Sunday, December 29, 2013

There Goes Santa Claus

A gallery of all the photos taken this day can be found here.
Valley Railroad; Chesterbrook (Essex), Conn.; December 27, 2013
It's quite hard to find steam locomotive movements after dark for night photography with one exception -- around Christmastime several steam railroads run Polar Express, North Pole Express and/or Santa Claus trains that feature Christmas lights. The best show from a photography standpoint is perhaps the Valley Railroad in Essex, Conn. Its trains are so popular that two trainsets are needed to run four trips an evening, and two trainsets means two different steam locomotives. The trips run every night from Thanksgiving weekend until after Christmas, with this year's final trips occurring on December 29. I hadn't been able to get up to Essex this year before Christmas, but took advantage o Santa's busy schedule to get up there on December 27. The first train departed at 5:00, and I was able to get it at Old Deep River Road in the community of Chesterbrook on the fringes of Essex (above). The power on the first train was "New Haven 3025," a Chinese-built steam locomotive configured to look like one of the 2-8-2s that worked for the New York, New Haven & Hartford.

The trains head north from Essex and head to Deep River, which is decked out as the "North Pole." Santa boards here and the train continues north to Chester with hundreds of screaming delighted kids. Meanwhile, the second train departed Essex at 5:35. It took the siding at Deep River to load its Santa. Eventually, No. 3025 pushed its train back from Chester into the North Pole.
Valley Railroad; Deep River, Conn.; December 27, 2013

Once No. 3025 has pushed back into the clear, the second train -- led by 2-8-2 No. 40 -- pulled out of the North Pole for the run to Chester.
Valley Railroad; Deep River, Conn.; December 27, 2013

The entire process would be repeated at 7:00, so I headed to Essex Street outside Deep River (and just south of the North Pole) where I was joined by Tom Nanos, a local shooter who has done some great work over the years with the Santa trains. I set up my strobes in a way that the same set-up could be used for both the 7:00 and 7:35 trains but with different camera angles. I went up close for the 7:00 train with No. 3025 in the lead.
Valley Railroad; Essex, Conn.; December 27, 2013
Finally, the 7:35 train (running a bit late) headed north. For this shot I pulled back for an across-the-water shot. Often this shot has a nice reflection, but the cold weather meant the water was ice covered. After getting this shot I packed up my gear and headed back to New Jersey. There are things I would do differently, so no doubt I'll be back again next year.
Valley Railroad; Deep River, Conn.; December 27, 2013

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