Trackside with Erik and Mike, Vol. 56: September 11, 2006

Erik Bergstrom writes: Funny thing happened to me last week as I was organizing the photos I've taken this summer. In past installments I've discussed how I enjoy enlarging photos to study the detail of locomotives, the trackwork, and the overall train surroundings. Last week's foray into sorting photos is leading me to use a photo that I had no intentions of using in a voting competition. It's not that the photo is bad; I was simply going to use a photo from one of my recent ventures trackside.
Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 crew waving to motorists
ISO 100, 1/400 sec. at f5.6, 300mm. Canon Digital Rebel.
Erik Bergstrom
So what caused me to have this change of heart? Take a look at the photo to the right. While I was sorting my photos of Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 no. 261 (that rolled through Milwaukee back in late June) I zoomed in on this photo to check out the smoke detail. While doing so, I noticed that one of the crew members was waving to motorists on the road that passed below the tracks. Pretty cool! This version of the photo is cropped to show the crew member in action, thus, it's a little grainy because the photo was shot with my 300mm lens.

I also wanted to use a photo of the 261 so I could explain my technique for shooting it that day. You could easily use terms like bizarre, out of the ordinary, or downright goofy to describe it. That morning I used my Digital Rebel with my 300mm lens to shoot the 261 in the distance, and then moved to my Canon 20D as the train got closer. The tracks are elevated about 15 feet higher than the parking lot I was shooting from, and at the edge of the parking lot is a chain link fence. How did I overcome those obstacles? With my trusty six-foot ladder, of course!
Click to enlarge.
Erik Bergstrom
The photo to the right shows my perspective from the second-from-the-top ladder rung. As you can see, I used the open rear gate of the old family mini-van to hold my extra gear. You can also see my scanner on the ground below. It's the first time I've ever pulled a stunt like this. Fortunately, the parking lot I was using is seldom used and off the beaten path. Once I saw these photos last week, I thought I'd share this goofy little escapade.
Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 Elm Grove, WI
ISO 100, 1/400 sec. at f5.6, 155mm. Canon Digital Rebel.
Erik Bergstrom
So how did the photos turn out? You decide! The image to the right is the photo taken with my Canon Digital Rebel and my 75-300mm lens. Don't you just love the way the powerful steam locomotive fills the sky with its plume? Also, the Canadian thistle in the foreground of the photo adds a little color to the otherwise dull right-of-way.
Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 Elm Grove, WI
ISO 100, 1/500 sec. at f5.6, 55mm. Canon 20D.
Erik Bergstrom
And now, my photo for this week's voting competition (to the right). I know, I could have used it a few weeks back when Mike used his full arsenal of 261 photos in Trackside with Erik and Mike Volume 54, but I wanted to counter-act his barrage with a photo from Nebraska which I thought would stand a better chance of winning. Turns out the photo from Nebraska didn't pan out, and when I rediscovered these photos last week I really wanted to share them. The 261 put on a great show that day, and I'm fortunate to be able to see her in all her glory, back on the old Milwaukee Road mainline.

Once last thing before I turn it over to Mike. Our fellow co-worker Rob Oberheide stopped by that parking lot that morning so he could see the 261. I believe he might hold some incriminating photos (and maybe even video!) of my perched atop that ladder. I'll see if I can track those down for our recap next week.

OK, Mike; enough about my photos. What do you have for this week?

Mike Yuhas says: Nice ladder! Gaining a little elevation is often the difference between a good photo and a great one.

I like your shot of the 261. We should probably remind our readers that in the last episode, Volume 55, you wrote, and I quote: "For all the grief you've given me about the timeliness of shots lately I can't believe you have the nerve to use a photo that's a month old." By my reckoning, your shot this time is about two and a half months old, as of today. My shot today is less than three weeks old!

