By Michael Derrick
Posted Sept. 27, 2007
December 5, 2003: it’s 2 a.m., dark, very cold. I should probably be asleep, but I am currently trekking eastbound on Interstate 70 in western Kansas. My only company is the occasional over the road truck, working to reach a far off destination. Me? Yes, working toward a far off destination, but for other reasons. I am bound for Satanta, KS, home of the Cimarron Valley Railroad and its fleet of GP30s. I have flown into Denver from Washington, DC on the last flight of the night, getting my sleep on the plane.
As I plod toward Satanta, I have plenty of time to think about the day ahead. Weather forecast is clear skies, temperatures around freezing for the high. A cold, clear day on the plains—I can’t be happier. I have visions of a multi-GP30 lash up in my head, and am very excited to reach Satanta around sunup. However, I’m a bit surprised not to see many GP30s; In fact, the only locomotives outside the shop are a pair of GP26s. An extremely rare rebuild by the Illinois Central Gulf, the only two in existence are rostered by the Southwest Railroad, a sister operation to the Cimarron Valley. And here they are in Satanta.
After checking in with the office and signing the necessary release forms, I begin my day on the Cimarron Valley. I quickly realize there will be no multi-unit lash ups, and my thoughts turn more from visions of multiple GP30s into “I hope a get a GP30.” I was in luck—a single GP30 would head east to Dodge City, and the two GP26s would head west out of Satanta on separate lines.
I didn’t bother checking on consists, since I already knew where the trains were headed. I quickly put together my plan to photograph all three trains on the lines during the times where the sunlight would be most advantageous for each. About this time, GP30 3023 comes out of the shop. I expect a little switching to get the train together for Dodge City. I assume wrong: 3023 heads right out of the yard onto the main, and “heads for Dodge” light engine.
Oh, the horror! The railroad photographer’s nightmare! After several minutes of self pity (which I think all of us have done many times over) and running through all I’ve done to get to this point only to find a light engine moving, I get past it and decide to try to maximize my efforts on “getting the shot,” no matter what hand I had been dealt. As I paced the lone GP30 along the lonely Kansas plains, I watched intently for any photographic opportunities. I noticed that with the seemingly ever-present Kansas wind, when the locomotive would enter a dirt grade crossing, a cloud of dust would kick up. I also noticed a few very old Santa Fe crossing bucks, with “Look Out for the Cars” on the signpost. About as fast as I could put this all together in my head (I have been driving all night, you know), I see a dirt crossing in the distance. I quickly jumped ahead of the 3023, took a brief moment to frame the shot, and release the shutter. Away I came with one of my favorite photographs of the trip.
I am certain that this little episode pales in comparison to some of the extremes the photographers here at Railpictures.net have endured to “get the shot.” Visiting the site almost daily, I am amazed by the distances traveled, physical exertion, and weather conditions endured by the photographers in presenting some of the photographs I see. I am sure all of us have these little stories to tell about how a certain photograph was made. As times change, so do the methods we use to share our stories. From the good old Saturday night slide show to the photo share sites and blogs of the present, it is always nice to be able to share a little bit on what went into “getting the shot.”