Category Archives: Railroads & trains

Videos—One fewer item on the Bucket List

In February 2010 I bought a Canon Rebel T2i DSLR. My whole reason in buying it to replace my Canon Rebel XSi was because the T2i had video. Sadly, though, I was never satisfied with the videos because the autofocus pretty much didn’t work. A Google search indicates that I wasn’t the only one in the world who was dissatisfied.

In late 2015 I replaced the T2i with a T6s because the autofocus was supposed to be vastly improved. Nope. The delay in focusing just wasn’t acceptable.

The shakiness of the videos didn’t make me happy either. Some of the shakiness was the camera’s fault because it weighs 26 ounces. Add a lens that weighs  19 ounces, or one that weighs 69 ounces, and taking videos is not a one-hand event. Even two-hand support gets tiresome, and more shaky,  if the video is longer than about ten seconds.

So this past June I considered buying a dedicated video camera. After a couple of months of research, I settled on the Canon Vixia HF R800. It retails for $299.99. I figured if it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, I could sell it on eBay. Well, it does what I want it to do (and what I wanted my DSLR to do).

The Vixia weighs a whopping 8 ounces. Could 8 ounces do what 95 ounces could not?

The autofocusing is awesome. It has a 32x optical zoom and an 1140x digital zoom. I wasn’t hopeful about the digital zoom because I was familiar with digital zooms on Point & Shoot cameras. Well, the zoom is extraordinarily easy to use and focusing is pretty much instantaneous.

After experimenting by taking videos of the birds, rabbits, and squirrels eating together in my back yard….

….it was time to test it out on the big boys—TRAINS! I wasn’t disappointed.

I took the Vixia to the famous Colton Crossing in Colton, an eastern suburb of Los Angeles. Ever since I discovered the Colton Crossing, I have wanted to get a picture of a Union Pacific train using the Colton Crossing upper tracks—the Flyover—to “fly over” a BNSF train on the lower tracks. Here’s my video of exactly that:

Bucket List has one fewer item on it.

Now I have to learn how to keep my fingers out of the field of view when in wide angle mode. I think I can handle that.

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Advertisements

Trains—A short history of the Colton Crossing

Halls of History

If you look back at the rich people in history, they pretty much were land barons, newspaper publishers, or railroad tycoons. In some cases, they were all three because many state and federal governments gave free land to people who were willing to build railroads on that land. The only people who could afford to build a railroad were newspaper publishers, so they became land barons and railroad tycoons.

Many of the railroad tycoons, like Leland Stanford (Stanford University) and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt University), are considered now to have been robber barons, a derogatory metaphor of social criticism originally applied to certain late 19th-century American businessmen who used unscrupulous methods to get rich. The robber baron list is long and includes many names familiar to us today from many industries, such as Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Library fame, Marshall Field of Marshall Field’s, J.P. Morgan of J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steel.

In San Diego history we have our own personality who made the robber baron list:
John D. Spreckels, making his claim via the water transport, sugar, and railroad businesses. He built the San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A) from San Diego to Yuma. It was during my early research into the SD&A for a railroad book that I’m writing that I discovered the Colton Crossing.Union Pacific on the flyover at Colton (CA) Crossing

The SD&A’s construction costs were said to be underwritten by Spreckels but in actuality were underwritten by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). After the transcontinental railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory UT in 1869 by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, focus shifted to a southern transcontinental route, either from Los Angeles or San Diego to points east. SP was first to market and pretty much dominated Southern California railroad interests until 1883 when the Colton Crossing was built.

Colton Crossing is a railway crossing in Colton CA and the site of one of the most intense frog wars in railroad construction history. A frog is where two railroad lines cross each other, and a frog war often occurred when those two railroad lines belonged to different railroads. In the case of Colton Crossing, the two lines belonged to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF), trying to gain a foothold in Southern California, and the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the SP.

California Southern’s construction crew was ready to install the frog tracks when an SP locomotive arrived pulling a single freight car, and stopped. The SP engineer drove the train back and forth slowly at the crossing point in order to prevent the California Southern crew from installing the crossing. SP had hired Virgil Earp to guard its tracks in Colton, and he rode in the cab of the SP locomotive.

Colton Crossing mapThe citizens of Colton supported SP, but SP had bypassed nearby San Bernardino, leaving its residents upset. Railroads at that time could make or break a community. San Bernardino hoped that the California Southern line would put their city back on the map.

Ultimately, California Southern obtained a court order on August 11, 1883, in its favor but it still took California Governor Robert Waterman’s involvement in ordering the county sheriff to enforce the court order.

