Archive for the ‘On Photography’ Category

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

March 15, 2021

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.

Film Processing Another Victim of the Pandemic

January 31, 2021

One year ago, life resembled all of the characteristics of a “normal” society.

One could still sit, or stand, along a railroad track with camera in hand to photograph a passing train.

For those of us who still insist upon using the legacy technology of a film-based camera system, all was good.

Travel to a location, scope out the scenery, wait for a train, expose film, return home, then visit the local camera store to process film. Wait one to three weeks to receive processed film, inspect film, and then file film.

That was how it was in January 2020. The film I used that month was processed and received in February with the usual immaculate results.

The world suddenly changed in March 2020 with school closings, business closings, toilet paper shortages, and anti-social distancing.

But through it all, the railroads were still running freight trains. The days of spring were upon us, and what better way to maintain sanity than by being along a railroad track with camera in hand.

Photography provided for limited travel and relaxation. However, between March and June, film processing became non-existent.

With the local camera store being in lockdown mode, I was forced to accumulate four exposed rolls of FujiChrome 120 ASA100 film.

The local camera store finally reopened and the four rolls were dropped off for E-6 processing on June 16.  

For several years, the local camera store has outsourced all slide film requiring E-6 processing to a major photo lab in Parsons, Kansas

The four processed uncut film strips along with four photo CDs were retrieved on July 2.

I returned home to inspect the results. My heart almost stopped beating.

The four strips were severely over-exposed. Was it caused from the fact that the film processed was 10 years past its expiration date?

Was there a malfunction in my 26-year old Bronica GS-1 medium format camera? “Nay,” I say.

Upon further inspection of the film strips, I concluded that the black frame masking between images did not have sufficient density.

The film had exhibited evidence of being under developed. The photo CDs were also burned with all images being reversed.

The film was from the same lot that I had previously shot in January, which had been flawless. 

Never before had I encountered such a problem with commercially processed film.

So, it was back to the local camera store to inquire about what might have happened.

After a few phone calls, it was confirmed, that with COVID-19 lockdowns in place, the Kansas lab was scrambling to find and maintain those people with the knowledge to process 120 roll film. I felt vindicated.

All of my film since them has been processed to pre-pandemic quality.

Unfortunately, I was left with what I considered four rolls of garbage.

Would I be able to recover any detail upon scanning the images?

Thanks to digital technology, I could. The image above shows the raw scan with no enhancements.

The next image is the same image with increases in the yellow and red channels, and reductions in midtone brightness and overall contrast. The results are quite acceptable.

The image made during the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts trip to Bellevue, Ohio June 13, 2020.

The joys of still shooting film.

Article and Photographs by David Kachinko

Ruminating on What if a Rail Passenger Advocate Could Get Appointed to be President of Amtrak

August 21, 2020

Sometimes when I’m driving a long distance I like to think about what would happen if a rail passenger advocate was ever hired as president of Amtrak.

Some rail passenger advocates might think that once settled into the C suite at Amtrak headquarters in Washington that they could pick up the phone and/or write a series of memorandums that would in short order restore freshly-prepared meals to long distance trains, jawbone host railroads into stop putting Amtrak trains into sidings to allow freight trains to pass, and launch new routes and services that have been discussed for years but have yet to materialize.

It’s fun to think about because it seems so absurd.

It would be a rare rail passenger advocate who has the political capital and connections needed to be seriously considered for the job.

The most recent three Amtrak presidents – Charles “Wick” Moorman, Richard Anderson and Willian Flynn – all were former CEOs, one of a Class 1 freight railroad  (Moorman) and two from the airline industry (Anderson and Flynn).

Other Amtrak presidents have had similar backgrounds.

Joeseph Boardman had been head of the Federal Railroad Administration; Alan Boyd had been secretary of transportation and president of the Illinois Central Railroad.

Paul Reistrup had held vice president positions at Class 1 railroads; David Gunn had held high-ranking administrative positions at several public transit agencies; W. Graham Claytor had been president of the Southern Railway and secretary of the Navy; Alexander Kummant had held vice president positions at Union Pacific, and George Warrington had headed New Jersey Transit and served as president of two port authorities.

Amtrak has yet to hire someone whose credentials largely consist of writing letters to public officials, testifying at public hearings, churning out opinion columns, and serving as an officer of a rail passenger advocacy group.

But let’s say it did happen. It did once, although not at Amtrak but more about that later.

