Our first stop up the line was at a cattle guard where the line meets the road again on the way to Sunnyside (just east of Banning). Actually this one was Steve's suggestion, to be perfectly honest. I would usually shoot further up the line, just because it's closer to the road and it gives me a bit more lead time. However, I'm also not used to railfanning with three other guys, all of whom insist upon torturing me by talking about F-units working Soldier Summit. I guess that pretty well dates me. Either way, I made the mistake of trying to grab the video camera and tripod and still manage to stumble across the tracks in time to get everything set up. With track speed at 15 MPH or so, I still had no problems making it through the desert shrubbery and up across the line in time, but due to complications with the tripod and a lack of level ground I didn't manage to get the video camera set up. Honestly, I almost wasted so much time messing around with it that I nearly missed the train with my actual camera. Eventually I chucked it into a nearby bush for a soft landing and grabbed Photo #42.
From there, it was back in the car and up to the usual spot at the grade crossing just west of the ECDC landfill. It's the last place that the Sunnyside Branch is publicly accessible, and it's also the easiest point on the line to get a good morning shot. Once again, it was just the four of us, and one lone guy in a blue Ranger on vacation from Iowa. (Wahoo! Another fellow Iowan, I'm not alone!) The wandering Iowan had actually been around since the previous afternoon's Dirt Train run, but it seemed like we were always going opposite directions. None of us had any idea what happened to Robert and David - I was just hoping they weren't stuck in the mud. That particular crossing isn't the most creative photo opportunity in Utah, but it gives consistently good results. (Photo #43)
With the strong morning light, catching any shots of the four coming back out of the facility at the grade crossing just wan't going to be possible. Too greatly backlight, and no real way to make that work for us. So, after talking about it for a minute, we all piled back in the truck to head back for "the bridge". After a slight delay for the driver to offload the photos from the camera to the laptop, we were off. The only problem was we weren't exactly sure which bridge we were off to - the US 6 bridge or the Grassy Creek trestle. Somehow as we went over US 6 I decided it meant that bridge and we stopped to walk back to the overpass. The lighting was good, and it would be an excellent chance to get a shot of the four motors with the now unused Banning loadout - or at the least get run over by one of those tractor-trailers zipping by. The last time I'd tried to photograph from the bridge I'd lost a leather jacket to it. I had to jump the guardrail to avoid being hit, and snagged a sharp corner. I was certainly hoping this time would be a better-spent effort.
After yet more discussion of those mysterious F-unit creatures that came long before me, some discussion of anthills, killing time, scouting out a hubcab in the brush, killing yet more time, and discussing Utah railfanning, we were at last rewarded. With the passage of the four motors (in excellent, pure morning light - Photo #44), I returned through the mudhole and dropped off Jim, Steve, and Dave at the car. The plan was to make another catch or two on the way back and then work on lunch once we arrived in Helper. Due to their rather low speeds, I actually managed to catch the light power move again rejoining the main at Mounds (Photo #45).
The SLC-mobile got ahead of me at this point, and I quickly followed behind them. I guessed there was a small chance of one more photo op before the track speed rose around MP 607. However, just as I was starting to get ahead of the units, I noticed the SLC group setting up in the distance. Since trying to pursue the power any further would kick up a huge cloud of dirt, I stopped the Yukon in the bottom of a wash (so it would by below grade level and out of photos) and sprinted over to the line for one of those "why not, fire off a couple" shots. I hadn't anticipated getting anything good, but as it turns out it's one of my other favorites from the trip. (Due to limited space, it's in Chapter 5). From there, it was back to Helper.
Not everything goes as planned, and once again the DS held the returning power short of the Helper Yard, near Maxwell, for something to clear up. Thankful for the break, I stopped near Spring Glen, walked to the "right" side of the tracks and waited. Within a few minutes, the line was once again clear and the DS lined them on in. Wasting no time on their new signal, the crew brought the four units past at a very good clip. (Photo #46) From there it was on into Helper. While I anticipated catching them coming into the yard, I happened to notice Robert's Blazer at Sunbonnet Signal Systems - a new small railfan shop and model signal manufacturer in Helper - so I decided to stop in. I'd seen the shop the night before, but it had obviously been closed by the time I arrived in town. It's a small hole-in-the-wall place at 160 South Main Street, and their specialty is Rio Grande-prototype (Type D and Type SA) signals in HO scale. All I have to say is do they ever look good - some of the best model signals I've ever seen. Supposedly there will be an article on them in the next Prospector, so keep an eye out for it.
