Thursday, February 24, 2005

Canadian Birthday

Last week I posted a trip report that was the first of two trips tied into a 50th Anniversary of sorts. Less than a week after getting back from the O. Winston Link celebration in Waynesboro, Virginia, I was off to the Great White North (cue Doug and Bob MacKenzie) for a surprise 50th birthday party for Greg McDonnell.

After dinner on Thursday, January 27, I leave Newton and drive to the Scranton (Pa.) airport. There I meet my brother Bruce who has driven up from southern New Jersey. We leave his car in the long-term lot at the airport and continue on to Gang Mills, New York, for the night. I have a cold, but I never know if it's going to go away the next morning or not (when I catch a cold, it usually passes quickly). I am armed with NyQuil for the night, however.

The Weather Channel says it's -9F in Elmira, and the bank clock in Tioga says it's -10F as we head out early in the morning from the EconoLodge in Gang Mills. My cold has gotten slightly worse, and my nose won't stop running all day. First stop -- Wellsboro, Pa., for a look at the Wellsboro & Corning. We arrive at the Wellsboro station at 8:00am. just as the crew is coming on duty. They say they only have about 45 minutes of switching at Osram Sylvania in Wellsboro and that will be it for the day -- no run along the scenic main line past Hammond Lake to Gang Mills today. Oh, well... It's a sunny morning, but the Osram Sylvania plant is generating a razz cloud that just happens to be between the wide-open snow covered tracks in front of the plant and the sun. A few shots and the train is done for the day. We're off again.

Next stop is Bath, New York, seeking out the Bath & Hammondsport. After poking around town for awhile, we spot a train heading for Painted Post with four-axle Alco Centuries on each end of the train in pull-pull mode. The chase is on, and we get nice shot of the train crossing the Cohocton River at Savona, an across the field shot at Coopers Flat and more. Upon arrival at Painted Post (right next to Gang Mills and Corning) we gas up and vittle up while the train switches. The return trip is only light power coupled back-to-back, so we decide to just grab a shot at Coopers Flat and forsake the rest of the return trip and instead shoot the ex-Delaware, Lackawanna & Western station (nicely restored) in Painted post, then head over to Gang Mills to shoot some Norfolk Southern power switching under the bridge at the east end of the yard.

After wrapping up our shooting at Gang Mills, we're off for the Bath & Hammondsport (okay, B&H Rail) shop at Cohocton. In the back of my mind, I had wanted to shoot a train passing the coal silos in downtown Bath but figured it wasn't worth chasing light engines back just for that one shot. Now that we're rolling along Route 17, I keep an eye out and -- there it is -- the light power running just outside Bath. We bail off Route 17, head downtown and set up at the silos with only a four or five minute wait to get the shot. It couldn't have been planned any better!

Now it's off to Cohocton where, after signing releases, we're happily photographing ex-Cartier Alcos. Upon check-out at the office, the head of the B&H's track department is thumbing through the recent R&R's I had dropped off he and starts giving me a hard time. "Every shot is of trains," he says. "If you published shots of track workers, I'd subscribe!" I quickly filled him in on Charlie Dischinger's article on BNSF's maintenance blitz on the Thayer Sub, but he's still razzing us. When I get back to the van I remember the milk crate I have filled with back issues of R&R that have accumulated in the van. I quickly start running through them and third issue down in the bin in the issue with Charlie's article. That was easy. I run back inside and give him the issue. He laughs and says, "Now I have to subscribe!"

Once we're done at Cohocton we realize the Arcade & Attica is probably finished for the day and the only chance of seeing a moving train is going to be up at the Water Level Route near Rochester. We get there at about 4:00pm and park near North Chili, but the sun sets before we see anything. An uneventful crossing into Canada, and we're at the Comfort Inn at Burlington, Ontario, by 8:00pm. NyQuil, NyQuil...

I can't move. For 30 minutes after the alarm goes off I just lay in bed. Everything is in celsius degrees on television and it all begins with a "minus." Cold. The runny nose has stopped, but now I have a slight fever. Lake Ontario is generating a light layer of razz, but we spend the morning shooting VIA and GO Transit, plus an Amtrak train, near Oakdale and Mississauga. Nothing spectacular. Soon it's time to head to Orangeville for the event that we're in Canada for.

