Someone asked me one time, “what’s your best technique for making a photograph look old?”
My response. “Take the photograph and wait 50 years before you look at it”
In all seriousness though, for several years I made quite a bit of money at art festivals selling photographic prints of steam trains, converted to sepia tone and placed in vintage wood frames. It was a staple of my printed product line for several years.
I took a two year break from photographing steam trains between the Summer of 2016 and the Autumn of 2018. My last Georgetown Loop photo tour was during the Summer of 2016. I guess that after 7 years of doing the photo tours, it was becoming more of a problem and less interesting. I always enjoyed the clients, but the loop itself seemed to be having difficulty keeping their steam train running and it was impacting my photo tours in a bad way. So I just quit doing them.
When my friend Jonathan Steele came to visit in the Autumn of 2018, we made the trip over to Silverton, Colorado and photographed the Durango & Silverton NGRR as the steam train arrived in Silverton from the high-line. As it turns out, that trip was lucrative for both of us and my interest in the Steam Train picked up again.
About ten years ago and for several consecutive years, I had chased the Union Pacific #844 Steam Train between Cheyenne, Wyoming and Denver. Mostly during the Cheyenne Frontier Days excursion. Sometime back though, Union Pacific quit running the #844 and put it in their Cheyenne shop for rebuilding. UP also acquired one of the gigantic Big Boy locomotives from California and it too was in the Cheyenne maintenance shop for rebuilding.
In July 2016 Union Pacific returned the #844 to service, but I never found an opportunity to photograph it, until now.
Union Pacific unveiled the Big Boy 4014 on May 4th, 2019 and along with the “Living Legend” #844 embarked on a grand run to Ogden, Utah. The train is on it’s way to Utah as I write this.
The opportunity to photograph two historic steam locomotives running together seldom arises and since they were running across southern Wyoming less than 30 miles from my home in Red Feather Lakes, well, time to get up off my butt and take some photographs.
I follow the Union Pacific Steam website and when they posted the information about the Big Boy running with the 844 to Ogden, I began planning a photography trip.
My first concern was the state of my health. I was nursing an injured back and just the week before the UP trains were scheduled to run, I was scheduled to make a road trip to Kentucky. Since the back wasn’t good, I cancelled the Kentucky trip. By the time of the steam train, my back was in good shape, and it stood up quite well to 300 miles of road to and from Wyoming.
I always plan my shoots in advance, but I had never tried chasing a train across southern Wyoming before. I knew the area but I didn’t know the rail tracks. First stop, Google Earth.
I found a number of possible positions on Google Earth to mark for the GPS. I ended up selecting a particular spot near the hole in the wall town of Tie Siding, Wyoming. That’s what I programmed my GPS for.
From Denver to Tie Siding is about a two and a half hour drive north along I-25 and then Highway 287 out of Fort Collins. I recruited my photo buddy Tim Meseros as an accomplice and together we set off in the Ford Exploder at 8 am on Saturday morning. The plan was to be in place and ready to take photos when the train came by around 11:30 am. One thing I’ve learned about trains is that they never leave or arrive somewhere early. They are either on time or late and most often they are behind schedule. We’d have plenty of time to get set up before the train appeared.
As we approached Tie Siding, Wyoming, my Sat/Nav directed me to a dirt road on the right of Hwy 287. It felt correct at the time, as that’s what I saw on Google Earth. It turns out though the GPS unit was directing me to drive to my marker using a private road on someones private ranch. What the hell, the gate was open and where I was going was less than a mile from me, so I took the turn. We quickly came to a gate where a young fellow was standing. He informed us that this was his family ranch and that they were asking us to donate $10 to the FFA charity for access to their private road. No problem, we gladly forked over the cash and proceeded to a stretch of dirt road about a mile in. The tracks ran through an open field parallel to the road for about a mile and at the far end were some excellent rock formations. We had a full stretch of track to watch and photograph the train with an unrestricted view from right to let for about 180 degrees. Along the road at various locations were other photographers, perhaps a dozen vehicles or so scattered up and down a couple of miles of road. Paradise. No big crowd, which I fully anticipated. We were on private land about a half mile north of a public access area, where I’m certain the crowds were accumulating. We hit it lucky.
We waited about one hour for the train to appear.
As I normally do it was time to chase and once the train goes past, we jumped into the SUV to drive towards Laramie to catch the train going by us again before it arrived at the Laramie train depot. This would take us off the ranch and back on to HWY 287 where we would drive north looking for the best spot. At times we could see the train moving across the countryside from a couple miles away to our right.
We also noticed there were more train tracks to our left and that a lot of people were camped out along the highway waiting for the train to go by them. Little did they know that they had chosen the wrong set of tracks to outpost. The sneaky railroad took a different route on tracks that were 2 miles east of the highway, with no side road access. Until the train got near Laramie, you couldn’t get near it. This allowed us to get out ahead of the crowd along the highway as they still didn’t know they were going to miss seeing the train. We managed to get to our second spot with still plenty of room to park and shoot. The crowd was thickening by the moment.
Once the train went buy, we jumped into the SUV and headed to the Train Depot in Laramie. Upon arriving, the town was crowded and had gathered for the arrival of the newly restored locomotive and living legend. The depot was wall to wall people and getting anywhere near the parked locomotives required getting in a long line on a raised platform above the parked train.
Laramie hadn’t seen this much excitement in months.