Posts Tagged ‘Willoughby Ohio’

It Just Might Be My Photo of the Year

July 20, 2021

Over the years I’ve seen excellent photos at this location on Erie Street in Willoughby. It appears in one of the Morning Sun books featuring the photography of the late Dave McKay. I’m sure he had several shots at this spot.

I’m pretty sure others have had good luck here as did Roger Durfee. I’m hoping this entree will allow me entry into the club of great photos. My entree is of the Denver & Rio Grande Western heritage unit of Union Pacific on Norfolk Southern eastbound intermodal train 206 on Monday at 11:22 a.m.

Article and Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

On the Water Level Route in Willoughby

March 14, 2021

The wayback machine has landed us in Willoughby in 1967 where we are enjoying viewing the New York Central in its last year of operation. The action is heavy right now but we’re less than pleased that one train is blocking the view of another.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

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.

Railfan Incompetence 101

June 7, 2017

The phrase that serves as the headline for this article was uttered by fellow Akron Railroad Club member Peter Bowler.

Shown is Amtrak train No. 48 crossing Erie Street in Willoughby, Ohio. This isn’t the photo angle that I would have preferred, only the one that was available.

I didn’t know that the Lake Shore Limited was coming and that is where the incompetence comes into play. I could have known that fact had I sought out that information.

And yet three days after I made this image I recognized that while it is not a great image, it tells three stories, two of which are not obvious by looking at it. The third will be apparent only to those who like to look beyond the obvious.

It took an unexpected piece of wisdom from a man I’ve met just once for me to see more than one story and one meaning of this image.

* * * * *

Story 1 is a familiar one to many photographers. Peter and I had plans to railfan in Lake County with a list of objectives we wanted to achieve. At the top of the list was photographing an eastbound Norfolk Southern train passing the Willoughby Coal & Supply Company building.

I had heard a train call a signal on the NS radio frequency and we were standing on the sidewalk of the Erie Street crossing of the NS tracks waiting for that train to arrive.

I didn’t hear enough of the radio transmission to get the train’s location or symbol. I didn’t know if it was an eastbound or westbound.

Peter thought he heard a locomotive horn to the west, but after several minutes of waiting and no train showing up, he concluded he had heard traffic noise.

We waited several more minutes and he heard another sound that he was sure was a locomotive horn.

It was. It belonged to an Amtrak P42DC that Peter spotted shortly before it reached Erie Street.

“It’s Amtrak,” he proclaimed. He later said that as soon as he said that his heart sank. My morale plummeted. We had blown an opportunity and we knew it. All we could do was watch it from three blocks away.

I had thought about Amtrak earlier in the day, but didn’t give it a second thought.

Our outing was to begin 6:45 a.m. at the Golden Gate shopping plaza in Mayfield Heights, a place where Peter and I often rendezvous for photograph outings. I knew that before we even met up that Amtrak train 48 would be out of Cleveland already.

It is scheduled to depart at 5:50 a.m. Of the four Amtrak trains that serve Cleveland, the eastbound Lake Shore Limited is the one most likely to be running on time or almost on time.

It never occurred to either of us to call Amtrak Julie or check the Amtrak website to verify that No. 48 had already departed. That was incompetence on our part.

Had we checked the status of Amtrak 48, we could have been in position to photograph the train coming around a slight curve in really good morning light.

Had we contacted Amtrak we would have learned that No. 48 had left Cleveland an hour and 28 minutes late.

Opportunities to get that Willoughby curve image don’t come along every day for either of us. We had fumbled away a good opportunity and that hurt.

I had been so focused on getting an NS train that I had locked out the CSX radio frequency on  my scanner. Had I not done that I might have heard No. 48 calling signals and we could have gotten into position in time.

As for that NS train I had heard on the radio, it turned out to be westbound train No. 149. But we stayed with the location and got an eastbound around 9:30 a.m.

Although Peter and I achieved our objective of catching an eastbound train at the Willoughby Coal & Supply building, we struck out on all of our other objectives for the day, although that was a matter of fate and lack of knowledge rather than incompetence.

As we drove home that afternoon, we agreed that it had been, overall, a disappointing photography outing with the missed Amtrak photo op casting a pall over the day.

There is a saying that chance favors the prepared mind. We had not done as much preparation as we could have.

* * * * *

Story No. 2  unfolded on the morning of the next day. During breakfast I was reading a column published in the food section of The Plain Dealer by the former restaurant critic of the newspaper, Joe Crea.

I had started reading the column the night before, but didn’t finish it because I was tired.

I have met Crea once, but I doubt he remembers me. Ironically, I met him in a restaurant. My wife knew him because she works as a copy editor for the Plain Dealer.

The column I was reading focused primarily on Crea’s experience of the past year fighting cancer.

