A Cab Ride Over Donner Pass

A Cab Ride Over Donner Pass

BA Productions

Format: DVD (factory pressed disc)

Length: 4 hours

Time Period: contemporary era

Location: Roseville- Sparks

Source: Donner Rails/ BA

MSRP: 44.95

Cab ride aficionados may find their ultimate long player, with this release.

Travel aboard Union Pacific # 6352. This is an EMD SD60M. Manifest freight leaving Roseville Yard. The train will cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Travel the line, thru Donner Pass, Truckee and onward, to Reno- Sparks, Nevada.

Three cameras were used to record the journey.  Main view is an unobstructed front porch mount. A second roving camera inside the cab. A third mounted outside, and facing rearward. Some scenic aerial footage is included. High quality, broadcast level equipment assures a fine picture.

There is a chapter menu, with a twist. A route map serves as the chapter menu! Ingenious method to hop around the Overland Route.

Narration is present at the beginning of the program. It serves to set-up the show. History of the line is reviewed. After the narrative is finished, no more talking is heard. All information is conveyed via onscreen graphics. Numerous pop-ups contain historical information. Other displays have: milepost  location, track speed, severe grades, and more!.

Presentation is different from any other Donner Rails program. BA Productions has a unique combination of elements. The earlier shows from Donner usually contain a special approach as well. While the cab ride is finely filmed, it does lack the magic of the other shows. Was expecting the crew to be heard. See, the insider knowledge is a huge part of those other shows. Here, it is strictly train sounds. That creates a lengthy experience.

However, for those who must see every mile of this route- it is found here. Let’s take a look…

                                            Nice example of one of the graphics.

Engineer Mike Duncan is seen, receives tower radio clearance to depart Roseville. This will be the last piece of vocal information heard.

Another set of onscreen information. Thorough and frequently used to viewers benefit.

                                                     Live Train Cam.

There is a wealth of historical background presented, as we traverse the route.

This represents a fairly typical view on the ride. much curving trackage and the front view.

One more screen with additional info. You will be well informed, if a bit talk starved.

The roving camera does look out the window, once in a while.

Further up the line. CTC, single track and concrete ties.

             Live Train Cam is always ready. Here the train exits a snowshed.

The train and your trip continues to it’s conclusion. Donner Summit, Donner Lake, Truckee and right into downtown Reno. At 4 hours, this may best be enjoyed in stages.

A broadcast quality picture does give an excellent visual presentation. The lack of human discussion is where the program felt a little flat. Compare this to the rest of the BA catalog. It just doesn’t have that usual dose of extra, magical ingredients.

If the original Central Pacific, and early Transcontinental history is of interest, check their Hidden Wonder of the World program. That show is reviewed here, as well.

This cab ride is nicely done, and informative. By the way, the scenery is gorgeous!

Rating: 4 Stars

Steam Over Donner

Steam Over Donner

BA Productions

Format: DVD

Length: 54 minutes + previews

Time Period: 1999

Locations: Sparks, Truckee, Donner Pass, Colfax, Soda Springs, Roseville Yard, Railfair ’99 and much more..

Sources: Film crews at 40 locations.

MSRP: 24.95

Here we have two famous Union Pacific steam locomotives. UP 844 and UP 3985 are the co-stars in this film from 1999. The Northern (844) and Challenger (3985), are doubleheaded in a fantrip to Railfair 1999. This is seen in a broadcast quality show. Natural, environmental live audio transports viewers to the scene. You can hear some occasional  helicopter noise and crowd noise. The locomotive sounds are dominant. Mainly, you hear the train sounds, unobstructed as the engines traverse the route.

                                    Actual screenshots from this program.

There is a narrator, who sets up some scenes. Cuts to actual Union Pacific personnel add an inside perspective throughout the program.

Bob Krieger is an Engineer on 3985. He has interesting commentary. Mr. Kreiger is a wealth of information and personal experience, which really helps make the program work so well.

Alan Shelly offers an insightful, and personal viewpoint. He was a Cab Forward Fireman.

No extras on this show. That is maps, chapter menu, or hidden chapter access. Given this an older production, that will have to do. It does not detract from the presentation. A single basic introductory map shows the general area.

The old Southern Pacific/ Central Pacific route is the mainline over Donner Pass. The special excursion train does have some unexpected difficulty on the trip.

                                           Northern 844 is the lead locomotive.

Union Pacific Challenger 3985 is the second loco in this lash-up. Diesel UP9460 is behind the steam engines for additional power. Those dynamic brakes will come in handy.

Much to the Engineer’s chagrin,the train has a big problem, while in a tunnel. The crew stops at Norden . The engineers convey the story of what happened at Tunnel 41.

