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Thread: The Sentinels of St. Regis

  1. #1

    Default The Sentinels of St. Regis

    The Sentinels of St. Regis

    by Martin Burwash

    Attachment 998

    Dawn can take its time along the Clark Fork. The ground fog lies thick along the river, laying its damp, gray blanket over the landscape. Even after the rising sun crests the eastern mountains, its heat, its light is quickly absorbed by the wet shroud.

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    Down in the river valley, out past the towns of St. Regis and Superior, and downstream towards Paradise, silent sentinels stand guard, enduring yet another cold, foggy western Montana sunrise. Posted nearly 100 years ago by the Northern Pacific, they keep their diligent watch. They brought order to the twin ribbons of steel that pierce through the forest and the fog. For almost a century they have performed their duty, insuring safe passage for the commerce of the Northwest.

    Attachment 1000

    Where deployed as pairs, standing at full attention, both blades at twelve o’clock high, they tell us that all is clear to the east and west. In time, a whistle from far up the valley finds its way through the fog. As if it too heard the warning, the eastbound sentry reacts, its arm methodically dropping to two o’clock. By the time the unmistakable rumble of an approaching westbound pushes aside the low clouds, the arm of the ever-vigilant eastbound guard has dropped to three o’clock keeping the way clear. All the while its partner across the track keeps its arm raised, signaling the “highball” to St. Regis. Assured the way is clear, the train emerges from the fog and hustles westward.

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    Eventually the rising sun overpowers the ground fog. As “Old Sol’s” rays evaporate the mist, reality slowly emerges in the valley of the Clark Fork. The reality of landform is revealed as is the reality that the dutiful sentries along the railroad are nearing the end of their watch.

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    Mechanical arms, products of the industrial age are about to be replaced by the solid-state electrical lights of the modern era. The morning fog disappears as the sun works across the big Montana sky. Settling to the west, it shines through the lenses of the old semaphores still standing firm, still standing at full attention.

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    Even with their relief in sight, the loyal sentinels of St. Regis hold the line, never wavering from their assigned duty. Their arms point to the sky. All is clear along the old N.P.

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    Relieved of their watch, their loyal vigil complete, the old guards are cast aside in the tall grass along the line they protected so well for so long. Their masts are bare, stripped of the very thing that gave them their character.

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    And yet, just as the old Northern Pacific will never leave this valley, so too the sentinals of St. Regis will reamain. Even if the eye forgets, the heart will remember.
    Last edited by Bob; 02-08-2006 at 08:01 PM.

  2. Default


    Nice job covering a subject that is dear to many people's hearts. Semaphore's are certainly a piece of railroad equipment that has consistently drawn people's (not just railfans or railfan photogs) interest since their first use.

    I like how your story documents them in use, still standing but with the end in sight, and then finally dismantled. I'm particularly drawn to the photo of the semaphores with the new signal standing ready. The way you focused on the semaphores and left the new signal out of the primary focus area clearly emphasized the semaphores and the fact they are (ahh, were) still in charge.

    I have a couple of comments on the text. In this sentence "Posted nearly 100..." I'm not sure posted is the correct word. Using this definition "To assign to a specific position or station" the word works, but it just seemed clumsy to me. I was thinking erected or something like that would work. I'll leave it up to you if you want to change it or not.

    The other comment I have on the text is sentinels and remain are spelled incorrectly in the last paragraph.

    Photos wise, I enjoyed all of them except the photo of the MRL 125 and one of the shorties. I guess I'm not comfortable with it because I'm wanting to see more of the train or the blade. The upward angle is fine I just feel like I'm searching for the main subject of the photo.

    Many of the photos have a bit of grain in them from the scanning process (I'm assuming the originals look fine). In thumbnail form they look fine, but the full size versions look grainy on my monitor.

    Overall I would recommend this essay for approval. The only thing I would say is a must fix are the spelling errors. The other items I'll leave to the artist to determine the level of importance.

  3. #3


    Good comments, Steve. I purposedly used the word "posted" to continue with the quasi-military theme, and for that reason will keep it.

    Yeah, I added the last paragraph as an after thought and failed to run it through spell-checker.

    The shot of the 125 is my personal favorite and so in it goes! That's a full frame view of the negative. (Fixed focal length 65mm on my RB57) I was backed as far as I could into a clump of blackberries to my right and I wanted the old garage building in the background so I didn't let the train dominate the center of the shot. Very much "informal balance" and thus not being symetrical, that apoproach is seldiom seen in rail photography. I'm playing with that type of composition more and more as a matter of fact.

    As for the graininess, I think I'm still over sharpening a bit when working the scans.


  4. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Burwash
    As for the graininess, I think I'm still over sharpening a bit when working the scans.
    That could be what it is. When I look at the full size images I see jaggies on the lines that are diagonal across the images. That's usually a sign of something that changed pixels in Photoshop processing. Sharpening or the use of other tools that cause the loss of data will cause it.

  5. #5
    FoamersNW Guest


    Martin -

    I always like to see shots and stories on the semaphores of the Clark Fork. I believe that your essay comes close at capturing the romantic mood between the semaphores, the railroad, and the environment it has lived in for so many decades. Out of the photos, I think 2, 3 and 5 drive home the heart and soul of what you are trying to convey.

    I believe that they monologue is very appropriate, and helps flow with the photos. As the photo story, it flows well with an introduction, build up, conlclusion, and reflection. I vote for approval for posting.

  6. #6
    paul@mwr Guest

    Thumbs up

    As usual, Martin, you come through with a really nice combination of words and photos. I like how we see the semaphores in use on a typical day to removed and no longer needed.

    I think the others already hit on the few little technical issues with this and I'm satisfied with what you have done. I would like to see a little more clarity in the photos, but I can ignore that as you have just started scanning your prints and negatives and I can already see improvement from the first ones you posted.

    Let's get this essay out for everyone to enjoy.

  7. #7


    I've made a very minor edit, adding a bit of white space above the images so that it's clear the text under the image is the text that applies to that image. Purely a formatting thing, no text changes etc...
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  8. #8
    NYC3001 Guest


    I love the excellent use of black & white photography in this essay. Excellent composition, and lighting. This shows an interesting side of industry that is rarely explored.

    Yours truly,

    "Like a prized watch, a good fountain pen is a trusted companion for life."

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