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

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


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