Riding the rails

My kids love to play with trains.  So for the past couple of months, I’ve been working on making them a train table as a Christmas present for their Thomas the Tank Engine trains.  Most of the ones for sale in stores are too expensive and rather small anyway.  I wanted something that all four of them could use at the same time and have plenty of room.  I used a 64″ x 32″ piece of plywood as the table top; some 1″ x 4″ wood planks for the sides, support beams and part of the legs; and 1″ x 3″ wood planks for the other part of the legs.  Here are some pictures of the work in progress and the finished table.

First, I penciled an outline of what I wanted the top to look like.  Since just having land would be rather boring, I made a lake with a river “flowing” through the land.  The outline of the water area can be seen below.

After the top was finished, I painted the legs, sides and braces a bright red.  Here is the bottom of the table complete with sides and braces.

Now to make sure the legs are lined up correctly…

And here is the finished table, complete with trains ready to roll!

From the top

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Crummy Outlook

I haven’t been able to go out and do any train photography for awhile, but with the weather warming up, I might be able to spend a little time on my lunch breaks. Here’s a shot I took a few months ago from the MLK Jr. bridge. I call it “Crummy Outlook.” On a separate note, there is now a railcam overlooking the Art Musuem, downtown Roanoke and the area of track just behind the museum. Check it out at http://www.roanokerailcam.com.

Lost & Found

This time of year is great for photography, especially when the photo subject includes a train or two! When I was able to go out Wednesday evening for some railfanning, I didn’t think that I would get the chance to go out again so soon afterward. But wonderful wife Sarah took the kiddos with her Saturday morning to go yard sale-ing (one of her “hobbies” :)) so I could finish up my lesson for Sunday morning. I finished up sooner that I thought I would and soon felt the trackside tug. It was a gorgeous day with sunny, blue, clear skies and the leaves were starting to show their colors more and more. Quite simply, it was too much to resist. I packed up my radio and camera, and headed out.

Before I go any further, I have to share a story with you. Friday night, I got lost. Yup, you read right. He of the internal compass, the human GPS, got lost. I stopped by Papa John’s on my way home Friday night and, instead of going down Electric Road to 220, I decided to try to find my way through the back section that meets up with 220 a little further south and thus avoid both the Tanglewood Mall area and the traffic lights near Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, I missed the turn that would bring me out in the Cloverdale area and kept going straight. I realized something was amiss when the road no longer had the line markings and I passed a sign that said “End 40 mph speed limit.” BUT at the same time I was driving parallel with the railroad tracks. Since I knew they crossed 220 near Boones Mill, I figured I’d keep on going and see where it led me. Sadly, I eventually had to stop at a house (once I the road turned to gravel) and ask how to get back to 220. As it turns out, I was only a less than a couple of miles from where I needed to be.

The great thing about my excursion is that, as I said, the road I was on followed the tracks almost the entire way (this, by the way, is the Winston-Salem district often called the “Punkin’ Vine Line” because of all the twists and turns.) There are some great spots for photography including trestle bridges and waterways. Even though I was lost (only for a minute, though!), I thoroughly enjoyed the drive and the scenery, and determined that I would come back for some train photography. That’s where we pick up again on Saturday.

The first spot I stopped at was the trestle bridge over Willow Branch Rd. Parking on the side of the road, I made my way up the steep hill through the trees to the tracks. If a train came from the south, I would’ve had the perfect vantage point to get a shot as it crossed the bridge. If one came from the north, though, it would be on top of me without hardly any opportunity for a picture. After enjoying the scenery and solitude for a little while and with the newly gained knowledge of a southbound train coming from Roanoke (scanners are great!), I climbed down and drove a little farther down to the next bridge, this one going over Starlight Lane. Scrambling up the incline, I found the perfect spot. It had a great view in both directions, perfectly lined by trees with a gentle curve at both ends.

**(We interrupt this blog to bring this safety message) If you find yourself wanting to go out and do a bit of railfanning, NEVER EVER EVER walk onto a rail bridge. Not only is it trespassing, it’s just plain stupid. There are plenty of spots for pictures or waiting without endangering your life by risking getting trapped on a bridge with a train bearing down on you. (We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.)

I didn’t have long to wait before the stillness was interrupted by the distant horn of the V74 Roanoke to Winston-Salem local. Even before it rounded the curve, I could hear the low rumble of the approaching engines. As it came around the corner, I snapped a few shots and then stood back to admire the view of the black (and one blue) behemoths roaring through the once-quiet glen. Knowing that the V74 had to slow down as it approached Boones Mill, I raced ahead of it to another vantage point to get a few more shots. Because of the shadows, some of the pictures didn’t turn out quite as I hoped. But for an unplanned day of railfanning, I had a great time and am eager to get out to these spots again before the autumn colors disappear.

Bridge over Willow Branch

Bridge over Stalight Lane

V74 heading South

An Evening Out

My wonderful wife gave the night off last night to do a little shopping and some train photography. Usually on Wednesdays, Sarah brings Carlos to the church for Sparks and then I stay in town after work and bring him home. But this time she decided to stay at the church playground with Jeremiah & Natalie and let me go out by myself for the evening. So with camera, tripod and radio in hand, off I went!

