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Edition #67, December 1, 2007

At the Last Possible Second

Photographer: Martin Burwash

                                          Photo by Martin Burwash


At the Last Possible Second

Photographing the BNSF Stevens Pass snow dozer is not new to me.  I have been fortunate enough to be up on the pass on three separate occasions when the plow was at work.  Nothing that I know of equals the feel of excitement when through my viewfinder that green machine approaches throwing a white cascade of snow off the right-of-way.  It is tough not to mutter something like "Holy ****!" whenever it passes by.

It was during my second time shooting the dozer that I learned my lesson. Wanting to get that ultimate shot, I set up on a sharp curve leading into Scenic on the west slope of the pass.  My thinking was sound, or so I thought.  I would get the shots I wanted of the plow approaching up the straightaway in front of me, and as it passed by it would be rounding the curve, thus distancing itself from my position.  Even at that, I planned to turn away and duck, at the last possible second.

Like many plans, what seemed sound in thought fell apart in execution.  As the plow passed me, not only was I buried, but the side wing pushed me and my cameras over the embankment. The last thing I remember is seeing my trusty Minolta SRT 201 and tripod following the snow in a graceful arch and tumbling down to a small stream below.

That was then.  Last winter, when once again I was shooting the dozer at work, I returned to the same spot.  This time I had a better plan.  Mounting the RB 67 and telephoto on the tripod, I was willing to sacrifice it to the elements.  I would shoot the plow approaching with the big camera, then leave it and its mass to fend for itself when the plow rolled by.  As for me, once again my trusty old SRT 201 was called to frontline duty.  It was to take the last shot, at the last possible second.

Learning from past experience, I set up next to a handy power pole.  I dug out a foxhole of sorts behind it and practiced hitting it face down.  I was ready for the dozer to deliver its best shot.

Once again my plan unraveled the instant the dozer came into my viewfinder. Rather than plowing at the usual 10 -15 mph, the crew had elected to do a "speed plow", with the outfit coming straight at me at nearly 50.  I took two shots through the telephoto on the RB 67. At the last possible second, as I was in the beginning stages of diving for my safe haven behind the power pole, I squeezed off one frame with the old Minolta.

I hit the deck and I got covered!

Digging my way out, I assessed the damage.  There was a nice imprint of my Minolta in the snow where I had been laying on top of it, but aside from snow being caked in the lens, it was no worse for wear.  The RB held up as well. Upside down, it was still on the tripod, and once exhumed, it was back online in a few minutes.

As for myself, I shook the snow out from inside my coat and found my hat. The pay off came that night when I pulled the film from the developing tank.

Talk about waiting for the last possible second.

Martin Burwash

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