Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Roll of Film

Norfolk Southern; Kimball, West Virginia; April 18, 2006
Yesterday marked the final day that Kodachrome film was developed anywhere in the world. While slide films are still being produced and developed, it was Kodachrome that made color slide photography popular. And yesterday as I was reaching for a stack of slides to scan, I just happened to grab the last roll of film I ever shot. No, it wasn't Kodachrome - I had switched from Kodak's standard bearer to Fuji's Provia line of films in 2001, as I felt that Kodachrome was in a state of decline - but still I thought that it was perhaps ironic (and certainly coincidental) that as an era in film came to close I would be scanning slides from the end of my personal film era.

The last rolls of film I shot were in April 2006. My brother, Bruce, and I had headed down to West Virginia to shoot Norfolk Southern's Pocahontas Division - the "Pokey" - and CSX's former Clinchfield lines in southwestern Virginia. I didn't know during the trip that I was shooting film for the last time, but the decision to switch had been made about a month earlier. Things fell into place to finally buy a digital camera after this trip ended.

The weather on the Pokey started out worse than awful, with pouring rain on our arrival. But the weather cleared and the next two days were spent under sunny skies shooting mountain scenes such as a train emerging from Big Four Tunnel No. 1 near Kimball, West Virginia (above).

One shot we had wanted to get was of a train emerging from the tunnel and onto the bridge at Welch. When we got there we were dismayed to see the area was full of railroad maintenance workers. Nonetheless, figuring the worse they could say was "get out of here," I wandered over to the crew foreman with a copy of Railfan magazine that had the shot I wanted on the cover. "We'd like to get this shot," I said, pointing at the cover. He replied, "Okay. Looks like if you go over there and stand by our truck you should be able to get it." He had no problem with us being there, and in fact we had a really good conversation about the Heartland Corridor clearance project that would soon be coming to the Pokey.

Norfolk Southern; Welch, West Virginia; April 18, 2006
CSX; Pool Point, Kentucky; April 20, 2006
With our time on the Pokey done, we headed over to CSX to do more coal railroad photography. One place I had never been (but seen plenty of shots from) was Pool Point, located in Breaks Interstate Park just south of Elkhorn City, Kentucky. We tried and tried to find access to Pool Point with no luck. Finally, we went to the park's headquarters and tracked down a ranger. He described exactly where we needed to park and exactly where to look for the winding path from the road down to the CSX bridge. His directions were perfect and we soon were rewarded with a southbound coal train.

Towards the end of the trip, the weather had gone south again. Our final morning was spent with local rail historian Ron Flanary and he showed us some photo locations around Natural Tunnel State Park in Virginia. We chased a few trains, and finally in a fairly heavy rainfall we found a CSX train meeting a Norfolk Southern train near Yuma, Virginia. We shot the meet, had lunch at a Pal's burger drive through, then Ron took us back to our car at Duffield and we began the long drive back to New Jersey in the rain. Little did I know that the meet at Yuma would be the last trains I'd ever put on film.

CSX and Norfolk Southern; Yuma, Virginia; April 20, 2006

Fun (at least for me) Facts
With the year coming to a close, I have counted up what I have shot and scanned. The preliminary count for the end of the year is I shot 14,475 digital photos in 2010, bringing my total to 53,510 digital photos since switching in May 2006. I have also scanned 18,859 of my slides, but using monthly averages of the stuff scanned so far and extrapolated over the years I shot film, it looks like I'll eventually finish with 156,827 slides in the collection. This means that 12.03% of the collection has been scanned and scanning should finish sometime in February 2016. (Note: I do expect that number to actually go down, as right now the scanning is heavily back-loaded on more recent years where I shot a lot more; once I get deeper into the 1980s and early 1990s the average shots per month [which stands at 496 slides per month] will probably decline).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Forgotten Photos

Monongahela Railway; Time, Pennsylvania; October 1990

I've been slowly working through my slide collection making scans of just about everything. I'll take a stack of slides, load them into the scanner stack loader, make the scans, and then import them into Lightroom. Since I'm not really looking at the slides I'm going to scan as I load them in the scanner, when they open in Lightroom it's like the good old days of opening a fresh box of slides to see what's in them. I'm often surprised at what comes out of the scanner!

