Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steam Engine # 844

The Union Pacific railroad has done a good job restoring and maintaining some of its historic equipment, and today one of its steam engines made an excursion run through western Wyoming and southeast Idaho.  Steam engine # 844 was the last one built for Union Pacific.
Here the train approaches Rocky Point, southwest of Montpelier, Idaho.  It was on a trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Boise, Idaho and back.

The train crossed the Bear River at Rocky Point.

 Union Pacific took delivery of 844, known as the “Living Legend”, in 1944 to be used as a high speed passenger engine.  It pulled several famous trains, including the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, and Challenger.

As the train left Montpelier, Idaho it passed under a signal Bridge.

After diesels took over, 844 was used for freight service from 1957 to 1959, and in 1960 it was saved from scrapping to be used as a goodwill ambassador for Union Pacific.  The engine has run hundreds of thousands of miles.

Leaving the Bear Lake Valley, near Montpelier, Idaho

The statistics on steam engine 844 are staggering.  The engine and tender weigh 454 tons and are just over 114 feet long.  The water capacity is 23,500 gallons, and it runs on 6,200 gallons of oil.  The drive wheels are 80 inches in diameter.  The top speed is 120 mph (190 km/h) and it generates 4,500 horsepower.

When this engine blasts by a few feet away, it shakes the earth, and the whistle is ear-shattering. What an experience!

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Garter Snakes Mating

Our huge snow pack in the Bear Lake Valley melted fast.  While there is still snow in the mountains, here on the valley floor we are dealing with a lot of water, and the smaller members of our wildlife community are appearing.
I was driving around the valley looking for photos of the flooded fields when I spotted these two intertwined common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) that had probably just emerged from hibernation.
I assumed they were mating, but after reading about them it is possible they were huddled together for warmth in our cold climate.  Some males are able to produce female pheromones which attract other males away from the den.  Then the first male ditches the pheromones and races back to the den where he hopes to have the females to himself.  This same technique tricks other males into “warming up” the trickster.
These snakes were very patient with me.  When I got down to their level, the smaller one stretched out toward the lens curiously, and I wonder if he was looking at his reflection.  Also, I wonder about the dusty color of these usually brilliant snakes.  Could it be that after emerging from hibernation their colors are dull until after they molt?  I just don’t know.

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