Thursday, May 31, 2007

1981 Trip, Day 4: Hangin' with the Greys

June 9, 1981: After a full day on Soldier Summit and the desert east of Helper, today's objective was to more fully explore Utah Railway's mine run operation. At the time, most weekdays would find two morning runs of empties leaving Martin yard, south for mines on the Utah's "mainline" towards Mohrland. The tipple at Wattis would see a train nearly every day; the rest of the loadings would be split between Hiawatha and Mohrland. By late afternoon, Utah would assemble a full 84-car train of loads at Martin, call a road crew and a helper crew, and shove the train up Price River Canyon. Utah would try to segregate the older RSD4/5's from the RSD12's and 15's; one mine run would often operate with the "grey" RSD4/5's, another with the "blues," the 12/15's. By late afternoon, the two trains would be reassembled at Martin for the trip west up Soldier Summit. The Blues would be assembled into a four unit helper set, with an single grey thrown in for good measure. At this time, leased Union Pacific SD's would constitute the road power, increasing speed on the hill as well as reducing time swapping power at Provo before taking the train west towards power plants in Nevada or export out of the LA Basin.

Not too bad a shot for being completely lost. . .

On this sunny morning, I wanted to get a shot of the "greys" on the signature structure of the Utah Railway: its large steel trestle at Gordon Creek, the largest remaining steel railroad bridge in the state. Rather than ask a Utah employee the obvious--how do you drive to this obscure location?--I decided to consult USGS topo maps, which showed a dirt road taking off from near Helper west into the boonies. . . towards the general vicinity of Gordon Creek. True, the road did generally head right towards the tracks. . .but it was anything but direct, and anything but a very good road. After quite a while of driving in and out of washes and into a small canyon or two, we emerged trackside. I'll say this about the Corolla: it was a stout off-road machine. The bridge was nowhere to be seen, but, it appeared, we were still ahead of the train, so we waited and before long were rewarded with a nice 3/4 action view of "greys" 304/305/307/306 headed southbound towards Wattis Junction. . .which was somewhere, hopefully not too far, to our south.

Like West Virginia, only without trees. . .

We plodded along dirt roads, occasionally losing sight of the tracks, and eventually emerged at Wattis Junction, where a short branch diverged from the mainline on a 4% climb to the mine. Trains shoved back north from the Junction switch, winding around hillsides and after a couple of miles, reached the mine, which was a classic metal tipple structure--a little bit of West Virginia right here in Utah!

The RSD's were already spotting their empties and getting their loaded train together. We trespassed at will--this was back in 1981, remember--and then followed the train back to Wattis Junction, where the four RSD's were hard pressed coming off the 4% downgrade to shove all the train south of the junction switch, where the mainline was still climbing at nearly 2% up to Hiawatha. The RSD's erupted in sound and smoke as they inched their train upgrade to clear the switch, then departed nearly silently downgrade. It would've made for some great photos, except it was dreadful high-noon light in early June. Ugh.

Returning to Martin: high elevation trumps high sunlight. . .

We had plenty of time to beat the train back to Martin. A paved highway took us right from Wattis down to Highway 6, then north to Martin. We climbed a few dozen feet up the hillside above Tunnel 1, where we'd photographed the empties the day before, to get a vertical shot of the RSD's on their 49 car train at Milepost 2 at Spring Canyon. The train wouldn't depart for Provo until a second mine run returned in the late afternoon. We made a few photographs of Utah's locomotives at the Martin engine house and. . . .well, I'd like to tell you that we made some incredible photographs later that afternoon, but photo coverage for the day just ends. I can't recall how the rest of the day was spent. Probably smoking crack and spending our hard-earned $$$ on hookers and whiskey. Or taking a tour of Temple Square. But I haven't the slightest clue.

One of the "blues" awaits its call on the Martin Helper. . . after dark, unfortunately!

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