Friday, August 21, 2009

Winterail-fanning -- 2009 Edition (Part 2)

With a busy travel schedule, we haven't posted anything for about a month. Whew! But we're back and should get on to a more consistent schedule once again. One of the trips was to Duluth, Minnesota, for the convention of the National Railway Historical Society. We'll get to that trip in a couple of days, but first let's finish up our California trip from March 2009.

Part 1 of this story can be found here.
Photos for this story can be found here.

Day 4: March 13, 2009 -- Around the Upper Central Valley
We have a bit of a time constraint on this day. We're hosting the annual Railfan & Railroad/NRHS Stockton Slide and Pizza Party in the evening, and the afternoon will be spent buying wristbands and pizzas, and generally getting set up. Still, there's some time in the morning to look around the area between Stockton and Modesto, California.

We wander the fields around Escalon, looking for a spot to shoot. A northbound San Joaquin service Amtrak train is due; the bad news is the trains run in push-pull configuration with the locomotive always on the north end, making properly-lit photos a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, we find a broadside-ish location and snap the train as it rolls through.

From there we head down to Riverbank, which has a former Santa Fe yard. A northbound BNSF Railway train is ready to depart, so we set up at the bridge over the Stanislaus River north of downtown and get a nice broadside shot. We then travel south of the Modesto Amtrak station (which actually sits quite a ways out of town) and get a southbound passenger train on a bridge; once again, the locomotive is on the north end, making for a challenging shot.

The big attraction in the area east of Modesto is the Modesto & Empire Traction, a former electric railroad now powered by diesel and serving a large industrial park. Until recently, a fleet of General Electric 70-Ton end-cab switchers was the railroad's primary power, but environmentally-friendly genset locomotives (as well as larger second-hand EMD switchers) have eroded the ranks of the 70-Tonners. With a little bit of poking around, we find one of the genset units busy at work near the yard.

Further exploring the industrial park, we encounter a large group of railfans, and we soon see what has caught their eye -- a trio of the 70-Tonners is working near the railroad's offices! We join the group of photographers and watch the classic workhorses switch around.

Soon, though, it's time for us to move on. Heading back towards Stockton, we note that a southbound San Joaquin train is due through, so we pause at Escalon to shoot it. We're rewarded with a southbound BNSF local first, however, with the Amtrak train not far behind. It's only a little past noon, but duty calls and our shooting comes to an end for the day.

Day 5: March 15, 2009 --- Heading Back To San Francisco
Okay, actually this is day 6; the previous day was spent at Winterail watching the multitude of high-quality slide shows, but no trains were photographed. Thus, this is actually our fifth day of shooting.

The weather is iffy in most places, but the Central Valley almost always has sun, so we abandon our plans to go to Altamont Pass in favor of sticking with the Valley. We start out back at Riverbank for a northbound Amtrak train, then peek in over the fence at the Modesto & Empire Traction shops for a look at the 70-Tonners sitting outside. It's back to Riverbank, however, to get a southbound San Joaquin on the Stanislaus Bridge.

Continuing south beyond Modesto, we find a former Santa Fe unit behind a razor wire fence at a grain elevator near Denair. It wasn't that long ago that this elevator's units sat unprotected in the open overnight, but the proliferation of graffiti (which used to be confined to freight cars, but is spreading to locomotives in the west) has led to higher security measures. A northbound Amtrak train is shot nearby.

Bruce needs to be at the airport before me, so we start working our way to the Bay. On the way, we make a quick stop at the yard in Tracy, where we find Union Pacific power tied up with California Northern diesels. From there, it's off to the airport; it's raining in San Francisco.

After dropping off Bruce, I decide to head into the city to photograph MUNI streetcars. My first choice is to hit Market Street and the restored PCC cars, but a parade has just finished and all of Market Street is jammed with traffic; parking is non-existent. I circle back and follow the Church Street line up the hills outside of town and soon wind up at Mission Dolores Park. Hmmmm. I decide to shoot in this area, but problematic parking puts me several blocks away. Not to worry, though -- the rain is letting up, and a pleasant walk back to the park reveals some very interesting architecture in this residential area. There are places where the J-Line swings through tight spaces between houses to travel on private right-of-way (and avoid Church Street's steep grades), and I pause to get a few shots there on the wet streets.

At the park, I find that not only do the modern streetcars of the J-Line pass here, but the vintage cars of the Market Street (F-Line) pass here as well on their way to the carbarn. No PCC cars come by, but I do get a few shots of ex-Milan (as in Italy) cars passing the park.

Finally, evening is moving in and my red-eye flight time is getting closer. I finish off my day at the Millbrae station on Caltrain, located convenient to the airport as well as an In-N-Out Burger location. A couple of night shots and I pack up the gear and head to the airport, leaving California behind until next March.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Following the Hi-Line

From the Mountains to the Prairies -- Part 3
Part 2 can be found here.
Photos for this section can be found here.

Day 4: September 8, 2008 -- They Call the Hill "Marias"
The whole point of staying in Cut Bank was to be in position to work our way east along the former Great Northern "Hi-Line." But with the Rocky Mountains clearly visible to the west and perhaps some unfinished business to tend to, we head back into the hills for another day on Marias Pass.

Our first stop is at Meriweather (named for Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark expedition -- this was the territory they passed through) to get the lonely grain elevator against the sunrise sky. Not long after, we encounter our first train of the day, an eastbound BNSF train at Blackfoot.

The eastbound Empire Builder should be along soon, and we wind our way back into the mountains, staking out the footbridge at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex. We get the train there, then briefly stop to shoot the BNSF helper power at the nearby engine facility. Then the chase is on! We get ahead of Amtrak in the snowsheds, Shed 7 to be precise, near Java. From there we go to the summit of Marias Pass and shoot the train passing the Continental Divide sign. Using the station stop at West Glacier to get around the train, we set up one more time as the Builder meets a westbound freight at Grizzly.

The power on the westbound is a bit eclectic, with a BNSF "swoosh" locomotive on the point, followed by a Burlington Northern green unit and a Soo Line unit in candy apple red. We chase this train west, pausing at a small pond near Bison. However, with the sun still strongly favoring eastbounds, we head back towards Essex and intercept our next quarry at Sheep Creek Trestle just east of Essex. This train has BNSF power sandwiching a Norfolk Southern unit, with a Union Pacific unit running fourth.

We go back up into the snowsheds and shoot the eastbound at Shed 7. Next we get him with a nice mountain backdrop at Bison and an even better backdrop at Grizzly. Next we follow him to Spotted Robe, and once he clears a westbound gran train appears over the hump with a pair of DPU's on the rear. The sun is now around enough to make westbounds worthwhile, so we stay with the train and get him at Bison and again at the S-curves at Marias.

Now we hear there's a geometry train checking the tracks and moving west, so we head back up to Shed 7 again. Sure enough, a two-car passenger train (of sorts) pops out of the snowshed behind a GP30 in BNSF's Heritage I paint scheme. Cool.

Motoring along, we wind up at a location we had missed the previous day, the overlook of Tunnel 4 near West Glacier. We hear that there's trackwork going on at Red Eagle, but soon it clears up and our grain train (that we shot way back at Spotted Robe) pops out of the tunnel for a stunning view. We know the grand scene would overwhelm our little track geometry train, so we proceed to the other side of the East Glacier station at Belton and get him there.

In the name of greed, we head back to Tunnel 4 in search of another westbound. We get rewarded by an eastbound with six units on the point (four of which wear the Cascade green of Burlington Northern), followed by an eastbound grain train with a matched trio of BNSF power. Finally another westbound arrives, this one a mixed merchadise train with a Santa Fe warbonnet trailing in the two-unit consist. Right on his heels is a stack train with another warbonnet, this time as the trailer in a three-unit consist.

