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Photo 1
The AOE approaching 80th Street, east of Leyden
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Photo 2
The AOE heads for the Front Range west of Leyden
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Photo 3
Amtrak 805 crossing Colorado 72 again
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Photo 4
Isn't that just a beautiful car?
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Photo 5
The train approaching Tunnel #1
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Photo 6
SP 282 with a crewmember looking for the vandals
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  Trip Report: The American Orient Express in Denver - Chapter 1
  The American Orient Express
(Early Afternoon, Oct. 14, 2000)
  From: The American Orient Express in Denver
Dates: October 14, 2000 Author: Nathan Holmes

When I woke up this morning, I looked outside and instantly thought, "Looks like a great day for railfanning to me!" However, it wasn't in the cards right away - I spent about two hellish hours seeking out my wallet, which I finally concluded I had lost at about 11am. Shortly thereafter, I was looking for some other item in my truck when I found it neatly tucked inside a CD case where I never suspected it. D'oh! Regardless, at that point I wasn't really in the mood to do anything, so Michelle and I went out to lunch. Afterwards, I remembered that the American Orient Express would be leaving Denver to travel west over the Moffat at 2pm, and a quick check of my watch showed I still had just enough time to catch it.

With my trusty pile of railfanning equipment (scanner, maps, digital and film cameras, laptop, battery charger, Altamont Press timetable), I set out for Denver. About fifteen minutes up I-25, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting someone who'd cut me off, and my scanner went crashing into the dash before dropping to the floor with a distinctively bad sound. When I managed to reach over and retrieve it, it would no longer function beyond squealing at me. Between that and the wallet incident from earlier, I should have realized fate was stacked against me today...

I had originally planned to just head west on 470 to Golden and meet the AOE as it came through the Leyden area, but I'd made pretty good time coming up the interstate and could still make it to Denver Union Station if I didn't waste any time. Since I had no direct confirmation that the AOE was even in Denver, other than a few posts I'd seen to various rail lists, I chose to take the risk and head down to Union Station to verify it was there and it was departing on time.

I arrived almost exactly at 2pm, and sure enough, the AOE, powered by Amtrak Genesis units #805 and 814, was preparing to depart. At this point, though, light levels were dropping quickly, as the skies above Denver were beginning to cloud over. Off in the direction we were all headed, I could see rain falling. In a work: Yick. Regardless, even if it was sunny to the south along the Joint Line, how many times does the AOE go over the Moffat when I actually am there to see it? So, west I went on I-70, quickly glancing down into North Yard on the way over to check for any D&RGW power running around. Nice to see the three captive GP40s right out in front, but I didn't choose to stop.

The first place I decided to wait was at the 80th Street crossing, out at the east end of the Leyden siding. After some great pondering on whether I'd already missed it or not (due to a traffic jam on I-70 west) and answering at least four locals who were wondering if I was lost (I love the helpful intent, but surprised that they'd never seen a railfan before, especially considering I was standing there, camera in hand, looking down the line), I finally saw the headlights turn the corner. The train seemed to take forever to approach, and finally rolled past probably only making 20mph. While I did find this a bit unusual as the signal at Leyden was green-over-red and I thought the track speed to be higher than 20, I didn't think much about it and concentrated on photographing as many cars as possible. (Photo #1)

As soon as traffic had cleared from the crossing, I turned around and headed west towards Colorado 72, hoping to get a few shots at the 72 overpass at the west end of Leyden as well as get to the 72 overpass near Plainview in plenty of time to find a good angle to deal with the poor/erratic lighting. As misfortune would have it, the train succumbed to power problems before ever reaching the west end of Leyden, so I had a considerable wait in which to think about various shots.

Sometimes out railfanning you meet the most interesting people, and this one is certainly no exception. While standing and waiting for the train to regain power and begin moving again, a white sedan pulled over and the two middle-aged occupants rolled down the window. It seems that they were part of a camera crew that was assigned to film the train and had gotten lost. We struck up a short conversation about railfanning, how I even knew that the AOE would be running over the line, any any possible photo locations they should consider. Being a native Iowan and not yet terribly familiar with the Moffat and how to photograph it effectively, I offered a few thoughts I'd picked up in dealing with the Ski Train (with the disclaimer that I was really wasn't any sort of expert to be asking, of course).

In a few minutes, whatever problem had occurred was fixed and the AOE was underway again. After a few more shots with mountains in the background (Photo #2), I climbed back in the truck and headed to the Colorado 72 overpass between the Blue Mountain crossing and Plainview. In good morning light, I'd found it makes a very good location if one sets up next to the fence at the top of the embankment on the north side of the road. It's a beautiful shot, and very much still on the public (highway) side of the fence, so completely kosher in my book. With the light being what it was today, however, it wasn't much better than a standard grade crossing roster wedgie shot (Photos #3 & 4). I also turned around and got a lousy shot through a bunch of power lines of the AOE approaching Tunnel #1 (Photo #5). In retrospect, I think I probably should have waited at the Blue Mountain crossing instead.

Shortly after the AOE had passed and while I was waiting for a loaded coal train to descend from Plainview, two gentlemen in a Ford SUV with a large antenna showed up. My initial thought was more fans that were a bit late, but when one got out and started inspecting license plates, I immediately got a bit nervous and assumed that they were non-uniformed security. As with whenever I'm out, I try to railfan responsibly - which means no trespassing, no being obnoxious, no irresponsible driving, etc... Just common sense stuff, and as a result I've never had a problem with any police (railroad or otherwise) in my ten years in this hobby. Needless to say, this made me a bit nervous, so I decided to go ask a few questions. As it turns out, the AOE had been bombarded with rocks from three vandals on top of Tunnel #1 (just up the line), including a 40-50 pound mini-boulder that had landed on the third or fourth car. Needless to say, a call for police had gone out over the radio, but as my scanner was broken I didn't hear it. The men in the truck (one of whom, after some introductions, turned out to be a rather notable Denver-area fan and D&RGW list member, amongst other things - I'm unsure of the other's identity), were trying to do the right thing and look for a vehicle that might belong to the vandals in question. (I don't really want to mention his name here, as I haven't asked him whether or not he would object - If the individual in question happens to read this, I apologize for being rather inarticulate at on the spot as I was a little stunned by the whole thing still, and I want to extend my thanks for doing more than your part to help protect and even improve the image of our hobby. I've seen what happens at places like Houlihan's Curve in Illinois and Cajon Pass in Cali when the criminal and/or irresponsible elements are dealt a blind eye by the mainstream railfanning community, and the result is fences, security gaurds, and an even worse reputation with the railroad. I'd certainly hate to see the Moffat line turn into this as well.) We spoke for a bit, at least long enough that I got the gist of what had been communicated over the radio, pointed out that the maroon/silver Blazer was mine, and we found out a bit about each other.

Shortly after they departed back towards Denver, the CSUX coal train that had been stopped in Plainview for the AOE emerged from Tunnel #1. As they rounded the corner (Photo #6), I noticed a crewmember on the walkway looking very intently at the parked vehicles, and apparently taking down plates. I'm still waiting on a call from some authority somewhere wanting to know who I am and what I was up to this afternoon. Oh well, I think my camera proves perfectly well I was being a law-abiding citizen when the incident happened, but the whole thing still leaves the proverbial very bad taste in my mouth. After a week when a fan had probably prevented a derailment by calling in a broken wheel on an eastbound and did something to improve our image, this was a great way to ruin any PR gains those of us in Colorado had made with UP. Between that and the cold rain that was beginning to fall, it had disturbed my general mood enough that I decided to head for home.

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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.