I spent Saturday afternoon climbing all over the trains at a Union Pacific yard. Of course you’re not supposed to do this, but there was nobody around and I had an itchy trigger finger on a Nikon D300s.
I was on assignment for E Magazine to photograph the infamous mothball fleet—a collection of Navy ships from WWII that sit rotting in Suisun Bay (pronounced “suh-soon”) at the entrance to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough to the ghost boats to snap any somber zombies roaming the decks. A lot of haze and little contrast. I had to use a 300mm lens without a tripod because I left the damn ballhead home. What a dolt!
The main attraction of the day, however, was the train yard. Here were the boxcarsboxcarsboxcars Allen Ginsberg howled about, updated with postmodern graffiti courtesy of “Sluts Crew.”
Climb aboard and you sense the hobo-high… the sudden rumble and clack as the train begins to move… a jolt when the whistle blows… a burst of freedom surging through the blood with the anticipation of a strange new city in the distance.
I was fortunate enough to capture a short video as a train pulled out of the yard, Woo-Woo and all.
This was not a fair test of the D300s movie capability. First, you want to avoid hand-holding the camera—especially with a heavy 300mm lens mounted. On top of that it was fairly breezy and I could not keep the damn thing steady. No VR (Vibration Reduction) on the lens either. The internal mic performed pretty well, all things considered. While shooting in Live View mode, I squeezed the shutter and captured the still image below. When viewed at its original dimensions you can clearly see the engineer. It’s nice to have the ability to shoot stills during HD capture. Finally, I didn’t bother trying to steady the footage in post, I simply opened the HD video in Windows Live Movie Maker on my laptop and uploaded to YouTube. BTW, Movie Maker is a nifty little free app available for download from Microsoft. It ain’t Adobe Premiere Pro but it’s easy as pie and handy in a pinch.
Years ago, in Sag Harbor, NY, I got to know the writer Nelson Algren who’d hopped a few trains in his day. Nelson was a great storyteller and had plenty of stories to tell…hell, I got the inside-scoop on his affair with Simone de Beauvoir. Sheesh. And then there was my friend and tennis partner, Peter Heath Fine, who published a novel called Night Trains. Yep, another train-nut. Triggered a lot of nostalgia… my own simple adventure as a kid on an over-nighter from New York to Chicago. They had dining cars back then, and served actual food instead of shrink-wrapped sandwiches. I vividly remember lying in an upper bunk, unable to sleep, my face pressed to the window excitedly watching the twinkling lights of the towns roll by in the darkness.
You guessed it… I love trains.