J. Alex Lang

The Front Porch

I’ve spent a lot of time at this place.

I had spent the evening with my friend Derrick Brashear working on a successful series of night photos at the Gallitzin Tunnels. We arrived at the Station Inn at around one in the morning, tired and ready for a few beers. It had rained off and on throughout the evening, and once we unloaded our bags it really had started coming down.  As I started to set up my equipment, Derrick decided to head upstairs and turn in for the evening.

I first photographed trains from this porch in 1994 when I was a naive teenager. Back then it was all Conrail and trains at this time in the evening were mysterious – trains that I never saw in daylight. Ghost trailer trains like Mail-4 and Mail-8M would emerge from the fog and streak past while I rocked the chair on the porch and struggled to stay awake for the show, knowing that I would have to wake up early for another adventure-filled day.

Well, this night, it wasn’t going quite so mystically. Somehow, I thought that I could easily pull off a quick night shot that captured the essence of The Station Inn.  The rain contributed greatly to the mood of the evening, and I struggled to “get it right”. I couldn’t get the lights wet, restricting where I could put them; and I was having trouble with reflections from the porch roof. I twisted the lid off of another Yuengling as I tried angle after angle as Norfolk Southern obliged with sufficient traffic to sustain my madness. Angle after angle, flash after flash, raindrop after raindrop – nothing was right. Here I was on the porch of this place, and I was *not* having fun.

I grabbed my beer, and sat down on one of the chairs along the back wall of the porch.  I thought about the times I visited here when I was in college, watching the first doublestack trains crossing the Allegheny Mountains.  I reflected on the first years of Norfolk Southern’s presence as the whole railroad seemed to be a bottleneck. I looked back fondly on the days when one could go to the restaurant downstairs to get a beer and a sandwich and relax in a rocker and let the railroad bring the show to you.

As I sat in that chair, I realized I had my shot right in front of me. I grabbed the camera and eyeballed my composition.  Right then I heard a wailing whistle from the west, and the detector announced “Ennnn Essss Deee-tector, milepost two, five, three, point, one…. track one. No Defects.” I dashed to align the lights, took a quick test shot, and waited tenaciously as the eastbound roared up the mountain. Minutes turned to hours as the autorack train slowed for a bad signal at MO interlocking. The two GE’s crawled into view, I braced myself, pressed the shutter button, and froze the raindrops.

I glanced at the camera screen to check my results and smiled.  Then I swilled the last of my beer, and packed up the lights.  And then, I went to my room and fell asleep to the rhythm of SD40-2 helpers shoving heavy freight over the Alleghenies. As always, I knew that I loved this place, and that I’d be back again soon.

This piece was featured in the Photographer’s Railroad Page, Edition #46, January 15, 2007.