Chasing Union Pacific 844, April 27 & 28 2006

all photographs in text copyright 2006 Radford Walker

Lubricating the 844 at Denver Union Terminal

The rain is falling heavily as the 844 is ready to go at 8:00 but Amtrak has the right of way so it isn't until 9:15 the headlight comes on for departure.

Amtrak California Zephyr is supposed to depart at 7:35.  Here it still sits at 8:30, delaying our departure.

The high humidity enhances the cloudiness of the steam.  Often the smoke and steam are the only things visible.

Because of the Amtrak delay a couple freights were allowed through in front of the 844.   After waiting for a coal drag the 844 finally gets out of Denver proper.  The weather has cleared just enough to almost see the mountains in the background.  The camera insists on focusing on the bumpy rails, as so must the engineer.  The 844 isn't used to rail that is light.  The poor track made railfanning much more fun, as it is much easier to keep up with and pass a train going 40 mph., rather than the normal 70-90 mph that the 844 runs on the welded rails.

A parade of about 30-50 cars follow the 844 along Smith Road at 25 mph annoying many of the people trying to use the road for their normal daily activities.  The steam collects under the locomotive sometimes making it seem like it is traveling on a cloud rather than rails.

Approaching Strasburg the sky is getting dark and it is raining again.  The ditches have gotten muddy enough I was afraid to leave the pavement without a 4x4 vehicle.  Despite how massive the 844 and how long its seven car train are, they get lost in the vastness of the Eastern Colorado plains and the grayness of the day.


Whistle Stop at Strasburg.  A rather boring shot, but I liked the Grain elevator and SW unit behind.  I parked on the highway and walked two blocks to the train.   In this manner I easily got out in front of the mass of cars and had plenty of time to set up my next "meet" of the train.

The one really cool bridge on this whole route is the Byers Bridge.  I choose a bit different angle than most people.  Unfortunately, on my desired and planned shot (one about 3 seconds after this one), the camera decided to have a memory write error.  By the time I cleared it the shot was gone.  Fortunately, many other people got good shots at this location.  Unfortunately, this is also the site where there were many "near" accidents with automobiles as people rushed to get back to the chase.  I watched from the far end of the bridge as at least a dozen cars made illegal and dangerous maneuvers, flinching twice as I thought for certain I was going to be filling out police accident reports.  Even the train crew called for the police against a "red car" that was cutting other people off.  I fortunately was in a pickup truck.....

After a long delay waiting for a freight to get out of the way the train gets into Deer Trail.  5 minutes before its arrival the civil defense sirens are sounded to let the residences know it is coming.  The main street (behind the camera) has many people out to watch the train passing.  It has been over 50 years since a steam locomotive has passed through this town. The train is now over two hours behind schedule.

In revenue service the 844 was often assigned to this line which is the old "Kansas Pacific" line between Oakley Kansas and Denver.  It is definitely part of the "Spirit of the Prairie".

The next town is Agate.  Nothing remarkable in agate except it is the first town that the schools have apparently dismissed and brought the students down to the track in busses to watch the train go by.

End of the Road - The highway officially ends at Agate.  It continues as a service road for about a mile and a half as a service road to the city cemetery and various ranchers.  I have turned around and parked pointing back to the north to get this shot of the whole train against a stand of Elms.  A most typical view of the day.  The other "Pacers" don't see the end of the road until I am long gone heading back to the Interstate and a legal 75 mph. to catch back up. Two 4x4 drivers tried to continue to pace the rain on the old (abandon 40 years ago when I-70 was built) highway grade.  Later as I caught back up with the train I saw them bumping along through the mud holes, and they could not even begin to keep up with the train.  I don't know what they did when the old grade suddenly ended at a cut.  They had to go back to Agate, or go through a farmers fence to get onto railroad property.

Big break here as the train parallels I-70 into Limon.  Many people were dangerously stopping on the Interstate to get photos.  In Limon it looked like the whole town turned out.  They stopped and re-grease the bearings.


Out of Limon the train creeps at 20-30 mph.  I caught it just before it crossed an interesting stone culvert.  I soon found these culverts are actually common place and apparently are still the original ones built by the KP in 188x.

When I first heard of this excursion, I immediately knew I wanted a shot in Hugo with the old Roundhouse in the background.  My well planned and composed shot was ruined when at the last minute the smoke/steam blew down and totally obscured the roundhouse in the background.  So this becomes my "good" Hugo shot.


The Hugo police department had both units out to handle the traffic.

By the time the train is approaching Boyero, most of the railfans have long since turned back.  Only 5-7 cars continue to pace the locomotive, and only 20 or so remain in the chase.  Just two weeks later in the year this would have been a great shot with the tree leafing out and grasses turning green.  Pity the train is taking a different route home.

The train makes the curve as the smoke in the high winds obscure the track behind.  The fireman leaning out the window trying to figure out when/if there is a grade crossing ahead. With the wind at this angel the engineer's view is almost continually and totally blocked by smoke and steam..

This is a telephoto shot and the crispness (of the original not this web whacked version) makes me wish all my lenses were professional quality Canons, not even a Zeiss can compete...

Instead of being in the back of the pack (even 20 cars kick up and throw lot of sand & gravel), I chose to turn off and take Road 89.5 down to the pavement of Colorado 94.   I arrived at the RR crossing just as the gates were activated.  I got three good shots, or at least I thought I did before I realized it was raining hard enough again there were drops all over the lens.

Many potentially good photos were ruined by the rain.  Here two big drops smudge an otherwise good photo.

The terrain gets more and more desolate the farther east we go.  I had hoped to get some interesting shots in Kit Carson.  When I pulled into where the station used to be, there was NOTHING interesting.  Another person told me there was a good trestle and stand of trees 4 miles further east. On his advice I moved on down the track in hopes of getting something good set up.  Well, I found the trestle all right, but it was nothing impressive and very disappointing.   So, I went on down to the next grade crossing and here is a dark but meaningful shot I call "Into Desolation".  Once again notice how the engineer cannot see a thing because of the steam/smoke, and how there is absolutely nothing on the horizon.

The one that got away.  As I stated above, my camera missed getting this shot, but one of my friends (who I didn't even know was there at the time) got the shot I wanted.  Here is the photo by Kevin Morgan.