On March 23, 1993, I exposed this Kodachrome slide of Santa Fe tracks and code lines at Christie, California.
Oh the Wonderful Wires!
In the 1980s, I often bemoaned the ‘telegraph wires’ as I called the code lines that lined most mainlines.
It seemed like more often than not, railroads placed these multiple-tier code lines on the south side of their mainlines. This inevitably interfered with my photography and plenty of otherwise good photographic locations were fouled by the rows of poles and the wires between them.
In early 1989, when Conrail was cutting down the old code lines east of Buffalo. I thought, Hurray! Good riddance!
However, I quickly realized how wrong I’d been. In fact I’d been photographing the wires for years.
Yes, the code lines made for a visual challenge. And, undoubtedly these sometimes got in the way. But they were part of the railroad. Traditionally, they were key to its operations and often serving as a crucial part of the signaling system. They had been there since the steam era. After all, the railroad was more than just locomotives rolling along at speed.
It occurred to me how I’d often improved my photographs by working with the wires. The visual elements and patterns added by the army of time-worn polls connected by rows of cables made for more compelling images.
After the code lines were gone, the brush started to grow. And that’s now a much worse photo-hazard than the wires ever were.
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Here’s another view from along the old Erie Mainline. Once common, the picket-fence effect of multiple-tier code lines along American mainlines has largely vanished in recent decades. These poles and wires are a vestige of another time, another era. Today, when wireless information reigns supreme, such archaic remnants remind us how much has changed. I exposed this view with my Canon EOS-3 and f2.8 200mm lens on Fujichrome. Will film soon go the way of the code line? Banished to realm of obscure obsolescence? Relegated to curiosity by newer technology—faster, easier, cheaper, and yet more ephemeral.