#369 – Union of South Africa on the East Lancs Railway


If I could draw an automotive comparison to the sound of a streamlined A4 steam loco it would be to a flat 6 Porsche engine – a taut, highly tuned mechanical beat with the underlying threat of huge power. I’m not well up on the different noises of steam locomotives, but hearing the Union of South Africa (or USA as it’s been nearly abbreviated to) on the latest 3P20 charter at the east Lancs Railway gave me a new appreciation for this kind of thing.

While the A4’s are of course renowned for their high speed London to Edinburgh runs, epitomised by the immortal Mallard in 1939, they were also to be seen on high speed freight runs. So when given the option of seeing USA on a charter hauling a freight train or a passenger set, I chose the passenger option. To my eyes, seeing an A4 hauling wagons is like seeing a Maserati towing a caravan or a race horse pulling a Brewers dray – rare, and thankfully so.


Of the surviving locos, I’d only ever seen Mallard, and that was in the National Railway Museum in York, and a striking thing it is too, positioned next to the equally striking Japanese bullet train. From a photographers perspective, it’s a bloody nightmare though. Seeing USA out on the track was a different proposition altogether and gave me a new appreciation for its styling.

Like the wonderful noise it makes, the styling is taut and muscular, like a lean light heavyweight boxer. But the wonderful sweep of the line above the wheels, which were originally semi covered, was something I’d overlooked before and it intrigued me.


Charters of course are a double edge sword. On the one hand, you have the opportunity  to shoot in the best locations, in the best light, exhaust effects on demand, and multiple run pasts. However there are constraints to work within – the obvious H&S issues of being on a live railway line, plus you are kind of restricted to shooting (to an extent) with the rest of the group so that you don’t get in someone else’s shot. So what better way to deal with these constraints than by giving myself some more? I now shoot only with prime lenses on charters for their superior image quality, and lightness. I previously carted round a 28-70, 16-35 and a 70-300, which are all brilliant lenses, but big and heavy, so carrying 3 primes in my gilet pockets is far less effort and allows for superior results.

The other thing with fast primes is that they are all F1.4 or F1.8, which allows for some interesting depth of field experiments. As noted, A4’s are striking looking engines, so I tried using a very shallow depth of field to separate the nose of the engine, the bit which really distinguishes it from other engines, from the background. Has it worked? To a degree, although it goes against the established aesthetic, which is probably why it takes some getting used to.





But for wider, more traditional shots, a much greater depth of field is required. Unfortunately the light and wind direction were not really in our favour and the images were somewhat unremarkable compared to some from the day before.


‘Little Burrs’ is off limits normally, but it was out of the wind, so the exhaust wasn’t billowing all over the place like it was at ‘Big Burrs’ just up the line. A spot for a wider angle lens, the 35mm in this instance.




Big Burrs and the exhaust is getting blown over the other side of the line.


The East Lancs Railway does have some reasonably good line side vantage points, although encroaching undergrowth and tress doe restrict some of these, especially when trees are in leaf. Summerseat viaduct is a very popular spot on steam galas, and does allow a half decent view of the engine as it passes, although for something as big as an A4, timing is crucial.


Similarly, there is also a view of the train across one of the bridges approaching Burrs, somewhere I’d never tried before, but I took a quick look before leaving and it looks like a good spot for the winter months when there are fewer leaves on the trees, and a nice afternoon light glinting off the boiler.


Of course, it’s not all rural locations, but the urban locations around Bury aren’t really accessible. Even those around the railway station are only accessible on occasions like this, but it did allow for some variety as I do like to capture the people side of the railways where I can.



Finally, some alternative views. I always try to mess around and look for something different, away from the crowd. This isn’t easy as you are always conscious of getting in other peoples shots, but a lunchtime stop at Ramsbottom station allowed some time and space to approach from different angles, as well as amusing the stuff on the platform.







My rarely used 20mm came out of the bag for this, it was as close as I managed to get before having to move on. It’s not a bad lens actually as it doesn’t exaggerate perspective as much as something like my old 14mm, or the wide end of the 16-35.

#368 – Library of Congress Images – a trip on the Santa Fe in Black & White

People talk about how in the digital age, there is a lot of ‘machine gunning’ of scenes with dozens of photographs taken, and not all with a great deal of care and attention. In looking through the photographs of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway it seems that the practice wasn’t unheard of in the days of film. The sheer volume of photographs taken on this trip were astonishing when you consider that it was shot on medium format which has maybe 10-12 shots per roll, as opposed to the 36 on 35mm film. That said, I suppose if you’re an official photographer of the American Government, tasked with documenting the war effort, then your job is to fire away and let someone else pay the bills.