Such was the case when I loaded up the slides from October 1990. When the images opened in Lightroom I found a trip that I had taken to the Monongahela Railway back when that was the place to go for photography. The weather was bad for part of the trip, and to compound matters I managed to blow the exposures on some of the best scenes from the trip. Thus, the slides sat unlooked at and unappreciated for 20 years. But with Photoshop and Lightroom, slides that were rendered useless can yield very nice images. My favorite from the trip was of a pair of Detroit Edison GE diesels leading a train at Time, Pennsylvania. I had over-exposed the original, but thanks to modern technology I've managed to save this photo (above).

The rain made for some dark photography on the first day, but some brightening in Photoshop put the Monongahela's "Super 7" GE diesels back into good light, such as this scene of a train heading out of Waynesburg.

Monongahela Railway; Waynesburg, Pennsylvania; October 1990
There were a few other gems located in the October 1990 stack. The town of Nicholson, Pennsylvania, had a large event, complete with a parade, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western's magnificent bridge over Tunkhannock Creek and the town. That night the bridge was illuminated by a searchlight truck. The black & white photos I took that evening were pretty good (one appeared in the NRHS Bulletin), but I was never happy with the color slides. But thanks to scanning technology, the color version is now usable.

Nicholson Viaduct; October 1990
There was still more hidden gems in that stack of slides. A bunch of us did an informal night photo session at the shops of the New York, Susquehanna & Western in Little Ferry, New Jersey. One of the scenes from that evening is among my all-time favorites, but there was a second scene I had almost forgotten about. There was a front-end loader parked near GP18 No. 1800, and four of us carefully stacked ourselves, cameras and tripods onto the hood of the loader to get a nice scene of the 1800 with another locomotive tucked away in the shop.

New York, Susquehanna & Western; Little Ferry, New Jersey; October 1990
And finally, it's been my goal recently to get the Stourbridge Line's BL2 diesel passing the PP&L power house in Hawley, Pennsylvania. I knew I had shot a fan trip there many years ago, but forgot exactly when. Well, guess what showed up in this stack of slides. Yup, the trip was just over 20 years ago, in October 1990. It's great to go down memory lane with a stack of old slides made new through modern technology!

Stourbridge Line; Hawley, Pennsylvania; October 1990

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Special Trains at Christmas

New Hope & Ivyland; Hood, Pennsylvania
Christmas has always been a special time for railroad enthusiasts -- how many railfans got their start with a Lionel set under the tree? Trains and Christmas just go together.

The Polar Express movie from a few years ago only reinforced the Christmas and trains connection. Many tourist railroads offer official Polar Express trips or knock-offs (North Pole Express is one way to avoid copyright issues!).  And a lot of this magic can be found at night, when the trains and the surrounding communities are decorated in lights. Thus, in addition to being a time for peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, it's also a good time to break out the strobes for some good ol' night photography.

On December 10, 2010, I headed down to the New Hope & Ivyland at New Hope, Pennsylvania. Just outside of town is a location called Hood, with a nice bridge over a small stream. Santa was riding the NH&I throughout the day, but on Fridays and Saturdays there were three departures after dark. I met up with Mike Burkhart and Jeff Smith at Hood, and each of us set up a set of lights to capture the Santa Claus specials. With two flashes each, it was quite the light show each time 2-8-0 No. 40 steamed by. We stayed at Hood for three hours, trying different angles with each departure. It was a cold, but fun, night.

SEPTA Christmas Lights Special; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The next night the three of us were onboard the Christmas Lights Streetcar Special hosted by the Wilmington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Mike is the Chapter president and assisted with moving lights around, while Jeff and I used over-the-shoulder Lumedyne flash units to light a PCC-2 streetcar on the streets of Philadelphia. SEPTA personnel (consisting of streetcar operator Gary Mason and supervisor Ed Springer) were cooperative in allowing several night photos; locations were picked based on the amount of Christmas lights along the street or, in some cases, because a street was quiet of auto and other streetcar traffic. No Santa tonight, but it was an unusual streetcar opportunity.

