Last summer, during our Colorado summer vacation, we made a stop in Manitou Springs to ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad. This is an amazing trip to the top of Pikes Peak, at an elevation of 14,110 ft.
Along the way, the train passes through four different terrains ranging from high plains to alpine tundra. The route is 8.9 miles long, with very steep grades, and takes a little over three hours to reach the top. In addition to the usual two rails, the cog railroad has a rack mounted in the center of the rails. The locomotives use a cog, or gear to power the train along the track. This allows the cog train to traverse grades far steeper than traditional railroads. Read more
In the summer of 2017, my family and I were on a big train-cation in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. As part of our trip, we visited Leadville, one of the highest incorporated cities in America, at an elevation of 10,152 feet above sea level. Leadville was founded in 1877, as a mining town. Read more
The Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville Railway, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, completed the Georgetown Loop Railroad in 1884. Built as a 3-foot narrow gauge, its main objective was to haul silver out from the mines in Silver Plume. Due to the rugged and narrow confines of the Clear Creek canyon, the line wound 4 ½ miles from Georgetown to Silver Plume, a straight-line distance of only 2 miles. This portion of the line gains more than 600 feet in elevation with horseshoe turns, grades approaching 4%, and 4 bridges across Clear Creek. It also includes the massive 95-foot high Devils Gate Bridge that loops the line over itself. Later in 1893, the line became part of the Colorado and Southern railroad system. Due to its unique construction and beautiful vistas, the Georgetown Loop has been popular with tourists since its beginning. The line was dismantled in 1939 due to declining revenue from the mines, but thankfully, was re-built in the 1980’s. Read more
This past summer, while on a family vacation in Colorado, we visited the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. As a lifelong train buff, this had been on my bucket list for a long time, and it did not disappoint! The Cumbres and Toltec is really a museum, but it’s a living museum. On the morning we were there, we felt as if we had stepped back to a time when the narrow gauge railroad was a thriving business. If you get to the rail yard early, you can watch the crews getting the locomotives ready, and hooking up the trains for the day. These are the very same preparations that would have been made almost 100 years ago.
As the days grew closer, the more excited I became for my Colorado photo-cation. June 15, 2017 couldn’t come soon enough. After 9 months of waiting and trip planning, the day finally arrived!
There was a group of six of us, plus one lucky friend who lives in Colorado, ready to seek out creative photographic opportunities. I, for one, was looking for anything railroad related, plus inspirational and beautiful snow capped mountain vistas. When your mind is set to look for the subject matter at hand, it seems as though the subject matter ends up finding you. Other times, it’s all in the planning. Read more
Grain elevators have fascinated me as long as I can remember. Growing up in the Midwest meant seeing these unique buildings along the tracks of even the smallest communities. Symbolic of the agrarian roots of the region, they were often the tallest and most imposing structures in farm belt towns. Along the granger railroads that I grew up with, the grain elevator was as much a fixture of the trackside infrastructure as the depot. Because of that, grain elevators have long played a role in my railroad photography—so much so that I often made an effort to photograph them even if there wasn’t a train around for miles.
When I moved to Denver, Colorado in 2001, I was enthralled to find that the grain elevator was as prevalent on the high plains of eastern Colorado as it was back home in Illinois. Once again, I found myself taking photos of these magnificent structures. Something happened in early 2010 that really sealed my commitment to this exercise. One day while driving past Bennett, CO, I noticed that the old wooden elevator there was no more! Seeing the bare ground where the elevator had once stood hit me hard. Shortly thereafter, I decided that I really wanted to start documenting as many of Colorado’s remaining elevators as I could before other elevators suffered a similar fate.
My initial efforts were about as documentary as a three-quarters wedge shot is of a locomotive. I tried to shoot with good light but the compositions were all similarly nondescript. They were serviceable as illustrations but hardly noteworthy in any artistic way. I think my goal at the time was merely to photograph as many as I could before they were gone. On a very cold February 18th, 2012, though, that all changed. I arrived before dawn to get morning light on the Eastlake elevator north of Denver. When I arrived, there was a really nice crescent moon just begging to be photographed. I had my tripod and quickly set-up to photograph a “blue hour” shot of the elevator, something I hadn’t tried yet. When I got home and compared that image against my more typical shot after sunrise, I was smitten by the additional grace and beauty of the moon scene as a whole. Indeed, the elevator became even more interesting to me. After that, I really started challenging myself to see elevators in new ways by looking at details, placing the elevators in the environment where they reside, incorporating vehicles and other elements into the frame, etc. These all became new photographic tools for me.
2012 proved to be a wonderful year for the project in another way, too. That was the year that I came across the grain elevator page of Gary Rich. Gary’s PBase page (http://www.pbase.com/grainelev) was full of information about the grain elevators of Colorado and many other states. It was also full of wonderful elevator imagery. Gary has since become a great friend and we have gone on many grain elevator photographing excursions together.
“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” – Ansel Adams
That quote has come to embody precisely how I approach my grain elevator project now. When I take a photograph of an elevator, I’m hoping to convey exactly how these magnificent structures move me. I want the viewer to feel the same appreciation I do for them, both as beautiful buildings and as symbols of the men and women who have toiled for generations to feed the country. If I can succeed at that, the project has been worth the effort I have put into it.