Thursday, March 22, 2007

Central Ohio Odyssey

Maps, to me, are the sweetest candy. Give me a destination, a spot, and I will find the lines that connect me to it in the most interesting fashion. Of course this means following the rails. The best route between two points is not always the shortest.

So when I was presented with a choice of two destinations, Alliance and Willard at which to meet a photographic hero of mine, Misko Kranjec, my first thoughts were of excitement to meet Misko and catch up with some other friends, and my second was about which route to take.

At first it looked like we would meet at Alliance, thusly I would follow the Ohio Central's northound train out of Coshocton to Warwick, and then head east through Canton along the tracks to Alliance.

But Monday night I found out we would be meeting up in Willard, so I planned on heading north along the OC to Mt. Vernon, hopefully chasing the NHL, which runs north out of Newark on Tuesdays and Thursday, and I guess sometimes Saturdays too.

It took a little longer to get out of the house that I expected, but when I got to Newark the tracks north looked rusty. I was a little bummed, but I figured it would just leave more time to hang out with Misko, Dave Hyman and Ed Portzline. I followed the tracks north through Newark and St. Louisville, and as the tracks moved away from the road at Utica, I took off the main road (Ohio 13) to cross the tracks- just in case.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw headlights, and I rushed into town to find a spot. There was a small grain elevator, and I found a spot looking down the street to get the train passing. I peaked around the corner of the building I was standing beside as the train approached, and I was suprised to see an orange B23-7 on the point, running long hood forward. The OHCR 4201 is the former Rick Franklin Corporation 4201, which apparently was former Conrail 1904.

Anyway, as the train rolled slowly through town, morning school traffic began to arrive at my spot. Two cars rolled to a stop as the gates went down. At first I thought they would ruin my shot, but actually, in a way, it adds something. The big shadow blocking part of the locomotive and the fact that I cut off the top of the grain elevator because I was paying more attention to the cars is much more problematic.

Oh well. I fled Utica and headed north again, passing the train just a few hundred yards up the road and zipping ahead. The sun was kind of behind us both, and I began to get further and further ahead of the slow-moving train. When I crossed the tracks on Arrington Road, a bit over the Knox County line, the train was just a blob of light in the distance. The fields were relatively open, and I searched for a broadside, cross the field kind of shot.

There was a raggedy tree near the road, and I thought immediately about including it in the frame, if I could swing it. My 20mm wasn't quite wide enough, and I had to walk into the remains of a corn field to squeeze it all in. The train came rumbling along, and I shot a few frames as it receded into the distance. Then it was back on the road, heading north.

Ohio 13 leaves the tracks again south of Mt. Vernon, and I had to try some back roads to find shots. I found a suitable place on Range Line Road just south of South Mt. Vernon, and shot the train going way past a gingerbread trimmed farmhouse. Then back north, doing my best to keep an eye on the train. I had to check out some more back roads to find the train, as I was not sure where the train was going. There are some industries south of town, and I thought maybe the train would drop some cars there. As I rolled away from the tracks on a main road south of town, the gates went down, assuring me that the train was rolling all the way into town.

I found a crossing in town with a crossing guards concrete hut still standing by the rails and used it in the foreground. The train scooted past and I headed toward downtown. (I found out later that the concrete hut is actually an old B&O phone booth, used to check if the PRR crossing in Mt. Vernon was clear so a train could proceed. Thanks for Iron Man on the WLETS forum for the info.)

I have been through Mt. Vernon a few times, but I had not been there enough to know exactly where to go, and nearly made a wrong turn. I had to really hustle down some one-way streets to get the train crossing the Kokosing River an a bridge that is apparently kind of arched. Hey, pictures don't lie.

Road closures made it difficult to follow the train as it set about switching local industries, and it was getting late anyway, so I headed north, following the remains of the old B&O main until it disappeared near Fredricktown. I passed through Mansfield, and it cluster of tracks and GE 65-tonner, and then to Greenwich, where the gates went down as I drew close, and I pulled down a side street to catch a long stack train coming off the Indianapolis line.

When I got to Willard, I didn't see any cars parked across from the engine pit, so I checked the local crossings, and then headed west, as I figured the group would be at Daniels Road. As I was driving past the western fuel pad, the phone rang; it was Misko, telling me they were indeed at Daniels Road.