SEPTA Christmas Lights Special; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  A week later (December 19) Mike and I were in Delaware along the Wilmington & Western, where their Pennsylvania Railroad "doodlebug" (a self-propelled diesel-powered railcar) had its halls decked with many, many Christmas lights. We went to the small community of Wooddale, location of one of many bridges across Red Clay Creek, to photograph four after-dark trips on the railroad. Steve Jensen, a volunteer for the W&W, was out chasing as well, and he arranged for the railcar to traverse the bridge slowly on each trip, allowing us to fire off several shots each trip.

Finally, the last trip ran and it was time to head home. Now I really have the Christmas Spirit!

Wilmington & Western; Wooddale, Delaware

More photos from each of these trips can be found in Photo Lines.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Timeless Treasure

Passing the sandhouse at the Rockhill Furnace shop complex
Back in October I participated in a photo charter on the East Broad Top Railroad in Rockhill Furnace, Pa., hosted by Lerro Productions. The EBT is the last narrow gauge railroad still operating in its original location east of the Mississippi River (although Maine's Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington now has tracks on the old right-of-way after decades of abandonment). The EBT has five miles of track, much of which parallels busy U.S. Highway 522. Back yards and businesses have encroached on much of the EBT, especially immediately north of Orbisonia.

Pete Lerro of Lerro Productions decided to focus the charter on the EBT's true treasure -- the nearly intact shop complex in Rockhill Furnace; the EBT station is there as well, although it bears the name of Orbisonia, the larger town across Blacklog Creek from Rockhill. The roundhouse, sand house, coal tipple and water plug all make the shop complex a trip back in time.

EBT has six 2-8-2s on the property in three sizes -- No. 12 is the smallest, with Nos. 14 and 15 in the medium size range and Nos. 16, 17 and 18 the workhorses of the old coal hauler. Currently only No. 15 operates, while the rest sleep in the Rockhill roundhouse. Pete arranged for Nos. 16 and 17 to be brought outside the roundhouse for the charter, and through some pyrotechnics the two dead locomotives had some life brought to them.

East Broad Top 15 passes 17 and 16 in the yard at Rockhill Furnace, Pa.
The previous evening, an elaborate night photo session was held at the Orbisonia station, with No. 15 posing by the depot. Lerro Productions used fix lighting to allow photographers to capture many different angles over the course of a couple of hours.

At the Orbisonia station
The evening wrapped up with some classic scenes inside the roundhouse as No. 15 was put to bed. Thanks to the staff of the East Broad Top and Lerro Productions for a journey back in time.

In the Rockhill Furnace roundhouse

More photos from this event can be found in this section of Photo Lines on the website.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

That's What It's All About

Santa tosses presents at Clinchco, Virginia

The 50th running of the Clinchfield Santa Train in 1992 
On November 20, 2010, brother Bruce and I chased the 68th running of the Santa Train on the Clinchfield Railroad (now a part of CSX) in southwest Virginia. The last time I chased this train was 18 years ago, on the 50th Anniversary, when Union Pacific sent their Challenger No. 3985 to run in disguise as Clinchfield No. 676. On that day in 1992 we spent most of the time photographing the head end -- the steam locomotive. But the real story of the Santa Train occurs at the rear, where the Jolly Old Elf tosses off tons of toys and goodies to the people of Appalachia.

The Santa Train arrives in Fort Blackmore
This year Santa had two helpers, mother-and-daughter singing duo Wynonna and Naomi Judd. Bruce and I first went into Haysi to photograph the stop there as swarms of people gathered to see Santa. Down the line at Clinchco the crowds got larger. We bypassed a couple of stops to get some head-end shots of the train on the road, but returned to the rear during the busiest stop in St. Paul. Here there were hundreds of people ready to see Santa and the Judds. And as Santa tossed off toys, I just happened to be at the right spot when a little girl smiled as she held her new stuffed bear. The Santa Train isn't about passenger locomotives and steel -- it's about a little girl's smile.

