Combining history, photography, and railroad passions

San Diego Then & Now

I always have been a fan of history, especially history that indicates how cruel humans can be to each other—The Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, American Civil War, World War I, World War II….

My second favorite history genre relies on another of my passions, photography, for its best storyline: then & now.

Combine history and photography with my passion for trains, and all is well in the world.

Trains were instrumental in building America, bringing people closer to each other, and moving troops in times of war.

Much of the railroad infrastructure in San Diego was built by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, such as the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego:

Santa Fe Depot in San Diego

The Santa Fe Depot is still used by the San Diego Trolley, the Coaster, and Amtrak. A careful search through historical records will reveal many pictures of Santa Fe trains in San Diego, such as this calendar picture of Santa Fe 3751, a steam engine built in 1927:

Santa Fe #3751 along the Pacific Ocean

That picture is circa 1962 and shows #3751 rounding the curve under the historic Del Mar bridge just north of Torrey Pines State Beach here in San Diego County. The train is headed northbound with the next part of its journey being right above the beaches. Gorgeous views and one of the most scenic Amtrak routes in all of North America!

Santa Fe #3751 still is fully operational and makes several excursions a year to various train events. When I went to San Bernardino Railroad Days earlier this year, I had the pleasure of riding in the consist from San Bernardino to Los Angeles Union Station, about 90 miles, that was being pulled by Santa Fe #3751.

Here is Photographic Art based on a picture of the Santa Fe #3751 from 2012 National Train Day in Los Angeles:

ATSF 3751 at Los Angeles at National Train Day in May 2012

Now let’s go back to that calendar picture. Although the location of the bridge was not disclosed on the calendar, I recognized it because I’ve driven over that bridge many times, and walked Torrey Pines State Beach many times. Here it is on a Google map:

Del Mar Bridge at Torrey Pines State Beach

The location is a great place to do a little train watching since Amtrak and the Coaster use it regularly. Northbound and southbound trains use the single track, so trains go by about every 30 minutes on a week day.

Following is my re-creation of the calendar picture with a northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at the same point on the curve under the bridge.

Amtrak under the Del Mar Bridge at Torrey Pines State Beach near San Diego, California

There are about 50 years between the two pictures.

Look at the trees on the top of the hill in the background and you can see that the silhouette is very much the same:

Torrey pines

The trees are Torrey pines. San Diego is one of only two places in the world where the Torrey pine grows. The other is an island off the Southern California coast.

Now I want to find that tall tree in the middle because I’m pretty sure there must be a time capsule at its base that is waiting for Russel Ray to dig it up. Inside will be all sorts of materials about the history of San Diego, photographs, an old Kodak Brownie camera, and maybe even a toy Lionel train, Santa Fe #3751.

Following is Santa Fe #3751 at the 2014 San Bernardino Railroad Days, preparing to take a couple hundred train fans—including me!—back to Los Angeles Union Station. I rode in the second car behind the locomotive and tender, or the fifth car from the rear.

Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino, California

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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10 thoughts on “Combining history, photography, and railroad passions

  1. Darlene Jones

    Growing up on the lonely prairie and hearing the mournful notes of the train whistle play large in my memories. Two of my uncles worked with Canadian National Railways so trains were important in my life. I still have one of my uncle’s caps.

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  2. mvschulze

    Before I got further along in your post, I noticed the similarity of those trees you mentioned, and thought one of the photos borrowed some elements of the other. But your specific mention of it indicates that these trees have had a nearly identical profile over 50 years. Do you think that is actually so? Nice images, great perspective. M 🙂

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Yes, I do, because they are Torrey pine trees. For an extreme example of pine trees, think of the redwoods and giant sequoias that reach maturity after a couple hundred years but then live for another 3,000 years.

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  3. Hollis Hildebrand-Mills

    My parents were from Montana and my grandfather worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad! It is such an amazing topic to me. My other grandfather had a friend from Belgium who helped build the railroad. Those pictures and thoughts about going back in time to see how it looked then are close to my heart, Russell Ray. Thank you for posting the early version and your modern one. Same view . Same angle! It is a lot to contemplate.

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Thanks! I was out there the whole day trying to get the perfect shot. It’s difficult because one has no visual or audio warning when a train is actually coming around the corner under the bridge, so it’s hit and miss.

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