On the morning of September 13, events reached a head in a confrontation known as the “Battle of the Crossing.” Citizens from Colton and San Bernardino gathered on either side of the tracks with the SP locomotive between them. Men on both sides carried picks and shovels, as well as revolvers and shotguns. Virgil Earp stood in the gangway between the locomotive cab and tender facing the San Bernardino citizens, revolver in hand. It was believed that the freight car, a gondola, held SP men with rifles and other weapons, crouching below the walls of the car so as not to be seen.

The Colton Crossing in today’s world is very busy with trains from Union Pacific (east-west), BNSF (north-south), Amtrak (Southwest Chief on BNSF tracks and Sunset Limited on UP tracks), and Metrolink (BNSF tracks). In the 2000’s, Colton Crossing got so busy that Union Pacific decided to build a flyover, a bridge over BNSF’s tracks, to alleviate delays for both railroads.

Colton Crossing and the West Colton railroad yard, within a mile of each other, are great places to watch railroad action, and that’s what I did on February 5. Here are some videos of the action I saw just in the three hours I was hanging out.

BNSF southbound on the lower tracks
There are two “helper” engines on the rear,
one of which is a Norfolk Southern engine.

Union Pacific westbound on the upper flyover tracks

Metrolink southbound on the lower tracks

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Trains—San Diego Trolley extension work interrupts Amtrak & Coaster

Railroads & Trains logo

Yesterday was my day to go to the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego and see what was going on. Well, nothing. Literally, nothing. There is no Amtrak or Coaster train action between the Santa Fe Depot and Oceanside, a distance of about 39 miles.

Track-a-train was showing all Amtrak Pacific Surfliners arriving and leaving from the Oceanside Transit Center. I set out to find out why, and it didn’t take me long to find that the line currently is shut down, at least through March 14, to re-align tracks and do some at-grade work for the extension of the San Diego Trolley from Old Town to University City.

Finally.

However, the extension is being built with a lot of Federal Transit Administration funds.

Uh-oh.

California voted for Clinton. Twitler knows that, and Twitler is a very vengeful person. I will keep an eye on these federal transit funds because I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Twitler will do something to exact his revenge on California by withholding federal funds.

I got quite a few interesting pictures showing the work going on. I thought it was interesting that the Mid-Coast Transit Constructors simply pulled the southbound Amtrak tracks about ten feet to the west. Presuming, then, that the Trolley is going to go down the middle of the Amtrak tracks. Now that I know about this, I can go out weekly and document process. Just south of where I was the tracks will be aerial due to a river (known as a creek in other states) and the tracks through University City and the University of California-San Diego will be aerial tracks.

Picture 1 – Abrupt break in the southbound tracks.Break in the Amtrak tracks for re-alignment

Picture 2 – Amtrak’s not going to like the excessive bends in this curveExcessive bends in re-aligned Amtrak tracks

Picture 3 – Mounds of rock showing where the track used to be.Mounds of rock indicate where the tracks used to be

Picture 4 – Southbound track re-alignment not yet complete.Re-aligned track work not completed

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—The San Diego & Arizona Railway

Out & About The World

On January 1, 2017, I decided to write a book that combined my love of writing, history, trains, and photography. With a tentative title of “On Time: A Timeline of Railroads in San Diego County,” I’m finding that it keeps me busy and I don’t seem to get bored.

New San Diego Central Library on February 2, 2013Right now it’s just a lot of reading and research. I started in the San Diego Central Library (left) because I found that they have microfilm of the new San Diego newspapers—Herald, Union, Tribune, Union-Tribune—all the way back to 1851, which was 18 years before the completion of the Union Pacific/Central Pacific transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

Those 18 years in the San Diego newspapers indicate that San Diego was hoping to be what San Francisco became. It never happened because, basically, no one could agree on a good route through the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Colorado Desert from Yuma AZ to San Diego.

Not that people weren’t trying. San Diego & Arizona RailwayEven after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, people kept trying to build a southern competitor. It looked like it might happen when John D. Spreckels, the owner of the San Diego Union, said that he would build it. And he did. The San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A). Also known as “The Impossible Railroad.”

The SD&A’s history is so convoluted (which is why I’m writing this book) that the only thing I can determine for sure at this point is that the SD&A was chartered on December 14, 1906; groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 7, 1907; and construction was completed on November 15, 1919. Final construction cost was $18 million, three times the original estimate of $6 million.

There are 129 miles. The 11-mile segment through Carrizo Gorge included 17 tunnels stretching 13,385 feet, and 2½ miles of bridges and trestles.

