Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Random Ramblings - Here Comes Thomas!

There was nothing quite like the glory days of Michigan steam in the 21st century -- yes, the 21st century -- when two Berkshire locomotives from the Lima Locomotive Works were stomping through the state. From 2007-2009, Michigan's own Berkshire, Pere Marquette No. 1225 based out of Owosso, would be joined on and off by Nickel Plate Road No. 765, visiting from Fort Wayne, Ind. Photo charters by both Lerro Productions and Historic Transport Preservation, plus Train Festival 2009, all made Michigan a grand place for steam.

Photo 1702 Nickel Plate Road 765; Carland, Michigan October 10, 2009
Nickel Plate Road 765; Carland, Mich.
The grain elevator at Carland made for a favorite photo prop on many charters, and not unexpectedly we were once again at Carland on October 10, 2009, for a charter sponsored by Historic Transport Preservation with the 765. While there, a mother and her young son happened to pull up to watch the runbys. The kid was obviously a budding railfan, decked out in complete Thomas the Tank Engine garb. Well, we just had to get the kid into a photo. Mom was dressed in 21st century clothing, but we asked her if her son would mind posing with two of our "actors" during a photo runby. She said it wouldn't be a problem, so Kelly Lynch of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society took the lad by the hand and posed him in front of the photo line. Christopher Pitzen knelt down next to the kid.

Now 765 is a loud locomotive, especially during photo runbys when smoke and noise are a part of the show. With a grade crossing just behind the photo line (and the need for 765 to whistle loud for the crossing) I was positive the kid would bolt for his mom halfway through the runby. Christopher, however, pointed down the track and kept telling the kid "Here comes Thomas! Here comes Thomas!" The noise was incredible, the ground shook -- and the kid held his ground. As the locomotive blasted (and "blasted" doesn't begin to convey the experience) past, the kid turned his head and followed the engine with his eyes, smiling a huge smile. That's an experience that will stick with you for a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To Missouri By Train

Photo 2478 BNSF Railway; La Plata, Missouri October 20, 2012
BNSF Railway; La Plata, Mo.; October 20, 2012
Last month I was invited to be a speaker at a travel writing and photography workshop sponsored by the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and held at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Mo. As part of the deal, I was offered an Amtrak trip from New York to La Plata with sleeping accommodations each way. I opted to go out via the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago and return via the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington, D.C. (and a Northeast Corridor train from D.C. back to New York). Travel between Chicago and La Plata would be on the Southwest Chief. Because of the train travel, this trip would be unique for me -- I wouldn't have a car, so every photo location had to be accessible via train and foot.

On Thursday, October 18, I got a ride from home to Dover, N.J., to begin my train travel via New Jersey Transit's Morris & Essex line to Penn Station in New York. I had sent most of my clothes out to Missouri ahead of me to keep what I was carrying to a minimum so I could do exploring between trains at various stops. My exploring started right in Penn Station where I found a remnant of old Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1964) -- a door frame from the old station still remained in the Long Island Rail Road section of the new station. The doorway was located right next to a police kiosk, and I quickly explained to the officer on duty what I was doing -- shooting a doorway is not illegal, but might look a bit strange. "Knock yourself out," the officer laughed. "It's all good."

Train time found me settling into a roomette in a Viewliner sleeper. I had a room on the west side of the train for great views of the Hudson River at sunset and enjoyed dinner in the diner in the final glimmer of light. The train paused at the Albany-Rensselaer station for just under an hour as the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited was added to the train for the trip to Boston, which gave me some time to explore the station there.
Photo 2474 Amtrak; Rensselaer, New York October 18, 2012
Train time at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.; October 18, 2012

After departure the attendant made up my bed, and I was delighted to find that the bed was even with the window sill; no awkward propping up was necessary to watch the lights of the towns out the window as sleep approached. Morning was somewhere in Indiana.

