Summing Up Summerail 2016 in Marion

The view from the stage of the seating area inside the Palace Theater in Marion, where Summerail 2016 was held.

The view from the stage of the seating area inside the Palace Theater in Marion, where Summerail 2016 was held.

When I heard that Summerail would be held in Marion on Saturday, Aug. 13, I made plans to go. Now that I’ve experienced Summerail for the first time, here are a few observations.

First and foremost, I enjoyed it. We’ve had a few multi-media programs during my time in the Akron Railroad Club, including presentations by 2016 Summerail presenters Dave Oroszi and Dave Beach. But this was my first experience with a full day of multi-media programs in a festival-like setting.

Among my fellow ARRC members who I saw at Summerail were Paul Woodring, Dave Mangold, John Beach and Ron McElrath.

Summerail is typically held at Cincinnati Union Terminal, but with CUT being renovated the auditorium normally used for Summerail is closed. The Marion Union Station Association agreed to host Summerail 2016.

As I expected, the full Summerail experience is an all-day marathon.

I left home at 7:30 a.m. and reached Marion just after 10 a.m. I bought my ticket and spent time at the railroad show and sale.

I then walked to Marion Union Station and got in an hour and a half of railfanning, netting two eastbound CSX intermodal trains, before hoofing it back to the Palace Theater for the afternoon programs. After the last program ended at 9 p.m., I made the long drive back home.

Keeping me company on the way back was the broadcast of the Indians vs. Angels baseball game, which had experienced a two plus hour rain delay. It rained a lot in Marion on Saturday, too, with some heavy rain coming during the dinner break.

Each program is 15 minutes and intermissions are held after every two programs. There were door prize giveaways, but my number was never called.

The Palace Theater is a restored venue that is larger and more elegant than I had expected.

The interior features the look and feel of a Moorish courtyard with lights in the ceiling mimicking stars in the sky at night. Built in 1928, the 1,445-seat Palace is a smaller version of the Akron Civic Theater.

I don’t know how many attended Summerail 2016, but it was a good crowd, perhaps exceeding what they get in Cincinnati, which is around 300. The Cincinnati venue tends to sell out weeks in advance, but in Marion you could walk up on the day of the event and get a ticket.

The 10 programs were consistent in quality with all images technically sound and the photo selection built around well-developed themes. Summerail programs are peer reviewed, but I don’t know all the details of how that process works.

The subject matter covered by the programs varied, yet a common theme among the programs was nostalgia for something lost, usually stemming from an ownership change due to sale or merger.

That included railroading of the 1950s and 1960s, but most of the lost glory being mourned or celebrated still existed in the 1990s.

Such fallen flags as Santa Fe, Denver & Rio Grande Western, Conrail and Southern Pacific received a lot of attention, as did short line railroads.

The most unique railroad operation portrayed was featured in the program Railfanning on Top of the World in which Chris Guss examined a railroad operating inside the Arctic Circle in Sweden and Norway.

Although all of the presenters are good photographers, that didn’t mean that all of their images were outstanding.

There were many good images similar to those you would find in a local railroad club program. Yet Summerail programs are not your ordinary railfan program fare.

The quality that I found in Summerail programs that distinguished them from most programs that I’ve seen at local railroad club meetings was the diversity of the images.

The presenters know well the territory of the railroads that they portrayed and it was apparent that these photographers have spent a lot of time trackside throughout the year and at all hours of the day and night making images of railroad operations.

They are more tuned into using props with their images to give a sense of place and to expanding their vision beyond the typical three-quarter “here comes the train” perspective. They know how to make weather and lighting conditions work to bring out a mood.

It was this high level of quality and diversity that I expected to see at Summerail and I was not disappointed.

I also came away with a newfound appreciation of how showing images with music creates an effect that traditional “talkie” program tend to lack.

In a nutshell, it focuses the viewer’s attention on image content with a consistent flow that is not broken by audience interruptions, pauses by the presenter or inconsistent pacing.

To arrive at that conclusion, I thought about what these programs would be like without music.

Most people don’t like extended periods of silence because it makes them uncomfortable. The music enables viewers to have something to listen to while watching the images roll by. It also means there is far less likely to be audience interruptions.

I liked how the recorded multi-media format enables the images to tell a story with a well-paced flow of images and, in some programs, text.

You don’t need to know where and when all of the images you are seeing were made in order to grasp the story they have to tell and to enjoy the scenes.

That said, some presenters could have done better in choosing music to enhance their program.

In some instances, the music – usually rock music – was simply white noise that did little to evoke a mood or feeling.

The music wasn’t telling the same story as the photographs even if the lyrics or song title  were, ostensibly, related to the program theme.

A good choice of music with lyrics that matched the story line of the images was the use of Hitchin’ a Ride by Vanity Fare in a program presented by Mike Schafer and Craig Willett about passenger trains in the 1960s.

It worked because the song, like the passenger trains shown, is about going from one place to another.

Another effective use of music occurred in the program by Chris Guss. The instrumental music chosen wonderfully drew out the feeling of desolation and physical challenges of living and working in a land of climate extremes.

Attending Summerail proved to be a long and tiring day, but I’d do it again. In fact, I would like to watch all 10 of those programs again. All were enjoyable in their own right.

Summerail will return to Marion in 2017. Provided I don’t have a schedule conflict, I’ll be back at the Palace Theater for another day of pleasing and entertaining programs.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The site of Summerail 2016 is a place I've driven past many times while in Marion to railfan.

The site of Summerail 2016 is a place I’ve driven past many times while in Marion to railfan.

The master of ceremonies and resident Summerail wisecracker Ron Flanary kept the audience entertained between introducing programs.

The master of ceremonies and resident Summerail wisecracker Ron Flanary kept the audience entertained between introducing programs.

Steve Berry, editor of Railfan and Railroad magazine, recognizes someone in the audience during the evening session. He liked Marion, but missed being able to go to Skyline Chili, a tradition with some who regularly attend Summerail in Cincinnati.

Steve Berry, editor of Railfan and Railroad magazine, recognizes someone in the audience during the evening session. He liked Marion, but missed being able to go to Skyline Chili, a tradition with some who regularly attend Summerail in Cincinnati.

Jerry Jordak (left) and Steve Hipes relax between programs. The guy in front of them is Terry Chicwak.

Jerry Jordak (back) and Steve Hipes relax between programs. The guy in front of them is Terry Chicwak.

Here comes the eastbound Q008, a hot UPS train. Note the railfan photographer visible through the bay windows of Marion Union Station.

Here comes the eastbound Q008, a hot UPS train. Note the railfan photographer visible through the bay windows of Marion Union Station.

Q109, the Marion-North Baltimore intermodal shuttle train, is about to cross the NS Sandusky District as the hogger gives a friendly wave to the railfans on hand.

Q109, the Marion-North Baltimore intermodal shuttle train, is about to cross the NS Sandusky District as the hogger gives a friendly wave to the railfans on hand.

The only Norfolk Southern train that I saw during the day.

The only Norfolk Southern train that I saw during the day.

Umbrellas and rain gear was out as an eastbound NS train passes through Marion.

Umbrellas and rain gear was out as an eastbound NS train passes through Marion.

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