Greg McDonnell celebrated his 50th Birthday on Christmas Day 2004, and some of his railfan friends (promarily Steve Bradley and Jim Brown) thought it would be a good idea if we had a railroad surprise party for Greg. The passenger train on the Orangeville Brampton Railway was chartered and by 12:30pm the single coach behind an ex-QNS&L GP7 is filled with Greg's friends. Greg had been invited to "lunch" at the Orangeville station (now a fine restaurant) and on the way he received a cell phone call saying that there was a charter on the railroad and one of the riders had bought one of Greg's books and could Greg swing by to give a quick autograph. Greg obliged, and we all sort of hide (i.e. keet our faces out of the coach windows) when Greg arrives. He gets on the coach, where he sees a couple of people who "should be there" such as engineer Steve Bradley. But as he looks back through the coach, he sees that he knows *everybody* on the train. The surprise had come off without a hitch!

Once Greg and Maureen are on board, we take off for Brampton, stopping for photos along the way. The surprise has been so complete that Greg has no coat or boots so he can't get off for the numerous photo runbys. He has to scrounge up a notebook, pen and watch so he can keep notes during the trip. With numerous photo stops on the way down to Brampton a good time is indeed had by all. The ride back is non-stop, so I use the time to sleep, trying to take care of my cold.

Once back at Orangeville, the fun is only getting started. The entire group heads over to the train station for dinner and entertainment. Stan Smail is the de facto master of ceremonies, and after dinner he displays his songwriting and singing abilities with tunes he wrote such as "Binghamton" and "Dominion's Dream." At 9:30 the slides start, but I have to beg off. It's been a fun evening, but I need some sleep to get rid of the cold, so Bruce and I return to Burlington. More NyQuil is consumed.

I'm up 30 minutes before the alarm goes off, and the first thing I notice is my nose is clear and I'm wide awake. Sunny skies outside have me feeling almost 100 percent, and we head for Bayview Junction for the morning. We start off with a westbound VIA train (and my first and only Spider-Man F40) from the railfan hillside, and follow that up with an eastbound from the Botanical Gardens footbridge (I notice that the shot works in the winter, with no leaves on the trees -- it would be a much more difficult shot in the summer). We just miss a freight with two Conrail units on the point, and a chase proves futile. A VIA westbound that has an all-stainless steel train is up next, so we shoot off the highway bridge looking up the valley at Hamilton West (the "north" junction of the Bayview wye). The last train of the morning is Amtrak heading from Toronto to Niagara Falls and New York, so we head for the big bridge at Jordan to get him. Our arrival at Jordan is early enough that we have time to shoot the abandoned steel sailing ship in Jordan Harbor before bagging Amtrak. Two CN freights are in the hole for Amtrak, and we get one in Jordan and the other across Jordan Harbor at Vineland. The light wasn't the best for the freights, but our passenger train shooting has been rather productive. An uneventful crossing back into the U.S. follows.

As we cruise past Niagara Falls, we realize our Amtrak train should be sitting in the station enduring its Customs stop. We buzz into the station and have what is unfortunately becoming a part of every railfan trip report -- The Encounter With the Law. We pull into the station parking lot and immediately have a Niagara Falls city policeman on our tail. "You can't take pictures here," he says. I ask why not and he mutters the usual "since 9/11...." line. I reply that I was unaware that the First Amendment had been suspended. He checks i.d. then has headquarters cal Customs inside the Niagara Falls station. A few minutes later two Customs agents come running out, buy once they see the police officer has the perps well under control they slow to a walk. Two more agents soon follow. One agent takes our i.d. and walks back to the station. After a short wait he walks back and hands us back our i.d.'s. "You guys check out," he says. "Go ahead and take your photos." If the station hadn't been such a long walk from where we had stopped, the entire encounter wouldn't have taken more than ten minutes. We shoot a couple of frames and we're literally done in less than a minute. The cop and agents stay. As we leave we say we didn't mean to cause a problem. One agent responds, "Don't worry about it. We need something to do." A quick stop at the CSX yard across from Amtrak, and we're out of town.

Next stop is the small town of Bergen, located on the ex-NYC Water Level Route west of Rochester. The line is hopping, and we soon have a few freights and Amtrak committed to film. A call to Julie at Amtrak says that the train we shot at Jordan and again at Niagara Falls has somehow lost 90 minutes (we picture the headlines: "Amtrak Train Delayed Due to Terrorist Activity Near Niagara Falls Station"). We cut around Rochester to Fairport, where a nice ex-NYC searchlight signal bridge makes a great prop for westbounds and bag a few more freights. Our last train is our Amtrak train from Toronto, which we shoot at 5:05pm. We shot the same Amtrak train three times in a span of about 120 miles over a six-hour period.

Once in the car, it's a straight shot through Syracuse and Binghamton to Scranton, where Bruce retrieves his car. Despite leaving the Rochester area after 5:00, I'm home before 11:00.

