A southbound manifest train winds around the foothills below Mt. Shasta at “the golf course” between Mt. Shasta City and Azalea. With great photo opportunities like this why did I ignore the Shasta Route so long?
I’m 45 years old and I have to admit I’ve not paid much attention to the former Southern Pacific “Shasta Route”. I grew up in the Seattle area with Northern Pacific history in my family. I believe that combination sealed my love for the BN and caused me to pretty much ignore what the SP had going on in southern Oregon and northern California. I certainly saw my share of photographs of the route but for whatever reasons I never included it on my railfan itinerary. I have certainly made my share of visits to the northern part of the Natron cutoff but I never ventured south of Chemult where the route gets even more interesting.
In the mid-1980s my family travelled to Fresno, Ca. for Thanksgiving. During those trips I did get a dose of both the Siskiyou line and the Shasta Route as we sped along I-5 to our destination. Driving through on the freeway with my ear glued to the scanner is not the same as spending a few days immersed in the area. In my minds eye I remembered snippets from around Weed, Mt. Shasta, and Dunsmuir but the details were quite sketchy after 25 years.
Last week my first strong opportunity to visit the Shasta Route arrived. My friend Robert Scott suggested we head down to Dunsmuir for a few days of photography and meeting some railfans from Dunsmuir. I enthusiastically said yes! Tuesday after work we set out on our adventure and headed for an overnight stay in Chemult.
Stay tuned for more coming soon….
The first morning of our Shasta Route adventure dawned clear and cold. The temperature on the Yukon’s thermometer read 0. That temperature is not uncommon at Chemult thanks to it being at 4,764 ft. of elevation and being east of the Cascades. Both of these factors add up to a recipe for cold winter weather. As we loaded up from the hotel we heard a southbound BNSF train pull up to a stop at Chemult. According to radio chatter they were going to wait for a northbound UP train to clear before continuing south. We stormed back to the signal bridge in the middle of the Chemult siding and caught the BNSF train leaving the BNSF’s Oregon Trunk subdivision and entering UP’s Cascade subdivision.
BNSF train G VBTGUC3 11A rolls under the signal bridge at control point VP 503 in the middle of the Chemult siding.
A few miles south we captured the BNSF train again at Diamond Lake. By now the temperature had dropped to -11! A great day for winter railfanning for sure!
Once the sun rose standing outside was pretty comfortable. In fact the sun warmed us quite well while we waited for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight south of Modoc Point along Upper Klamath Lake. I’d never seen any images of the lake iced over so I really enjoyed capturing the image below of the Starlight showing the icy lake behind. Could there be an interesting angle from the icy lake?
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight skirts along the frozen Upper Klamath Lake between Aloma and Modoc Point. Winter is in full force here.
We spent a few hours in Klamath Falls waiting for UP to work up a southbound train for us to follow on towards Dunsmuir. After noon we continued south catching the train at Worden, Penoyar, Grass Lake and eventually south of Mt. Shasta City. There is so much to see between K-Falls and Dunsmuir and our drive through only really scratched the surface.
Next we headed into Dunsmuir and met with local railfan and photographer extraordinaire Bob Morris (aka Photo Bob). He suggested we grab dinner at the Dogwood Diner next to the tracks downtown. If you enjoy good food this is a wonderful spot to soak in the atmosphere of Dunsmuir and watch any passing trains. If you only like Steak ‘n Shake or In-n-Out Burger this is not for you.
For our last photos of the day we headed out towards our cabin at Castella. Castella is famous for a photo depicting southbound trains crossing Castle Creek with Castle Crags in the background. Robert however had a wonderful idea of a photo of a northbound including the approach signal to Castle Crags siding. I chose to take off on his idea and I captured this image of the train approaching us. Sure, I moved over and also photographed Castle Crags, but I think I like this a bit more.
Clear Block! A northbound Z train has a clear signal at the approach to Castle Crags siding.
Stay tuned for more coming soon….
Our second day we awoke to a northbound Herzog ballast train pounding by the cabin just after 6am. Immediately we knew the ballast train was headed up to Portland to supply another load of fresh ballast for the big tie project in the gorge. This would be the first of several detours or reroutes sent down the Cascade and Black Butte subdivisions because of the tie project.
