HIGH IRON ONLINE Magazine. Issue 2, Fall-Winter, 2001
Published by Iron Horse America, Hosted by Railfan.Net
New material added to old content in Sept. 01.
Trackside Camper
On an overly rainy weekend in July of 2000, we set up an extensive caravan-like tarpaulin system over the tailgates of our pickup trucks and had a blast just watching trains and hanging out. This is just part of RailCamping.
Camping alongside the tracks may not be for everyone, and the newcomer to this manner of expanding one's railfanning experience may find sleep difficult and might be at "Camp Holiday Inn" the following night! But those who like it have a great time....
After years of staying overnight trackside, I now get to sleep without any trouble. When trains roar by I pass back out by the third or fourth car. I find that staying trackside 24 hours a day when railfanning lets me get a better feel for the operations of a particular railroad's stretch of mainline. It also is a way to simply enjoy the sights and sounds of the railroad without scrambling to get pictures or video. Not that night shots can't be interesting, just look at the image galleries of this site to see what can be done after dark. Sound also travels better at night so that can make staying trackside interesting.

With this section of High Iron Online we hope to convince those of you who quit railfanning after sunset to give this extension of the hobby a chance and to give tips, tricks, and ideas (as well as stories) to everyone. For those of you who do camp trackside feel free to send us any interesting anecdotes, photos or ideas to share with your fellow Nocturnal Ferroequinologists. We are always looking for good ideas, locations, recipes etc. Enjoy.

Two pals, my wife and I soak up the fire and moonlight alongside the BNSF mainline through Washington's Cascades in July of 1997. This was the best night on our summer, cross country, railfanning road trip from the east coast. We had hot bar-b-que and soup, with trains as our dinner theater, under the full moon. Now that we live out in Washington, we camp here often.
On almost the exact same night of July, this time in the year 2000, I am again camping at this spot near the Nason Creek Bridge on the BNSF main. My wife was sleeping in the back of the truck while I caught a westbound passing me, my fire, and the full moon. Ironically, we were on another cross-country roadtrip, but this time, from our west coast home.
Here are just a few quick ideas to help those of you who get out into these cold nights as we head through winter:

#1. If you aren't warm enough in your sleeping bag, at all costs avoid the temptation to breathe into your bag and cover your face and head. This will be okay for a while and may even let you sleep, but after enough time the humid air from your lungs will have moistened your bag inside enough to start chilling your body down, and this time you won't get back to sleep. A "Mummy" style bag is best in cold weather, and it should be rated to a temperature colder than what you may expect to run into in the region you are in and the altitude too. ** What you can do to improve your comfort: Put on clean clothes before bed but don't over-layer. Most sleeping bags are designed to work by returning your own heat to you. If you wear too much there is no heat to return and the bag won't work as well, and dirty clothes have oils and moisture in them that can leach heat from you. Second is good long underwear. It is more expensive but Polypropelene, unlike cotton, won't leach out heat if it is dirty or slightly moist.

#2. This one depends on where you sleep; tent, in a car, or the back of a truck or s.u.v. (Not out under the stars though) You can nearly eliminate condensation from the humid air (breath) in your space with a single burning candle. If you are in a tent you will want to go to an outfitting store and buy a "Candle Lantern" that can hang about 10 inches from the ceiling and side-walls, so it won't burn the tent or get knocked over. Very cheap "tea lights" can be bought by the box at bargain stores and the come in their own little tin. A couple of these can burn all humidity out of the air in an enclosed space and even with vent flaps or windows partly open they can warm a space by nearly 10 degrees!

#3. Don't eat a lot before climbing into bed. As one's metabolism shifts to begin digestion your body can cool down. The rest is obvious....

