I’ve been working on the railroad
CSX recently decided to cut down a lot of the vegetation that had surrounded the tracks by my house, considerably reducing their charm, so when I started jonesing for some quality time with the tracks, I had to head up the road to LaCrosse. It’s a tiny town that I’ve really only visited by passing through it, but there is something about the tracks up there that I really like. I was prepared with a backup plan of shooting quaint or deteriorating architecture if these rails had been similarly denuded. As it turned out, the day was perfect, and my backup plan was not necessary.
Something that I’ve noticed quite a bit in photos lately that I am trying to avoid is a tendency to age photos of industrial scenes or older structures, as if they don’t exist in our modern world, or as if showing them as they truly look would offend out sensibilities, or be unesthetic. There is something about this process that bothers me, and feels dishonest. With that in mind, I went out at noon on a mostly sunny day to take these shots, so they will be unabashedly in the here and now.
While the railroad system is still vital to our overall transportation system, it does have a feeling of belonging to another era. It is easy to see it as a part of our past, since there is a strong sense of nostalgia linked to the rails from their place in songs and stories that cannot be denied. Even in the bright light of day, that feeling of the past being present leaves an imprint.
The converging lines of the rails themselves suggest travel, but not in the same way as a car or a plane does. There is a romantic feeling to the idea of riding the rails that isn’t there for other modes of travel. Rail travel has gone down since the advent of air travel, although there are those who will always enjoy taking the slower journey, with its opportunities to enjoy the scenery and take a trip to the dining car. Our food and other goods, however, still often travel the rails to get to us. The railroads have enough faith that they will continue to serve that they are constantly researching and upgrading their engines.
There is little that is shiny on a railroad, as it is thoroughly exposed to the elements at all times. The steel that is used for railroad tracks may look rusty, but it actually retains its strength even as it oxidizes. This steel is currently in vogue among architects because of the patina it can develop while still remaining structural.
The spikes on the tracks loosen over time, and often get picked up as souvenirs. Each plate can hold up to 4 spikes, but they are not all necessary to keep the rails in gauge. Although it may appear that the spikes and plates are there to keep the ties in place, their purpose is really to keep the rails from spreading apart.