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Knott's Berry Farm Steam Train in Buena Park, California

Knott's Berry Farm Steam Train, Buena Park, California

A Photo Essay with Photo Tips By Carl Morrison
April 1, 2015

My next eBook will be, "Photographing TRAINS, Vol. 1:  Southwest Chief"  This eBook includes tourist trains, rail museums, and private rail cars close to the Southwest Chief route which runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. A Guide to where to eat, and where to stay along the way.  Includes over 200 photos by the author to illustrate proven photo concepts."

The first few chapters will be what to do and see at the beginning of the Southwest Chief route near its first stop in Fullerton.  The two tourist trains I will highlight will be Knott's Berry Farm's steam train and Disneyland's train.  This photo essay is about the Knott's train.

From the Fullerton Amtrak Station, Knott's Berry Farm is reachable by bus at, 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, CA 90620, from the Fullerton Trans Ctr Dock 1, block from the Fullerton Station.  Bus No. 43 and 38  44 min. ride  $4.00  every 20 min.


(In this report, click any photo to see it with a black border without text, click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

The steam train runs daily, unlike many train-only parks that run their steam only on weekends, and operating hours during my visit were 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the train running constantly those twelve hours. Although I went to Knott's hr. after opening during Spring Break, I had no problems getting full shots of the train at the station (above) without people.  The visitors were more interested in the many thrill rides in the park during the day, and the DJ music in the evening.  Train passengers generally are families with small children and old rail fans like me and my wife.  Since riders of the train line up to the right, beyond the station, near the coaches, photos of the engine always seem to be uncluttered.  They close gates across the tracks in front of the train before it departs, and standing by the gates before they are closed gives a very good front shot of the locomotive.


Photo Concepts: Morning light is perfect since the train is stationary on a south-southwest heading, and departs the station in that direction before making a full circle around the park.  There are modern structures behind the station to the north, but with a little work, you can get a shot of the locomotive with the newer structures blocked by a nice tall pine tree and water tower on the far side of the tracks.  The best horizontal photo of the full cars is as the train slowly leaves the station.


Photo Concept:  With an 18 mm lens, you can get close enough to the train to get a portrait of the engineer and the details on the cab, while they await the next run.

The locomotive Engineer/Fireman on duty this day was Ben Viola.  Standing behind the safety fence is close enough for detailed shots of the locomotive.  Mechanic's Assistant, Woodrow Gilbreath, was on the ground and close enough to speak to above the locomotive's noise.  He has to know some of the details of the train in order to qualify to work in that capacity.  Woodrow mentioned that No. 41 was built in 1881 and is mostly original except for replacing the boiler in 1916 to satisfy the law about train boilers. Knott's has two locomotives, the one I photographed, No. 14, and No. 340, which is being repaired now.  Both locomotives are C19s.  One of their C19s is the oldest one built, and the other is the youngest one built.  He told me that Walter and Cordelia Knott started with a berry stand selling berries and boysenberry pies.  Walter had developed the boysenberry by combining the raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry.  The second building to be built on the farm was the chicken dinner restaurant.  For folks waiting to get into the restaurant, Walter built the Ghost Town.  Next the stage coach was added.

From the Chicken Dinner Restaurant placemat I learned that in 1952, Walter bought America's last operating railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande, and moved it in its entirety to Knott's Berry Farm.  The steam-powered train is christened the Ghost Town & Calico Railroad, proving a perfect addition to the growing Ghost Town.  The train first circled the parking lot, but now is surrounded by other attractions in the park. In 2012, the 60th Anniversary of the Ghost Town and Calico Railroad was celebrated with a Golden Spike Ceremony and the re-naming of engine 41 to “Walter K.” after Knott's founder Walter Knott.


Photo Concepts:  This converted cattle car is the best for photography during the run.  Other cars are enclosed coaches with open windows. It is easier to move from side to side in this open car and the openings are larger.

