Thursday, December 13, 2007

Patience Is A Virtue. It's Also A Necessity.

I guess I had a lesson handed to me again today. Perhaps I'll be able to internalize it.

I asked for today off a month ago, and as it approached I knew it was a day to be trainspotting. Any day off is a trainspotting day, isn't it? I was due for a rude awakening, though. When I woke up this morning at 5:45 I could hear the wind chimes outside ringing pretty forcefully. I let the dogs out and heard the rain falling, and heard the sound of my heart falling, too. As the sun came up I knew it was over--rain, solid clouds, nasty dreary. A cold front is pressing thru from Texas, and the back of my hand pressed up against the frosted bathroom window sealed it--cold with rain.

So, I had sort of given up on going out today for fun. I agreed to do errands this morning just to have something to do. So, I ran errands. Did a little xmas shopping and in general just sort of muddled about. I certainly didn't get in any sort of rush because I knew I'd just get home and have nothing to do. Well, I ended up on a whim going to Lake Buhlow to see if there were any KCS cars on the cutout, and boy were there. Two long cuts, plenty of pretty graffiti and railman sign, so I went trudging with my little point-n-shoot. Figured even with the heavy overcast at least I'd have SOME sort of train-related something to show for it.

As I roamed the cars I thought I heard a horn somewhere up the UP line and went running pell mell up to the diamond there at Control Point Mallin; nothing. Went back and finished my shooting, packed up and got a wild hair. I took a drive up the gravel road that leads off the pavement path to the Red River Oxbow boat landing. I'll warn you now--there's a really pretty spot up there just a mile or so, a big still body of shallow water and the KCS line passes right along the woods behind it, but it's going to be overgrown in summer.

Undaunted and still a little high from my 45+ tags found I drove back up and decided to explore the Oxbow boat launch. When I got there I realised I had forgotten how very close the Red River Junction Bridge IS from the boat launch, and there's a really nice little park there. So, cold and overcast and nasty be damned, I wandered out onto the little jetty of huge stones that make up a wave-break for the landing and hunkered down. I waited. And waited. Took some nice photos of leaves in the water and some rocks at the end of my little stony jetty and tried to photograph the little turtles who kept watching me with distrustful little eyes thrust just above the waterline, but no train came.

I had sat there maybe an hour before I heard a horn. I got the wild grin I always get when I think a train is near and got ready. And nothing showed. I figured I had heard a horn from a train going straight through the Texmo Junction and thence up Hwy 1 instead of it making the long turn to head to the river, and decided I'd head home. I had gotten all the way to the bottom of the O K Allen bridge when I saw it--the long shape of a train parked on the curve leading up to the Red R. Jct. bridge. I hustled down off the overpass and around to Stracener St., where I could get close to the rails. I found the end and for certain proved it--it was pointed toward the river.

The game was afoot! I hauled tail back, praying it'd not move before I got back to my perch on the stony lonesome. I settled down again, hunkered against the cold wind, flannel shirt buttoned up tight, and waited. It occurred to me that the sounds I'd been hearing after that horn HAD been a distant diesel engine; stationary, somewhere behind the trees. I sat and thought and thought, pummeling my brain, hoping that it would warm the rest of me. I finally made the connection, so to speak: the train on the Alexandria side was waiting on the siding there because there was another UP coming from Pineville into Alexandria and hence into the yard, and it held the track warrant, so the Alexandria side one was waiting out of it's way.

Sure enough, not ten minutes passed and I started hearing roaring and rumbling and a distant, lonely horn, and then the rattling of many axles crossing the Mallin diamond. I got all sweaty-palmed, changed shooting positions about ten times, and sure enough it hove into view, moving beautifully slowly across the bridge, perhaps all of twenty miles an hour.

Got lots of shots, dark due to the overcast but I got them. I particularly like how backing the gross focus out makes it begin to appear more and more like a toy train.

Finally it meandered past; I sat there giggling and I realised that it'd be wise of me to use the time to try the Manual mode. Next lesson--when time permits, fiddle about with your camera settings. I knew I had a fair bit of time to play (a train doesn't just leap into motion) so I went ahead and started adjusting. I shot a few test shots of just the bridge areas I planned on focusing on, found a nice ISO setting and waited. Didn't have to wait too long--I heard a single long blast on the horn and the bell rang out clear in the cold air, and the idling rose to a growl. I got ready, steadied on my knees and braced up against a several hundred pound boulder there, and sure enough it came creeping across at a sedate 10mph, smoke pouring from both engines.

The aperature being a shade more open this time helped the grey sky turn more white and the whole photo lightened up a bit. Nice. I CAN be taught.

The best part of this opportunity? The second engine in the line had been on fire at some time past, and still bears heavy black marks and scorching along it's flanks. Obviously this one hasn't been to the home shop for cleaning and fresh paint, and I wonder if there wasn't a little engine damage--notice how heavy the exhaust is in the first frame, as it begins to cross. This also makes me wonder how often engines catch on fire--I've seen several photos in the past of engines with serious scorch marks across their radiator areas.

Here's where the mistakes started.

I watched for a few minutes, then realised it was moving so slowly that I had a pretty fair chance of getting to the KCS/UP Control Point Mallin diamond in time to get a photo of it there too. I made an ankle-breaking run back to the truck and hauled tail back out of the winding road thru the park. And there I made my first mistake--I was moving so fast I missed the turn onto the little gravel and sand road that leads up to the control point's access area so I had to go on a little further and set up on the road, shooting back into it with the forest as a backdrop. NOT what I had planned, but it worked. I got a few nice ones and a wave from the engineer, and headed home.

That's when I made the second mistake--I didn't go back to the jetty and wait some more. There was a THIRD train moving in the same direction. It must have been idling just behind the second because it was in the curve headed toward the bridge not a mile behind the tail of the first when I saw it, again, at the base of the O K Allen bridge. Talk about disappointed. The only way I could have made the exit ramp and MAYBE gotten turned around and hustled back in time for a photo or two would have involved me driving a fellow motorist off the road, so I went on home and promised myself a longer trip out there, this time with lunch packed, a good book, a pipe, and maybe a warmer coat.

More of this set and full versions (3000 px wide) of the above photos can be seen on my Flickr account here.

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Blogger Jean said...

Well, I for one, see no reason why you should be disappointed in this day. You got some great shots!

December 14, 2007 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Irrelephant said...

Jean, I know it sounds hokey but when I go out to photograph, I want to feel like I've pushed myself, or learned something new, or improved my abilities. I hate to feel like I settled for "pretty good" or "could have done better." I guess I just don't feel like I pushed my abilities enough with this set.

December 15, 2007 at 9:02 AM  

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