A Split Lifer on Mines Road

I had first seen a sage sparrow on the morning of April 10, 2003 in the the South Tufa area of Mono Lake. This is the time of year when sparrows are up singings as they defend their breeding territory. This is also the time of year when they are easiest to see.

Then in 2013, the sage sparrow was split into two distinct species. A split is when ornithologists determine that one species is now considered two separate species, usually using DNA analysis. Before these were all considered subspecies of sage sparrow. They were now divided into the sagebrush sparrow and the Bell’s sparrow. Birders do love a good split because it means there are even more birds to add to their life lists!

The bird I had seen in the spring of 2003 was now considered a sagebrush sparrow and now I had to look for a Bell’s. And I knew just where to look!

I picked Grasshopper Sparrow up at 6:15 AM. Our destination was the legendary birding Mecca known as Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon. This area encompasses three counties: Alameda, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus. Specialty species of this area are: golden eagle, prairie falcon, greater roadrunner, Lewi’s woodpecker, yellow-billed magpie, Lawrence’s goldfinch, canyon wren, phainopepla, lark and rufous-crowned sparrow, and of course Bell’s sparrow.

A much sought after bird: the yellow-billed magpie. Why? This is a California endemic, it is only found within the state boundaries of the Golden State. We found ten in the first few miles of Mines Road. This two where at the Junction of Mines and Del Valle Roads.

From the wine growing region in Livermore, Mines Road climbs out of the flats and weaves up a canyon dotted with oaks. This is probably the most beautiful area in the Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon area,

While the American kestrel is a common falcon, seeing a male perching in morning light , below Mines Road, is a jaw dropping experience.

Our destination was a bend in the road, about five miles from the Santa Clara County line. this is where Bell’s had been recently reported. We pulled off Mines Raid near a roadside memorial.

I fired up my Bluetooth speaker and we stood in front of a hillside of chemise. Within two notes of it’s recorded song, a Bell’s sparrow shot up into the top of a bush. ABA lifer!


Norfolk and Western No. 611

As far as surviving steam locomotives go, Norfolk & Western’s No. 611 is a baby. She’s only 70 years old.

She was built in May of 1950, very late in the age of steam when diesels when rapidly replacing the labor intensive steam locomotives. No. 611 was built in the shops of the Norfolk & Western and was at the cutting edge of steam technology at the end of an age.

No. 611, known as “Spirit of the Roanoke”, is one of the most powerful Northern type (4-8-4) locomotives ever built with a tractive effort of 84,981 pounds. Tractive effort is the theoretical figure of how much a locomotive can pull. As a comparison to other northerns in existence, Union Pacific’s 844 tractive effort is 63,800 pounds and Southern Pacific’s 4449 is 64,800 pounds. 611is clearly in another tractive power league.

This Norfolk & Western locomotive was also very innovation is a way to decrease the labor it took to maintain these beasts. The locomotive used roller bearing and many of the 200 other bearings were self lubricating which cut down of man-hours of maintenance. The locomotive could be run 15,000 miles a month and only need servicing ever one and a half years.

Unfortunately No. 611 was in service for a short time, she was retire in 1959, giving Norfolk and Western just under ten years of service.

The locomotive was dormant, placed on static display in Roanoke Transportation Museum in Roanoke, Virginia. She was restored in the early 1980’s and returned to steam on August 14, 1982.


Shot in the Arm

It seemed to happen very suddenly.

I had been waiting to become eligible to get the Corvid 19 vaccine. Educators were not included in the first round of vaccinations. There was a lot of waiting. Then I became eligible but appointments were scarce if not possible to get.

Vaccine envy is a real thing and I experienced it as friends or coworkers got appointments and then later that shot in the arm.

Then on Monday, after repeated attempts to find appointments on my fourth attempt, they appeared suddenly. I booked one for Wednesday, scarcely believing this was real.

The reason that there were so many appointments available was that the Federal Government had opened a massive vaccination site across the bay in the parking lot of Oakland Coliseum.

So just after noon I headed over the Bay Bridge and then south down 880 toward the place were I had seen my first concert (Billy Joel) as well as my last concert (Iron Maiden). I know I have eclectic tastes.

I was directed into the parking lot and I was entering into a well oiled machine run with military efficiency by FEMA. It restored my faith in government. That big government does care about people and at it’s best, can help at a massive scale.

