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Edition #28, April 15, 2006

Afterthoughts

Photographer: Scott Lothes

                       Photo 2005 by Scott Lothes

Afterthoughts

The day had started at 3:30 am. An hour later, I was talking money and politics with a Chinese railway worker who spoke a little English on board the last mainline steam passenger train in the world. The sky was bright with dawn when I stepped onto the platform in Lindong, met my traveling companion Ron Olsen, dropped my bag in our room, and headed down the tracks. Ron went to sleep after a full night of flash photography.

After a kilometer, I climbed a hill as the sun rose and photographed two eastbound double-headed steam freights departing the station, and then walked back, shot another departure and had breakfast in the small store adjacent to our ludian. For less than $0.75US, I was served a big plate heaped with steaming mutton dumplings, which I devoured as if I hadn't eaten for weeks.

I went back down the line, three kilometers this time, photographing one uphill westbound double-header along the way, then climbed a mountain to wait out the afternoon. The view to the east was bounded only by the curvature of the earth under the painfully blue Mongolian sky. I could easily see Yamenmiao, the next station, some 12 kilometers distant. Beyond it, the tracks climbed a gentle grade over the endless grasslands and finally disappeared into the horizon.

Traffic was steady but it was three hours before I got the sought-for uphill steam freight, another heavy double-header that I watched for nearly half an hour. I waited another hour in case there was a following train, then began my descent and the long walk back to Lindong. It had been a good day.

Rounding the last curve into the station I was bathed in the yellow-gold light of the setting sun, dropping into the distant mountains and directly above the tracks. I was already unpacking my camera to photograph the scene when I noticed the train. An eastbound double-header drifted into the small yard and stopped to take water. The steel rails were glowing in the low light and I anxiously sought something, anything to hide the sun and prevent the intense flare from ruining my photo. Then I remembered. These are STEAM locomotives.

Scott Lothes

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