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View Full Version : Chasing the Jolly Man in the Big Red Suit..


Andrew Blaszczyk (2)
12-15-2005, 06:29 PM
This 'adventure' started about three weeks ago on Dec. with the announcement of the date of the annual Conrail Santa Train. The train runs from Browns Yard (Old Bridge, NJ) south on the Amboy Secondary to Jamesburg, NJ then hooks east onto the Freehold Secondary to Freehold, NJ.

Map of Conrail Lines: http://www.geocities.com/transit383/asmap.jpg

To prepare ourselves for the chase my brother and I decided to follow the line end to end planning out our spots and determining light situations on the Friday, Nov. 19th. We followed the line hoping to catch the local heading either out of the yard or back north to the yard. With no luck we ended up in Freehold as the sun was descending and headed home.


Finally on Dec. 10th it was time to put our plan into action. With the maps printed out and marked up, camera bags packed, and layers of clothing stacked on (with the temperatures in the mid-20's) we left the house a little latre than we hoped and headed straight for Old Bridge. (We originally planned to scout some spots we had missed around the Jamesburg area but didn't think we had enough time to). We were expecting and had gotten confirmation that they would be using the same schedule as last year. The train was suppose to depart Browns at 9:30AM and arrive Freehold at 12 Noon. We drove past the yard and saw the two engines (NS GP38-2 #5280 and CSXT GP40-2 #4412) and caboose sitting snow covered and crewless at 9:10AM. We pulled into the Dunkin Donuts parking lot to listen to the scanner and listen for a horn. At 9:30 and not a sound from the scanner we drove past the yard to find a crew around the engines and a small group of people also wandering around the area. We headed to our first spot not more than a mile outside of the yard and....waited....and waited some more. Nothing but silence. It was now 10AM and we took the short trip to check out the scene once more; same people walking around no sign of Santa either. This time we just turned around and headed back to our spot. Again no scanner chatter and just more waiting. Growing impatient we headed past the yard yet again and back into the Dunkin Donuts lot. It was now 10:15AM. Finally at 10:20, we heard the horn sound of the NS leader and got back on the road. As we drove past the yard (with no worry with the 10mph limit) we saw the train stopped waiting for the switch to be thrown by none other than Santa himself. The image had us laughing all the way to our first photo location. At 10:30 he finally crawled past the last switch of the yard (within sight) and notched it up across the Rte. 527 crossing in Old Bridge.

After the shot we jumped into the car and headed south towards our next spot. Unfortunately, typical NJ traffic and road work made it impossible for us to pass the train. Another factor to this was that the train was doing much more than the typical 15-25mph of a freight. After the detour it was 40mph until Jamesburg. We got to the south sout of town (lit side) crossing the tracksjust before they flagged the crossing (we were the last car across). We parked in a spot in the middle of town and waited for the train to roll through town.
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Fortunately, Santa was out on the front of the Geep waving to the people.

We then hopped back into the car and headed for the east side of town. Accoriding to one map there was a park on the south side of Lake Manalapan that had a view of the tracks on the north shore of the lake. we took the chance without being 100% of the view but turned out to get pretty good open photos across the lake.
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With half the lake frozen the resting seagulls added a nice touch to the shot.

We got back across to the main road (Rt. 522) that would take us to our next spot. Agreeing that the small crossing int he woods weren't woth rushing to we made our way to Englishtown (between Jamesburg and Freehold) to set up our next shot. We pulled into the development by the Highbridge Rd. crossing and waited along with a family out to see the train only for a few minutes before we could see him come out from behind the trees and across the fill.
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This was one of the best spots to get a photo of the whole consist without shadows.

I had to run back up the hill to the car to try to beat him to the Main St. crossing in Tennent. Coming over the rise towards the crossing we saw the black leader and consist flash over the crossing going much faster than we had anticipated. we knew we could beat the train to the most famous location on the line, the Wemrock Rd. bridge by the Molly Pitcher Well Site. As we turned under the tiny underpass my brother had to do some "creative" parking in the tiny gravel lot between a car and a minivan.
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We had made it nonetheless and the light was perfect for the shot.

Now that the train had entered the limits of Freehold we drove straight to the station in Freehold to get him pulling up to the crowd. As we stood around at 11:40AM we came to the conclusion he was laying back on the line waiting for the arrival time of 12 Noon. Again we turned around and found it sitting by the Builders General about a mile and a half outside of town. We parked off to the side and took a few shots from either side of the train as they got Santa and his "helpers" ready for the events in Freehold.