Compared to the majority of the scans from the Chicago and North Western, the ones from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway are very flat. As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t unusual with negatives, and they normally require work in the darkroom or photoshop to liven them up a bit. Clearly there must have been differences either in the film choice or the developing at the time, or possibly in some of the scanning software algorithms more recently.

This has meant that I’ve had to spend some time in Lightroom making some adjustments to them to bring them to life a little. Its hard working on someone else’s negatives as you didn’t see the scene in the first place so you’re making guesses as to how things looked and just how much contrast the scene and its parts should have.

One thing I did notice was how scratched the negatives were. Not so much volume of scratches, but large patches of them in certain area, most noticeable in the first one. Many are affected, and some I’ve managed to get rid of, but not all.


Barstow, California. A view of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard at night


Argentine, Kansas. Freight train about to leave the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad yard for the west coast


An Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe passenger train passing through the Flint Hills district of Kansas




Vaughn, New Mexico. Conductor Ennis O'Niell of Clovis, New Mexico, who was about to leave on the return trip


Vaughn, New Mexico. Head brakeman Thomas H. Knight of Clovis, New Mexico about to leave Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard on the return trip


San Bernardino, California. Engines at the roundhouse

I don’t know how many engines were stabled at San Bernardino roundhouse, but it must have been dozens. The place is vast and lasted until 1995.


Isleta, New Mexico. Conductor of a passing freight train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad picking up a message


Clovis, New Mexico. D.L. Clark, engineer, ready to start his locomotive out of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard


Clovis, New Mexico. Checking a locomotive as it leaves the roundhouse in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shops


Clovis, New Mexico. Refacing the tires of a locomotive with a Ledgerwood apparatus

 The fitter here seems tiny compared to the monolithic size of the engine and the coaling stage behind. Note also the enormous tender on this locomotive.




Walking the roof of the train. Something uniquely American about this.

Upcoming talk – Hebden Bridge, Wednesday 8th October 2014

My next talk will be this Wednesday for Hebden Bridge Camera Club. It will be held in the Masonic Hall in Hangingroyd Lane (I’ve been assured that there are no funny handshakes needed), postcode HX77DD.

This will be my Mechanical Landscapes talk, and if you’ve seen my website and blog, you’ll know what to expect – mainly black and white photographs, accompanied by my often irreverent rambling diatribe. It’s not your average camera club talk, but you wouldn’t expect that from me though.

Caveat: it’s 4 or 5 months since I last delivered this talk so I may be a little rusty!

#367 – Library of Congress Images – Santa Fe in Black & White

Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lifting an engine to be carried to another part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shops for wheeling

 Going up? Or down?

Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the wheel shop of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shop

 Wheel shop. Not sure what the significance of the white painted ones are – dummy ones for works use only? Or maybe ones that are wiating for achning / new tyres?

Albuquerque, New Mexico. An engine being carried to another part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shops to be wheeled

 This almost has a production line-like feel to it. The workshop is clearly quite large and by british standards quite modern.

, Kansas. Lifting an engine with the eighty-ton cranes at the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad locomotive shops. This locomotive will be carried to another part of the shop to be wheeled

Interesting to see the tradition of the bowler (or Trilby) hatted foreman crossed the Atlantic. I used to work at a place where this tradition had been consigned to history, as had the tradition which followed it which was a bowler had logo stitched onto the foremans tie. 

Topeka, Kansas. A general view of part of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad locomotive shops

 Not much going on in the boiler shop. My intial thought was int was taken early morning, but by the looks of the fitter sat next to the ladder, I guess it was brew time, one of those few occasions during the day when the places like this fall mercifully silent.

San Bernardino, California. A general view in the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad locomotive shops

I like these aerial views of the works. The repeating pattern of the engines, and their proximity demonstrates how busy the works was during the war.


 I’m guessing that this was a view in the opposite direction. The fenestration allowed lots of light into the works, something that you don’t really associate with those in Britain.


Clovis, New Mexico. General view of locomotive shops in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard v2

I posted up some images of the Chicago and North Western Railroad workshops a few weeks back, and these are similar in style and content.

These were taken in the Albuquerque workshops of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, again during the second world war when the American railways system was busy shipping men and materials across this giant country.

I think I actually prefer these as they have more visual drama than the other set. By that, I am thinking of the way the photographer (Jack Delano again) uses the monolithic size of the unwheeled engine being lifted around the works like a toy in the first and fourth image, as well as the visual repetition of the engines and windows in the others which emphasises the not insignificant size of the erecting shops. OK, it’s not on the same scale as the GWR Swindon works, but it’s not a backstreet machine shop either.



