My Top 10 Photographs of NKP 765

Nickel Plate Road No. 765 has gone home to Indiana for the winter, its tour of Norfolk Southern for the year completed. The 2-8-4 Berkshire caught the fancy of thousands in July, August and September as it pulled a series of employee appreciation specials on NS tracks ranging between St. Louis and Harrisburg, Pa., and down into West Virginia.

Although the 765 never reached Cleveland during its travels, it did pass through Northeast Ohio twice during ferry moves to and from eastern points.

The steamer even kicked off the specials by pulling five roundtrips between Bellevue and Bucyrus in late July.

I got out to photograph the 765 on four occasions. I chased all five roundtrips out of Bellevue, traveled to Pittsburgh for a day of chasing the train there and caught up with the 765 on its ferry move back to Indiana in late August.

In the spirit of late night comedian David Letterman and his top 10 list, I present below my 10 favorite 765 images of the past summer.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

No. 10

No. 10 was taken at North Robinson, Ohio, during the ferry move from Conway Yard near Pittsburgh to Bellevue. It reminds me of various images I’ve seen over the years taken in the wide open spaces, usually featuring a short train on a branch line heading toward the horizon behind a cloud of smoke. In this photo, the 765 and its train are coming out of a 10 mph slow order into an  upward grade and toward a rain shower. The gondolas on the rear carrying coal give this a mixed train feel. But what makes the shot for me is the smoke wafting skyward as the locomotive tackles the grade.

No. 9

When chasing a steam locomotive, few things are more frustrating than the guy at the head of the pack pacing the locomotive and preventing everyone from getting ahead and setting up for another shot. During the first southbound trip on Sunday, July 22 from Bellevue to Bucyrus, we stumbled onto a country road on the east side of the tracks that enabled me to get this pacing shot without blocking or being blocked by traffic. I look this photo because it has a plume of smoke trailing the locomotive and conveys a sense of open land.

No. 8

On the Saturday of the trips between Bellevue and Bucyrus there were numerous motorists out and about in their antique cars. One of them happened upon the crowd in Bucyrus and stopped to find out what was going on. A photographer talked the car’s owner into staging it so that it would provide a nice photo prop as the 765 and its train backed from the Sandusky District onto the former Pennsylvania Railroad Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline. It’s probably not an accurate period piece setup, but it looks nice just the same.

No. 7

No. 7 was shot from an overpass at Leetsdale, Pa., on the last trip of the day. The weather was lousy, but I made the best of it. The scene contains two institutions of railroading that have all but seen their day come and go. There are few steam locomotives still operating on mainline rail lines and the Pennsy position light signals are fading away fast as they are replaced by more modern signals. OK, so it’s a Nickel Plate Berk rather than a Pennsy K4. But it still gives a sense of what it must have been like in an other era on the PRR’s “broad way” between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

No. 6

No. 6 was also taken at Leetsdale, but this image is of the train going toward downtown Pittsburgh on its last trip of the day. Most of us like curve shots and that is why I like this image. It gives a view of the train from the rear looking forward. Fortunately, a nearby NS freight headed in the opposition direction had stopped, thus enabling photographs on both sides of the tracks here to get their photographs.

No. 5

No. 5 was not planned and almost didn’t happen. We had set up on Albaugh Road north of Chatfield for an across the field shot of the ferry move to Bellevue on the Sandusky District. Then it started raining. I had turned the car around to head north for a, we hoped, drier location. Just as I began heading back toward Route 4, I saw the train coming. I pulled over, jumped out and shot this image down the rain slicked one-lane road. The image turned out well for a grab shot. I liked the extensive trailing smoke and the contrast between past and present. Yeah, I could do without the poles and wires, but they are part of the environment.

No. 4

My top priority for photographing the ferry move to Bellevue was to get the train coming out of the famous curved bridge on the former Pennsy mainline at Massillon. The lighting conditions here were brutal. The train arrived at noon with the sun behind it. Some photographers went elsewhere to get an image with better lighting. But I stayed for a reason that illustrates what differentiates me from many photographers. In my mind, the most important factor was capturing a moment in time that may not happen again or which I may not be able to photograph again if it does occur. I knew the color would not turn out well, which is why I converted the image to black and white. From a technical standpoint, it’s still probably not a great shot and maybe not even a good one. But I captured the moment in a reasonably nice looking image and that is all that counts for me.

No. 3

No. 3 is my favorite image of all of the dozens of images that I made while chasing the three roundtrips between Bellevue and Bucyrus on July 21. It reminds me of some an image that the late Dr. Phil Hastings might have made during his travels with the late editor of Trains magazine David Morgan during the 1950s as they sought to witness the last days of steam operations. The image pretty much summarizes Midwest railroading with an arrow-straight track adjacent to a freshly cut field and an open sky where only a few trees dot the horizon. There is also a sense of a train carrying people who are going someplace because they have things they need to do there. That wasn’t the case with this train, but I could pretend that it was a train and not an excursion. There is a difference.

No. 2

I like overhead shots and this one was taken from an ancient bridge carrying Chew Road over the former Pennsy tracks east of Mansfield. Several locals had gathered here to watch the ferry move to Bellevue pass by including a guy wearing a PRR trainman’s hat. I like how the slight curve in the tracks enables viewers to see the entire train. I also like the parallel structure of this image, with the tracks, fields and the roads on both sides all parallel. But I also like the photo because it typifies the geography around Mansfield of slightly hilly, lots of trees and many farm fields.

No. 1

Photographers crave scenes of steam locomotives billowing huge clouds of smoke. Nothing characterizes a coal-fired steam engine more than smoke. Much of the time the 765 ran with a fairly clean stack. At times, it would put out enough smoke to show that it was a steam locomotive. We chose this site at New Brighton, Pa., because of the curve there. But as the train came out of the curve, the smoke began pouring out of the stack. This was no brief spurt, either. The steamer was enveloped in smoke and so was everyone trackside. I like how the smoke fills both side of the train all the way to the ground. Seldom does that happen to this extent during a photo runby when the engineer is trying to belch smoke for the crowd. I don’t know if the 765 was charging hard up a grade or the engineer decided to show off. Maybe he was having fun at our expense. Whatever the reason, it was a smoke show the likes of which were uncommon during my chases of the 765.

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One Response to “My Top 10 Photographs of NKP 765”

  1. Jonathan Caswell Says:

    Real good stuff!

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