Photo: screen capture, January 5, 2021.
The photo is not exactly mine, what with Trains Magazine and earthcam.com and the city of Rochelle, Illinois, all having a hand in maintaining a web cam at a city park designed for rail fans. The screen capture was from that video feed.
Where, you might ask, are the trains?
Why must a train be in the shot for it to be “railroad photography“? Well, there’s probably no good reason except that trains and most especially locomotives are what interest consumers and makers of railroad photography. I confess: The few times I’ve done railroad photography, that is mostly what I’ve done as well. Except that as time goes by, I’ve become more attracted to things incidental to the trains and the locomotives. This is a good example of what I might like to do more of, should I ever again escape my apartment.
In this screen capture, the figure at the diamonds (track crossings) is a maintenance-of-way employee checking the tracks for anything that needs attention right now and not tomorrow. This is the crossing of two mainline routes, travelled each day by several dozen trains on each track that might collectively weigh-in well north of 300,000 tons (a 10,000 ton train would not be unusual) bouncing across the intersection at anywhere up to maybe 60 miles per hour. Care to contemplate what kind of foundry hammer that is? This is a spot in the tracks that needs almost continual maintenance and inspection. And yes, they do occasionally throw up their corporate hands and replace the intersection with new rail and roadbed. (It was amazing how quietly the trains crossed for the first few weeks afterwards.)
The weather was at the tail end of an ice storm. Fog and ice rest like — what? A blessing? A faerie spell? A blanket? Ice can be a serious business, even derailing massive trains, so maybe like an existential weight? Or even a curse, perhaps. One New England railroader is said to have chanted: “Snow, snow, beautiful snow. Damn the stuff! See it come!” Ice is no less.
I think of ice storms as Kentucky winter weather though maybe the label Ohio River Valley would do as well. (After all, I’ve only been in Kentucky once in my life, in the summer, so my label lacks authenticity.) It is simply that when a winter weather disaster hits that part of the country, it seems to be ice rather than snow, more often than not. What with climate change, I keep on expecting ice storms to become more common in northern Illinois and winter 2020-2021 seemed to agree.
On this cold, foggy and icy morning, it is not just the track wear that is being checked but also any build-up of ice, mostly that which was knocked off of trains pounding across the diamonds. IIRC, not long after in the day a crew with a small “Bobcat” tractor, leaf blowers, shovels, picks and other “implements of destruction” (as Arlo Guthrie might sing) spent a few hours clearing the tracks and the flangways.
Just another day in paradise.