Smiles at St. Paul, Virginia

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Southern Ontario Rails and Transit

I was invited up to Ottawa to do a program for the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders, a large group of railfans and modelers, in April 2010. Coincidentally, my home Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, the Wilmington Chapter, had been looking to do a set of streetcar charters in Toronto. Combining the two into one trip into Canada seemed pretty logical, so on April 13 I set out with brother Bruce and friend Tom Moran for a trip north of the border.

Day 1: April 13, 2010 -- The Charge To Ottawa
Photos for both April 13 and April 14 can be found here in Photo Lines.

On the first day I met Bruce and Tom over at the airport in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where we ditched Bruce's car and headed north in my rental. Since the OVAR meeting was that night, we were on a bit of a time constraint, so we headed straight across the Canadian border at Thousand Islands. Once in Canada, we made a brief stop at Brockville, where we shot the signals and station.

The light wasn't real good at the station for an eastbound (which is what we had coming), so we moved around the corner from the depot and got one VIA Rail Canada train from Toronto bound for Ottawa. From there, we pressed on to Ottawa.

The OVAR meeting turned out to be a lot of fun. They are a large group (140 people at the meeting, which included a pre-meeting meal) and I really enjoyed giving the program. After the meeting it was off to a motel in Ottawa for the night.

Day 2: April 14, 2010 -- Around Canada's Capitol

The next morning we were invited to take a look at the ongoing restoration of Ottawa streetcar 696 at the OC Transpo shop. We had time beforehand, however, to go looking for a VIA train or two, and a pair left Ottawa bound for Toronto and Montreal early in the morning. We set out looking for a spot to shoot the Toronto train first, finally settling on Richmond, Ontario. After shooting there, we scooted cross country to the Montreal line, but were too late getting there for the second VIA train.

From there we went back into the city to the OC Transpo shops. We took a look at car 696, which is undergoing a full restoration to operation (which can't happen until Ottawa gets a new electric light rail system put in). Also at the shop was car 905, which had been rescued from its second career as a summer cottage.

After our tour of the two cars, we headed over to where Ottawa's diesel-powered light rail line crosses the Rideau River near Carlton University. Dubbed the O-Train, the five-mile line features two trains in service simultaneously, and all northbound and southbound trains are scheduled to meet just north of the Rideau bridge at the Carlton station. We shot many trains on the bridge, but then got out of town -- there was a shot southwest of the city calling my name.

Our afternoon destination was Dalhousie, Quebec, where a surviving water tank still stood along the Canadian Pacific main line. I had spent an afternoon there in 2009 but didn't get any trains. All I wanted was one westbound in the afternoon, and I'd be happy.

Along the way we made one brief stop to catch VIA at Maxville, Ontario, then we got to Dalhousie, which sits right on the Ontario-Quebec border. With the CPR quiet, however, we decided to gamble and leave the shot of the tank (even though it was perfectly lit) and grab a shot of VIA up at Glen Robertson, Ontario.

Well, you can probably guess what happened. Yup, as we headed back to Dalhousie a westbound CPR train passed the water tank in perfect sun. We were about three minutes too late -- in fact, the rear of the train was still on the crossing in Dalhousie as we came to a sad, mad stop in town.

Okay, that didn't work. After another long wait with nothing happening, two more VIA trains were due heading for Montreal. We decided to gamble (again) and headed just east of Dalhousie to the diamond at DeBeaujeu where the CPR main line crosses VIA's Montreal-Ottawa line. Here we were rewarded with a couple of trains -- and CPR didn't show up to make us mad this time. A couple of signal boxes with locks for both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific made for some nice "detail" shots as we waited for trains.

Back at Dalhousie the wait for a westbound CPR freight resumed. The sun was rapidly setting, and all we got was two out-of-the-sun eastbounds. The sinking sun made for some very nice silouhette shots of the tank, but that still wasn't what I was after. Very reluctantly, we finally packed up at sunset and headed for a motel in Cornwall. Once again, I had been beaten by the tank.

Day 3: April 15, 2010 -- On The Ontario-Quebec Border
Photos for April 15 can be found here in Photo Lines.

