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Thread: C&O Independence

  1. #1
    lothes19 Guest

    Default C&O Independence

    I didn't spent as much time in my native West Virgina last year as I have in years past, but the visits I made were very enjoyable. I spent the 4th of July weekend visiting family in my old hometown of St. Albans, along the Chesapeake & Ohio mainline that holds my earliest railroad memories.

    The St. Albans Riverfest fireworks were held on Saturday evening and I had a good idea that the area around the depot would offer a decent view. After dinner at Grandma's, I wandered down to the corner of 4th & 4th. The sun was a fast-dropping red ball in the summer haze and an eastbound coal train was stopped on the bridge over the Coal River. The reason for that soon became apparent just after sunset as a westbound sulfur train that had been running wrong main crossed over from 2 to 1 on its way through town. Following its passing, the dispatcher lit the way down #2 with clear boards and the big GEs on the coal train throttled up to continue their journey east.
    The railroad went quiet after that, nothing but red lights glowing on the absolutes in both directions. Many of the old C&O cantilever style signals were replaced or eliminated on the Kanawha Sub last year, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time until all of them are the stuff of history books and old photographs. I know signals are only inanimate objects, but those sentinels along the broad right-of-way through St. Albans feel like old friends. They've been telling me when to expect trains for more than a quarter of a century. As twilight faded to night, I enjoyed some quiet time with them on this perfect, warm summer evening.

    The town was alive with families and friends enjoying the holiday weekend. Out near the river, words and music from the Riverfest band drifted over. Along 4th Avenue, the brick street running parallel to the tracks, residents drifted out from their homes and set up lawn chairs on the sidewalk in anticipation of the fireworks display. The steel rails gave up the heat of the day to the night sky, and down the tracks in both directions a steady stream of cars and pedestrians crossed back and forth. Mom and my stepdad joined me, and we passed the evening together, then darkness fell and the pyrotechnicians out on the river bank lit up the night sky.
    The next morning I was up early. I was joining Dad, my stepmom and my two step-nieces on a day trip to Elkins (three hours aways) and back for a gathering of his family. Dad is one of nine children from the Lothes family farm in Montrose, and it's too difficult to get everyone together during the big winter holidays. The solution adopted several years ago is Christmas in July.

    By my nature I'm something of an introvert. I love my dad's family, but I didn't grow up with it and the size of the gathering is a little overwhelming, at least for someone who feeds off having some quiet time to himself everyday. If I was to have any of that on Sunday, it would need to come before our 0730 departure. Shorttiming on sleep, I headed back to the C&O.

    The Kanawha Valley never has perfectly clear days in the summer. The sky is more typically a soft blue haze, but in the predawn hour, the rising sun washes it pink. The waning cat grin moon had just risen behind the eastbound signal guarding #2 main.
    Whenever I'm lucky enough to be trackside enjoying one of those magic moments of sunrise or sunset, I never expect to see a train. Just being there, by the polished steel rails gleaming on the edge of day, is enough. Maybe it's the bias of firstlove, but I'm convinced that the C&O likes me. As often as not, when I'm standing along her rails enjoying one of those magic moments, she decides that I deserve a little something extra.

    As the pink glow warmed in the sky, the eastbound signal over #1 main flashed up to yellow, then green. A horn sounded to the west, and one by one, the many sets of crossing gates through town dropped in sequence. Behind the triangle of bright lights emerged the form of five DC traction locomotives, blowing hot exhaust into the morning sky as they hustled 10,000 tons of grain off to the coast to feed the nations of the world.

    I packed my gear and walked back to my car, ready to face the day.

    Last edited by Bob; 01-13-2006 at 03:05 PM.

  2. #2


    Edited to make the photos show up, no other changes...
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  3. Default

    This is excellent! An easy style of writing coupled with some very nice and moody shots. I can relate to Scott's attraction to those C&O cantelever signals - I grew up with them in Columbus Ohio during my trackside visits.

    Unless Scott wants to do something else to it, I vote Yes!

  4. Default

    I enjoyed the photographs in this essay, especially the first one with the train at sunset and the silhouetted signals with the fireworks. Scott did a good job with exposure and editing to get those to appear just right. I really felt like I was standing track side with Scott on a warm July evening.

    I thought the writing put the photographs into a context and explained why they were important to Scott. The story explain his presence at these locations nicely.

    I vote to approve this one.

  5. #5
    paul@mwr Guest


    This essay goes together nicely and the photography is great, as usual.

    I noted only two things in the text tha really jumped out at me.

    1) First sentence, third word should be "spend" and not "spent."

    2) Second paragraph: 4th & 4th? I am guessing Avenue and Street? It becomes more evident later in the essay, but seems strange when first read? Maybe this is a local understanding?

    Otherwise, I vote my approval to go with the others. Hell of a first post.

  6. #6


    I'm with everyone else on this one. Let's get it up on top for all to see. Very nice work, Scott...but no surprise there.

    Martin Burwash

  7. #7
    abcraghead Guest


    That last photo is especially good -- the two signal bridges are both shown, without interfering with each other, and the motion blur is just enough to get the train to move, without making it an unrecognizable blur. Very precise, nice work, Scott.

  8. #8
    lothes19 Guest



    Thanks for the comments. This is a piece I had put together for a WV group this summer, shortly after that 4th of July trip. I look forward to sharing more of my work here, and to seeing more of yours. I left the U.S. in September to spend three months in China, and am now in Japan, where I will most likely remain for the next year and a half. There are some fabulous rail photographers in Japan, but since my Japanese is practically non-existant, I haven't been able to meet any of them yet, let alone discuss photos with them. I'm really glad to find a group where I can discuss rail photography in my native tongue (in format that is particularly pleasing to me), and I plan on going back through the archives and posting some of my thoughts.

    If you're interested in reading more about my travels in Asia and seeing a few photos (and have LOTS of free time), check out my blog,

    Best regards,

    Scott Lothes

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