It's time for the westbound Empire Builder, so we head all the way back across Glacier Park and set up for the shot we got cloud-dinked on the day before at Bison. This time we're successful. With the day winding down, we head for our motel at Cut Bank (again), but pause at Durham to get a train in silhouette against the Montana Big Sky.

Day 5: September 9, 2008 -- Hi-Line Across Montana
Directly outside our motel window is a spectacular view -- the BNSF bridge over Cut Bank Creek in the town of the same name. The bridge is a prime target for today. With the light favoring an eastbound (well, actually we're under clouds), we venture west in search of a train. We finally encounter an eastbound near Blackfoot. At Meriweather we find a westbound grain train, and this captures our attention enough that we get it on both sides of the town of Browning (including a nice S-curve on the west side of town). He meets a bare-table train (empty piggyback flats) going east and we shoot this train at the Lewis & Clark monument overlook near Meriweather.

We pause briefly to shoot a westbound manifest train at Fort Piegan, then head back into Cut Bank to get the baretable train on the bridge under improving skies. We hold our position at the bridge and get the eastbound Empire Builder under rapidly improving skies. Next is a westbound stack train that we shoot broadside on the bridge.

With no trains imminent, we head into Cut Bank and do some exploring. We find the Amtrak station, and nearby is a string of wooden grain elevators (alas, with one of them being demolished). From there we head east onto the plains, pausing to shoot the grain elevator at Ethridge. Eventually we wind up in downtown Shelby where a local is switching in front of the station.

Ultimately a westbound stack train draws our attention, so we attempt a broadside shot at the elevator at Ethridge with very mixed results (although two horses add to the charm). We do far better with the train crossing the bridge at Cut Bank. Heading back east, we encounter a grain train just west of Ethridge. From here our eastward trek continues back through Shelby until we encounter a manifest train at Dunkirk, where we get him passing the elevator. A mis-timed chase has us missing the head end off the overhead bridge in Shelby, but we do get some military vehicles mid-train.

Back to the east we head, exploring the small elevator towns along the way. Devon has three nice wooden elevators (but no town), while Galata features two elevators and stock pens on the edge of its small town. Lothair, another town with no town, has two elevators, including one without its side sheathing, revealing the rustic wood beneath. Tiber has three good-looking elevators.

Finally we hit our first big town since Shelby at Chester. The "welcome to Chester" sign features wheat stalks and a wooden grain elevator, and peering past the sign you can see the BNSF main line and two elevators downtown. Wouldn't it be nice to get a train here? We really need a westbound. No sooner have we gotten east of town than a westbound shows up, and we scramble back to our spot with the sign and the elevators. We continue our westbound chase, getting the train passing the elevators at Tiber, Lothair, Galata (not enough time to get into town, so we settle for a broadside) and Devon. Heading back east, we encounter a stack train and once again don't have enough time to get into downtown Galata, so once again we settle for a broadside.

Okay, enough of this. We need the shot in downtown Galata with the elevators and stock pens, so we set up in town anticipating the westbound Empire Builder. And we wait. And we wait. Finally a call to Amtrak confirms our fear -- somehow the Builder snuck past us. BNSF to the rescue, however, and we get a westbound freight pounding past the corrals.

Sunset is coming, so we head back towards Chester and pause to shoot the town sign on the east end of town (featuring an F-unit and a grain elevator) as the sky turns color. We stop east of Joplin to get the town's elevator-enhanced skyline against an orange sunset. Finally we stop at Rudyard to get MMA Grain's ex-Rarus Railroad switcher. In the gathering twilight, we get a westbound BNSF freight, then after sunset we break out the flash and do several night shots. Satisfied, we head into Havre for the night.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Winterail-fanning -- 2009 Edition

Things are a bit quiet right now, so with nothing new to report in 2009 let's go back a few months to March and look at a trip I took with my brother Bruce to California. The reason for going was to attend the big railroad slide show, Winterail, in Stockton. But with air fares cooperating, we decided to fly into Los Angeles and spend a few days in Southern California before heading up to the Bay Area. Photos of this trip can be found in Photologues here.

Day 1: March 10, 2009 -- Black and Silver "Green" Machines
Our all-morning flight gets us into L.A. International right about lunch time, and we immediately head out for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. At the Port is the Pacific Harbor Belt, a railroad that was just named Railway Age's Short Line of the Year for its innovative roster made up entirely of low-emissions locomotives (and all painted in a Santa Fe-inspired and quite attractive silver and black).

We check in at the office, located at Pier A Yard near Wilmington, and meet railroad president Andrew Fox (I had met Andrew a few years before while visiting here with friend Dave Crammer). After congratulating him on his recent award, I asked him where would be a good place to photograph his railroad -- after all, Port security seemed tight in the post-9/11 world. Andrew quickly gets out a map and begins marking all the publicly accessible locations where trains might be found. He then gives me his card and cell phone number, in case I get hassled somewhere.

When I ask about photographing around the shop, he indicates that he was about to take a break to enjoy the Southern California sunshine, and takes Bruce and I for a pleasant walk where we're able to photograph a large chunk of the roster. Once we're done at the shop, we bid farewell and head out, map in hand, looking for trains.

We wind up circling the port a few times, but finally we find not one, but two trains running practically side-by-side on opposite sides of a small river from the Anaheim Street bridge. Once that was done, it's time for more circling, until we find a switch job working the Yang Ming facility near San Pedro. (Alas, the Big Red streetcars that serve San Pedro are not running on this day). After another couple of circles of the Ports, we find nothing (while there are a lot of accessible places in the Port, there are a lot of inaccessible places as well). The only real find is Union Pacific's heritage unit painted for the Western Pacific, the first heritage unit I've seen. Alas, it's completely unshootable. We pack it in and head south along the coast.

Day 2: March 11, 2009 -- Along the Pacific Coast
The morning starts out with ocean fog. Lots of it. We think we see bright spots, but it always shuts down again. Anyhow, undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted) we head for Del Mar and an appointment with Amtrak's Pacific Surfliners and the Coasters that serve San Diego-bound commuters. We start on the bluffs behind some very expensive houses, where we get a Coaster pushing south (locomotives are always on the north end, so southbound Coasters have cab cars leading), a Coaster pulling north and Amtrak going south (Amtrak, on the other hand, always has the locomotives on the south end).

We relocate to a small bridge just south of town and get two Amtraks and a Coaster in fairly quick succession (and since it's a broadside shot, direction isn't important). Back to the bluffs for a southbound Amtrak, then we head over behind the Del Mar horse track to get a broadside of a northbound Amtrak on a bridge.

With the sun finally starting to break through, we go to another set of bluffs on the south end of town (overlooking a very expensive home) to photograph a variety of Amtrak and Coaster trains. With a northbound Amtrak due next, we head over to the Soledad Lagoon in Torrey Pines State Reserve for a broadside of the train passing under old Highway 101. Then it's off to the Del Mar Racetrack, this time from the west side on the shoulder of the 101 for a southbound Amtrak and a northbound Coaster.

With the day growing short, we head north to Oceanside to add two more railroads to our mix -- Metrolink, which serves the Los Angeles commuter market, and the Sprinter, a diesel-powered light rail line between Oceanside and Escondido connecting with Metrolink, Coaster and Amtrak. We start off with a northbound Metrolink train pushing out of the Oceanside station, followed by a northbound Amtrak train in push mode. We then get our first look at the Sprinter as it arrives, and before it can make its turn to go back to Escondido, Amtrak comes rolling south. Shortly thereafter we get the Sprinter on its way back east.

Since we haven't seen the Sprinter before, we decide to try to find another location and wind up at the first grade crossing east of where the Sprinter's line veers away from the ex-Santa Fe surf line. Then its quickly back to the surf line for a northbound Coaster. Next up is a northbound Metrolink train -- the last northbound we saw was in push mode, so we set up at the south end of the San Luis Rey River bridge. Bzzzzt! Wrong! This train is pulling north, so we get a poor going away shot of a cab car. We get marginally redeemed when Amtrak comes south across the bridge a few minutes later. We then scramble south of the Oceanside station to get a Coaster pushing south.