Photo 2476 Chicago Transit Authority; Canal & Wells, Chicago, Illinois October 19, 2012
CTA; Chicago, Ill.
Arrival in Chicago was in mid-morning and I had about five hours before getting on the Southwest Chief. I had seen photos of a pretty neat junction on the Chicago Transit Authority in the Loop that was shootable from a parking deck, and I made my way to the intersection of Canal and Wells and found the parking deck. Sure enough, it looked down on a crossing with interchange tracks in three of the four quadrants of the crossing. Trains were frequent and I tried a variety of angles. With so many geometric lines in the photo, it was a bit difficult to figure out which lines to make parallel to the edges of the photo (and the looking-down angle didn't help matters). The photo at right is heavily cropped and rotated, as I didn't like the looks of the lines in the original. The horizontal photo below is pretty much the way it was shot -- the horizontals were a little easier to frame up.

After getting several trains at the Loop, I headed out onto CTA on the Blue Line towards O'Hare Airport. The 2200-series cars are making their last stand on this line before being replaced by newer cars, and while none are used on the front or back of train sets (they are always sandwiched mid-train, making photos difficult) I did make sure to ride a few of the cars. It was cloudy, but I made a few stops for photos, some with the skyline in the background. The line ducked back underground for a couple of stations (the Belmont Station being particularly nice), but when the tracks went above ground again west of Belmont they were in the median of an interstate highway. Not caring for the noise, I turned back to downtown Chicago and explored Union Station before it was time to board the Chief.
Photo 2475 Chicago Transit Authority; Canal & Wells, Chicago, Illinois October 19, 2012
Chicago Transit Authority; Chicago, Ill.; October 19, 2012
Photo 2477 Chicago Transit Authority; Belmont Avenue, Chicago, Illinois October 19, 2012
Chicago Transit Authority; Chicago, Ill.; October 19, 2012
I had a Superliner roomette on the Chief, but since I'd be detraining at about 9:00 p.m. the bed wasn't required. I enjoyed dinner in the dining car before retiring to my roomette until arrival at La Plata. Once there, a shuttle van met me at the station and took me to the Depot Inn & Suites.

On Saturday I enjoyed a railroadiana sale at the Silver Rails Event Center in La Plata, then enjoyed some train watching from the railroad overlook in town. The main line below is former Santa Fe, while the overlook is built on an embankment where the Wabash once crossed the Santa Fe on a bridge. I watched several trains go by (somewhere around ten in an hour -- see the photo at the top of the blog), then did the short hoof back to the Inn. The next few days (Sunday-Tuesday) had the seminars in the morning and usually a short afternoon activity including visits to the Silver Rails Art Gallery and the headquarters of Train Party which, as the name implies, stocks everything you could possibly want for your next train-themed event. Bob and Amy Cox were gracious hosts at both locations. Bob is also the caretaker of La Plata's Amtrak station, and he provided a historical tour of the facility.

The weather had deteriorated from Saturday, so I spent most afternoons at the Inn. I did get back to the overlook on Tuesday night to shoot the Southwest Chief making its evening stop at the La Plata depot.
Photo 2479 Amtrak; La Plata, Missouri October 23, 2012
Amtrak; La Plata, Mo.; October 23, 2012
La Plata is a typical midwest heartland town with the one-story row of businesses flanking a main street and the town square, along with a grain elevator. The highway has long bypassed downtown, so it has a feeling that time stopped a few decades ago. I quickly became attached to the town. All too soon, though, it was time to board Amtrak and head back east. Once again I was in a Superliner roomette for the ride back to Chicago.

Photo 2480 Chicago Transit Authority; Western Avenue, Chicago, Illinois October 24, 2012
CTA; Chicago, Ill.
During the week I had some time to evaluate my photos from the CTA junction that I had shot on Friday and decided I would go back there during my Windy City layover and try again if it was cloudy -- there would be too many contrasty shadows to deal with between the buildings if the sun was out. Well, the sun was out, so Plan B was to ride the Blue Line back out to get some of those skyline shots I had seen on Friday.

