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Photo 1
An SP-lead mixed passing a popular and easy-to access photo site
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Photo 2
The first train of the morning - UP 5992 leads auto racks
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Photo 3
An LA-bound BNSF stacker on the ex-ATSF main
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Photo 4
One of the better places to photograph trains south of Cajon Jct
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Photo 5
Yet another of the dozens of BNSF trains on Saturday
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Photo 6
SP 8581 leads a grain train up the hill
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Photo 7
Okay, so they're not really in the lead
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  Trip Report: Cajon Pass Revisited - Chapter 1
  Day 1 - (Monkey?) Business
(November 11, 2000)
  From: Cajon Pass Revisited
Dates: November 10-19, 2000 Author: Nathan Holmes

Somehow it seems that work likes to take me to the LA basin, and being that it's starting to get significantly colder at home in Colorado Springs I don't really mind. This time it was for a week-long crash training course in programming in Forth. So, as in August, I just tacked a few days on each end of the official travel for "personal" time - two days on the front end (Sat [11/11] and Sun [11/12]), and one (Sat [11/18]) on the back.

I actually arrived at LAX at about 8:30 PST. If I'd had any forethought I'd have flown in/out of Ontario, but this is what I got for planning the trip only two days in advance. At least I thought to get a hotel in San Bernadino - the company nicely put me up in the Embassy Suites LAX for the "business" part of the trip, but personal days are on my bill and Comfort Inns and Super 8s fit into my railfanning budget much better. A mostly uneventful, but the drive along I-10 through Colton is fun at night - I probably saw a dozen different trains or so while driving along. Not being terribly familiar with the area around the West Colton yards at night and remembering a bad feeling about it from the last time, I decided to forgo a quick check for Rio Grande SD50s and just head for the hotel. The only other adventure of the night was a hotel room with an electronic lock that wouldn't actually let me in the room, but that's another frustrating story entirely.

Saturday morning didn't look too bad - a few clouds in the sky, but nothing of much consequence. I'd actually intended to be on the road by 7 to take maximal advantage of the morning light, but true to being myself, I overslept and didn't actually get out of the hotel until around 9. California is in, at the least, an interesting place to drive. Some days it's better than Colorado, some days it's worse, but at least for someone who's used to driving a three ton truck, it takes me a few days to get used to the handling the little Ford cars that Hertz gets for me. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want my truck down here - especially not on the final ascent to Cajon Summmit or the freeways around LAX - the roads are either far too curvey and tight to take with any sort of speed in a top-heavy vehicle or too densely packed to move such a beast around swiftly and safely. Unfortunately, a Ford Taurus isn't a whole lot better. I don't know whether it was this particular one or all of them in general, but I had serious problems getting it to stick to the road and I find the rear columns block my view. What I wouldn't have given for an, oh say, BMW Z3. Of course with the California Highway Patrol having a noticable presence in Cajon Junction, this probably would have gotten me into more trouble than it was worth.

One word of advice here before I get started with the train lineup for the day - most of the places off the highway around Cajon seem to be parts of one or another National Forest, and as such, you'll need what's known as a "Forest Adventure Pass" to park offroad. This is especially useful for where the SP main emerges from a cut just north of 138 west of Cajon Junction (Photo #1, actually from Sunday, but there weren't any good southbounds on this line Saturday). There's a large dirt parking area south of the wash that has a very good view of the line. As I recall, the ticket is about $100 for not having one of this pink permits, and for $5 a day it's cheap compliance - they're available at the Circle K on the west side of the I-15.

Saturday's first train was actually a UP auto rack coming down the hill on the ex-SP main. Having spotted him while climbing the hill on the 15, I exited at Cleghorn and worked back to a grade crossing (on a side road) further down the line. As I reached the crossing, I noticed another gentleman already there, sitting on his hood and drinking coffee. Having little better to do while waiting on the train to appear, I struck up a conversation. Initially I assumed that he was a railfan of some sort, but this was quickly proven false. As it turns out, he was actually an investigator checking out "suspicious activity" at a house up the road, and was waiting on his partner to show up with a truck (as he'd underestimated the terrain). After probably twenty minutes or so, the train (Photo #2) and his partner with the pickup showed, and we both went on about our day. Nice to meet non-railfans out enjoying the trains and the morning view as well.