We awoke in Cornwall as the sun was rising into a clear sky. That silouhette shot we had gotten at the tank at Dalhousie at sunset the previous night kept going through my brain -- that wasn't a bad shot for a morning eastbound. The sun was out, we had some time -- "We're going back to Dalhousie," I declared.

So back we went. This time, luck was very much on our side, and it didn't take long to get an eastbound Canadian Pacific freight rumbling past the water tank. One of the primary missions of the trip had been accomplished!

With that piece of business out of the way, we heard on the scanner what sounded like a train up on VIA's line at Glen Robertson. We headed up there to investigate, and sure enough there was a Canadian National local, led by a battered locomotive, taking the switch onto the old Ottawa Central (which CN had just recently bought back). The train quickly vanished into the trees to do some switching, so we headed up to Glen Sandfield to wait him out at the crossing. Eventually he arrived and we got our shot.

Next up was a Montreal-bound VIA train, so we returned to the main line at Glen Robertson and got a broadside shot passing a farm. With that train out of the picture, we were then left to try to figure out what to do next. Hmmmmm.... We finally settled on chasing that CN train up the Ottawa Central on its way to Hawkesbury. We headed up the line and finally overtook the train at Vankleek Hill, which has a small yard used when the OC ran the line.

The train only paused for a moment here before resuming its journey up the line. We'd get him again crossing the fields at Green Lane. Alas, once in Hawkesbury we found that photo opportunities were limited. We broke off there and headed back down to the VIA main, which had two trains due through -- one Montreal-bound and one headed for Ottawa -- in fairly short order. We decided to head for the station in Alexandria to shoot them.

Our arrival into Alexandria had a bit of a surprise -- the Montreal train was already sitting in the station! As it turns out, he was running about ten minutes early, so we had plenty of time to park (more or less), get out and get a few photos before he departed. The meet occurred "just around the corner" at DeBeaujeu, so we didn't have long to wait for the Ottawa train. We shot him in the station, and again as he made his departure.

With the day pretty far along at this point, we had to make a decision -- we were ultimately heading for Toronto, but we weren't really in good range to see a lot before darkness settled in. We decided to head back the wrong direction, eastward towards Montreal, and hit the Canadian National main line at Coteau, Quebec. This is where Ottawa-to-Montreal trains join the main line, plus there are the through Montreal-Toronto trains, a yard, some freight, a station and a three-track signal bridge. Plenty of stuff to shoot.

Our arrival pretty much coincided with a westbound VIA train powered by one of the "genesis" diesels pulling LRC cars. About 45 minutes later we got a treat, as an F40 pulling an all-stainless steel train headed westward. An eastbound CN grain train was through shortly thereafter. As soon as the eastbound freight cleared, we got a westbound VIA train under the signal bridge, followed by a freight 20 minutes later. A local freight pulled into the yard, and the day finished off with one more eastbound VIA train and two more westbound VIA's. A nice show to end the day.

Day 4: April 16, 2010 -- Rain, Rain, Go Away
Photos for April 16 can be found here in Photo Lines.

We were back in Cornwall for the night and when we awoke, unlike the previous morning, we found clouds and rain. The clouds had actually moved in the previous day while we were at Coteau, but now they had precipitation along with them.

We headed west towards Montreal, and almost immediately picked up a westbound Canadian National freight. We gave chase, finally pulling off the freeway and down to the tracks at Ingleside, Ontario. Unfortunately, we were blocked by a gate here and couldn't get a really good shot, so we headed back out, this time getting the train at Maitland.

We knew we had both east- and westbound VIA trains coming, so we headed into Lansdowne where the two trains met almost in front of us (actually just a few seconds apart just to our east). Just as we were leaving, we spotted a headlight and caught a Canadian National freight heading east through the signals in town.

We continued our westward push, stopping at the VIA station in the middle of nowhere at Gananoque, Ontario. With the rain still coming down, we got a westbound and eastbound freight about 20 minutes apart. The (fairly) new construction station, built for VIA, now houses a model railroad club and a small VIA waiting room; only a few trains stop here.