There were thousands of traffic cones that led me on a serpentine course and National Guard soldiers that directed cars into different vaccination bays. I pulled into Bay 5. I was asked a battery of questions, which I answered in the negative and then rolled up my sleeve and received the first injection of the Pfizer vaccination.

I was then given by vaccination card and directed to pull forward to the 15 minute waiting period area to see if there were any adverse reactions to the vaccination before being released.

The line of cars slowly inched forward.

The last contact was an older man, decked out in a mask, radio, and florescent vest. I thanked him for the efficiency of the operation.

He replied, “Thank you, that means a lot.”

The total time from entrance to exit: 30 minutes!

A note about the sketch: This is a feeble attempt at a Joseph Zbukvic painting of the scene.


Meder Canyon

With my inward focus on county lifers I begin to realize that I had many common and uncommon species on my life list that now became new targets for the county.

In Santa Cruz County I had five species of owls: great horned, barn, burrowing, short-eared, and saw-whet. I had two more that I had not yet heard in the county, when owling, hearing is believing. These are the western screech-owl and northern pygmy-owl.

As day turned to dark, I headed to the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains near Corralitos. Owling is a new kind of birding madness that makes one wake up at an ungodly hour or head up into the hills on one lane, windy roads in the darkening night. My destination was Hazel Dell Road, a productive owling road in the county.

I stopped at the intersection of Hazel Dell and Mt. Madonna Road and got out to listen of my target owling. I heard nothing except for the din of frogs just down the road. I struck out on both species.

Seeing a recent online birding post, I was reminded that I did not have white-throated sparrow in county. So on a Sunday morning, I headed out early to looking for this beautiful but uncommon Santa Cruz County sparrow.

I headed up Meder Canyon and turned right into the side canyon. This spot reliably produces California thrashers, except for today. I did hear the cat-like “mew” of a blue-gray gnatcatcher. I climbed up the slope to get a better vantage point to see the gnatcatcher and that’s when I first heard the northern-pygmy-owl!

If the toot-toot call of a saw-whet sounds like a owl on too much coffee, then the northern pygmy-owl has had too much NyQuil. I could clearly hear the slow toot-toot call coming from across the canyon. It was just 8AM.

It may sound odd that a nocturnal predator like an owl would be active in the day but northern pygmy-owl is noted for it’s daytime dalliances. According to David Sibley in his Sibley Guide to Birds, pygmy-owls are “active in daylight” and it’s song is “often heard during the day”.

I headed back down slope and to try to locate the owl. It sounded like the owl was calling from brush or trees further up slope. After about two minutes, the pygmy-owl stopped calling and I was unable to locate it. It was a great encounter anyway.

Now it was time for my next target bird, white-crowned sparrow. I returned to the main canyon and headed up to a location were the sparrow had been recently seen.

It was a warm morning and it had a feeling of a spring morning and I was surrounded by the calls of birds: Steller’s and scrub jays, wrentits, yellow-rumped warblers, a Bewick’s wren, a pair of oak titmice, and a northern flicker.

As I neared the end of the trail at Meder Street and University Terrace Park I stopped at the “bird feeder” house. The back of this house faces the trail and the owners put out seed and suet on the upper balcony. There were some juncos and an acorn woodpecker feeding at the feeder when walked up.

On the right side of the trail was a golden-crowned sparrow perched on a sign. This was a good sign. I was hoping the white-throated was loosely associating with other sparrows.

Golden-crowned sparrow.

I saw a sparrow fly into the eucalyptus about ten feet high. I tried to get a better vantage point. I got bins on the bird: white suplercilium, yellow lores, and the the distinctive white throat! A new county lifer: white-throated sparrow.

White-crowned sparrow singing in the eucs.

Santa Cruz Sapsucker

For some reason I have a sapsucker blindspot in Santa Cruz County.

I have done more international birding over the past few years but because of Corvid 19, I have been forced to bird inward. And I kinda like it. And the focus of my county list has been Santa Cruz.

A resident (human, that is) along Trout Gulch Road in Aptos had reported a red-naped sapsucker, coming in to feed on an old apple tree in his yard. I wanted to boost my sapsucker numbers because my current Santa Cruz sapsucker count stood at: 0.

