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Edition #199  June 1, 2013

Life and (thank goodness) Limb

Photographer: George Pitarys

                                                                       Photo by George Pitarys

Life and (thank goodness) Limb

In winter the state of Maine is a cold and snowy place. No complicated explanation is necessary, all you have to do is look at a map. And even within Maine some places are more prone to piling up the white stuff than others. The western mountains is a prime example. Caught midway between the Atlantic Ocean and St Lawrence river weather systems, it often suffers the effects of both.

Jackman is situated in this region, and it is located on the former CP mainline between Montreal and Saint John. It is an important station in that US customs inspections for trains are done here. In the past when the freezing of the St Lawrence River trebled or quadrupled train traffic on the line, each winter CP would establish a temporary additional operator's job. Late in the fall of 1978, it was my dubious honor to bid off this extra position, and I prepared for a winter in Jackman. 

The winter of 1978-79 was in fact a pretty snowy one. In fact in Jackman it snowed every day from December 12 to January 9.

I know. I was there. Now there was not a massive accumulation every day, but somedays there was, and it snowed EVERY day. I even shot a couple of plow trains before Christmas. And in the photography vein, there was a spot I'd been eyeing near Long Pond, some 9 miles east of Jackman. and decided that Jan 9 1979 was to be the day I'd try the shot.

One needs to understand that this is very remote territory. There is one town (pop 320) in the 50 miles between Jackman and Greenville, where my desired shot was located. A lot of moose, very few people. Anyway, I knew No 949 was coming, and when he would be at the desired location. I headed out, and it wasn't snowing, but it was mostly cloudy, 15 degrees and west wind of 10 mph.

The shot was about 75 yards off the road, which had about 5 foot snow banks. I scrambled over the banks, and shuffled through 6 inches of new snow, on top of a layer of crust. I'd estimated the trains arrival accurately, and my wait wasn't long. I made the shot, and as the train passed me the ground was vibrating, and suddenly I was aboard the down elevator ! The crust broke, and I was to my armpits in snow ! Great. How do I extricate myself from this ? My only consolation was that when my corpse was found in the spring, the cold would have kept it well preserved.

So, look at the picture. See that snow covered spruce limb at the left ? I was able to grab that and pull myself out of the hole. I climbed the tree, and rounded it, and climbed back down on the opposite side, and descended onto the crust, then shuffled my way back to the road. 

For what it's worth, I reprised the picture the following, nearly snowless winter, and it isn't a patch to this one, but was  an arm and a leg safer!

George Pitarys

See my book Seasons of Trains

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