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Edition #8, June 15, 2005

To Linger by Light

Photographer: Scott Lothes

                                                                                                Photo 2004 by Scott Lothes


To Linger by Light

It had already been a good day. Any day when I catch a train on what was then CSX's Cowen Subdivision (now the Appalachian & Ohio) is a good day. Doing so under a bright blue October sky with early fall color appearing in the hills was approaching the sublime.

It was Sunday, the second day of a weeklong fall foliage trip to the Mountain State. Like so many Sundays in Grafton, this one had begun slowly. For a time, it appeared the only action of the morning would be the westbound coal drag that had departed for the Ohio River shortly after sunrise. That train had yielded a couple of nice photos, but I was hoping for an eastbound on the Mountain Sub or westbound empties heading up the Cowen Sub.

So was my companion, one Camron Settlemier of Portland, Oregon. I typically travel solo on my photography expeditions, but Camron had been able to arrange several days off as part of a business trip to the East Coast. A digital video-phile and another lone wolf stalker of off-the-beaten path railroads, Camron had graciously showed me around many of his favorite haunts during my summer adventurers in the northwest. I was looking forward to returning the favor, and we had already spent an enjoyable (if overcast) Saturday on the Mountain Sub.

Further explorations would have to wait until we had a train, a prospect which, at the moment, appeared rather suspect. From the scanner chatter, it sounded like the ready track was slowly preparing power for noon coal drag on the Mountain Sub. Experience suggested that a noon call time would translate to a one o'clock departure at the earliest, and that was still over two hours away. All the while, the low autumn sun would creep ever farther across the southern sky, on this most perfect of days.

The yard job was switching in the east yard, preparing outgoing traffic for a Q316 running who knows how late, and providing an endless stream of radio chatter that did little to tell us our prospects of finding a moving train. That is, until the yardmaster told them to wait somewhere until "we get this Cowen man out of the yard."

Only seconds later, with no prior warning whatsoever, two ACs were leading empty hoppers past the engine terminal, heading for a diverging switch at Berkeley Run Junction and a Sunday run up the Cowen Sub. In a flurry, Camron and I stowed the uneaten remains of our breakfast in the cooler and were soon southbound on US 119. It was still late morning, and given the train's prompt departure from the yard, visions of an all-day chase clear to Cowen danced in our heads.

Ah, but "the best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft aglay," and the CI dispatcher had other ideas. Two long waits for meets with eastbounds ensued at Berryburg and Smith Summit, and we found ourselves in the ironic position of suddenly having too many trains on our hands. Our westbound was not even to Buckhannon yet, some 40 miles from Grafton, and already the sun was drifting far into the southwestern afternoon sky.

All was far from lost, as the light was excellent for shooting in the open mountain meadows near Frenchton. However, by the time the train descended the Oil Creek Valley into Burnsville, the shadows were growing quite long indeed. Camron and I were joined by two other photographers, also out for the chase, by the grade crossing in town where the golden evening sun still splashed down on the valley floor.

They departed after the locomotives trundled by, but Camron and I lingered by the crossing as the empty hoppers rocked slowly through the east siding switch. It was the kind of light that demanded to have its picture taken, and I began firing frame after frame of wheels and hoppers rolling by the switch stand. Having recently made the transition to digital photography, wasting film was hardly an issue, even though it really never should be. Even so, as I kept blasting away after the first dozen or so shots, Camron couldn't help himself and began teasing me. Unfazed, I ran my exposure count into the high twenties before stepping back to watch the last of the cars.

Scott Lothes


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