PROMONTORY -- A scrum of photographers advanced on the railroad crossing at Golden Spike National Historic Site early Wednesday with Ogden photographer Jon Williams shouting instructions behind them.
In the distance, the site's Engine 119 was firing up, steam blowing and whistle hooting. Any second it would run through the crossing, and the photographers wanted it.
"Remember to keep your horizons level!" he yelled. "Use the rule of thirds! Put your focus point on the train!"
Williams, a commercial photographer and teacher, wanted his students to get good shots at the annual Winter Steam Festival. Even if they got the focus right, however, they had their jobs cut out for them.
The annual festival -- which continues today and Friday -- features one of two replica engines at the site, running around in the cold winter air so its steam and smoke stand out white against the crystal blue skies of the desert.
It's a train photographer's golden opportunity. Unfortunately, on Wednesday the sky was gray overcast. Dark gray steam against a light gray sky looks pretty gray, even in color.
Still, as the No. 119 rumbled by, its whistle hooting, steam and noise seeping out of its heaving and rumbling black, gold and red bulk, the students' shutters clicked away.
Nard Nebeker, of Layton, aimed the 200mm lens on his digital single-lens reflex camera and fired off a burst. He makes the trip every year, he said, because steam engines like this are "something that isn't here any more," and probably never can be again.
"I just look at the railroad ties, and I think of all the labor and the people that it took to build this," he said.
His own pictures are for fun and personal enjoyment, but one he shot last year was good enough to hang in the Brigham City Museum Gallery.
Brittlyn Nelson, of Corrine, aimed her camera at the cab of the train while it was parked for public viewing. She didn't care about steam, just her husband and children posing.
"I'm not a professional," she said, half apologetically, then called out to "Hold everybody, just a minute!" as she pondered the settings on her camera.
While they waited, one of the engine workers handed her son, Jextin, 2, a massive coal shovel. The tool was taller than Jextin and probably heavier. Her husband, Mike, and daughter, Makynlie, 6, crowded into the cab window and Brittlyn fired away.
Mike Nelson got down from the cab with a huge grin. He's a bug on history, he said, and the role of the original Engine No. 119 in completing the Transcontinental Railroad is only a tiny part of it.
Ever since he and his family moved to Corrine four years ago, he's been researching the history of his city.
"It was almost Ogden, you know," he said.
He was referring to the brief period after the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad when Corrine, anticipating becoming a major rail center, boomed.
Corrine home lots sold for as much as $10,000 in 1870 dollars, but the boom quickly broke when the railroads picked Ogden for the junction of north-south and east-west trains.
Now, Nelson said, he's working to restore the Masonic Lodge in Corrine, which was built in the 1890s and was even put up for sale at one point.
It all started with the joining of the rails at Promontory, he said. "Everything that's ensued after that is what's most interesting," he said.
Nelson started talking to Donna Pitman, a volunteer who took a break from checking grease on the 119's wheels to try to recruit Nelson as a volunteer at the site.
"You need volunteers?" he asked.
"Oh, absolutely!" she said. She volunteers and said it's a real fun job.
"When I first started, I just did crowd control, and I was happy with that," she said, but then someone said she could move up and fire the engine, even helping to move it in and out of the workshop where it spends its nights.
Driving a steam engine means learning whistle codes, steam controls and other techniques. "I looked at that and said, 'There is no way I can do that,'" she said. "And now I look back and I think, 'What an idiot!'"
Now the Golden Spike site is where she goes when she needs a break from her North Ogden home, no matter the weather.
"It's the best thing ever," she said. "I'm not in a good mood when I'm not here."