A favorite location along the river was the Mississippi Palisades Park a few miles north of Savanna. Back in the mid-1990s, Mike and Tom Danneman and I would park at the public lot near river level and follow a designated hiking trail to one of several overlooks.
There standing on a plateau a top a river bluff made from millions of years of sediment, we command grand views of the river.
At the time, Burlington Northern would run a parade of trains in the afternoon and we’d photograph these roaring up and down the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy line. This was a versatile location, good for photos at all times of the day. I don’t know that we ever tired of it.
At other times, we’d try angles from river level as well.
It was a fresh clear morning in Oregon. I was photographing along the Oregon Trunk on advice of Brian Rutherford. This route was jointly used by Burlington Northern and Union Pacific and traversed some stunning scenery.
Having hiked into a choice location in Trout Creek Canyon, I was rewarded with a Burlington Northern grain train in nice light.
I was impressed by the solid consist of freshly painted company hoppers.
The next day, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe announced merger. Although a year of merger machinations and approval processes would entail before BN+SF was consummated, it was the end of an era for BN (and Santa Fe).
At one time, just about every town in North America had at least one railway station. Tens of thousands of station buildings dotted the continent. Most were small. Often railroads would have their bridge and building departments draft standard station plans of various sizes and apply these where appropriate.
Steward, Illinois is a village on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy several miles east of Rochelle (where the CB&Q crossed the Chicago & North Western). It has been many years since this small standard-plan station hosted trains. It survives as a tie to the era when the railroad was the town’s lifeline to the outside world.
The May 1949 Official Guide of the Railways lists CB&Q train 52 stopping here at 7:32 am eastbound, and train 49 stopping at 10:51 pm westbound, while a mixed train could make a stop on request (no time listed).
Now the station has little to do with the main line running nearby. Dozens of BNSF Railway long distance freights pass daily. There are no passenger trains on this route—not since Amtrak assumed most long distance passenger services in 1971. But Steward probably had lost its local train long before then.
In mid-July 1994, I spent several days photographing along Burlington Northern’s former Northern Pacific mainline in western North Dakota. Here the railway snaked through the Badlands, with the landscape characterized by unusual geological formations.
On the evening of July 12, 1994, BN sent a fleet of westward empty coal trains (described as ‘coal cars’ on the railroad) over the NP between Mandan, North Dakota and Glendive, Montana. At 7pm I caught this empty led by an SD60M at Sentinel Butte. Fast moving fair weather clouds made for some complicated lighting and a tricky exposure, but ultimately resulted in a more dramatic photograph.
This was my second experience with this line. My first was viewing the line from the dome of the North Coast Limited some 24 years earlier. I was only four years old on that trip, but the train ride gave me lasting memories. My dad exposed slides from the dome and dutch-doors of the train and from the Vista dome, but I wasn’t yet working with cameras.
Look up, take in the heavens and transform a railway scene in to a cosmic image. That’s a theory anyway. During my 1994 visit to Montana, I was awed by the amazing skies for which the state is famous. Big sky and wide-open vistas can make for impressive railway images, yet getting the balance between right between atmosphere and railway is no easy chore. Here, I’m offering two of my most successful attempts. Both were exposed on Kodachrome 25 using my Nikon F3T. The peculiarities of Kodachrome’s spectral sensitivity made it a great medium for working with textural skies and dramatic lighting. Not only did Kodachrome 25 benefit from exceptional dynamic range, but also the way it translated blue light I found conducive to dramatic images featuring impressive skies.
While these slides look great when projected on a screen, and both were successfully reproduced in my 2005 book Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, I found they required a bit of adjustment using Adobe Photoshop to make them look good on the computer screen.
Different tools yield different results and I wonder how I might I use my Canon 7D or Lumix LX-3 in similar lighting situations.
July 5, 1994, was a very productive day for me; I’d been photographing from dawn to dusk in western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. I concluded my efforts with this image at Burlington Northern’s yard along the old Great Northern main line at Whitefish. This was my first visit to the town and I arrived about an hour before sunset. I made this image in the final moments of sunlight—just after 10pm. I used my Nikon F3T fitted with an f4.0 200mm lens loaded with Kodachrome 25. I opted to silhouette the engine. This caught the sunlight through the cab, and illuminated the engineer—who appears anonymously with a halo flare around him. Although not readily visible to the naked eye, the sky was laden with particulate matter (possibly smoke from forest fires?) that made for an especially reddish effect on Kodachrome. I’m partial to the monochromatic effect of low red sun, so Kodachrome was a choice material to work with in this regard. While the film made for a deep black, it had an ability to retain detail in extreme areas of the image. Both highlight and shadows retain a high level of detail and sharpness. I find this type of image difficult to make with digital cameras. This scan was made directly from the original slide and is unmodified except for scaling. The locomotive is prominent but not overbearing. Reflective rails—shining in the light—emphasize this as a railway image while providing a natural frame; they add interest while keeping the eye from getting lost in the inky foreground. The silhouette in the cab provides a human element. The subtle detail of the trees and hills beyond the locomotive give a sense of place without offering specifics. The ability of the film to maintain a sharp edge in an extremely contrasty situation help identify the locomotive—for those who are interested—as an Electro-Motive end-cab switcher (model SW1500). The locomotive’s wheels touch the rails tie the scene together while maintaining an abstract quality. We can enjoy this image as a frame in time, although in reality it existed only for an instant.