Archive for February, 2012

The promise of a new day

My trip to see my Dad in 2008 started off with the proverbial bang.  We had arrived in Cootamundra at around 4pm on Monday evening, and although I was atrociously tired, I forced myself to stay awake, as I had heard that there would be an early morning train the next day, and I would want to make sure it would be relatively painless to get up for it.  My wife unfortunately succumbed to the sleep fairy and was virtually unconscious for the next 36 hours or so.

Tuesday morning began with a knock on the bedroom door.  I’m a bit of an insomniac, so that was enough to rouse me from slumber.  About fifteen minutes later we had dressed, grabbed the cameras and departed the house, heading north to Jindalee.  The sun wasn’t yet over the horizon, and there was a fine foggy haze to the morning, as you sometimes get in the Riverina on a crisp winter’s morning.

Dad has said that the train wouldn’t be wasting any time, consisting of empty container flats heading for Parkes.  He’s also mentioned that the motive power would be provided by Southern Short Haul (or SSR as they are also known), a “hook-and-pull” contractor in Australia.  We pulled the car off the Olympic Highway at one of the local farm grade crossings, knowing that the morning’s quarry wouldn’t be too far away.

Less than five minutes later we began to hear what sounded like a train approaching.  At Jindalee, southbounds make very little noise as they coast down the grade toward Cootamundra from Morrison’s Hill, and we didn’t hear the locos in this case, but the rattling of the empty cars.  Around the corner it came, and at this stage all we could really make out was a headlight.  By the looks of it, it was at least one “bulldog” on the head-end.  As it came closer, we could see it was the “Auscision Models” B class leading an SSR S class.

Auscision Models is an Australian model railroad company, who is partially owned by owner of Southern Short Haul, and as a marketing ploy, a recently overhauled B class was painted to represent a proposed paint scheme that would be introduced on a new Auscision model… thus making it the only time a real life loco was painted to represent a model, rather than the other way around.

The sun was getting closer to coming out, but it was still very weak by the time we took the shot at Jindalee.  We knew that they’d have to slow to activate the manual crossing gates at Cootamundra West before heading across on the link-line between “Coota West” and Parkes, so that would be a good chance to not only try again, but also hopefully get ahead of the train before it reached Stockinbingal, another popular railfanning spot in the area.  We got back in the car and took off for Cootamundra West station, where we stopped to grab a few more shots.  It seemed that this would also be the place where the crew change would also be performed, so this would allow us a few more minutes.

The great shots of the trip would come later in the day, and even more so later in the trip, but I always look back at this shot, taken at Jack Manning Drive in Cootamundra West, not because it’s a great shot as such, but to me it signifies a beginning.  Much like the sun in the photo, the best photography would be coming soon, but it shows a hint of promise at this stage.


Today we go back to one of the first times I ever went out to take some time exposures with my Dad.  I was five years old at the time, and although I had been taking rail photographs for over a year (and was getting quite reasonable at it), I hadn’t the understanding/patience to master the art of night photography.  I can remember we left our townhouse at Warners Bay and travelled up to Broadmeadow to the nearest loco depot.  At the time, Broadmeadow was the second largest facility in the state, only behind Delec, but nowadays it’s like many railway facilities of a bygone era: a mere shadow of its former glory.

We wandered around the two roundhouses for a little while, partially to see what was there and available for photography, but also to soak in the ambience.  For myself, visiting somewhere like this always gave me a sense of awe.  Even before the true understanding of the power of a locomotive, it made me wide-eyed to see so many locos in one area.  To see them in a nocturnal environment left me amazed.

We saw many things that night, mostly AlCo’s, but I will always remember this photo.  My Dad probably took about three photos of this loco, and this one ended up his first book (or at least the black & white version of the shot did).  I’ve played with this photo a great many times trying to get the color right, but I’m afraid that it will likely never be right.  I’m publishing the original as well as the modified version so that you can see the “problem”.  The lights in the 80’s (and earlier) would give a cyan tint to everything (as opposed to the orange cast of the tungsten bulbs today), and color correcting can prove to be a problem.  This is about as good as I can get it at this stage.  Maybe one day I’ll discover something new in Photoshop to make it even better.

BTW, it looks a little washed out, but look at the door on the side of the loco… the color is about right.


44100, Broadmeadow (original)



44100, Broadmeadow (color corrected)

When I got back from my trip to Australia in 2008, my interest in rail photography had been renewed like an desert oasis after a rare thunderstorm.  My dad and I had an amazing time together doing all the railfanning stuff we used to do, including road trips and, something I hadn’t done without him before, time exposures.

So needless to say, when I got back to Lethbridge, I thought that I had to try it out.  The Canon, a tripod and a sense of curiosity was taken down to Kipp Yard at around 10pm one cloud night in September to make the attempt.  After making my way to the Yardmasters Office to gain clearance (“don’t do anything stupid, don’t climb on the locos and don’t go into the four foot”), I walked down to the loco facilities to see what could be found.  I learned from my trip to Australia that lens flare is hard to avoid if you are shooting in an area with bright lights in the viewfinder.

Yeah, good luck with THAT!!!

North American loco facilities are well lit, and they SHOULD be.  I mean, the crews have all sorts of hazards to avoid in daylight alone, from the various things like protruding points on locos, cars and the fueling/sanding points, to the things like spare coupler knuckles, air hoses and gravel that are, or could be, left on the ground.  Add darkness into the mix, and makes it difficult.  Not only do crews on the ground have to avoid this, but crews in locos have to be able to see all of this, plus see any errant individual wandering around the area.  In this case, illumination IS a good thing.