The SD&A was never profitable, mainly because tunnels kept collapsing and trestles were washed away from winter rains. Although there is, to this day, hope for re-opening the line, there are two main problems: First, the cost to repair the damaged tunnels and trestles is estimated at $5.5 million. Second, there are 44 miles of track in Mexico. Yep. Mexico. A hundred years ago there was no border wall and people easily moved back and forth between the two countries.

In today’s world with Twitler as the United States president, I think there is no way anyone anywhere is going to approve a train leaving San Diego, entering Mexico at Tijuana and re-entering the United States at Tecate, 44 miles away. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. That’s based on my early youth when I was hopping trains between Brigham City and Ogden UT, and Kingsville and Bishop TX.

So, while we’re waiting for Twitler to be impeached, we have to content ourselves with tourist rides on a 5-mile section of the old line courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.

Early in January 2017, I took a driving tour of the SD&A tracks all the way out to Plaster City, a distance of about 90 miles. A month later, a friend who owns a helicopter service took me on a 3-hour flight out to the Santa Rosa Mountains to check out the SD&A railroad from the air. Following are some pictures from both my adventures.

This first picture is near Jacumba Hot Springs and shows the SD&A tracks going under a bridge built in 1932 for old U.S. Highway 80.

SD&A tracks under Old Highway 80

The border wall with Mexico is about one hundred feet away, with a maintenance gate:

Border wall with gate

I walked over to the gate and had about a million Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents descend on me. After talking with me for a few minutes and looking at pictures on my camera, one officer said into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.” Another officer informed me that with a new car with “paper plates” (temporary plates), I’d probably be stopped several times. I was. Six times in 90 miles.

Note that San Diego County already has built its border wall with Mexico, and we had no help from anyone else, not even Mexico. Thus, we’re not going to help other counties build their walls.

This next picture is of a switch engine marked as Carrizo Gorge Railway 1465:

Carrizo Gorge Railway operated the SD&A tracks between Tecate and Plaster City from 1997 to 2012. This locomotive is tied up in court between Carrizo Gorge Railway and the engine’s owners, the East County Dirt Works. It sits at the old depot in downtown Jacumba where a lot of other rolling stock also sits, deteriorating in the hot desert sun.

Tierra Madre Railway

My goal on my driving tour was to make it to Plaster City CA, which is nothing but a gypsum plant for USG. However, USG operates that last remaining commercial narrow gauge railroad in the United States. Standard gauge tracks like you see every day are 4’8½” between the rails. Narrow gauge tracks can be anything narrower than that; the USG narrow gauge tracks are a mere 3′, making the rolling stock somewhat small compared to the big boys. As we flew over Plaster City in the helicopter, I got a picture of USG 112, a narrow gauge locomotive:

USG 112 at Plaster City CA

And the narrow gauge tracks leading from the gypsum quarry to Plaster City in the upper right:

Plaster City narrow gauge tracks

The flight over the Carrizo Gorge where all the tunnels and trestles are was pretty cool. The main sight in Carrizo Gorge is the Goat Canyon Trestle:

At about 180′ high and 630′ long, the Goat Canyon Trestle is the largest wooden trestle in the world. The trestle was built in 1932 when the tunnel, directly in the center behind the trestle, collapsed. At the left is an abandoned hopper car.

It’s pretty neat to see all the trestles from the air, indicating just how desolate and isolated this area is, and how difficult it is to maintain the tracks.

All along the route are abandoned railroad cars. In some cases it’s obvious why they are abandoned:

The Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo CA uses the old Campo Depot as its headquarters and has a lot of rolling stock that it is restoring. They offer rides on historic trains over about 5 miles of track, although the rains we have had this winter have, again, washed out some tracks, so those train rides are on hold. Here’s Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum from the air:

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad:

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—Stand down. Local tourist

Out & About San Diego

Early in January I went on an exploratory driving tour of East San Diego County, specifically looking for remnants of old, abandoned sections of Old Highway 80 which was built from the 1910s to the 1960s. During the years after World War II, U.S. Highway 80 from San Diego to Yuma AZ was reported to be the most used transcontinental highway. U.S. 80 was removed from the Californnia highway numbering system in 1964 after Interstate 8 had become the major thoroughfare from San Diego to Yuma. By 1991, U.S. 80 had been removed from the highway numbering in Arizona, New Mexico, and the western part of Texas all the way to Dallas. In 2006, what was left of U.S. Highway 80 in San Diego and Imperial counties was designated by the State of California as Historic U.S. Route 80.