I rolled up the truncated remains of Daniels Road, and as I rolled to a stop, Misko got out of the car and I got to meet a hero.

The first meeting was short lived, because shortly after hellos it was suggested we headed west to Attica Jct, to see the crossing with NS. I agreed, and for some reason got in my car, probably because I had to pee.

So we dashed west, slowing at Attica to see the headlights of a northbound NS train and for Misko to take a picture of a grain elevator, a quintessential Ohio/Midwest landmark. CSX was quick to provide us with an eastbound, with a UP Sd70ace on the point. I shot Misko and Ed against the cloudy sky before the train dashed east. Then I went to find a bathroom, leaving them, promising to meet up in a moment.

After my bathroom break, I went back to the northern most crossing in town, where I expected the waiting coal train to head north, past the grain elevator and high school. Instead, a southbound intermodal appeared, leaving me not much of a shot. But I took it anyway, what the hell.

The crew headed back to Willard, I wanted to get a shot of a train heading south past the grain elevator, and a green signal promised such a delight. After waiting for a short eternity, I gave up. Why waste a minute of hanging out with friends?

Back to the pit, diverting briefly to watch a distant stack train thunder across the fields, enjoying the echo of a fast train from a mile away.

At the fueling pit, we hung out and talked, and watched a few trains pass before it was time for Misko, Dave and Ed to head back toward Canton. Misko had a late night train to catch, and was due in Chicago the next morning.

So off we all went, them east, me toward the west and Attica, where I would pick up the NS and follow it south. I followed the yard west, where I caught up with my second train of the day, the UP-led miscellaneous job that we caught at Attica Jct. As I got ready to shoot, a pair of cargo planes from nearby Mansfield passed low overhead.

No signals lit in Attica, so I headed south, ducking down back roads to check signals when they appeared. Bucyrus slowed my southern flight, as I searched for interesting spots and missed a northbound coal train. I did find the tiny GE Transco uses to shove cars around it's facilty. A row of sad looking autoracks was outside the gate.

Then south again, where I came across a green signal at a boring location. A grain elevator on the horizon beckoned, so I raced south, coming across another tiny GE at Monnett. I grabbed a shot, and as I headed back to my car, I heard and airhorn. To the south. I peered through my lens, and sure enough, floating on the horizon in a puddle of mirage, the last car of a southbound disappeared into the haze. How it got ahead of me in the few miles between signals I will never know.

South to Marion, passing up a trip to the diamonds to head straight south, to check in at the grain elevator in Waldo to see if I could get a picture of the critter there. No one was home (it being after 5 on a Tuesday) and I didn't dare go back into the facility, as there were big tanks with red diamond placards near the critter, and I wouldn't want people to think I was thievin' dangerous materials. So I headed south again, following the secondary road until it rejoined US 23. As I was rolling along, a bright object near the tracks caught my eye, and after a bit longer I realized it was a train. So I turned around and roared back to Waldo, where I got a northbound passing the dormant critter.

After watching the train pass, I headed south again. I was rolling along and realized that a, I had found a spot called 'Troyton' will it's classic PRR position light signal that I had seen in pictures before, and b, there was a train at said location. So I turned around again, and headed north to a tiny wide spot in the road called Norton. There was a signal there, too, a less interesting single light deal, and a second one, facing away from the tracks. I remembered seeing a picture of this signal once too, evidently it was for a once planned double tracking of the line, not yet attempted. The train passed, shorter than the last, perhaps a local returning to Marion.

The light was getting nice now, but it was also getting time for the baby to go to bed. If I hustled, I could be home in time. So I did- after a stop in Delaware to see if CSX would stir up a train for me (no dice) and passing over a northbound NS coal train on I270. But right now, being able to say goodnight to my baby daughter is just more important than one last train-no matter how nice the light.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Return to Brilliant

Basketball, once again, brought me to the Steel Valley. With the win on Wednesday, the Maysville Panthers had a chance to win a district title, expunging some of the demons that had haunted them since losing in Stuebenville last season in a game they had in hand.

And once again, an early, safe, departure brought me to the valley well before game time. As I was rolling through Yorkville, I noticed the WLE had an AEP coal train stretched across town, and I got off to go shoot it. As soon as I got off the highway, I noticed that NS too had strung a train across town. Blocking me from my intended quarry, the WLE train. So I took some back roads, following the familiar silver hoppers (from Wednesday) until the train started to roll slowly northbound, blocking me once again from my train.