Land of Link

I recently had the opportunity to take two quick railfanning trips, and both were in conjunction with a 50th anniversary celebartion of sorts. The first was a trip to Waynesboro, Virginia, to take part in a recreation of "NW1" -- O. Winston Link's first night photo on the Norfolk & Western.

The event, hosted by the O. Winston Link Museum of Roanoke, and co-sponsored by Osram Sylvania and Norfolk Southern, was to take place on January 21, 50 years to the night from when Link made his first image on the N&W. I planned to drive to my brother's house in southern New Jersey (about two and a half hours away) on Wednesday evening so we could get a jump on getting down there Thursday morning. A late afternoon snow delayed my departure, however, and after shovelling the walks I was on my way at about 8:00pm, arriving a little before 11:00.

A major snowstorm was on the scopes as we packed for the drive into Virginia. We left at 7:00, late enough to avoid the Baltimore rush hour (we hoped). Nonetheless, traffic was backed up on I-95 approaching the Beltway, but after about a 20 minute delay we were soon around the Beltway and westbound on I-70. At Frederick we diverted onto U.S. 340.

Just out of Brunswick, Maryland, I said that it had been a few years since I'd been into Brunswick and it was probably worth a look. About that time the scanner squawked with a train looking to leave the Brunswick yard. Shoot. We were still about five minutes out of Brunswick. The dispatcher came back with a "hold up for a coal train." Since we didn't know what direction the trains were running, and we only had access to the west end of the yard, several possibilities now presented themselves, ranging from 1) we'd get to the crossing in time to see the middle of a westbound coal train and the marker of an eastbound freight going away to 2) we'd get to the crossing, shoot an eastbound coal train, then shoot the freight departing west. Things lined up nicely (ncluding the sun, which popped out) and the second scenario played out - we got the coal train going east, passing two more freights tucked into sidings for a nice three-train line-up, followed by the freight heading west past a Baltimore & Ohio color position light at the Brunswick MARC station. Through all this, we knew the Capitol Limited was coming into play, but a quick call to Julie at Amtrak confirmed that the train was running conveniently late -- late enough for us to get the freight action at Brunswick, but not so late that it was completely out of our picture.

From Brunswick it was off to Harper's Ferry, West Viginia, to nab eastbound Amtrak. On the way we noticed an auto-rack train running around a junk train near Sandy Hook (ooposite side of the Harper's Ferry tunnel), both heading east. These threw up enough interference that the westbound we had just shot at Brunswick would be shootable again in Harper's Ferry. We positioned ourselves at the west end of the big bridge over the Shenandoah, and watched as our train emerged from the tunnel -- and turned southward on the Shenandoah Line! Yikes! Fortunately, the first mile of the Shenandoah Line is a long wooden 10 m.p.h. trestle, so we were able to hop in the car and beat the train to the west end of the trestle, getting a nice shot with geese grazing beneath the structure. Now, we knew the real purpose of this train was to get us out of position for the Capitol. so we raced back to the station and found a nice shot just west of the station where the train would pass an ice-covered rock face. We scrambled out of the car and walked to the shot, then I called Julie again (no point in standing in snow if the train is another 30 minutes late). Julie said the train had lost another two munutes which would put it into Harper's Ferry -- oh -- about four minutes from now. Cool. Actual time was closer to eight minutes, but we got the shot and were on our way again.

U.S. 340 leaves the ex-B&O at Harper's Ferry and is soon following the ex-Nofolk & Western Shenandoah Valley Line southward. Not much happens until we get outside Front Royal, Virginia, where the scanner kicks in again. There's a train with a BNSF leader looking to go east approaching Riverton Junction, getting track between two points. Neither of the points show up on any map we have, and east can be either going east towards Manassas on the ex-Southern or going towards us on the ex-N&W. The only way to find out is to go into Riverton Junction. Sure 'nuff, we arrive at Riverton just as a pair of Hertiage II BNSF's lead a train through the junction heading for Manassas. Too late to get a shot, we reverse out, hop on I-66 eastward one exit, and find a private crossing near Linden where we capture the pumpkins in quintessential Virginia rural countryside, complete with a house on the hill in the background. I used to shoot this line a lot in the NS steam program days, and this train is the furtherest I've shot west on the line in almost ten years.

Back on U.S. 340, next stop was Luray and the crossing immortalized in one of Link's photos. The station has been gutted and is in the midst of a restoration, but no train activity. In fact, train activity on the line is rather sparse. A stop at Shenandoah for a couple o' roster shots results in an encounter with railfans Alex Mayes and Teresa Renner doing the same. And while trying to make Waynesboro, we finally encounter a northbound freight that we chase back to Grottoes to shoot in lackluster light. A Taco Bell stop and it was off to Roanoke for the night. An unforecasted snow drops two inches of the white stuff into the valley overnight.