#4. The food you choose to bring should be something you don't have to waste fuel on thawing out. Canned goods are great most of the time, but in winter they can freeze, they are heavy, and they add bulky trash. Most outdoor sporting stores and even some supermarkets carry extensive selections of dehydrated meals. These are very tasty when it's cold out and they are easy to prepare. I also recommend powdered lemonade, which is as good served hot in winter as it is served cold on a hot summer day. If you bring fuel and a portable stove don't forget firepaste for the stove. This stuff can be used to heat up a frozen stove that would otherwise never fire-up. Otherwise a water filter and wide-mouth bottles to store river or melted snow water in, dehydrated meals and some dry granola to snack on is all you need.

E-mail me for more ideas, my food preferences, or if you have any ideas to share.

#5. If you are on foot, (Packing) be sure to have somebody who knows where you planned to go, and then follow your itinerary. That way if something bad were to happen, (and in the winter bad things are very possible), your location can be reported. Even though you may be along a railroad, where train crews can see you, you are inherently isolated if you get away from civilization. Trains pass too quickly for the crews to know if you are in trouble if something unexpected has happened while you trek along. With that in mind a CB radio, Cel. phone and flares aren't a bad idea to have in your first aid kit. And bring along lots of extra chemical hand warmers. They could sustain body heat while you wait.

#6. If you plan to shoot pictures or video, do not let your cameras or film warm up in your shelter. If it is cold out, keep them cold, so they do not get frosty, but remove batteries, and keep them in your pockets until you need them. This will keep them warm, and make them last longer. This rule applies equally to video cameras and tape. If you are driving around, while winter railfanning and camping, keep the gear in an unheated part of the vehicle.

Thats all for now. More to come. Send in your ideas or comments. E-Mail:

Since the theme of this issue includes winter trekking along the tracks, I felt that this shot of my Bro-in-law Don and our friend Dave was fitting. The three of us were packing along the tracks in the Youghiogheny (Yock-a-gany) River Gorge, east of Connellsville PA, for three days, and tenting on berms along the CSX main. It was a memorable trip, that included mostly whiteout snow on the second day and 50 degree sun on the third. We packed-in all of our food dry, and filtered and bottled river water as we hiked. The trains were sparse on the snowy day, but plentiful on the last. We had hoped to get good wintery shots in remote locations that most railfans never get to.
A CN freight races past my friend Greg and me again. We are camping between the mainlines of CN and CPRail at one of the best spots I know of; Newtonville Ont. Canada. The parallel mainlines are about 100 feet apart in this rural meadow, and both are fairly busy, so restful sleep is not too easy...but who cares.
One nice feature of this spot is that on still nights you can listen to eastbound trains for about a half an hour before they appear, as they work along the rolling Lake Ontario countryside.
TOP 10 RAILCAMPING SPOTS SO FAR: (Reachable by vehicle) In no Particular order. Just an opinion.
Shawnee Jct. Wyoming. Isolation and sheer volume of traffic make this a great area. Can park on berm above track level if driving in 4x4. Nonstop trains. About a half hour east of Interstate 25. Lots of distributed power now.

Big 10 Curves. Colorado. Semi-isolated spot west of Denver overlooking reverse curves that get UP mainline off of the foothills and onto mountainsides from Denver. Park on ledge over tracks just downhill from upper horse shoe curve. Gate along access road could get locked?

Iron Ridge above Austin. Montana. Remote spot on fill near a bypassed tunnel lets you watch trains in valley below as they climb through 1 horse shoe then up to your spot through another. Another gate, rarely locked. MRL Grade boasts great helper action out of Helena MT.

West Portal Sand Patch Tunnel. Pennsylvania. Park on top of west portal of mile long tunnel to look out into giant rock cut where trains roar over mountain summit. Great light and sound action at night. Tower nearby.

Nichols Road, Newtonville Ontario Can. This rural farm road crosses the parallel mainlines of CP and CN, on twin wooden overpasses. There are grassy roads in each direction between the mains. Isolation and lots of trains with great night sound. Mosquitos are bad in late spring early summer.

Silver Creek. New York. Another spot like Newtonville Ontario, where you can camp on a grassy knoll between busy mainlines. About 32 miles west of Buffalo NY along NS and ex-Conrail now CSX mains. Occasionally the NS cops act like dicks about being there. Heavy action and easy access with nearby store.

