Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Spring In the Southland

All the images taken on this trip can be viewed in Photologues. Use the link at the left

I was invited to help out with a night photo session at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer for its Railroad Days in early May. A trip to the southland in sping is always welcome, and besides I had a new toy to play with -- a brand new Nikon D200 digital camera had replaced my fleet of Nikon film cameras.

May 5
I didn't get out of work as early as I would have liked, although bad weather made me a little less than motivated to make a rush. Finally I was out and heading down I-78 in late afternoon. Wanting to give my new D200 a test, I stopped before darkness set in at Hershey, Pennsylvania, where I could view the Hersheypark monorail crossing over Norfolk Southern's ex-Reading main line. After an hour of watching the monorail trundle back and forth, I decided to relocate to the Derry Road grade crossing, where scanner chatter indicated I might see a local working the small yard there. While the local wasn't visible, I did get back-to-back eastbound freights before resuming my drive.

The initial plan was to drive to Harrisonburg, Virginia, and call it a night. Unfortunately, it was graduation weekend for James Madison University and not a room was to be found. I pressed on to Staunton, where I ran into garduation weekend for the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville. I eventually pushed on to Roanoke, finally getting a room at 1:00 a.m.

May 6
One good thing about being in Roanoke is that it's a great town for watching trains. After sunrise I went downtown where I caught a light engine move and a caboose hop passing near the former offices of the Norfolk & Western Railway. From there it was off to Virginia Scrap Iron & Metal to photograph the "Lost Engines of Roanoke." This scrap yard contains four ex-N&W steam locomotives, as well as two Baldwin-built diesels that used to work for the Chesapeake Western. Trees obscured three of the four steamers, but the fourth steam engine and both diesels were duly committed to film -- uh, make that pixels, as I was now a digital shooter (for more on the Lost Engines, see the Land of Link entry below). The final stop in Roanoke was at the ex-Virginian Railway depot, gutted by a fire a few years ago. (As a side note, all six of the scrap yard locomotives and the Virginian depot are in varous stages of being preserved).

Now it was time to head to Spencer. I hd been to the North Carolina Transportation Museum's Railroad Days each of the previous three years, and I hoped that they had a surprise or two in store for this year. I was not disappointed, as they had a former Norfolk & Western GP9 pulling an all-Tuscan red passenger train -- an N&W local train straight outy of the early 1960s! Also running was a former Southern Railway FP7 pulling an all-Southern passenger train, and a diesel built by Fairbanks-Morse that last ran on the Beaufort & Morehead's port railroad pulling a string of cabooses (cabeese?).
There was also a fine display of motive power around the turntable, including passenger E-unit diesels from the Southern and Atlantic Coast Line.

The forecasted rain had held off, and after a fine afternoon of shooting the three museum trains, it was time to set up the night photo session. The fine folks at the museum let me decide what scenes to shoot, so we wouind up shooting both the N&W and Southern passenger trains in the big field south of the museum's shop buildings. From there it was off to the roundhouse to shoot the power on the radial tracks (my favorite scene being the ACL E-unit side-by-side with an ACL 4-6-0 steam locomotive -- two generations of ACL passenger power.) The final scene featured the museum's Baldwin-built AS616 painted for the original Norfolk Southern alongside a modern diesel provided by the current-day Norfolk Southern. It was a late night, but a fruitful day.

May 7
The rain finally arrived, and Sunday morniong started out gloomy and wet. My first stop was just north of Spencer where I photographed Amtrak's northbound Carolinian crossing the Yadkin River. A little farther north in Lexington I caught Amtrak's state-sponsored Piedmont heading south, as well as a northbound freight. Hitting the road, I thought I was ahead of the freight near Ruffin, but I wasn't. As a consolation prize, however, I heard him meeting a southbound freight on the scanner, and the southbound made for a nice shot passing a set of signals.

Next stop was Danville, Virginia, where I stopped at Dundee Yard near a small engine facility. When the tower operator (probably the yardmaster for the nearby yard) walked past, I asked if he had anything coming. He responded that a northbound would be on the scene in about 20 minutes.

I relocated to a small wooden bridge over the tracks just north of the tower, and sure enough the northbound showed up. Alas, he had work to do in the yard, and by the time he was ready to proceed over an hour later the weather had deteriorated to a downpour. This put the new digital camera to the test, but I was able to capture images in the dark rain that would have been impossible with film. I then headed towards Lynchburg, but scanner chatter indicated that I had overtaken my northbound, so I left the main highway and headed in to the tracks near Evington, where once again I captured the train in the rain.

With the day hustling by and the weather showing no signs of improvement, I decided to cancel my planned stop at Lynchburg and head for home. Fastest way back seemed to be to take U.S. 501 over to I-81, so that's what I did. I didn;t check the map real careful, however, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that U.S. 501 paralleled the former Chesapeake & Ohio (now CSX) Jame River Subdivision. Just as the road joined the tracks an eastbound train went past. Drat! But the scanner gave a hopeful sign when I heard the eastbound exchange pleasantries with a westbound in a siding. Great! I had a train heading the same way I was just behind me.

I checked the map and picked out what looked like some good photo locations where the tracks, road and James River all came together. I passed up a few good locations on my way to the picked-out spots, only to discover I should have stopped. The location I picked based on the map had the tracks and road separated by a lot vertically (i.e. the tracks are down there through the trees over that cliff). I finally settled for the train passing the steam-era coaling tower in Balcony Falls.

From here the only other stop would be near Natural Bridge at Foam Henge, a full-scale replica of Stonehenge made from styrofoam blocks. Then it was onto I-81 for a ride home in a downpour all the way.

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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