe “Warbonnet” paint scheme.  Visions of traveling in streamlined stainless steel passenger cars – and the dome car – were doubtless planted as well.  This set supplanted a Lionel tinplate O-27 set from circa 1936 that was in my Dad’s family as he was growing up.  The set is still around, but by the time we were young, the engine was somewhat fussy and didn’t run consistently.

I finally saw my first “real” Santa Fe Warbonnet in 1989 on a FP-45, but I’ve still yet to see a F-3 or F-7 in real warbonnet paint.

So, back to my pause and wondering…  The questions that are still bouncing around in my head are real, and perhaps a bit sad and melancholy…

How many families are keeping this tradition alive? I’m guessing that trains are the exception rather than the rule these days.

How many trains are hidden away in boxes, languishing and wondering when they’ll be able to run and and run…  (I saw a Toy Story short on television last night – and, well, you can’t help but wonder – can you?)

How many children look forward to the train being a symbol of the season?

How many young boys and teens will go back to school in January to see who gets bragging rights over the newest/best train?  Somehow, I doubt there will be a lot, and that’s sad.

How many children even know what a Lionel train is?

What would a child of today want more – a smart phone or a train?  If it’s a smart phone, well, I guess I get it.  But I can’t help but wonder if they know what they are missing.

The somber part of me realizes that times have changed, and things are far from simple anymore.

I’ll sit there and watch the trains for who knows how long.

There’s something about it.  Hypnotic.  Relaxing.  Restorative.  Contemplative.  Reflective.  Mindful.  Thankful.  Peaceful.  Simple.  Healing.  So, maybe there’s more to it than just a train running around a tree.

We could probably use more trains, and not just for what they are, but what they bring to families and the holidays.

Maybe we should share this and start a grass-roots movement to bring back the trains around the tree and get back to some of the basics that seem to have gone by the wayside…  It certainly couldn’t make things any more crazy than they are these days. could it?

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…