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Sunday, August 28, 2011

OCS Report(s): 3-Days, 3 different F-unit leaders, 1,500 miles…

Hello Folks!  I want to start out this blog by referencing the old Mastercard commercial: 3 days worth of fuel in the truck and 1,500 miles = $350; Food for the trips = $100; 3-straight days of different F-units leading mainline passenger varnish = PRICELESS!

A few ago I received word and a projected schedule for a Norfolk Southern office car special that would run to New England and be paired with the Pan Am office car train at Ayer for an August 24 run across the Pan Am Patriot Corridor.  At that time I was asked to keep the moves off the radar screen for a variety of reasons and I obliged.  Planning was however initiated to set up the chases for the August 22 deadhead move, the August 23 joint train and then the NS run to (Harrisburg on my initial schedule) Buffalo.  I came up with a punch list of locations I wanted to get the trains and scenes I wanted to capture them in. As the time progressed ever closer, new schedules upon schedules were released, confusing the plans a bit, but my gut instinct was to stick to the original. When the train departed westbound from Altoona on Friday, August 19 for Pittsburgh and ultimately Buffalo, I suspected that my gut feeling and hunch were correct and I should have stuck with that all along.  No worries I thought as I had already lined up the days off more than a month ago, so I’ll go where they go!

When the NS train started enroute from Buffalo to Ayer, MA with the quartet of F-9s (OK rebuilt F7s), the Pan Am office car train departed Waterville, ME with their FP9As and pair of business cars.  Ah – it was coming together just as I had been told earlier, so back to my original locations and times.  Unfortunately I could not get Sunday night off from work and knew that the NS train would be departing Mohawk Yard in Glenville, NY during the morning hours.  My night shift saw me get skunked with a weather-related ground trip to Boston and a return to my base at 0730 hrs.  I was now a bit tired, yet adrenaline would overcome that feeling as I knew what was waiting for me a mere 2 hours distant.  A quick stop in at home to grab the lunch my lovely wife had so nicely prepared for the trip and it was off to intercept.  I had originally figured on perhaps heading the NS deadhead move off in the North Adams, MA area and following it east, should it be running on time, but as luck would have it, the train was running late on the Canadian Pacific’s Freight Subdivision and Brian Plant was supplying me updates as to its whereabouts!  I was making great time diagonally across Vermont and was passing through Eagle Bridge, NY when Brian reported the train’s departure from Mohawk Yard.  At this point it was decision time – keep driving and try for the Hudson River bridge shot from the east end – a hike in and potential lost chase if I did it OR begin my pursuit at Shagticoke, NY where the low deck girder bridge crosses the Hoosick River.  A swing into the JV Tower at Johnsonville, NY to check out the lighting angle ran me into Jim Shaughnessy, where I inadvertently startled him (sorry Jim!) before I figured my angle and made another call to find out the train’s whereabouts.  

Not to the Hudson YET, so I continued on westbound and nearly drove by the Shagticoke location and then decided last minute that this was the spot to start. I pulled down and got into position but wasn’t convinced this would be a great start, as there was WAY more clouds than sun.  I was soon joined by Brian Plant and Tim Stockwell as we waited, timed the clouds and watched as a large sucker hole approached.  Could we luck out for the first shot?  Then the horns sounded distantly…  CRAP!  Clouds were still prevalent and the sucker hole had come and gone.  More horns and the clouds seemed to pick up in speed with an even larger sucker hole heading our way.  Now it was all about timing!  Would it happen for this opening shot of the day? 

Then it was off to try and make the shot I lined up for earlier at the JV Tower in Johnsonville.  I passed the train just a mile or two before the tower, so the race was on.  A quick stop, hop over the guardrail and voila!

At Hoosick Falls there was a HUGE cloud bank that had moved in and I contemplated moving on but stuck in for a mediocre shot.

Following Hoosick it was off to capture a shot of the NS OCS running through Vermont – OK – so it’s only a corner of the state, but nonetheless it is the NS Fs at Church Street in Pownal, VT!