He had been diagnosed with cancer more than a year earlier and wrote about how his life had become a series of hospital stays, treatments, consultations with doctors, successes and setbacks.

His doctor is cautiously optimistic that he has been “cured” but that is not a certainty.

There was something about Crea’s column that resonated with me even though I’ve read similar thoughts expressed by other authors.

I’m old enough to know that my being in the same position that Crea is in is not as hypothetical as it seemed even a few years ago.

Like so many people diagnosed with cancer, Crea said he has learned to appreciate that every day is a gift, even a bad day.

As I thought about that, my thoughts immediately went to the “bad day” I had just had and the missed Amtrak photo op.

Maybe it hadn’t been so bad. Sure, it had been filled with disappointments, but it had been another day of living, another day of photography, another day of watching trains go by. Our passion for railroads had prompted Peter and I to get out trackside.

Some day there won’t be any more opportunities to go trackside. Some day my ability to get out and watch a train, even if from a distance of three blocks, may be greatly hindered and I’ll long for the days when I had easy mobility.

I had seen an Amtrak train, even if I hadn’t made the best photograph of it. I can’t remember the last time that I saw Amtrak live. It probably was last year, maybe last September.

* * * * *

I’m a big fan of the concept of framing. It is a practice that all of us do, even if we are not aware of it as we do it or even know the name of the behavior.

I’ve taught the concept in my public relations classes yet many students seem to have a hard time grasping it even though they’ve done it often.

A frame is a way of calling attention to a particular aspect of something, a way of drawing attention to one thing and away from something else. It is the essence of composition in photography.

On what do you focus and what meaning do you seek to make of it?

Joe Crea was framing when he wrote in his column that when you have a condition that could take your life away sooner rather than later even a bad day is a gift

I had been framing the meaning of my Amtrak down-the-street-image from a technical perspective. The meaning I had given to it was “missed opportunity due to incompetence.”

Framed in that manner, it is an average to mediocre image. It has a lot of clutter. The train is enveloped in shadows. There is nothing dramatic that will grab the viewer’s attention and lead him/her to conclude that he/she has seen something special.

It is another hum-drum image that many serious photographers would either have never made or would have deleted from their memory card.

That is one way to frame what this image means, but it is not the only way.

I am, at heart, a story teller. Even an average or mediocre photograph can have a story to tell and sometimes those stories are more compelling than the image might appear to be at a casual glance.

The fact that this photograph is so average is the story it has to tell.

Serious photographers think of trains and locomotives in much the same way that portrait photographers think of people.

They want the object of their desire to be posed in the most ideal manner. For a photographer that means good light and composition.

The ideal way to have photographed this train would have been a wedge view that took advantage of the morning sunlight and the train coming around a curve, thus exposing more of the train.

That is how a photographer sees Amtrak, but it is not the manner in which most people experience Amtrak.

Most people see Amtrak in the manner that I did in this photograph. It is a happenstance occurrence most likely to occur at a grade crossing or while approaching a grade crossing.

It will be a spontaneous moment surrounded by the clutter of the street that we see and hardly pay attention to during our everyday lives.

Even as a down-the-street-shot it would have been better had I stepped out into the street and been able to compose the image to avoid that street sign on the left side. But I didn’t do that because it might not have been safe.

I also didn’t have time to evaluate the setting. All I could do was react.

As it is, this image has already been cropped to eliminate a utility pole on the far left edge of the original image.

We can’t plan every moment of our days. So much of life is about spontaneity and living in and enjoying the unexpected small moments. Life is not always portrait quality and big moments.

The point of this photograph is to show one of those moments. In his column, Crea urged his readers not just to enjoy those moments but to understand that what might seem like a disappointment or setback might be something else.

It might be one of those moments that makes like worth living.

Check Another One Off the List

June 5, 2017

For some time I’ve been wanting to make a photograph of a Norfolk Southern train passing the Willoughby Coal & Supply building on the north edge of downtown Willoughby.

I’ve seen a number of images made here and it seems like nearly every railroad photographer in Northeast Ohio has photographed the scene except me.

The building is a red brick structure that is said to be haunted. On the day that I made the image shown above a school group from the Orange schools was making a field trip here for a ghost walk.

The building is listed among the top 10 in the book America’s Most Haunted and described listed in Haunted Willoughby, Ohio by Cathi Weber.

The structure was built in 1893 as a flour mill and the haunted tale stems from the 1947 mysterious death of its owner.

The building has housed a number of businesses over the years with the current owner selling to the sewer and masonry industry since 1955.

Photographing here is pretty straight forward. The scene works best with an eastbound train in the morning and you stand on the south side of the tracks on the sidewalk for Erie Street.

Shown is NS train 316, a Bellevue to Buffalo manifest freight that on this particular day was led by a Canadian Pacific unit.