The home owner is a bat biologist and birder who knew the difference between a hawk and a handsaw, and for that matter a red-breasted from a red-naped sapsucker. He was kind enough to let me bird from his driveway. He had even set up a camp chair for visiting birders. This highlights the friendliness of the Santa Cruz birding community that is not just about seeing a rare bird but also repaying the favor so others can see a rarity as well.

This stretch of Trout Gulch was very birdy, with expansive views of the skies above. Red-tailed hawks circled above and a pileated woodpecker called from the trees across the road. A merlin hightailed it to the south and five high flying swifts moved south. As I waited for the red-naped sapsucker to appeared I became immersed with the micro avifauna. The Anna’s hummingbird had his feeding route and returned to the prominent percent in front of the house. A pair of Oak titmice flew in to investigate a possible nesting nook.

Within the first 30 minutes of my wait, I had a sapsucker! This was a new county bird but but it was the more common red-breasted sapsucker and not the desired red-naped. It flew into the old apple tree and perched on an apple and pecked at it from below. This was a promising sign because the two sapsuckers fed at this tree.

The red-breasted sapsucker having an apple lunch.

This gave me hope that the red-naped was still in the area and it was only a matter of time before the bird would return to the apple tree. So I sat down in the camp chair and sketched to pass then time.

A pencil sketch of the “titmouse” tree. I love to sketch with pencil. It is such a basic tool and the foundation of so much work.

I first sketched the bole of the tree to my right. it was riddled with sapsucker holes. This was the tree that the two oak titmice investigated and I added the potential nesting cavity into my sketch. I next sketched the twisted old apple tree that the sapsuckers favored (but so did the chickadees and juncos.)

I waited for three hours and I decided to end my wait, knowing full well that the red-naped would appear just after I left, with no one to witness it’s continuing existence.

But the experience was so much more that adding a sapsucker to a county list. It was about being in a moment in a beautiful yard, watching the yardbirds and talking with a bat biologist. And it was all made possible by the red-naped sapsucker that refused to show itself in the old apple tree on Trout Gulch Road.


Santa Cruz County Beach Birding

A towhee had taken up winter quarters on Laguna Creek Beach. This beach is close to Davenport on Highway One and 10.2 miles from my cabin (I checked).

Two towhees, a large, sparrow-type bird, are common on the California Coast. The appropriately named California towhee and the spotted towhee. Neither of these two species were the reason I headed north on Highway One on a Saturday morning.

I was here, hiking into a headwind on a sunny but blustery winter’s morning, to see a rare towhee on the coast. It is said that every bird is rare somewhere and the green-tailed towhee is rare here on the California coast. I have seen many green-tailed towhees at elevation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains but I was going to attempt to add this species to my Santa Cruz County list. I wanted a green-tailed towhee at sea level!

Who knows how long this wayward towhee had been on the Santa Cruz Coast but on January 12, 2021, two birders happened to be birding this beach and also happened to know that this towhee was out of place in this location. They reported it and other birders searched for it, some getting momentary looks of this sulky towhee. There where even less quality photos of this ever-moving and scrub-loving bird.

So the bar was low for a quality sighting and capturing great photos was an even lower bar. That’s if I didn’t whiff on this towhee altogether, for any sighting is never guaranteed. As one birder noted, “Ducked into a bush and never reappeared.”

The bird was seen on the northern part of the beach, north of the creek and just left of an “AREA CLOSED” sign. The sight was described as being where the sand meets a six foot high cliff. So here I was, peering into the bushes. Flanked by two nude male sunbathers.

The first bird I saw was a blue-grey gnatcatcher as is foraged and called at eye level in the coyote brush.

I turned on my bluetooth speaker and selected a recording of the towhee’s “cat-like ‘mew'” call. I hit play and after a single call, the green-tailed towhee shot out of a bush in front of me and stood before me on the sand. Sometimes birding is just this easy.

I had amazing views of the towhee as it foraged on the sand and I was able to get great photos in amazing light. The towhee stayed out in the open for about two minutes before disappearing into the coastal brush.

This photo proves just how elusive the green-tailed towhee can be! Now you see it, now you don’t. You have to be quick to photograph this bird.
The green-tailed towhee with it’s rufous crest, white throat, and greenish wings. This bird almost seems to be posing for me.
The profile view would have made Roger Tory Peterson proud. Here you can see the greenish tail.


Saw-whet in Paradise

In mid- January, my neighbor from down the hill from my cabin, emailed me that she heard an owl calling, just after dark.

