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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!


  1. Awesome trip report, and awesome photographs! Great work, Kevin! I'll put a mention in my blog.

  2. nice photographs...
    and i also like train design..first time visit your blog and also first time view this train..
    Huntsville Home Improvement

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