U.P. 844 Steams SoCal

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WhoozOn1st

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Now I remember why I had a rule against chasing trains.

Union Pacific 4-8-4 steam locomotive No. 844 (not to be confused with 4-6-6-4 Challenger type No. 3985) was gonna be through southern California for several days over the weekend before Thanksgiving. Its itinerary was available online, so Team Whooz whipped up a little plan to follow - as in chase - it around during the rare visit.

First up was seeing the engine on display on 11-18-11 at Bloomington, a tourist anti-paradise east of Ontario, hard by Colton, Fontana, and all those other squalid exurban industrial nowheres for which SoCal's Inland Empire is so justly infamous.

Traffic from west to east through the heart of L.A. was refreshingly light for a Friday. Relief at the ease of passage was tempered, however, by the unseasonably atrocious weather, with the temperature hovering miserably on the low side of 50 and an icy, lashing wind. The sky was leaden and evil, of a sort that would portend imminent snow given a 20-degree thermometer drop and midwestern locale.

844's display location at Bloomington was easy enough to find, off I-10 and a crooked mile or so through former ag land turned retail and warehouse wasteland. Street parking was straightforward off the intersection of Alder and Slover. Some local folks were trying to capitalize by setting up shop on their lawn - private residences are fairly rare in the immediate area of the display - and selling Mexican food they were cooking up themselves. Smelled great, but we didn't partake.

Spotted on a track up a steep berm and beside a frontage road, 844 access was severely restricted to one side. No mystery there: a very active railyard except for the display area. Not a very inviting scene, but there we were. Given the lousy access, poor light, and rotten weather, we didn't stick around long.

Departing the display area we went exploring a bit. The road parallel to the tracks runs past U.P.'s Colton Yards. 844 was spotted at the west end; after leaving it we drove east, past the U.P. base and on out to where the pavement ended near a GATX tank car facility.

On display out front of the activity, which in addition to tank cars included heavy maintenance equipment, storage tanks, and a burnoff torch, was an old Plymouth industrial diesel locomotive, all painted up pretty-like and cute as hell. I later Googled it and found it's a 16-tonner built in 1930, making it 14 years older than 844!

After several shots of the old Plymouth through a chain link fence we set out toward our night's lodging, whence we would commence the 2nd day of chase, the run over Cajon Pass and out past Barstow to Yermo, i.e. the desert.

Driving back to the freeway meant using an overpass above the east end of the Colton yards. Naturally we stopped to see if there were any decent overhead shots to be had. There were, and I took some, then got a really cool surprise: U.P.'s business train on the move, departing the yards and heading east, powered by two very ordinary diesels.

We hadn't really known the overall consist of 844's train, but what there was of it on display had seemed kinda short. Alice later learned that the cars we were seeing depart under diesel haulage had been with the steam train until that day, so we were seeing them after they had been detached to head east separately (and not publicly). Pretty nice to catch that.

Photos:

U.P. 844 At Bloomington, CA - U.P. 4-8-4 No. 844 on display at Bloomington, California, on 11-18-11 during a western tour. For good measure, an old Plymouth industrial diesel, and the surprise sighting of U.P. business varnish on the move.

As it turned out the Team Whooz night's lodging was also a BNSF crew hotel, complete with a semi-full railroad sign-up log on the counter at the front desk.

Out and about the next morning at a revoltingly early hour, and in equally revoltingly cold weather once again (windy, overcast, low 40s, if you MUST know), we got on I-215 headed up and over Cajon Pass to scope out likely viewing and photo vantage points for 844's morning run to the desert. For us it was gonna be a one-shot deal, as we weren't about to shadow the locomotive all the way over the pass. No, we would instead try to catch it near Cajon Junction, then do a freeway speed run to Daggett to catch it again as it turned off the BNSF transcon main outside Barstow and headed north on the U.P. main to Las Vegas.

I haven't forgotten, Valued Readers, that this is Amtrak Unlimited. Almost, but not quite.

Fresh off the freeway and running along old 66, what should materialize in the freeze-ass (can I say that here?) early morning but the westbound Southwest Chief, running in broad daylight over Cajon Pass, over two hours late getting into San Bernardino. "STOP THE CAR!!" Alice hadn't even brought the MayhemMobile to a halt when I leapt out to grab this clip...

Video:

Southwest Chief In Daylight At Cajon - While scoping out a good viewing/photo position for the passage of U.P. 844 eastbound over Cajon Pass, we happened to catch Amtrak's westbound Southwest Chief (train 3) running at Cajon itself, over two hours late getting to San Bernardino. Nice surprise to catch the Chief loping along downgrade here in broad daylight!

