Orthodoxy states that a train picture should be taken during the bright light of mid-morning or mid-afternoon, the photographer shooting with the sun behind and the subject brilliantly lit. The photo should be taken at a shutter speed sufficient to stop a moving train dead in its tracks, literally, and the subject should be in sharp focus. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve taken my share of such images.
However, I believe in throwing the orthodox out the window as well. Sunrise is a great time to throw the traditional train picture on its ear. The rising sun combined with partial cloud cover can make for a beautiful image, particularly in a rural region.
My railroad adventure in the summer of 1969 was going very well indeed. I’d taken two weeks off from my Operator’s job on the New Haven, left NYC for Montreal, then the Canadian National Super Continental across Canada to Vancouver.
The trains were everything I had hoped transcontinental streamliners would be; clean, punctual, well-traveled with interesting people having a great time enjoying the vast expanses and stunning scenery that only train travel allowed you to fully appreciate.
Now it was time to head south from Vancouver, to Seattle, Portland, and on to San Francisco to meet my Air Force and railfan buddy who was returning from Vietnam for a month’s R&R. The west coast corridor between Vancouver and Portland had regular service with convenient schedules operated by several different railroads. In these pre-Amtrak years, most lines were struggling with the financial burden of ICC mandated passenger services that were losing business to air travel and Interstate highways. Train-off petitions kept the lawyers busy, but the operating departments, to their credit, tried to maintain a high level of service, since passenger trains were often the only contact between the public and the railroads. There was still a lot of pride in their important work.
To the casual observer, this scene would suggest only the illumination of an incandescent bulb behind a green fresnel lens on Signal 482.4 as it sends out a clear indication to an approaching northbound train on the Union Pacific McGehee Subdivision. It is a scene that has been repeated countless times for well over a decade.