Thursday, February 24, 2005

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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