Then on the way to North Adams I managed a quick grab shot at North Street in Williamstown, MA from the overpass.

At North Adams, MA, the train is seen rolling into town to take on fuel and water for the lead locomotive, NS 4276.  The train is rolling over the Hoosac River South Branch thru-truss bridge on its approach.

Then the fuel truck arrived and the logistics of filling the B-unit were discussed between the Pan Am crewmember and the delivery driver.

Finally the fueling began – and – in a moment that could be captioned a variety of ways, but looks like the Pan Am employee is asking “as soon as you’re done there, could you please check the oil and clean the windshield?”…

And a final parting shot at North Adams, as the day was getting late and I was in need of a few hours sleep after the long day. 

August 23, 2011 – Pan Am/Norfolk Southern Joint Inspection

Day 2 of the chase began on a trek to East Deerfield to wait out the trains morning westbound arrival at the Deerfield River crossing just east of Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield Yard.  As the time grew closer, more and more fans began arriving to set up for the river crossing.  Just prior to the train’s arrival, a beautiful ban of clouds also began moving into the area.  This was a classic “here we go again” moment, but it was worth waiting for this momentous occasion of combined office car trains.  Knowing that this shot would only show the motive power and perhaps the first car, I was already doing the math and realizing that the train would be an end-to-end fit for the Hudson River bridge later in the day…  But back to East Deerfield as the train finally arrived after having experienced some brake issues and a Hot Box Detector activation further east.

Following the Deerfield River crossing shot – off to the Wisdom Way overpass to capture a sort of non-descript overhead shot, but it turned out OK despite the lack of identifiable features to the locale.

At Shelburne Falls, my sole intention was to capture the train in a going away view in an effort to show the folks riding in the Theater car.  In this particular shot, the one of the railroad executives waves to this photographer.

On to Charlemont, MA, where the train would pass the old depot and a target signal on its way westbound.  I set up here atop the 6’ ladder and was thankful to walk away with a half decent image, despite being nearly side lit.

The going away image here was a bit of a surprise, as I managed to capture both Wick Moorman (bottom left) and David Fink (bottom right) in the NS Theater Car Buena Vista #23 as it raced westwardly on the inspection/marketing trip.

From this point to the west, the three shots I absolutely wanted to capture were the passage of the train westbound over the Hoosick River at Shagticoke, the Hudson Bridge and the arrival at Mechanicville Yard.  Giving up a few locations along the way I opted to beeline straight for the Shagticoke location and pulled in just in the nick of time to capture this image – quite literally a grab shot (train was on east end of the bridge when I exited my truck!).

Finally the shot that I was anticipating for months!  I planned to set up toward the Hudson lock well south of the bridge and try to capture the train in its entirety on the famous Hudson crossing from atop the 6’ ladder again, trying to frame out the mountains in the distance.  As it rolled out onto the bridge I eyeballed the length and as the train filled the bridge nearly end-to-end, my months of anticipation were realized…

Back in the truck and off to the new yard construction area to photograph the train’s arrival there.  On initial inspection, a lineup of Norfolk Southern Railroad police cars appeared rather intimidating…but in the end, they were quite friendly and even a bit humorous to talk to….  Finally the train arrived with a brief respite of sunshine allowing for a shot or two before the clouds overtook the scene.

That was it for August 23 – but what a day it had been.  Now to get some much needed rest and figure out the shots for the August 24 chase of the NS marketing special on the southbound run to Binghamton and on to Buffalo, NY. 