With the day rapidly ending, we try to head for San Clemente but realize we have no chance of getting anything in sun there, so we wheel back into Oceanside. We finish up with Metrolink and Coaster action on the river bridge from the sunny side, and end with silhouette shots of Amtrak after the sun went down. Now it's off to the Tehachapi Mountains.

Day 3: March 12, 2009 -- Almost Heaven, Tehachapi Loop
We get up in the morning at the Quality Inn in Tehachapi and begin heading back through the mountains. No trains. We get all the way to the opposite end of the mountains at Caliente when finally we find a train heading towards Bakersfield. We immediately run into Mike Schaller from Virginia, and together we photograph the BNSF train from the hills near the Caliente horseshoe.

Next we find an uphill BNSF double-stack train, so we follow the dirt roads up and over Tunnel 3 at Bealville and get the train exiting there. We then go to the new Loop overlook (this had been a walking path just a couple of years ago, but now has vehicle access and a nice parking area) and in the process overtake a BNSF piggyback train. We get this train completely wrapped around the famed Tehachapi Loop at Walong, then go up the road just a little to get the stack train we had seen at Tunnel 3, this time exiting Tunnel 10.

Backtracking downhill to Woodford, we pick up an uphill Union Pacific general merchandise train (this trackage is jointly operated by BNSF and Union Pacific, inherited from predecessor roads Santa Fe and Southern Pacific respectively). We then go to a second overlook of Tunnel 10 and get the UP train there.

Heading all the way back downhill to Caliente, futilely looking for trains, we finally encounter an uphill BNSF piggyback train led by a red and silver ex-Santa Fe warbonnet. We get this train in the S-curves below Caliente, then make what is a very short drive for us but a very long way for the train to go over to Tunnel 2 and get the train exiting the bore. Rumor has it that BNSF wants to double-track most of the line through the Tehachapi Mountains, and if that comes to fruition all of the tunnels we had photographed this day (Tunnels 2, 3 and 10) would be eliminated and replaced by deep cuts. We snag the piggyback train again at Woodford, then get it crossing over itself at the Loop's Tunnel 9 (this tunnel would survive the double-tracking project), then get it again howling through Monolith past the cement plant there.

Trains still aren't running very much, and we get a BNSF general merchandise train running against the sun. To cure that, we follow him all the way to Mojave to get him under a signal bridge there. We had just missed a UP cement train going west at Mojave, but after getting the BNSF train we wheel back to Tehachapi in plenty of time to get him going under a classic ex-Santa Fe cantilever signal bridge. Continuing the chase, we try for the over-under shot at Tunnel 9, but the train is too short -- way too short -- to wrap around the entire loop. With the late afternoon sun casting a warm glow, we get the train heading downhill through Bealville, then scoot down the steep highway into Caliente to get him heading through the horseshoe.

The day is done -- or so we thought. As we pack up and head towards the Bay Area, the highway and the tracks come together just before Bakersfield at Edison. Here we find all the rail traffic that hadn't run during the day. We get our cement train meeting a BNSF stack train, overtake a BNSF merchandise train, and finish with a stack train coming out of the setting sun. Goodbye sunny Southern California.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On the Edge of Glacier Park

From the Mountains to the Prairies -- Part 2
Part 1 can be found here.
Photos from all parts can be found in Photologues here.

Day 2: September 6, 2008 -- Rocky's Road

Wake up, call Amtrak. The eastbound Empire Builder is on time and heading for Whitefish, Montana. We get up and head towards the depot when the radio starts squawking. The Builder has encountered a red signal signifying a potential breach of a rock slide fence. The dispatcher gives the train permission past the signal at reduced speed. Soon the train reports that it has encountered a large boulder on the tracks -- too big for the crew to move -- at Vista.

We locate Vista on the map and wind our way along Whitefish Lake. At the final grade crossing before the small lake road peters out, we see the rear of the train just to the east. We walk along the train and get to the head end, and sure enough there's a large boulder between the rails. The dispatcher has to roust a front-end loader operator out and get the equipment to the train, not an easy task. We get a few photos, then head back into Whitefish to wait. A little more than a half hour later, the Builder finally arrives in Whitefish, it's on-time journey no longer intact.

A BNSF grain train has departed Whitefish heading west, so we return to Brimstone (a place we had been the previous day) and get it there. It has DPU's (Distributed Power Units) on the rear, so we get the going-away shot of those. From this point the train heads into Flathead Tunnel (at seven miles long, it's the second-longest in the United States). The road takes us up and over the tunnel, and we get the DPU's (once again going away) from the top of the west portal.

Chasing the train west, we wind up back at Tamarack, but lose our train. Ah, he's gone into the hole to wait for an eastbound, so we set up at a cut and get the eastward autorack train. A small bluff at Tamarack provides a nice scene of our westbound grain train crossing a small bridge shortly thereafter. Continuing the chase towards Riverview, just outside of Libby, we encounter an eastbound grain train in somewhat bad light, and settle for one more going-away view of our westbound from the overhead bridge at Riverview.

An eastbound general merchandise train has entered the picture, so we proceed back east to the rock face at Fisher River to get him, and get him again at Wolf Prairie. Behind him is another eastbound grain train, so we pick him off at the small bridge at Tamarack. Staying put, we get a westbound grain train there that comes to a stop. Aha, they're running a hot intermodal westbound around him, but we can't quite get into position to get the eclectic head end of that train -- a BNSF "swoosh" unit, a Burlington Northern green unit and an ex-Soo Line leaser -- so a grab shot has to suffice.

From the overhead bridge at Rock Creek (not far from the west portal of Flatrock Tunnel) we get an eastbound stack train, then turn around and get a westbound grain train about 45 minutes later. As soon as the westbound clears, we get an eastbound merchandise train with an ex-Santa Fe warbonnet on the point with BN green and a BNSF Heritage II unit trailing. We push back west to Brimstone where we bag an eastbound stack train with two BN green units leading, then get a westbound intermodal train.

Finally we slide into the small town of Olney on our way back to Whitefish. Here we are greeted by a westbound grain train, and as he goes by we see an eastbound grain train appear. Since the line goes to single track just west of Olney, the westbound slows up and we get the eastbound DPU's passing the westbound head end. Finally, with the light all but shot, we get a westbound merchandise train passing the marsh from the road bridge into town.

With the westbound Empire Builder due through, we head back to the Whitefish station after dark for some photos. I get the train with the statue of Rocky the Goat (the symbol of the Great Northern, whose line this was originally), then head to the front of the train for a few shots before it departs for Seattle and we depart for bed.

Day 3: September 7, 2008 -- Into Glacier

Like yesterday, today starts with an on-time Empire Builder. Unlike yesterday, there are no rock slides to delay it. Since we're heading east towards Glacier Park, we opt to catch the Builder east of Whitefish at Columbia Falls.

Once the Builder is out of the way, we poke around town and find the Mission Mountain Railroad. One of their locomotives, a GP35 lettered for the Palouse River & Coulee City, is located near the mill served by the railroad; a Helm Leasing SW1500 switcher is located in a nearby yard. Pushing east, we encounter an eastbound merchandise train at Paola, where we get a grab shot. Heading back west with the train, we get a nice shot as it exits Tunnel 3.8 near West Glacier, then bag two more nice shots on either side of the town of Coram.

I had been intrigued by the rock cliffs at Hungry Horse, where the tracks cling to a ledge above a lake. It had looked like the opportunity to shoot a train here wouldn't happen as we pushed east towards Glacier, but now with the westbound in the picture we chased it back to the cliffs for a nice shot. A futile chase to Columbia Falls gave us a few minutes to track down the Sommers Lumber Company Shay locomotive on display in the town park, then we returned to Hungry Horse looking for an eastbound to chase to Glacier. Soon we had our train and we shot it along the cliffs, then chased it to the entrance to Glacier National Park at West Glacier for another photo. Continuing east with the train, we shot it from the overhead bridge at Red Eagle, and again from the pedestrian bridge near the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex.

