Above: This intermodal train, with a Tier 4 demonstrator in tow, would be our last train at Canyon Diablo as we continued on our journey to Northern Arizona. All photos © 2016 by Michael Polk.
On the second day of our westward adventure, Mike and I tried to find the Apache Railway’s illusive ALCOs between Snowflake and Holbrook, Arizona. However, our efforts turned up with poor results – so we continued further west to Winslow.
The town of Winslow was once a thriving place and was a popular stopping point on Route 66. Since the opening of I-40 bypass in 1977, the downtown area had been in steady decline until the early 2000s, when tourism gradually started to pick back up. Winslow is still a busy place along the BNSF Railway’s Transcon Line, with a large yard and a division point located in the small town.
On this chilly afternoon, we shot an onslaught of BNSF high priority intermodal trains. Our first train had two GE wide cabs on the point, the traditional power on this line. You can almost be certain to see a GEVO or a Dash 9 leading nearly every train throughout the day and today was no different.
We shot all of the trains from the overpass bridge on Winslow Industrial Spur, just west of town. Between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona is a vast wilderness of dry desert. In the distance, one can see the giant peaks of the San Fransisco Mountain Range, where Arizona’s highest peaks can be found. Flagstaff is nearly sixty miles from Winslow.On the rear of most every train through Winslow are DPUs. These extra locomotives help provide assistance up the steep grades heading west.
Our second train would be an eastbound local. We were pleasantly surprised to see a former Santa Fe EMD GP50 leading the train with a General Electric B40-8W trailing. In 2016, it’s slowly becoming less and less easy to find yellow and blue on the mainline.
Less than five minutes later, we encountered our third train: a westbound loaded grain train with four lead GE’s, all running elephant style. Not only that, but there were three more middle DPUs, and two trailing DPUs on the rear of the train.
After the grain train cleared, there was a slight lull in the action so Mike and I broke for lunch. After returning, we caught several more trains streaking a cross the desert sand. At the time this video was filmed, the railroads were in a serious state of decline. Thousands of locomotives all over the Class I railroads were being stored and even more railroaders were being furloughed. We were surprised to see as many trains as we did in such a short time on this January day.
Moving west, we found ourselves at Canyon Diablo, Arizona. This area is famous for the large bridge located here, over the canyon that once was the site of a treacherous stagecoach route and town during the pioneer days. The Canyon Diablo Bridge was built in 1883, but not after months of delays. When the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad ordered the steel for the bridge, it was found that the span would be too short to reach the other side of the canyon. Therefore, the construction of the railroad was delayed many months and a small town sprung up here to cater to the many railroad workers.
The town of Canyon Diablo was completely lawless and quickly produced numerous salons, brothels, dance halls, and gambling houses. Main Street was called “Hell Street” and the town was said to be wilder the Dodge! A few years after the bridge was finally completed, the town died and became a ghost town a few miles from Old Route 66.
That night, we drove to Page, Arizona, in the northern portion of the state, in hopes of shooting the Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad. In the morning, Mike and I woke early to chase the first train of the day. Because of this railroad’s secluded location in the Navajo Nation’s land, it’s hard to find reliable information about their day-to-day operation.
This railroad is one of only a handful of privately owned electrified railroads. It opened in 1973 and runs 78 miles from the Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine near Kayenta, Arizona to the Navajo Generating Station power plant at Page, Arizona. It is completely isolated from the national rail network and does not interchange with any other railroads. During normal operations, the railroad operates 3 round trips per day on a 24-hour-per-day basis. The Black Mesa & Lake Powell uses E60 locomotives that were either built for the railroad or purchased from Mexico.
Today, however, was maintenance day on the railroad. Mike and I were only able to shoot one train – a ballast move with a former N de M locomotive leading. We only caught the train twice, mostly due to the remoteness of the line from main roads. It was somewhat disappointing, but it just meant we would have to make this railroad a priority on our next adventure to Northern Arizona.
Our next stop? Sin City, USA. Vegas. The Polk family calls Las Vegas, Nevada home and while visiting his relatives, Mike and I made some time in our busy week to shoot Union Pacific’s Moapa Local. With a pair of three, beautifully matched Union Pacific SD40-2 diesels, we were in for an exciting day. Along Interstate 15, we caught the train as it headed north. The train had a friendly crew who waved to us throughout the day.
Next, we caught the train jumping off the main and onto the Lake Meade Branch Line, as it continued its journey to the Moapa Valley. The Moapa Local was hauling silica on this day, dropping off empties for the Simplot Silica Plant in Overton. After a short haul down the branch line, the train arrives at the plant. They would spend about an hour and a half switching the cars, so Mike and I decided to break for lunch.
We ate at a local restaurant and then drove to Jackman, Nevada. There really isn’t a town here, just a beautiful looking curve and a small bridge over the Muddy River. At a location called Crystal, we caught a hot shot westbound intermodal train with three lead units and one DPU. This line is not the most active on the UP system, seeing five or so through trains per day. About ten minutes later, our train with the three EMD six axles rounded the curve at speed.
By 5:30PM, the train arrives back at Arrolime Yard. This location is also home to the Pabco Gypsum Plant. Yes, our second, third, and fourth days out west were also highly successful and we had many days ahead of us still. We would spend time visiting with Mike’s family over the next few days, but by February 2nd, we would be shooting trains yet again on the Pacific Coast of Santa Cruz, CA.
Watch Part II of the Go West Railroading Series below:
Thanks for stopping by,