Patience, Familiarity and Other Stuff

by Dec 27, 2016OST Believes, Storytelling, The Missing Conversation4 comments

The day after Christmas presented itself with record warmth and after a morning of errands and lunch, grabbing the camera and some fresh air was the order of the day. I wanted to find some new angles to my typical haunts and wound up at the crossing on 12th Street, where I parked in my usual spot and started looking around.

This is all too familiar ground where I’ve shot hundreds of photos and it’s easy to fall back on old habits, which is how I’ve felt lately. Maybe it’s the end of the old year, beginning of the new one thoughts swirling in my head or just the realization that things need a bit of a shake up. As I walked by the International Harvester warehouse, I photographed one of the loading doors for reference when I return to that project in due time. That done, what else might there be?

An ES40DC, No. 7514 and eight cars were idling on Industry Two awaiting Tuesday’s call to action (opening photo). Even though modern power isn’t on my modeling list, I decided to shoot a series of images just for practice sake. These were perfectly mundane photos, nothing noteworthy or different from hundreds of others shot with no particular objective in mind. Dissatisfied with the results, I ambled back toward the car when I noticed a fresh green signal to the east that suggested my timing might be rewarded if I could muster the patience to wait for whatever was coming.

Patience is a virtue I’m letting slip away. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve left a scene, only to hear an air horn mere seconds later. (Arrrgh!) I used to be able to deep dive into a good book for hours, but that simple pleasure seems harder to achieve too. It’s easy to use the Internet as a scapegoat for all our ills but we make the choice to squander our time and attention on useless things.

I have no idea what the green indication is bringing toward me or how long until the southbound arrives, so I decided to compose my shot ahead of time, knowing I’ll only get one chance. I found a spot where I could frame the picture with some tall weeds on the right and also include the equipment on Industry Two. It started to sprinkle, then rain steadily, so I headed for shelter of the car.

Sitting there, waiting, listening to the echo chamber that characterizes my mind, I wondered what I’m letting slip by with all the distraction and boredom I’m experiencing. I’ve been at odds with the craft for a while now and felt that more time by the tracks would be better than time in the basement but I’m having my usual doubts. Then it occurs that an opportunity is at hand and all I have to do is take advantage of it, so I begin to look around and take note of what catches my eye. Across the tracks on the other side of the street there’s a cluster of relay boxes and two containers that make a nice composition. The rain has stopped by now, so I get out and compose the shot. It wasn’t bad and with a little cropping in Photoshop, it became more interesting (below). Warming up my curiosity, I kept looking around while also keeping an ear tuned for any approaching air horn from the west.

The problem with the familiar is complacency. We’ve seen it all before and assume we know things when in fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s before us. When I take time to truly look, I’m amazed at the nuances I find in the ordinary. As often as I’ve looked at track, there is always more waiting to be discovered. The architecture of a composite rail joint, the manner in which pavement crumbles around the rail in a grade crossing, or how dirt and oil spray from passing trains creates a gradient of color on the ballast.

Why do we become bored with this craft? I’m reminded that boredom is a state of mind we bring to an activity. We’re passively waiting for it to entertain or satisfy us, rather than exercise our ability to act and choose. We’re out of balance from being too focused on one thing; often an abstraction of some kind. The cure is to get out of your head and into the real world. I have a choice to assume there’s nothing new to be discovered, or to seek what lies hidden right before my eyes.

More satisfied with these images than the previous roster shots, I returned to the car to wait for the anticipated train that, I hoped would be along soon. After a few minutes the sound I’ve waited to hear comes from the west. I grab the camera off the seat and move to my preplanned location. The horn grows louder and the crossing gates at 12th descend as a stack train approaches with a vengeance. Looking over my shoulder to see where he is, I plan my timing and push the shutter button once, then again as a brace of Dash-whatevers roar past.

My timing with both shots wasn’t the best. I barely got the lead engine in the first and would have preferred a bit more space between the two trains in this photo but, I conquered my impatience this day and that felt good. As important as they are to the railroad and economy, stack trains don’t ring my bell the way good old fashioned mixed freight does, so I didn’t shoot any photos beyond the typical going away shot of the last car. It was unlikely there’d be anything else coming soon, so I decided to head home. It was good to get outside in weather that was a gift this late in December. It was also good to relearn the power of making choices.



  1. Simon

    “Why do we become bored with this craft”

    That’s a very good question: our hobby offers such variety of subjects and disciplines (art, science, electronics, joinery, metalwork, to name but a few), there should never be an end of things to do. And yet, and yet, we allow ourselves to become distracted by, by what? The enormity of the total task of building an empire in the basement? Too many different things to choose from? Lack of instant gratification?

    This is all nonsense, of course. The greatest thing about an interest in modelling trains and railways is the sheer variety of options, the fact that we have an opportunity to practice that simplest of project management activities: breaking things down into manageable chunks.

    Maybe there are times when we feel that our joie de vivre is depleted, and instead of using the craft to revive our spirits, we project our state of mind onto it? We have no excuse, and only ourselves to blame…

    Happy New Year to everyone!


  2. Chris Mears

    When I first started learning how to chase trains and railfan I was always so envious of those with more years of experience. A tool they always carried was their scanner and I am still a bit envious of those that have one and their ability to find trains on the system. It creates a bit of an “on demand” approach to railfanning. There’s perhaps a bit of a metaphor in here that isn’t worth teasing out further. Not having a scanner I’m relying more on studying past operating patterns (e.g. What time are they usually here?) Time between trains can feel like wasted time but I am learning to remind myself of the opportunities in those moments. Time to imagine what might be on the train and fantasize questions like “Is today the day when [something special] happens?!” That time is also made special by the way that there’s less pressure. Once the train is in sight I’m scrambling to take that “perfect” photo to record the moment. I guess it’s easy to forget how enjoyable it is to have the chance to go trackside and be reminded of my fascination with trains.

    We get so focused on what we create that we lose an appreciation for the joy borne of the process. In our finished work we create something tangible that we can rank but in the lead-up the experience is only our own moment. When I’m taking the picture the picture is good or bad but when I’m waiting trackside for that special moment, it’s only good.

    Thanks for taking us with you again.


  3. mike

    Well said as always Simon.


  4. mike

    Hi Chris,

    I’m reminded that when I go out without a game plan of some kind and just shoot random images, the results are often mediocre at best. I didn’t include any shots of the loco because they were so boring in terms of composition, lighting and storytelling qualities. They would be a useful reference for building a model and placing details but little else. When I quiet my mind and start observing my surrounds, then something interesting might happen with my photos. As with all things, a quiet mind comes with practice.