SWVA Photography | From Below

From Below

June 13, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Bristol To Radford

This year I was ready for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museums steam excursion of Southern #630 from Bristol to Radford and back. With a location preplanned and camera in hand I set off in the early morning light. At first I drove past the location to scout out the exact spot I wanted to set the camera up for that perfect shot. As I drove under the bridge to turn around and come back to park the car along side the road, I decided to set up in the small field beside the tracks. As I walked into the small field with dew still on the grass soaking into my New Balance shoes I started looking around, picturing in my head the train, due any minute now, going by. Setting up the tripod and framing the shot I would capture, I compared it to an old image of what I believe was Locomotive #611 crossing the same exact bridge in the early years that I had seen on Facebook some months prior. Looking at the little details of what had changed, a house that was no longer present to the growing up of trees around the iconic shot. Walking back to my car to check the time, I noticed a short little path leading to a small clearing on the bank of the river, looking up to see the high trestle; I quickly decided this would be the place to shoot from.  I jumped back up the trial, across the road to grab my camera, hoping I would not miss the train. I hastily made my way back to the rivers side. I posted up on the bank of the Middle Fork of the Holston River a little ways down river from the train trestle. Waiting on Southern #630 to roll across the Holston River in the small community and farmland of Seven Mile Ford. I waited little over an hour listening to the sound of the water rolling down river, the touch of a slight cool breeze, and basking in the morning sun. Hearing that faint sound of a lone whistle off in the distance took me back to time before I was around. Made me wonder how it would have been to have lived during the golden age of steam, having those black beauties chugging thru the country side, black smoke rising above the trees and their whistles breaking the silence. I got excited taking test shot after test shot to make sure I had it in focus, right exposure, and composed the shot I wanted to capture. Louder and louder the whistle grew and a slow rumble began to rise, black smoke amidst the distant treetops with a slight glimpse of the train. Finally, it broke into my frame, slowly squeezing the shutter button built into the tripod, I shot multiple shots, and then my finger slipped. No! I waited so long and my finger slipped. I quickly reached back for the button and squeezed hoping I didn’t miss the shot as I continued shooting until the cameras buffer was full. I watched as Locomotive #630 disappeared out of view behind the trees leaving the faint smell of soot in the air.

Radford To Bristol

Later on that day, after running a few errands here and there, I decided to head out to the local park and take a stroll down the trestle crossing the Holston River again. This one not nearly as big or tall as the one I had captured her on earlier that day. I wondered around the trestle, moving from spot to spot trying to figure out where to shoot. Setting up in location, framing the shot, and focusing as sharp as I could manually only to move to a different spot in hopes for a better photo. Though I had no clue when she would be on her way back down, I decided to wait even if it would be a two-hour wait.  Making small talk with strangers as they walked by, talking how beautiful it was to be out, photography and equipment, I was asked what time the locomotive would be coming down, and talked about fishing.  Time seemed to slowly pass at first with a Norfolk Southern freight train speeding by while waiting, time sped up a little the more I talked to the folks out enjoying the nice day. Finally, I heard a lone whistle off in the distance, growing louder with each blow until the rumble and chugging of the locomotive could be heard faintly growing louder and louder. Southern #630 appeared in my line of sight as I looked thru the viewfinder, hand gripping the pistol grip with my finger on the tripods built in shutter button. Squeezing the button I felt like I had the shot shooting in continuous burst again until the buffer was full. I watched that beauty steam by and watched as the passenger cars followed rumbling down the track click clacking over the trestle.  


Anxious to show off a photo of Locomotive #630 in front of the Bristol train station at last years excursion. I woke up during the wee hours of the morning, packed up the picture, Camera equipment and headed across the curvy mountain roads.  Two hours later upon my arrival, I attempted to contact the person who requested my photo be at the event. No reply as time for departure drew near, I walked down past to line to get a shot but decided to stop and walk back to the car. Sitting in the Taco Bell parking lot, I scouted locations in the Map app, locating a bridge just ten minutes up the road, I figured after driving two hours to get there, ten more would not kill me. Arriving at the bridge, I was met by a group of railroad enthusiast who were chasing her all day to take photos. We made small talk until we heard that lone whistle in the distance echoing down the valley. A plume of soot rising above the treetops accompanied by her beautiful whistle. She chugged around the curve into our line of sight at a casual speed. Camera shutters firing as fast as they could, camcorders recording her as she crossed the river and steamed by us. As soon as she passed, the railroad enthusiasts quickly packed up and left to get to their next spot to photograph Southern #630. I however was getting ready to drive back two hours to photograph a big annual track meet at Patrick Henry High School, though I wish I could have chased along with those guys. Maybe next year I will be able to spend the whole day or even the weekend chasing the next steam excursion! 



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