It takes a long time for a mile long coal train to pass at 10 mph, and just as the last few cars rolled into sight, I could see the WLE train blocking the crossing in front of me. Two chances to cross the tracks, both blocked by trains. Fiddle.

Once I was back on 7 north, I realized there was no way to get the AEP train, as it would most likely stop at the Cardinal plant. Both sets of tracks and route 7 run close to each other and the river just north of Rayland, with no safe access. After running around a bit, I paced the NS train as it paced the WLE train, which did indeed stop at Cardinal. I mulled shooting from an AEP driveway, and thought better of it. The southbound WLE train that leaves Mingo at 5 ish met the AEP train at the plant. Two strikes.

I wondered what would happen to the NS empties. I stopped in Brilliant, and waited for an age before finally the train lumbered through town. I shot from a hillside, the opposite from my last shot at Brilliant a few days before.

After the basketball game, and sending photos from the local paper, it was time to head back. As I pulled into Mingo Jct, a northbound was leaving. It was too close to the parking lot that overlooks the mill, so it was back to Steubenville for a quick shot past the bones of the mill. It was a longer wait that I expected, the train creeping from Mingo. In the mill a switcher was doing it's work, the roar of the engine echoing from the mill, mixing with the traffic on the nearby road. It ebbed and flowed as the engineer flogged his aging steed- indeed, it sounded as if it was working very hard. As I tested my exposures and color balance, I noticed trucks moving around in the back of the mill, drawing streaks across my frame. It stood to reason that when the train did come, there would be accompanying truck streaks too.

After my northbound, complete with waving brakeman, I headed back to Mingo for a near-traditional night shot of the mill. From the elementary school overlooking the mill, I shot a hopper being unloaded, the mill, and the steam silhouetting the ore crane.

And then it was off again, south to the interstate, and then back to the office to put the finishing touches on the day.

The Wait at Brilliant

Basketball brought me to the Ohio River Valley for the first time this year, girls playoff basketball, to be exact. So when I left work early my motives were not entirely pure; I wanted to get there early so that I could be assured of being there on time, and once there, if I was indeed early, I wanted to see some trains.

The tracks were quiet as I rolled north on Ohio 7, the main road north along the valley. Even the engine based at Rayland was still, sitting on the Y waiting for something to do. I headed north, crossing over a coal train just south of Mingo Jct. It was loaded, with a single former Conrail Gp40 on the rear end.

And it was occupied. Into Mingo to turn around, and then back to Brilliant, where I settled into a spot I had seen from the highway numerous times, and wanted to shoot there each time. This time, with a train, it would finally be possible.

Maybe. The train sat, the two engines on the south end crewed and ready. I stood on a ledge overlooking the tracks as the town came and went around me, at times giving me looks, at times ignoring me, as if railfans stood there all the time. I waited for the cops to come. I got bored.

Due to my complete inability to stand still, I began to explore. Up and down the road to Mingo, trying to find a way to photograph the train where it sat. Back to Brilliant, where I watched slack jawed as a WLE southbound hove into view and past the waiting coal train. If I had longer glass on, I would have had an interesting shot, but alas. I decided to chase the WLE train. Back onto 7, I realized that I would have to head pretty far south to get a shot, and balked at the proposition of moving too far from my goal of Steubenville. The tracks were inaccessible for miles, due to the Cardinal powerplant just south of Brilliant. I turned back. When I got back to Brilliant, I heard air horns and saw the lead engine of the coal train had it's ditchlights on. Action.

I parked in the car and surveyed the scene. Because the train was moving, I was not in the spot I had scoped out before, but further down the tracks. I liked what I saw though, with a somewhat decrepit house teetering over the tracks, and the hills of West Virginia distant in the background. The train rumbled past, the brakie grinning down at me as he waved. I am sure the crew thought my machinations, what they saw of them, nuts.

After a shot of a hopper (built in 2005/6) for my collection, I drove down the road a bit to get the helper pushing past some houses. As a bonus, a little knot of people were talking in the street. They give me a glance, the train a glance, and ignored us both.

Once the train cleared, it was back to Steubenville, for dinner and basketball. My team won, so I would return.