The Weather Channel still has bad news on the Alberta Clipper bearing down on us, so we reluctantly cancel our motel for Waynesboro for Friday evening. It's gonna be shoot the night shot and hammer home ahead of the storm. Meanwhile, today's target includes another Link photo scene -- Montgomery Tunnel.

Now there are two ways to shoot a westbound shot at Montgomery Tunnel. First is to stand at the tunnel portal and wait for something to come out. The second approach is to start east of Montgomery at either Shawsville or Elliston, shoot a westbound there and head for the tunnel, where the train is easily beatable. Given the cold, cold morning, we opt to stay in the warm car in Elliston. Our wait isn't long, as a coal train with twelve -- count 'em, twelve -- units comes sailing through. We get him at Elliston and, as planned, beat him to Montgomery with minutes to spare. Since our next location is planned for an eastbound at the coaling tower at Vicker west of Christiansburg, we race out to Vicker and catch our westbound. Like it was planned or something, we hear him meeting an eastbound at nearby Walton, and soon we have the eastbound train passing under the coaling tower. Both Montgomey Tunnel and Vicker accomplished with a blanket of snow on everything! Heading back for Roanoke, we take the back way through Shawsville and get our eastbound there as well.

Next up on the agenda -- the lost locomotives of Roanoke. The locomotives have been donated to the Virginia Museum of Transporation, and I wanted to get a few "for the record" shots while they sat in the scrapyard. All to easily, we find Virginia Scrap Iron & Metal, and all too easily we drive right up to the 4-8-0 that sits outside the company fence. A few shots of the 4-8-0, a few more of the two Chesapeake Western Baldwin diesels there, and a few shots of something that kinda resembles steam engines back in the woods behind the fence and we have the day's agenda pretty much knocked off before lunch.

With the weather not the best, we decide to check out the O.Winston Link Museum downtown. I hadn't been here before, and to say I was blown away is an understatement. The museum is spacious and the displays are awesome. It is well worth a visit. Amazingly, the admission fee is only $5.

Back out on the street again, we find a parking spot just west of the Link museum and half-heartedly shoot a couple of eastbounds. Finally, I say "let's head up onto the Blue Ridge and shoot trains there." So off we go, heading out of town on U.S. 460. The shot I really wanted to get, from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, wasn't going to happen because the Parkway is closed in winter (as I discovered). But we caught up with an eastbound near Montvale, shooting him as he approached the town and again after setting out a few cars.

Now it's time to head for Waynesboro for the Link festivities. We arrive just before the 6:30 p.m. start time and find lots of cars surrounding the church where the preliminaries are being held. R&R contributor Tony Reevy does a great job explaining Link's legacy to a standing room only crowd. Then comes the real event.

Norfolk Southern has a business train parked in the exact spot where Link photographed an N&W K-class 4-8-2 on January 21, 1955. Osram Sylvania, whose bulbs Link used, has provided generators and portable lights to illuminate the train, the overhead Chesapeake & Ohio bridge and the site where the joint station stood. NS built steps to get folks from street level down to track level so they could stand at the approximate spot where Link stood all those years ago. In groups of 25, people were taken trackside to stand in the man's footprints. The lights, while advertised to be bright enough for everyone to use with a simple camera, were actually quite dark requiring a tripod and several seconds' worth of exposure. But with lights permanently on (as opposed to bulbs), a roll of film is easily consumed.

The Buckingham Branch, which has just taken over the ex-C&O Mountain Sub from CSX, has a train sitting just west of the Link scene, and as soon as everyone is done shooting the "prime shot," they pull in overhead. No effort is made to re-align the lighting to illuminate the train, but Alex Mayes grabs his Lumedyne and we take turns running up and down the street lighting the NS train and the Buckingham train. Several frames are knocked off before NS calls it a night and heads home. We need to do the same. The plan is to reach my brother's house and ride out the storm there, finishing my drive home Sunday morning (Thank the NFL for a 3:00 start for the first playoff game Sunday afternoon).

The car is packed by 9:15, and after a dinner-on-the-go-and-gas stop, we're on the road for New Jersey slightly after 10:00. Arrival in South Jersey is at 2:30am.

I wake up at 9:00am and turn on the Weather Channel. The storm isn't supposed to arrive for another two hours. That's just enough time for me to quickly pack and hit the road for home -- it'll be a lot easier digging my car out of the garage than trying to find a place to park it and dig in. Sure enough, two hours into the trip the snow starts, and by the time I'm within ten miles of home it's coming down pretty heavy. I get the car parked and go inside. When I re-emerge Sunday morning, there will be 14 inches of snow on the ground.

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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