But timeliness is not the only measure our devoted readers use when picking their favorite. In fact, I'd bet age of the photo is of little import -- unless either of us uses multiple photos from one outing in several editions of Trackside with Erik and Mike.
Minnesota Commercial GE no. 54
ISO 200, 75 sec. at f10, 28mm
Mike Yuhas
On to my story. I found myself in the Twin Cities in late August. I had arranged beforehand with my friends at the Minnesota Commercial to come in after sundown for a few night photos. I was looking forward to seeing some of their Alco Centuries in operation. As my good luck would have it, one was hooked up to a slug right next to the street as I drove up. But first, I wanted to shoot a few of the workhorse GEs on the property (to the right).

That streak in the right of the photo is Amtrak's Empire Builder, train 7, approaching its stop at St. Paul. I hadn't heard it coming, so I was a little surprised when it showed up right after I opened my shutter.
Soo Line SD60 no. 6025 night shot
ISO 200, 90 sec. at f10, 38mm
Mike Yuhas
A pair of Soo SD60s tied up at the enginehouse, so I knocked those as well...

After making that photo, a carman stopped by for a little chat, saw that I had permission to be on the property, then told me about one of their switchers back behind the shop. He walked me back there (I didn't feel comfortable about wandering around on my own), but the switcher was in a bad position photographically, wedged between some work equipment and some light poles. And wouldn't you know, by the time we got back, the Alco had been fired up and was off to work the night hump job! I did get a few shots of some other Alcos in a storage line, but it wasn't quite the same as a running Alco Century -- in 2006!
Minnesota Commercial GE B23-7 no. 1971
ISO 1600, 1/50 sec. at f1.8, 50mm
Mike Yuhas
On the way back to the hotel, I came across another Minnesota Commercial GE, working a nearby industry. No time to set up the tripod for a long exposure, so I switched lenses, set the ISO to 1600 and hoped for the best on this handheld exposure just before midnight...

Erik: Very well done, Michael. It's amazing how well the handheld shot turned out. Granted, the ISO 1600 setting makes it look like it's from a newspaper, but it's still remarkable that you could get that sharp of an image. Where you at least leaning on something like your car? I drink way too much coffee to be able to pull that off without a least a little help from a car roof (or maybe a ladder!).

In regards to you being surprised by the Empire Builder's arrival... Are you telling me that Mike Yuhas, Captain Scanner himself, didn't know a train was coming? I'm shocked.

So which one of those fine shots is going to be your entry for this week's voting?

Mike, A/K/A "Captain Radio": I took the 1/50 second exposure hand-held, without tripod, bipod, or monopod. This wouldn't have been a concern if I had been using an image stabilizing lens, but my fastest glass is that old fixed focal length 50mm non-IS lens. I've found in these situations it's best to just hold the shutter button down for several exposures; that way, at least one of the pictures will be sharp. Sharper than the rest, at least.

And I didn't have a radio on me because I was in the thick of all the action anyway!

With all that said, my entry for this week's Trackside with Mike and Erik voting competition is the night shot of the Minnesota Commercial GE, with the Empire Builder streaking by. I look forward to reading our viewers' comments in the forums!

Erik: I'm very impressed that you can take a night shot - 1/50 of a second or not - with no assistance from a tripod, car, or IS lens. Are you sure you don't get a little extra stabilization from resting the base of your camera on your beard?

Well, it's time to head to the voting. See you next week!
Minnesota Commercial GE no. 54
Mike Yuhas's photo for this week's voting competition. ISO 200, 75 sec. at f10, 28mm
Mike Yuhas
Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 Elm Grove, WI
Erik Bergstrom's photo for this week's voting competition.ISO 100, 1/500 sec. at f5.6, 55mm. Canon 20D.
Erik Bergstrom
Time to vote!

Voting on our new site is a little different. The voting actually takes place in the Trackside with Erik and Mike section of That's right, we've made the big time; we're actually a part of Trains magazine's Railroad Reference section as opposed to being off on some random section of

Click here to vote!

Click here to comment on this week's photos in our reader forum.
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