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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform

Date: 04/23/19 21:22
Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform
Author: santafe199

I started out the year 1976 completely green to the notion of railfan photography. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also 29 months away from entering into a 32 year career in train service. Early that year I was equipped with my durable and trusty Kodak X-15 Instamatic camera. I was fully adept (ha ha, as if) at shooting Kodacolor prints (yikes) of engines, cabooses & freight cars to act as paint & decal templates for my increasingly complicated model railroading hobby. I attended a Model RR Swap Meet in Kansas City in April(?) of that year, and made friends with a guy named Keith Wilhite. He invited me back to, and showed me around his Kansas City home “turf”. I very quickly took him up on that offer. He took me all over Kansas City, including my virgin visit to that most hallowed of all Santa Fe locations: Argentine Diesel Shops. Keith put me to shame by sporting a fancy 35mm camera with which to shoot not just engines, but WHOLE TRAINS! And he shot color SLIDES, no less!!! Oh doctor… my head was spinning. Having no idea this kind of train-nut activity even existed, I was completely stunned. This whole new way of being a train-hobbyist just plain shocked the bejesus out of me. My life was starting to change.

When I got home to Manhattan and back into the company of my fellow hometown modelers I couldn’t stop talking about this new thing called chasing & shooting whole trains, instead of just engines and cars. You’d have thought the wheel had just been re-invented! One of my modeling friends, Mr Daniel J. Codespoti was a grad student at Kansas State University. Over on that modeling side of the hobby Dan was my paint & decal guru. I did everything I could, trying to talk him into a railfan trip. It turned out he was fearless when it came to trying anything new or different. I believe it was in June when we took off on our first real railfan photography adventure together, with another modeler from Ft Riley named Mike and Dan’s 7 year old son Jody tagging along. Our first destination? Kansas City of course, via Topeka.

It would take almost 2 years before I would hire out in train service with my beloved Santa Fe. So in early 1976 I still didn’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’ concerning the operational side of the RR industry. I remember very little about the actual day, except for the adrenalin that coursed through my veins all-day-long. It’s safe to say I was irreversibly smitten.

My friend Dan had a degree in computer science yet to complete, a full-sized house & lawn to maintain, a marriage & a 7 year old son to raise. But I’m quite sure none of that hoo-haw stopped me in the least from pestering the crap out of him to go shooting again somewhere. And go again we would, with our next destination being Wichita. I believe this was in August of ‘76, right before Jody would go back to school. Part of this second adventure was to visit a Wichita resident/modeler whose name has long since escaped me. What I do remember is that he was affluent enough to buy HO brass, and LOTS of it! He liked to have a model that ran and another he could just display, so he always bought TWO of whatever HO brass model he was acquiring at the time.

We chased around Wichita shooting anything & everything we could, but nothing really special stands out in my memory. Toward evening the light was getting sparse, and Dan threw another nasty curveball at me! He produced a tripod, but I had no clue what he intended to do with it. I don’t remember him actually using it until we checked in at Newton on our way back to Manhattan. By then it was the black of night and the Santa Fe roundhouse had an old GP9 on which to perform something called a “time exposure”. Oh now, this was too much! Yet another bazillion volt shock had been delivered to my 21 year-old sensibilities. I immediately wanted to know HOW you could get a picture without using a flash, especially when there wasn’t much light to work with. In my mind that was as inconceivable as water dripping back up a spout. I wanted to know everything about this latest railfanning revelation. Once Dan was done with that geep at the RH we moved across Main Street to investigate a GP7 that was sitting at the passenger station idling under a lot more ambient light. I watched Dan set his tripod down and go to work. It was at that precise moment I became an inveterate available light, time-exposure photographer. But we weren’t done with Newton. I had “discovered” that a passenger train was due at 10:20 PM. When I told Dan about it I NEVER thought we would end up staying to see it. I thought his wife would kill him for having their 7 year old out so late, so far from home. But stay we did. The previous March I remembered seeing Amtrak’s two westbound trains, the Lone Star & the Southwest Limited at Newton while waiting for the American Freedom Train. Both times the oscillating headlight was burned into my eyeball memory! I remember suggesting to Dan that he should try to get a motion-blur shot of #16 coming in. I don’t recall if he tried and ended up tossing a horribly over-exposed result out, or if he just though better of it and didn’t even try a shot. Either way, I was hooked by the idea of it all.

My first good shot wouldn’t come for another 5 months. In late November, with Dan as the go-between broker I would acquire a used 35mm Pentax Spotmatic, with a built-in light meter. I bought it from from the late Cliff Corn (formerly ‘Topeka’ here on TO). Within the next 6 weeks I would buy a tripod and bag my first successful night shot, which came in January of the new year. Here’s a link: ( https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,2656878,2656878#msg-2656878 ). From this first attempt I took off on my railfan photography career and never looked back. By the summer of 1979 I was a Santa Fe brakeman and I had a few dozen time exposure slides in my growing collection. And I was shooting extras for trading purposes. I had exposure times down to a science. I quickly learned how many seconds I needed in which kind of light when shooting both K-25 & K-64, and even Ektachrome 64. The hardest part of a ‘night shot now was getting a good focus. But that was solved with my first split-image viewfinder, in the new Nikkormat FT-3 I bought late in 1977. Not quite 3 years after Dan’s shot of the 2840 at Newton here’s my interpretation of his same photo spot, with Amtrak’s doomed Lone Star now commanding attention. My photographic future was getting brighter all the time...

1. AT&SF 2840 sits on the north main under the train sheds on the passenger platform at Newton, KS in August of 1976.
(Original Kodachrome slide by Daniel J. Codespoti)

2. CRI&P 817 sits with an unknown companion at the Rock Island roundhouse in Topeka, KS on a very cold January 12, 1977. This is the original HP/Picasa image run through a bit of a Photoshop color tune-up. One of these days I’ll find the original slide and do a re-scan with my much better Epson.

3. AMTK 500 sits at Main Street in Newton, KS with train #15, the “Lone Star”. This train is getting the traditional full 20 minute service treatment. The eastern sky is on its way to catching fire with a June sunrise. I never did learn why the right hand number board was missing...
Photo date: June 26, 1979.

Thanks pal, you helped change my life forever…
Lance Garrels (santafe199)
Dan Codespoti (SouthRailDan)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/23/19 21:23 by santafe199.

Date: 04/24/19 09:00
Re: Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform
Author: tbdbitl

Great story and even better photos.   Thanks for sharing.


Date: 04/27/19 03:28
Re: Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform
Author: mp51w

I sure wish we had some of that platform canopy still!

Date: 05/19/19 17:46
Re: Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform
Author: agentatascadero

When you duscussed shooting WHOLE TRAINS, I got excited for a few minutes....thinking I might see whole train photos.....but, unless a switch engine is a "train", I guess this was not my day to get that fullfilment.


Stanford White
Carmel Valley, CA

Date: 06/15/19 19:17
Re: Lone Star Nights #9: Shooting on the platform
Author: UP951West

Your Amtrak slide at Newton is a real jewel, Lance.  --Kelly

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