After catching the SWC pass we moseyed back up old 66 a piece and staked out a shooting position for 844, which finally showed up, running only about 2 hours behind the advertised itself. I say "only" because this was about as close to the public schedule as it would ever be over the ensuing two days.

We'll get to that late stuff later, as well as the reasons for reinstatement of my no-train-chasing rule. But to conclude for now, here are some still and moving high points from 844's swing through SoCal...

Video:

U.P. 844 Steaming Upgrade At Cajon Junction - Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 steams around a curve, continuing up and over Cajon Pass as it begins heading home to Cheyenne, Wyoming after a rare western swing.

Photos:

U.P. 844 Over Cajon Pass - Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 rounds a curve and steams past Cajon Junction on 11-19-11 as it begins heading home to Cheyenne, Wyoming after a rare western swing. All photos by Alice.

844 on display at Bloomington; Plymouth industrial diesel on display at Colton; U.P. business train at left, waiting to depart after freight at right. Domes not noticed in this shot until reviewing on computer(!); U.P. 844 working uphill near Cajon Junction (photo by Alice).














 
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WhoozOn1st

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Okay, I was gonna wrap up with a big, bitter rant about what a wast of time this train chase was overall, but what would be the point? I don't like reading whiny trip reports, and figure most other folks don't really care for 'em either. So let's just say that this trip exceeded all reasonable cost/benefit boundaries, and that in my view it was due to gross dispatching mismanagement by BNSF and Union Pacific. Oh, and the online schedule for U.P. 844 wasn't worth the bandwith that carried it. Finally, my no-train-chasing rule is conditionally reinstated, the main condition being that officially unscheduled movements over freight railroads are OUT. Scheduled passenger trains and excursions will still be considered on an individual basis.

Despite the general fiasco that followed the run over Cajon Pass, some fairly decent photographic renditions were obtained by both Alice and myself...

Video:

U.P. 844 Wheezing Through Daggett, CA - Locomotive and train cut off the BNSF mainline and onto U.P. rails at Daggett, east of Barstow. The day's run over Cajon Pass and into the desert will end several miles away at Yermo before 844 strikes out north the next day for Kelso, Cima and a day of display at Las Vegas. In this clip the steam locomotive is clearly not working at all, instead merely being pushed along by its diesel servant. The whistle sounds like all that's left to power it is some warm water left over from making tea in the cab. In fairness, after working over Cajon the train was held for over an hour at Barstow - water and steam being frittered away - and even with multiple tenders it's easy to understand how in the modern era - with no roadside water at regular intervals - railroad mismanagement of this special movement could result in a lack of steaming ability.

Photos:

U.P. 844 At Kelso, CA - Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 stops at Kelso, California, for servicing (water replenishment and grease) on 11-20-11 before heading on to Cima and Las Vegas. Team Whooz never saw that, however, because the train never got underway again before the light waned, the wind kicked in, and the temperature dropped beyond tolerance. Deserts have a reputation for heat, but can be very cold as well, especially when one is waiting interminably for a train that never comes.




844 at Kelso, before servicing. Photo by Alice.

 

printman2000

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Hey Patrick, I got to see 844 here in Texas on the same trip. She was on display up in Dalhart, Tx for a day and I went up to check her out.

I spoke with one of the boilermakers. Interesting fact, the two metal plates on either side of 844 up at the smoke stack were put there when built to help the smoke travel up, instead of back into the cars since 844 was built as a passenger locomotive.

Nice pics!
 

WhoozOn1st

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Mar 21, 2007
Messages
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Hey Patrick, I got to see 844 here in Texas on the same trip. She was on display up in Dalhart, Tx for a day and I went up to check her out.
I spoke with one of the boilermakers. Interesting fact, the two metal plates on either side of 844 up at the smoke stack were put there when built to help the smoke travel up, instead of back into the cars since 844 was built as a passenger locomotive.
Cool that you also got to see the machine up close and personal, Craig; big steam is always a treat!

Here's another reason I've seen for those metal plates - smoke deflectors - alongside the boiler, this one from a U.P. web page:

"The second series of Northerns [844's class] was more than 114 feet long and weighed nearly 910,000 pounds. Most of them were equipped with distinctive smoke deflectors, sometimes called "elephant ears," on the front of the boiler. These were designed to help lift the smoke above the engine so the engine crew's visibility wasn't impaired when the train was drifting at light throttle."

Whatever the rationale, smoke deflectors were kind of unusual in American steam design, though pretty common in Europe and elsewhere.

Another shot of 844 as Team Whooz saw it at Bloomington, CA...




Entrance to the display location on Alder Ave., Bloomington, CA. The area is part of SoCal's "Inland Empire," surrounded by Fontana, Colton, San Bernardino, and near the foot of Cajon Pass.

 
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