Spectacular scenery provides the perfect setting for this outing. Even in the month of May, snow is on the mountain.

Cinematography is excellent. Those 40 locations do take viewers along this wonderful journey. There are many vantage points with a nice variety of views. Close-ups, onboard, scenic wonder shots, with crowds, or isolated in the wilderness. You will be entertained.

Sequences like this inside a tunnel shot, are an element of what sets a BA Productions show into a class by itself.

The towns along the way offer more views of the passing train. It is a great looking consist with solid UP colors. Dome cars and a tail car sporting an open rear platform give that vintage vibe!

This train was going to California with a dual purpose mission. First stop was to rededicate Roseville Yard. A muti-million dollar renovation had been deemed worthy of the special visit. Richard K. Davidson, UP President is viewed speaking at the dedication.

Railfair 99 was the second destination for the steam train.

Steve Lee is a household name among railfans. He is Locomotive Engineer on 844. Mr. Lee did serve as the head of the UP Steam Program for years. See BA Productions title called, Big Steam 844 for much more from Steve Lee.

The 844 had a mechanical problem. Steve explains the problem and action plan for repair. So, the 844 is towed in the train on return to Cheyenne. A diesel leads the train on the return. The 3985 is still operating and supplies a good head of exhaust plummage.

The return trip does present the train in a different light. Here there are a prevalent amount of natural audio and musical  interlude scenes. This portion is very much like the current BA Productions releases. Speaking of that, the whole show has a similar overall style, that match well with the documentary type show. In many ways, this resembles a PBS style program. Compare with the newer Big Steam 844 and see how the elements have been used to an even greater level of integration.

Steam Over Donner is an enjoyable look at two magical steam locomotives. The high quality film, fine audio and employee commentary, do result in an engaging show.

Steam fans, UP nuts, Railfans and anyone with an interest in railroading, will find this an entertaining and informative show.

Rating: 5 Stars

Winter Rails Over Donner: Day of the Spreader

Winter Rails Over Donner: Day of the Spreader

Donner Rails/ BA Productions

Format: DVD

Length: 60 minutes

Time Period: 1998- 2006

Location: Donner Pass Route

Source: Donner Rails

MSRP: 29.95

Donner Rails has several titles about Donner Pass operations. This one specializes on a large piece of equipment used to clear heavy snowfall. That is called ‘The Spreader’. In this program snow removal is the basis for seeing the spreader in action.

In fact, the Donner Rails company shot over 35 hours of film! This was done in a six year time period. This one hour show, has some highlights from the cache of raw footage.


The overview of snow removal also includes a detailed chapter menu with: Flanger, Spreader, Norden, Derailment and Spreader Ride. A preview section is also listed on the main menu, along with play program.


Crackling Union Pacific radio traffic transports us into the world of ‘Snow Service’. We are in the cab of an operating spreader, in a heavy snowstorm…Stylish introduction.


An informative narrator will guide us and outline a hefty portion of information. Regular Union Pacific Railroad employees, also play large roles in explaining the tasks involving snow removal. Some 2003 footage shows Southern Pacific GP38-2 units with UP renumbering. The 2000 horsepower GP38 units are specially equipped for the tough assignment.


Viewers who have seen other Donner/ BA shows will see some familiar faces from other shows. All of the employees are knowledgeable. They freely share stories and information. You are missing out, if you have never heard this style of commentary. It is major, ‘inside access’. Engineers, Conductors, Snow Equipment Operators/ Crews, Foreman, Track Workers, Managers, Heavy Equipment Operators, and a retiree or two, really move the show along. In this feature, they all have experience in ‘ Snow Service’. This is a volunteer service. Those men are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to keep the lines open.


Spreaders have two 18 foot wings on each side. They have special windows that appear to be taken off an ocean liner. In fact, they are the same! Special Porthole, whirring glass keeps the windows clean, in any weather. The spreaders are comparable in size to the locomotives. So, you can see- they are very large pieces of equipment.


The Spreader is highly interesting to watch. Many different views show us how the spreader works. The spreader trains are seen in various weather conditions. Day and nighttime scenes reveal the around the clock operations. Teamwork is essential to clearing the tracks. Sometimes men are seen lighting fires on frozen turnouts. In general, co-operating with other snow removal equipment operators, all have their roles. This goes right to the trackworkers with shovels!


Derailment does have a spreader train in difficulty. Locomotives and the spreader are on the ground. Snow is falling rapidly. The CAT bulldozers and 4×4 crews rush over to assist. A big, front end loader and more heavy equipment works all night to rerail the train. Track gangs fix the rails. A 12 hour job! Normal hazard of snow removal.


