The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad
Saturday, October 20, 2018 was the final day of the week-long Lerro Productions photo charter on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. The anatomy of an image: here are the accounts of Polson #2 steam locomotive fireman Martin E. Hansen, and photographer Matthew Malkiewicz.
Reflecting on a steam run as experienced inside the cab and from behind the lens
Martin E. Hansen
The night before the last day of the charter I was told that one of the firemen for the charter had to leave and go home early. Our trainmaster asked if I could fill in for him on the log train the next morning with Polson Lumber Company #2, a standard gauge 2-8-2 Mikado built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1912. Since I had just completed a week of hard work days in the shop with our restoration crew finishing the jacket, piping and other final installations on the Skookum locomotive, I was ready for a change and gladly accepted the assignment.
The next morning was cold and dark in the fog-choked yards of Garibaldi as I boarded Polson #2 to light her off at 6am. The warmth of the fire felt good in the cab given the raw weather. Engineer Tim Thompson soon joined me with an even warmer smile and hello, as is his nature. In the past, Tim and I had run Oregon Coast Scenic Railroads’s other steam locomotive, McCloud River #25, all the way to Salmonberry—I knew this would be a good day. Tim’s mom, Vickie, soon appeared below the cab window with a hot cup of coffee for me. At that moment, I knew I had made the right decision to fill in as fireman on the #2 that morning.
It was all so very moody in the fog as we watched the #25 behind us building steam. Soon we were prepared to move and took the passing siding so #25 could skirt by and get her train onto the mainline ahead. With #25 clear and the train leaving town we dropped back to retrieve our log cars. Hearing #25 depart for Wheeler at the end of the yard meant it was almost time for us to go. We pumped up the air in the log cars and in a few minutes were ready to follow behind the passenger train with charter patrons onboard.
For now, at Smith Lake, all was right in the world for Tim and me as we enjoyed the warmth of the cab and the sounds and sights of #2 in all her splendor . . .
Leaving town we made our way across the several grade crossing filled with anxious fisherman preparing to launch their boats, to spend the day in the salmon filled bay off Garibaldi. Waving to them I could not help but think I had the better hobby that morning – I nestled in the warm cab of a steam locomotive as they would be huddled in a cold damp fishing boat out on the water. We were out of town and making our way along the bay and towards the curve at Three Graces. I could see that just ahead the fog was lifting and soon we would be out of it and into the sun, that is, at least as soon as the sun came up.
Within a few miles we were skimming along the track that crosses the middle of Smith Lake. Most of the fog was now gone, the air calm and still. Number 2 was hardly working as we stretched her legs across the lake. I could not help but look back from my seat to watch the long full plume of heavy white steam that we were trailing long past far end of our train. Cold mornings like this on the Oregon Coast are wonderful, allowing a steam locomotive to create its own atmosphere.
Scooting along with our string of log cars in tow behind and that glorious plume of steam stretching out far beyond the rear, I looked over to the highway hoping that some of the photographers had decided to not ride the passenger coach that morning and instead had taken their own vehicles to follow us as we made our way north. Sure enough there were a few such camera wielding fans over on the road as we steamed. I thought to myself: keep the stack clean so they can capture a white plume of steam on our journey as we work to join #25 for the first run-bys of the morning at Wheeler Bay.
For now, at Smith Lake, all was right in the world for Tim and me as we enjoyed the warmth of the cab and the sounds and sights of #2 in all her splendor in this pre-dawn scene.
I could not help but chuckle when, a few miles further north, I saw the fireman that I had replaced because he had to go home early. Sure enough, he had not gone home at all. He too was chasing us by car to get some photos of his own as we ran up the Oregon Coast on this morning made for a steam locomotive.
I think I got the better end of the deal when agreeing to relieve him, getting the chance to run #2 up the coast that beautiful, glorious dawn.
Saturday morning in Garibaldi, the last day of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad charter, I’m out of the hotel room at 3 a.m. with my camera bag in hand. It’s foggier than the previous day. I’m excited because yesterday a few real good early morning photographs of the locomotive crew preparing the train were captured. As the other patrons attending the event start to arrive, I climbed aboard to drop my stuff on an empty seat in the passenger car. Entering the door I see long-time friend and fellow photographer Tim Lab sitting. All of a sudden it hits me.
“Good morning Tim. Hey Tim, its real foggy out, Pete is taking us way north at Wheeler Bay to get out of this thick soup. I think we can do better by chasing with the automobile and capturing some of the early morning scenes instead of riding through it. Want to be my co-pilot?”
Tim quickly grabs his bag, we are off the train and into my rental car.
We stood on the marshy wet mat at the low tide of Smith Lake, watching and listening as the train disappeared and its plume eventually faded.
We photographed both trains as they left home base, then driving ahead of it to set up for the next pair of run-bys. Doing this multiple times yielded some very moody and eerie images. As daylight started to overcome night, the conditions for photography kept improving.
Creating this image at Smith Lake was the last of the chase. Off in the distance we could see the fog dissipating to a cloudless sunny day. A simple photograph to capture with the most basic of equipment and settings. Hand held, 35mm focal length prime lens, ISO 640, F/6.3, shutter speed 1/250th. Afterwards, we stood on the marshy wet mat at the low tide of Smith Lake, watching and listening as the train disappeared and its plume eventually faded. Not saying a word, no need to. Sublime. Cinematic. Timeless.
Our work done, completely satisfied, we leisurely doubled back to a small coffee shop we passed along the way. Like Martin, I feel Tim and I were on the winning side of the deal when deciding to chase instead of ride. When that intuitive voice inside speaks to me, I listen. More times than not it is good advice worth acting upon. This morning was filled with scenes, opportunities, experiences, and memories that will forever linger. I am thankful for all the elements magically coming together. The vanished era of the steam powered logging industry in the Pacific Northwest was briefly recreated, bringing with it the thoughts of what railroading was like in Western Oregon during the winter months.
The excitement and thrill of this day remained with me as I returned home. This was the first file I ran through Photoshop, and soon after, a print was made and shipped to Martin as a thank you gesture. A 48” wide metal print hangs above my desk at work. I was fortunate to have done a lot with my hobby of photography in 2018. This is amongst my very favorite images and experiences of the year.
Matthew’s entire gallery of photographs can be found on his Lost Tracks of Time website.
The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is a steam-powered heritage railroad operating in Oregon between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach, with additional special trips to Wheeler, Nehalem River and into the Salmonberry River Canyon. The railroad travels on tracks that pass along the edge of Tillamook Bay and the Oregon Coast, and through thick forest along the Nehalem River. The OCSR runs its collection of vintage rail equipment over 46 miles of former Southern Pacific Transportation Company track under a lease from the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad.
At Lerro Productions, the philosophy is simple: creativity, authenticity and quality. Whether you’re a beginner, hobbyist, or professional, our workshops incorporate one of the best learning experiences, tools and photographic designs with some of the most promising subjects. Join us and photographers from all over the world to experience our tours the way we enjoy them. By the end of the trip, you’ll not only have a collection of wonderful photographs but have most likely made a few new friends along the way.
Matthew Malkiewicz and Martin E. Hansen – Text and photograph Copyright 2019