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.

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