Class 1 North American railroading can still offer variety.
Take for example this photo I exposed of a northward Canadian National freight at Theresa, Wisconsin on Sunday, January 20, 2019.
In the lead is CN2500, a mid-1990s General Electric DASH9-44CW built with a four-piece windshield. This is followed by more 1990s-era motive power: a CN EMD-built SD75I, a BNSF EMD-built SD75M in classic Santa Fe style warbonnet paint; then finally two more examples of state-of-the-art General Electric diesels; a BNSF ET44C4 (An emissions compliant ‘Tier 4’ with A1A trucks) and Norfolk Southern ET44AC 3616, a six-motor ‘Tier 4’ model.
This was just one of many photos I exposed on an adventure with Chris Guss and TRAINS Magazine’s Brian Schmidt.
Years ago I’d work vistas along Lost Arrow Road south of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to picture and record Wisconsin Central’s thunderous SD45s.
Last weekend, TRAINS Magazine Brian Schmidt and I revisited this location to photograph a southward Canadian National freight on its ascent to Byron, Wisconsin.
I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens.
Bright sun was contrast from snowy weather earlier in the day. As the freight made its slow progress up Byron Hill we followed with an aim to make more photos, just like in olden times (but with no SD45s this day).
This scene has completely changed since I made this photograph on Kodachrome in January 11, 1993. Tom Carver and I had taken a trip to Montreal to catch six-motor MLW Locomotives on the move.
Between photographing these diesels, we spent time along Canadian National’s electrified suburban lines.
In the mid-1990s, the route was re-electrified, new equipment was procured and train operation was conveyed from CN to a regional public authority called Société de Transport la Communauté Urbaine de Montreal.
The trackage arrangement at Val Royal was simplified and the station renamed Bois Franc.
What I recall most about the morning of this photograph was the bitter cold and the difficulties of manipulating my Nikon F3T with numb hands.
When I was a kid, change puzzled me. I’d look back over my father’s photographs and collection of timetables and books and wonder what had happened to the trains and railroads he’d seen and experienced.
But as a young child, I’d assumed that all change was in the past. Certainly things had been different. New York Central had become Penn-Central, and Penn-Central had become Conrail. But I naively assumed that everything else would remain constant!
Then I began to notice change myself: My favorite GG1 electrics were replaced by modern AEM7s and E60s. Those old Penn-Central black diesels were become ever more scarce. Boston’s PCC cars had become fewer and fewer.
By the late-1980s, I’d witnessed enough changes to recognize that documenting the railroad required careful attention to detail, and it was important to anticipate change before it begins.
Too often, railroad photographers wait until change is already underway before they act to make photographs. Sadly, sometimes they wait too long and miss the best opportunities to photograph.
With this in mind, in the 1990s, annually I drafted lists from which to work. It’s one thing to ponder photographing time-worthy subjects; its better to have a clear and prioritized strategy!
In 1993, I was remarkably organized: I’ve included a portion of that year’s ‘photo projects’ list. If you read through this carefully, you’ll see there’s considerable foresight in my approach. I was doing my best to predict the future and act upon that knowledge.
Below are pages from that list:
I’m really glad I made these lists! We can look back today, 21 years after I wrote this list, and see that many of the subjects I hoped to document have indeed vanished or changed. The pen-marked ‘ticks’ indicated that I’d made an attempt at the item.
How did I draft this list? Did I have a crystal ball? How did I know in 1993 that SP was soon to vanish? Why did I give SP’s Modoc line high priority? What caused me to anticipate changes to Canadian Pacific east of Sherbrooke? Pay special attention to my notes and comments for the clues. In some cased my anticipated dates were premature, but my vision was pretty accurate (I’m sorry to report.)
What is on your list for 2014?
Change is on-going. Think! What can you photograph now that will soon change unrecognizably? Remember, it is the common everyday subjects that are too often ignored until it’s too late to make photographs. Don’t wait until the last minute. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the rail. Anticipate, plan and then act.