We arrived at the next big town, Kingston, with the rain still falling. An eastbound VIA train was due, and as he made his station stop a westbound freight came by. Fortunately, the freight cleared before the VIA train proceeded east, so we were able to photograph both trains. The VIA train would split at Brockville, with one section going to Montreal and the other to Ottawa; interestingly, the two trains operated as one unit, complete with the Ottawa section's locomotive tucked into the middle of the train!

Up next was the train we were looking for -- a Windsor-bound train that would have F40s on the point and Budd-built stainless steel cars following -- almost a 1950s streamliner (ignoring the F40 for a moment). While this westbound train made its stop, something nice happened -- the sun came out!

The clouds had returned by the time we made our next two stops. We caught eastbound and westboundVIA trains at Napanee on the bridge located there, then we shot a westbound VIA train at Belleville. The next stop was at Trenton, where the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National run side-by-side. We caught an eastbound CP freight and a westbound VIA train on the CN, but the photo angles were pretty tight. Heading west, the CP and CN remain fairly close together, so we headed towards Newtonville, a location that has bridges over both railroads.

We didn't get to Newtonville -- at least not right away. I spotted the end-to-end wooden bridges over the two railroads at Wesleyville, and with the sun out we decided to make our stand there. The Canadian Pacific was up first, with a prefectly-lit view of a train passing the signal on single track.

Then the double-track CN got into the action with two westbounds -- a freight followed by VIA. Back over on the CP, we got a westbound passing under the wooden road bridge. We finally moved down to Newtonville, where (with the sun still out) we got an eastbound VIA train and a westbound CN freight right at sunset. Time to head to Toronto!

To be continued -- check back.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frozen Tundra of the South

As a recently elected to the Board of Directors of the National Railway Historical Society, I ventured south to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend a board meeting on January 9-10, 2010. While I briefly considered flying, I decided that I wanted to see a few things along the way, so I loaded up my iPod with some great tunes, downloaded a few trainwatching guides, programmed the scanner and headed south on the evening of January 7. The night was cold, and I encountered some snow showers below Baltimore. I met up with my brother Bruce at a motel in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where we'd begin the next day's photography.

Day 1: January 8, 2010 -- Ashland Interlude
See the photos in Photo Line

Virginia Railway Express provides commuter rail between Fredericksburg and the nation's capitol, but only one train would head north after daybreak. With the sun attempting to pop out after the previous night's snow showers, we had trouble finding a location that might provide nose lighting on the locomotive (which pushes from the south end of the train) and was out of the shadows of the trees that closely hug the track. We weren't sure if Amtrak's Auto Train had gone north yet (Julie at Amtrak's toll-free number said it hadn't arrived yet at Lorton, about 30 miles up the track). We finally found a place in the woods and snapped the northbound VRE train pushing northward.

After that the sky clouded up again and snow -- heavy snow (and not in the forecast) began falling. We went to VRE's Leeland Road station about four miles above Fredericksburg and in fairly short order we got a northbound CSX coal train and a southbound Amtrak train. We then moved to the nearby overpass for a view of a northbound Amtrak.

The ultimate goal for the day was to get to Ashland, a quaint town where the tracks roll through the middle of the main street downtown on a private median. But on the way to Ashland is the town of Doswell where the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac (the line we were following) crosses the former Chesapeake & Ohio. the C&O is now operated by the Buckingham Branch Railroad, and they had a local train working Doswell. We also got a northbound train rattling the diamond on the former RF&P. Meanwhile, a solid line of crystal clear sky was working its way in from the west, so we beat feet down to Ashland.

We started off in Ashland with a badly-lit northbound train. Talk on the radio, however, indicated that a bad switch several miles north at Milford had southbound trains blocked. Once the switch was fixed, a parade of two Amtrak trains and two CSX freights came through. Nice.

Next up was a very poorly lit northbound, but we could hear him talking to a southbound up the line. I had never gotten the shot of a train passing the church at Gwathmey, two miles below Ashland, so while Bruce stayed in town to get a shot near the Ashland station, I headed to Gwathmey for the southbound. Just below Gwathmey the freight met a northbound (and once again poorly lit) Amtrak train.