Cab ride has the viewer riding on the spreader. Amazing, to see the amount of snow the wing can move!


An artistic sequence focuses on the spectacular winter wonderland in the Sierra Nevadas. This conclusion has the: artful cinematography, relaxing music, and employee commentary, that is further developed in later BA productions shows.


This is another excellent release from Donner Rails/ BA Productions. Brendan Compton is the man behind the camera. He directs the show. Even though this one is a few years old, it has many of the earmarks of a Brendan Compton program. Everything included here, is as much fun as the more recent shows. An outstanding presentation!

Rating: 5 Stars

Rotaries: Avalanche on the Mountain

Rotaries: Avalanche on the Mountain (Part 1)

BA Productions

Format: DVD

Length: One Hour +, also has previews.

Time Period: 2011

Locations: Roseville to Truckee

Source: BA Productions

MSRP: 29.95

BA Productions has been releasing some fantastic train programs. These are some of the best productions on the market. They specialize in the Donner Pass area. Insider access and commentary from railroad employees, are hallmarks of their presentations. Great cinematography is another key element with BA.

A  few specifics about this show. The DVD has a chapter menu. A preview of Part 2 of this story is on the menu. There is a nice preview section included. On screen graphics provide additional details, as needed. There is natural audio, and some nice background music, in a balanced presentation.

As with some other BA releases, the narrative is given by Union Pacific employees.  The fascinating commentary gives us, a ‘you are there’ viewpoint.

How does this style work?

We can jump right into the lead scenes…3…2…1… now!

March 24, 2011. At Roseville, the Director Locomotive Facility, Dennis Magures informs us that Soda Springs has 200 inches of snow on the ground. A new storm is bringing another 4 to 6 feet of snow there. Also, wind speeds of 70 mph are expected. Notice, Mr. Magures is outdoors, in the weather, complete with a hardhat. Filmed in the moment and on site.

Leo Marin is the Senior Manager for the Roseville Locomotive Facility. He adds background on Rotary usage and weather knowledge. The weather conditions are deteriorating outside. His comfortable office is a contrast.

Operating Snow Service equipment is shown. They having a difficult time, trying to keep up with the heavy snowfall. Commentary and scenes bounce between those operations and Roseville management. Fast paced and sharp editing keep us in the moment.

The point is, a railroad is seen at work. Whatever and wherever the action is happening will be on the viewscreen.

Back to the Flanger Train. Talk about mountains of snow. Onboard that train, the crew discusses calling for the Rotaries….WHOA!……………. AVALANCHE!!!!

Radio chat indicates the train is buried by the avalanche. The crew will have to exit via the windows…

Back at Roseville, more Snow Service employees discuss their backgrounds, and why they became involved in these sometimes, extremely demanding positions.

Authentic radio traffic gives the updates on the avalanche situation.

Snow Service Engineer Mark Fagley describes his experience with the avalanche. Still photos reveal the sheer force of the snow upon the marooned train. That train is buried in the snow. Yes, it is time for the rotaries.

The Rotary train is dispatched and viewed as it moves, up the hill. An impessive little train. Doubled ended with a pair of rotary plows. Each rotary is coupled to an F7B power unit. Two SD90MAC locomotives have some serious horsepower for the ultimate snowfighting solution. A steam whistle from the lead rotary, harkens back to an earlier era.

The train has to pause at Colfax. A tree is down and the line is blocked further up. Leo Marin is back with us, and outdoors now. His presence here, demonstrates the importance of this operation and the route availability.

Baxter is where the rotary begins it’s formidable task of clearing the line. This is record breaking snowfall! Action is continuous. This snow removal train runs carefully, through the dark night. You will hear the F7B engine at work, as it supplies power to the rotary. Both the steam whistle and in more critical spots, an airhorn is used for greater volume.

Natural, environmental audio has the viewer onsite, witnessing the event.

Nighttime operations alone, are worth the price of admission!

At Cisco, this rotary rescue train encounters the stranded Flanger train. Conditions are serious. Inside the rotary, the crew is working hard to clear the avalanche. CAT bulldozers and UP Spreaders, are overwhelmed by the severe storm. The Rotary train gets into some trouble.

BA captures some incredible scenes of the rotary at work. Railroad employee commentary keeps us advised on the progress, or lack of it, as the journey proceeds. The battle is evident of man versus the mountain. Mother nature is swinging hard. The men fight steadily. The line must be cleared.

Rotaries: Avalanche On The Mountain is an amazing story. Dedicated Union Pacific people, at all levels, ensure the route gets back into service. This is a one of a kind program. The in depth documentary has a never before seen viewpoint. The appeal will reach beyond the usual railfans. Anyone and everyone, can enjoy this show.