August 24, 2011 – Norfolk Southern Inspection/Marketing Trip

Having gone home on Tuesday night to see the family for a bit and to get a good night sleep, I set the alarm for a 0300 activation and hoped for a 0315-0330 departure.  Lunch and snacks packed in the truck before bed, I was ready for a quick shower, shave and skedaddle when the alarm did go off.  Much like my line of work necessitates, I was out the door by 0310 and off to check out the train for an expected 0700 departure from Mohawk Yard.  On the way, I also heard the Pan Am PAR-1 ready to depart eastbound from Mohawk for its return to Maine.  While nice as the PAR chase would have been for that time of day, I was committed to the NS trip, knowing that there will be other PAR trips (even if the units are painted differently!).  Passing the train departing just ahead of schedule, I first checked out Delanson and met a nice gentleman (for whom I forget the name – sorry!) and chatted for a bit before I got back on the road to study the GPS and find some more optimal locations.  By this point I was on the phone with Otto Vandrak and John Krattinger to let them know that a conductor aboard the CPR 554 train had popped out of the cab to tell me that the NS OCS was about 20” behind them.  The 554 was difficult to capture with the just above the horizon lighting, but I throw in this shot for posterity since it did have 5 SD40-2s…

Departing Delanson, a gorgeous shot existed just south of Delanson with a farm and milepost in the scene – only problem was that there were a dozen CPR trucks and personnel parked in the area and that wasn’t very scenic.  The lighting is set up for morning northbounds on most of this stretch of the D&H, so it would be challenging a bit until the sun got a bit higher.  I headed for Howes Cave to aim at shooting the Theater Car again as a going away shot and did so with yet another wave from the execs!

At this point I knew my first real well lit shot would be the highway overpass at Colliersville, a location that I’ve been mildly successful at previously, but would only work if not chased by the New York State Police.  To preface this, I had been at this site previously and been asked to move along by the NYSP on 1 or 2 occasions, so I was hanging out off the exit that precedes this location in an effort to time my arrival there.  A call from Otto/John indicated that they had already arrived there.  Oh well – we’ll give it a try was my thought, having warned Otto/John that the NYSP would likely show up.  I pulled in well off the roadway and walked to the bridge perch as we knew there was less than 3-5 minutes for the train’s arrival.  No sooner had I arrived to join the other gentleman, the NYSP DID indeed show up.  I decided that this time I was going on the offense and going to greet the officer who was walking toward us.  The start out statement “You’re not going to believe this” in response to his “Morning gentlemen, what’s going on?”, had an unexpected result.  I continued babbling about the significance of this being a historical event and that he should really stay to watch the train got us not only a temporary reprieve IF the train would be there in less than 5 minutes, but the officer had placed his cruiser behind our two vehicles to protect them and us.  FWIW – he stayed, watched the train and gave a thumbs up after its passage, for which he protected the re-entry back onto I-87.  Thanks SO MUCH Mr. NY Trooper!  The following shot is completely made possible by him….

Following the Colliersville shot, the heavy cloud cover was prevalent south toward Bainbridge.  I figured on my next shot being the grain elevator at Bainbridge and headed for there, only to eventually be joined by David Patch.  After chatting a bit, we decided that the shot would be from some elevation and to the far end of the driveway at the complex.  Having set up knowing the train would arrive in a minute or two, a NS police officer first pulled into the nearby grade crossing and then a small group of ‘chase fans’ arrived, signaling the show time. 

From here it was either chose Afton, Ninevah or join what I surmised would be a large group of fans at the Harpursville Trestle.  I knew the trestle would only give you the quartet of Fs, but it was a shot that I’d like to have, so that was next up.  Arriving there, I ran into several folks including Tom Trencansky, John Sesonske, Mike Stellpflug, Terry Chicwack, Jerry Plant and many (MANY) others…

Of course I couldn’t let the dome and theater go unrecorded on the bridge…

I was satisfied with the shots there and I opted to really aim for Binghamton and the attempt to get the old Purina mill in the background as the train approached the connection from the CPR to Norfolk Southern.  Arrival there found two other fans already in place and being held ‘at bay’ by the notorious CPR police officer of Binghamton area fame.  He had already apparently indicated the boundary line and that made any type of decent shot nearly impossible from the ground level.  Alas, the 6’ ladder again came out and permission sought from the machine shop adjacent the tracks to set up in their grass.  With permission had – despite the “don’t let your elbow slip over the fence or he’ll throw you in jail” comment with tongue in cheek by the shop employee granting me permission – I set up the ladder and hoped for sunshine!  Soon the train began rolling down the runner toward the NS connector and I believe it was Mike Stellpflug who joined me partway up the ladder.