How a rail advocate would fare as president of Amtrak would depend on a number of variables, including the person’s skill sets and what he/she sought to accomplish.

An advocate who limits his/her efforts to saving what Amtrak now has and incrementally improving upon it might have a better chance of succeeding than someone who wants to transform the Amtrak route network into the type of passenger service that the freight railroads offered on principle routes in the early 1950s.

Experience is important but so are appearances because both are critical to establishing credibility with the stakeholders with whom you will work.

At a minimum, you would need to be able to work well with a board of directors whose members you did not appoint and don’t control.

You also would need to establish good working relationships with key members of Congress and their staffs, and top executives in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

There are others you would work with including state transportation officials, executives of Amtrak’s host railroads, heads of the unions representing Amtrak workers, federal regulators, and transportation trade organizations.

Many of them likely would take a dim view of an “advocate” seeking to accomplish things they view as unrealistic and/or undesirable.

That would particularly be the case with the host railroads. Amtrak and Canadian National have been arguing for years about CN’s dispatching of Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. There is no end in sight to that dispute.

Try to start a new route and the host railroad will voice objections and make expensive demands about capital needs to make it possible to, say, run the Chicago-New York Cardinal daily rather than tri-weekly.

Are those demands ridiculous? Some of them are. But can the host railroad make them stick? Well the Cardinal is still tri-weekly and so is the Sunset Limited.

One common refrains in the writings of rail passengers advocates is that Amtrak management lacks the will to do anything other than preserve the status quo and gives in to too much to its host railroads and Congressmen such as John Mica who was obsessed with how much it cost Amtrak to provide food and beverage service.

Advocate are quick to criticize Amtrak for its failure to be creative, to promote its services more aggressively – particularly the long distance trains – and to try things that the advocate know will result in sharp growth of ridership and revenue.

Why those things will practically pay for themselves, right?

And what rail passengers advocate doesn’t believe that long distance trains are actually profitable but Amtrak is milking them to pay for the money pit known as the Northeast Corridor?

I’d like to be in the room when the new rail passenger advocate president of Amtrak has his or her first session with Amtrak’s accountants and financial staff.

What looked so simple on a railfan chat list might turn out to be far more complex.

A rail passenger advocate once was appointed to oversee a railroad’s passenger service.

It happened in 1975 when Anthony Haswell, an attorney with railroad industry experience who was a founder of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, was named head of passenger services at the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

Haswell was unable to make any appreciable improvements in the Rock’s intercity passenger service, which by then was two state-supported trains between Chicago and Peoria, and Rock Island, Illinois, with paltry ridership.

The Rock also had a considerable commuter train operation in Chicago.

What Haswell probably quickly learned was that the environment you work in may not be conducive to implementing your ideas.

The Rock Island was a bankrupt railroad that couldn’t afford to maintain its track, let alone spend money promoting, expanding and improving passenger service.

Haswell later was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a seat on Amtrak’s board of directors but withdrew after facing opposition from some senators and union leaders.

That should tell you something about how a rail passenger advocate might fare if he/she was nominated to be Amtrak’s next president.

I would expect that a passenger rail advocate who managed to get named president of Amtrak would be overwhelmed and frustrated by the reality of the position.

It might come with some nice perks and seem to have a lot of power, but your authority is constrained in ways you might not have been able to imagine.

It is one thing to have a vision for what intercity rail passenger service in the United States could be but quite another to have the ability and resources to will that vision into existence.

A Fleeting Wisp of Ohio Central Glory

April 18, 2020

I’ve been going through my slide collection in recent weeks and scanning images to post online.

It’s been a diversion from the COVID-19 pandemic and brought back pleasant memories of what seemed to have been happier and less threatening times.

The photograph above of an Ohio Central passenger excursion train, though, is not one of those recent scans.

I scanned this image several months ago but have thus far refrained from posting it because of its lackluster quality.

Yet it’s the type of image in which I find myself taking solace these days and the fact that it’s less than ideal doesn’t matter.

I made this image on July 31, 2004, on a wood bridge at the west edge of West Lafayette, Ohio. The excursion originated in Columbus and was bound for Train Festival 2004 in Dennison.

It was one of several excursion trains I photographed that day during an event like few others I experienced in Ohio.

It was not an ideal day for train photography due to overcast skies and rain and drizzle. The slide is dark suggesting an under exposed image.