Continuing east, we popped out on the far side of Glacier Park ahead of an eastbound train with five matched BNSF Heritage II units leading a train across the Two Medicine River bridge (yeah, everyone has gotten that shot, but it is a nice shot). A westbound merchandise train was waiting in the hole just east of the bridge at Grizzly, so we held our position and shot him as well, and he was followed a mere ten minutes later by a westbound stack train.

We wheeled back west with the stack train and wound our way up to the snowsheds, getting the train exiting Shed 7. We stayed with the stack train and got it from the overhead bridge at Paola, and since the light was a lot better than the train we had gotten in the morning, we continued all the way back to Tunnel 3.8 at West Glacier and got him there as well.

We headed back east in search of trains, and got all the way to Bison, just west of East Glacier, where we picked up a westbound grain train. After getting him at Bison, we then set up at the sign marking the crossing of the Continental Divide at the summit of Marias Pass and got him there. After getting the DPU's passing the sign, we headed to the snowsheds and got the train exiting Shed 8, then got him again at Java East. Hustling into Essex, we were able to scramble onto the pedestrian bridge at the Izaak Walton for a shot, then got the DPU's going away past the Inn.

Wanting to get back to the east, we paused briefly to shoot a westbound stack train at East Java, then went all the way past East Glacier where we found a westbound grain train draped over a hill at Spotted Robe waiting for the westbound Empire Builder to run past. We got the two trains side-by-side, then used the Builder's station stop at East Glacier to hustle ahead to Bison for another shot; alas, clouds dinked us when the Amtrak train showed up. Heading back to Grizzly (between East Glacier and Spotted Robe) we got the westbound grain train (and second one following) as they headed towards the Rockies with thunderstorms on the horizon. We then said goodbye to the Rockies and headed onto the Montana prairie to Cut Bank for the night.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Quebec-Ontario Passenger Railroading

White Mountain Railfest and Ottawa -- Part II
(Part one can be found here. Photos for both parts can be found in the Photologues section here.)

Day 4: June 15, 2009 -- Tanks But No Tanks
The morning was gloomy. Yuck. I had not seen the new power operating on the Agence métropolitaine de transport line between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Gare Central (Central Station in Montreal) so that was the first order of business. The Dorval station was a whopping three minutes from the motel, and the first train I shot had an F59 (one of the new locomotives) leading. The next train had a rebuilt (by Alstom) GP9 leading, followed by another train with an F59. Two more trains (GP9, then F59) rounded out the morning. At Dorval the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are side-by-side (and remain so all thee way to Dorion), with AMT using the CPR and VIA Rail Canada using the CN.

With the commuter rush dying down, I needed to get some Canadian currency from the nearby RBC branch, and as I was making my way to the bank I missed a westbound CN freight. Dang! But once the exchange was made I headed to Beaconsfield where a pedestrian walkway spanned both railroads. Here I bagged an eastbound CPR freight, then over on the CN I caught the VIA train to Windsor that operates with stainless steel Budd coaches. An eastbound VIA train, this one with the green Renaissance cars, concluded the action at the footbridge.

A mis-timed move to the Beaconsfield station resulted in a missed CPR eastbound freight, but once at the station I saw an eastbound AMT train, this one with a GP9 and this one in the first rays of sunlight to break through the gloom. Continuing west, I wanted to get a VIA westbound on the bridge at Vaudreuil-Dorion, but arrived just as the train crossed the bridge. The next VIA westbound was an hour away, so I decided to wait it out.
Standing on the shoulder of the highway bridge, I thought I noticed the westbound signals on CN light up all red (hard to tell now that the sun was coming out and the angle I had). Get the camera ready and -- yup -- an eastbound freight came onto the bridge. The VIA train going west soon followed, and I was on my way west towards Ottawa.

There were back-to-back VIA eastbounds on the way, so I stopped at a four-track signal bridge halfway between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Coteau to get them in fairly abysmal light. From there it was off to the diamonds at DeBeaujeu where the Canadian Pacific main line crosses VIA's/CN's Alexandria Sub. I had been to DeBeaujeu before, but never shot a VIA train on the diamonds. With two VIA trains due, it was worth the visit, and before they showed up I also nabbed a CPR westbound. (As it turned out, the two VIA trains met in the siding just west of the diamonds).

From here it was off to Dalhousie, literally on the Quebec-Ontario border. Friend George Pitarys has showed me this location a few years ago, where a railroad water tank still stands by the CPR. Upon my arrival I noticed the tank had been nicely repainted, and a town park was put in around its base. I decided that a westbound shot of a train passing the tank would be great, and the sun was out nicely at this point.

I hadn't emptied any of my digital camera cards yet on the trip, and I was running out of space, so while waiting I turned on my laptop to clear some cards -- and discovered that all of Dalhousie is on wireless internet! Well, this meant I just had to e-mail George with a "greetings from the Dalhousie tank" e-mail. A few minutes later my cell phone rang -- it was George and he and his wife Candy were only 30 miles away, just checking into a motel in Cornwall on the first leg of a cross-Canada adventure! They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner -- well, of course! They said they'd wait until I was finished at Dalhousie, so I waited patiently for my westbound past the tank. And waited. And waited. I could see thunderheads in the western sky, and soon I was counting down the minutes until the sun vanished. Three. . . Two. . . One. . . Done. No train past the tank on this afternoon (despite a wait of over two hours). Time to pack up the camera and head for Cornwall where I had a pleasant meal at St. Hubert's chicken with George, Candy, Hal Reiser and Tom Carver. From there, it was off to Ottawa for the night.

Day 5: June 16, 2009 -- Oh, That O-Train
I was in the lobby of the Comfort Inn for only a few minutes when Dave Stremes of the Bytown Railway Society showed up (after taking the bus there). A few minutes later Ray Farrand drove up, and away we went to check out Ottawa's non-VIA rail action. Our first stop (after the mandatory Tim Horton's pickup) was across the Ottawa River in Gatineau where we checked out the Quebec Gatineau, a Genesee & Wyoming subsidiary. Not much happening there (and wouldn't be until noon), so we scooted back across the river.

The O-Train is one of two diesel-powered light rail lines in North America and operates a five-mile line southward out of Ottawa. While not serving downtown directly, it does feed into an express bus system and the trains are quite busy. We went to the Bayview station of the O-Train where we shot two sets of up-and-down trains (Bayview is the north end of the line and all trains immediately turn back south upon their arrival). We then went to the Carling station on the O-Train and then walked south to get the train in a deep cut. Driving further south, we went to the line's tunnel and stood basically on top the north portal shooting southbound trains, still in a deep cut.

Ray knew of a great sandwich shop, and despite the long, long lines we quickly had a tasty hoagie (don't know that they're called "hoagies" in Canada) and headed back to the Quebec Gatineau. We found them getting ready to make their one move of the day, shifting a paper mill. We chased them to the paper mill and enjoyed some switching action from the "grassy knoll."

Now it was time to head back to Ottawa for more O-Train action. We headed to a great location where the O-Train crosses the Rideau River just south of (and across the river from) Carleton University. The river was down, so we could get almost to mid-river on rocks, and we also got some nicely framed photos from the shore line.

Now it was time to get ready for the evening. The purpose of being in Ottawa in the first place was a presentation I was making to the Bytown Railway Society at the Science Museum. After a tasty dinner and working through a technical glitch with the museum's sound system, the program went rather well -- the Bytown group is a great audience -- bringing to an end a productive day.