An engaging, enjoyable modern train video, with fascinating employee commentary. Photography is nothing short of outstanding.

This release is brilliant, and should be at the top of anyone’s list.

Rating: 5 Stars

The Hidden Wonder of the World

The Hidden Wonder of the World

Nimbus Films

Format: DVD

Length: 35 minutes

Time Period: 2011

Locations: Sacramento, Bloomer Cut, Donner Summit and more..

Source: BA Productions

Producer: Bill George

Here is a new release from Nimbus Films. It was a surprise to receive this for a review. This train video program, is an unusual one. A modern day treasure hunt. We seek the remaining portions of the original Transcontinental Railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad was the western railroad, who had the task to build eastward from California. Abraham Lincoln was the US President, at the time. The scope of the search is from Sacramento to Donner Summit. Originally, the line was constructed in the 1860’s. After 150 years have passed, what could still exist?


Bill George has produced this show. He is going to be our host. A very few, abandoned railroad lines have been sought out within train videos. Those generally have a segment on an abandoned line. The Transcontinental would have to rank at the top, of any list.

Central Pacific Railroad was a historical center point of American history at that time. Who hasn’t seen the two steam engines, nose to nose, with a crowd, at Promontory Point? Throw in the ‘Golden Spike’, and this story is steeped in: major, historical creditability.

Sacramento alone was the focal point for: The Gold Rush, The Pony Express and The Transcontinental Railroad. Definitely, this search is worthy of a feature program.

BA Productions has filmed and edited the show. If you are familiar with BA, then you already are aware of the high quality of their productions. If you have not seen a BA show, they are in the top tier of train video production companies.

That being said, the level of cinematography is very high quality. Fantastic aerial photography gives some spectacular overviews of different areas. From the Sacramento cityscape, to the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this does contain beautiful scenes.


Presentation is in the PBS-style. An excellent format choice, especially for this historical based story. Guests are shown and they add much extra background. Fine music is included, and this allows for some brief musical interludes. Period photographs are used sparingly, this is a modern day look, but do give that important connection to the past.


Chris Graves is a Transcontinental historian. Knowledgeable and congenial, he acts as a guide. Mr. Graves knows the former railroad well. We will walk the old roadbed with him, and Bill George. Together, they explore some sections of the original roadbed, and tunnels, on the former Central Pacific Railroad.

The fact that this feat of construction was accomplished with hand tools and explosives, is incredible! Many Chinese workers were employed in the building of the railroad.


Nice map reference outlines the route of the original railroad. The locations are familiar to any fan of this area. Begins in old Sacramento, Roseville, Colfax to Cisco. Donner Summit is the ‘end of the line’, for this treasure hunt. Our route map reviewed, the territory defined, onward we go!

Kyle Wyatt, is a curator at the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento. Transcontinental exhibits are shown at the museum. Mr. Wyatt adds more background. Much more at the old section of the city is offered. A solid foundation is laid for the story.


Proceeding to some of the right of way near Newcastle. The line can be hiked on a ‘wide path’. Rock ballast, plus the old cut and fill work, reveal the true nature of this path. Antique telegraph poles still remain.

Auburn is the next town visited. Bloomer Cut is nearby. This section, is still used today! An interesting feature, this segues into our first tunnel. Tunnel Zero appears in good condition.

Just past Colfax, the scenery transforms into spectacular mountain vistas!

Were Chinese workers lowered in baskets, to work on the mountainside? The question of this local legendary tale is answered. We are over 1,000 feet above the American River, and its canyon.

Red Mountain is the spot where Signal Peak served as a fire lookout station, until 1934. Fine segment with a local, describing the building, and operation back in those days.

Summit Tunnel, aka: Tunnel 6 is another old tunnel. This one exceeds 1,000 feet. Completed in 1867. The rock is solid granite. Also, there are still a couple of miles with old, wooden snowsheds.


American Train Video Reviews has always provided programs containing trains in action. This historical focused show contains nearly no operating trains. A few cameos by Amtrak and Union Pacific. An odd entry on this site. Does this type of program work for railfans?

This show has many compelling attributes. Gorgeous photography that pales in comparison, with mere words to describe. A well written script, interesting subject matter, historical values and it ties everything together within the context of ‘in the modern day’.

Nimbus Films and BA Productions have given railfans an outstanding show. This could easily be broadcast to appeal to the general public. Women will like this ‘train video’. Anyone with interests ranging from: US History, Photography/ Film, to  American Railroads will find this an enjoyable program.

Rating: 5 Stars