In this case, it makes railfanning difficult.

I was on the scene for around 30 minutes or so, as I wanted to try a few new things, but I also knew that this was a place of work, and I wanted to try and get what I wanted and get out quickly as to avoid putting any undue stress or pressure on any of the CP Rail staff in the area.  Getting some shots without too much external light sources in the photo proved to be a challenge, and one that I failed at miserably, but there were a few photos I was happy with.  Now to go home and process the shots.

The next morning I learned about a feature on my camera that I didn’t know about.  In the “white balance” mode, there is a setting called “Tungsten”, which adjusts to suit for night photography so that everything in the photo doesn’t have an orange cast to it due to the lighting.  I had taken all the photos the previous night without that.  Oops.

Now, if I had taken the photos as “RAW” images, as opposed to jpeg’s, I could easily have changed the photos to the correct setting using a program like “Adobe Camera Raw” or “Canon Raw Image Task”, but alas, I would have to try and fix things manually.  A lesson learned for a future day.


It’s funny how you look back on things sometimes and wonder what you were doing at the time.  I spent almost 19 years in Canada, and almost all of it within easy distance of a Canadian Pacific mainline.  In that time I think managed to only get a few shots of the SD40-2Fs, or Red Barns as many railfans know them.   CP Rail owns 25 of them, and for a few months they seemed to be quite prolific in the Medicine Hat/Crowsnest Pass corridor.   The halfway point of course is Lethbridge, my residence for five and a half years.  Not sure if it was due to a lackadaisical attitude, or the proverbial “it’ll run again” belief that plagues so many of us, but I never made the effort to go out more and get them.  Even the shot below was a case of literally stumbling on the situation.

I had taken my wife up to Calgary so that she could fly to Virginia to be with her family in a time of crisis.  I was feeling a bit down, partially because she was gone, and partially because I wasn’t able to go with her for support.  I had taken my camera with me, as a good friend had asked me to stop and take a few photos of the grain elevators in the area for a Train Simulator project.  By the time I arrived back in Lethbridge, I had been in the car for around 6 hours between the trip up to Calgary and back.  I was tired from the lack of sleep the night before, had a headache due to the lack of caffeine and more than a little hungry.  As I approached the Westside Drive turnoff on Highway 3 I could see some grain hoppers heading east.  “What the heck!” I thought, “it’s only 5 minutes out of my way.  I’ll get the shot at University Drive and head home.”

Pulling the Malibu over opposite the Burnco gravel plant, I walked across the field owned by the City of Lethbridge that was used for snow dumping, and up a small embankment, my head pounding with every step.  I squinted up at the sky through my sunglasses, seeing the high-cloud and thought “is it worth it?”  A few minutes later, the empty grain arrived.  “Just another couple of GE’s on the point again… GREAT!” I mumbled, took the photo and stumbled back to the car.  Five minutes later I walked in the door and made a sandwich and a well-deserved coffee.  An hour or so later I downloaded the photos on the camera, which included this one.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the second loco, which I mistook for an AC4400 in my caffeine-deprived haze, was in fact an SD40-2F in their original CP paint scheme.  Maybe it was worth it after all.

The day was supposed to end by doing something I hadn’t done: photographing the 9th Ave. Local with a pair of GP38-2’s on the return to Kipp Yard on the outskirts of Lethbridge.   It was a beautiful May evening, and the sun was finally getting to the point where it would still be up long enough that the local would still be in daylight.  Talk about Murphy’s Law!

Did I mention that Murphy was an optimist!

So I sat at the University Drive bridge, which would be a PERFECT location for the local…. nice outside of the curve shot with two engines and one or two cars, with the rest swinging around behind the engines in shadow.  Magic stuff!!!  The problem was that the sun was getting lower.  And lower.  And LOWER.  Pretty soon, it would be to the point where, although it would still be above the horizon, it would be below the bridge berm.  At this moment I heard a rumbling from behind me.

Eastbound trains drop down a bit of a grade to get to the High Level bridge.  Between the fact that the locos are coasting, and the sound barrier produced by the bridge, you get VERY little warning for an eastbound.  No sooner had I heard the rumbling that I turned around and saw an ES44AC and a GP38-2 on an empty coal train.  This of course was unusual for two reasons; the single ES44AC AND the GP38-2 on a road freight.  Needless to say, all thoughts of the local went out the window as I ran back to the car to make chase.

As I drove across the Oldman River valley from one side of Lethbridge to the other, thoughts raced as to where I could go to get a shot of the coalie.  Luckily for myself, trains have a speed limit of 30km/h across the High Level Bridge, whereas cars have a 110km/h on Highway 3.  As a result, even though I had to travel a fair distance north in order to go east, I was still able to beat the train into Lethbridge township.

The only place I could think of that might even come close to working was just on the other side of town.  Road speed dips down to 80km/h, so it would be a bit more of a race, as the train can pick up speed again after it finishes crossing the bridge.

Did I mention that Murphy was an optimist?

I made it to the location with no problems.  Time to spare even.  What I didn’t realize was that although the train can pick up speed, it’s still only to about 50km/h until it reaches the other side of town.  So I sat and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Starting to get nervous that I was going to be beaten again by the path of the sun, I began to see the headlight approaching.  Finally it made it into the area, and I pressed the shutter a few times to try and get SOMETHING out of it.

In the end, it turned out to be quite reasonable.  Not quite a glint shot, but I’m happy with it.

I never did get a shot of the westbound local in the 5 and half years of living in Lethbridge before I left in December of 2011.