I’ve written before about people in railway photography, and how you don’t see much of it. Well, the opportunity came up again to ride up front with the crew on the footplate (thanks to Nigel for organising this again!) which is always a privilege.
It was also a bit of a squeeze, as the Super D was not designed to have four people driving it, so the other passenger and myself were somewhat in the way wherever we positioned ourselves, so Frank and John (the crew) have my gratitude for putting up with our presence.
Lens choice was, theoretically, a no brainer, with the tight confines making the 16-35 the obvious choice. In reality, it was both not wide enough and too wide at the same time! I did have my dinky little 35mm F2 in my pocket, but this was just duplicating focal length, I could really have done with my 85mm prime, or the lightweight 28-105. Thing was, 16mm was not wide enough to get the full cab in (14mm would have been better), and 35mm was no use for getting close up for portraits, as there was no room really for moving around once I’d taken up position on either the firemans seat, or sat on a ledge on the tender.
Still, it was an experience. Watching Frank and John, both far older than I, do a demanding, physical job in cramped conditions in the baking heat (the firebox didn’t appear to be clad) was marvellous, especially when you consider the vagaries of driving the Super D, an engine known to be difficult.
How many railway photographers does it take to get a Super D moving again? Answer – not as many as you think! After we ground to a halt just before Irwell Vale, with the wheels slipping furiously, everyone got off to pitch in (except me). Frank and John took some sand from the rear sanders and spread it over the tracks to get some traction, which thankfully worked a treat!