And a shot taken by Bethany Stellpflug of myself and Mike Stellpflug on the 6' ladder, while Fred Jones stood atop his shorter ladder at Binghamton.  

From there I decided that I’d head west ‘somewhere’ and wait it out, knowing that there was supposed to be a stop for a bit in Binghamton.  At 1205 the train departed Binghamton, however only made Johnson City as an oil fire apparently erupted in the NS 4276, halting the train and summoning the FD.  I took the opportunity to hang out and chat with some other fans at a variety of locations before eventually heading to Waverly.  My arrival at Waverly created a bit of a chuckle as I saw a photo line that extended about 20 people across.  I pulled in well behind the line and perched atop my truck for the bigger lens shot. While waiting for the train’s arrival, John Krattinger took the opportunity to photograph me atop my truck – so obliged a return volley of he and Otto (as well as Mike Stellpflug’s back!).

Then the moment we were all line up and waiting for!

From that point it was a quick trip back onto the highway for the westward trip toward Corning.  A stop along the highway at Chemung yielded the following pair of images that I was pleased with for being really non-planned and another hop out of the truck and shoot….

Then continuing on the highway west to South Corning, I was looking at a vertical shot that would include the 287 signal and a distant farm.  I was joined here again by Mike S and his daughters who were both shooting also.

After a quick trip back down the exit ramp I was aiming for Corning to get the train on its arrival at the Corning marketing/inspection stop.  As I crossed over the wye track with the Corning Secondary at Denmark, I hit the brakes and jumped out for yet another grab shot…for which I think is one of my favs from the day!

Knowing that I had a 5+ hour drive back to the homestead and that I was feeling run down by this point, I was torn between continuing to Portageville, where I’d like to have ended my chase, but instead it would be Gang Mills and this meet shot with the NS H12 local pulling from the yard with the passage of the NS OCS.

It was an uneventful drive back home and my arrival there in just about 5 hours made me wish I had gone a bit further with the run, but alas fatigue won out and I slept for the next day!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the NS/PAR office car chases!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NECR ARRA Photo Project Rail Arrives!

Almost two weeks to the day from the rail's rolling at the Steel Dynamics Inc. Columbia City, IN mill and had our special stickers applied, it was laid in front of the White River Jct., VT depot.  The project, which followed the production of the rail for the New England Central's ARRA High Speed Rail project from scrap metal pile through the entire process, including the welds to load 1,640-foot strands on the delivery train.  Rail that I followed through the entire process was serial number identified, followed through the mill and welding and then had the stickers applied for this project.

Rail Train #11 is seen rolling through the sweeping curve at Royalton, VT with Eaton's Sugar House visible in the distance.

A few weeks back, when the NECR Rail Train #9 arrived on the property, I pulled out charts that I had for what rail was being replaced and the NECR track chart to start figuring on crossings that would be cut and tried to map out which train would deliver rail that would land in front of the White River Jct. depot.  My math calculations (and I made a whole spreadsheet up to do double check this!) forecast that Rail Train #12 would end at or very close to the depot.  As the train moved quickly from Chicago to Toronto and Montreal, I recalculated and contacted Project Manager, Ron Bocash to see how we could land these particular rails at the WRJ depot if the train didn't quite make it, but my confidence remained high that we would be in good shape.

Rail Train #12 crosses the East Alburgh Trestle in Vermont as part of CN train M32421-21 on June 21.  Several cars of freight are seen ahead of the loaded rail train, but from the shore of Lake Champlain, I noted the stickers we applied and realized that they had survived unscathed.

On June 23, the Rail Laying Gang from Railworks, headed up by Foreman James and under the oversight of RailAmerica's Foreman Mike Goad and LB Foster Co.'s Jerry Logston, began laying rail at mile 24.5 in Sharon, VT.  The train is seen crossing the White River and the tell-tale bridge as to who this line once belonged to.  I planned this shot for some time to promote the rebirth of the Central Vermont and a bright burst helped illuminate the passage of the Rail Train #12.