#366 – Library of Congress Images – Santa Fe in colour

West bound Santa Fe R.R. freight train waiting in a siding to meet an east bound train, Ricardo, New Mexico



Santa Fe RR freight train about to leave for the West Coast from Corwith yard, Chicago, Ill., Santa Fe R.R. trip





Santa Fe R.R. trains going through Cajon Pass in the San Bernardino Mountains, Cajon, Calif._



Santa Fe R.R. locomotive shops, Topeka, Kansas




Santa Fe R.R. freight train about to leave for the West Coast from Corwith yard, Chicago, Ill


Cleaning an engine near the roundhouse, C. M. St. P. & P. R.R., Bensenville, Il



Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad conductor George E. Burton and engineer J.W. Edwards comparing time before pulling out of Corwith railroad yard for Chillicothe, Illinois; Chicago, Ill






Servicing engines at coal and sand chutes at Argentine yard, Santa Fe R.R., Kansas City, Kansas


A few more images of the Chicago and North Western railway to complement those I blogged recently. In some respects, the outside environment probably suits the film better (Kodak Safety Film again), as by modern standards it is incredibly slow with an ISO of somewhere between 8 and 16. However, taking pictures of moving subjects would have presented its own exposure challenges with such a slow film, so most of the engines appear to be static, moving slowly, or towards the camera where there is less relative movement.

As someone who was born and brought up in the heritage era of steam railways, it’s a reminder of how dirty the engines were when in regular service. Arguably this was accentuated by the rigours of war service, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to today’s beautifully turned out trains.


#365 – Library of Congress Images – Chicago Railway Yard

Chicago, Illinois. One of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad's '400' fleet of locomotives lined up for coal and water at a coaling station







Chicago, Illinois. Locomotive picking up coal and sand on its way out of the yards


Chicago, Illinois. Locomotives lined up for coal, sand and water at the coaling station in the yard of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad


Clinton, Iowa. Women wipers of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad cleaning one of the giant locomotives


Having explored inside the railway works, Jack Delano continued his documentation of the Chicago and North Western outside in the switching (shunting) yards. One tends to forget the enormous size of American steam locos until you see them with people next to them, and those depicted in these pictures aren’t even the really big stuff like the articulated ‘Big Boys’ that were built for war service in the American southwest.

It is interesting to note the women workers drafted into work in the railway – they are described as ‘wipers’ which I presume translates into ‘cleaners’ in British railway-speak. Much was made of the women aircraft workers (Google ‘Rosie the Riveter’) but like in Britain, women were at work across all industries including doing some very dirty jobs such as locomotive cleaning as well as ship building.

Chicago, Illinois. Locomotive taking on sand at an Illinois Central Railroad yard, before going out on the road


Locomotives over the ash pit at the roundhouse and coaling station at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad yards, Chicago, Ill


Chicago, Illinois. Engines lined up at coaling station at an Illinois Central Railroad yard


#364 – Library of Congress Images – Chicago Railway Workshops in Black & White


Chicago, Illinois. Workmen studying blueprints in the Chicago and Northwestern repair shops


Following on from the last post of the colour photographs of the Chicago and North Westerns workshops, this series are in a more familiar black and white. I say familiar due to the abundance of shed photographs taken in the 50’s and 60’s by British enthusiasts. However, these are different inasmuch as they depict working scenes (although they are probably staged) rather than just recording the engines that were there on that day.

Black and white does suit the environment. I imagine it was heavy, hard, filthy work as steam locomotives are inherently dirty and the dismantling and maintenance of them would be equally, if not more so.

These are just a small selection of the photographs online. The total collection gives almost a well rounded depiction of the railways operations, people and locomotives and is well worth exploring further.

Like the colour ones, these are also the work of Jack Delano, and he has made dramatic use of the light in the building. These are the work of an artist, as opposed to a railway enthusiast, and it shows.

Chicago, Illinois. In the roundhouse at a Chicago and Northwestern Railroad yard7


Chicago, Illinois. Locomotives in for repair at the roundhouse at an Illinois railroad yard




Chicago, Illinois. Working on a locomotive at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad shops 3


Chicago, Illinois. Working on a locomotive at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad repair shop 3


Chicago, Illinois. Working on a locomotive at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad repair shop 4


Chicago, Illinois. In the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad repair shops 8bit


Chicago, Illinois. In the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad locomotive repair shops3


Chicago, Illinois. In the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad locomotive repair shop5


Chicago, Illinois. A worker in the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad locomotive repair shops


Chicago, Illinois. A welder at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad repair shops 2