Cisco Bridge. British Columbia. A public access road leads to a gravel road that crosses the CN main the ends at a cliff. From the cliff you look out into a gorge where CP and CN cross each other and the river gorge on spectacular bridges. CP has tunnel too. Busy action, remote spot, easy access, great view.

Hermosa Tunnels. Wyoming. This pair of twin tunnels is at one of the rolling summits of the UP transcontinental main. Very remote, and very busy. Great rock cuts at each end of tunnel. Cold and Windy.

Pleasant Valley HorseShoe. Oregon. On UP again this long narrow valley abruptly ends and the main u-turns to climb further into Oregon's blue mountains. Can park on muddy berm above horse shoe near paired signals and watch action as trains climb through the valley. Can be busy, but has frequent lulls.

Tehachapi Loop, Walong. California. Maybe the most famous railroad spot in the world. Somewhat remote, but people always around to watch trains, you can park, in any kind of vehicle, on a dirt berm near the east signals of the loop siding. Unlimited photo opportunity here and heavy traffic. A must see for all railroad nuts. Go.


Oregon is home to the high, north/south ridge of mountains known as the Cascades. Winding through these mountains is the ex-Southern Pacific mainline between the northwest and the California coast. The line winds back and forth 3 times in the same valley to ascend over the mile high pass. Horse shoe curves, high trestles, snow and rock sheds and over twenty tunnels make this one of the most interesting railroads in America. It has many great camping spots trackside. One is on a high cliff at the rockshed near tunnel twelve. This wide ledge looks into the columns of the "half tunnel", while looking out to the valley where the tracks wind through the woods hundreds of feet below. There are wide spots at many of the tunnels, and the locals have a formal campsite at "Fields" on a ledge over the tracks with a fire pit, at the midpoint of the siding there. This railroad is the railcamper's mecca.

On hilltop above Allard Horseshoe on the Tehachapi grade in CA. On foot or in 4x4 Low gear you drive up the mountain southwest of the curve until you reach the top. From there trains can be watched for over an hour as they climb the grade through nonstop curves. As far as I can tell I am the first to ever camp or railfan from here, bu the view is worth it. Drive Carefully. Gate for access road from Bealville can get locked.

Tent camping on terraced cuts around White Clay Curve on Crawford Hill in Nebraska. Can drive to curve up farm road as long as gates are kept closed behind you, or illegally drive down from Belmont Summit on RR access road. Park off RR property along farm road at old crossing then hike up to cliff over tracks. Weather can be good here so sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag is possible, but I would recommend a cot if you do, because of snakes and ants. The cliffs provide an amazing view of the lower horse shoe and sound is incredible as trains struggle up the grade.

On a berm halfway between Cajon station and the Cajon Summit California, there is a railfan maintained flower garden in the desert. The hilltop is smack between the UP and both BNSF mainlines on the steepest portion of the busy grades. Great photo spots abound and the peaceful garden is a nice diversion. Somewhat isolated; Offroaders and Railfans.

In the deep Potomac River Gorge east of Cumberland Maryland lies the Magnolia Cutoff, where the somewhat busy CSX main rolls through 4 tunnels, crosses two trestles and countless rock cuts and fills. There are dozens of great camping spots in this 8 mile stretch but the most popular is at the west portal of Randolph Tunnel. The spot has a wide flat area for vehicles and tents, a fire pit and lots or photo spots. great sound as trains work though the valley.

Washington's Stevens Pass on the BNSF has some of America's most beautiful scenery, and you can camp trackside at many locations including the long Cascade Tunnel and several shorter tunnels. By far the most popular camp spot for the locals is Gaynor. There is a trestle, and short tunnel near this wide spot along the main and an old track alignment takes you further from the train noise in the Nason Creek Canyon, to some nice camping spots in the trees. Peaceful.

