Is the magic still there?
As much traveling as I do, it's still nice to come home from an outing close to home with a great shot. A recent
favorite of mine is the above photo of a westbound Smithers Lake coal empty, photographed last summer (2004)
cruising through the "roller coaster" hills east of Bellevue, Texas (approximately a one-hour drive from my home)
on the BNSF Wichita Falls Subdivision. This is a late afternoon / early evening summertime shot that I've only
managed to "nail" a handful of times... yes, it's close to home, but far enough away that I only get out there
once or twice a year. And even when I go to the trouble of heading out there, there's
still the question of whether a train will actually show up. And not just any
train... it needs to be long enough to stretch back over a couple of the ups and downs of the line's trademark rolling hills.
The uniformity of a coal train -- with 120-plus cars of identical shape and size -- further helps
to accentuate the profile of the line. Obviously, the experience of actually being there
when the elements come together -- the right light and the right train -- is something I would definitely describe
as magical. It sure isn't something that happens every day.
Like many photos, the above shot has a story behind it that makes it even more special. I had worked first shift earlier in the day, and when I got home, I invited my three-year-old son Matthew to join me for an afternoon of photography. We got our first shots of the coal empty as it passed through the small town of Alvord. We followed the train west to Fruitland, where they stopped to meet an eastbound. While they were stopped, the crew climbed down from the cab and invited us over for a short visit. Matthew was thrilled at the chance to interact with a couple of "real train guys"... they gave Matthew a bottle of water from their cooler, and the engineer even offered to use his digital camera to snap a photo of Matthew and me, which he later e-mailed to us. I returned the favor by going to my local photo lab to order some 8 x 12 prints of the above shot, and sending them to both crew members.
There are those who claim that the latest round of megamergers has caused railroading to lose much of its "magic" and its appeal; that the railroad employees no longer care about reaching out to the public; that in our current security-conscious environment, the mere act of photographing a train has become a hassle that just isn't worth it. But the photograph above serves as a reminder that -- for Matthew and me -- the "magic" was still very much there on this summer afternoon.
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All text and photos on the Southwest Railfan © 2000 - 2005 by Wes Carr.
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