Standing in the rain at milepost 1195

Posted by Justin Franz
on Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A BNSF Railway grain train near West Glacier, Montana. Photo by Justin Franz.
This weekend, a friend of mine tipped me off that a BNSF Railway grain train was coming across Marias Pass with a former BC Rail C40-8 in the consist. Being a fan of all things Canadian railroading, and having nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I decided to head out to see if I could find this visitor from the north. Even before I grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door, I knew exactly where I wanted to shoot it: The curve near milepost 1195 just east of West Glacier, Montana.

The curve east of West Glacier has long been a favorite with railfans and who could argue with a spot that includes a sweeping curve, a tunnel, a river and mountains surrounding all of it. It is, in my opinion, one of the best railroad photo locations in all of Montana and in a decade of living here I’ve shot many a train there. It’s also a great spot to shoot those rare instances when something unique comes through the area - be it a business train or an old BC Rail locomotive.

But sometimes, I wonder if I’ve shot too many trains there. I was certainly thinking that as I stood in the pouring rain waiting for that grain train on Sunday. Did I really need to get soaked for yet another shot at this curve? Should I go find a new and different spot? Should I find a drier hobby like stamp collecting? (Hours later, as I huddled under a heat blanket fighting off the sniffles I realized the answer to that last question should have been yes).

But there is something to be said for going to the same spot over and over and over again. Every time I go back to that curve, I find something different. Sometimes the shadows will be just a little bit deeper or the fog will hang on the mountains at a different angle. On Sunday, even though it was cloudy, the overall scene changed dozens of times over the course of a few hours. Standing in one spot and seeing all that change makes you realize that there really are a million different lightning possibilities and rarely does that perfect combination of light and shadow align perfectly when a train happens to be rolling around the bend.

Unlike landscape photography, railroad photographers need a little bit more luck and it can take years before all the elements can align at that perfect moment to capture a truly memorable image. Until that happens, I’ll keep waiting along the tracks at milepost 1195.

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