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Nostalgia & History > How brave were you?

Date: 10/21/21 07:11
How brave were you?
Author: santafe199

This Emil Albrecht image caught my eye. It looks like he shot this train with a medium telephoto setting. The focus is a bit soft, but I thought the obvious train motion and the contrast between sunlight & shadow created a great composition. So I went to work on it. Then, as I was working the scan through Photoshop I started thinking about where Emil was standing in relation to the soon-to-pass train. This outfit is about to blow by Emil at a pretty good clip! I don’t know my way around Salt Lake City at all. So I don’t have a clue as to the ground Emil was standing on. But I would assume he had a quick “escape route” in case the train’s adhesion to the rails went haywire all of a sudden.

Of course, this line of thought led me directly to a distant memory of a shot I engineered “in the old days”. Back when I was in my mid-20s and thought I was bullet-proof! Typical of having lots of youth but not much intelligence. Here is my confession: I was with another pal at Neosho Rapids, KS on the Santa Fe’s Eastern Division 2nd District. We were armed with a train line-up that we copied down from the Emporia Wire Office earlier in the day. We knew from that line-up a hotshot 189 train was due. So bullet-proof Lance decides he would scale the ladder up the overhead, automatic crossing gate at KS hwy 130. As railfans we are always seeking some elevation to improve a given shot. And shooting that big sweeping curve from atop the highway crossing gate/lights seemed like a perfect solution. Until the train showed up! The 189 came by as predicted. At track speed, which I didn’t contemplate before I climbed up. And of course, the 189 was on the south track, the one nearest to the crossing gate.

As the train passed by directly below me at 55(?) MPH it forced me to start thinking. (Surprise!!) If the 189 decided to leave the track right there I would have been slammed to the ground like a 96 MPH fastball being fouled straight down into the dirt. By the time the train passed and I was safely back down to Terra Firma I was completely spooked! This episode put a fear in me I’d never experienced before. I think I lost quite a bit of that youthful bullet-proof mentality right then & there...

How about you fellow photographers. Are there any youthful shooting location confessions out there waiting to be told?? I’ll bet there’s a bunch...

1. UP 197 in Salt Lake City, UT on October 3, 1971. Can anyone nail down Emil’s precise shooting spot. I’m sure there has been a lot of change in 50 intervening years...
(Photo by Emil Albrecht, from the James W. Watson collection)

Thanks for looking back!
Lance Garrels (santafe199)
Remembering the late Emil Albrecht

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/21/21 07:14 by santafe199.

Date: 10/21/21 07:54
Re: How brave were you?
Author: x6924w

My awakening moment was in my late teen years. I was watching from a rather close position as three UP Centennials were hauling arse on an eastbound near Soda Springs Idaho. They had to be doing all of 70 per at a rural grade crossing that had a bit of a rough spot. An obviously empty PC 40 ft boxcar went flying by and hit the low joint and I saw the car come up high enough that the bolster pin was visible. Quite visible even. Never saw it happen again including during my 16 year stint as a trainman for the UP.  After that I think I was a little more aware of where I was. 

Date: 10/21/21 09:43
Re: How brave were you?
Author: ns2557

Back in 1996 along the AMT NEC at Bristol Pa was on the platform behind the yellow line located on said platform shooting video of action, which at that particular moment was a Philly bound SEPTA Commute that was slowing for a stop when from the south, an AMT E60 came by me on the track closest to platform at track speed, somewhere in the 70 mph zone. Didn't hear it approach and when it flew by me it scared the bejesus out of me. Even on the not so wide passenger platform there, it was an awakening. That one was really sh*"@?! and a gitting. Think it was one of the NYC bound Florida trains. The things ya do when your invincible. Ben

Date: 10/21/21 09:55
Re: How brave were you?
Author: johncarr


Back in the early 60s, I would spend time at the Lancaster, CA depot. The agent there said that when preparing to watch a train go by, always have an escape route in mind before the train gets there. Don't be between the depot and the tracks, move to the end of the building. The other rule of thumb was stand at least one foot away for every mile per hour the train is traveling. This will give you a head start if things begin to come unglued. Another good safety rule at railroad crossings is to be upstream from the crossing. That way if a motorist tries to beat the train and fails you won't be hit by the car or pieces there of. Those general safety rules have worked well for me and I'm 73 and still around to share tall tales.

