Day 22: Helper

I was fast asleep this morning when I heard the distinctive wail of an Amtrak horn echoing throughout Helper. Within a split second my brain decided that since it was getting lighter earlier these days I might have a chance to catch the Cal Zephyr during daylight; next thing I know I'm standing outside with my camera around my neck snapping away as a pair of P42DCs roar into Helper. My eyes hadn't even finished opening, so suffice to say the weren't great. Oh… and it was snowing!

I love waking up to fresh snow, especially when it is unexpected. Yesterday it had been sunny and the snow was melting, this morning there was an inch of fresh powder. Wow! I went back to bed but within minutes another train came roaring out of Helper; this time I got a decent shot.


The diesels had obviously only just woken up themselves as there were great clouds of snow cascading off the locos as they went through the crossing. Look closely and you'll see Balance Rock.

Had a nice hot shower to kick start the day and then caught up with Tracey on skype, but only after mistakenly scheduling it for 4am my time! Whoops. While chatting Mark arrived with Tori in the laundry basket (as you do) to say that Courtney had invited me to breakfast, so once again I had a Sunday breakfast with the motel owner here in little old Helper.

Went back and finished my chat and then lazily mucked around on the computer for a bit, until I heard the crossing bells go and with that the West-bound daily BNSF manifest came roaring through:


Within minutes I was in hot pursuit off up the hill. Caught up with it just after Castle Gate:


And then around the two sets of tunnels:

Into the tunnel…

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And out the other side / Then into the next set of tunnels.

Got a little stuck on the side of the road, very embarrassing. Pulled off the highway and onto some snow, only the snow was a little thicker than expected and the car was sliding sideways and fishtailing. I was only a foot away from the road, and yet I just couldn't get there! Thoughts of having to put on chains to travel 1 foot went through my head, but I jumped out and snapped some shots. By the time I returned I realised I could just scrape away the snow and then I'd be driving on the road surface and I'd be fine. Did that and got out no problems. I'd have to use this tactic more than once today.

Freshly liberated I raced on and caught the manifest again on the US6/96 turnoff. Always a good spot, and the train was kicking up a lot of powder as she roared along.


Skipped Soldier Summit, I wasn't fast enough. Spied a potential shot at Gilluly Curves and so parked the car and started climbing the hill. Kept climbing till the train appeared, which put me a long way up the hill. And here it comes…


Started sliding down (was very sticky slimy mud up there) and no sooner had I got to the bottom than the Worm appeared!


So back up the hill I went!

If you squint you can just make out the train heading up the diagonal there. (click to enlarge photo)

Got some really wide shots that show the whole train; problem is the train is so small you can hardly make it out. Oops. Still, it was nice to get some exercise.

Didn't beat her to US6/96, the Worm is pretty quick it seems. Plus I had a huge hill to slide down and kilo of mud to scrape off my shoes. Did get a nice curving shot though:


And then a nice S curve from a familiar vantage point:


By now it was getting close to 5 when Jerott would be booking on to his monster coal train. I pulled into the motel carpark, checked my email, got the latest update and raced off to the Helper yard. There I met Jerott and moments later the Savage coal train arrived, complete with a hand painted Southern Pacific logo on the side. I don't pretend to understand and haven't had any enlightenment from TrainOrders members yet either. Is this a graffiti job gone good?

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Jerott came out and said hi and then invited me on inside his "office". WOW fancy stuff! Computer readouts and radios everywhere.


View the enlargement and you can read all the labels. Pretty damn flash stuff, able to monitor the speed of each wheel down to 0.1mph. There there is the DPU box sitting up the top with read outs from the rear locos. There were more buttons above my head. There is even a toilet in the loco!!


Oh and who is this sitting at the controls? Yup here I am sitting in the engineer's seat of a General Electric AC4400CW — that's 4400HP at those controls there. Am I lucky or what?! And here I am from the other side:


These locos are huge! There are actually stairs inside to get up to the cab level. The cabs themselves are big and roomy and warm though, and if you're cunning you can cook your own food on the cab heaters :-)


Then it was back to work as the crew had a massive coal train to move up the hill. They already had 2 lead locos and 2 rear end helpers, but to get over the hill would take another set of 3 helper locos in the middle. Helper is still living up to its name! Anyway here comes the Worm…


The train then pulled forward to the "cut" point.

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Pulling out of the yard / stopped right outside the motel while the train is cut in half and the mid train helpers are inserted.

I witnessed this operation late at night last year and was captivated, so it was a real highlight to see it all again during daylight. Here we are just about to leave.


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Mid train helpers / Read end passing under the signal bridge

Now the race is on! She roared out of Helper at quite a pace, but by the time I caught it up again it was down to jogging pace and really working hard. Slogging its guts out, as I'd say.

I caught her at Castle Gate and finally got a shot I've been waiting yonks for: a shot of Castle Gate with the train passing underneath. Castle Gate is such a massive lump of rock that from most angles it is impossible to fit it in the frame, but I found a new spot today and I like it!


Up the road a bit more and here she comes around the corner:


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Into the tunnel

And goodbye DPUs.  

Got a great shave-and-a-hair-cut (google it) on the horn as Jerott crawled past, which was an unexpected bonus.

I whizzed up to the next set of tunnels where I attracted a bit of attention from The Law. Was busy snapping this:


And when I turned around there was a blue and white behind my car, lights flashing! Uh oh, I hadn't pulled very far off the road (my driver's side tires were still on the shoulder) as experience said if I pulled right off I was liable to get stuck! But the cop just gave me the thumbs up, as in, "are you ok?" and I gave him the thumbs up and he was gone. They're pretty attentive along Soldier Summit it seems, this isn't the first time this trip they've asked if I'm stuck or not.

So with no charges against my name I continued on to that junction again. Too dark now for any normal photos (I was already shooting at ISO800), but got some great motion blurs instead:



After that I headed back down to Helper, grabbed some things and headed off to Price. There I did the laundry (and met the owner who was lovely and very friendly), got dinner and bought supplies for the next segment of my trip. Speaking of which; tomorrow I will say goodbye to Helper and head for Salt Lake where I've got a few model shops to check out, then try and get up to Evanston, Wyoming for a quick look around. Then it'll be time to start the long slog back to San Francisco and New Zealand. In less than a week I'll be on an aeroplane crossing the Pacific Ocean!


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