Over the scanner we heard "Santas on the move!", that was our cue to move and get set up. My brother chose to go to the stationarea while I stayed at the crossing before it along with about a dozen other photographers.
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With Santa out on the front again waving and "Merry Christmas"ing to the people it made a great sight and picture.

I walked/jogged to the station after getting my shot to try to get a picture of Santa getting off the train but couldn't get a clear view. After standing around watching them setup for Santa to meet and take pictures with the kids we grabbed some lunch.

The line was almost gone when we arrived at 1:15PM so I went back to where Santa was to try to get a shot of him with the train. Finally after taking many photos of Mr. Claus and other peoples children, they started cleaning up and I was able to get an unobstructed view of hima nd his "sleigh".
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After a few more children met with him, Santa went into the caboose to relax before heading to Jamesburg.

That was our sign to leave and get to the bridge just outsid eof town for CSXT 4412 leading. My brother stood close to the road and I decided to hike up the hill to get some elevation and block out the now increasingly cloudy sky. Forgetting they had to take all the decoratiosn off of NS 5280 and put them onto CSXT 4412 we stood outside for a little mroe than half an hour until the headlights came into view at 3:25P.
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The bright future leader made for a colorful photo even under the difused sunlight.

While my brother just had to cross the street, I had to sprint across a snow covered field back to the car. Once again we were on our way to our next spot which we decided would be the park, shooting across Lake Manalapan again. After waiting about 5-10 mins the headlight of CSXT 4412 could be seen flashing between the trees at approx. 4PM. After rambling over the first wooden bridge to shore of the lake the train stopped just before the Forsgate Rd./Buckelew Ave. crossing. We took this chance to get into town to watch Santa make his entrance. As we passed where they had stopped the train we saw two firetrucks on either side of the train. Through Jamesburg there is a street on either side of the tracks E. Railroad Ave. and W. Railroad Ave. http://www.google.com/maps?q=jamesburg,+nj&ll=40.347583,-74.434991&spn=0.003597,0.010192&hl=en We found a parking spot about 3 blocks past the crossing and got our spots. There were small crowds of people on each of the road crossings and ped. crossings that we had to shoot around or emcompass in the shot as I did. After sounding the horn twice CSXT 4412 lead the train west again at grueling 5 mph with Santa out on the front waving again. The two firetrucks had their sirens and lights going while CSXT 4412 had its horn blarring as well. It was one of the greatest sights and sounds I've ever witnessed. From the spot we chose, a photo of the train and firetrucks was not possible so we both started walking quickly to follow the train to the firehouse (where it would stop). After seeing my brother run past we to keep up with it I started my sprint as well. He stopped running after about a minute without any luck of passing the train but I was determined to get the shot I wanted. I ran past the police car following the firetruck on W. Railroad Ave., past the firetruck which was pacing the train and ran about a block more so I could set up the shot.
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Outrunning a police car, firetruck, and train at approx. 5-8mph for this view was definitely worh it. Its my favorite shot of the day.

Being absolutely winded, I waited for my brother to catch up and we watched the train stop about 3 blocks ahead of us at the firehouse. I noticed they had used the firetruck to block the street from cars to allow people to walk betwen seeing Santa (in the firehouse) and the train. I walked to the front of it and noticed that there was a clear view of NS 5280 with the truck in the foreground.
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The angle of the sun was just enough to flood the fronts with light.

I met up with my brother as well as a few other photographers at the front the train to get a few photos of the decorated GP40-2. Finally after the being outside for more than 30 mins our hands (along with everything else) were frozen but the great shots were definitely worth everything. We had a very productive day and all within 10 miles of our house all day.

Thanks to all who read this report and thanks for the kind words. Hope you enjoyed it!

bnsf sammy
12-15-2005, 08:42 PM
Did you get any shots of this? If so, could you post them? Nice trip report, must have been funny to see santa throw the switch! :D

VirginiaSouthern
12-16-2005, 09:09 PM
Great photos and a great writeup! Thanks for sharing.

golden_spike
12-17-2005, 03:44 PM
Nice shots and a good report, sounds like a fun project planning it out beforehand and all!

Theres a little shortline near me, maybe iīll plan out a little chase of my own sometime!