The Flanger Cab Ride

The Flanger Cab Ride                 

BA Productions/ Donner Rails

Format: DVD

Length: 2 Hours

Time Period: 2004

Sources: Multiple Cameras

MSRP: 24.95

Donner Pass is legendary for the amount of annual snowfall. Railroad technology has advanced over many decades of snow removal there. This unique ride aboard a Union Pacific snow service locomotive is an experience!


A specially equipped EMD GP38-2 locomotive is on the point. Union Pacific #580 is an ex: Southern Pacific diesel, with UP reporting marks, patched on. An additional GP38 and the flanger itself constitute our snow removal train.

1At first glance, the flanger seems like a high riding caboose. There are special blades mounted underneath, are what clears the snow from the rails. Experienced ‘ Snow Service’ railroad personnel get the job accomplished. Day or night, the tracks must be kept clear. Communication with the flanger gets the blade faced properly. Also, the blade must be raised at turnouts.

4The specially equipped GP38 has some custom additions, designed for snow removal. There are circular, porthole style windows. These are adopted from ocean going ships. They turn at high speed, keeping the glass clear. Surprisingly, the main camera has a view through the engineers window! The viewpoint remains a clean one.

6bbAn icebreaker can be raised to break overhead ice in tunnels and snowsheds. The icebreaker can be easily seen on the exterior shots. Windshield screens can be present.


Multiple cameras have been employed to give a variety of views. There are numerous scenery shots, which are spectacular. Some rearward facing looks at the flanger throwing the snow are great. You can get a sense of the elevations, when that snow is going over the side.

5Audio is all natural, environmental sounds. Most of the time, we are inside the cab of the GP38. The engineer and the normal operating sounds are heard. Radio traffic, automated hotbox detectors, and some talk among the crew.  Outside shots can include the flanger noises, as it plows snow. Yes, the airhorn is heard.

mapThere is a unique chapter menu. It is arranged to look like a route map. The towns and points of interest are clickable. The map also runs both: eastbound and westbound.

emi2The roundtrip is Truckee to Emigrant Gap and return. The Donner Pass area highlights are included. Tunnel 41, Donner Lake, Soda Springs, and Norden are a few.

t41On screen graphics have more information. Besides the locations, tunnel length, speed limits and elevations are offered.

bnThis is a fascinating opportunity to sit in the engineer’s chair. You can even see most of the signal aspects, as they appear to the crew. Some opposing UP freights are met. One freight, gets a special look, from aboard the snow train.

580At 2 hours, this is a long player. The route is thoroughly covered. Filmed in daylight, the scope of the operation can be felt. The flanger will constantly patrol the line during snowfall.

6There is some narration at the start of the program. Once we get aboard the locomotive, it is non-narrated. The engineer talks enough to keep us apprised of what is happening. An example is when he discusses the signal aspects that the train is running under.

By the way, most of what I have written about snow service, was learned from watching other BA Productions programs. Took time to explain a few things that are not addressed within this show. If this type of video is appealing, check their other releases The Spreader Part One is worth a look. All of the BA Productions are scheduled for reviews on ATVR. Some previews are at the end of this disc.

ddaThis cab ride is a memorable one. It does run long. That length can be good, for those that desire a complete roundtrip. Others can use the menu to bounce around the program. You can even opt for the eastbound or westbound trip.

This program will appeal to the serious railfan. Southern Pacific and Union Pacific fans, will  get an extra kick out of seeing their railroad fighting snow.

An enjoyable train video to have in the collection.

Rating: 4 Stars


Big Steam 844: Western Heritage Tour to California

Big Steam 844: Western Heritage Tour to California

BA Productions

Format: DVD

Length: 1 hour 5 minutes

Time Period: April- May 2009

Locations: Truckee, Donner Pass, Roseville, Feather River Canyon, Keddie Wye

Source: BA Productions

MSRP: 29.95

Union Pacific 844 is a fan favorite. Flagship of the Fleet, as noted on the DVD case, is an accurate description. The Union Pacific personnel sure convey their pride in working on the 844. The Western Heritage Tour of 2009, is the event presented here. BA Productions had 3 additional camera crews to record the action. Filmed in high definition for maximum viewing pleasure.

