Monday, March 20, 2023

Random photos from a random year

Last year was an odd year for my railfanning activities. There were some great moments where I was able to capture lots of images and material and then there were moments where high expectations met flat reality. In other words, it was a year of highs and lows. The challenge I always face as a blogger from Ottawa is that there isn't nearly enough going on here for me to maintain a weekly blog. You can only photograph Via Rail trains so many times before it gets old and before you run out of things to mention on a blog. I suppose if I had focused my blog on passenger trains exclusively, then I would be in better shape, but I never intended for this blog to be so narrowly focused.

Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Naturally, whenever I get out of Ottawa, I have high hopes of capturing something to share. In September, my wife and I travelled to Bloomington, Indiana, to attend a wedding. I was excited, as Bloomington was situated along the Indiana Rail Road's Indianapolis Subdivision, south of the state's biggest city. Sadly, in my research, it became apparent that this part of the railway's subdivision saw sparse traffic, with much of it passing through at night, mainly coal trains. Our hotel was within walking distance of the rail line, but it was quiet for much of my time there, except for a weekly local, which passed by on Friday evening. I only know this because I heard it while eating dinner in the city's downtown.

But the city has some fascinating railway history that is visible and accessible. Although Bloomington hasn't seen regular Amtrak service in many years, the town's former passenger station is still standing next to the rails, although it wasn't clear to me if it was a private residence, art studio or business. It looked like it could be any of the three, although there was no signage to indicate what it was used for. I decided to confine my photographs to shots taken from a small winding road that led to the station on the hill.

It looked to me like the station once housed a restaurant, where the station had an addition added on the left. The originals stone structure appeared to be a residence. Interestingly, the station sign still hangs on the side of the building. It would be a good thing, in my opinion, if some civic-minded person saved this sign, cleaned it up and housed in a local museum. I am always fascinated when I see old station signs and relics in local museums. They are a part of a community's history.

While in the city, I also came across what locals call the freight station. The building is a fairly nondescript maroon wooden building, which has an elevated main level, which is your first clue that it served the railways. Since the building served only freight purposes, it really doesn't have the architectural flourishes you would see on a passenger station. Still, the building was significant enough that it was declared a national historic site. After closing in the 1960s, it served as a restaurant at various points. Today, it is an office building.

The building has an interesting history. It was built by the Illinois Central Railway in 1906 in response to a local effort to attract a railway to compete with the Manon Railroad, which was the sole railway serving the city at the time. The IC depot was built after the IC finished its railway line through the city. The presence of the depot spawned economic growth in its immediate vicinity, which sustained the city for decades. It wasn't until 1963 when it closed, due to a decrease in demand for rail service. 

Still, as you can see, the elements of the building have been well maintained, including signage on the side of the building, indicating its original purpose. You can also read about the building's importance on the plaque amid the hostas. This was the rail line that connected America from north to south through its heartland, from Chicago to New Orleans. You might recall the famous Willie Nelson song, City of New Orleans. That song is about the train of the same name that rolled through Bloomington for decades.

Corunna, Ontario

This shot below could have been something special, had I been just a bit quicker. I was in the middle of a visit to my sister's house. My sister's property backs onto the CSX Sarnia Subdivision, just south of Corunna. I was caught in a bad place when an unexpected CSX local rolled by carrying a string of gondolas destined for the the old Ontario Power Generation Lambton Generating Station power plant, which is in the process of being demolished. I have meant to get a shot of one of these trains, which are a rarity on the CSX line, since this operation deals almost exclusively with tank cars and covered hoppers for petrochemical customers.

The biggest issue at this moment was I was in the middle of a conversation with one of my sister's neighbours and didn't want to be rude by bolting for the tracks. So I politely turned around and got this shot of a CSX local poking out from between the trees. There were two GP38s with the new CSX scheme pulling a load of about 10 AIM gondolas. A big missed opportunity, but at least I got something, right?

Earlier in the year, I was visiting family on the March Break when I passed by the Nova Corunna refinery on the Highway 40. Its rail operations have expanded a great deal in recent years, as the facility has undergone an immense multi-billion dollar expansion. The problem with getting a shot of rail operations here is you need to shoot overtop of the earthen berms. That means getting a shot from the highway overpass, which goes over a spur connecting Nova to the CN St. Clair River Industrial Spur. This can only be done if you are on the highway when it is empty or when you are in a passenger seat. In this case, I was riding shotgun in my brother's car, which made the shot easy to capture.

These are not easy shots to get, so any time I can capture Nova's old SW switcher, it's a win. I like the colours of the sky in this shot mixed with the smoke from the stacks. As I have mentioned a fair bit in the last year, I am much more interested in train photos that incorporate the surrounding landscape. I could have zoomed in on the switcher, but I wouldn't be getting the old story behind the shot. I will be doing a deeper dive into the SW switcher, as I have a few cool shots of these old beasts. They are rapidly fading from railways. Most of the survivors are in use on short lines or industrial operations. 

Ottawa, Ontario 

Most of what I captured in Ottawa in 2022 was shared in my posts. I only made it out to Via's Tremblay Road station once. When I was there, I got a quick shot of an O-Train on the Confederation Line heading west toward Tremblay Station. It was not a good year for the O-Train as its operations were disrupted a number of times by various mechanical issues, accidents and even a lighting strike. I don't generally like to shoot these operations, as I don't find them all that compelling from a photography point of view, but I made the exception on this turn, since the sunlight made for a quality image at that moment.

There are a few more odds and ends from last year that I considered throwing into this pot pourri of a post, but I have plans for those shots in some upcoming themed posts, so they will have to wait. I can't really complain about my adventures trackside last year. There were definitely more hits than misses, which you can see in this year-end post. But I am always taking shots trackside, no matter what. You never know when those random shots will come in handy.


Steve Boyko said...

Random photos but good ones! Those ex railway buildings in Bloomington look great.

I like that O-Train shot… something about the way you framed it makes me feel like I’m standing there beside you.

That Nova shot is great, for the reason you said… the whole story.

Michael said...

Thanks Steve. I was quite disappointed to be in the one part of Indiana that doesn't have busy railway action, as much of the northern part of the state is littered with trains. However, Bloomington was an interesting town with an interesting railway history, so I made do with what I was given. The other shots just didn't fit into any other posts, so they got tossed in the mix.