As the train progressed toward White River Junction on June 24, I watched as it crossed the White River at West Hartford, VT and the NECR train crew of Chris Des Lauriers and Kevin Cullanine made a back-up move to make a straight lay (we'll detail why this is necessary in the book later this year).

Nearing the end of the day on June 24, Rail Train #12 is rounding the curve off the bridge in West Hartford near Mile 19 on the Roxbury Sub.  By this point, the number of strands remaining on the train and conversation with both LB Foster's Jerry Logston and RailAmerica's Mike Goad, indicated that we were certainly going to be very close to getting the project rail laid at the White River Jct. depot.

In a phone briefing with Jerry on Friday night, it appeared that everything and all the planning had paid off to this point.   Despite several days of rain and inclement weather, enthusiasm was high by the entire laying gang that we were going to be able to pull off making the White River Jct. depot.  Several plans were formulated and discussed and, in the end - it was all coming together as I had calculated.  On June 25, Jerry Logston communicates with Foreman Mike Goad (out of focus on the crow's nest just ahead of the threader cars) to adjust the rail guides.

With less than three-quarter miles remaining on the train, the project rail is laid in front of the White River Jct. depot!  A VERY special thanks to all of the personnel involved in getting the project to this point.  Thanks to: Charles Hunter and Ron Bocash of the NECR for giving me the green light to move forward with this monumental task; to Fred Warner and Doug-Rees Evans at Steel Dynamics, Inc. for bringing me in to document the process of rolling the rail for the NECR project; Jerry Logston, Greg Lippert and Jake Fuellhart of LB Foster, Co. for providing me with logistical and transportation information and data; CF&E for their cooperation in supplying a corporate image with a clean locomotive; a variety of NECR train crews who handled these trains and were very hospitable at every step of the way; the RailWorks gang responsible for the unloading of these rail trains (specific names are needed...) and many more individuals that have contributed data along the way to help track these trains, including Mike Collins.  The project is far from over and there will be many more aspects that will be documented, joining the several thousand photos already on hand.  The book that will be released late this year will comprehensively cover the entire rebirth of the former Central Vermont territory.

Watch for future updates...  Again - not all photography is represented in these reports as many different and unique views will be presented in book format.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Road to SDI-Columbia City, IN: Day 2


With an afternoon stop at LB Foster to meet with folks regarding the New England Central Railroad rail project, I figured on an O-Dark-Thirty venture from my parent's house west via Gallitzin and Pitcairn.  With no real timeline or objective enroute, I took my time and cruised out US Route 22 across the middle of my home state (Pennsylvania).  The journey allowed me to listen in on what was coming west with hopes of catching something out in the western part of the state.  I wasn't extremely motivated on the journey as the temp and dew point were so tight that it might as well have been complete fog cover.  I realized at this point that I don't miss the haze and air quality alerts that exist down here!  Heading straight for Gallitzin, I wanted to see if I could manage a shot at the long-dormant AR Tower.  On my arrival there, a C95 helper set of rebuilt SD50s-turned SD40E were awaiting their clearance out onto the main to tie on the rear of a train for a shove over Horseshoe curve.

Continuing west via Cresson, I observed all but two of the NS ex-Conrail SD80MACs heading west and assumed that they were heading for their haunt at South Fork, PA.  I noted the time and quickly pulled up the Amtrak Pennsylvanian schedule, did some math and determined I might be able to make South Fork before Amtrak did.  I pulled into town to realize that the SD80MAC consist was holding the main and awaiting their turn to cross over and then pull down the South Fork Secondary.  My guess at this point was that with Amtrak due through here within minutes, I would capture a shot of the 'meet' and then continue on.  The visibility and weather reminded me of being in Maine during the huge Quebec forest fires.  I would obviously have to make due as it is the only weather I'm going to get ;-)  The Amtrak 44/SD80MAC power move meet at South Fork was a success...

