A TRAIN WEEKEND – 10/27/09

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It’s been a long time since I visited Strasburg, PA to watch the action on the Strasburg Railroad.  The railroad was chartered in 1832, probably started hauling freight about 1851, and is still hauling some freight but mostly railfan families since its revitalization began in 1958.  A group of investor-enthusiasts bought it and commenced its restoration, thus saving it from the “Fallen Flags” category of so many other American railroads.  We first visited it about 1966, taking the girls on a train ride into the Lancaster County farmland, to a picnic lunch while we waited for the train to return for us.  Here, #475 is being oiled and polished in preparation for a day’s run of fan trips.


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This so-called 4-8-0 (referring to the wheel arrangements: four lead wheels, eight drivers, and no trailing wheels) a Consolidation class engine, lived much of its life  in service on the Norfolk & Western.  Here she has steam up, waiting to be called into service.

I have a vivid childhood memory of standing next to a large steam locomotive when the engineer, having just brought his passenger train into the old original Atlantic City train station, released some of his steam pressure.  It scared the hell out of me.



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Across the road from the Strasburg Railroad complex is the splendid Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.  Here are maintained many examples of engines and passenger cars that have served Pennsylvania over the years.  There are also lots of well done, informative educational  displays.







Image 04Here’s the classic GG-1 electric locomotive, the most distinctive locomotive design in the world.  These 79′ long engines were built in the PRR’s Altoona shops between 1934 and 1943, and some remained in service into the early 80’s.    Twelve axles were each driven by a 385-hp motor. 

While it is commonly said that the unique body design was by the industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, he simply improved on the basic design by converting it from a riveted assembly of panels into a continuous welded sheet, and streamlining the pin-striped paint scheme. 

 After their work on the PRR they continued to serve Penn Central, Amtrak, Conrail, and NJ Transit.

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I continued across Pennsylvania to Altoona, for many years a major center for the PRR.  Here I’m on the road up to the Horseshoe Curve, passing Altoona Lake, part of Altoona’s water supply system, accumulating water coming down from the Allegheny Mountains through the Kitanning Gap over which the Horseshoe Curve was built.  The curve was built in 1854 as a part of the efforts of the PRR to link east and west.  It was a means to cross the Kitanning Gap at a lower slope than would have been required in a bridge directly across the gap.  While photographing this I could hear mighty diesels pounding their way down the curve above me in the hills, and their freight cars screeching.


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Up at the curve there is a visitor center where one can observe the frequent east-west traffic.  This old diesel, a GP7, is a monument to all of the trains that have passed here for a century and a half.  The visitor center also includes displays on the construction of the curve and how it facilitated crossing the gap.






My patience was rewarded as here came a mixed freight headed downhill towards Altoona, led by two massive Norfolk Southern diesels.

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The Reading Terminal Market (in Philadelphia for you out-of-area readers) is a great place to visit any time but it seemed busier, warmer, and more colorful on this chilly Saturday afternoon.  Here were some Halloween decorations that one could take home.











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For a borderline vegetarian this is all very tempting.









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Some yellow peppers stacked up.  They looked like off-color miniature pumpkins.













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A pumpkin, some pumpkin spice, and Indian corn.  Must be fall.


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My October 2nd Journal post reported my arrival in Vermont for a four day photography workshop.  It was sponsored by Mountain Trail Photo with whom I visited Charleston and the Lowcountry plantations last March (see my April 6th post).   This workshop was under the direction of Joseph Rossbach, an accomplished nature photographer whose work has appeared in a number of national and regional magazines and galleries.  He was an “Energizer Bunny” who kept us moving from pre-dawn to past dusk, providing lots of advice along with his knowledge of locations in which to photograph.  There were eight of us and it was a great experience. 


At my age I was wondering if I should really be skootching down on to slippery rocks in moving streams in order to get a better waterfall angle.  One of our group, however, a lovely older  lady named Eva, an active photographer for some twenty years shamed me with her participation.  In addition, while driving between locations, she was fascinating, a child whose father foresaw the Nazi  tyranny and got the family out in the 30’s and into South Africa.  Then, with the advent of Apartheid, she and her family emigrated to the US in the 60’s and created a life here.


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I arrived a day early and took the opportunity to visit some favorite spots from earlier years.  (Did I refer to my age?  Well, I realized that I was visiting up here before our guide,Joe Rossbach, was born?!?)  Anyhow, here’s a different Weston view.  Everyone (me included) shoots the waterfall behind the Weston Playhouse (and I did too) but here’s a shot of the stream that’s headed for those falls around the distant bend.  I have great memories of the antique show at the Playhouse which was going on while I was there.












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As I have said in this Journal before, one of the values of these workshops is in the drilling in good practices.  All too often it’s grab the camera and shoot a scene.  The workshops provide the time to take time and practice.  The things that I will remember to take the time to do  from Joe’s drilling are: (1) use the mirror-up capability of the camera.  With this the mirror which reflects a scene into the viewfinder is pulled up and stable seconds before you shoot; hence its movement doesn’t induce vibration into the image.  This is particularly important with the slow shutter speeds we were using in the low light levels (the weather could have been a little brighter.)  (2) Use the live view capability of the camera to better frame your image.  It provides a more accurate view of the scene than does the view-finder, and I found that I re-composed several scenes as a result of seeing them in live view rather than just in the view finder.  (3)  Leave your circular polarizer on at all times.  Of course, it helps in reducing glare and reflections but it also makes the colors “pop.”  Yes, it costs you a couple of stops so you’ll have longer exposures but you’d better be shooting on a tripod anyway.


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Here’s a calendar or picture-book farm called Sleepy Hollow.  It’s on Route 12 north of Woodstock.  I discovered this on my own in 2002 and photographed it at that time.  Only later did I learn that it’s an iconic scene for Vermont photographers.












There is a gallery of more images on my gallery web site.  Click here.  Meanwhile, here are some samples:

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Above is the creek which drove the 1882 Kingsley Grist Mill near Clarendon.

To the right is along the shore line of the Chittenden Reservoir at dawn.

Below is a spider web at sunrise with droplets from the low hanging clouds that had been here earlier.  Click on the picture to see a larger version with the drops more visible.

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And, finally, the Chittenden Reservoir at sunrise as the clouds lifted.

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Image 02It’s the first weekend in October and Bergie’s in Vermont, seeing my breath on a cold morning for the first time since early spring.  I’ve been coming up here for about forty years but one forgets how  beautiful a place it is.  Driving yesterday up route 100 was a sensory experience as well as a memory jogger: driving through Londonderry; picking up my winter jug of maple syrup from the Vermont Country Store; passing the Weston Playhouse where the antique show is being held this weekend; being pulled to a stop by yet another small lake with gorgeous reflections of the mountainside foliage.

I’m here with a small group for four days of field trip photography under the leadership of the renowned Joe Rossbach of Mountain Trail Photo.  Should be a great experience.  More later.









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