Beat the Clouds at their own Game; Go where they're not Allowed

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Clouds can be the proverbial bane of the railfan photographer’s existence.  You pick a spot for a photo with great lighting, and wait (the almost inevitable consequence of taking train pictures).  Also waiting, of course, are the clouds.  While they might even be something that you want to include in your shot, as of their present position, in reality, they are simply lurking nearby to step in at the last second and ruin what would have been a great photo.

Yes, we’ve all been there, and lost, probably on multiple occasions.  And thus far, I don’t believe that anyone has yet invented an easy-to-use filter/process that will eliminate the evil perpetrated by rogue clouds after the shot is taken.  Maybe someday AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be utilized to make this happen, but I doubt that It’s in the offing anytime soon.

I spent a good deal of time in Southern California’s “Southland” between September 1988 and August 1989.  This often included weekends, which provided the time to do some railroad photography.  There were trains near Burbank, where I was based, but other locations, particularly Cajon Pass and Tehachapi (which covers a lot more territory than the town of the same name located just west of the summit on what was then the Southern Pacific) featured both scenery and more trains. 

To get to the Tehachapi area from Burbank, you head north on Interstate 5 to California 14, which eventually deposits you in Mojave, California, effectively the eastern gateway to railfan “Tehachapi”. Mojave was both the bottom of the grade on the east side of the hill, as well as the eastern junction with what was then the Santa Fe, coming over from Barstow on its way to joining the SP.

Sometime in my SoCal days, I recall hearing that there were 350 sunny days a year in Mojave.  I never pursued checking further on this, but did note that I’d only seen sunshine when I passed through the place.

According to, Mojave has 3229 annual hours of sunshine, or 8.4 hours per day, in a non-leap year.  In January, the least-sunny month in Mojave, there are about 210 hours of sunshine, almost seven hours per day. In July, there are 340 sunny hours, almost 11 hours daily.

On January 14, 1989, I’d driven through sunny Mojave on my way to Tehachapi, but soon drove into clouds, temperatures in the 30s and precipitation that was approaching freezing rain.  Deciding that I didn’t really want to find out if ice was going to form on the road, I turned around and went back to Mojave and its Kodachrome weather, eventually getting the above shot on an eastbound ATSF piggyback train back on home rails heading east.

Check out the enormous cloud bank a few miles to the northwest of Mojave in the photo; fortunately, it knew its place, and stayed there.  Maybe you can’t always win versus the clouds, but there are places that the clouds visit only rarely.

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy