Southern Pacific, Camphora, California September 1992

A September 1992 evening at Camphora, California finds sugar beet being loaded.

I’m at Camphora in California’s Salinas Valley along Southern Pacific’s Coast Line, where some venerable ‘beet racks’ are being loaded; it’s near the end of the day, the sun is diffused by a fog-bank drifting in from the Pacific. These ancient old freight cars are the attraction. They’re on borrowed time. Although these still cary Southern Pacific lettering on their wooden sides, SP had sold them to Union Sugar, thus the USGX reporting marks at the ends of the cars. Not only are these among the last freight cars in revenue service that still feature wooden sides, but they are some of the last revenue cars still equipped with traditional friction bearings—virtually all other rolling stock rode on roller bearings.

Fade forward: within just a few years, not only were these old cars retired, but the sugar beet traffic dried up, and in 1996, SP itself was merged into Union Pacific. For me,  looking at this image elicits synesthesia: the agricultural smells that accompanied beet growing fill my nose, and I recall the drive I had to make back to the Bay Area when I finished making my exposures.

In September 1992, I was working exclusively with a Nikon F3T, which was fitted with a ‘fast’ 105mm lens (f1.8) for this exposure. The fast lens allows me to work with slow film and my choice of wide aperture allows for narrow depth of field which sets off the end of the beet rack and loading equipment from the background. The wires help frame the image. As with many of my SP color photos, this one was exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film, and even that has gone the way of the SP and the wooden-sided beet racks. Everything changes.

A detailed view of Union Sugar wooden sided beet racks at Camphora exposed on K25 in September 1992.

2 comments on “Southern Pacific, Camphora, California September 1992

  1. Richard on said:

    I thought K25 was a fast film when it came out — it was 150% faster than the K10 that I shot all of my color back in the day. Indeed, I used to shoot with Kodachrome Type A (with an 85A filter) for highest resolution and contrast, and that was equivalent to about ASA 6!

    • It might have been fast in the 1950s, but it was the slowest slide film on the market in 1992. However, it was perhaps the best for many railway applications. Pity its gone now. I’ll never regret having made photos with Kodachrome. (Except that time the lab ruined 15 rolls all in one go, but that’s another story.)

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