John Carr in Dallas, Texas

Date: 10/21/21 10:14
Re: How brave were you?
Author: texchief1


Mine was at appx MP 427 on the Panhandle Sub just east of Higgins, TX on the BNSF.  I was under Highway 60 on a concrete flat area.  I knew I was close but  I didn't realize how close until the train got there.  It was a Z train doing 55-60 and I could reach out and touch it.  I even made a comment on my video that I think I'm a little close and I had no escape route.  I moved as soon as the train got by and got back on the overpass.  I',m surprised the crew didn't call me in as this was in 2005 after 9/11.  I was really scared.  Somewhere, I have those slides and the video.

RC Lundgren
Elgin, TX

Date: 10/21/21 18:35
Re: How brave were you?
Author: acl67-2

Bone Valley wet phosphate rock can be very soupy, sloppy.
Sometime in the 80's, trainman Jack, (I wish I could remember his last name,) 
was standing by the switch as his crew was shoving a cut of loaded wet rock hoppers in a track. 
East Tampa, or Big Bend, Florida
One car picked a switch and turned over, wet phosphate rock came pouring out and soon was 
surrounding Jack's feet, up to his ankles, then up above his knees, he couldn't take a step.
Fortunately, the movement was stopped and nothing bad happened. 
He always said he had vivid memories of that.


Date: 10/21/21 19:51
Re: How brave were you?
Author: ironmtn

I've told this one before here on TO, but it fits here, so here goes once again.

On a vacation in Colorado over Easter break during the years I was teaching high school (my first full-time job), I had several days of railfanning by car tied in with riding some of the last trips of the pre-Amtrak Rio Grande Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake City and return. On one of the non-RGZ days, I drove up onto Tennessee Pass, a route which the Rio Grande was still operating at the time. I knew there was a coal train with Missouri Pacific power coming up the hill from Minturn, and I wanted to get a good shot of it somewhere near the tunnel at the top of the pass. I found a great spot right next to US 24 at the apex of the big horseshoe curve on the west side of the tunnel. As US 24 was only two lanes at that point, and wanting some protection from the traffic, I stepped over the guard rail on the track side of the highway, where there was a small but workable flat, snowy area on the hillside above the track.

As soon as I stepped onto the snowy area with my second leg, I immediately sank down into it nearly up to my waist. I had somehow managed to grab my camera as I sank, and hold it higher to protect it. But that did not change the fact that I was now mired in deep snow. Somehow I kept my wits about me, and paused to assess my situation. I came to realize that what had looked like a small, snow-covered flat area beside the highway was in fact a snow cornice, hanging on the crest of a hillside about 20 feet above the Rio Grande track. This was a genuinely risky situation. If I overly disturbed the cornice by movement, or if the sound and vibration from the passing train were sufficient to loosen it, it could break away from the hillside, and become a small avalanche cascading right down onto the track in front of the approaching train -- and carrying me right along with it!

I decided that the safest approach was to wait the train out, then work to extricate myself. I had my camera in one hand, and the snow was stable -- for now. So, I went ahead and got the shot, which turned out terrific. The train passed without incident, and blessedly the hogger did not sound the horn for a warning before entering the tunnel until he was well past me. Somehow, I managed to haul myself out by hoisting myself up to and over the guard rail, and onto the pavement, fortunately with no passing traffic as I did so. I hiked back to the rental car, cranked up the heater, and just sat quietly for some time to regain my composure before the steep, twisty drive back down the pass to Minturn. It was a truly frightening experience, great image or not,

Many years later, I lived in the Denver area for some time, and regularly traveled into the mountains and the back country, including in winter. But I had learned my lesson that day -- the hard way. And I was always thereafter careful about thoroughly assessing my surroundings before entering an area, whether for rail photography, or any other reason. That learning experience that day on Tennessee Pass would save my bacon a few more times over the years while trainwatching, hiking, bicycling or driving.