Either way, stopping in gave me the opportunity to properly introduce myself to Robert and David - an opportunity that had been missed in the hurry of setting up for the morning Dirt Train. Eventually they left after a Utah that had just finished loading at Wildcat, and shortly after the Jim & Company wandered in. After they'd thoroughly looked over everything and purchased a few items, we headed down to Grogg's Cafe (along Carbonville Road just north of Price) for lunch. For those looking for somewhere to eat in the area, Grogg's is highly recommended. Great food and drink, served trackside so you don't miss much.
Speaking of not missing much, as lunch was winding down (we were all done eating - it was just a matter if we were done shooting the bull yet), UP 6665 came through westbound with a loaded UP coal train - no IPPX here. This one had a real UP crew, distributed power units, the whole bit. However, it had a single unit on the back. I'd been told by the Sunbonnet shop owner that 5349 had gone up on a similar train the night before, slaved to the back DP unit, and had been doing so semi-regularly. How true this is I don't know, but it seems very plausible. Regardless, rather than risk missing something good, we all headed out and went our separate ways for the trip.
By the time I'd fueled the truck and gotten ready for what could be a very interesting chase up the grade, the train had the yard, but all five motors were still there (Photo #47). They hadn't stopped to pick up a helper - darn. However, just as I'd turned around to give up, a call came in saying they were already down to 5 MPH and dropping. Something was wrong, very wrong, as they hadn't yet really begun the climb in earnest. Bad for the crew, bad for Union Pacific, but possibly a great day for the railfan. Forgetting that I'd seen this before, my hopes once again rose that the helper fleet would be called into service once again. After waiting nearly forty minutes at Castle Gate (Photo #48), the problem was finally found and resolved - someone forgot to connect the DP unit in the swing helpers to the other two AC4400s, meaning that they had almost 9000hp offline. Odd, this happened the last time I was out. You'd think somebody would learn to check that stuff.
I met up with Robert again near Castle Gate, and he tipped me off to a block of Utah helpers returning down the hill light, so I went up to sit near the Kyune tunnels and try to photograph them. I'd actually hoped for a meet between them and the approaching UP 6665 west (still struggling to get up the hill), but in fact I would be about thirty seconds off. Still, a decent set of Utah helpers (Photo #49) might eventually be on the way out, too, depending on what new parent G&W does with the road. At the very least, they probably won't be grey-yellow-red much longer. After that, I headed up and over the hill to go find the train these helpers had been removed from.
Even after stopping at the convenience store at the summit for something to drink, I still caught up with the westbound coal load near Gilluly. What I didn't expect was that it was lead by UP 5824, an AC4400CCTE flagged "Building America" unit, followed by two SD9043MACs. Lacking any good photo location close by, I got ahead of it by quite a bit and waited in the weeds near Detour, UT - where US 6 crosses the line on a bridge. After a small eternity (which probably seemed longer due to the revenge of the beverage from the summit), the signals finally clicked to life and within minutes 5824 was cruising by with heavy dynamics set up. (Photo #50) There's just nothing quite like the whine of megawatts of electricity being burned off as heat, added to the airbrakes being set on 480-ish axles of coal drag.
I'd actually intended to follow UP 5824 on down the canyon to Spanish Fork and Springville, but somewhere on the way down I met up with UP 6816 east - an empty coal train headed back up the hill. There wasn't anything really remarkable about the train, but I figured it was essentially going my way. I wasn't really that interested in getting too far from Helper, just in case 5349 did get pressed into service. However, on the way back, I stopped at Gilluly to catch the units on 6816 and chat with some other railfans that happened to be stopped alongside the road. As it turns out, they were returning to LA from a trip that had taken them through Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and had just come down onto Soldier Summit on a whim. Pretty good hunch - this was the busiest I'd seen the line in a year or two. We talked for a while about their travels and operations on the former Grande when UP 5830 came along - another flag unit - and trailing it was 5834, yet another flag! I have to say it was the most I'd seen of the flags to that point, but it really was too bad they were in coal service. They get so grimy and dirty working through the Rockies.
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|All the images here are Copyright 2002 Nathan D. Holmes
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. Please feel free to copy, use, and distribute anything you find here, as long as I'm given credit for its creation.
All shots in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS D30 with a Sigma 28-80mm f3.5-5.6 lens or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.