SVRy, October, 2015
Photographer's Weekend on the Sumpter Valley Railway is an opportunity to both grow your skills as a photographer and order trains around. I'm not really sure which is more fun! SVRy is a completely volunteer organization. Over the last 40 years they have built and maintain a railroad with two beautifully restored steam engines and a large collection of rolling stock. I really didn't have any idea what to expect for Photographer's Weekend. We bought tickets with the expectation we'd get to take a few train pictures. Here's how the weekend unfolded:
4:30 am, Saturday morning. I'll admit I'm questioning the wisdom of this choice. By 5:30am we're in the car heading out in the dark from Baker City to the 'blink and you miss it' community of McEwen. When we arrive it's still pitch dark. We have never been here before, and there are no lights anywhere except in the tiny station a couple of hundred feet from the parking lot. We use our phones as flashlights to find the sidewalk and make our way to the station.
Inside the station is a warm in the stove, plenty of food and friendly people. We get our tickets, eat some food and wonder what's next. Soon, we are able to make out the unmistakable plume of steam rising from the yard. There is a train here! Then, a gentle blast from a whistle echoes off the surrounding countryside, repeating over and over... Oh, wait, those are cows adding their morning greetings!
There is a little light in the sky now, but no color yet as the sun is still well below the horizon. We now see the light from a engine in the yard shining on the water tower. Soon the engine, a 1920 2-8-2 Mikado and compliment of six cars and a caboose enter the station. This is starting to look pretty cool. Then there's another 'toot' from the yard. Two trains? Seriously? Cool!
The one hundred year old 1915 Heisler shay is a beauty to behold. It sparkles like it just arrived from the factory only yesterday. It, too, is pulling a compliment of historic rolling stock that look like they just emerged from the 'way back machine!'
As the sun paints the sky shades of red, pink and purple, you just get this feeling it's going to be a good day! By this time about 30 people with a wide assortment of camera gear board the train. This is a photographic tour, but there is certainly nothing 'snobbish' about it as equipment ranges from the point and shoot to film.
As we pull out of the station, the photographic coordinator describes the itinerary for the day and the process for keeping us all out of each other's pictures. The rest of the next two days will pretty much speak for themselves in pictures.
Both days began with taking pictures of the trains preparing for the day. Saturday was a fiery sunrise that made everything glow. Sunday was a little more subdued with a gloomy forecast that resulted in the decision to face the trains the opposite direction for the day. Most of the photography was done from the south side of the tracks looking north. So, if the train is facing the right side of the picture, that photo was taken day one. Trains facing left were photographed on day two.
- By the dawn's early light - Sunrise on a cool morning with steam engines is a special time!
- Hawley Siding - Our first stop both mornings. A great place to stage both trains for run-bys and static shots
- Reflecting pools - The Hawley ponds are great for capturing reflections of passing trains. The wind was blowing on Sunday, so no reflections there that day.
- Out on the flat - great opportunities to photograph the trains and the high valley environment around them.
- West end pines - Closer to Sumpter the tailings give way to forests of pine or willows and cottonwoods
- West end deciduous - the pine and cottonwood forests closer to Sumpter
- Equipment and Crew - details of lettering, wheels, brakes, whatever got in my way. The crew posed with their trains just before lunch on Saturday..
- Around McEwen Station - Each day began and ended in the McEwen yard, and we took a break there around 9am each morning, so I guess you'd expect to see some pictures from there.
- Miscellaneous - documentary evidence of things that don't fit neat categories. One thing about the Sumpter Valley - it was the site of a massive gold dredging operation. Gold was discovered in 1862, several years before the railroad began operation. In 1912 huge dredges were put to work stripping the top soil in a massive placer mining operation. Much of the route of the current railway is cut through the tailings of this operation. Each day we stopped for lunch at the Sumpter depot, just a quick walk from the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, where an enormous dredge sits, poised, seemingly ready to resume its mission of destruction!
- Take a 360 degree look inside the cab of the #19!
- Listen to a run-by of #19 - WARNING: these tracks were recorded in 24bit, 92k stereo and preserve a very wide dynamic range even in these MP3 versions. Additionally, wind noise adds a very strong low frequency component at times. Listen for the echo, especially in the early whistle blasts of the #19! The last sequence of blasts is VERY loud compared to the previous.
- Listen to a run-by of #3 - the single chime whistle of the Heisler is very distinctive.
We get so used to the roar and bang that accompanies so much of today's power equipment. Steam engines have a really gentle air about them. They make complex noises, combinations of hisses, clicks and chuffs, but rarely anything violent or explosive, except maybe a boiler blowdown. When sitting still on the track with maximum boiler pressure, there is a tremendous power in quiet reserve, and the entire train can be moved almost silently six inches down the track and stop if necessary. Even the whistle can be handled with finesse.
And, that's it. Any outdoor photo weekend is at the mercy of the weather. Our weather wasn't great, but I'm happy with the results, and the Sumpter people did a great job of making sure we had great opportunities to photograph their rolling stock in the best light possible.After lunch on Sunday I attached my goPro to the caboose of the #19 train and captured a timelapse video of both trains driving back and forth for the photographers.
Here's an experimental slideshow video. I had 36 minutes of HD video that was mostly pretty boring except for about 2 minutes, so I added stills aournd the interesting video to create a 7 minute show. Enjoy!
A 'run-by' is when they run the train on the track so photographers can take pictures. A 'run-over' is when the photographer risks his gear on the tracks to capture this unique perspective!