On this day six years ago, Denis McCabe and I were on an exploration of Ireland’s narrow gauge Bord na Mona (Peat Board) operations radiating from the Edenderry generating station located near the village of Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly, when we discovered this view from overhead bridge over the double track narrow gauge line.
I exposed my photo using a Canon EOS7D with 200mm prime lens. Nominal overexposure resulted in a slightly washed out image.
Six years after the fact, I worked with the RAW File in Lightroom, to bring back some of the sky detail not apparent in the camera-produced Jpg, while aiming to improve colour saturation and colour balance.
In summary: After a decade of my relative neglect, in the last two years I’ve made a dozen or so excursions to explore and photograph Ireland’s Bord na Mona railways.
These consists of several rather extensive three-foot gauge networks largely focused on the delivery of milled peat to electrical generating stations in Ireland’s midlands counties.
The largest and busiest network is that focused on the Shannonbridge power plant along the River Shannon. Although this network demands the most amount of turf and in theory runs the most number of trains, it is one the more difficult systems to photograph.
This is partly a function of the bogs served by the railway, which are largely inaccessible by road. Also, some of the trains cross the Shannon by a bridge, and there is no comparable road bridge, so it makes following these trains very difficult.
However, I’ve found that using good maps and remaining patient pays off. On this September afternoon about a month ago, Denis McCabe, Colm O’Callaghan and I visited several locations on the Shannonbridge system.
Based on previous experiences, we aimed for known good locations. While we only found a few trains moving, the photography was successful. This a sampling of my recent results.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
We followed a pair of empties from Shannonbridge, eastward toward Ferbane. Access is limited, owing to the nature of the bogs. Toward the end of the day, we set up at the N62 highway overpass, where the Bord na Mona’s line climbs away from the River Blackwater.
My challenge was making the most of the backlit scene. The sun was setting almost immediately behind the train. I opted for my 200mm lens in order to compress the perspective, eliminate the sky, and minimize the effects of flare. I positioned myself near post on the side of the road to help shade the front element of my lens.
Here the effects of backlighting combined with the long telephoto lens make for a cinematic look; the exhaust of the locomotive is more pronounced, the wavy condition of the tracks are exaggerated, and the pastoral scene made more impressive.
I particularly like the silhouette of the train driver in the cab, which emphasizes the human element.
My only disappointment with the photos is that the following train hadn’t effectively enter the scene. (Often Bord na Mona trains working in pairs follow one right after the other. In this situation, the following train was just around the bend.) But, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to make images with two or more Bord na Mona trains, so I’ll settle for this one of a lone train.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Close Ups, Details and Alternate Views: A Look Beyond the Obvious.
While photographing Ireland’s Bord na Mona narrow gauge last week, I was looking for different angles. I’ve made nearly a dozen trips to the Bord na Mona in the last year and I wanted to capture the essence of the operation up close.
This is a gloss free industrial railway. It’s like a big beat-up tin plate train set that has seen lots of use, and doesn’t adhere to prototype railroading in any normal conventions.
Tracks are laid down here and there. Curvature is very tight, in many places there’s no ballast. Junctions appear with little notice. And the trains bounce along at a grinding amble.
See previous posts for more views on the Bord na Mona:
For me anyway! On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I scored a few photographs of Bord na Mona’s ash train on the move near Shannonbridge, County Offaly. (Yes, and by the way, that’s ash train, and not ASH TRAY. Just to clarify.)
Now, someone at Bord na Mona might read this and say, “Elusive ash train? Why that’s scheduled to run every day at 2 pm.” Or, perhaps, it is scheduled to run every third Saturday after the first full moon on months that don’t end in ‘R’. (But, none-the-less, scheduled).
Irregardless, so far as I was concerned, photographing the ash train on the move was a real coup! In the last year, I’ve made a half dozen ventures to photograph Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge lines, this was the first time I’d seen an ash train on the move. Certainly, I’ve seen them before, just not rolling along out on the road.
Yet, I’d call it elusive! It’s all a matter of perspective. More on elusive (or at least unusual trains) in future posts.
Incidentally, unlike elusive trains, Tracking the Light regularly posts new material almost every day! So, to use an obsolete cliché, stay tuned!
Unlike Irish mainline railways, Bord na Mona operates on very lightly built track. Temporary spurs are laid out on the bog for loading trains with harvested turf. While these temporary tracks may only stay in place for weeks or months, Bord na Mona main trunks are well established, with some in place for five decades. Key routes are built with broadly spaced double-track The nature of the operation requires that trains are run cautiously, and rarely exceed 15 mph. Typically peat trains operate in pairs to assist with loading and reverse moves. At times these may be coupled together. In addition to trains of peat gather rakes, Bord na Mona also runs a host of maintenance trains, including fueling trains used to supply machines working in harvesting areas.
The railway’s setting ranges from bucolic rolling woodlands to other-worldly landscapes consisting of heavily harvested bog lands. Trains announce their presence by a distinctive clattering that pierces the relative serenity of the bog. The combination of diminutive locomotives, track panels with steel sleepers, short trains and sections of hastily built temporary track, makes the whole operation seem like a vast, but delightful model railway.
Saturday began dull and misty, but brightened toward the end of the day. I made several hundred images with my digital cameras, while exposing more than a roll of Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS 7D. Our conversations with Bord na Mona staff, found them hospitable and knowledgeable. We returned to Dublin, happy with our day’s efforts while formulating plans for our next adventure on Ireland’s elusive 3-foot gauge railways.
East Broad Top’s Baldwin-built Mikado 15 works northward from Orbisonia, Pennsylvania in September 1996. This is another of my favorite railway images, I’ve used it in several books and it was among those I displayed in my Silver & Steel exhibit in November 2008. It captures the first excursion over the line in several days, and the engine is working rusted rail, which adds to the timeless aura of a bucolic scene. EBT is fantastic; the soft yet clear sounds of the locomotive exhaust coupled with a distant mournful whistle followed by a whiff of coal smoke will send you back to a simpler day.
East Broad Top is a treasure, a railway frozen in time. The railway was a relic of another era when it ceased common carrier operations in 1956. Resuscitated by the scrapper that took title to it in the mid-1950s, today it is among America’s most authentic historic railways. I’ve made hundreds of photographs on the line over the years. However, due to difficulties beyond my understanding, the line didn’t operate its regular excursions last year. I wonder; might it re-open this year? Even without a locomotive under steam, EBT remains a compelling subject.
See my book Baldwin Locomotives for a host of classic Baldwin photographs and detailed information on East Broad Top’s Mikados among many other engines.