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Edition #125, May 1, 2010

The Builder and the Timestamp

Photographer: Justin Nelson

                                                                                   Photo by Justin Nelson

The Builder and the Timestamp

A few years ago I stood on this spot to watch the High-bridge smokestack implosion. At that moment I fell in love with it, the Milwaukee Road’s track up Shortline hill gently curving toward St. Paul’s larger sister, pulling away from a pair of rails which wind their way to Ford Motor Company’s plant at Highland Park.

My fiancée and I were casually walking down Summit Avenue when it hit me that Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder should be inbound. Not having a scanner, I did the next best thing and called “Julie” Amtrak’s automated agent who confirmed that train 7 should arrive on time at 10:31.

We arrived at the summit of Shortline hill at 9:45, expecting the train a bit after 10. I set up my equipment and began to wait as the red eye of the Ford Line stared at me indignantly. Around 11 my ears perked up as I heard the familiar “whoosh” of the Empire Builders motors. As she approached you could hear the locos working hard to get up the hill.

Then two St. Paul police cruisers turned the corner and began shining their spotlights up and down the tracks. They sped around the corner to a nearby school. As the Builder’s headlight came into view, a patrol car came around the corner and turned down the tracks. As the cruiser pulled down the tracks, the officer shined the spot onto the trees giving a great light wash in the background as the cars brake lights streaked across the scene. After the shot, we gathered up the gear and walked toward the car, from behind the patrol car pulled up, stopped and an officer got out of the car. He approached, shined his flashlight towards us and asked us what we were up to.

Apparently someone phoned in a group of “hoodlums” who had been standing in the grass for the last hour. We confirmed that it had been us and that we were photographing Amtrak. The officer threatened a citation for loitering because “nobody would stand around for an hour to take a picture of a train.” I respectfully asked that he look at my photos and thank goodness that I took some test shots with a timestamp. Not only did the test shots get me the cropping and exposure I wanted, they also got me out of a ticket!

Justin Nelson

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