We drove into Dunsmuir to find a southbound manifest stopped at the depot for a crew change. There was a problem though. The train check continued to fail and the train line air pressure on the DPUs was dropping while the head end was in full release. Something was blocking the train line. After an hour of trying things one of the crew men finally found a box car with a kinked air hose. After some discussion it was decided the best thing to do would be to set it out. The crew on the ground got the hose unkinked enough the rear end would release so they pulled down into the yard at Dunsmuir for the set out.
Remember the ballast train? They’d been sitting in the yard at Dunsmuir now for a couple of hours. Since crew changes block the mainline in Dunsmuir there was no place for them to go. With the southbound now pulling down to the yard the ballast train departed off the drill track and headed north. During this whole escapade we hung out at Mott waiting for something to move. In the end total of 3 trains were bollixed up by this mess and it took about 3.5 hours to clear up.
At Gibson, Ca. a sounthbound freight crosses under I-5.
We chose to shoot the train with air trouble at Castella and the train following it at Gibson based on Bob Morris’ suggestion. I was so impressed with Gibson’s horseshoe that I recommended we come back later for a night photo. It is pretty rare that you find such a nice looking place to shoot a horseshoe like this. A northbound Z train was waiting in the siding at Gibson for the two delayed trains so now we had something to chase back north.
We photographed the Z train several times as it passed through South Dunsmuir and Mott. Finally we decided to drive into the Dry Creek trestle north of Hotlum and see what we could see. There wasn’t a great amount of snow on the ground but there was certainly enough to give you the impression of which season it was. Looking at the valley below it is quite easy to spot the inversion layer hanging around.
Dry Creek trestle towers high above the valley below. The conductor would be looking out his window at the community of Lake Shastina.
It takes about 20 minutes to drive out so we ended up well behind the Z as it whipped up the hill to Grass Lake. Finally we heard a meet happening at Kegg with a southbound. We drove into the former mill town of Bray and photographed the train in the low sun followed by another photo at Grass Lake, and finally the last one for the day at Black Butte.
The water tank still stands at Black Butte, Ca.
Remember the Dogwood Diner I mentioned in the last post? Thursday night is their live music night which Bob told us we couldn’t miss. We headed over there again. A local band named 3 on a Match performed a couple of hours worth of adult contemporary hits. Their style seemed to work out just fine for our 40+ age group. Again, it was another fabulous meal with some good home town entertainment.
Stay tuned for more coming soon….
My last day in Dunsmuir was scheduled for Friday. Saturday I needed to be home for family activities so I needed to make the most of the day.
With a fresh crew on board Z-BRLC starts to roll south through Dunsmuir.
Bob Morris rode along with us on Friday. Bob is a character to put it mildly. In addition to quite a a bit of entertainment as we photographed around the area, he provided a wonderful historical narrative. The guy certainly has a wealth of knowledge and information about Dunsmuir. Just listening to him talk about “the spill” alone was very interesting.
Our goal for the day was a couple of spots where we could work Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta into the photo. When we arrived at the south end of the Castle Crags siding for our hike back to the track Bob was amazed at the amount of snow on the ground. In all of his years photographing around Dunsmuir he’d never seen snow where we were headed. No matter we trudged off through the 4″ deep snow (with a slight ice crust) and arrived at a location Bob had used many times for photos including the cover of an SP annual report. It is a wonderful location where all sorts of different options abound.
A southbound starts the winding trip down the Sacramento River from Dunsmuir. This curve is one of many this train will experience before it exists this canyon 25 miles down the line.
With another southbound in the picture Bob headed us over to South Dunsmuir and another short hike. This time Mt. Shasta provided the back drop for a detouring auto train from the Puget Sound and Pacific. What a neat spot! Just like the prior Castle Crags location there are all sorts of opportunities here.
A PSAP auto rack train leaves South Dunsmuir for Roseville.
In addition to these locations Bob showed us photo locations at Azalea and Shasta Retreat. Shasta Retreat is quite the cramped spot but again there are all sorts of photos in there as the seasons change and light moves around through the day. Just remember it is at the bottom of a canyon so the sun rises late and sets early!
Around 1pm we headed for lunch and then up to John Signor‘s Southern California Railway layout. Now, I’m not much of a modeler but I have to say I had a blast working the CTC panel and running a train on his layout. What a privilege to operate on such a well done model! We ended up spending almost 4 hours at John’s but thankfully only one train passed by outside.
Saturday morning I was up early on the road for home ending my wonderful experience on the former SP Shasta Route. At the end of it Robert, Joel and I decided we need to make this area someplace we visit annually. I had to agree and honestly I can’t believe I waited this long to get down there.