Saturday, August 23, 2008

You Meet The Strangest People On A Train

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: So much of trainspotting simply involves being in the right place at the right time.

Want a fun metaphor? Imagine a train as a snake on a Hot Wheels track. Remember those things? Yellow plastic, had small rails to keep the cars from flying off? Now imagine a Hot Wheels track running across most of your neighborhood, with a foot-long garter snake on it, moving. Naturally there are places where you simply can't get to the track, because it's going under someone's porch or through the back yard with the bad dog in it. Some places you can get right up alongside it, and most times you can sort of see up it a little ways. Now, have someone set the snake to going and you try and find it.

If you walk along it longways the snake could be one yard past you and you'd never know it. If it's a yard or so behind you and approaching you MIGHT be in the right spot if the heat doesn't drive you off. If you can only walk across the track once in a while, say every other yard then you'll likely never see it, unless there's four or five snakes using the same stretch of yellow plastic. It gets tricky!

When I happen to find a diesel engine or a whole train parked, therefore, I make the best of it. There's not many reasons for a train to stop, and being DOL (Dead On Law) is one of them. That just means that the crewmembers have put in their twelve hours and are required by union rules to stop and rest, and the train company has to get a fresh crew out there if they want their freight to keep rolling.

That was the case for this spot, right off Broadway, at the end of a little dead-end loop of road off Dallas.

Two trains, one local and one DOL.

Side By Side

I'd had a hot air balloon flight to attend that morning and had about five minutes to watch that old Southern Pacific coupled to a GATX lease engine servicing the Union Tank (UTLX) facility here in Alexandria. It was difficult at best to get any shots as the pair stayed behind the trees the whole time.

sat morning 001

Imagine my surprise to be headed home from an afternoon flight to see it sitting there, inbound but stationary right outside the yard, with a production run of tank cars behind it, gleaming. You know, I never stop getting that little thrill when I see a whole line of matching cars lined up, whether they be tank cars, autoracks or just plain hoppers.


I was doubly pleased over this find. The SP fallen flag is one that, instead of the big "Southern Pacific" logo, carries the "Cotton Belt" lettering over it's engine cowls, and it was in lead position. The other reason I was so tickled was that the UP had behind it a pair of Norfolk Southern engines; the nice bit was that the third engine wasn't a black and white NS but a patched blue Conrail.


I wandered around for a good half hour, taking my time once I realised that both engines, while idling, weren't going anywhere. Then, the fresh crew showed up for the three-engine consist and the fun REALLY began.

Ordinarily when a crew shows up for work they will either wave, ignore me, or in very rare circumstances, stop and talk. The three crewmen that debarked the taxi must have planned ahead of time, because each performed one of the three options. One waved and walked on. One ignored me. The third decided he wanted to talk. He was a skinny little older man, looking like what my father once would have called "rode hard and put up wet." I smiled big, put out my hand and said something along the lines of "Good afternoon sir!"

He stared at my hand for a moment, like I'd offered him the steering pump from a 1978 Trans Am instead of a hand, looked at my camera, looked at me, shook it and said "You ain't an insurance guy, are ya?"

Not what I'd expected to hear, I promise you. So naturally I was a little off-balance.

I recovered after a bit and reassured him that no, I wasn't an insurance guy nor a rev'nooer, I was simply a guy who loved trains and took photos of them. He reiterated "You sure you ain't an insurance guy?" I reassured him again that I was just a foamer (a moniker that he obviously didn't ascribe to, because he looked at me funny again.) He finally turned and started to walk off, then said "Don't be taking my pitcher." I agreed I wouldn't, and the moment he turned I started snapping.

Walking The Consist

That's him at the back, with the thin grey rat tail. All I can figure is that he was pulling some sort of insurance scam, an injury or somesuch. *shrug* If I was an insurance agent out to try and prove his health or lack thereof I'd probably not hide in plain sight right in front of the train he was about to board, but you never know. Anyway, that'll teach him to be rude to an enthusiast. *lol*

The best part is this: more and more I find myself taking photos of the crews. There's something about putting that human element in that gives it all scale. Plus, once in a while, if you've done all your preparing you'll be in the right place at the right time and you can catch a photo that you'll really be proud of.


Engineer, Napping

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