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Thread: Victims of the Pass

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
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    durham, sc
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    190

    Default Victims of the Pass

    I stood in the cool morning air at the east portal of Cascade Tunnel,
    at the summit of BNSF Railway's Stevens Pass route. This high in the
    hills, Old Man Winter still held out and made his presence known:
    despite bright sunlight, my hands were numb and my camera felt as if it
    was wrapped in a blanket of ice. The cold mountain air stung my face as
    I stared at the read-and-white checked door, the entrance to a 7.8 mile
    stretch of hell, for the railroad at least. The tunnel, completed by
    the Great Northern in 1928, still caused numerous problems for train
    operations, and as the warning buzzer began to sound ó signaling that
    an eastbound would soon emerge ó my mind shifted from complaining about
    the cold to focusing on the drama about to unfold.

    As the door at East Portal slowly slid open, the air pressure inside
    was relieved ahead of the approaching train, and
    a plume of smoke was pushed out of the tunnel. The drone of ventilation fans,
    installed as part of a 1956 "modernization", were now joined by the
    scream of EMD prime movers from inside the bore. The sound was
    deafening, but to my ears it held it's own special music, and the
    ground began to tremble as the big diesels struggled up the final
    stretch of the grade.

    My anticipation was overwhelming. My mind raced between thoughts of the
    photos that would be taken, and thoughts of the train's progress. What
    had taken it so long to reach summit? Had one or more of its units died
    in the bore? Would the summit be reached, or would gravity take the
    upper hand?

    Soon enough, a familiar triangle of light pierced through the final
    yards of the smoke-filled bore. The striped nose of a former Burlington
    Northern workhorse slowly emerged into daylight, it's arrival
    accompanied by a plume of thick black fumes. The engineer, leaning out
    the cab window, gazed backwards, inspecting his battle-scarred consist,
    while his conductor kept a watchful but anxious eye on the speedometer.
    Slowly the remaining units slid out of confines of the tunnel and into
    the cold mountain air, accompanied by thicker and thicker plumes of
    smoke. After 7.8 miles of ingesting their own diesel exhaust, the
    engines coughed and gasped for anything resembling oxygen. Indeed, the
    trailing two units had suffocated and shut down, leaving the remaining
    three on their own in a race to the summit.

    I stood surreally beside myself, wrapped up in the power of these
    units. Fighting for all their worth, the belching thick exhaust in
    protest of the strain, the whining of the traction motors, the screams
    of the engines, the pounding of the ground, the squealing of the
    flanges, the hiss of the sanders, the taste of diesel in my lungs; the
    senses I felt embodied the definition of mountain railroading.

    Slowly, the cars passed, and with each, the trainís speed increased,
    bringing forth more and more clouds of pungent diesel smoke from the
    tunnel. No stranger to this battle, the portal, the surrounding trees,
    and the remaining snow here was all coated with a blanket of soot, a
    testament to a 49-year battle between modern diesels and the pass.

    Gravity, however, would have to wait for another day, or at least
    another train. Despite the failure of the two units, this train had
    conquered the summit. In her wake, trails of black smoke hung, and
    through them the familiar warning buzzer began to sound. The checkered
    door, like the gate of a dragon's smoky lair, slid closed, and the
    drone of the ventilation fans began to fill the mountains as the tunnel
    prepared itself for it's next victim.

    As the last car rolled out of sight around the bend the world slowly
    came back into existence. No longer was this just 'East Portal', but a
    cathedral, and I had just sat in on the morning service, and my
    worries, fears, and life had taken a back seat to the all mighty power.
    As I put away my gear and climbed into the jeep, I threw the heater on
    high and sat speechless. I floated in an emotional high all the way
    home, unable to comprehend my feelings.

  2. #2
    ahockley Guest

    Default

    The text is well written and does a good job of conveying the emotion of the train exiting the tunnel along with bits of factual information to provide context and history. I assume the line breaks and shorter-than-normal width text are caused by a copy/paste into the web form. My only suggestion for text improvement would be to eliminate these breaks unless they were the intent for formatting. My first reaction was that perhaps the breaks were for some sort of poetry or prose intentions but I don't think that's the case.

    Photo composition is decent and shows the effects of the smoke as it exits the tunnel. I would have preferred a bit more space ahead of the locomotive in photo #3 but this would have interrupted the series of shots with the same composition. The sharpness looks good.

    I question the black/white photos as opposed to color (assuming this was a digital photo). Without seeing a color version for comparison I can't say for sure, but I would think the smoke effects might have been more effective with the smoke being shown in a different color than the surrounding scene. Also I'm not sure but seeing some of the soot on the trees, portal, and snow as described would have been neat.

    I'll say approve, even with my reservations about the black and white.

  3. #3
    misko Guest

    Default

    I think this is the kind of photo-essay we would expect to see here and rejoice whenever one would appear. It is well written, it gives to the readers, even those not acquainted with location, enough data to familiarize with situation and experience author's emotions. Photographs are excellent, and in my view Jonathan's choice to print them in B&W was absolutely the right one as this way he managed to show this spectacular exit of the train after long, exhausting, and suffocating travel through this bore way more boldly and dramatically as if he would opted to run them in color. In this photo-essay I don't miss the colors a bit.