She thought it could be a saw-whet or a western screech-owl. On following evenings the mystery owl called again and again, just after dark. She confirmed that she thought that the owl calling was a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus)!

This would be an amazing Santa Cruz County bird to add to my list and especially so to hear this diminutive owl in my own backyard! Well, close to it anyway.

The Northern saw-whet owl is can be common or uncommon resident of the California coast, favoring mixed conifers and deciduous woods. This owl may be much more common than believed because if it isn’t calling, this owl goes undetected. It is one of our smallest owls with a length eight inches and weighing in at 2.8 ounces. In other words, this owl weights as much as three standard sized envelopes.

The northern saw-whet gets its common name because it’s incessant “toot-toot-toot” territorial call that reminded early ornithologists of the whetting or sharpening of a saw; a common sound in the forests as lumberjacks felled trees to fuel a growing nation.

I have never heard a saw-whet call in Paradise Park. This may be because wildlife has been displaced by the destructive CZU Lighting Complex Fire. This fire burned in the late summer of 2020 for 44 days, consuming almost 400,000 acres of the western side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Some of those animals are now wildfire refugees and are now establishing a new territories.

I planned to head down to Santa Cruz and do some owling, to see if I could confirm the existence of a saw-whet in Paradise Park. So I set out at 5:30 PM and walked around as the diurnal birds stopped calling, one by one as they sought out their nighttime roosts. The last diurnal call was the “chip” of a California towhee. It was now time for the night shift.

I centered my search at the picnic grounds. This is where my neighbor had recently heard the saw-whet. Now it was a matter of waiting a time with patience. A time to focusing the senses, to filter out the sounds of traffic on Highway 9 and seek the repetitive toots of the saw-whet.

At 6:10 I heard the first call of the saw-whet. It seemed distant and tough to locate. The saw-whet’s call is very loud for such a small bird, it can be heard from half a mile away.

I moved along the road to try and locate the owl, but as always, owls are elusive. At times it seemed the saw-whet was close and at other times far. As if the owl was frequently changing locations. In reality the owl was probably changing the dynamics of it’s song. It would be silent for a short time and then resume it’s name token song. I now had a new Santa Cruz County bird in my own backyard!

On Saturday evening, I went out for another owling ramble, to reconfirm the saw-whets presence in my world. Would I hear it two nights in a row? I also wanted to get a better sound recording of the owl. The evening before I recorded a faint but distinctive recording.

This time I set out a little later. I was at the picnic grounds at 6:30 pm and it wasn’t long before I heard the saw-whet calling up the hill.

I walked up the road toward where I thought the sound was coming. Hanging from my belt loop was my bluetooth speaker (an indispensable piece of equipment for any tropical bird guide).

I was going to use a recorded call of a call-whet to try to bring the owl closer so I could get a better recording of it’s call. In birding terms this is called using “playback”. When I played the recording through the speaker, the saw-whet seemed to accelerate it’s song. The call was getting louder as if the owl was coming closer to my location.

An owl’s flight is silent so I could not hear if the saw-whet was flying towards me. But what I did hear was the owl’s wings brushing against the branches above me. I was able to get two recordings with my iPhone and then I left the saw-whet to it’s “day”of establishing it’s territory and hunting for small rodents.

Here is a link to my eBird checklist with the two recordings I made:

I headed back to my cabin, satisfied with my night revels but I had one last trick up my sleeve. I stopped outside my neighbor’s house and I turned my bluetooth speaker on and played the saw-whet call at full volume! Within a minute, she came out surprised that it was just me and not a saw-whet. I thanked her for telling me about the saw-whet owl in our backyard!


County Birding: San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Part 2

On Sunday I decided to head to Lake Merced and its environs.

I started at the Vista Grande Canal which is just south of the Concrete Bridge. This concrete canal can have some nice species including the continuing swamp sparrow. I found the sparrow shortly after arriving and enjoyed watching it foraging in the water with excellent mid-morning light.

The continuing swamp sparrow and it’s relflection. The reflected green makes this scene look like a May Morning instead of early February.

Above my head, on a power line, a California scrub-jay perched with an acorn in it’s mouth. This intelligent species is an avian gardner, responsible for oak trees “growing” uphill because of the jay habit of caching thousands of acorns in the ground.

In the distance, toward the lake, I could here the unearthly song of a male great-tailed grackle. This “Devil bird” has been slowly making it’s way north.