A narrator is present on this show. There are railroad employees with their commentary. Even some railfans talk about it, at trackside. Some various music backgrounds are intertwined within the show. A map outlines the journey. Sparks, NV.,Truckee to Roseville, and onwards to Feather River Canyon. There are also, the points in-between. Nevada, California and Utah were the states with the 8 city itinerary.

There is a chapter main menu and some previews on this disc. The mostly translucent BA logo is displayed throughout this show. It does not intrude upon the screen, it is just there.

The locomotive is examined in a high level of detail. Interior cab views give a nice look at the controls. Engineer Steve Lee has to put some physical effort to operate the steam era controls. A few stats: 23000 gallons of water, 6000 gallons of fuel oil, and a weight of 454 tons. Those main drivers are 80 inches. This was built in 1944. It was the last steam engine built for Union Pacific. The 4-8-4 is a Northern class locomotive. It has never been retired. In 1960, this locomotive was changed to promotional purposes and saved from the scrapper’s torch.

We time travel back to a 1999 excursion. Two double-headed steamers pulled a failed diesel helper out of the 2 mile long tunnel 41. Later, the 844 locomotive had a mechanical failure and was out of service, pending rebuilding.

Watching the engineer and fireman work in the cab is intriguing. They work as team, as if in a partnership with this massive steam locomotive.

BA shows have outstanding balance to the programs. There are many elements that go into a fine show like this. We have much energy, from the people and the train. Sometimes the audio fades to silence, except the train sounds, or some relaxing music. Likewise, with the cinematography. The many various views look at the train. Additional views in the locomotive cab, and from the train, give us a comprehensive experience. An enticing use of combinations.

It is quite mesmerizing to see and hear the train as it traverse along the route, through some very scenic areas. An occasional graphic will keep us advised of a location. That steam whistle reverberates in the mountains, and sounds wonderful!

Leaving Truckee the 844 and two heritage painted MAC diesels go through the Donner Pass region. Snow is still present at the higher elevations. Fantastic sights of: train, tunnels, snowsheds and gorgeous scenic vistas. A very memorable chapter in this show.

This is top shelf production, all across the board. It could easily be shown on television. It has a smooth feel, in common with high quality PBS style shows.  Yet, it is a much different type of show, than more traditional 844 train video programs.

The people do make an important difference. Listening to much of their commentary is as engaging as watching the wealth of great train footage. Individual stories and hearing how they are working at mutual goals, help us to understand what makes the UP steam program a success. Steve Lee is the lead spokesman. UP has a number of men that are equally as interesting to hear in the show. Any viewer will gain from this knowledgeable team.

Big Steam 844 is in a class by itself. The classic steam engine as seen, in a contemporary film.  An artistic and intelligent program. In a word, splendid!

Rating: 5 Stars

Winter Rails Over Donner: Night of the Flanger

Winter Rails Over Donner : Night of the Flanger

BA Productions / Donner Rails

Length: 1 hour

Time Period: 2005 release

Locations: Donner Pass area

Source: BA Productions

Winter Rails Over Donner Series

This was the first volume in a series of three, by Donner Rails. They are now sold by BA Productions. This show was 3 years in the making. A single DVD.


Donner Pass is a legendary winter battleground for Southern Pacific Now, into Union Pacific Railroad. This program has modern snow removal along the route. There are different pieces of specialized equipment, for this important task. The flanger and it’s customized diesel locomotives, are the prime snow fighters here. This producer has extraordinary inside access: to the employees and the special gear used to clear the lines.

The DVD has a chapter menu. Outtakes and Previews are also listed on the main menu. The three chapters are: Historical, Operations and Night of the Flanger.


Another unique presentation from Brendan Compton. His train videos are in a modern style of his own. The people on the show, are the narrators. They share their own experiences. These friendly folks, give us links to the history of the line, and how things evolved there. Often, they are smoothly segued from one to another in a seamless fashion. Some relaxing musical backgrounds are perfectly inserted in the show.


