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David A. Wright

Railroad Photography

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Thank you Samuel. I've got dozens more!  This is one of the 1880s Arizona Mineral Belt line. It runs down through what are currently Lower Lake Mary and Upper Lake Mary south of Flagstaff, AZ.  The developer of this line originally envisioned it going all the way south to Mexico and north to Utah.  As with many railroads from this era, it didn't really pan out.  A large portion of it was later used by the Flagstaff Lumber Company to access timber in the Mormon Lake and Mormon Mtn area.  The line shown in the picture is a bit difficult to make out as this area is often underwater (it currently is) and the line is highly eroded. In 1917, an "incline" was constructed to access the top of Anderson Mesa which is visible to the left.  I've got some pics of it that I'll post.

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These photos are of an "incline" rail line that is roughly .3 miles long and has a maximum slope of 39%  It was used for less than a year when a locomotive rolled down it and ended up on the shore of Lower Lake Mary.  A series of switchbacks were than constructed to reach the top of the mesa.  The current road up the mesa was constructed on this line.

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Ironically, there’s one situation I neglected to address….lodging!  My start in railroad employment meant a lot of traveling if I wanted to stay working.  At first with the Milwaukee Road, my seniority district would span from Tacoma Washington to St Maries Idaho on the mainline, and lots of branch lines included.  When they folded and I went with Union Pacific…I saw myself travel and work anywhere from Seattle Washington down to Portland Oregon, and east at far as Huntington, next to the Idaho border.  Back then, it would be quite the convenience to be arranged with a bunkcar…a boxcar converted for living…some complete with kitchen, bedroom, shower…the only drawback of course was location!  All too often, these cars are parked right close to the project to minimize travel, including right next to the mainline track! I would not be lying that the first few nights take some getting used to being next to the mainline when it comes to sleeping…but you DO get used to it.  Provides  for some interesting  shots out the “front door”.

 

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The 1903 Southern Pacific depot here in my town. When I was growing up I remember it sitting next to the railroad tracks at Tapo Street & Los Angeles Avenue, where it was turning into a derelict wreck. Years later a committee was formed to save and restore it and move it to a new location.

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Oh boy....I'm LMAO because somehow my own "tools of the trade" (yes, my hands have seen the handle of a ...car mover peevee... and of course a spike pulling clawbar....) captured in a GREAT picture.  But....Mojave?  I'm certainly hoping that camera of yours has been possibly several miles west capturing the loop, or even Bealville and Caliente below the loop?

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Good time to go is right now....everybody has been lamenting on the rr websites about the FABULOUS green hills and all the flowers coming out right now, been making for some great photos...wish my wallet could afford a plane ticket right now....

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Now that I've found more photos (!) I can share another avenue of this sick (!) infatuation I have with railroad photography.  I want to first take this opportunity to introduce you to Hill 582 on Cajon Pass.  I have been lucky enough to cast my shadow three or four times at this location.  Again with the wide open spaces, I have an endless love for this kind of photography.  I would invite you to Google Hill 582 and I would think and hope you get overwhelmed as I did in the effort between private individuals and the Forest Service to maintain this "oasis" in the middle of nowhere.  (And yes, I've caught myself thinking "don't you have to have trees to be a national forest??!!)  The other awesome oddity of the southwest is the Combat Railfans of Arizona, and their camp at Shawmut, west of Maricopa.  This used to be Southern Pacific lines, and as I've never had the honors of the night time campfires, I have enjoyed the photography of the current resident Union Pacific and trekked around doing combination of cactus and train shots, as the cactus only grows at a particular elevation...You won't find it around Maricopa, and you won't find it by the time you get to the lower area of Gila Bend....interesting for sure!  In closing, what is humbling having traveled dozens of places, and witnessed the laziness of litterbugs, here's two locations where a handful of people taking pride in themselves to police the grounds among themselves as well as other short thinking fools.

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I was browsing old threads I started and found this one, which I forgot about.

The photos are of the Trona Railway. Trona is an old industrial town in the northern Mojave Desert, southwest of Death Valley and northeast of Ridgecrest, California. Trona’s economy is based on borax, its history goes back to the late 1800s. The Trona Railway was built in the early 1900s, after Southern Pacific built its “Jawbone Branch” between Mojave and Lone Pine (pictured earlier). The Trona Railway branched off the SP at Searles, running northerly for about 32 miles and terminating at the industrial complex at Trona. There are miles of spurs and sidings within the plants, but over the past few decades many have fallen out of use as operations have modernized and portions of the plants abandoned and demolished.

