Fall and Winter Update

I was reviewing my blog to see how it looks on the new website and was astonished to realize I hadn’t posted any updates since before we left Yellowstone National Park last fall.  Thinking back I can see how time got away from me, but that is not a reasonable excuse.  So, here is a fall and winter update.  There is more to follow on the web site, but I want to say that moving my blog from its former host to this site seemed the natural thing to do since there are so many shared goals between the travel blog and my photography.  It seemed a natural fit to me and this is a much easier format to write and share images than where I was before.  Be sure to bookmark this website so you can come back and check on our progress.

I have to say that a lot has happened since those last days at Yellowstone.  I guess I should start with the day we left. We were having breakfast just prior to getting underway when the main breaker in the motorhome tripped.  This was truly an odd situation since we were not using anything out of the ordinary in the coach.  I did some searching around and found that the battery charger/inverter had tripped as well.  While on shore power, this device simply passes the electricity through to the house loads and if necessary operates the charger side to keep the batteries at full charge.  There should have been no reason for it to trip.  I reset all open breakers and before I could get back to my seat inside they had tripped again.  This time I checked a little further and found that the inverter was really overheated.  Since we rarely use the inverter mode of this device I was baffled as to why it would act as though it was inverting at or above its design capacity.  It was really cold outside and I didn’t want to waste a lot of time troubleshooting, so we disconnected from shore power and got underway as soon as possible.

Of course that meant I spent the rest of the day driving and wondering what to do next.  I was really concerned that we had a safety issue on our hands that could result in a burned out shell of a motorhome if I wasn’t careful.  As a result of the worry our day’s drive ended in Harding, Montana a full hundred miles short of where we wanted to be.  However, the temperature in Harding was warm enough to allow me to do some more troubleshooting and make some modifications that made the coach and our lives safe.  I simply electrically disconnected the charger/inverter and bypassed it so we could get 120 volt AC power to the coach.  That allowed us to operate the microwave, TV, refrigerator, and electric heaters.  We have a few 120 volt lights so we could also see.  We operated the 12 volt DC loads sparingly as the batteries would only be charged while the propulsion engine was operating.  We were safe and warm and only one of us was scared (Connie).  Fast forward.  Shortly after our return to Texas I did some additional troubleshooting of the charger/inverter and determined it had an internal fault that resulted in overheating and damage to the core windings.  I decided it was probably not cost effective to have it repaired and decided to buy a new one.  The good news is that in the six or so years since I bought the original unit the technology had advanced significantly and I was able to purchase a replacement that weighs about a quarter as much as the original and the cost was considerably less.  The best news was that since all the in-coach wiring was already done for the original installation I was able to install the new unit myself saving a ton of money.  The new charger/inverter is working fine.

Back to the fall journey.  Our intention upon leaving Yellowstone last fall was to visit the Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.  With our electrical issue that goal seemed to be in jeopardy.  However, once I was able to electrically bypass the inverter and gain Connie’s stamp of approval from a safety perspective our plan was rejoined.

We worked our way through parts of South Dakota and Nebraska making it to North Platte by October 30th.  Our visit to the Bailey Yard was just what we had hoped it would be.  The Bailey Yard is owned and operated by The Union Pacific Railroad.  It is named after former Union Pacific Railroad president Edd H. Bailey.   The visit starts on the ground floor of the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center where you buy your tickets and can watch videos to learn about the history of the yard.  There is also a huge line diagram of the yard showing all the tracks and buildings.  A ride up the elevator takes guests to the observation tower which is manned by volunteers who just love to talk anything dealing with trains.  All the volunteers are retired railroad people and they love to share their knowledge of not only the yard, but of the industry as a whole.  We spent several hours in the tower observing the operations throughout the yard and learning from the volunteers what was going on.

Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center
Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center
West End of Bailey Yard
West end of Bailey Yard. Although difficult to see in this picture, each line represents a separate train track.

The images above and below show the tracks that make up what are called hump stations.  Although you cannot see it from this overhead view, the single track that feeds all these tracks is elevated.  Trains coming into the yard are broken apart and sorted based on ultimate destination and new trains are made up.  The hump stations are used to sort the cars.  As a car is released from the former train at the top of the hump, it is vectored to the siding that will eventually be part of a build out for another train.  In the end several of the sidings can be used to make one full train and the order in which they are made up is determined by ultimate destination and cargo carried.

The hump station pictured above is on the west side of the yard and it is used to build East bound trains.  So, the cars are fed into the hump from the west end and the ultimate train is pulled out from the east end.

The West Bump
The Central section of the yard including the West Hump.

This is the west hump station.  Cars coming from the east are actually backed into the hump station on the west end where as above they are sorted and ultimately re-positioned in new trains based on destination and cargo.

Locomotive Maintenance Building
Locomotive Maintenance Building

Trains are not just made and broken apart in this massive yard.  The locomotives that pull the trains across country come here for routine maintenance from simple refuelings and oil changes to complete overhauls.  A lot of the major maintenance is done in the massive building shown above.  On the far right side of this building there are a few outdoor bays that are used for oil changes and simpler maintenance items.  Refueling is done in several locations throughout the yard thereby minimizing how much moving around within the yard a locomotive must do if no maintenance is required.

