Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Wet Steam!"

Canadian National Railways, 5152, 2510 & 7536, Prince Rupert BC, September 1957. We have only been in Prince Rupert for a few weeks, and I am just beginning to realize what a unique opportunity I have with unrestricted access to the Canadian National Railways.

Our house was just a couple of short blocks flanking the yard. So, after dinner, I borrowed my Dad’s 35mm Konica camera and Weston light meter, and walked down the tracks to the engine house to see what is happening.

A lot!

The switch crew is tying up 7536, the local yard goat. She is the locomotive with her back to us. CNR 2510, a doughty Consolidation, is being serviced at the sand tower. She came in late in the afternoon, having powered a loaded log train down from Terrace, some 95 miles up the Skeena River. Later in the evening, she will amble down to the opposite end of the yard to be turned on the wye, in preparation for her pulling the empty log cars back up to Terrace tomorrow morning.

The road crew has picked up Pacific CNR 5152 for the evening passenger train number 196 heading across the wilderness of British Columbia some 700 miles to Red Pass Junction.

They have a couple of switches to thread before hooking up to the waiting varnish just off frame left. Cylinder cocks wide open, making quite a show! Looking at this photo, I can taste the “wet steam” in my mouth. “Wet steam” has a unique flavor that once you have experienced it, you never forget it.

Putting this scene into proper perspective, remember, I am just 14 years old. I have been a ferroequinologist for about three weeks. I have no idea what I am looking at, but instinctively, I feel it is not going to last forever.

Photography runs in the family. My Dad was an avid photographer. My Sister was an avid photographer, and I loved taking pictures. And my Mom had her Eumig 8mm silent film camera. At this time in my life, I had a hand-me-down Kodak 620 folding camera, with enough holes in the bellows to simulate a star chart of the heavens on a frame of emulsion.

That camera was up to Jack Wrathall Photography being “fixed,” so I begged my Dad to let me use his brand new Konica 35mm camera. At that time, I was still mastering the art of taking the light reading with the Weston Light Meter, adjusting the camera, and shooting the shot.

This process works well when shooting Mt. Rainier. The freaking mountain stays in one place long enough to follow procedure, think through the depth of field combinations, focus the lens and snap the exposure.

However, it got exciting when shooting a moving object, such as a locomotive. The exposure is constantly changing as the background and lighting transitions. And then when you think you have enough information to dial in the camera, “Whoosh!” a giant white cloud of steam!

Furthermore, the camera had a load of Kodachrome 64 in it – which shows how far off I was!

So all factors taken into consideration, I am damn lucky to have these shots to share with you. And since it is representative of the last days of steam in Prince Rupert, and there was not anyone else around shooting, these become rare exposures, no matter how exposed they are!

But it was a damn good way to learn photography from the ground up, so to speak, learning the relationships of exposure time, depth of field, film speed and so forth. I suppose those things are not important now. In this digital age, even a cat can take studio quality digital pictures not knowing or understanding any of those principles or relationships!

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National Railways 7536 switcher 0-6-0, road class O-20-a, built by Montreal Locomotive Works in a group of 10 in 1911. Canadian National Railways 2510 Consolidation 2-8-0, road class N-2-b, built in a group of 50 by Montreal Locomotive Works in 1918. Canadian National Railways 5152 Pacific 4-6-2, road class J-4-f, built in a group of 12 by Montreal Locomotive Works in 1920. All were retired and scrapped between 1957 and 1961.

1 Comments - Click here:

LinesWest said...

Nice photos and thanks (as always) for sharing the memories. You sparked a memory of my own from some summers as a young teenager when I would visit my grandparents in Lafayette, IN. They lived just a couple of blocks from the old Wabash mainline (NS at the time - although with the occasional Southern Ry unit too) and the old Monon which wandered down the middle of 5th street.

Some of my first photography was b+w trained on various subjects around Lafayette. I was using an old Pentax Spotmatic and Tmax or TriX 400 film that always gave a cool "gritty" look to the photos. All of that 400 speed grain! Good memories that I still drift through from time to time. It's funny how we do that - something will spark a feeling or fond memory of many years ago.

The old Wabash and Monon lines have since been moved out of town on some very expensive bypasses. Trains down the middle of the street will have to remain a memory.

All the best,

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