As luck would have it, on the way back down to old 66 and Cleghorn Road I met a southbound BNSF at the lower (ex-ATSF) crossing, just minutes after catching UP 5992. This crossing is a very hard place to shoot from in the afternoon, as you almost have to be on the northwest side of the crossing to make it work, but in the morning it works out very well from the much roomier southeast side. (Photo #3) As long as you're on the west side of the road and far away from the track (and obviously not doing anything dumb), it seems that BNSF won't bother you. At least that's been my experience. There's a very clear sign, though, telling you not to be along the grade on the east side of the road, and in fact I did see security deal with some fans in that area. However they just waved at me, so I'm assuming by that photographing passing trains from the nice gravel patch on the southwest side is tolerated. However, the one downside is that the large white "No Tresspassing/Parking/Loitering" sign does tend to get right in the line of your shot, so it's something to consider. Over the three days I was there, I varied my strategy quite a bit. Photo #3 is actually taken from about 50 feet down the road, nearer the large rock cut so as to avoid the aforementioned annoying white sign. Photo #4 shows the previous train, the gravel area I mentioned, and another fan out watching the trains roll by. Notice those pesky clouds already starting to build.

On the way back to the freeway to head up the hill, what should show up but yet another BNSF (Photo #5). This really would set the tone for the day - UP traffic was scarce, whereas BNSF traffic was non-stop. The clouds rolled in fairly soon thereafter (around 12-1pm) and most of the day was a battle for sunlight. Higher elevations were seeing snow, as evidenced by the peak to the west, but down at track level the worst of precipitation was only drizzle. Annoying, but not a show-stopper by any means. Thus, most of Saturday was purely roster shots, most taken off 138 near the summit.

This isn't to say I still didn't spend my share of time running up and down the hill, trying to best coordinate shots so as to get in the maximum number of trains. I figure if the light's bad and I'm mostly doing roster shots, I might as well get as many shots of as much equipment as possible. Several times throughout the day, though, decent light broke through and I did manage to get a handful of interesting shots. One was a brief break in the clouds after lunch, when SP 8581 and several SP kin lead a unit grain train up the hill on the SP main. In afternoon lighting, the same spot used for Photo #1 also works out well for upbound trains on the ex-SP line, as 8581 demonstrates (Photo #6).

The rest of the day was pretty much one BNSF after another, both into and out of LA. As I mentioned earlier, most of it I spent sitting near the summit, and I have so many pictures of orange-and-green GEs rounding the curve west of the summit that it would bore you to death. However, Cajon has one interesting element I've never seen anywhere else - helpers on intermodal trains. I assume that the ones going down the hill are to get the braking effort/ton ratio up, but they could just be hitching a ride. Either way, typically these are sets of ATSF SD40s, and sometimes make for nice "fake" shots for those of us who want to relive the few years we got to see pure Santa Fe power roll by. Originally being from eastern Iowa, I remember watching all-ATSF power roll through Galesburg, IL, leading endless strings of pigs and stacks. For a moment, it's nice to relive that, even if the units are going the wrong way. (Photo #7)

The most interesting event of the day was seeing an SD40/45ish blue and yellow Santa Fe booster on the way back down to LA. Unfortunately, the light was failing (almost gone), it was starting to rain, and I was on the freeway headed south. Once you pass Cleghorn Road, there aren't any exits for at least four miles. By the time I got turned around and back to Cleghorn, it was long gone towards the summit. Oh well, I needed to be at LAX again in two hours, so I had to turn and run. As it turns out, two hours quickly passed into three with a good chunk of that spent at a dead stop on the 10 going east.

Saturday night was a fairly late one after driving back from LAX to San Berdoo and then working to name a good chunk of Saturday's images - because it was mainly a roster-shooting kind of day, I accumulated about 650 images. Digital is great - I can shoot everything and it doesn't cost me a dime. Well, nothing substantial anyway. I figure I'd buy the disk space anyway and just blow it on other stuff if I didn't have all the rail images.

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Oh yes, one other thing I should probably mention - all the images here are Copyright 2000 Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net)
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images.
All images were taken with an Olympus C-3000 camera, a beautiful piece of machinery.