As trains pull into the yard they are monitored by a variety of sensors that collect a ton of data to determine the health of the car.  Things like wheel truck bearings are monitored to ensure that all trains leaving the yard will not have a bearing failure that could result in a wheel set locking up and causing an accident such as a derailment.

For those of you into numbers, here are a few impressive ones.  The Bailey Yard is the world’s largest railroad classification yard.  It is situated halfway between Denver and Omaha and covers 2,850 acres and is over 8 miles long and 2 miles wide.  There are 200 separate tracks totaling 315 miles of track, 985 switches and 766 turnouts and 17 receiving and 16 departure tracks.

An average of 139 trains and over 14,000 railroad cars pass through the yard every day.  The yard sorts approximately 3,000 cars daily using the two humps discussed above.  This really is an amazing place.  The photographs do not do it justice.  It is impossible to take in the massive size of this yard without being there and looking at it from the tower.  In order to photograph the entire yard in one image one would have to be high above the yard.  After all, it is 8 miles long.

Once our visit to the Bailey Yard was complete we made our way back to home, but we wouldn’t be there all that long.

I will spare you the details of our Thanksgiving travels by saying we drove to Pittsburgh, PA to visit Connie’s family. We had a great time while there, but the drive (via car) nearly killed us.

Christmas found us in the Davis Mountains of Texas.  We had a wonderful stay in a bed and breakfast and toured the area fairly extensively.  Both Connie and I did a lot of photography on that trip.  I was doing a lot of experimentation to refine my techniques.  It was around this time that I started formulating ideas about turning my photographic passion into a small business.  Therefore, experimenting with technique was a good idea if I was going to produce quality images on a more routine basis.  While on the Davis Mountains trip the weather was none too cooperative. We had many overcast and windy days making good images hard to come by.  I did make some interesting images of the interior of an old barn in South Llano River State Park.  Several of those images now appear on FrankMadiaPhotography.com.  Be sure to check them out if you have not already seen them.

I worked pretty hard to get some bird photographs at photo blinds in Davis Mountain State Park.  None appear here as the construction of the blinds is not conducive to natural habitat photography.  By that I mean that the blinds are built around feeding stations which are set at just about the  proper distance for 400 – 500 MM lenses.  However, you cannot keep the feeders out of many of the images.  The more natural perches the birds use to come and go from the feeders are for the most part well out of the reasonable reach of my equipment.  However, I did get in a lot of practice with moving birds and feel much more confident in getting quality images when presented with the right environment.

In between our winter travels and after, I have spent a good bit of time making improvements to the motorhome and correcting some long standing maintenance deficiencies.  As I write this, the motorhome is just about ready to go for our spring and summer adventure 2015 edition.  We have a new television in the front of the motorhome.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the old one except that it was a tube type and jutted out about six inches into the living space.  That doesn’t seem like a long way unless you are watching the steps as you enter the motorhome and then stand straight up at the top step and bang your head on the television.  That exact thing has happened to many a guest and once or twice to me.  By removing the tube type unit and replacing it with a flat screen we not only removed a safety hazard, but increased the size and picture quality of our television.  It was a fun project.

We plan to leave this spring on or about May 7.  Our route to Yellowstone will be much different than in previous years.  We plan to go west to Phoenix, Arizona to visit friends and family then turn north and try to visit some of the national parks we have never seen in Utah.  Our exact route will depend on several factors such as weather and time spent along the way.  We have a reservation in Gardiner, Montana for June 1.

Finally, as closeout to this way too long a post allow me a few more words to describe my new business venture.

I officially started Frank Madia Photography this winter.  I have several reasons for making this move.  The focus of the business is to produce photographs of the natural world in as much as I am capable of doing.  By venturing into the business world I hope to increase my exposure within the photographic community and the conservation movement.  It is my worry that as a species we have taken advantage of our environment for too many centuries and we are “using it up” at an exceptional rate.  If we don’t make great strides to reverse many of man’s activities we will ultimately destroy the planet leaving it in such a state as to cause the remaining humans to wonder why they exist in such a horrible place.  By making photographs and then hopefully selling copies of them I hope to pay forward by donating a major portion of my earnings to those organizations with established positive track records for conservation.  My intention is to help organizations on local and global levels if I can.

In order for me to have any impact I need to get my work into the public’s hands.  Therefore, as a first step I have teamed with a fulfillment company, Fine Art America, as a method to gain exposure and to market some of my work. There are multiple links from FrankMadiaPhotography.com to my page on Fine Art America’s website.  I encourage my readers to visit the sales site and to pass the word along to everyone in your personal address books to help me grow as a business and as a financial supporter of the planet.

Making this move has been a labor of love.  I feel strongly about my goals and I feel I have some pretty good images to market.  I knew I needed a sharp website in order to get noticed and keep people’s attention.  I also knew I had no idea how to build a site.  Therefore, I hired a pro in the form of iWebCrafter.com.  Howard Sander and I have spent many an hour on the phone talking web design from all sorts of points.  He listened to my objectives and desires for the visual appearance and I listened and read tons about the parts of the website you don’t get to see.  It is much of the latter that should hopefully improve my exposure and help me expand beyond my current circle of family and friends.  I could not be happier with the results of Howard’s and my efforts to design and build this website.  It remains a work in progress and over the next several months there will be improvements I am certain of that.

So, I have a business, I have a website, all I need now are customers and a lot of them.  Help me expand my circle and I promise to write less and share more photos in future posts.

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