This photo has been sitting in a folder on my computer awaiting a decision to post it or delete it.

Sometimes a photograph has to wait for the right moment to be displayed, a moment when the content outweighs whatever technical flaws it has.

I was always a fan of the Pennsylvania Railroad inspired livery that Ohio Central FP9A units 6313 and 6307 had.

I once sat at a table with the late Jerry Jacobson at an Akron Railroad Club event and heard him say how much it cost to get those locomotives custom painted. I don’t recall the figure, but it wasn’t cheap.

Jerry talked about that expense in the same causal way that most people speak of how much they spent for dinner at a Bob Evans restaurant. In the scheme of things it isn’t that much.

I don’t have too many photographs of the Ohio Central FP9As in this livery and I didn’t see them operate very often.

Sure, I wish I had more photographs, but having regrets is as much a part of being a railfan photographer as bragging about what you did capture.

Everyone has missed out on something and everyone has something they wish that had more of than they do.

Everyone also can speak about days when they wished the weather and lighting had been better.

Having something is better than having nothing so although this isn’t one of my best images it reminds me of a day when I was there for something special.

There never was another train festival in Dennison or anywhere else on the Ohio Central like the 2004 event that was attended by 27,000 people.

Although the two steam locomotives that operated that day are at the Age of Steam Roundhouse, Jerry sold the FP9A locomotives and they can’t be seen in their PRR lookalike livery.

During the pandemic it is easy to think about what we can’t do.

It remains to be seen what end game the pandemic will bring, but for now we can look forward to some day resuming doing things we used to do without giving them a second thought.

Yet some things are not coming back. The steam excursions and other special movements that Jerry made possible may have lasted several years but in looking back on them now their time seems to have been rather fleeting.

Fortunately, our memories and photographs of those moments are not.

Learning Yet Again From A Mistake Made in Willoughby

March 16, 2020

A recent issue of the weekly newsletter sent by email to subscribers of Classic Trains magazine contained an essay written by J.W. Swanberg about a rookie mistake he made in Willoughby back in 1954.

At the time, Swanberg was 15 and traveling with his parents from their home in Connecticut to visit his grandparents in Minnesota.

They stayed overnight at a tourist home in Willoughby, which Swanberg knew had mainlines of the New York Central and Nickel Plate Road.

The NKP still ran a lot of steam in 1954 but the Central did not. Early the next morning, Swanberg ventured out with his camera in hopes of catching NKP steam.

He found a crossing with “NYC&StL” stenciled on the crossbucks and thought that was the Central so he continued walking to another set of tracks.

An NYC passenger train led by an Alco PA locomotive came along. At the same time Swanberg heard the whistle of a steam locomotive on the NKP but there was not enough time to go get it.

Swanberg had only an hour before his parents would be ready to leave and he left Willoughby without getting any NKP steam that morning.

Nearly six decades later he wrote that he is thankful for his youthful mistake.

He was able to photograph NKP steam two years later during another family trip to Minnesota but that 1954 image would be the only action photograph he would ever make of an NYC Alco PA leading a train.

Reading Swanberg’s story reminded me of a mistake I made in Willoughby in May 2017.

I was there with Peter Bowler and our objective was to photograph an NS train on the former NKP line as it passed the venerable Willoughby Coal & Supply building.

We were standing by the Erie Street crossing of NS when Peter heard a locomotive horn to the west.

It was Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited which we had not known was running late that day.

I managed to get a grab shot of the lead P42DC unit crossing Erie Street but it was far from a good image because it had a lot of clutter.

If you think you might have seen this image before, you have.

I posted it on this site more than two years ago along with the story behind it headlined “Railfan Incompetence 101.”

I described how we had failed to check if No. 48 might be running late. I had locked out the CSX road channel on my scanner so I hadn’t heard No. 48 calling signals.

Had neither of those things happened we could have gotten into position to catch No. 48 coming around a curve in nice morning light.

Peter and I had a list of objectives but struck out on all of them except getting an eastbound NS train coming past the Willoughby Coal Company building.

As I got ready to write this article I went looking for that photograph of Amtrak 48 and found I had already applied the copyright line I typically place on my images posted on this blog.

I had not only forgotten that post but forgotten what I had written in it.

I thought my idea for a “one day at Willoughby” article had fallen though.

Then I read the original post and was chagrined to learn I had forgotten its most significant theme.

