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Edition #98, March 15, 2009

Burning Daylight

Photographer: Otto M. Vondrak

                                                                                                                  Photo by Otto M. Vondrak

Burning Daylight

It was late October, and my friend Dave and I were starting on our annual New England railfanning weekend. We found ourselves in Albany, New York, as a stopover on our way to Vermont to photograph trains in fall foliage. Early Friday morning, we were making our way through New York's capital. The morning was cool and fog was everywhere as summertime heat was being drawn off the land. I kept my eyes on the clouds to the east, hoping they would break up in the next hour or two. We had planned this weekend months in advance, as days off are hard to come by at our respective jobs. Gotta make every day count. As we got closer to downtown, Dave suggested we check out the Port of Albany Railroad, to see if their switcher was out and about. We made our way through the industrial complex, past warehouses and around oil storage tanks, carefully checking the tracks for signs of life. We found the APR's lone EMD switcher over by the Cargill complex. The sun was rising and had the storage silos lit up well. It was a scene that was once common, a traditional EMD end-cab switcher working an industrial complex. It could have been somewhere in the Midwest. It could have been the Great Lakes. But here it was, in Albany, perfectly set up and waiting to be photographed.

I fired off a couple of frames, but something wasn't right. For me, the engine just wasn't in the right spot for what I wanted to shoot. Every time I put my camera up to my eye, my trigger finger said, "No." Something wasn't right for me. I couldn't get the whole scene composed without going wide. Going tight would cut out too much of the scene. I couldn't see if the headlight was on. The crew was nowhere to be found, and it was probably going to be awhile before they started moving. I looked at my watch with alarm. "We need to get moving if we're going to be in North Bennington by 10:00," I cautioned. There're no second chances, and we're already burning daylight. We got in the car and prepared to depart. I felt like we had wasted some valuable time and was already thinking about how to cover the distance to Vermont in an efficient manner. As we departed the port, I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw a scene I had to capture. I stopped the car and told Dave, "We have to shoot this." The sun was now rising through banks of fog, creating golden tones that were diffused throughout the port area. The lone engine, with its headlight on, amid a complex of old industrial track struck me as the perfect subject, dwarfed by the massive silos. The reflection of the rails highlighted the sense of motion, and the use of telephoto added some drama through slight compression of the scene. I fired off a few frames, finally satisfied.

We continued on to Vermont and captured great sunny-day shots of the Vermont Railway's slurry train, and had some good chasing on the Guilford mainline. But this remains my favorite shot of the weekend. We made every moment count.

Otto M. Vondrak

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