By Chris Kilroy
May 24, 2007
All too often, many of us get caught up in the one-sided experience of railfanning -- that is, focusing 110% of our effort on finding a train, setting up a shot, and executing it. I am certainly guilty of this more often than I'd like to admit, and I bet most of those reading this are, too.
In late April of 2007, however, I had a few minutes to step back and reflect on this hobby we all enjoy, and what it really does offer outside of "the chase."
Fellow RailPictures.Net Editor Chris Starnes and I had been going at it since our midday arrival on the Tehachapi Pass after the nearly 4 hour drive from Las Vegas. Traffic this Friday afternoon on The Pass was extremely heavy -- the heaviest I've ever seen it, in fact -- and we'd been chasing trains seemingly since the first moment the railroad comes up alongside of Route 58 just outside of Mojave.
We had photographed trains, both northound and southbound, from Cable, to Cameron, to Monolith, to Cliff, to Beaville, to Woodford, the Loop.. it seemed as though wherever we went, a train followed shortly thereafter. Best of all, on a clear, temperate, and atypically haze-free day in the Tehachapis, the photographic results were better than we could ever have imagined.
As the sun sank lower into the western sky, we found ourselves on the lower end of the pass, following a westbound intermodal train to Bena and having no choice but to lose him from there (a common occurence, as those of you familiar with the north end of Tehachapi Pass can attest to). As the BNSF Z-train flew off to the west and out of sight, the makings of a spectacular California sunset were already coming together, and we decided to head down to the long, downhill straightaway just west of Sandcut to find that 'perfect' sunset shot.
We found our mark, an admittedly easy-to-access (i.e. lazy man's) spot just off old Hwy 58 right along the mainline, and settled in. The sun sank lower into the sky, on this clear, cloud free, and just totally spectacular day in the Tehachapis. And lower, then still lower. No trains in sight, not a peep out of the radio. Not even a hopeful reflection of sunlight off the moveable lens inside the intermediate, approach-lit block signal just west of us to give a brief moment of hope.
As the sun faded dangerously close to the horizon, it began to dawn on me -- this 'perfect shot,' which had been in the making for 45 minutes, wasn't going to happen, at least not with a train in it. But as I stood along the silent mainline, admiring the beautiful colors of the sky, taking in the perfect breeze, and enjoying the absolute tranquality of just being 'away from it all,' if even for just a few minutes, I realized that this was exactly how it should have been scripted.
There probably wasn't a train on the UP Mojave Subdivision between Bakersfield and West Colton at 7:25pm Pacific Time that Friday evening, and looking back, I wouldn't have had it any other way. We'd had enough fun with trains already during our long day; getting to enjoy one of the most spectacular California evenings I've ever experienced, with just a good friend and nature's beauty as company, ended a great day of 'fanning better than any diesel locomotive, no matter how impressive, ever could have.