Day 6: June 17, 2009 -- Corridor Finale
Somehow I managed to leave the motel five minutes too late to catch a Toronto-bound VIA train leaving the Ottawa station, but a quick check of the timetable showed that I could easily beat it to Brockville (where the line joins the Montreal-Toronto main corridor). Since Brockville was on my hit list anyhow, I made the quick run down there and waited. It didn't take long for the westbound signals to light up and I got ready to shoot my VIA train. Except a westbound CN freight showed up. So I waited and waited and waited some more, but still no train. With a westbound due, I decided to go west of town seeking a shot, but all this did was get me out of position for two eastbound VIA trains -- I got a grab shot of one of them on a fill.

Okay, take a deep breath and regroup. The sun was still good enough for a shot of an eastbound from the overhead bridge at the Brockville station, and there was an eastbound due. Also, the westbound train to Windsor with the stainless steel cars was due through as well, so I settled down to concentrate on those two trains without getting myself out of position. The payoff came when the eastbound rolled into the station in good light.

A Canadian National local that had been working the yard just west of the station came through next, moving under the bridge to get to the crossovers so it could spot a boxcar across the main line from the station. While it was spotting the car, I moved down to the grade crossing and set up for the stainless steel train. It showed up, I got the shot and all was well again.

The weather was still somewhat marginal, so instead of spending all day in Canada and getting home late I decided to start working towards the border. However, I was approaching the town of Gananoque, a place I had never shot before. Additionally, there was a mini-rush of four VIA trains scheduled through there in the span of about 40 minutes, so I figured it was worth checking out. I discovered that the depot was pretty far out of town (and contained the local model railroad club layout), and with about an hour before the VIA rush I scoped out the signal bridges about a mile east. While doing the scoping I got a westbound CN freight passing the signals, and then a few minutes later got an eastbound freight snaking through a sag in the topography.

The sun popped out for the first VIA train, a westbound (which didn't stop), and it got hazy again for the second VIA train (also an eastbound that stopped long enough to notice there were no passengers boarding or detraining). Next up was an eastbound (the stainless steel train from Windsor) with a second train (Renaissance cars) right on its heels. That wrapped up the rush and it was time to head home.

Unlike the border crossing into Canada a few days earlier where the customs agent was friendly, the U.S. agents were snippy and short, making people (U.S. citizens, mind you) feel like they had committed a crime by making a border crossing. U.S. customs agents are simply the worst. Anyhow, with customs behind me, I headed through Syracuse and Binghamton without stopping, and finally arrived at home.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

White Mountain Railfest

White Mountain Railfest and Ottawa - Part 1

Note: We're changing the way we do blogging here. Instead of trip reports where every day is posted all at once, we'll be posting small portions of each trip separately. This will result in more frequent updates in more reader-friendly sizes. And instead of sticking to just one trip, we'll be bouncing back and forth between something current and something older. Here we'll take a look at the first part of a recent trip, this one to the White Mountains and then on to Ottawa, Ontario. Enjoy.

Back in January, Dick Towle of the Flying Yankee Restoration Group stopped by the office to discuss what was hoped to become an annual event -- White Mountains Railfest. With the Hobo Railroad (current home of the Flying Yankee) leading the way, a three-day event was planned for June 2009. Here's a report from the event.

Photos from the event can be found in the Photologues section.

Day 1: June 12, 2009 -- Flying Yankee at Night
With non-optimal weather in the forecast, I left New Jersey and drove pretty much non-stop to Lincoln, New Hampshire, home of the Hobo Railroad. Once there, I looked up the folks from the Flying Yankee Restoration Group and went over the logistics for the evening's night photo session. Friend Jeff Smith joined me, and after going over all the details, we headed for pizza.

The scheduled start time for the session was 7:00, but darkness didn't fall until well past 9:00. Once it got dark, though, the fun began. We started off with a shot of the Flying Yankee in its tent, posed with a 1954 Cadillac. You couldn't tell by looking at the shots, but the under-restoration Yankee was missing some glass and all its wheels. There's work to be done, but the classic trainset is starting to look good.

The timing was planned so we'd swing around and try a shot at the station with the Hobo Railroad's equipment with the photo line facing west into a dusky sky. Our timing couldn't have been better, as we got a nice purple sky behind the train and depot. Several shots were made here, then we headed further out into the parking lot for scenes with the railroad's Rail Diesel Car. A few more shots at the west end of the station, and it was off to bed.

Day 2: June 13, 2009 -- Hobo Day
The Hobo Railroad hosted the all-day events of Saturday. The main trip originated out of the Lincoln depot and headed beyond the usual trackage covered by the regular passenger trains, with the special going all the way to Ashland. Along the way, photo stops were made near Woodstock along the Pemigewasset River and at a Christmas tree farm below Plymouth.

At Ashland passengers detrained at the restored station for a tour. A few scenes with railroaders were set up for the benefit of photographers. It was agreed that Ashland would make a great night photo location for future events. Soon it was back on the train, with another photo stop at the Plymouth depot and a final stop at a bridge over the "Pemi" near Lincoln.

The Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train hosted Railfest in the evening, with an outstanding meal (I had the scallops) served while the train headed along the river. A special photo runby and group photo was made near Woodstock. After arrival back at Lincoln, Jeff and I (along with a couple of other folks) did an impromptu night photo session of some more of the Hobo Railroad's equipment. It was a fun day.

Day 3: June 14, 2009 -- Through the Misty Mountains
Rain had been a constant threat throughout the weekend, and Sunday morning it had arrived. It didn't dampen the spirits of Railfest attendees, however, as they gathered at the White Mountain Central in North Woodstock, New Hampshire (and literally right around the corner from the Hobo Railroad). The WMC had their Climax logging locomotive fired up, and soon we were heading north along the "Pemi" with the Wolfman in pursuit. (The WMC is part of Clark's Trading Post, one of the oldest family theme parks in the country; Clark's is famous for its trained bears and the Wolfman provides plenty of entertainment during the train rides).

After a few runbys, the locomotive was serviced for the regular runs later in the day, including taking water and wood (yes, the Climax is a wood burner). Photographers were able to shoot the servicing scenes. Steam is steam, be it a tourist operation of the present or regular service of the past, and steam scenes are timeless.

Up next was a tour of the White Mountain Central shops, where a Shay logging locomotive and a Maine Central REO railbus live. The shop was straight out of the heyday of short line steam, with all the tools and clutter (that's clutter in a good kind of way) laying about. There were plenty of targets for photographers here. The Shay hasn't run since the 1950s; the WMC also has a Heisler (which sees service), so it owns one each of the three types of geared logging locomotives. Once the shop tour was done, White Mountain Railfest came to a conclusion.

Since it was only lunch time, Jeff and I headed to the Mount Washington Cog Railway near Fabyans. I had heard that a couple of out of service steam locomotives were behind the shop and I wanted to check them out. After lunch in the railroad's restaurant, we headed down to the shop where we found a steam-powered work train being put together. We quickly got permission to walk around the shop area, and soon we found 0-2-2-0 No. 8 disassembled for maintenance (and not looking like it would be reassembled anytime soon) and the oldest locomotive on the line, No. 1 (the Mount Washington) vanishing into the weeds. The Cog is still an active railroad and treats its equipment not as historical artifacts but as working machinery. Like the conventional railroads of the 1950s, the Cog is now dieselizing and the steam locomotives are simply being pushed aside.

The shop door was open, and we were welcomed in to see the Cog's two newest diesels under construction inside; both were scheduled to enter service in less than a month. In an adjacent section of the shop, two more steam locomotives rested; the Cog has six steamers in service. While the railroad is dieselizing for financial and operational reasons, some of the employees we talked to seemed less than enthusiastic about the departure of steam.

At this point Jeff said farewell and headed for Boston. I was due in Ottawa in two nights, so I continued north. I made a brief stop at Whitefield, New Hampshire, to photograph the surviving ball signals at the former Boston & Maine / Maine Central diamond, then headed into Vermont. A stop at St. Johnsbury yielded a nice shot of the depot during a break in the clouds, and I followed the Washington County Railroad (former Boston & Maine, now a part of Vermont Rail System) north to Newport. At Newport there was power from both Vermont Rail System and the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic sitting near the surviving roundhouse; alas, a storm prevented any more sun from shining on this day. I got some shots under menacing skies, then headed towards the border.

