For the third consecutive year, the Durango & Silverton has run a Photographer's Special in mid-February, allowing railfans and non-railfan photographers the opportunity to shoot narrow gauge steam in the snow on some of the more scenic - and remote - parts of the Silverton Branch. The train leaves Durango in the early morning (0800h) and immediately heads up beyond Rockwood to places accessible only by foot or by train. For the rest of the day, it's a regular photo special, moving passengers between photo spots, doing run-bys, etc. It's a great, relatively inexpensive way to photograph places on the D&S that would take a great deal of time and effort otherwise.
Since the photo special was on Sunday this year, I had most of the day Saturday to chase the regular train. This, too, turned out to be a unique opportunity. K-28 478 had been repainted for a private photo charter the weekend before, and was still doing regular duty in full Rio Grande paint when I got there. Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, with crystal clear skies all day and reasonably temperate weather. It made for a great chase of a K-28 in full Rio Grande lettering.
Saturday night held a new event this year - a night photo class in the roundhouse museum and shoot in the yard, led by Darel Crawford and Dave Taylor. The night started off a little after 1830h with a short Operation Livesaver presentation by the D&S's own chief dispatcher Dave Schranck, as well as a safety briefing specifically focused on being out in the yard that night. Darel Crawford, a local photographer from Durango, then gave a presentation about his photography on the D&S, giving the audience both ideas and tips about shooting steam. After that it was on to Dave Taylor, giving us the short version of flash night photography tips, as well as the details we'd need for the shoot just outside. The night's desired shot was inspired by O Winston Link's famous photo "Shaffer's Crossing", where a Norfolk & Western Y6b is posed on a turntable, and a smaller engine is visible off to the rear left. In our case, it wouldn't be a 2-8-8-2 Y6b, but rather Rio Grande 478 on the table, with D&S K-36 #482 in the background. In addition to coordinating the shoot, Dave provided a good number of large flash units to illuminate the scene. The resulting shoot produced some incredible images, and I can't thank Dave and Dan enough for their efforts, or the Durango & Silverton for letting us do this.
This year's photo special was powered by a K-36, much like last year, except with 482 doing the honors rather than 481. The photo plan this year, however, was completely different than in the past. The special went straight up to Cascade, where the train was wyed and we started the day shooting at the Tefft Bridge, a wrought-iron truss span over the Animas installed in 1887, located just north of the Cascade wye. From there, it five miles of backing to our northermost point for the trip, a wide clearing on a curve near Needle Creek.
As we were all off the train and arranging ourselves into a photo line at MP 483, the train began backing up in preparation for the run-by. However, after just starting to move, we all heard a loud thud from behind us, followed by the unmistakable sound of an emergency brake application. As it turned out, a log had rolled down the hill and in under the lead truck of 213. The log was removed, and the train crew continued the shove back for the run-by. As the train made its first pass, though, I noticed a broken brake rod on the caboose's lead truck, likely caused by the emergency application. The crew somehow fixed it so it was no longer dragging, and after another run-by, we all loaded up for a trip down to a static photo shoot at MP 480.1.
MP 480.1 is next to the "Pigeon and Turret Peaks" signpost, and has a wonderful view back behind the train of the two peaks in questions. As an added bonus, this was one of the few shots on the line with an appreciable amount of snow on the ground. While we were all setting up our shots, I noticed the crew all intently checking out something on the right side of the engine - not usually a good sign. Sure enough, there were a couple broken leaf springs on the third driver. Speculation was that the sudden stop may have played a part in this as well.
So, we photographed, we talked, and we watched the crew try to get a chain around the springs to keep them contained. After quite a delay, they finally managed to do it with a little help from the two guys in the speeder that had been running ahead of us. While the railfan contingent mostly found the event interesting and an added bonus, I'm not so sure the general photographers (or the crew!) were so interested or amused. At least it gave some of us a break between setups to visit the concessions car and snarf down some lunch. The downside is that the delay cost us significant amounts of time and water. As a result, the crew decided to eliminate the second passes on the Bitter Root Mine and another nameless run-by. At least we got to do them, but there was no margin for screw-ups - you either got the shot on the first pass, or you didn't get it. That said, by the second one the skies had gone white, and the light was poor anyway. That said, the skipped second passes put us nearly back on schedule.
After stopping again to fill up the tender at Tank Creek, it was on to our final run-by of the day - the famous High Line curve shot. The crew made a couple of passes, and we even got a little sun (but not a lot) for the shot. After all was said and done, it was back on the train for the trip down the hill to Durango. It was a little slower than normal across the valley, with a speed restriction on the engine due to the broken spring, but we still arrived back at the station at a very respectable 1730h.
For those interested in seeing what's been done on past years, you can check out the trip reports from 2006 and 2005. They change the run-by locations every year, so that there's some reason to keep coming back, and to give those repeat customers a chance to come home with something new each time.