Friday, July 16, 2010

Finally, a brisk clear morning! There was hardly a cloud in the sky and my body was eager to soak up a little bit of that beautiful Alaskan sunshine. As an added bonus, I could finally get in some sunlit photos with piercing sky blue backgrounds. I spent the morning finishing up laundry and performing some nonsensical tasks.

I met Dave Blazejewski for lunch at Snow City Cafe. Although there was a line of people waiting for an open table, we proceeded directly to the counter and snagged the last two empty seats. The decor here is pretty much American diner, but there was lots of colorful artwork on the walls and a fair amount of Christmas decorations, including large snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. The food came fast and was definitely delicious. While paying the bill at the register, Dave and I each bought fresh baked cookies and wound up splitting and sharing them. If cookies could talk, these would be screaming delicious.

motorcycle Snow City cafe My meal
Spotted on the way to lunch Put this one on your "must do" list Snazzy looking and tasty


After lunch I journeyed out on my own to add another chapter to my project of helping railfans find public locations to take Alaska Railroad photographs. I first stopped on the hill overlooking the Anchorage depot. This handsome white structure was built in 1943 and has had many updates and refurbishments over the years. The first floor is used primarily for passenger ticketing, historical displays, gift shop(!) and restrooms. Out front are totem poles and a Davenport Locomotive Works steam engine built in 1907.

After a three minute drive I arrived at the Alaska Railroad Headquarters building and parked in a public parking spot across from the entrance. This 38,700 square-foot building was completed in 1992. It was built by Matrix Construction and owned by Railroad Townsite Company with the ARRC being the sole tenant. Cost of construction totaled $6 million. The added bonus of parking here is railfans can turn around and photograph trains as they pass behind the Anchorage depot.

Next, I drove to Harvard Park (A Street to E. Loop Road to Erickson Street to E. Harvard Park Avenue) and parked in front of the Anchorage Curling Club building. I made my way down the back side of the building, over the little hill and crossed East Loop Street for an exciting overlook view of the Anchorage yard. Be very careful to watch for traffic in both directions as visibility is limited and the cars move at a fast pace. The reward is the ability to easily view activity in the railroad yard behind the diesel and passenger car shops.

Finally, I headed to Elderberry Park. The park is located in the original Anchorage town site and provided some gorgeous views across Cook Inlet. It also is the location of the Ken Brovald Memorial Train Watching Bench (N 61 13.077 W149 54.389) and the access point to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. During my visit, luck was on my side as I was rewarded with the passing of a pair of SD70MACs pulling a string of hoppers.

Anchorage depot ARRC HQ Back of depot
Anchorage depot overlook
N 61 13.234, W149 53.417
Alaska Railroad Corp. headquarters
N 61 13.337, W149 53.291
While at the ARRC HQ, turn around for photos of the train at the depot
Yard overlook Elderberry park Elderberry park
Anchorage yard overlook
N 61 13.696, W149 52.659
Elderberry Park
At W. 5th Avenue and M Street
Elderberry Park
At W. 5th Avenue and M Street

I stopped at the visitor's center at Fort Richardson (which is now Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base) and obtained a recreation pass. Fort Rich is a mind boggling maze of rail lines. In 1938 the military began building Fort Richardson (and Ladd Field in Fairbanks) in anticipation of World War II. It was no coincidence that this was the ARR's first profitable year as well. Back in the day, these Fort Rich rail lines served as a critical construction and supply line, but today are relatively obscure. Interestingly enough, one of those yards still serves as a storage track for the Alaska Railroad. Out in the middle of nowhere sat a boxcar (converted from a 1943 troop sleeper), ex-Navy silver box cars (1943 to 1957) and a wide variety of tank cars and hoppers. As these items don't appear on the current ARRC rosters, I wonder if they even know they are there.

As I pulled away from the yard, I spotted a porcupine just off the road. I was pretty excited, having never seen one in the wild before, and I snapped off a few poor photos of him before he waddled away.

Caboose Caboose Caboose
Caboose Caboose Caboose
Caboose Caboose Caboose

If I thought the rail yards were a labyrinth, the dirt roads at Fort Rich are a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. It took a substantial amount of searching before I finally located the trailhead for the overlook near Eagle River (N 61 18.958 W149 37.317). I had to keep a brisk pace to make it down the trail and to the top of the hill before the train arrived. I made it by the skin of my teeth and had just enough time to get into position and catch the Denali Star as it broke through the tree line.

Caboose Caboose Caboose

I moved on to MP 131.5 (N 61 21.711 W149 34.335) and again made a brisk walk to a small hill overlooking the tracks. I had just enough time to also set my Canon SD1400 IS on a rock and start it recording video (click here for the 19.7MB video).

As can be seen below, I caught two SD70MACs pulling a freight consist made up primarily of tank cars. Continuing on my drive, I spotted several old dilapidated bunkers poking out of the hillside.

Caboose Caboose Caboose


My final stop at Fort Rich was just south of MP 131 near the old Powder Spur in North Eagle River. Here I caught a pair of SD70MACs pulling an empty load of hoppers (photo taken looking north). (Click here for the 11MB video)

Caboose Caboose Caboose

I returned to Anchorage and stopped by to meet Dave Blazejewski as he was just getting off work at the Anchorage Operations Center (AOC). We walked across the yard and he pointed out the recently modified GP40 #3006. Steps were added to the front of the locomotive so it could be used as a yard goat. A new plow was constructed to accommodate these steps.

Caboose Caboose Caboose
Anchorage Operations Center GP40 #3006 with new plow and steps A closer view
Caboose Caboose  
SD70MAC #4326 taking in the sun GP38 #2001 in baby Mac paint scheme  


Dave drove us out to Birchwood. I've always wanted to see the gravel pit since it went into operation. It was getting pretty late, but I was able to get a few photos as well as a video clip (7MB) of the company work train as it passed through the yard. We also received an unexpected bonus of a moose that ran beside us to the end of the yard.


Caboose Caboose Caboose
Birchwood gravel operation Birchwood gravel operation Moose racing our vehicle

We returned to the AOC and met Curt Rudd in the tower. We lamented a bit about the loss of Don Prince and even discussed the possibility of taking his railroad memorabilia to create a historical display in one of the office buildings.

I made a brief stop at Wendy’s to siphon off a little bit of WiFi and then returned to the condo by 2:00 AM.


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