The day after that ill fated Lake County railfan outing I had read a column by a former restaurant critic for The Plain Dealer who had undergone treatment for cancer.

His experience made him realize when you have a condition that could take your life away even a bad day seems like a gift.

The food writer, Joe Crea, urged his readers not just to enjoy every day’s moments but to understand that what might seem like a disappointment or setback could be something else.

Swanberg wrote in his essay, which was initially published by Classic Trains in summer 2012, that the PA locomotive was not well regarded by the Central and those units spent many years trailing  in motive power consists rather than leading.

Swanberg considered himself lucky to have been able to capture an elusive NYC PA on a day when he really wanted NKP steam.

It would turn out that Joe Crea did not live much longer after writing his essay for The Plain Dealer.

I would discover later the curve image in early morning light in Willoughby would not have been the outstanding photograph I had envisioned it would be because of clutter along the right of way.

Given a choice I’d rather have the curve shot then a so-so down the street composition that shows little more than a locomotive nose.

Yet as I wrote in that 2017 essay the image I wound up with had its own story to tell and I’ve grown to appreciate that.

I have yet to again photograph Amtrak coming through Willoughby and it seems unlikely I ever will.

In the scheme of things that doesn’t matter. I’ve made hundreds of Amtrak photographs expect to make more down the road.

Yet I hope to be better prepared next time for an unexpected opportunity yet what I really want is to not forget again the wisdom of Joe Crea’s column about every opportunity being a gift.

How Many Photographs of Something Are Enough?

January 27, 2020

An Ohio Central train heads south of Warwick on Oct. 19, 2008. It is one of the few images I made here when the OC still used this line.

Every so often you’ll hear someone say “get your photos now” about something that is in danger of vanishing in the not so distant future.

In showing his golden oldie photographs at Akron Railroad Club programs a photographer I know was fond of saying, “It will always be there, right?”

Well, no it won’t be.

Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna and Conrail were once everyday fixtures on the railroad scene of Northeast Ohio.

But that was decades ago. Some routes these companies once operated in the region have been abandoned.

I don’t disagree with the “get ‘em now” advice yet the contrarian in me is almost screaming to get a word in on the matter.

How much is enough?

There is a difference between getting something you don’t have and making one more image of something you’ve photographed before, perhaps many times.

I have a long list of those “I never . . . instances”

I never photographed a Conrail train in Olmsted Falls even though I spent many a day just 10 to 15 minutes or so away in Berea watching and photographing Conrail there.

I never photographed a Norfolk Southern train with New York, Susquehanna & Western motive power enough it was a regular during my eary years living in Cleveland.

I never photographed Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian anywhere in Northeast Ohio other than Berea and once at the Cleveland Amtrak station and once in Alliance.

And the list goes on.

I would later atone for my sins by making hundreds or photographs of NS trains in Olmsted Falls and getting other Amtrak trains in various places in Northeast Ohio.

But I never caught the Susie Q here and in fact the only photographs I have of Susequehanna motive power was made during the 1995 National Railway Historical Society Convention’s outing to Steamtown National Historic Site.

How many photographs does any photographer need to make of a given railroad at a given location? How much is enough?

I have a small collection of photographs of Ohio Central and R.J. Corman trains operating between Warwick and Massillon.

But Ohio Central stopped using this former Baltimore & Ohio branch several years ago in favor of interchanging with CSX in Columbus rather than Warwick.

For a short time in the waning days of OC’s use of the Warwick-Massillon line, I made a few trips on Sunday afternoons to chase and photograph Ohio Central trains.

I even managed to get a few photographs of Corman trains on this line.

But is it enough? No. But will it do? It will have to.

There are many photo opportunities that are beyond your reach because you can’t get out with your camera due to work obligations or other commitments.

Photographs need to think about how active they want to be. How much time and money do you want to invest in your hobby?

People who are highly obsessed with something seldom ask “how much is enough?” Whatever they have is never enough.

But I wonder sometimes what has been sacrificed to chase every last possible opportunity.

Most photographers I know are not that single minded. I admire the work of those who are, particularly if they have excellent photography skills.

The answer for most photographers is a matter of degree. I try to regularly get out and create photographs but recognize I’m never going to have the body of work of someone who makes it a quasi career.

The question we need to periodically ask ourselves is whether we are doing as much as we could with what we have. How did you spend that sunny afternoon yesterday? Making photographs or watching a baseball game on TV?

Life is not always either or. I’ve enjoyed watching games on TV and I’ve also made it a point to sacrifice watching a game to get out with my camera.

Perhaps the answer to the question of “how much is enough?” is this: Enough to say that you recorded it even if just one time.

You don’t need everything that is or was out there. You just need enough to gain a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment from your hobby.

Nice Spots, But There are Better Places to Get the CVSR

October 30, 2019

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad recently posted on its website an article headlined “four of the best locations to photograph the CVSR.”

Three of the four were among the usual suspects of places to photograph the CVSR: Peninsula, Indigo Lake and Station Road Bridge in Brecksville.

The fourth location, Canal Exploration Center, was a surprise.

The article recommended photographing the latter from the bridge connecting the parking area to the CEC station.

“Looking southwest from the bridge you can get great shots of the train as it passes by the river. It’s one of the best places to see the Cuyahoga River winding through the area,” the article said.

I’ve been to that bridge and found it lacking as a photography location. It’s OK, but would be well down my list of recommended places of “best locations” to capture the CVSR.

The article illustrated each location with an image, some of which were taken from social media site Instagram.

Frankly, the creator of the article could have found better images to illustrate the article.

In fact there are better photographs of the CVSR in action elsewhere on the railroad’s website.

Weaved in among the images of CVSR trains with the four best article were photographs of features that are part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Each location was accompanied by a tip and it wasn’t always clear if the tip was for making a photograph of a train or the non-railroad related park feature.

All four locations described in the article are located in the CVNP and have parking lots. This suggests that the article was written for casual park visitors and not so much professional photographers or serious amateurs.

The “four of the best locations” are safe locations that do not involve walking on or along the tracks or a roadway to get to a photo spot.

Take Brecksville, for example. You can walk from the parking lot to Station Road bridge without even crossing the tracks.

Yet if you walk along the right of way north of the station and past the Ohio Route 82 bridge you’ll find an S curve that makes a nice photo spot. There is also a swamp that can be worked into the background.

Likewise there is a hillside overlooking the Brecksville station complex that can be reached by wading through Chippewa Creek or walking on the walkway on the railroad bridge over the creek.

I can understand why the CVSR doesn’t want to encourage people to do the latter.

And yet there are many good locations along the railroad that do not involve having to walk on or across the tracks to get good photos.

But some of those places are not located in the CVNP. Deep Lock Quarry and Sand Run metro parks come to mind.

Both have winding trails with medium-height wood fences adjacent to the tracks that will yield more interesting images of CVSR trains than Station Road Bridge.

Sure, Station Road Bridge will yield the iconic image of the Route 82 bridge reflecting in the Cuyahoga River as a train passes by. But said train will be obscured in part by brush growing along the river.

There are better angles in Brecksville to capture the Route 82 bridge and a train than from Station Road Bridge including at the Brecksville station.

The park and its railroad are worthy subjects for photography and have much to offer, which is why I found the CVSR’s article disappointing even if I understand why it was written as it was.

Consider, for example, the image the website used on its page promoting the Fall Flyer trips that have concluded for the season.

It featured a dramatic image of a train passing beneath a golden canopy of trees. Leaves carpet the track. The face of the locomotive coming at you is well illuminated by natural light.

Not only does the image say fall foliage it also shows something about the essence of the park. It’s an excellent image that made me wish I had made it.

You can get good images and sometimes even great ones at the four locations recommended in the CVSR article.

Yet as someone who has made hundreds of photographs of the CVSR over the years, only Indigo Lake might be in my top five “best” places list from a photography perspective.

Creating dramatic images of the CVSR that have a story to tell about a region, a park and its railroad often requires getting away from the usual and popular spots. It also means getting to know the park and its railroad.

The beauty of the the park is that its essence changes with the seasons and even throughout the day as the light shifts. There is much to see and capture if you are willing to work to find it.

John Gruber was Influenced by the Work of Photojournalists and Brought That to Railroad Photography

October 11, 2018

Wednesday, Oct. 10, was a slow day for railroad news. Oh, there was news made and reported, but none of it involved railroad operations in the region that I cover for the Akron Railroad Club blog.

Among the news items on Wednesday was an obituary for John Gruber, 82, of Madison, Wisconsin, a noted railroad photographer and founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

I wasn’t going to report Gruber’s death on the ARRC blog because I wasn’t sure most ARRC members would know who he is even if they might have seen his work.

But I was intrigued when former Trains editor Kevin Keefe wrote in a tribute that Gruber had pioneered a “daring new approach to photographing the railroad scene.”

That got my attention. What was it? How was it daring?

It turns out that Gruber was an early practitioner of using a telephoto lens to, as Keefe put it, practice the art of “getting up close and personal with professional railroaders.”

This wasn’t something that Gruber thought of on his own but rather was the byproduct of the influence of newspaper photographers.

Keefe wrote that Dick Sroda of the Wisconsin State Journal and Jim Stanfield of the Milwaukee Journal inspired Gruber to go beyond what he was seeing in Trains magazine.

“It was a time when press photographers and journalists were interested in what people were doing,” Gruber once said. “I saw this as an underrepresented area of railroad photography, and I took advantage of every opportunity to document railroad people at work, rather than concentrating on equipment.”

Gruber may have built a career on people-oriented photographs, but it is not a philosophy that has caught on with most rank and file railfan photographers.

Most railfans are fixated on the equipment, particularly the lead locomotive of a train. The people working on the train, riding the train, or watching the train are an afterthought if they are thought about at all.

That is particularly true of spectators and bystanders. We’ve all heard someone lament that a railfan or a daisy picker got into an otherwise pristine image of an oncoming train. I’ve griped about that myself at times.

Although I never considered myself a photojournalist per se, I did engage in the practice during my early years in the newspaper industry.

At small town newspapers you need to make photographs as well as conduct interviews and write stories.

News organizations spend a lot of time writing about the behavior of organizations. They also report a lot of staid news about people in organizations, much of it focusing on such things as the work history of someone who was just named to a position such as vice president.

That information can be contrived and lacking a sense of authenticity even if it is rooted in reality.

But it’s the moments when people are captured acting naturally that most excites photojournalists. To capture those moments on film or megapixels takes practice, some training, and patience. In time it becomes something that you just do.

John Gruber is not the only railroad photographer who took a journalistic mindset into his work and he probably wasn’t the first.

But it became his trademark or brand to use a current buzzword.

His first photograph published in Trains featured shivering railfans photographing an excursion on the North Shore interurban line at Northbrook, Illinois, in February 1960.

That led to a friendship with legendary Trains editor David P. Morgan, who published many of Gruber’s photographs. The two would go on to become traveling companions.

Keefe wrote that Morgan would later say about Gruber that he was always “on top of the action, however unexpected and regardless of the hour. His pictures tell it like it was.”

Gruber never worked as a newspaper man, opting instead to take a job in publications and public relations at the University of Wisconsin, a position he held for 35 years.

But you don’t have to be a professional journalist to understand and practice the principles of photojournalism.

Aside from his work for the university, Gruber was an editor of the Gazette of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

In 1995 he began editing Vintage Rails, a magazine about railroad history and culture published by Pentrex.

After Pentrex shut that publication down four years later, Gruber moved on to organize the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, which has its own magazine and hosts an annual conference known as “Conversations.”

“I had become curious about railroad photographers — who they were, their backgrounds, their ideas about photography,” Gruber said of why he created the organization.

Other than magazine articles, Gruber wrote or co-wrote a number of books, including Travel by Train: The American Railroad Poster, 1870-1950 (with Michael Zega); Classic Steam; and Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography

In 1994, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented Gruber its Senior Achievement Award.

You sometimes hear railroad photographers describe one of their images as having been inspired by a well-known photographer such as Philip R. Hastings, Richard Steinheimer, David Plowden or Jim Shaughnessy.

None of the images presented above were inspired by John Gruber as such. But I’d like to think that he’d appreciate them and understand why I made them.

They were all made on the same day on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and none were planned. They were just moments I saw and was nimble enough to capture. More often than not instinct takes over when these opportunities present themselves.

The top image was made at Boston Mill before a photo runby featuring Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765.

I don’t know who that boy is. He might be the son of the engineer or another members of the locomotive crew. But this experience is one he will never forget and one that many children and even adults are not fortunate enough to have.

The middle image was a grab shot of a passenger sitting in one of the open-window cars in the steam excursion. I did intend to make images of passengers watching out those windows, but you don’t know what you will get.

This guy’s demeanor captures the joy of riding an excursion, particularly one behind a big steam locomotive.

The bottom image was made at Botzum station of a CVSR engineer working the northbound National Park Scenic.

It’s one of those countless moments that unfold on the CVSR or any other passenger railroad every day. And yet it tells a story, even if only a small one, of life on the railroad.

I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to Gruber than to post the type of images he devoted his life to making.

What to Make of More Stringent 765 Security

September 28, 2018

It probably was inevitable that after a woman was struck and killed in Colorado last July by Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 that security surrounding the visit of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in September would be tight.

The woman who was killed was standing on the ties as the Northern-type steamer passed through Henderson, Colorado. An Adams County sheriff’s investigation concluded that the woman appeared to be more focused on her phone’s screen than watching for an oncoming train.

What happened in Colorado could happen in Ohio, so the CVSR, the National Park Service, the Summit County Metroparks and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society ratcheted up security to levels never seen during previous visits of steam locomotives.

Volunteers from the CVSR and FtWRHS were stationed at grade crossings.

Temporary no parking signs were posted on Riverview Road between Columbia Run Road and Everett.

White plastic chain rope was set up at popular viewing locations such as Brecksville and Jaite. Those chains were present at Boston Mill in the area reserved for passengers to watch the runbys, thus making it difficult to get clear views of the steamer.

At the Deep Lock Quarry trail south of Peninsula, two Summit County Metropark rangers kept photographers from crossing the tracks and standing on the east side.

No one wants to see someone killed who is standing too close to the tracks out of ignorance or recklessness.

Although that has never happened during a visit of the 765 to the CVSR, some people, I suppose, have to be saved from themselves.

Nonetheless, I keep thinking about my favorite Robert Frost poem, The Oven Bird and its last lines: “The question that he frames in all but words. Is what to make of a diminished thing.”

It was nice to see the Nickel Plate Berkshire again and we in Northeast Ohio are fortunate to be one of two places where the 765 will operate this year.

Yet I couldn’t help but remember how during previous years security was not as tight and photographers had more freedom to stake out photo locations.

Those involved in security for the NKP 765 excursions would say it is all about safety, but if you could get them to go beyond their broad talking points, they would acknowledge that their sense of risk aversion has increased over what it was in the past.

When it comes to safety, authorities like to paint with broad rather than fine brushes. I understand that. The CVSR, park agencies and FtWRHS have much to lose if there is an incident in which the 765 strikes someone, resulting in death or a crippling injury.

Yet something has been lost and chasing after the 765 was not as enjoyable as it used to be.

Enforcement of the security measures was inconsistent and at times baffling.

At Deep Lock Quarry, I started to stand next to a photographer with a long telephoto lens who was up against the wood fence.

A Metroparks official motioned me over and said, “stand on this side” as he pointed toward the edge of the paved trail. I don’t know what that was about but it wasn’t about safety.

As has happened in previous years, a Peninsula cop sat in his cruiser on the east shoulder of Riverview Road at Boston Mill and sped northward whenever someone crossed the highway to stand near the guard rail closest to the tracks toward the north end of the ski resort.

Watching that cop shoot down Riverview to pounce on some unsuspecting photographer was comical at times.

But there was nothing funny about what happened to a teen on Sunday afternoon who crossed the road to make photographs.

The cop raced down the road and yelled at him over his SUV’s external loudspeaker in a voice loud enough to be heard clearly several hundred feet away.

Get back in the far parking lot! It was not a polite but firm “please get back on the other side of the road” command. The officer acted as though this teen’s transgression was a personal affront.

I will never forget the look on the young man’s face as he trudged back to his mother’s car.

Moments earlier an officer was camped on the west shoulder of Riverview just north of the Columbia Run picnic area and keeping photographers from crossing the road to photograph from the grassy area between the east shoulder of Riverview and the tracks. On Saturday it had been OK to stand in that grassy area.

As the 765 was abeam his patrol vehicle, he took off southbound on Riverview, getting into the images of some photographers. He could have delayed moving for 10 or 15 seconds, but didn’t.

Safety is a conundrum for the CVSR, which operates in a public park on tracks it doesn’t own.

The railroad seeks to balance the needs of safety with the desire of more than a thousand people to watch something they rarely get to see.

Fact is the CVSR, the FtWRHS and the park agencies want people to come out to watch the steam locomotive. But they also want to restrict how they can do that.

The level of security that came with this year’s 765 visit probably will be the norm for future 765 visits as well as excursions behind mainline steam locomotives elsewhere.

There were still locations where you could get clear views of the 765 and its train without getting hassled or feeling as though you were under surveillance.

The plastic chains at Jaite afforded photographers good views of the 765 coming or going to the north. During my visit to Jaite, CVSR and FtWRHS personnel watched the crowd, but no one told anyone where to stand so long as you stayed behind the chains.

Two fans I spoke with during the weekend contrasted some of the behavior they observed with the behavior of Metra police officers when the 765 ran trips between Joliet and Chicago. Both fans described the Metra officers as friendly and courteous.

Railfan photographers understand the need for security and crowd control when a steam locomotive visits. They understand that legitimate safety and crowd control needs sometimes will impinge upon where and how photography can be done. But a little consideration still goes a long way.

Are Today’s Master Photographers Legendary Photographers?

August 9, 2018

I never met Jim Shaughnessy and know relatively little about his life and work other than I’ve seen his photographs published countless enough times for it to have created a sense of familiarity.

His death this week at age 84 and the tributes that have followed have led me to wonder if there ever will be another class of giants whose work is larger than life and takes on legendary status.

In a tribute posted on the Trains magazine website, Kevin Keefe, himself something of a legend in railfan publication circles, described Mr. Shaughnessy as among the “big three” of railroad photographers.

The other two were Richard Steinheimer and Philip R. Hastings. They are all deceased now and I wonder if any current active railroad photographer will someday be remembered in the same terms as these men.

A larger question is what makes a master photographer. There have been and continue to be many photographers whose work makes them masters.

They are masters because their technical and artistic skills set them apart from weekend amateurs or even the merely good.

They became known for their focus on environmental images as opposed to the roster shot style of images that were popular when they picked up their cameras in the post World War II era.

And they made their mark during the era when steam locomotive power was giving way to diesels.

“Yes, the diesel was more predictable and it quietly went about its business,” Mr. Shaughnessy once said. “It presented a different kind of visual challenge. But this was a transition era. It would only happen once. I was glad to be there for it.”

Railroading in the 21st century seems in so many ways less interesting than it was when master photographers as Jim Shaughnessy were in their prime.

There are far fewer passenger trains, far fewer railroad companies with their unique identities, and far less railroad infrastructure.

There are still compelling scenes to be captured because the geography of the United States has not changed.

But we can’t control in what times we live. We can only control what we do during those times and how we work with what we have.

Mr. Shaughnessy’s reputation was largely built on his work appearing in Trains magazine. It was this association that made him a legend.

It occurred during a time when railfan magazines, books and railroad clubs formal and informal were the primary ways of viewing photographs of railroad operations.

The editors of those books and magazines served as gatekeepers who determined whose work would be seen and how often.

Those gatekeepers themselves had larger than life status. Think David P. Morgan.

The coming of the Internet changed that. Now anyone can create a Flickr account or join a chat list and post their photographs.

A lot of mediocre and downright bad photography is getting posted and it amazes me how often the mere average or even sub-average is proclaimed as “good” or “very good” by some.

There is, of course, much good and excellent work also being posted online.

There are photographers today whose work is the technical and creative equal of that of Shaughnessy, Steinheimer and Hastings. But the “fame” of that work seems more fleeting due to the nature of the online world.

The curators of the online world are largely invisible and thus have far less known influence in legend making as men such as Morgan or Keefe. Hence, there is lack of well-known gatekeepers who have the ability and influence to anoint today’s masters as legends.

Books and magazine seem to enshrine a photograph in ways that websites cannot.

But even in the paper publishing world, quantity has swamped quality. Companies such as Morning Sun have flooded the market with books of railroad photographs, thus watering down the ability of the medium to elevate legends.

It may be that the stature accorded to the likes of the “big three” is an artificial construct created by magazine editors whose influence may not be what it seems, the reputation of David Morgan notwithstanding.

Whenever I read tributes to legendary photographers I’m struck by the dedication that they paid to their work and craft. Those attributes still exist among many photographers today.

At the same time, they actively sought to get their work published and it was that endeavor that as much as anything made their reputations as legends.

You can’t become a legend if few people are familiar with your work, particularly key people who can ensure that your work is seen by a large audience. The online world has made it easier to view the work of more photographers, but in doing that something has been lost.

When today’s “legends” pass from this world, will their work be lauded in obituaries in the same manner as that of Jim Shaughnessy? There will be efforts to do that, yet I doubt that it will have the same impact.