J. Alex Lang

Photographing the Norfolk Southern Heritage Units

After the 2012 release of Norfolk Southern Corp’s twenty “Heritage Locomotives”, many camera-toting rail enthusiasts sought to photograph all twenty.  Many of us (me included) made the trek to Spencer, North Carolina, where NS partnered with the North Carolina Transportation Museum to display all 20 in one location:

Norfolk Southern Heritage Locomotives - July 2, 2012

But this is shooting fish in a barrel.  Other than travel expenses, too easy. (But a very memorable event, though not the point of this post.)

Railfans all know the significance of these 20 machines.

The superficial: Norfolk Southern observed its 30th corporate anniversary in 2012, and part of the celebration was to paint 20 brand new General Electric (GE) and Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) locomotives in historic paint schemes representing companies that merged (sometimes into companies that themselves merged), ultimately forming NS in 1982.

The symbolic: In the 1990s, NS was known as a draconian, spartan, militaristic machine that gained its reputation in part by the use of bright orange, disposable bags – in lieu of proper chemical toilets typically used elsewhere.  After incidents of these bags, shall we say, being disposed improperly NS started issuing them with serial numbers.  Not really great for goodwill and morale.  So with this in mind, the NS of the 1990s, guilty of eliminating the popular steam locomotive trips of the 70s & 80s, was not really known for being railfan-friendly.  It’s under CEO Wick Moorman’s leadership that NS brought back iconic, streamlined EMD F-units (the same type that often wore the red & silver Santa Fe colors often seen under your Christmas Tree) – and then, later, took up Andy Fletcher’s suggestion to paint some locomotives representing NS’ predecessor railroads.

For me, this was an incredible chance to see the colors of old roaming today’s rails.  Railroads in my hometown (of Allentown, Penna.) that didn’t exist since before I was born: Lehigh Valley, Central of New Jersey, Reading… So, my goal was attainable enough, to photograph all 20 of these leading NS freight trains.  Many were seen along NS’ Conemaugh line east of Pittsburgh, not surprisingly because that is where I live.  But a few were observed farther afield.

The true “baseball card collector” will want to photograph them all, in pure sunlight, while each is traveling over tracks formerly belonging to the railroad represented on each locomotive. Ideally with some identifiable landmark relating same, like a station sign, well-known junction, etc.  I’m happy just getting to see all 20 doing what NS bought them for, hauling the nation’s freight.

Many good times were enjoyed, with good company for these too.  On one occasion, my wife and I took our new baby daughter out for her first train-watching jaunt. She promptly crapped her pants. And we saw the Interstate unit.  More than once, I dragged my unsuspecting older kids around.  They usually didn’t mind, too much.  Several of these were photographed with great friends on trips to The Station Inn, in Cresson, Penn. A few were shot with Keith Latimer of the Bridgeview B&B in Marysville.