Beyond the Train

As railroad photographers, we tend to feature the train as the main subject. Whether it’s a wider scenic type shot, showing the train snaking through a beautiful landscape, or a tighter telesmash accentuating the undulating terrain being traversed, it’s still a photo featuring equipment rolling along the rails. Sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and look at things from a different angle. I’d like to share a recent example from that different perspective—maybe it’ll spark something in your creative mind.

Shootin’ in the Rain

Rainy days aren’t exactly ideal for rail photography, and not because I’m a strict adherent to the “shoot only with the sun at your back” camp. To the contrary, I truly enjoy shooting in all lighting and weather conditions. My overall philosophy is if the trains run, I’ll be out to shoot—day, night, cloudy, snowy or raining, my cameras are snapping away. Honestly, though, I’m less of a fan of rainy days mainly because I really don’t like being wet. Any of the other conditions, I can deal with, but being wet just sends chills down my spine. So one would think I’d be inclined to spend little time away from the protection of my car, but that really wouldn’t be the case. Some of the times I spend looking around in the rain become fruitless endeavors, but every so often I find some really cool stuff to shoot as the precipitation falls.

Sometimes you need to slow down and smell the roses—even if you get drenched in the process.”

One recent example of this happened this past July.

As you may be aware, the Providence & Worcester Railroad, a regional carrier serving Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, eastern as well as southern Connecticut and Long Island, New York, was recently purchased by rail conglomerate Genesee & Wyoming. As a part of the purchase, G&W is in the process of painting the P&W’s locomotive roster into the corporate colors of orange, black and yellow (affectionately known, at least around southern New England, as “candy corns”). On July 7, 2017 one of the P&W’s units, a GE B39-8, was waiting in Willimantic, Connecticut to return to home rails after being repainted by the G&W’s painting contractor, located at the New England Central Railroad’s St. Albans, Vermont shop. On this day, however, there was a fairly steady rain, interspersed with some heavier downpours, soaking eastern Connecticut.

In my usual “documentarian” ways, I set out in the rain to get a few shots of the locomotive in the passing cloudbursts. Sure, the paint scheme is really boring, and looks just like every other G&W owned property, but it’s still a bit of history happening before our eyes. (Another driving mantra of mine is “today’s mundane is tomorrow’s unique”.) Plus I figured the rain would add a bit of atmosphere to the photo—a kind of “sky is crying” feel to the newly emerging paint scheme. So the 250 yard hike in the rain seemed worth it.

Willimantic, Connecticut – July, 2017

The rain continued to fall in earnest as I made my way back towards the parking lot and a chance to dry off in the confines of my car, but my usual practice is to look around on my way, and something caught my eye. That would be a series of water droplets, clinging to the chain across the handrails on the nose of the locomotive.

I tried a number of different compositions, and settled on this one where you can make out part of the locomotive’s nose, including a portion of the logo as well as a grab iron, refracted in the droplets of water. And as a backdrop is also a part of the top of the nose logo itself, adding a bit of context.

Willimantic, Connecticut – July, 2017

Being quite wet at this point, I thought it would be worthwhile to at least take a walk around the locomotive to see if anything else caught my eye—I’m not going to get much wetter. Well, on the rear hood something did catch my eye—a spider web that was spun between two of the upper grab irons leading to the radiator fans. Two things really made it worthwhile for me. First the spider was sitting in the center of the web, apparently hunkered down for the rain, and second, many fine droplets of water were clinging to the web itself, making it stand out from the background of the orange paint.

Willimantic, Connecticut – July, 2017

Now had I simply got my ¾ wedgie, purely documentary shot and ran back to the car, I, and my camera, would have been quite a bit drier. But I would have missed out on what I think are two very unique shots—two photos that are the type I truly enjoy to make. And thankfully the camera and lens are somewhat weather resistant, so a quick towel dry to them, and all was right with the world.

Yes, sometimes you need to slow down and smell the roses—even if you get drenched in the process.

Tom NanosPhotographs and text Copyright 2017
See more of Tom’s work at his website nanosphoto

Railroad Town:
 Boyce, Virginia

Norfolk & Western Depot circa 1913 – Boyce, Virginia (Norfolk Southern photo on loan to Virginia Polytechnic Institute Library)

The Town of Boyce, Virginia and its railway depot have enjoyed a long history together. Nearly as old as the town, the 1913 structure served as its public gathering place, the portal through which travel and commerce passed, and became Boyce’s icon.

Indeed, it was the crossing of a newly-built Shenandoah Valley Railroad with the Winchester and Berry’s Ferry Turnpike that prompted the birth of a new community in formerly dense, forested land. Unlike Berryville, White Post, and Millwood, the Boyce community—briefly named Boyceville—sprung forth around a stop along the tracks relatively late in Clarke County’s development. The town would not have existed were it not for the arrival of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad in 1879. Read more

The Fall of a Prairie Icon

Meadows, Manitoba Grain Elevator and Annex
1912 – 2017

Meadows, Manitoba is located approximately 20 miles west of Winnipeg on Hwy # 221 in the Rural Municipality of Rosser, MB. Meadows is a village comprised of a dozen properties and farms that the  Canadian Pacific mainline on the Carberry subdivision passes through.

In 1912 a small grain storage elevator was erected in the town to accommodate the local farmers during harvest. After a brief private ownership, the elevator was sold to N.M Paterson & Sons, now known as Paterson Global Foods. In 1922, the same year it was purchased by N.M Paterson & Sons, it was destroyed by fire. It was quickly replaced by a 30,000 bushel capacity elevator the following year powered by what was then a modern 12 HP elevator motor. Read more

A Maine Central Education

Waterville Yard
Waterville Yard in 1968

Fifty years ago Railroading was far different from today. My introduction to the Maine Central started in 1964 when I went to Colby College in Waterville. Once exposed, I became fascinated by this amazing industry, the people who worked in it, and the coordination and teamwork required to run the railroad.

The Maine Central, Scott Paper, Hathaway Shirts, Keyes Fiber and Colby were among the largest employers, and Waterville was a thriving industrial community.

The Maine Central Railroad was originally known to me only as a name painted on a boxcar. I knew very little about railroading, but I had always enjoyed puzzles, and how this industry worked became a lifelong interest and hobby. Read more

The Drummer

Antlers Hotel ca. 1910 (scanned from old copy of photo, source/photographer unknown)
It’s 1910.

The drummer* stepped off the westbound Austin & Northwestern Railroad train onto the wet wooden platform, a carpetbag in one hand, a leather-sheathed cardboard sample case in the other, wishing he had booked another night in Austin at the Depot Hotel. He was glad it was only sprinkling when he walked the few blocks from his hotel to Austin’s Union Station. With a sigh he set both down, pulled his coat tighter around him in a useless attempt to set off the bone-chilling dampness of the evening. If it weren’t for the rain – a downpour of the kind seemingly known only to Central Texas – and a washed out bridge a few miles up the line, he’d be spending the night in Llano at the Dabbs where he had reserved a room. Picking up his bags he fell in with his fellow passengers, all but a few stranded like himself, toward the large hotel across the tracks. Read more