My next stop was the Boathouse and docks. This is where I had seen an adult bald eagle a few weeks before. The docks can sometime yield interesting gulls.

I first checked, quiet hopefully, the eucalyptus for the adult bald eagle but this bird had flow weeks ago. With the naked eye, I could see a lone gull on the nearest wooden dock. It’s grey mantle and white underparts said, “small adult gull”.

I put bins on the bird and I realized that this was no ordinary gull for this location. What I was looking at was a wintering pelagic gull that rarely comes ashore excepted when pushed towards land, ahead of a storm front. And there had not been a storm in the past week. The bird I was looking at was an adult black-legged kittiwake!

I grabbed my camera and headed down to the docks to get a better look. Yes the yellow-green bill and dark “ear muffs” put this in the kittiwake category. I took some photos for documentation for this was indeed a rare bird at this location. Most kittiwakes in San Francisco, are seen by scope when birders are doing a seawatch. The last two eBird reports of black-legged kittiwake from Lake Merced where from 2001 and 1977!

One of the first photos I took of the wayward kittiwake. The indentation just under the breast seemed off. When the kittiwake turned to face me I could see the reason this pelagic species had been forced ashore. There was a deep indentation under it’s breast and a large, open wound in it’s chest. The kittiwake was injured.

The kittiwake had come ashore to rest and die.

I watched the kittiwake as it repeatedly drank water. It occasionally sat down but then stood up again and took another sip of water.

This angle shows the open wound, perhaps caused by a fishing line.

I put word out to local birders of my find. I wanted other birders to witness this pelagic rarity on the shores of a San Franciscan lake before it flew off or passed away. In all about 11 birders reported seeing the kittiwake that Sunday.

One report, from mid afternoon, noted that animal control attempted to net the kittiwake but it was well enough to fly off towards the gull flock in the middle of the lake. It eventual returned to it’s favored place on the wooden dock.

The last eBird report of this bird was just after 4 PM and then it was seen no more.

The adult kittiwake taking a sip of water. This photo is bittersweet. While is was amazing to see a new San Francisco County bird but also realizing that I was probably witnessing the kittiwake’s last day on Earth.

County Birding: San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Part 1

On Saturday morning, Grasshopper Sparrow and I headed east on Highway 92, our destination was Parkside Aquatic Park in San Mateo. Our plan was to do some San Mateo County birding. I hoped to add some new birds to my San Mateo County list and Grasshopper was hoping to add some lifers to his list!

This park lines Marina Lagoon and it is a great place for ducks, geese, herons, and waders. But we where here for the rare county duck, the redhead. After a short search, we spotted the distinctive duck with two females.

The appropriately named redhead. This is a male at Parkside Aquatic Park.
A pouch of American white pelicans foraging in the lagoon.

There were plenty of other birds to looked at such as a green heron, a group of American white pelicans, and the stunning hooded merganser.

I love the contrast between this beautiful male hooded merganser and a white house’s reflection on the lagoon.

Our next stop was to Bair Island Wildlife Refuge. Our target bird was a Pacific golden-plover that had been seen a few days early by the legendary San Mateo county birder Peter Metropolis. When we arrived, it was low tide which meant that we were looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack or a plover is a vast mash that was full of other birds. We joined Chris Hayward, a local birder who is also a spotter on many pelagic trips leaving from Pillar Point Harbor. Chris had not yet seen the plover. We were joined by another birder, the more eyes the better.

In the marsh were many ducks and peeps. Grasshopper spotted a male Eurasian wigeon. That was the only rare bird we recorded at the refuge. So we left Chris to continue the search and we headed back north on Highway 101 to the next exit to look for some more county ducks at Nob Hill Pond, so named because the pond is located behind a Nob Hill supermarket.

When we first arrived , when checked the channel near the San Carlos Airport for the continuing female long-tailed duck. We had tried for this bird for about five times, without success. We failed again but we would try again after trying to get a very rare duck on Nob Hill Pond.

This duck is common in northern Eurasia but rare in Coastal California. This is the smallish diving duck called the tufted duck because of the prominent tuft of feathers emitting from the back of it’s head, most noticeable in the male of the species.

Grasshopper spotted the tufted duck through the scope. It’s tuft was growing in length like my Covid hair! There is nothing like young eyes! Well spotted Grasshopper Sparrow!