An in depth look at the snow removal process is key. Rides in the locomotive and flanger give us some wonderful viewpoints to share in the experience of snow service. Spreaders, Rotary Snowplows and Caterpillar bulldozers are seen. As advanced as snow removal has become over decades of developments, there is still some manual labor involved. We will climb down, in the middle of the night, to hand shovel snow at turnouts.


Not lacking for an experienced group of snow service specialists, some stories are shared. Of particular interest is veteran engineer Bill Toland. His hire date was in 1974. Besides being able to view him at the locomotive controls, he will offer much information and some great stories as well. Listening to him speak in the locomotive.. he is the heartbeat of the show. A knowledgeable Snow Service Engineer…. no doubt about it.

Many other ‘Snow Service’ specialists offer much to us. James Mahon, aka ‘The Bear’ is another interesting man up there. A Roadmaster at Truckee with nearly a half century of service. Rather soft spoken, an expert on the mountain and widely respected. Richard Steinheimer is the famous railroad photographer. There plenty of others with commentary.



The modern operations are a highlight of this wonderful program. Awesome views of the flanger train demonstrate the speed and volume of snow encountered. Both Southern Pacific and Union Pacific locomotives pull the flanger. John Kuehl describes old wooden flangers that he rode and more. This conductor began in 1963.

The balloon track is viewed and it’s purpose explained. Steam locomotives and rotaries are briefly seen. A cab forward in a snowstorm is one of some assorted vintage shots. UP even employs a consulting meteorologist with forecasting responsibilities, including the Overland Route.


Night operations give us a chilling cab windshield viewpoint of the snow covered right of way. All of the operation feels more intense without the reassurance of sunlight. Engineer Toland seems relaxed, yet he diligently moves his train with an SP GP38-2 engine pair, through a storm. He discusses, in detail, about operating in winter conditions. The loco has special rotating windows, that stay clear, even in a snowstorm.

Dick Shorrock is a Snow Service Conductor, hired on in 1979. He is the Conductor in the cab with Bill Toland. They are seen, working as a team. Terry Bell, the Brakeman rides in the flanger. Our train encounters ‘white out’ conditions. It has to stop for evaluation of the situation. This is full on snow clearing in a winter storm.

When daylight returns, there are some spectacular mountain views. Brendan appears to have climbed outside to get some close-ups of the plows at work.


The history of the railroad in the area is examined in a PBS style presentation..  The Roadmaster at Donner Summit ‘The Bear’ has had decades of snow service. The SP City of San Francisco is the most famous train that was trapped for 5 days. A passenger that was there and the railroaders commentary describe the event.

An extended feature on the old, wooden snowsheds is intriguing. Red Mountain Lookout and the fire problems are reviewed. Steam powered fire trains were on standby 24/ 7. A map displays the multiple locations of the fire trains.

The camaraderie of the snow service personnel are mentioned by everyone there. Ed Wiseman and Dave Bowler are management who fill in even more about this story. Check the hire date of 1959 for Ed Alexander, Engineer and Rotary Snowplow operator. They talk about the family of snow service, there are many years shared by these people.

The whole production is first class. Excellent videography with a multitude of exterior and interior views. Audio is crystal clear. The people make the show here. Plenty of action, along with the talking heads. They are an interesting group to hear.


A fascinating show of the winter operations at Donner Pass. The combinations of interviewees, historical and contemporary films are very effective. Viewers will come away with much insight from the railroaders. A basic grasp on what goes on during a winter storm at Donner Pass, can be learned from this feature.


A satisfying look at the Winter Rails Over Donner. Accessible to any viewer, railfan and otherwise. This is a great show, with the insider’s viewpoints. The show is enjoyable and leaves us wanting more of the same…

Rating: 5 Stars

Roseville to Truckee

Roseville to Truckee

BA Productions/ Donner Rails

Format: DVD

Length: 52 minutes + previews

Time Period: contemporary

Locations: Mainline- Roseville to Truckee.    Colfax, Cape Horn, Emigant Gap, Donner Pass

Source: BA Productions

MSRP: 24.95

BA Productions is producing some cutting edge, modern train videos. Donner Rails titles are now sold under the BA Productions label. Originally, this was a Donner Rails release.