About half way around the run you will pass, on your left, some other cars of the D&RGW.  Locomotive No. 340 was not in sight, perhaps it was inside the closed shed.  Since the cars are on an adjacent track, you will need a wide angle lens to get them all in your photo.  I used the 10 mm setting on my 10-20 mm lens.




The tender from locomotive No. 340




This car was like the one on which I was riding, except that it had no roof.


In the train shed, I spotted Galloping Goose No. 3.

Wikipedia says, "Galloping Goose is the popular name given to a series of seven railcars (officially designated as "motors" by the railroad), built between 1931 and 1936 by the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS) and operated until the end of service on the line in the early 1950s.

Originally running steam locomotives on narrow gauge railways, the perpetually struggling RGS developed the first of the "geese" as a way to stave off bankruptcy and keep its contract to run mail to towns in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. There was not enough passenger or cargo income to justify continuing the expensive steam train service at then-current levels, but it was believed that a downsized railway would return to profitability. The steam trains would transport heavy cargo and peak passenger loads, but motors would handle lighter loads.

Motors were not only less expensive to operate, but were also significantly lighter, thus reducing impact on the rails and roadbeds. This cost saving meant that the first Goose was paid off and making a profit within three weeks of going into service. RGS built more Geese, and operated them until the company abandoned their right-of-way in 1952. 

Of the seven "geese", only #1 does not survive, though a replica was built in 2000 for the Ridgway Railroad Museum.[1] The other six are located as follows:

    Geese #2, #6, and #7 are preserved at the Colorado Railroad Museum and are operational.
    Goose #3 was sold to Knott's Berry Farm and is operated regularly during off-season periods when park attendance is low.
    Goose #4 was on static display in Telluride, Colorado. It was restored to operation in Ridgway, Colorado, as of June 2012.
With the restoration of Goose #4, all of the Geese are now operable.[2] Goose #4 was relocated back to Telluride on May 2013.[3]
    Goose #5 was bought by the city of Dolores, Colorado. After restoration in 1998 it is now operated from time to time on the Cumbres and Toltec and Durango and Silverton tourist railroads, as well as at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

For more information go to


Photo Concepts:  When the gates close, the engineer gives a steam blast on the whistle, then steam escapes on both sides of the locomotive making a nice action shot.  A colorful new ride is immediately behind the train in this angle, so I made the photo black and white to make the new ride less noticeable and the photo more authentic to the 1881 year when it was built.  This photo was taken at 1/250 sec, f/9.0, ISO 800, 20 mm on (10-20mm zoom).


Photo Concepts:  A second location for a nice black and white is a few steps south between the tracks and attraction 18, the Screamin' Swing.  I walked in the exitway (above left in the photo) and set up with the nice cactus garden as foreground and back wall of a set as background and waited for the next train trip to begin.  Since you can see and hear the locomotive from here, it is easy to catch the train as it slowly passes. This photo was with a 10mm lens and still cropped maybe 25% top, left, and bottom.  Setting:  1/1600 sec at f/11, ISO 800 RAW format. At this point the near side of the locomotive was in shadow. With all the detail in the RAW image, I lightened shadows, decreased brightness of the cloudless sky, increased sharpness, clarity, and contrast for the resulting image above.

Since our tickets were for 12 hours in the park, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., we decided to have lunch after the morning shots at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant. There are other places to eat in the park, but this place has been here longer than the train and we have eaten here many times.  We selected the 4-piece fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rhubarb appetizer, green salad, rolls, and I had boysenberry sherbet for dessert.  The only surprise was that the price is now $19 for lunch.  We got our hands stamped for re-entry and drove back home, only about 25 minutes from the park, and returned near sunset. I wondered how night photos of the train might turn out knowing the train ran until closing time, 10 p.m.

Photo Concepts:  I believe night photos look best with some light still in the sky, about 30 minutes after sunset.  The photo above was my first of the evening.  There were no lights on the locomotive at this time of night, so I used a tripod and popped up the built-in flash.  The result was a “light-painted” locomotive with the following settings:  2.0 sec. At f/11, ISO 800 10 mm.  (This was the same ISO I had used all day.)  The two seconds were long enough to capture some steam escaping above the locomotive with the dark water tower behind the steam.  The flash illuminated the front of No. 41 showing the gray front paint which without the flash would have been black.  Exterior lights illuminated the side of the cab and the tender.

Since the train runs until closing, there are many opportunities to try different settings and locations.  After dark, more lights adjacent to the parked locomotive come on highlighting the steam.  In addition to that, at one stop a mechanic with a work light worked on one of the drivers.  Even though the long exposure blurred him a bit, his pants, shoe and toolbox and the light falling on them was constant enough to make an interesting photo. 
Photo Concepts:  In Lightroom, I converted the photo to black and white, and used “Spot Removal” for some spots in the lower right and lens flare in the upper left.  I used the “Graduated filter to darken the upper left corner and lower right corner to direct the viewer's eye to the locomotive and mechanic, the center of interest.  Settings:  4.0 sec at f/16, ISO 800, 20 mm.


Photo Concepts:  I kept this photo in the book because it included the name on the water tower and the steam looked the best of any photo.  However, I had to do a lot of doctoring in Lightroom.  First I took the image into my HDR program, Photomatic Light and processed it in the enhanced mode.  I used practically every control in Lightroom and finally used the Graduated Filter to darken the upper left and lower right corners.  I did not convert it to black and white, but the only color seems to be the front red and green lights on No. 41, and a tungsten glow on all reflective surfaces.

Smartphone users can apply the same principles of photography and get reasonable results.  I usually take an iPhone photo to post on my Facebook photo page ( when I am out shooting.


Photo Concepts:  Earlier in the day I had posted a daylight image, but at the end of this evening's shots, I pulled out my iPhone and took one more, without a tripod.  The original settings in an iPhone 6+ were:  sec at f/2.2, 4.15 mm, ISO 160  GPS: 3350'39" N 1180'3" W (If your DSLR does not have GPS capability, pull out your iPhone, take a photo, and you have the correct location once you put the photo into Lightroom or other post-processing software.)

The size of an iPhone Plus photo is:  2448 x 3264  By comparison, a Canon T3i DSLR image dimensions are 3456 x 5184
Admittedly, I used Camera Plus on my iPhone to crop and select HDR mode, then used Lightroom to do further work, but the image above would be acceptable in most arenas.  I do note the unavoidable blown out whites in the headlight and steam, but the backlit conductor on the ground is interesting.  Unfortunately, the modern structure on the right is distracting, but would have been more so if I had left it as a color image.  My summary, it is better than no image at all.

My DSLR has a video setting, and since I was using my tripod, I decided to make a movie of Knott's Steam Train at night.  Background music is from the entertainment area next to the tracks and Screamin' Swing ride beside which I made this video:

If the movie does not play, go to:
Where to Stay
Knott's purchased the Buena Park Hotel that was built literally closer than some of the parking spots for Knott's, within walking distance from the front gate. It is now called Knott's Berry Farm Hotel.  Address: 7675 Crescent Ave, Buena Park, CA  90620  Phone:  714-995-1111

Their website says: 

Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel combines luxurious accommodations for both business and leisure. This 320-room deluxe property features a SNOOPY-themed wing, fitness center, pool with children’s activity area, lighted sports courts and many other amenities. Dining options including Amber Waves, specializing in All-American fare and hotel room service. A variety of affordable family vacation packages, including admission to Knott’s Theme Park, are available year-round. All located just steps from world-famous Knott's Berry Farm Theme Park and Knott’s Soak City Water Park.
2-beds room for $99 plus $7 parking seems to be their lowest rate.  Many packages including tickets and meals available at

Where to Eat

I prefer the long-standing Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.  Although the lunch is $19+ the dinner includes 4 pieces, 2 vegetables, rolls, and dessert.  Other menu items at  It is located outside the fee area, so you can eat there without going inside the park.

This report is a section of my "Photographing Trains" eBook (above).  Check at for a copy after Summer, 2015.

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