At the border crossing I found a friendly customs agent who liked trains. When I told him I was heading into Canada to photograph the railroads he gave me a quiz. Apparently the location where the customs point is located was once known as Rock Island, and he asked me what significance Rock Island had in the U.S. I told him about the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, and he said I passed the rail enthusiast test and was waved into Canada. (He also told me something I didn't know -- Delson, Quebec, home of the Canadian Railway Museum, was named for the Delaware & Hudson). I headed past Montreal and tied up in the western suburb of Dorval near the main lines of both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, ready for the next day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Entry Into Montana

From the Mountains to the Prairies -- Part 1

Note: We're changing the way we do blogging here. Instead of trip reports where every day is posted all at once, we'll be posting each day separately. This will result in more frequent updates in more reader-friendly sizes. And instead of sticking to just one trip, we'll be bouncing back and forth between something current and something older. We introduce the new format with the beginning of a trip from 2008 that went through Montana, Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Enjoy.

In September 2008 my brother Bruce and I headed to Big Sky country. We had an ambitious 17-day itinerary planned, with a best-case scenario taking us into Montana, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota, and (if everything went perfectly) Wyoming and Nebraska might get included. We flew into Spokane, Washington, and made a bee-line for the first shot I wanted to get -- the view from the Bottle Bay Road overlook of Lake Pend O'Reille near Sandpoint, Idaho.

Day 1 -- Entry Into Montana

Photos illustrating this entry can be found here.

We land at the Spokane airport after a long flight from Philadelphia. The weather doesn't look too cooperative, but we soon have our rental car and are quickly out on the road -- a little too quickly, perhaps. I wind up coming up fast on a car in front of me and suddenly realize it's a police car. I slow down, but he slows down even more, pulls in behind me and turns on the lights. I pull over and he pulls up behind me. I was going something like 64 in a 50 zone. I explain to the officer that I had just picked up the rental car at the airport and wasn't used to it, as my car back home is much older and lets you know when you're going fast. The officer is satisfied with that explanation (surprisingly enough) and we're back on the road with just a warning. Phew!

Soon we're at the Bottle Bay Road overlook of Lake Pend O'Reille (pronounced "pond ou-ray") near Sandpoint, Idaho, the first stop I wanted to make. The weather is dull, but a westbound BNSF train appears on the bridge in fairly short order. We get the shot of the empty coal train, including a trailing DPU (distributed power unit). Since we're going to be passing by here on the way back (and the weather can't be any worse then, can it?) we decide to press on into Montana.

Following the ex-Great Northern into Montana, we soon overtake a train as we approach Troy. We're ahead of the train as Route 2 crosses the railroad, and we soon bag the eastbound mixed merchandiser with a BNSF "swoosh" unit on the point. Heading further east on Route 2, we encounter a westbound grain train led by a unit in the BNSF "Heritage II" scheme, which we photograph passing the Libby, Montana, Amtrak depot.

Backtracking towards Troy, we get another westbound grain train along the Kootenai River at Riverview. With Whitefish as our evening destination, we press on eastward, encountering a westbound in remote Wolf Prairie. We finish off several miles outside of Whitefish at Brimstone where a westbound stack train (behind a pair of Santa Fe warbonnets!) and an eastbound intermodal train are captured in the fading light (not that there was any light to start with on this gloomy day). Tired, we head into Whitefish, awaiting an early morning encounter with Amtrak's Empire Builder.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Indiana Wants Me

A full selection of photos from this trip can be found in Photologues. Photos appearing on this page can be purchased at

The genesis for this trip started after Summerail in Cincinnati in August 2008. I headed from the Queen City into southern Indiana to photograph trains passing the remaining few semaphore signals on the ex-Monon Railroad, now a part of CSX Transportation. The line is little used, with one train a day the norm. But on Mondays CSX sends a local from Mitchell, Indiana, into Louisville, Kentucky, and the Indiana Rail Road has a train operating on trackage rights from its Hiawatha Yard through Mitchell and on to Louisville, making for two trains over the line in a day. That fateful August Monday I chased the Indiana Rail Road through the blades, only to miss the best shot on the line at Hitchcock, Indiana, due to traffic congestion in the nearby town of Campbellsburg. Regrouping, I got to Hitchcock in time for the following CSX train, only to have clouds ruin the shot. Since that day, I had vowed to get back to Hitchcock.

In March 2009 I had planned to get to the semaphores on the return leg of a trip to Chicago, but persistent rain changed that plan. My brother Bruce and I then started working our calendars, clearing a few Sunday-Wednesday blocks to potentially make a run to Indiana from New Jersey if the weather cooperated. A pair of high pressure systems moved into the heartland and it looked like May 18-20 would be pristine in Indiana. On Sunday, May 17, we made our move and headed west.

Plans were rapidly developing for the trip. Thanks to intelligence from Mark Mautner, Mike Biehn and others, we found that the semaphore chase should get us to Louisville in time to chase the Louisville & Indiana's evening job north. Furthermore, on Tuesday we could catch the Alco power of the Southern Indiana and then head over to Paris, Kentucky, where Transkentucky Transportation was running coal trains with four GE diesels on the point and four more pushing. Four railroads, all of which should run, but none of which were guaranteed to run. It was a schedule built like a house of cards. Could it hold up?

Day 1 -- May 17, 2009
Southern Indiana is a long way from New Jersey, and we know it will take most of a day to get there. Happily, along the way there is a railroad that I had wanted to check out -- the Fayette Central tourist operation in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I had seen photos of the line's Rail Diesel Car (authentically painted for the Baltimore & Ohio) running on street trackage in Uniontown, and I really wanted to get shots there. I noticed on their schedule that they ran north out of Uniontown on Saturdays and south on Sundays, and after searching Google Earth I figured the street running would be used on days the car went south. Thus, a Sunday stop there would work right into our plans.

With the forecast calling for more clouds than sun, we decide that a 5:00 a.m. departure to get to Uniontown in time for the first trip of the day at 11:00 wasn't necessary, so we plan to arrive at about 1:00, in time for the first trip to come back and before the second trip departed at 2:00. We get to Unionton in plenty of time, and after circling the town trying to figure out the track layout (Uniontown was served by the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad) we find the street trackage and set up with about 20 minutes to spare.

While waiting for the RDC, we start to notice the track -- the flangeways are clogged with dirt, indicating that no trains had used them recently. Uh, oh. Maybe the RDC ran north, or maybe it didn't run at all... But then we follow the street trackage south, and it unexpectedly ends at a small business. This wasn't the through route the car would use to get to Fairchance. We soon deduce that the photos in the magazines of the RDC in the street had to be a staged shot. Now totally confused, we head back to where signs indicated the trips depart from and wait. It isn't long before the RDC appears on its return from Fairchance. At least it's running.

Once the train arrives at the loading area, we start talking with the crew. Sure enough, the conductor of the train is the mastermind behind the photos of the street running. I opine that I really would like to get my own shots in the street, at which point the crew states that it could be worked out (this was the second operating day of the season and ridership was light; if no one shows up for the 2:00 run to Fairchance, the crew offers to head over to the street running instead). No one shows up for the 2:00 run, and with the offer of good publicity in Railfan & Railroad, the crew lets us ride in the RDC over to the street trackage to get our photos.

This turns into our own little photo charter, as we make a stop near the ex-PRR freight house for a quick runby, and then head down Beeson Street where the RDC stops in each block while we walk ahead to set up for photos. Finally, with all the photos in the bag we ride the RDC back to its storage location where we also get the chance to photograph the railroad's Alco diesel (painted in B&O colors).