The coverage is a trip from Roseville, CA. to Truckee. This presentation is quite different from what one would expect. Part documentary, part reality… it takes a few chances with it’s style. Let’s see how it works.


Roseville Yard on the Union Pacific is our starting point. A quick look at a simple map will outline the geography. Some extra maps would be helpful, but it doesn’t detract from the show. Some country style music is part of the introductory segment. For those that prefer easier listening music than more rockin’ recent releases, this show is for you.


Some locomotive servicing is performed, and the view is up-close! From this point forward, we have the ‘inside track’ on the Union Pacific’s operation of the line.

Union Pacific employees know their jobs. They will describe what is going on in a scene. An example is onboard Southern Pacific SD45 #8588. J.P. Crayne is a Hostler at Roseville. He checks the circuit breakers and explains some controls.


A brief visit to the tower, with the Yardmaster and on the ground with a switchman. The pace moves quickly.

The narrator will add information, as needed. On screen graphics denote locomotive details and locations. No chapter menu or function on this one.


Union Pacific #9288 is a General Electric model C40-8 locomotive. A 4,000 horsepower engine and was built in 1989. This is our point engine on our trip, up the hill, to Truckee!

Yes! Much of the journey will be in the cab of a locomotive, or two!

Radio chatter (and the graphic) indicates 9288 is departing Roseville with ZOACS Double Stack train. This is a priority move on the railroad. Intermodals will usually get green signals to keep these ‘hotshots’ moving. A Chicago and Northwestern unit is the trailing power. A student engineer, Chris Delgado is at the controls. Engineer George Hanson oversees his work.


Mr. Hanson does his share of talking on the trip. More from him later..


Videography is first rate. The camera will pan around to areas of interest. generally a forward looking viewpoint with a good view of the mainline trackage. We will see points of interest with views out the side windows. Locomotive controls and some watching Engineers doing their daily jobs. Surprisingly, more than one locomotive cab and crew is available to the cameraman.


Great exterior shots of scenery, which is gorgeous. Locomotive helpers are also viewed, in action. Speaking of action, this video is filled with movement. Other trains are also viewed along the Donner Pass route. Tunnels galore! Snowsheds and heavy mountains grades make for a fine show.

Soundtrack is a nice mixture of elements. Employee discussions, sparse narration, natural train sounds, and some calming piano musical interludes, create a well balanced program.


George Hanson really keeps the interest level high. He describes operating trains and has a wealth of historical information. The segments on single tracked lines that were formerly double tracked are fascinating. Why they were 2 tracks, why they were single tracked, operational advantages, and weather related disadvantages, of track number one. Do they need 2 tracks now? The man has it covered. He knows his railroad line.



Suddenly, we are transported into another Donner area train. Engineer Instructor Ted Vasquez is aboard #8141. He is in a serious mood, but keeps his cool. The situation is under control, but no guarantee. He relies on his experience as he deals with a malfunctioning diesel in his lash-up. Looks like a pair of SD90MAC’s. A helper is shoving all out, on the rear. Speed is down to around 8mph as the freight struggles upgrade. “We are in trouble”, he states. Omaha gets a report, via radio. We should be alright.. More explanation to the viewer of his judgement call.

Back to the 9288 with George Hanson. Higher elevation with some lingering snowcover. Conductor David Thorton explains track detectors and FRED. So it goes with the friendly crew. George continues with more engaging railroad talk. Other items of interest are interpolated. Lake Spaulding and Donner Lake are beauties.


Tunnels and snowsheds are abundant. At Donner summit, sunlight passes through the wooden, heavy timber entrance into tunnel. At  2 miles long, and called, The Big Hole.   Out the other end and onward to Truckee.

We detrain at Truckee. Some friendly waves from the crew, on the departing train.