My journey:

Driving tour of East San Diego County via Old Highway 80

In the original highway system a two-digit number ending in a zero meant that the road was a cross-country road. Indeed, U.S. Highway 80 had its western terminus as far west as Point Loma in San Diego and its eastern terminus in Tybee Island, Georgia.

The road for automobiles from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona, was the Old Plank Road built from February to April 1915. There still is a section of the road in existence, near Yuma, and it is my intent to get over there soon to see it. Here’s a picture of it from Wikipedia:

Old Plank Road remnants near Yuma, Arizona

The 1915 road was replaced in 1916 by a more sophisticated prefabricated plank road. It was a struggle to maintain it, though, and by 1926 work was underway to construct a concrete/asphalt roadway. Many sections of the concrete/asphalt roadway still are in existence, some still being driven on and others being quite difficult to find or get to.

If we start west and drive east, the first section we come to was built in 1917. The earliest concrete highway is easy to determine because it has no center divider, which you’ll see in upcoming pictures, and appears to be at most about 1½ lanes wide. Here is a section visible on what is now the Viejas Indian Reservation in Alpine:

1917 abandoned section of U.S. Highway 80 on Viejas Indian Reservation in California

There is a cool bridge, the Los Terrinitos Road Bridge, also built in 1917, just a couple of miles from the reservation:

Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

I, being the indomitable Russel Ray, had to park and crawl under the bridge. Under-bridges often are more interesting than over-bridges.

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Once you drive over the bridge, you’re on Old Highway 80 built in 1931. You can see the center divider indicating that it’s the widened version constructed beginning in 1926.

Wildwood Glen

This section of Highway 80 now is called Wildwood Glen Lane. The Wildflower Resort was located here on the old highway. The main house from the resort is still used as a residence. The road goes for about a mile and ends at a gated turnaround. However, you can park your car and walk around the gate and explore another three miles or so of the old highway, overgrown with high desert sage and chaparral.

Gate on Old Highway 80. Park and walk from here.

The panorama below is beyond the gate; I had a lot of fun walking a couple of miles before turning around to stay on schedule.

Old Highway 80 panorama

Each section of highway that was completed each day was date-stamped at both ends. I was able to determine that they poured concrete at the rate of about a quarter mile each day.

Old Highway 80 date stamp

Date-stamped concrete, Old Highway 80

In the picture immediately above, the January 21, 1930 date stamp is wrong. Every other date stamp on this section of Highway 80 was 1931, including January 21, 1931, at the other end of this 1930-stamped section. Well, I guess they could have started this section on January 21, 1930, and finally completed it on January 21, 1931, but I’m thinking, uh, no.

In addition to finding beautiful scenery, I also discovered normally dry mountain streams that were running full of water.

Dead tree in the East San Diego County mountains

In the following picture, you can see Interstate 8 in the upper right. This was about two miles past the gate and where I turned around to go back to my car.

Old Highway 80 and Interstate 8

The next section that is visible is the Pine Creek bridge in Pine Valley, built in 1917. It still is in use as a private entrance to some horse stables.

Pine Creek Bridge, Pine Valley, California

Between Pine Valley and Jacumba Hot Springs are mostly abandoned building ruins. Quite interesting. There are so many abandoned ruins, especially in and around Jacumba Hot Springs, that I will cover them in a future blog post.

Although my tour book, dated 2013, said there were sections of Highway 80 visible or accessible, I was not able to find them in 2017. The next section I found was near Jacumba Hot Springs, a 1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge.

1931 U.S. Highway 80 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs, California

So, do you think I crawled under the bridge? Uh, der. That’s the only way you can see the remnants of the 1916 bridge!

1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge

I also found another 1931 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs. This one went over some abandoned railroad tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad, so I stopped to walk the tracks.

Old Highway 80 bridge over abandoned tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

That spot where I stopped to take that picture is about one hundred feet from the border fence with Mexico, which has a maintenance gate in it.

Border fence with Mexico

I walked over to the gate in the picture, and that’s when every Border Patrol and Homeland Security agent within 100 miles descended on me like flies on dung. I was sure that I was going to be deported….

After explaining what I was doing, they let me go but warned me that being in a new car with “paper plates,” it was likely that I would be stopped several more times this close to the border. They were right. Six times total during my 101-mile trip. While being warned by one officer, another was talking into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.”