With a very successful stop accomplished, we thank the crew profusely then resume our trek to Bedford, Indiana. Phone calls from our Indiana contacts are promising -- it looks like the Indiana Rail Road will indeed be operating on schedule Monday morning. The plan is working so far.

Day 2 -- May 18, 2009
Be on the street by 8:30. That's the word we got before retiring at Bedford. Sometime before 7:00 a.m. the phone rings; Mike Biehn on the line. "The train has to set off a bad order car, but should be in Bedford around 9:00. I'm leaving Cincinnati (almost two hours away) now." Fifteen minutes later Mark Mautner calls. "The train is leaving Hiawatha Yard now." Fantastic. We get out and pick our spot on the south end of the street running in Bedford.

The town clock strikes nine and still no train. Not to worry, though, as a short time later we hear horns to the north. I phone Mike and let him know the train is approaching town. "I'm two blocks away," he replies, and just about the time the engine's headlight appears on the north end of town Mike comes screeching to a halt and hops out with his camera. On the point is nicely painted SD40-2 No.4001 and it makes a nice sight as it passes our location.

From here we head down to Mitchell where, if things go according to schedule, there should be a CSX local waiting. We get there, and no local. Bruce and I opt to head down to Orleans, the location of the first semaphore, just in case the local got out early. Nope, no CSX in Orleans. We set up camp at the northern semaphore in town and wait for Mike to show up, closely followed by the Indiana Rail Road train.

Once that shot is in the bag, we wheel to the semaphore set on the south end of town, comfortably beating the train there. Then it's on to the set at Leipsic (where the semaphores for each direction are located on the same side of the track, an unusual configuration). Out of Leipsic, and we nail the train twice near Saltillo, passing a single semaphore at each spot.

The busy town of Campbellsburg is coming up, but so is the shot that I've been obsessing about since August. Hitchcock is just three miles beyond Campbellsburg, so Bruce and I opt to bypass the blades at Campbellsburg and Smedley, heading straight to Hitchcock. Mike gets greedy and stays with the train at Campbellsburg.

So here I am at the shot I drove 600 miles (one way) to get. This time there's a blue dome overhead. I check the camera once, twice, three times, to make sure everything is working. All is set. Mike shows up, so the train can't be far behind. Headlight. One last check. The train gets to the semaphores and -- click -- I got it. The purpose of the trip has been accomplished and the rest is now gravy!

The congested town of Salem is next, and we manage to get through that just in time to grab a broadside shot of the train passing the court house. Then there's one last set of semaphores to get, this time at Farabee. Despite a long walk and drive out of Farabee, we still beat the train to Pekin, where we get a nice shot off a hill of the train in town. Just a few miles farther, we catch the train running in a private median between two streets in the town of Borden, then a few miles beyond that we get an across-the-field shot near Carwood.

With the chase now five hours long and the busy outskirts of Louisville coming up, we decide to push ahead of the train and scope out the street running in New Albany. We quickly find the street running, then decide to take a quick break for lunch, figuring we were way ahead of the train. This proves to be our first mistake -- while returning from lunch we hear the CSX local heading north! We had just missed it on the street trackage. Dang! Nonetheless, we get our train heading down 15th Street in good light. The chase has come to an end, and what a chase -- six shots with semaphores and two stretches of street running (plus the median running in Borden). Hard to argue with that chase!

After the chase we run into railfan Lee Gordon in New Albany, then Mike suggests we head over to the waterfront to look for a Norfolk Southern westbound until we need to be in position for our next chase. Once on the viewing platform along the Ohio River we run into Brad McClelland (who I haven't seen in years!). We do get an NS westbound, but the light has just crossed over to the north side of the tracks when it shows up. Nice shot, but it could have been better.

We head to Jeffersonville, just east of New Albany, to get in position for the northbound run of the Louisville & Indiana train to Columbus, Indiana, due out at 6:00. Quite a gathering of railfans is present at the convenience store just north of the railroad's yard and, sure enough, at about 6:15 the train appears and the chase is on. We opt to catch the train crossing a deck girder bridge just north of Cementville (the bridge still reading "The Pennsylvania Railroad"), then get the train again at Sellersburg. A few across-the-field shots are accomplished, then we get it again curving through Henryville. Next up is a driveway shot north of Henryville, followed by a scene passing a church in Underwood. A long across-the-field shot is done at Vienna, then we get the train passing a small depot in Austin. Whew!

We're still not done, however, although the roads conspire against us, with nothing running near the track. We grab a couple of bang-bang shots at Chestnut Ridge, just south of Seymour. From here Mike heads back to Cincinnati, while Bruce and I fight through Seymour to get one last shot at the cemetery in Jonesville. The sun sets, and we head back 45 miles to Jeffersonville to tie up for the night. Our "house of cards" trip is holding up -- three railroads attempted, three railroads in the bag.

Day 3 -- May 19, 2009
We wake up in Jeffersonville and our first goal of the day is the Southern Indiana. This small railroad serves a cement plant in Sellersburg, Indiana, and once a day makes the five-mile trek to the CSX interchange in Watson. We need to be over in Paris, Kentucky, by 2:00 for the Transkentucky Transportation's northbound coal train (assuming it runs), so we have a bit of a time constraint on the Southern Indiana.

We find the engine house of the railroad, but no one is around, and both of the Alcos are missing from the engine house. We head over to the cement plant and, after some circling around, we find the locomotives. Fortunately, they are parked fairly close to a parking lot, so we drive into the plant and get as near the engines as possible. From here I track down the crew to find out what's going on. "We're stuck here," says the brakeman. Seems a bad loading hose in the mill has switching shut down. Worse yet, trackwork on the line means the run to the interchange won't occur until the afternoon. Seems our luck has run out.

The way the locomotives are parked, the light won't be good on them for photography for another hour, so we decide to head over to Watson where a former Baltimore & Ohio tower is still standing. We follow the line and note that photo opportunities are limited. Arriving at Watson, we see trackwork on CSX and sadly note the tower is in deep shadow and will remain so for quite awhile. Time to head back to Sellersburg. We briefly ponder leaving the short line and heading somewhere else, especially if it turns out TTI isn't going to run either. A quick call to the TTI reveals that they have coal sitting in Paris and they will "probably" run, so rather than go off on an adventure somewhere else, we decide to stick with the plan and hope the Southern Indiana heads to the interchange at some point.

Circling the plant, we discover that the locomotives have started switching, so we start shooting. We get some nice shots from the adjacent golf course, with golfers putting on a green while the locomotives work beyond them. Then the Alcos head back into the plant and we are able to get some nice shots from the grade crossing that bisects the plant. The locomotives move forward, and suddenly the brakeman is waving and pointing forward. They're heading for the interchange! At this point it's only 11:00, so our decision to stick it out paid off.

We quickly get a shot at the first grade crossing beyond the mill. Funny thing happens, though, at the second grade crossing. The train comes to a stop. "Time for lunch," says the brakeman. Movement east won't happen for another 40 minutes. Well, that should still leave time before breaking for Paris.

To kill time we follow the line once more, planning our photo strategy. When we get back to the train, we wait another 15 minutes before the crew arrives and quickly they're off. We noted that there weren't any good shots until milepost 1, almost to the interchange, so we head there and wait. Once we get that shot, we get stymied by a slow-moving truck that prohibits a second shot arriving at the interchange. Rounding a curve, we're surprised by a small traffic jam -- CSX is in town switching as well!

With this turn of good fortune we take a few shots of the Alcos shuffling about (the runaround move puts them back on a curve I had wanted to get earlier before the truck slowed us down). Time is ticking, though, so we grab a shot of the CSX train and make our break for Paris. We have just enough time to get there before the train starts working at 2:00.

Arriving in Paris, we find the train doubling together in the yard right on schedule, so we head north to seek our first photo location. The coal trains operate with four GE's on the point and four pushing on the rear, so the decidedly north-south orientation of the line favors going-away shots of the pushers. We hear the brake test on the scanner, and shortly thereafter we bag the helpers pushing past the Bourbon Drive-In Theatre. The chase is on!