A top notch presentation. It compares favorably with the recently released, The Spreader Part One. This initial release was by Donner Rails, now BA Productions, is outstanding.


Roseville to Truckee is also a pretty good one for the women. They will like the fantastic scenery, music, and some storytelling by George Hanson. Any railfan would find this a very enjoyable train video.

Rating: 5 Stars

The Spreader Snow Plow – Part One

The Spreader Snow Plow – Part One

BA Productions/ Donner Rails

Format: DVD

Length:1 hour 20 minutes

Time Period: 2009-2010

Locations: Roseville, Truckee

Source: BA Productions

MSRP: 29.95

This the first, of a two part release...

The Spreader is a unique, behind-the-scenes documentary. The presentation is in the modern form of a reality show. Unlimited access gives us an inside look at the process.

Broadcast quality picture and audio combine for first rate viewing.

There is no narrator, at all. Instead, the actual craftsmen, that are performing the work and a cast of many others, do the descriptive explanations. Managers, consultants, suppliers and outside contractors all speak on the many events that we are viewing. Additional railroad employees like veteran snow service engineer Bill Toland, offer even more commentary.

An up to date musical soundtrack, is lively and adds to the dramatic environment.   BA has a suggestion at the beginning to, Turn Up The Volume! Live audio also has running machinery and tools.

The videographer has given viewers a first class look at the project. Professionally edited and with a fast presentation, make for an enjoyable time. Here is the inside scoop. Brendan is holding the video camera and the men discuss what is happening at the time. They do all of the talking on this show. The overall effect is that you are standing along with these guys, at their workplace. They will construct, assemble, examine and problem solve on the spot. Direct and to the point, these are the actual events as they occur. Between the sights and their voices, it is hard to break away from the show.  A highly engaging program, with plenty of personality.

Union Pacific will take an old UP and an SP Jordan spreader and bring them into the Roseville, CA. facility. SPMW 4031 and 4032. The pair will be disassembled for complete rebuilding. An ambitious plan with a short window of time for completion.

This is the first volume of what will be a two part production.

Based at Union Pacific’s Roseville facility, the entire rebuilding process will be seen.There are many updates to be installed and improve upon the original design. There are numerous modifications. These will bring the elderly spreaders into the 21st century.

A parallel project, of improving tunnel clearances for double-stack trains, is also briefly included in this show. That will allow those trains to use the Sierra Nevada mainline instead of the Feather River Canyon line.

There is a tight timetable. Beginning in September, 2009. The 1st target completion date is by Thanksgiving. The absolute deadline is December 31, 2009. A must, get it done date. This equates to 12 hour days, 6 days a week!

Some of the work, like new cab construction must be outsourced. The tight time-frame causes this situation. As this work is performed off-premise, that can be problematic.

It is fascinating to see the many skilled craftsmen perform their tasks. They will explain and comment on the work they are doing, They even describe what the goal is for that work. Everyone has an excellent ‘can do’ attitude. Sometimes, they are not seen in the best of moments. Remember, they are under pressure to get things working. So challenges of balking equipment must be corrected, on the spot. Reminds me of the old UP slogan, ‘We Can Handle It’.  Total professionals. An impressive group of railroad men.

This program will have a much wider appeal than just railroad enthusiasts. All of the mechanical work that is shown, would satisfy anyone with similar interests. A high level of detail in brief, but effective scenes show the construction and assembly of the spreaders.

There is a detailed chapter menu. A fun way to jump to your favorite parts!

This is a great show to watch. A definite feeling of being there, on-site, with the informative and occasionally humorous men. Yes, they do have a few laughs. Great!

After all we have been through together. Does it work?

A huge snowstorm is predicted in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A pair of UP diesels haul the reconstructed spreaders up to Truckee. We ride in the cab of the lead spreader, as it journeys to Truckee.

Viewed with the pair of GP38’s, those spreaders are large pieces of equipment. Arriving in a heavy snowstorm, they appear to arrive ‘just in time’. Fantastic!

Stay tuned for Part Two…

Rating: 5 Stars