For railfan photographers, the arrival of autumn is much like a call to arms to head for trackside and capture the spectacular beauty and vibrance of railroading amid brilliant fall foliage!
Words and Photographs by Gary Dolzall
As we continue to explore the many facets of railroad photography, this edition is not about technique or the like, but is rather more of a celebration of the once-a-year occurrence when, with the arrival of autumn, railroading exists (at least in many parts of the world) amid a blaze of vibrant and spectacular fall foliage.
For many railfan photographers, the coming of each year’s fall foliage is nothing short of a “call to arms” to take advantage of the precious handful of weeks each year when the autumn colors are at their finest.
As a railfan born and raised in the eastern half of the United States, autumn was (and is) anxiously awaited, because from Maine to Minnesota, from the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina to the banks of the Mississippi River in the Midwest, the opportunities for dramatic railroad images were like a siren call (and if you are a Westerner, please take no offense, for I know autumn vistas of golden Aspens high in the Rockies are perhaps unsurpassed in their beauty!).
If there is, as is said, “a rub,” it has to do with Mother Nature. The vibrance, and duration, of any given year’s fall foliage is governed by weather conditions – as, of course, are the particular railroad photography prospects of any given day. Autumn can be host to some of the most beautiful days of the year, and also to some of the more wet and uncomfortable ones.
But my advice is, whatever the weather, get out there camera in hand. As the photographs accompanying this article illustrate, I’ve had the good fortune to be trackside on a number of simply marvelous blue-sky autumn days … and on some October days when the rain simply fell in buckets. But with a bit of skill – and a parcel of good luck – you will be able to come home with memorable photographs that recall railroading amid that short and magical time when autumn’s brilliant foliage is nature’s gift to us all. – Gary Dolzall
In an October 1988 scene that evokes the grandeur of autumn’s fall foliage and reminds that nature’s amphitheater is boundless in both size and appeal, a pair of Conrail EMD SD40s serving in helper service round famed Horseshoe Curve in the Allegheny Mountains near Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Vermont, the “Green Mountain State,” is renowned for its fall foliage, and on an October 1994 afternoon, Vermont Railway EMD GP9 1850 has a fall foliage special excursion in tow on the Rutland-Bellows Falls line that once was a part of the beloved Rutland Railroad.
The sun is setting on an autumn day in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and the blend of light and shade creates a dramatic, almost haunting, setting as Conrail GE C-307A 6555 and kin grind their way up the east slope of the old “B&A” (Boston & Albany) near Charlton.
One need not venture into the countryside to capture a bit of fall foliage, as urban settings can provide a splash of color. Autumn-dressed trees in the foreground and a sprawling power generating plant in the background provide a distinctive setting as an Amtrak Acela glides through Bridgeport, Connecticut on the Northeast Corridor.
The Hudson River Valley of New York State is simply ablaze in color as Metro-North EMD FL9 2005 leads a four-car MNCR commuter train northbound near Cold Spring (above). A few miles farther south, as viewed from Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River, another FL9, this one in the service of Amtrak, hustles an “Empire Service” train south toward New York City (below).
Yes, autumn weather can be fickle, delivering either brilliant blue skies or pouring rain. But the latter is no reason to put the cameras away. In a scene taken one day after the brilliant sunshine view above at Horseshoe Curve, rain and mist are hanging over the Alleghenies as a trio of Chessie-clad EMDs ease tonnage downgrade around Sand Patch Grade’s Mance (Pennsylvania) horseshoe (above). In the 1970s, the Southern Railway operated fall foliage specials from Asheville, North Carolina, with stylish EMD FP7 power, and even the daunting weather can hardly dampen the appeal of the Great Smokey Mountains (below).
Along the wide and historic Mississippi River near Savanna, Illinois, one of Burlington Northern’s hottest intermodals – Train 3 bound from Chicago to Seattle – rolls gracefully below color-splashed bluffs. Leading the train is GE “LMX” B39-8 8583, one of 100 such gray-clad units Burlington Northern operated beginning in 1987.
Amid the remote “Iron Range” country of Minnesota, immaculate Duluth Missabe & Iron Range SD18 304 and a pair of EMD sisters draw a ponderous train of southbound iron on October 1, 1989. The arrival of autumn offers an annual opportunity to capture railroading amid vibrant and spectacular fall foliage!
Light is the basic element of photography, but its many virtues and vagaries also help tell a story, delivering mood, vibrance, and dramatic impact to your railroad photographs.
We take a look at what forgotten railway relics can be found on your doorstep through the use of Ordnance Survey Maps.