Changing Course During the Pandemic and What That Means During Normal Times

If your passion is photographing railroad operations, chances are the COVID-19 pandemic that intensified a year ago this month and changed life as we had known it hasn’t stopped you from photographing trains.

It did likely change what trains you photographed and where, whether slightly or greatly.

Such was the case with Dave Beach, who showed during a program presented virtually to the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts last week how he spent 2020.

The program title said it all in that it was a different type of year. That didn’t mean it had to be a less rewarding year.

Beach has traveled throughout the United States for decades to capture trains in action. He was aided in that quest in part because his job sometimes required him to travel.

But in 2020, Beach, like millions of other Americans, was forced to work from home and work-related travel halted as did the vacation oriented travel he had expected to do.

He quickly realized he could use the situation to his advantage to focus on railroad operations that he had seldom paid attention to over the years.

Most of these were in his backyard in Northeast Ohio.

How Beach reacted to the pandemic offers object lessons on being nimble and creative in shifting your photo strategy when an unexpected adverse situation arises that forces you to drop your original plans.

It is a matter of making the best of the opportunities you have, some of which might not be obvious. This could require a change in thinking.

For example, rather than taking a week of vacation here and there, Beach took a day off here and there and used that time to make day trips.

One of those involved spending all day traveling around Cleveland to photograph locals and transfer runs of Norfolk Southern.

These were trains that Beach had seldom been able to photograph because they often operated on weekdays when he would otherwise be in the office.

He also kept a watch on social media sites and would get away for a couple hours if he saw, for example, that something was running on the Wheeling & Lake Erie.

Beach’s parents live in an assisted living facility in Massillon and he would keep his scanner on when going to visit them and/or running errands on their behalf.

Some of the trains he photographed he learned were on the road by listening to his scanner while, say, going to the drug store.

You might remember his father, John Beach, who was an accomplished photographer in his own right and a longtime member of the Akron Railroad Club.

Dave Beach also worked on photo projects throughout the year, notably making repeat visits to two regional rail operations he had paid scant attention to until 2020: The Ashland Railway and the former Bessemer & Lake Erie.

One day he drove down to Marietta and spent the day chasing the Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad, a relatively new operation that took over some CSX trackage in far southern Ohio.

In the case of the Ashland, he learned its operating patterns, but sometimes that meant finding a place to sit for awhile until one of its trains came out of the yard in Mansfield and headed for either Ashland or Willard.

Although he scored several hits, the year also brought some misses because there can be a certain unpredictability to railroad operations.

What struck me about Beach’s program is how deft you can be even during adverse circumstances that seem to be limiting if not preventing you from doing that you would have done otherwise.

There can be rewards in that, particularly in focusing on nearby operations that you’ve ignored if not taken for granted over the years.

But it takes commitment, some creativity and patience. The approach that Beach took during the pandemic can be applied to more normal times when you get tired of the doing the same old, same old.

There will always be something out there to go get that you’ve overlooked or ignored in the past. It’s just a matter of doing it.

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