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Edition #104, June 15, 2009

Rear View Mirrors

Photographer: Hal Reiser

                                                                                                                     Photo by Hal Reiser

Rear View Mirrors

Before I start this story I’d like to take this opportunity to first thank the person or persons who in the mists of time came up with the idea of putting rear view mirrors on automobiles. As a result of that stroke of genius I have been able to come up with a number of images from the many thousands shot over the years that have turned out to be some of my favorites. Most of these instances have come when visiting a particular line for the first time and I have been by myself. Invariably it has happened in the middle of a chase while trying to drive down unfamiliar roads (sometimes at high rates of speed), read a map, and find photo locations all at the same time. Now in these instances most of my concentration was focused on looking ahead given the necessity to do the aforementioned tasks in a safe manner. When viewing the photograph at a later date it always leaves me with a sense of wonder as to what caused me to look back into the rear view mirror at that particular point in time. Consequently these images are particularly satisfying because they are the result of an instantaneous flash of insight as opposed to coming up with a well-composed photograph through the normal creative thought processes.

In 1989 I made a trip to southern Oregon to visit the SP’s Siskiyou Route and various branch lines. The impetus for the trip was to shoot the SD-9’s, which populated the local freight jobs and the US&S Style B lower quadrant semaphore signals. One of the items on the list of things to do was to visit the Toledo Branch and shoot the Toledo Hauler. Bear in mind that this was in the days before the availability of Delorme’s atlases covering all fifty states so good detailed maps showing rail lines were hard to find. I did have some USGS topo maps of the area with me but due to their nature they were an unwieldy tool to use while driving.

After arriving in Albany, OR I decided to begin with the Toledo Hauler running down the street trackage in Corvallis based on these limited navigation resources. I would not find out until years later that this decision would cost me one of the Toledo branch’s signature shots of the train crossing the huge curved timber trestle in the middle of a golf course in North Albany. The train arrived in Corvallis at around 7:30 AM and though the weather was cloudy and dark the chase was on and so began the task of trying to follow the train down the unfamiliar back country dirt roads that followed the branch through the coast range. After leaving Corvallis my next choice required a walk in, and as a result I found myself playing catch up with the train. With track speeds on the branch fairly low I was able to get ahead relatively quickly which proved fortunate as shortly thereafter I came around a curve to a grade crossing a mile or so from the previous shot.

As I bounced across it I saw a covered bridge on the road several hundred feet ahead and immediately thought “Damn it’s too far away from the tracks to work it into a shot”. Deciding to continue on and look for something further ahead I stomped down on the gas pedal and accelerated toward the bridge. As I was about to rocket out of the far side of the bridge something made me look in the rear view mirror. Upon doing so I instantly slammed on the brakes and threw the car into a skid trying to bring it to a stop. Scrambling I dug out both the tripod mounted black and white medium format camera and the 35 mm color camera from the back seat and ran back into the bridge hoping I could get both of them set up in time to get the shot. I was still fumbling with the set up as the train began to blow for the crossing. With seconds to spare I fired both shutters.

Hal Reiser

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