With the weather being somewhat of a non-motivational factor, I decided that I'd continue toward Pittsburgh and perhaps get an early meeting before continuing west for points in Ohio and Indiana on the way to Columbia City.  On the way, I did decide that I'd like to check out the Pitcairn, PA area since it has been since 1996 that I last visited.  Essentially - only the names and colors have changed!  Hearing a couple westbound trains in the picture didn't lend itself to at least halfway decent lighting.  The extremely filtered sunlight still favored the eastbound traffic despite being now around 1130-1200 hrs.  Finally hearing an eastbound approaching, I set up for a longer lens view to try and pull in some of the hillside homes that sit distantly to the multi-track NS Pittsburgh Line.  Soon the NS 36A train rolled into view with a nice consist of ES44DC 7719 and SD70M-2 2644 (amazingly out of all the consists I'd see - this set I would see later in the week!).  

I checked with LB Foster and figured on a 1330 arrival, thus necessitating a 1245 hr departure from Pitcairn. Just as I decided that it was time to leave, I heard the NS 20V call the Wing signal just west of Pitcairn.   OK - I have time for one more and thankfully I went for it, as it proved to be advantageous in two regards - a single NS C40-9W would allow more visibility of the train AND of course the big one is the former Pennsy position-light signals in front of the former Westinghouse Brake plant!  

With a straight drive over to the LB Foster headquarters (which by the way is in the same complex as the old Conrail Pittsburgh Division dispatch offices above the WLE Rook Yard!), I observed not only the WLE red/yellow GP35 2662 switching the yard, but an eastbound freight had arrived the yard with WLE 100 (the Ohio Centennial unit...), however the lighting was poor to shoot either and I passed on shots there.  Following my Foster visit, I looked at the map on my iPhone and essentially said - "where should I go now?"   With a few coin tosses, it was Brewster, Ohio bound, via US Route 30 and a short jaunt through the West Virginia panhandle, following the Ohio Central Railroad trackage.  Nothing materialized on the OHCR, however I did run across the RJ Corman / RailPower RP20BD GenSet 5400 at the RJ Corman Cleveland Line yard in Dover, OH.

Back on the road, my arrival in Brewster was greeted with more wrong-way lit and/or poorly lit WLE units.   Next coin toss lead me to Bucyrus, OH.  On my way to Bucyrus, I listened to several trains talking and as I rolled off the exit, I heard the NS 15V calling signals into town.  I headed for the Route 98 crossing by the large grain elevator there in anticipation of getting said 15V...however, Murphy beat me into Bucyrus and the NS 15V derailed as I awaited its arrival.  While not great shots of the derailing train - a quick drive down to a side street and an open field yielded a few shots of the aftermath - quite literally as the dust settled at 1730 hours.


With Bucyrus now blocked up quite nicely, where to next?  Easy choice - head north for Fostoria and hold out the last light of day there before cruising west to Columbia City, IN.  On the way to Fostoria I would traverse Carey, OH and swing in to catch a nice Plymouth 80-Tonner (?) working the National Lime & Stone Co. quarry with a cut of cars.  The STONECO lettered centercab would shove the cut of cars back for an awaiting CSXT crew to retrieve...


Then off to Fostoria!  Arrival in Fostoria found a bottleneck of traffic - at least three trains to go north and two south on the C&O, while NS had several in a holding pattern on its Fostoria District crossing of the CSXT Willard Subdivision.  With a steady stream of trains rolling, I decided to set up and just shoot whatever came my way - from whatever way it came - as the light began getting less with sunset creating that low dusk illumination.  Enjoy the following sequence:

A grain train heads east with the last rays of sunshine casting a glint on the entire BNSF consist.

An eastbound intermodal races westbound at the last light of day, crossing over the Columbus Subdivision.

A NS 172 train rolls across the CSXT Willard Subdivision at dusk.

Following this run, it was off for the remainder of the drive to Columbia City and some sleep before heading to the steel mill for the next full day!