Next up is a rather nice shot of the train going away through a through-truss bridge in Millersburg. In Carlisle the tracks break just enough south to let us get a decently lit shot of the head end, and walking back along the curve we get the rear end also well-lit -- a two-fer! This is followed by a very nice elevated view of the head end approaching Myers, and a quick drive to another nearby spot gives us another good view of the helpers.

Cowan and Ewing don't have angles that float our boat, so we set up for a going-away view at the depot at Flemingsburg Junction, followed by a nice rural view at Mill Creek. We finish the northbound chase with a nice overhead view near Lewisburg as the train approaches its northern destination of Maysville.

At Maysville the train has to pull all the way through town to cross over CSX's main line to reach a coal transloading facility, so we find a perch near some bird houses just west of the Amtrak station for what could have been a killer shot except for stored boxcars on a siding between the train and the Ohio River. Once the train reaches the crossover we beat feet back to the highway bridge over the Ohio and get a few shots. By 5:30 the train is in the transloading facility.

Now we wait. With a little bit of luck the train will head south before dark, and with a little more luck CSX will send a westbound past us while we wait. We set up at the Amtrak station to wait it out. Sadly, we don't see CSX. But on the other hand, our train is pushing out at 7:00 in good shape for a bit of a southbound chase. For the return trip with empty hopper cars, TTI puts all eight locomotives on the head end. Cool!

A quick call to Mike Biehn gets us oriented -- head for Strodes Run Road. We do just that and find a multitude of nicely lit angles. Unfortunately, we can only get one so we wait on a hillside for the train that shows up surprisingly quickly. After getting the shot we try to negotiate the narrow road, but have to settle for only a grab shot near Lewisburg.

From here we try to beat the train to Mill Creek, but we can't quite get to the position we needed to be in before it showed up -- in retrospect we shouldn't have stuck with Strodes Run Road after the first shot but instead should have hopped on Route 11 and gone directly to Mill Creek. From here we're fighting long shadows, and we don't find anything else until we're way down the line at Carlisle where a hillside provides an elevated view as the power picks its way through a thin sliver of setting sunlight.

Suddenly the "house of cards" portion of the trip is over. Five railroads to chase, and all five ran when they should have in good light. The house held up. Wednesday is largely a "drive home" throw-away day, and anything that's bagged is gravy.

It's now way later than I would have liked it to be. My original plan was to finish the chase at about 7:00 and then drive three hours and see where we were. Instead it's 8:30 and we're just getting underway. Bruce starts perusing an Amtrak timetable and notices that the eastbound Cardinal will be making a station stop in Charleston, West Virginia, shortly after 8:00 tomorrow morning. Charleston is a bit farther than what I wanted to drive, but the Cardinal gives us a morning target, so Charleston it is. We have two options from Charleston for Wednesday -- head north to Morgantown and do the former Monongahela lines, or head east and follow CSX into the New River Gorge. Despite the late arrival at Charleston I stay up and peruse maps, and finally make a decision on where to head the next morning.

Day 4 -- May 20, 2009
One option for getting home is to take a fairly direct route towards Morgantown, spend maybe five hours on the former Monongahela lines and then head home. A second option is to head into the New River Gorge in West Virginia, visit some classic Chesapeake & Ohio towns like Thurmond and Prince, and hit the road for a straight shot home at about 2:00. Since I didn't have my complement of Monongahela maps and resources, that option would be tough. On the other hand, Amtrak's Cardinal has opened up a few possibilities. I have always had bad luck in Thurmond, with either clouds or no trains working against me. This day the forecast has lots of sun and the Cardinal guarantees at least one train through town. We decide to head for Thurmond and get the Cardinal and then wait for one CSX freight. If all that comes together, we'll head over to Prince and try for shots at the art deco ex-C&O station.

We wind our way down into the valleys surrounding Thurmond and soon we're in town. Thurmond is just a flag stop for the Cardinal, but we find passengers waiting at the fomer C&O wood frame station. Shadows have much of the trackage covered, but the rapidly rising sun has the shadows retreating. A coal train is tied up just north (railroad west) of town. Close to on-time, we hear horns and soon the Cardinal is rumbling through town behind a lone GE unit. Once out of town, we get some good news -- the signals clear up so we anticipate a CSX eastbound. We are not disappointed as a coal train rumbles through not long after the Cardinal has vanished.

With the day running like clockwork -- we got the Cardinal and an eastbound freight in short order -- we head over to Prince (a mere eleven miles away by rail, but a long drive around the mountains by road). Our goal here -- get a train passing the art deco train station with its raised lettering on the platform ends. We're in Prince before 11:00 and figure we have three hours before we have to dig into the nine-hour drive home.

Coming into Prince, we see a train waiting to head into Quinnemont on the Piney Creek Sub. We also find a westbound sitting in the station. We aren't in Prince very long before the wesgtbound (which is not very well lit) is moving -- I opt to shoot the train from inside the depot passing the windows. Shortly after he clears, the train on the Piney Creek Sub crosses the New River and passes the station area. We need the train on Track One against the platform -- we get it on Track 2. The train has pushers, but rather than wait for them at the depot (where they'll be poorly lit), we hop into the car and head into Quinnemont, getting nice shots of the head end rounding the curve near the yard office and the rear units going away under a C&O cantilever signal bridge. The head end power is cut off, and soon both sets of power are side by side as the train switches. We hear the crew say they need to head to Thurmond after switching, so we keep that in mind.

Heading back into Prince, the sun is swinging off the station for eastbounds, but just as it's getting bad a coal train heads east out of Stretcher's Neck Tunnel -- the train we had seen tied down at Thurmond earlier. Once again we're foiled as the train takes Track Two, away from the platform.

Our crew off the coal train that needs to go to Thurmond has its new train together, and we set up at the now-lit west end of the platform. Yup, the train takes Track Two away from the platform. To top it off, the nose door is open. Yuck.

Our 2:00 cut-off is now upon us, but things are getting interesting. A train is being assembled to go up the Piney Creek Sub, and the end of the bridge over the New River is lit -- very well lit. We decide to hang around, but there's plenty of switching to do. The light keeps getting better, but the hour keeps growing later. Finally, at about 4:00 the train leaves Prince and rumbles over the bridge for an excellent shot.

The original plan had us getting back to Bruce's at 10:00, then I could head home from there which should put me in at about 1:30. The delay caused by the train heading up the Piney Creek means there's no way I'm making the final leg of that drive, and I decide I'll tie up at Bruce's that night. That means we still have another hour we can now spend in Prince, hoping to get our platform shot. Maybe we'll even stick around for the westbound Cardinal!

Getting back to the station, we quickly discover that the trees around the station will put the Cardinal in shadow when it arrives, so we don't need to stick around for that. We do, however, finally get our train on Track One. Unfortunately, it's an eastbound coming right out of the sun. No good. With our new departure time finally approaching, another eastbound appears, this time on Track Two. Hoping that it has pushers, we head to the west end of the platform for the going-away shot. Alas, all we get is the last hopper on the train. Time to hit the road for home.

Arrival at Bruce's is at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, and I get up at 6:30 to finish my drive home and go into work. Looking back on the trip, I can't help but marvel at how everything fell into place -- we had five railroads on the original list, all of which were supposed to run, but any of which could simply not run for any of a niumber of reasons. Every railroad ran when it was supposed to, and even on the days where we had multiple targets planned everything fell into place. Getting Amtrak and CSX in Thurmond was a nice bonus, and after reviewing my shots I decided that the shot of the first eastbound in Prince wasn't so bad (even if the train was on Track 2). The only disappointment was missing CSX on the street in New Albany, but actually it wouldn't have been lit very well anyhow.

All in all, it was quite a trip. It was built like a house of cards, but the house held up beyond my wildest expectations.

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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