Western Avenue was my first stop, which showed the Sears Tower (I don't care what it's officially called now -- it will always be the Sears Tower) quite nicely. Next up was California, which also presented a nice scene from the end of the platform. My time was growing short to get back to Union Station but I still wanted one more shot at California. I moved myself to the middle of the platform near the steps -- if I saw an inbound train coming I could hustle down the stairs, cross under the tracks and get up to the inbound side. The shot I wanted was actually better from mid-platform that what it was at the end of the platform, so this maneuver was actually beneficial. Another outbound train showed up first, then I hustled over to the inbound side and rode back into downtown. I walked down the platform at Union Station alongside the Capitol Limited, and was soon in a Superliner roomette for the eastbound trip. My last dinner in the diner was held shortly after departure.
Photo 2481 Chicago Transit Authority; California Street, Chicago, Illinois October 24, 2012
Chicago Transit Authority; Chicago, Ill.; October 24, 2012
I quickly discovered I like the Viewliner roomette I had going west more than I like the Superliner roomettes. They aren't laid out quite as nice, and the bed is below the window level by a few inches, requiring bending pillows to keep your eyes at a level to see out while lying down. A pleasant overnight ride was had, and I was enjoying breakfast as the train descended Sand Patch Grade in western Pennsylvania on the former Baltimore & Ohio. Since the miles east of Cumberland, Md., featured numerous tunnels and river crossings, I decided to enjoy the ride to Harpers Ferry from the Sightseer Lounge where I had unobstructed views out both sides of the train.

Arriving in Washington, I had over two hours between trains. I spent some time photographing Union Station (the original concourse is under reconstruction and the ill-conceived 1976 addition that now houses a mall is just dark and dreary). The Metrorail system features some nice stations nearby, so I headed down there for some quick riding and photography.
Photo 2482 Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority; Gallery Place, Washington, D.C. October 25, 2012
Metrorail; Washington, D.C.; October 25, 2012
As I was finishing up my shooting, I was going for one more shot from the platform at Gallery Place of a train heading back to Union Station. Just as I was ready to shoot, someone stepped out in front of me with a cell phone to take a picture of the train. The headlights put a rim light around the man, and you can see the train in his cell phone -- I wound up with a much better picture than I could have imagined!
Photo 2483 Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority; Gallery Place, Washington, D.C. October 25, 2012
Metrorail; Washington, D.C.; October 25, 2012
The line was long to board the Northeast Corridor train that would take me to New York, but I was near the front and easily found a window seat. The train was pretty crowded by the time we left Baltimore. At New York's Penn Station I had time for a fast food dinner, then boarded a New Jersey Transit train to Mount Olive. My ride was waiting there, ending my Missouri adventure.

Thanks to fellow presenters Henry Kisor and Carl Morrison for their hospitality in La Plata. Thanks also to Steve Grande for the train tickets and the lodging at the Depot Inn & Suites. And thanks to the staff at the Inn, Bob and Amy Cox, and the people of La Plata for a memorable stay.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Cool Chromes -- A Great Day at Bellows Falls

Cool Chromes is a semi-regular mini-feature looking at some slides that have recently passed through my scanner.
Photo 2465 Green Mountain (Vermont Rail System); Bellows Falls, Vermont July 31, 1999
Vermont Rail System; Bellows Falls, Vt.; July 31, 1999
Photo 2492 Vermont Rail System; Bellows Falls, Vermont July 31, 1999
Vermont Rail System; Bellows Falls, Vt.
Each year the town of Bellows Falls, Vt., celebrates Old Home Days in the middle of summer, complete with one of the most spectacular fireworks shows in northern New England. For a few years Vermont Rail System (which controls much of the old Rutland Railroad, operated as the Vermont Railway north of Rutland and the Green Mountain Railway south of Rutland) would pose some of their locomotives and some guest locomotives in the Bellows Falls yard, which was conveniently located just beneath the fireworks.

Bellows Falls, situated along the Connecticut River, has always been a railroad crossroad, historically served by the Rutland and the Boston & Maine. The town gained further rail fame when F. Nelson Blount located his Steamtown U.S.A. collection in the area, first at North Walpole, N.H. (just across the river) and later at Riverside, just north of town. Today, when it comes to rail activity, Bellows Falls can be quiet for hours, but then suddenly come alive with multiple moves from multiple directions all at once.

