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Edition #50, March 15, 2007

A Summer Evening 

Photographer: Eric Miller

                                                        Photo by Eric Miller

A Summer Evening 

“Ah, summer - what power you have to make us suffer and like it”

-Russell Baker


For years, I eschewed railroad photography in the summer, far preferring the crystal-clear blue skies and stark landscapes of winter over the haze and high sun of the sunny season. And besides, the railroad can get oppressively hot in the summer, as the sun turns steel rails and creosote-soaked crossties into an outdoor oven.

There are, of course, opportunities for photography in the summertime, mostly early in the morning or late in the evening. However, with my predilection for winter railfanning, I often put the camera away on Memorial Day and don’t have it back out again until Labor Day.

So, with my camera gear at my side and driving along the tracks, it’s not business as usual for me on August 13, 2006. The heat and the haze have been oppressive, the sky the color of milk. As I suspected, the conditions are far less than ideal for railroad photography.

A Norfolk Southern westbound empty train has languished in the siding here at Watkins, Virginia for hours. Nothing else seems to be running, even on CSX’s former Clinchfield main nearby. I think to myself, this is what you get for trying to railfan on a summer day. Bad light and no trains.

Evening approaches and I decide to go for burgers and ice cream. Driving home, I make one last drive-by of the empty man that the dispatcher seems to have forgotten. I crest a small rise, and find that the lighting has changed…and I like what I see. I pull over and crank off some shots of hopper cars with the evening summer sun glinting off their flanks.

And in the distance, I hear the distinctive air horn of a former Conrail unit. At last, the meet.

Accentuated by my telephoto lens, through the golden-orange light of sundown and the heat and the haze, I make not only one of my favorite (and few) summer shots, but one of my all-time favorites.

Perhaps summer isn’t so bad after all. I have suffered, and I like it.

Eric Miller

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