My wife is a railfan, like her father, and she has taken great care to pass the
disease passion on to our sons. As a friend joked, we take quite a literal interpretation of the Biblical injunction to “train up a child in the way he should go.” I reserve my machine-fandom for airplanes, but I enjoy trains, and with two children bitten by the rail bug I try to do my duty to encourage their interest. Thus, when a friend advised us that Nickel Plate 765 would be transiting Champaign County on its way to St. Louis, it seemed the perfect chance to get some pictures that would both test my patience and reward my boys.
NKP 765 left Fort Wayne on September 5, 2012, bound for St. Louis to pull excursion trains. It would stop for the night in Decatur, placing it on the Norfolk Southern tracks through southern Champaign County in the middle of the afternoon. The weather was overcast, which denied me dramatic sunlit shots but gave more wiggle room for a good exposure. I dropped my wife and kids off with friends in Sidney who live a block from the tracks, and went one town west to Philo, where I set up by the grain elevator. Many other photographers gathered up and down the tracks, and after a seemingly interminable wait, we saw lights and steam on the horizon. This shot, where the train is almost lost in its surroundings, is my son John’s favorite, and he has a framed print of it hanging in the playroom:
765 then zoomed past us, and in the adrenaline rush this was the best “portrait” I could manage:
All 4 driving axles included, but not the cab, for which I fault my inexperience. Afterwards I chatted with a couple of the other photographers, gathered my family, and drove home.
A week later 765 went back to Fort Wayne, leaving Decatur on the morning of September 11. This time the weather was clear, and the sun would be at the right angle to illuminate both the front and the side of the boiler. I first considered the viaduct over US 45 in Tolono, but chose instead a little bridge over the upper reaches of the Embarras River between Tolono and Philo. Given the terrain and my desired composition, I knew I’d have only one shot; thankfully, another eastbound train preceded 765 and gave me a chance to test my setup. The image at top is the result. It’s softer than I’d like; after my test run I fidgeted with the focus, shifting it ever-so-slightly away from where it needed to be. With careful sharpening, the image still can be printed well.
Just for fun, I then cropped to a square, which gave me only the engine and its tender, and ran my new picture through Snapseed, which I had just purchased for my iPad. The result may be hipsteriffic, but I like it anyway, because to me it recalls the emotions I felt that morning better than the straight shot:
I can’t pursue rail photography often, but I can sometimes, and it certainly makes my family happy. As a husband and father, that is the most important consideration of all.