Under a distant full moon, my friend Josh and I play a dice game while Dave a.k.a. SmartGuy listens to his walkman. We are enjoying a warm, windy night along the BNSF mainline in the Columbia River Gorge. We ate a very satisfying meal of Picante-seared, lowfat kielbasa, and chili-noodle- tomato soup.
CAMP KITCHEN SUPPLIES: Store in a shallow Rubbermaid RoughTote plastic container.

Coleman Featherlite type stove, unless you have room for a big one. One saucepan. Two small frypans. Four plastic plates, bowls and cups. (Lexan if you can get 'em.) Four sets of lexan utensiles. A plastic spatula. A sharp knife. Can opener. Fuel and firepaste for stove. Matches AND lighter. Antibacterial hand sanitizer for the cook. Small bottle of dish soap. A plastic scrubber. Lots of paper towels. Salt, Pepper, and Always: Durkey RedHot sauce. A new addition to the camp box is a small butane torch from Bernzomatic.This little item has a spark starter and can make lighting a stove, campfire or anything else a breeze in high wind, cold or rain. It should eliminate the need for firepaste too.

New "must have" tool for road trips: Coleman has started selling the "Extreme" line of plastic coolers this past year. They guarantee that ice will stay icy for 5 days in up to 90 degree temps. I bought one of these silver bad dudes just before summer and I will tell you......bullshit! But it does work about a thousand times better than any other cooler I have seen. They must have done thier tests with just ice in the box and never opened it during the five days. If the weather is hot and you open it several times per day you can expect to add ice and drain every other, to every third day. My old (and expensive) cooler had to have new ice more than daily if the sun was out and the temp was over 80 degrees. I recommend this product highly, and it makes a good stool or seat too.
Hearty Cheap Food Recipes:


Combine one can of No-Bean chili, (I prefer Nally brand, but Hormel will suffice) with one package of TopRamen noodle soup, (Beef Flavor), and One can of condensed Tomato soup, with its requisite can of water, plus a 1/2 can more for the noodles to soak up. Add 1 teaspoon ground, black pepper (tablespoon for more kick), and mix thoroughly. (For even heartier meal; Can add a 1/4 pound piece of Kielbasa if it is chopped small and pre-fried to boil out the fat.) The dehydrated noodles should be broken up before cooking. Heat over medium-high flame for about 10 minutes or until noodles are soft, and liquid bubbles. Stir continuously during cooking.

EAT! Mmmmmm Mmmmmm Gooood.

Serves 3 railfans well for about 3 bucks, but don't forget to have plenty of Saltines, and some Durkey RedHot sauce.

Pan will be a little oily, so cleaning will require hot water and a bit of soap, and some paper towels to wipe out.


(This is SmartGuy's favorite). Supplies: Frozen white chicken breasts, Bottle of Durkey RedHot sauce, Rolls or heavy bread, lettuce, blue cheese or ranch salad dressing, frying pan with a bit of butter or cooking spray on a stove.

Breaded chicken patties or even chunk chicken from a can will also work for this recipe. The canned chicken is especially good if you won't be serving this meal immediately on a trip in hot weather. That is a good reason to buy the frozen breasts too, to keep them fresh longer, but have them thawed by cooking time.

Prepare sandwiches by thoroughly cooking chicken in fry pan, then put in a plastic bowl with a heavy layer of RedHot sauce. During the "bowl" process, you can split and heat the roll in the still hot frying pan. Place another bowl upside down over the chicken and shake to completely saturate meat with RedHot sauce. You can substitute other types of hot sauce, but RedHot is the best, and it does not have any fat or oils or unnecessary additives in it.

Now place chicken on heated roll half and pour on extra sauce from bowl if sloppy sandwiches are your thing. Add a glop of dressing, and a big leaf of lettuce (lettuce is an option. Can be a pain when camping), add other half of the roll and EAT. Pretty spicy, you may need to quench the thirst you'll get with......another sandwich!

Makes ya want to get out tonight doesn't it?
Please send your Ideas, photos and comments. Maybe you can share some great places, stories and thoughts.
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