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Edition #238  January 15, 2015

My Favorite L&N Photo

Photographer: Ron Flanary

                                                                                                       Photo by Ron Flanary

My Favorite L&N Photo

Recently, a Facebook friend of mine, David Wilkins, posted a question on my timeline asking what photo I took of the L&N might be my all-time favorite. Mentally, I ran through some shots that were particularly memorable, but I quickly concluded this was it.

It was a Saturday morning in 1966, June 4th to be specific. I had just graduated from high school, and I looked forward to a restful summer before starting college that fall. It just seemed like a great morning to take a train photo, so I checked with the agent at Appalachia to get a figure on when northbound freight 66 might show up. With some time to spare, I decided to try a shot at Roaring Branch, the scenic spot about two miles south of town where the L&N main emerged from a tunnel, went beneath Southern’s Appalachia District main, crossed the Powell River, and also US Highway 23 in a spot only a model railroader could imagine. I clearly remember climbing up onto that slippery rock perch—a vantage point I had never used before--- and waiting.

Any railroad photographer who does this will tell you the anticipation of getting a shot right is almost palpable. You check your exposure settings---recheck them again (and then a few more times to be sure) ---you pre-visualize where the front of the train will be when you'll trip the shutter, and how you'll frame the shot. Vertical or horizontal? After what seems like hours, a rumble from the other side of the tunnel suddenly gets louder. It's here! You can feel the adrenaline rush and you look at the f-stop and shutter speed one more time. And then the headlight pops out of the tunnel, under the Southern bridge, and the front of that F-unit rushes toward you. Fine tune the focus....and.....BANG! You hold on as the rush of wind from the train whips your face. The caboose passes, and you carefully climb down and head back to your vehicle, hoping you had captured on film what was a compelling scene in your viewfinder.

When you later see the print come up in the developing tray, you know it's a winner (or not...). In this case, the shot captured everything I loved about the old L&N. The scene is long gone, too, because the tracks are abandoned. Truly, "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore." And goodness...that's now been nearly 50 years ago! I'm glad I devoted that particular Saturday morning to getting a shot that was as common as cornbread then. I keep this 35mm Kodak Plus-X Pan negative in a special place for all those reasons.

The process of capturing a great train shot on film (or in a digital file these days) is the same for all of us. And, there’s probably a great shot out there for younger photographers today—a shot they might fondly recall taking nearly 50 years later if someone asks, “what was your favorite shot of the old CSX Railroad?”

Ron Flanary

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