Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Like Finding Family

 Sidelined, 2012

I don’t make a habit of trespassing. Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t know any halfway serious photographer who hasn’t trespassed once or twice to get a good picture. So there was no way I was going to leave the open door of an abandoned railroad car uninvestigated.
If I get called to court I’m going to call it entrapment and blame it all on my friend Walt. If he hadn’t told me about his friends who were out painting by the old southern terminus of the Eastern Shore Railway, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this temptation. Instead, I was up to my knees in weeds snooping around a string of abandoned railroad cars.
Among them were a couple of railroad cars that had once been used to move construction, repair and wreck recovery teams around the line. If a section of track was being replaced or repaired, cars like these would be stationed along a siding to provide on-site support. There’d be an office car, a dining car, a sleeper or two and specialize cars for cranes and other equipment.
The first car I went in was an old crew dining car. The glass in the windows had been replaced with sheets of plywood. The floor was so fragile that a single misstep would have dumped me onto the ground below. I dared not step too far into it.
Crew Dining Car, 2012
 The other car was an old Norfolk & Western Railway office car. It contained seating, a conference table and chairs and a galley kitchen. Regulatory paperwork posted on the wall indicates that the car was in service until at least 1990.
A brief digression: In 1984 I had a chance to go on the old cruise ship USS United States. She’d been taken out of service abruptly and mothballed for fifteen years. The day I went aboard, though, it looked as if the crew had just stepped away. There were unfinished letters to family members on desks. The chef had already posted the menu for the crew’s dinner. The ship’s official logs were still on a shelf behind the helm.
I was reminded of that visit to the United States while walking through this old office car. Piles of paperwork, maps and other ephemera were all over the place. It looked like a crew of railroad workers had just left the place and a strong wind had rearranged all their papers.
Office Car, 2012

But that wasn’t the big thing.
Another digression: When I was little, my father was the VP of sales for a small railway called the Atlantic & Danville. In 1962 the A&D was acquired by the N&W and renamed The Norfolk, Franklin and Danville Railway Company.
The NF&D hasn’t existed for decades. But here on this old abandoned office car on a siding in Virginia Beach was a trove of NF&D history. Stacks of blank freight invoices, envelopes, weight records, maintenance schedules, bridge repair reports and all sorts of other forms were all over the place. I can honestly say I hadn’t thought one minute about the NF&D since my father worked there in the 1960s. But here was enough unused material that you probably could outfit a whole new railroad if you wanted without having to order any paper forms (so long as you wanted your railway to be called The Norfolk, Franklin and Danville).
I may trespass occasionally to get a good picture. But generally speaking I never destroy property and I never take anything except for my pictures. But on this occasion you’ll have to forgive me for taking one of the old NF&D envelopes.
NF&D Invoice Envelope, 2012


  1. Do you have photos from that SS United States visit?

  2. Wow--that was an interesting detour. How bizarre. Love the photos.