I was able to hang out at two different spots in Salem for a couple hours and take some evenings shots. Unfortunately, but the time any trains came along it was getting rather dark and my camera doesn’t take very good evening pictures. Not even the trash train (V60) was on time. But I did get a couple of non-train railroad pics. The first stopping point was at the Union Street grade crossing. There are actually two sets of tracks here; I chose the one furthest from the skate park, mainly because it afforded a great view both up and down the tracks. Although I didn’t have to wait long before my train came along, I was still experimenting was the settings on my camera and the only shots I did get really didn’t come out good at all. Low light + point-and-shoot-camera + fast train = crappy pictures. Which is ironic considering that one of the engines was a GE Dash 9-40CW, affectionately known as a Crap-9.

After a little while and quick hello to Lori, who stopped by on her way to scrapbooking at the church (hope you had fun, Lori!), I moved on to a side street just off of 4th. It was the road leading into TimberTruss and this spot was even better. Not only could I look down the track in both directions, but one had a nice gentle curve that would probably have lent itself to great photos in daylight. Even better though, straight down the track I could see the signals that could give me some indication of when to expect a train. A local switcher went by a couple times, and the second time the engineer even called out of the window to me to let me know that they would be coming by again soon. But alas, the rapidly fading light didn’t allow me to stay much longer. This picture is perhaps the best shot of the night. I enjoyed the evening though. It was my first real opportunity to use my scanner to listen to the railroad traffic and have the camera, too. Thanks for the night out, sweetheart!

Night Sentinels

Checking in

Ahh, our vacation was great and very relaxing. It was so good to be able to just get away and enjoy the family and not do much of anything. Sarah has some excellent photos on her blog, including some of Carlos’ soccer game, so stop by and check them out. Oh, and don’t forget to leave her a comment. 🙂

Now it’s back to the grindstone. And I’ve hit the ground running. It seems like I’ve got so many deadlines looming on the horizon, most daunting of which is budgeting. (booo, hiss) Definitely not fun, but also very necessary.

Not much else to say at the moment. I’m hoping to go out and do some more railroad photographing soon. In the meantime, here’s one I prepared earlier. It was taken from the 13th Street bridge in Roanoke, leading away west from the South Yard.

Labor Day Weekend

Happy day-after Labor Day! 🙂 Hope you had a great weekend. We got to spend some time on Saturday with Michael and Leah, went out Sunday evening (more on that below), went to Mitch & Betty’s house for the Labor Day family get together, and then took Carlos to his first ever soccer practice. Whew! But it was a fun weekend. I went swimming pretty much the whole time with Jeremiah and Carlos at Mitch & Betty’s. Carlos was much braver than he had been previously and even allowed me to throw him in without so much as a hint of fussing (course, it might have had something to do with Rachel and Lauren being right there). Jeremiah was hilarious. He would just jump right in whether I was ready to catch him or not! After awhile, I put some water wings on him and he loved that and was even able to float around without my holding on to him. So I left him to float and went elsewhere…. JUST KIDDING! He did do quite well and even figured out that if he kicked his legs he would move forward. And of course, Natalie was one of the star attractions of the get together, and why not? She is after all the cutest baby girl in the world (bias? what bias? 🙂 )

Carlos seemed to really like his first soccer practice, but at the end he said “Whew, soccer practice really wears you out!” It probably didn’t help that he had been swimming for about 3 hours prior to that. He did really well and is excited to play his first game. He’ll miss his first game or two, but I don’t think he’ll mind too much since it’s for a good cause – beach vacation!!

This past weekend, I had the chance to go out and do a little bit of railfanning. It was a quiet evening with not a lot of train action going on the Roanoke to Winston-Salem line near downtown Rocky Mount, but you don’t necessarily need a train to get some photos. Here’s a couple of the ones I took. I think I’ll visit this spot again more regularly since it provides a safe place to park and wait for trains plus has some at-grade crossings.

Afterwards, I met up with Sarah and the kids at a park nearby. We went for a walk, the boys got to ride their bikes (I’m sure Sarah will be posting pics soon), and then went up to the playground nearby.

Ok, here are the pics. Enjoy!

Diverging Lines

32 Miles to Roanoke

N&W Caboose #518631

Railfanning Trivia

Today I watched as a switcher pulled some empty (at least, I presume they were empty) corn syrup cars from the Coca-Cola bottling plant across the road from where I work. The cars were identified as being from the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company based in Decatur, Illinois. A.E. Staley is one of the largest corn refiners in the United States. Here’s where the trivia comes in: the guy who started the company back in 1898, Augustus Eugene Stanley, also started a company football team in 1920 called the Decatur Staleys. He later sold the rights of the team to a guy named George Halas and the team’s name was eventually changed to – the Chicago Bears. Their team mascot to this day is named Staley the Bear. So there you go, from corn syrup to football – all in day’s railfanning.

On another railfanning note, a few weeks ago I was able to go out in the evening and take some train pictures. I posted a few of them at trainboard.com, a pretty cool web forum for any and all kinds of railfans. Imagine my surprise when one of the shots (below) was chosen as one of the Railimages of the Week! 🙂 I was pretty happy. Here’s the shot, three engines in front of the Wachovia Tower in downtown Roanoke. Below it is a rather cute picture of Carlos and Jeremiah – I’m “train”ing the next generation of railfans!