Date: 10/21/21 20:14
Re: How brave were you?
Author: P

Sidney, Ohio has a huge concrete arched Viaduct across a valley that I wanted to see when I was in my mid 20s. It was the Conrail line from Indianapolis to northern Ohio and had a decent amount of traffic. It seemed difficult to photograph so I started looking for angles. There was a depot at the west end of the bridge that housed a model railroad club - so I heard. When I got up there, the photo angles were just not good, so i tried to make due as an eastbound train was on the way.

I decided to cross the tracks and found myself on a steep hillside across from the depot with a fast piggyback train bearing down. I stayed put, got a nice photo, but found myself uncomfortably trapped between the hillside and a fast train and realized pretty quickly that I had no escape route. Thankfully the train passed without incident, and I vowed to never let that happen again.

Posted from Android

Date: 10/22/21 05:35
Re: How brave were you?
Author: twjurgens

In the 80's, I shot a lot of video using an RCA camera that used VHS tapes.  Not near the quality that we have now but state of the art then!

One day, I was out shooting the Valley, NE to Lincoln local.  The last shots were as the train was entering Lincoln on a curve near I-80 on the north side of Lincoln.  I thought that I'd left plenty of distance between me and the track but while watching the video later realized that was not lthe case.  The rocking and rolling of the cars made them look like they were near flipping off the track!

After that, I was much more careful about standing on the inside of a curve and at crossings where the track was at other than a 90 degree angle to the road!

Date: 10/22/21 07:29
Re: How brave were you?
Author: tq-07fan

Circa 1990 just before I had a license my Grandpa and I drove into Greenfield Ohio so I could video the Indiana and Ohio Railway. It was late evening when we first got them switching and running around their train but by the time the left it was twilight. We got ahead of them around MP 72 just west of Greenfield and I ran down a small bluff to the side of the track while looking through the small Black and White viewfinder on the VHS camcorder. I realized that I was really close so I ducked down. It scared my Grandpa me and the crew who we caught up with to let them know I was OK. I never got that close to the tracks, rushed for a shot without paying attention or setup looking through the viewfinder again.


Date: 10/22/21 11:21
Re: How brave were you?
Author: fbe

Standing this close to a train moving at track speed is risky enough but looking down from the cab for decades I always wonder if any loose banding straps were long enough to severe appendages trackside.


Date: 10/22/21 15:00
Re: How brave were you?
Author: ironmtn

fbe Wrote:
> Standing this close to a train moving at track
> speed is risky enough but looking down from the
> cab for decades I always wonder if any loose
> banding straps were long enough to severe
> appendages trackside.

And that's the risk case I always remind myself of. I've seen a manifest train moving at track speed with steel banding from stacked material on a bulkhead flat whipping around in the train's slipstream. A scary sight. As soon as the train passed, I went up to the crossing signal to read the 1-800-contact number on the crossing identification sign, and called it in. I actually got a callback from the railroad a few days later thanking me for doing so.


Date: 11/18/21 15:56
Re: How brave were you?
Author: Gonut1

Just watching a tie down chain whipping around making sparks and throwing ballast is a scary deal. And that train was crawling along at 10-15 MPH where they usually go track speed 40.

Date: 11/18/21 16:32
Re: How brave were you?
Author: LocoPilot750

One trip when I was firing, we were eastbound, stopped at the end of double track, Eldorado, KS. The brakeman and I get off to kill some time, and pretty soon, here comes the train we were waiting for. We weren't out taking pictures, just doing our job, doing a roll by from the ground. There was a gondola load of drill pipe doing the hula as it approach, and when it got to the switch, the banding on a bundle of pipe broke, and the pipes started rolling off, half a dozen or so, just as it got to us. Not real close, but it got our attention, and we were ready to run or start dodging pipe. Glad it was during the day, we wouldn't have even seen it in the dark. Cured me from doing roll-bys close to the train.

Posted from Android

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