The day was winding down, and long shadows were creeping it at Ashland. With one more Amtrak southbound on the schedule, we headed back to Doswell, which was more open. Before Amtrak arrived, a northbound local freight appeared and stopped to work the Buckingham Branch interchange. Then in was time for Amtrak, and then it was time to hit the road. Bruce headed north back to New Jersey, and I headed non-stop south to Charleston. Okay, I made one stop -- I had to get a taco at South of the Border!

Day 2: January 11, 2010 -- Empty Palmetto Rails
See the photos in Photo Lines

Ah, the warm south -- not! The fountains in front of the Charleston Place Hotel had ice clinging to its horses. After two days of meetings, it was time to head north and I was anxious to explore what is known as the Lowcountry in South Carolina. I had several stops I wanted to make along CSX's ex-Atlantic Coast Line trackage. Since this was the I-95 of the rail world, I figured getting trains at most of the locations would be a snap.

It was sunny and pleasantly warm(er) as I stopped next to a signal bridge just south of the Charleston Amtrak station in North Charleston. I hoped to get one freight going south before I had to relocate to find better lighting for Amtrak's northbound Palmetto. Sadly, all that came was a light engine move (with the engine running backwards) and a local freight (with the engine running backwards). Amtrak was nearly on time, however, so I pushed north hoping to find a wide open spot to shoot a broadside of the train.

Driving north, I passed the dragging defect detector at Goose Creek along U.S. 52. This would start talking on the radio once a train passed over it, so I made note of the mileage. Before I got to Monck's Corner, the detector, now about ten miles behind me, went off. I had a ten-mile lead on Amtrak. Crossing the tracks on a bridge at Monck's Corner I noticed a depot to the north -- that would be where I would make my stand. I snaked through town and down to the depot, only to discover the angle that looked so promising from the bridge (a quarter mile away) was quite cluttered. What to do . . . Amtrak was closing fast.

I decided that I would press my luck and try to make Macbeth ahead of the train. I snaked back out through town, drove north on 52 and made the left turn for the one-mile trek into Macbeth. It wasn't as open as I would have liked, but when I opened the car door I could hear horns to the south. This would be the shot, like it or not. It didn't frame up half bad, and I snagged it. Without any freights in the immediate forecast, I decided not to wait at Macbeth and pushed on to the next target on my list.

The next place I wanted to reach was Etta, just north of St. Stephen (and called the best train watching location in South Carolina). The town of St. Stephen looked like it might have a depot, so I swung onto the main drag off U.S. 52, wandered to the tracks and -- yup -- there was a depot. After snapping that, I headed into Etta where the tracks cross the Santee River on a long bridge. This would be worth a wait, so I turned the scanner up (I'd hear trains calling signals miles away) and eased back for a nap. Taking a nap proved to be too easy, as the radio stayed quiet. After about an hour, the sun had pretty much moved out of position for a good shot, so I headed back north.

Lane had good potential for shooting, and I could hear a maintenance crew talking on the radio north of town. I wandered up and found a work train sitting waiting for a signal to go north. I continued on, stopping at Kingstree to shoot the Amtrak depot. By now the work train was on the move, but it was coming directly out of the sun. With no light on the nose and practically no light on either side, I settled for a shot of the train passing the Railroad Auction.

Lake City looked big enough to have a depot, so I followed the old highway into town and found a station, along with an Atlantic Coast Line caboose and observation car on display. Still no trains. The small town of Scranton had good possibilities, but still no trains. A decaying depot was still standing in Effingham a few years ago (according to reports), but investigation showed that all that was left was a concrete platform.

Finally I arrived at Florence, the end of my planned itinerary. I had been following the railroad for 80 miles and six hours, and other than Amtrak and the work train I hadn't seen much else. So much for it being a busy railroad. At Florence I found the old ACL depot and headquarters building (now used by a hospital), and the new Amtrak station next to that.  I had about twelve hours of driving left to do, so I prepared to head north. As I left Florence, the first southbound freight left town heading into the territory I had just fruitlessly followed. Some days you're the windshield, and some days you're the bug.

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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