I lived in Trona between 1987 and 1992. I worked at the borax refinery between 1987 and 2004. When I went to work there, the Kerr-McGee Corporation owned and operated the plants. They stayed until they sold out in late 1992. A consortium called North American Chemical Company bought out KM’s interests and ushered in an era of major downsizing and modernization. I don’t recall the year, but before 2000, NACC’s interests were bought out by IMC Global. Since they owned large potash producing properties in Utah, and the prouction of potash in Trona was of a complex process with the oldest production equipment, IMC chose to shut down and demolish a large section of one of the central plants in Trona. I took a buy out and left in 2004, just as IMC sold out their interests to a corporation from India.

Below are some photos of the Trona Railway.

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Over the years, the Trona Railway took pride in its equipment. The company was early to switch from steam to diesel, and operated the last of the diesels made by Baldwin. When I went to work there, these two Baldwins, sitting and idling in front of the railroad shops, were still in daily operation. There were several other Baldwins sitting on sidings around the shop, but they were slowly being canibalized to keep these two running. However, their capacity was too low to run the mainline all the way to Searles - at an elevation 1,700 feet higher than Trona, other than short trains. So the company contracted the SP to bring in the big coal trains (there were three large, coal fired power plants to produce power and steam for the plants plus for export into the Edison system), and take out borax.

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During NACC’s reign, efforts were made to get SP out of the picture. SP basically had a tight squeeze and monopoly on the companies operating at Trona and took financial advantage of it. So NACC and IMC were making efforts to buy SP’s line to Mojave. In addition, the company was eying the possibility to expand operations to Owens Lake. SP still owned the right of way to Lone Pine at the north end of that lake, but it was mothballed after the 1982 tunnel fire at Searles and dwindling mineral and timber operations. Rails were still in place to an old, abandoned chemical plant south of Lone Pine on the shore of Owens Lake.

So NACC purchased a fleet of used SD-45s (I think that was their designation), and I think they bought eight or ten of them. They were refurbished over the next few years at the company shops. As they came online, SP equipment started to be seen far less on the mainline and in the plants.

SP never budged in allowing the Trona Railway to share trackage rights or buy the line to Mojave or north to Lone Pine. But by the mid 1990s, Union Pacific bought out the SP, and scrapped the “Jawbone” north of Searles during 1998-2000. Environmental issues and concerns killed off interest in expanding mining to Owens Lake.

In the bottom photo, the main plant complex can be seen in the background. In that photo and the one above, Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet high, is in the Panamint Range. Death Valley is at its eastern foot. In the top photo, a nothbound train is at the northern end of the West End Plant, four miles south of the main Trona complex. The old 20-mule team borax wagons used to run through the country in the background.

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In the plants during the early years of my tenure at Trona, there used to be around 20 of these GE dinky locomotives running all over the complex, doing various switching duties. These were operated by trained plant employees and not operated on the mainline, except to access the main railroad shops and piloted by TR engineers underal FRA rules (in plant operations fell under OSHA rules). As spurs were abandoned and eliminated, dinkies were pulled up to Searles and sat on an old shoo-fly for several years until sold (the shoo fly was built over the summit at Searles during SP construction in 1907 while the tunnel was being created; during the 1982 tunnel  fire, it was bladed of brush and rails relaid to get trains rolling again as the fire burned for more than six months). When this photo was taken, this dinky was the last in operation and in daily use, staging cars of borax and derivatives in the back of a automated packaging plant.

 

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A couple of photos, taken about winter of 1994/1995, of the daily Southern Pacific train on the “Jawbone” at and near the Searles Tunnel.

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I am standing atop the southern portal of the Searles tunnel, taking 35mm images and video. The inbound train is bringing in empties to the tie in with the Trona Railway at Searles. Even pulling a light load, in the video you can hear the locomotives straining on the relatively steep gradient, the train going maybe 10 mph.

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Later near dark in the late afternoon, the same train is returning to Mojave taking loaded bulk cars. The train wasn’t going that fast, maybe 15-20 mph. After taking this shot (zoomed in), I ran over to the tracks and placed a penny, to the delight of my grandson.

 

 

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