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Thread: When the Car Door Closes

  1. #1

    Default When the Car Door Closes

    When the Car Door Closes

    by Martin Burwash

    The toughest thing for me to do is slam that car door and head on foot into the dark of a cold, dreary Cascade morning. Leaving the warmth of the heater, camera back pack weighing down my back, I know before I even step out, the results of a day in the wet will probably not come close to the effort put forth. Still, like most railfans, this was the one day available I had to go shoot, so it would be up to me to make the most of it. Sitting in the car just was not a part of the formula.

    Insulated barn boots on, I begin trudging through the fog, rain and ice crusted snow into the Nason Creek country of Washington’s Stevens Pass. A couple of oranges known as “lunch” occupy my coat pockets. I take one last look at the car nestled under a tree. Depending on how many trains are running, it’ll be a good six hours before I’ll sit in its warmth.

    When the car door closes and I hit the “Lock” button, there’s no turning back. Weather be damned, and there’s no reason to look over my shoulder, there’s no one following me.

    Attachment 836
    A half mile into my morning walk, I’m downgrade from the East Portal of the Cascade Tunnel. A westbound freight has passed the detector at Milepost 1697. Opting not to try and beat the train across the Highway 2 overpass at the West Berne switch, I pull up short. Still too dark to accomplish much photographically, I catch the eerie glow of the westbound “Z” coming out of the fog.

    Attachment 830
    A long wait at one of my favorite spots along the Berne siding gives me time to do a little “pruning”. As light slowly comes to the Nason Creek canyon, it is apparent this is going to be the kind of the day that needs snow falling from the sky instead of rain in order to give my photos any kind of “zip”. Nose running and rain dripping from the bill of my hat, a slow moving westbound finally arrives. Shot taken, it’s time to work up another sweat hiking further downgrade.

    Attachment 835
    By the time I get down to the East Berne switch, I’m a good 2 miles from warmth and comfort. As the day has progressed, the weather has actually worsened. My light meter is telling me it’s darker now than it was an hour earlier. The snow level slowly drops on the mountain in the distance while in the foreground an eastbound, sporting 2nd and 2nd ½ generation power drifts down grade through the Cascade gloom.

    Attachment 837
    A harsh wind blows the clouds off the flanks of Rocky Ridge and sends their shreds down the Nason Creek canyon while a train of containers follows down below.

    Attachment 832
    Morning has slipped into afternoon. Yet another westbound is working its way under the signal bridge at East Berne. The lights of the lead unit shine bright off a rail wet from the continual rain.

    Attachment 833
    Enough is enough! Soaked to the skin, it’s time to wise up, admit that I’m too old for this, and head back for my rig. Halfway “home” the scanner is telling me another westbound is heading my way. The rain has actually stopped for a moment, the sky just a little brighter giving my slow glass camera and narrow depth of field a fighting chance.

    Attachment 834
    Near and yet so far, it’s decision time. My car is tantalizingly close, my hands and face agonizingly numb, but there’s another train on the hill. Choosing “art” over good sense, I hang in there for one more shot. Back to f 3.5, (wide open on my old camera) I zero in on MP1700 and watch a Chicago/South Seattle trailers work the last ¼ mile to the summit of Stevens Pass…..the last ¼ mile I’ll have to hike. Following the blinking "fred" upgrade a puff of fog signals my sigh of relief when I unlock the car door. It's been a good day. I know the shots will be so-so at best, but a good day to lock-up the car and take a long walk.
    Last edited by Martin Burwash; 01-09-2006 at 06:26 AM.

  2. #2


    Okay, here's my first lame attempt at submitting an essay proving that the easy to follow instructions explained here are not farmer friendly. How's about some help explaining how to place the photos amongst the the text in a language a computer illiterate will understand?

    Good luck, guys!

    Martin Burwash

  3. #3
    paul@mwr Guest


    Martin, I really like this essay and how you use your personal experience with the weather throughout the piece. However, I am not convinced that this sentence helps your essay:

    "Leaving the warmth of the heater, camera back pack weighing down my back, I know before I even step out, the results of a day in the wet will not come close to being worth the effort."

    Are you trying to be a martyr? So why leave the car or even the house? The only thing I can figure is that you are trying to dispprove this with the photos, but that isn't clear in the rest of the essay. Maybe this sentence could be reworded to say you don't think it would be worth it or pull this thought back in somewhere else, otherwise it seems to just leave me hanging as to why you are whining about the cold and rain.

    I think the selection of photos is excellent and well illustrate your hike, but the quality of them leaves me wanting a bit more. I think this may be from you recent foray into scanning and editing them. The black & white looks great to my mostly untrained eye, but the sharpness of the photos is really lacking. Is this an editing thing or just the conditions you had to work with? I especially note it in the second to last photo.

    Lots of potential here, but I'd like to see at least the image sharpness improved.

  4. #4
    greenthumb Guest


    Martin, the tonality of the images grabs me right off the bat. I had to look at all of your images before reading the story line... I like the images !!

    The small size of the image files (dimensionally) was somewhat disappointing, I'd rather see them fill my monitor. The last three images are somewhat softer/fuzzier than the rest as Paul noted. Still, this essay is a treat to read and view. Lastly, I like the variety of perspectives and angles... not a repeat in the bunch. Very nice.

    The accompaning text kept me interested in looking at the photos once again. However, it seems to end abruptly, like the story's not finished... Seems like another sentence or two at the end to wrap it up and put a bow on it.

    ~ jeff

  5. #5
    paul@mwr Guest


    I thought of one other thing. I would like to see a space between the text and the next photo. This is a simple formatting thing, but I think it would help connect which photo goes with what text.

  6. #6


    Yeah, photo quality matches the weather...hence the remark about the results not really being worth the effort. I have slow glass on the RB so I was down to 1/125 and fighting depth of field the whole time, so sharpness is an issue. You can use the sharpness filter just so much before the images have a fake look to them as well. The lack of depth of field is also why I kept the images more to the size you'd see in a magazine.

    Martin Burwash

  7. #7


    Thanks for the input, guys. I reworked some of the scans. I figure if I can make these shots look good, ones actually taken in decent conditions should be a snap! I added a little more to the text as suggested to clarify and round out the story. As for the scans, I've upped the dpi to 1200. Shots 1 and 5 are 35mm taken in fog (photo 1) and a down pour, (photo 5) so what might appear as grain is actually air borne water!

    Martin Burwash

  8. Default


    Sweet little essay! I think that the adjustments you mentioned will help both text and images. My favorite photo is the MP1700 shot - beautiful.

    Look forward to seeing your final version.

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Bentz

    Look forward to seeing your final version.
    I thought this was the final version... Martin, is it ready for final review?
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  10. #10


    Yep...this is as good as this one's gonna away, boys!

    Martin Burwash

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