Finally, the tufted duck is ours!! On the right is a stunning male canvasback.

We headed back toward the airport to continue on search for the continuing female long-tailed duck. We had whiffed on this species on about five attempts but we adopted a now-or-never approach to this sought after species.

As the the time neared noon, the reflections where intense and from our position, the birds where backlit. Panning with the scope, all we where seeing where buffleheads. Being diving ducks they appeared and disappeared giving us renewed hope followed by disappointment when an bufflehead surfaced. No long-tailed.

After about a 20 minute search the female long-tailed duck appeared near some pylons on the east side of the airport. County bird and a lifer for Grasshopper!

After a three county duck day we headed back to the hacienda in San Mateo. Grasshopper had spotted a rare west coast sapsucker a few weeks before. Because it was rare, he was unsure of the ID, he submitted his photos to some San Mateo County birder and his sighting was confirmed. (This is the correct approach for a young birder, well learner Grasshopper!)

Over some afternoon suds, Grasshopper said excitedly, “woodpecker!” I was able to get some photos of the sapsucker in the oak in the backyard. A yellow-bellied sapsucker, a fourth San Mateo County bird! Not bad for a day’s worth of county birding.

On Sunday I found a bird in San Francisco on Lake Merced that had not been recorded in this location since 1977. Those were the days when birders were few and the optics were poor. But with a open buttoned shirt and bellbottoms, the 1977 birder must have looked sharp!

To be continued. . .

A great bonus was a backyard yellow-bellied sapsucker in Grasshopper Sparrow’s backyard. Four San Mateo County county birds!


Union Pacific No. 844

If Southern Pacific’s Queen of Steam is 4449 then Union Pacific’s Royalty must be 844.

The FEF class (4-8-4) No. 844 is known as “The Living Legend”. This class of passenger locomotive is a legend for it’s design and motive power but I want to stress the word “Living” because 844 is the only steam locomotive that has never been dropped from UP’s roster, making it the only steam locomotive, owned by a Class I railroad, that has never been retired.

The FEF-3 was designed to be a high speed passenger locomotive and 844 pulled such Union Pacific passenger services as the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, and Challenger. 844 really had three phases of life. First as a passenger locomotive, secondly, as diesels replaced steam on passenger routes, 844 hauled freight in 1957.

At the end of the age of steam, when steam was being replaced by diesel, Union Pacific had the foresight to preserve one of it’s classic locomotives and 844 entered into her third life as an ambassador to one of the world’s largest railroads: Union Pacific.

I was 10 years old when I first encounter Union Pacific 8444, as she was known then, at the offical opening of the California State Railroad Museum in 1981. She had to be renumbered because there was a diesel locomotive given the road number 844. For the event, two of the most emblematic survivors of the Northern class (wheel arrangement 4-8-4) were in attendance. Southern Pacific’s GS-4 4449, newly repainted in her Daylight livery and Union Pacific’s 8444. On the tracks outside the museum, which paralleled the Sacramento River, these two Superstars of Steam came pilot to pilot. What a sight to see!

844 is not as streamlined as 4449 but the 844’s steam deflectors, also know as “elephant ears”, gives this 4-8-4 a very unique appearance. The steam deflectors help to loft steam exhaust from the chimney or smoke stack to improve the engineer’s visibility and also to keep the exhaust out of the cab.

It was an echo of the famous photograph taken at the uniting of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. 4449 represented the Central Pacific, later Southern Pacific and 8444 represent, and still does, Union Pacific.

Union Pacific’s steam ambassador has been all across Union Pacific’s rail network. She is a locomotive that brings people to the tracks to see her in action. One annal excursion is Cheyenne Frontier Days from Denver to Cheyenne. In May, 2019, 844 played second fiddle on the inaugural run of the recently restored Big Boy 4014 from Cheyenne to Ogden, Ut to commemorate the 150 Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Of course the Big Boy was on point as the lone example of the largest locomotive in operation.

At the ceremony, 844 and 4014 came pilot to pilot, echoing the the famous photograph taken 150 before when Central Pacific’s engine “Jupiter” and Union Pacific’s engine No. 119 came pilot to pilot on May 10, 1869.

The Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming . This is about as close as I got to seeing the “Air force 1” of Union Pacific: FEF-3 #844 on a visit in the October of 2017. The only sign of steam is the UP yellow tender outside one of the bay doors.