. . . But catch them while you can

Call it the impact of the homogenization of American railroading, but it’s been easy to get a little jaded or even bored standing at trackside lately. Another set of all-black & white NS “Thoroughbreds” or armour-yellow Union Pacific locomotives rolling by with a roar and maybe a friendly whistle blast from the engineer.

That describes a day last summer, when yet another otherwise nondescript freight train rolled by me at one of my favorite Columbus, Ohio viewing spots. And then, amid a string of grain hoppers with reporting marks I didn’t recognize, bland paint and no other markings, one car stood out and left me picking my jaw off the ground.

It was weather-beaten, to be sure. But the lettering and the railroad banner “flag” was easily recognizable. The big yellow shield with the script letters “D&H” showed through the grime and rust, as did the side-spanning lettering “Delaware & Hudson”! My Nikon was (thankfully powered up and focused and I managed to squeeze off one quick shot.

I grew up in the Northeast, where the D&H served as a bridge to the western and Canadian railroads along with its long-gone contemporaries like the New Haven, Lehigh, Reading, et al. You just don’t see their flags fly on the sides of passing freight cars that much anymore. But they, or at least some of them, are there.

The blandness of corporate car ownership is spreading like the rust on that old D&H grain hopper.

And it got me to change my approach to shooting trains. Too often we literally focus on the locomotives and forget the rest of the train. Yes, one intermodal looks like the next, as do coal and ethanol unit trains. But every now and then, a “flag” from yesterday will indeed fly past and disappear before you know it. If you’ve turned away after getting that 3/4 angle shot of the 103rd SD-60 in your photo archive, you may have missed that flag altogether.

So, I stopped concentrating on what was pulling the trains I watched, and started paying attention to the rolling stock. The photo gallery below is some of what I’ve spotted in the past year. For many of you, these names and banner flags probably bring back memories of your hometown railroad. Since there are (to my knowledge) no New Haven Railroad freight cars still in use, the appeal for me now is capturing a bit of railroad history before it fades into the grays, off-whites or browns that are today’s freight car “color wheel.” The average double-stack intermodal train has more color.

In doing this, I’ve noticed even some of the railroads that originally merged away our “home roads” into distant memory are themselves beginning to fade: Penn Central, Conrail, Chessie, Norfolk & Western, Southern Pacific, Chicago & Northwestern and others.

Catch them while you can. The blandness of corporate car ownership is spreading like the rust on that old D&H grain hopper.

Click on image to open in viewer.

Stu NicholsonText and photographs Copyright 2018


6 thoughts on “Fallen Flags Still Flying (By) . . .

  1. Thanks for the Fallen Flags pictures. I enjoy what you post. Train watching today is not much fun…like you wrote….big ugly diesels of only 5 or 6 different roads. And grafetti covered, rust covered, beat-out looking feright cars…no nice emblems on them…sometimes only reporting marks. I can’t understand how railfans of 2018 enjoy railroading. I grew-up in the era of clean, pristine freight cars….and so many different railroads with neat hearlds……Seaboard, SP, WP,NYC,UP,GN,NP MILW CP,,CN,CBQ,DMIR.
    And passenger trains today another story….I grew up with silver WP, ATSF, CBQ, CP passenger cars……yellow UP….Maroon/orange Milw……..SP Daylight and two-tone gray over night trains…..NP two-tone green, DRGW silver or gold….I grew up with colorful diesels CGW, ATSF, CBQ, WP, SP, CP, NP, GN, NYC,DRGW. Ain’t no fun anymore watching trains.

  2. Homogenization unfortunately has taken over. I model in HO scale and find it fun to collect different cars from different railroads. I like the old wood box cars that used to display Coors, Oscar Meyer, old Dutch ect. Also no graffiti on the cars as well. Nice job catching these cars.

  3. Yes, railfanning has changed since the advent of larger, powerful locomotives and long unit trains. So I changed with it by taking pics of ‘fallen flag’ cars and specialized graffiti – faces. I have hundreds of graffiti faces, several of which I’ve photographed more than once.

  4. Great article, when railfanning always shooting the power and the cars but never thinking of fallen flags. Will start paying more attention to the logos and looking for the fallen flags. Thanks!

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