Photo 2491 Vermont Rail System; Bellows Falls, Vermont July 31, 1999
Vermont Rail System; Bellows Falls, Vt.
In 1999 I headed up to Vermont to assist in lighting the night photo session (a very daunting task given that you had to balance bright fireworks with a combination of light and dark locomotives against a black background). But during the day there were excursions operating from Bellows Falls southward to Brattleboro with a guest locomotive on the south end (Canadian Pacific GP38-2 No. 7312 painted for CPR subsidiary Delaware & Hudson) and Vermont Rail System's own No. 302 (a GP40 lettered for the Green Mountain). It turned out to be a really good day, with decent sunshine and plenty of action. One of the highlights of Bellows Falls is the short tunnel under the town located just south of the station. I caught the excursion train popping out of there on one of the trips (above).

The north-south running of the excursion train meant there wouldn't be good light on the north VRS locomotive, so for the first trip in the morning I headed into New Hampshire and shot across the Connecticut River as the train crossed a tributary on a deck bridge (right).

Photo 2493 Amtrak; Bellows Falls, Vermont July 31, 1999
Amtrak; Bellows Falls, Vt.
Photo 0272 Guilford Transportation on New England Central; Bellows Falls, Vermont July 31, 1999
Guilford Transportation

That afternoon there was a bit of a traffic jam in Bellows Falls as the excursion, a freight from Guilford Transportation (operating on the old Boston & Maine) and Amtrak's Vermonter (also operating on the ex-B&M) all hit town at once. The Vermonter (with its F40 locomotive) and the GTI freight (with GP40 No. 334 leading) both made for a fine sight as they framed up looking through the Bellows Falls tunnel (above).

The south end of the excursions was down in Brattleboro, and while chasing was kind of tough (it really amounted to shooting the train leaving Bellows Falls, driving 20 miles and shooting the train arriving at Brattleboro), the scene down there was worth the effort. Brattleboro is a classic New England manufacturing town, and the brick mills along the track made for a nice backdrop (below). That night, we enjoyed the fireworks as Green Mountain RS1 No. 405 and GP40 No. 302 flanked guest locomotive ConnDOT No. 6690 (a former Southern Pacific F7A painted in the colors of the New Haven) (top of blog).
Photo 2490 Vermont Rail System; Brattleboro, Vermont July 31, 1999
Vermont Rail System; Brattleboro, Vt.; July 31, 1999
New England may have the reputation of being a hard place to shoot, but on July 31, 1999, Bellows Falls provided a great day of photography.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Random Ramblings -- Thanks, Cranky!

Photo 1477 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; Suffolk Downs, Boston, Massachusetts January 25, 2009
MBTA; Suffolk Downs, Boston, Mass.; January 25, 2009
First off, I can't believe this was almost four years ago. Mike Burkhart and I were in Boston to shoot streetcars and subways, and on January 25, 2009, we found our way on the Blue Line, the subway line operated by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority that runs from downtown out to Logan Airport and continues northeast into the suburbs beyond Revere Beach (despite being known as a "subway," a large portion of the line is above ground and actually runs on a former railroad right-of-way). The MBTA had a policy for many years that you needed to have a permit for photography, but under pressure from the ACLU and others in the post-9/11 world, that policy had been rescinded and the published photo policy now allows for noncommercial property without a permit. We had encountered a couple of employees during the weekend asking if we had a permit, but when we told them the permit policy had been abolished they left us alone.

We found our way onto the platform at Suffolk Downs on the Blue Line where we were set up for a shot of an inbound train. An outbound train pulled up on the platform next to us, putting the operator's window right next to us. Immediately the operator started giving us a load of bull about permits and how what we were doing was illegal. We weren't backing down or moving, however, since the inbound car was on its way. He had a schedule to maintain so he gave up his yapping and departed with his train. But thanks to the delay in jawing at us, we were able to get this really nice shot of two trains passing. Thanks, Cranky!

About Me

Newton, New Jersey, United States

Thanks For Visiting