The two pictures immediately above were taken on the side of the road nearest to the border. On the other side, while standing on the bridge, were sections of the 1916 road, shown in the following four pictures and easily discernible because there’s no center divider:

Old Highway 80, 1917 version

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Out at In-Ko-Pah where the Desert View Tower is (see my blog posts here), there are two long sections of Old Highway 80 right next to Interstate 8. The 1916 section, shown below, is abandoned.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

To the right in the above picture is the 1932 section which is still in use. It terminates at the Desert View Tower. In the picture below, in the center of the bridge, you can see the date 1932.

Old Highway 80, 1932 section, In-Ko-Pah

Once you leave the Desert View Tower (if you’re that close to it, stop and take a tour), you’ll get on Interstate 8 and head down into the desert where there are long stretches of both 1916 and 1932 sections of Old Highway 80, as well as track and trestles from the abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad.

1932 meets 1916. Interstate 8 in upper quarter, especially upper right.
Old Highway 80, 1932 meets 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

East of Ocotillo is a long stretch of a 1916 section of Highway 80. The 1932 version is at the left, which is what you drive on through here.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Here is a panorama showing the 1916 Highway 80 on the left and the 1932 Highway 80 on the right.

Old Highway 80, 1916 and 1932 sections, east of Ocotillo CA

The currently abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks are to the left of the 1916 Highway 80. They look like this:

San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks east of Ocotillo CA

Hope you enjoyed this driving tour of Old Highway 80 in East San Diego County. I’ll have more driving tours like this coming up in future posts. Stay tuned by following or subscribing.

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—The Tehachapi Loop

Out & About The World

When I go out exploring each day, I have a specific goal in mind. When I went out on Sunday, February 5, one of my goals was to visit the Tehachapi Loop, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and California Historic Landmark #508 .

At the Tehachapi Loop, if the train is at least 4,000 feet long, it will pass over/under itself, as in my video below. Keep your eye on the video at 4:13; I want his job.

The Tehachapi Loop is a .73-mile loop owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The BNSF has what are called “trackage rights” to use the Loop. The difference in elevation between the lower and upper tracks in 77 feet.

The railroad line through the Loop connects Bakersfield to Mojave and, in addition to the cool Loop, has 12 tunnels and tracks with lots of twists and turns.

Railroad tunnel on the Tehachapi Line in California

Construction on the Tehachapi Loop began in 1874 and was completed in 1876 by three thousand Chinese laborers under the direction of Southern Pacific engineer William Hood and Chief of Construction J.B. Harris. It is one of the seven wonders of the railroad world.

The Tehachapi Line itself is one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world. An average of 36 trains each day use the Tehachapi Loop, and they tend to be long trains, up to two miles long. During my two hours at the Loop, I saw six freight trains. The shortest was about 3,500 feet long and the longest was probably up there in the 2-mile-long range. The train in my video is the second-longest one I saw on February 5, 2017.

With frequent trains and beautiful scenery, the Loop is a prime hotspot for railroad fans.

The last picture here is of the first train I saw. I had not found a location to set up yet so it was just luck that I got this picture.

BNSF on the Tehachapi Loop

This post approved byThis post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—How come Santa didn’t bring me a drone?

Out & About

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Brick is not widely used in Southern California but the Del Mar depot, built in 1910 by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, is a beautiful brick depot located on Coast Boulevard between 15th and 17th streets.

Former Del Mar railroad depot in use from 1910 to 1995.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That depot had been in continuous use from 1910 to 1995. For many of those years it was the only passenger stop between Oceanside and San Diego, a distance of 39 miles. At the time of its closing, it was one of Amtrak’s busiest stations, mainly due to the Del Mar Fairgrounds being nearby. The Fairgrounds host hundreds of events throughout the year, including the San Diego County Fair, the 5th largest fair in the United States.

In the late 1980s, the city of Solana Beach, located two miles north of Del Mar, set about to build a regional transit center. The San Diego Association of Governments voted to close the Del Mar depot due to limited parking, the lack of handicapped access, and the poor logistics of providing for trains, buses, cars, and people. The Del Mar City Council rejected expanding the depot but hoped to keep it in operation as an Amtrak-only station; Amtrak nixed that idea and moved its Del Mar operations to Solana Beach.

Across from the Del Mar depot is one of Southern California’s prime surfing spots, so this area area is highly congested as surfers arrive by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, and taxi. No longer do they arrive by train.

The depot now is private property so there is no access to it. I did find a walkway going above it where I got seven pictures to create the panorama show above. The picture below is looking down the tracks where you can see the depot on the right. That’s as close as you’re going to get to a trackside picture without a drone. Hmmmmmmmm. Drone. How come Santa didn’t bring me a drone?

Tracks at the former Del Mar railroad depot, in upper right.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat