UtahRails.net

(This page printed from UtahRails.net, Copyright 2000-2016 Don Strack)

About UtahRails.net

Index For This Page

This page was last updated on August 25, 2016.

Here at UtahRails.net, our aim is to provide in-depth historical information about railroading in Utah. Of course, any story about Utah's railroads must also include background information about the industries the railroads serve, so you will also find information about mining companies, canning companies, and grain and flour mills and elevators, and eventually, any company that shipped anything in a railroad car.

Along with Utah's fascinating railroad history, we also have available lots of history of the equipment of Utah's railroads, such as locomotives, cabooses, passenger cars, and freight cars. The most visited pages on the site are those about Union Pacific's present-day (and previous) fleet of diesel locomotives. Other important equipment roster pages cover the rolling stock of D&RGW, Utah Railway, and Kennecott Copper, along with the diesel locomotives of Chicago and Northwestern Railway.

At times it seems we've only scratched the surface, but progress is being made. This is truly a work in progress, so please come back often.

Why UtahRails.net?

During the last half of the year 2000, I became a bit disillusioned with publishing in printed books and magazine articles, realizing that it was not as satisfying as I had first imagined it could be. I wanted to share my research at a much quicker pace than the realities of printing to paper would allow. Financial compensation is not really an issue, since I have come to realize that my particular fields of interest have such a small potential market.

I have always been interested in railroad history (especially Utah railroads), railroad locomotives (especially UP and D&RGW locomotives), and business and industrial history (especially as they apply to railroads in Utah). With many file boxes and three-ring binders full of research, and a seemingly endless number of potential publications to get out, publishing to the internet soon became very attractive.

In early 2002, an opportunity came for a dedicated domain name (UtahRails.net), and on May 12, 2002, the new UtahRails.net web site went "live" for anyone in the world with a computer and an internet connection, and an interest in Union Pacific in Utah, Rio Grande in Utah, Utah Railway, and all other railroads in Utah, along with the industries served by those railroads.

In the years since UtahRails.net was first made available, the journey along the road of ever-changing web technology has been bumpy at times, and the learning curves almost too steep.

(Read about the bumps and the steep curves at Tech Talk)

Making UtahRails.net

It all started back in late July 1998, when I did "The Winged Shield" as my first web site. It was hosted by US West, my dial-up internet service provider at the time. My first HTML editor came as part of the Netscape suite furnished with the software package from US West. I changed from US West to a local provider (Deseret On-line) in October 1998, but other priorities came up and the web site went inactive.

Frontpage

In January 1999 I purchased Microsoft's Frontpage 98 using royalties from various book and magazine projects, but was unable to use it due to restrictions from my service provider. I soon learned that doing a web site proved to be more than I wanted to deal with, due to the difficulty of dealing with local and remote servers, along with all the other HTML "help" from Microsoft and Netscape. I gave up for several months, and instead spent small amounts of time learning the basics of writing HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the programming language of web pages. I wanted to produce web pages that will serve as reference resources, with no need for flashing graphics and busy glitz that so many of today's web pages contain to impress and hold visitors.

In January 2000, I changed to XMission as my internet service provider. The new service came with web space compatible with Frontpage, but I was deeply involved in the UP locomotive directories and did not take the time to develop any sort of real web site other than a very minimal web site, based on a template that was part of Frontpage.

In March 2001, I purchased Frontpage 2000 after reading a positive review of the fixes in the newest version. For the next two years, I used Frontpage 2000 to manage the entire web site (called UtahRails, but with an address at XMission), upgrading to Frontpage 2002 in July 2002. The advantages of Frontpage far outweighed simple FTP uploading and text-only editing. I used simple page designs, so what reviewers perceived as limitations with the program were not a factor. Their shared borders feature made a nice left-side navigation possible.

Until March 2004, I used Frontpage 2002 regularly to edit my web pages, and to link them to each other via various internal index pages (truly a significant time saver on a project as complicated as the all-time UP diesel roster). Microsoft had done a great job at improving the program, and it was now much simpler to use. Frontpage was especially useful to publish only pages that have been changed, relieving me of having to keep track of what has been changed or updated. Also, contrary to previous versions, it does not add any HTML code to an existing page. Along with the feature that listed recently changed pages, the feature that found and fixed broken links was especially useful. Throughout this peiod that I used Frontpage, early 2001 through early 2004, I also used TopStyle to help use cascading style sheets to their best advantage. I also focused on the CSE Validator and HTML Tidy to make sure the HTML matched the W3C School standard.

PHP

In mid March 2004 I made the decision to embrace PHP scripting, in order to use a common header, footer, and menu across the entire web site. The decision was driven by my initial use of the Gallery photo album. I began converting all of the pages on UtahRails.net to PHP scripts on March 28, and the last page, of over 800 pages, was converted on April 19, 2004. The move to PHP also meant that I had to give up using Frontpage, and move back to coding by hand in in a text editor, and uploading with CuteFTP. To test the pages locally, prior to uploading them to my web service provider's remote server, I took the opportunity to install a local testing server that used both the Apache HTTP server and PHP script preprocessor.