    Absolutely approved.

  4. #4

    Thumbs up

    Jonathan,

    I very much like the lighting of these images. The time of day that you chose meant that the angle of light would let us see all of that smoke so very well. All too often railfans tend to choose front-lighting, when side and back lighting can greatly enhance the depth of an image and the depth of the story that image tells. Well done.

    As Aaron has noted, the third image could look better if there were a bit more space for the train to move into. However, I wonder if you need this image at all. The fact that it is horizontal amidst the other vertical images tends to make it stand out, and not for what is within the image. It also seems to me that this image was included to show which locomotive was leading the train. This is not touched on in the text, and I don't think it is needed for the essay to work, so I likely would not have included this image.

    Since the text notes what happened after the train passed, I do think that it would have been nice to have included a vertical image (to match the other images) of the smoke clearing out of the tunnel, or of the tunnel door closing. This would have provided a very good end to the series.

    One other note, just something that I find interesting, is that you refer to "black smoke" in the text, yet the smoke ends up looking light in the B&W images. Perhaps colour images would have represented the black smoke better, but I think that the images are stronger as they are presented.

    I would be a happy recommend acceptance of this essay.

    Thank you for your submission.
    Last edited by aciphoto; 10-29-2005 at 09:11 AM.
    Rob Scrimgeour
    Victoria, BC

  5. #5
    bojan Guest

    Default

    Jonathan,

    enjoyed your story and enjoyed your photos even more. This is post I would expect when I heard for this new section of RRF.

    I love it that you decided to convert them to BW. Maybe only thing to consider would be different crop of first two. I'd crop them a bit tighter I think...

    As this is my first poste here I'd like to thank to Misko to inform me about Photo Essay Section. You all probably agree with me - his contribution is awesome. I enjoy looking his pics every single moment - but who don't

    Cheers,
    Bojan

  6. #6

    Default

    A couple of things struck me about this essay. On the downside, nothing in the photographs give me the feeling of being cold. Now I've been there a time or two and I know just what Jonathan is talking about, but his photos don't back up his words. To me, that is an essential part of an essay. To round out this essay, a detail shot of frost on in shady area, on the ties taken earlier in the day, (since there was no snow on the ground) would really help. If you can't really show the cold, don't make quite such an issue about it in your text.

    On the up side, Jonathan did right by backlighting his shots. The sun's rays do a nice job of defining the smoke thereby eliminating the need for the the "realism" of color to do the defining for you. As a matter of fact, the brightness of the smoke contrasts nicely with the dark background of the trees creating the very mood Jonathan builds in his text. In this case his photos do back -up his words. Color just would not have worked as dramatically.

    Overall, I'd like to see a few more shots to round out this essay. A detail or two to get me feeling as cold as Jonathan was, the anticipation of the door opening, that kind of thing. Look closely at your text and match the photos accordingly. Go beyond just showing the train, your text certainly does.

    Still, I give it a thumbs up.

    Martin Burwash

  7. #7
    16CSVT Guest

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Burwash
    A couple of things struck me about this essay. On the downside, nothing in the photographs give me the feeling of being cold. To round out this essay, a detail shot of frost on in shady area, on the ties taken earlier in the day, (since there was no snow on the ground) would really help. If you can't really show the cold, don't make quite such an issue about it in your text.

    I agree with Martin on this, the text builds the scene nicely (I almost thought we were going to storm the tunnel to rescue some flaxen haired maiden ) and then the photographs disappoint somewhat, not the quality or composition of the ones that are there, but the ones that you have conjured up in our minds and thus the ones we expect to see, the photos only present the locos and part of the train emerging from the tunnel, no photographic build up or trail off, maybe, a shot of a wintery sun through the pines with a bit of snow, a shot of the tunnel mouth to try to convey the quiet before the storm, a shot of the doors half open, again with the end of the story, you state 'as the last car rolls around the bend', how about a shot, wheres the FRED!

    On the up side, Jonathan did right by backlighting his shots. The sun's rays do a nice job of defining the smoke thereby eliminating the need for the the "realism" of color to do the defining for you. As a matter of fact, the brightness of the smoke contrasts nicely with the dark background of the trees creating the very mood Jonathan builds in his text. In this case his photos do back -up his words. Color just would not have worked as dramatically.

    I quite agree, B&W was the only way to go, I love the back lighting and the only minor crits I can see with the shots are, No1. is not quite vertical, it has a slight lean imo. No3. I am not too keen on the telegraph pole, am I ever.


    Martin Burwash
    To round up, superb writing, but a few more illustrative photographs required to make it top notch.

  8. #8
    NS-Norfolk Guest

    Default

    Nicely done. There is a subject and time where the use of Black & White photography really "ices the cake." You have captured those moments.

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