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Edition #228  August 15, 2014

Trading Places

Photographer: George Pitarys

                                                                                   Photo by George Pitarys

Trading Places

It's all about timing.

So much of the success in this rail photography hobby of ours is predicated on small, but serendipitous events.

Mid June of 2011 once again found me, along with my friend Hal in pursuit of the Western New York and Pennsylvania's Alco fleet. Like spawning salmon, we seem to be inexorably drawn at least once a year to that region. Often, it's more than once. 

One of the draws is of course the locomotives, but another is variety of scenery, and for me at least, finding new locations is a major goal. Another friend had suggested to me that there was a nice westbound shot to be had along West Main St in Salamanca, NY. So Hal and I checked it out, cut a few offending bamboo shoots, and decided that yes, tomorrow when the westbound "slingshot" ran, this would be one of our primary goals.

The next day we found the train in Olean, NY with ex BRC C-424 number 426 in the lead. He was making up his train and from our experience it appeared he would leave in a light favorable time slot. The problem was, there wasn't any light. It was a heavily overcast day and there had been intermittent showers. Only one word springs to mind in its description: murky.

Nonetheless being true documentarians we shoot trains no matter the weather, but of course always preferring sunlight. So as the train prepared to leave Olean, we made our way to the spot in Salamanca and waited in the gloom. For the elder readers, it was a "down three" day at best. We waited patiently and finally we could hear the train a little ways away. As he got close, I am talking perhaps a quarter mile, suddenly and without warning a hole opened in the sky and a beam of light shone upon the section of track where we planned to shoot the train. We looked at each other and started with the supplications: “Oh, PLEASE hold. PLEASE stay". Both of us muttering these pleas under our breath. We were both scrambling to reset f-stops and shutter speeds, and still the sun held as the train approached.

FINALLY! We were able to trip the shutters at the precise moment. Not three cars had passed us before the hole blinked out and once again we were in the "dark".  Hal and I looked at each and just screamed in joy. We chased the train and managed a couple more fine shots, but as we later discussed how many times that one tiny cloud in the sky had shanked us, one instance like this made up a lot of ground. Then we envisioned ourselves as we turned and looked at each other after the lucky shot, another scene came to mind.

Did you ever see the movie "Trading Places"? Well at the end of that movie, when Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy look at the tote board and realize they have made a major fortune, simultaneously bankrupting their enemies, they turn to each other and SCREAM! Hal and I reenacted that scene perfectly.

Nowadays, when we talk about chase and serendipitous shots, we never mention Salamanca, or the WNYP slingshot…

We simply say, "You know, the Trading Places shot"

George Pitarys

See my book Seasons of Trains

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