In June 2005, I bought a copy of Dreamweaver to edit the web site. I like many of the program's features, except for one continuing difficulty. I do a lot of linking from within one page to another, making use of named anchors. Frontpage was very good at it, by displaying a list of anchors in any one particular page when that page is selected. But Dreamweaver falls completely flat with this task. In fact, if you don't know the exact text of named anchor, there is no way to enter the link. But on the plus side, I really like the way Dreamweaver displays tables, allowing me to edit table features such as being able to select an entire column and applying a CSS class to just that column.

Without the need for busy graphics and image maps for intra-site navigation, a simple text editor works quite well as a basic authoring tool. Way back in 1998, I discovered a program called NoteTab, a text editor from Switzerland meant to replace the Windows Notepad text editor that comes with every Windows operating system.To help automate many tasks in authoring HTML (and now, PHP), NoteTab has evolved into a powerful HTML tool because of its unique ability to create and use what are called "clips," bits and snippets of text that can saved and reused when needed. (As of July 2012, NoteTab is still going, with version 7 just released. NoteTab Lite is still free.)

Most of my original research exists in the form of either WordPerfect files, from before 1999, or later as Microsoft Word files. To convert these files to web pages, I use the HTML export filter in Word. As each is converted, I use NoteTab to reduce the extraneous code, with the goal being to assure a speedy download for visitors. Scanned articles are done with Omnipage, importing the text directly into Dreamweaver from the Windows clipboard.

While progressing in my journey of mastering the basics of HTML code and web site authoring, I have learned the value of Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS), which are used to keep a consistent look to a group of web pages. Topstyle Pro from Bradsoft is the best of several CSS editors. I should mention here that regular visits to A List Apart and HTML Dog have aided greatly in my learning the joys of styling with CSS.

(Read more about how I edit web pages)

Standards

If we don't use the standards, we make it harder for everybody. As of mid April 2015, these pages are all compliant with HTML5 standards (or should be unless I fumble-finger the odd bit here and there). I try to stay away from special features specific to any particular browser.

I have compiled several links to companies, HTML references, CSS references, and HTML standards.

(Links in the Web Site Tools.)

Photos

For the photo albums, I first used Web Album Creator from Galleria Software. After they stumbled with their customer support, I changed to another client-side photo album program called PhotoThumb, a program that gave me the flexibility of using cascading style sheets. In September 2003, the photo albums (created with PhotoThumb) were split off from the main web site to allow easier file management. In March 2004, I took my first steps into the server-side programming world of PHP with the Gallery photo album, an open source PHP suite that allowed me to upload the images and edit captions and descriptions online. (Gallery is no longer being developed or supported, as of June 2014.)

Keeping up with the Gallery installation was becoming a maintenance headache. For a simple user like me, having to be "the man behind the curtain" was becoming almost unbearable, kind of like a carpenter having to make a new hammer for each new job, and having to understand metallurgy at the same time. So in January 2010, I decided to let someone else maintain the home of my photo albums, and I would only have to worry about the photos themselves. After trying both Flickr and PBase, I signed up to use SmugMug for all of UtahRails' photo albums. I'm willing to give up some of the customization, in return for the freedom of getting away from site maintenance, and they have great customer support.

To prepare the images themselves, beginning in August 2002, the slides were scanned using a Minolta Scan Dual II, in combination with Ed Hamrick's VueScan software, and Paint Shop Pro 7 to resize and enhance the images. In November 2004, a larger Microtek i900 flatbed scanner, with film scanning glass tray, was added, and in January 2005 the Minolta Scan Dual II was replaced by a much improved (and cheaper) Scan Dual IV. For a different, more complex approach to image improvement, Photoshop CS came onboard in February 2005. In November 2005, the previous Microtek i900 scanner was sent to the great eBay beyond, and replaced by a new Epson 4990 Photo, which does a better job of scanning 8x10 negatives.

In May 2012, I upgraded to Photoshop CS6, but soon found that the program no longer supports 'Import' from either my Epson scanner, or the Minolta Konica slide scanner. I upgraded my Vuescan installation, and it does a great job supporting both scanners in Windows 7. Although I was forced to use Vuescan, it has turned to be for the better. Vuescan, in combination with the FastStone Viewer is proving to be a very powerful team for image processing.

The scanners have been upgraded, and since November 2012 I've been using an Epson V700 for flat scanning, and a Plustek 8200i for slide scanning. The quality of the images produced by each of the two scanners has been phenomenal. Each of the two scanners has proven to be remarkably faster, and of higher quality. The scanning software that came with the Plustek is easy to use, and the colors are more accurate than any previous scanner I've owned, meaning that I'm required to do much less post-scanning correction.

(Read more about how I scan photos.)

Browser Usage

For my own use, I've tried them all, but kept coming back to Firefox, until January 2015, when security concerns with Firefox made me start using Chrome. As I understand these concerns, Firefox is the only modern browser that does not use a "sandbox" to isolate its functions from the rest of a computer's operating system. In these days of viruses, phishing and all manner of other cyber hacks, direct access from a web page to a computer's operating system seems a bit scary.

And it looks like other people are making the switch to Chrome. The following statistics come from the approximately 900~1300 daily visitors to UtahRails.net.

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