Monday, August 08, 2011

South Florida Fun and Sun

All photos from this trip can be found here.
Florida East Coast; Jupiter, Florida; March 25, 2011
Back in March I went to Florida on a lighthouse tour with Pete Lerro of Lerro Productions. There wasn't much time to do any rail photography while the trip was going on, but as the tour wound down a few opportunities presented themselves, and spending a few extra days in the Sunshine State after the tour allowed for some solid railroad shooting.

Bahia Honda Bridge; March 20, 2011
The first opportunities came as the result of a last-minute change in plans during the lighthouse tour. A boat ride from Key West to the Dry Tortugas was canceled due to heavy seas, so the four of us on the tour chartered a small plane to fly to some lighthouses. As the plane could only hold three people plus the pilot, we broke our group into two sections. Pete and my brother Bruce took the first flight, while Dennis Morgan and I headed back up the Keys to shoot some remnants of the Florida East Coast's Key West extension (opened in 1912). Most of the bridges used by the FEC were later used by U.S. 1 after the FEC abandoned the line following the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, and most of the bridges have since been bypassed by new highway bridges. Two of the most interesting bridges can be found on either side of Bahia Honda Key -- on the south (west) side is a through truss bridge where the highway was simply placed on top of the trusses following the railroad's abandonment. On the north (east) side is Sevenmile Bridge that connects to Marathon Key.

By March 21 the tour was winding down with Pete and Dennis working their way towards the airport. A free afternoon at Fort Lauderdale found us shooting the evening rush of Tri-Rail commuter trains. Pete, an avowed steam fan, couldn't quite figure out what all the excitement was about over diesels. The next morning we shot the last of the lighthouses on the tour (at Jupiter Inlet), Pete and Dennis headed to the airport and Bruce and I headed trackside. We were back near Fort Lauderdale for the evening Tri-Rail rush, then caught a Florida East Coast train in Fort Pierce to wrap up the day.
Tri-Rail; West Palm Beach, Florida; March 22, 2011
The following day, March 23, was spent largely in the Fort Pierce area with a side trip to Stuart. The Florida East Coast is a tough railroad to shoot during the day (most traffic is at night), but the ATCS Monitor software allows you see what the dispatcher is seeing for the entire railroad and lets you find those elusive daytime freights with ease. We started out shooting South Central Florida Express, a railroad that primarily serves the sugar cane fields in its namesake location but also interchanges some mixed merchandise with the FEC in Fort Pierce. The highlight of the day was heading down to the long bridge in Stuart where we caught two northbound FEC trains on the bridge and a southbound shortly thereafter.
Florida East Coast; Stuart, Florida; March 23, 2011
The next day we ventured down to Clewiston, the headquarters town of South Central Florida Express, to check out the cane operations. Things seemed unusually quiet down there, quieter than we had been told they should be. We couldn't find much in the way of cane harvest trains, but we did follow the road train out of town heading for the CSX interchange in Sebring. The scenic highlight of the trip is the bridge at Moore Haven, but the light wasn't around enough to make the shot look really good. Back at Clewiston not much was happening, so we ventured back out looking for the return of the Sebring train. It came back with no freight -- just light locomotives. And when they got to the bridge at Moore Haven, a large cloud blocked the sun just long enough for the locomotives to get across the bridge in shadow. This wasn't our day...
South Central Florida Express; Palmdale, Florida; March 24, 2011
Back at the shop, we did find another non-cane switch job working outside Clewiston and followed it back into town. Soon everything was tied up and the quiet railroad was even quieter. It wouldn't be until later that we would find out the cane harvesting season ended three days before our visit.
South Central Florida Express; Clewiston, Florida; March 24, 2011
The next day we had three bridges on the Florida East Coast locked into our sights. All we would need would be enough trains to shoot. The first was in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a lift bridge with a conveniently located parking deck that provided a nice view of a southbound. A northbound also came, but the way the lift span is configured the shot is definitely better for a southbound.
Florida East Coast; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; March 25, 2011
Getting a morning southbound at Stuart was almost a daily obsession, but once again trains did not cooperate. Thus, we found ourselves at Jupiter for our next bridge shot, getting both a southbound (top photo of this blog entry) and a northbound. Then, we found the bridge at Roseland using Google maps and headed there for an evening shot of a northbound; a southbound met the northbound just north of the bridge. Six trains on the FEC in daylight, three in each direction. By FEC standards, a pretty busy day.

Our last day in Florida was mostly visiting relatives, but good timing put us and northbound FEC train No.202 in Fort Pierce at the same time. Our final shot would be of two yellow SD40-2s leading the train over a small bridge on the north end of town.
Florida East Coast; Fort Pierce, Florida; March 26, 2011
There are still things I need to shoot in Florida. A morning southbound at Stuart remains elusive, and getting back to the cane fields -- this time in season! -- is a priority. Toss in Amtrak trains and the Bone Valley phosphate fields near Tampa (and the Tampa streetcar) and the Sunshine State still beckons.

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