#155. Saving Steam

#155. Saving Steam

This is a guest post by Paul Perton, a talented English photographer living in South Africa and with a passion for steam trains. A beautiful online essay on this subject is available here : http://issuu.com/paulperton2/docs/saving_steam?e=2443592/4847084

Thanks a lot to Paul for the contribution. We hope others will follow and invite other readers to submit theirs whenever they wish to – Pascal

Enthusiasts' excursion heading for the south west. London, August 2013  Sony NEX-7, Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux

Enthusiasts’ excursion heading for the south west. London, August 2013
Sony NEX-7, Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux

If the TV in the UK is to be believed, we are all railway lovers. Documentary follows documentary telling us so and re-assuring us that one of the most significant developments of the Industrial Revolution had it’s genesis there.

Which at least in part, explains the nation’s dedication to the hundred plus preservation societies and the railways that have sprung up since the demise of steam in the late ‘60s. Amongst countless words that have been written about the phenomenon, the story of Dai Woodham and his scrapyard at Barry Island stands out (http://www.greatwestern.org.uk/barry1.htm) – it was after all, the saviour of the then fledgling preservation movement.

Thanks to Dai Woodham, today, that movement is a multi million pound industry servicing annually increasing numbers of both local and international visitors.

Passing place; 30777 "Sir Lamiel" passes former Great Western 2-6-0 tank engine no. 5542 at Blue Anchor Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Passing place; 30777 “Sir Lamiel” passes former Great Western 2-6-0 tank engine no. 5542 at Blue Anchor
Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

My interest in railways dates back to my ninth year, when my older cousin took me out spotting one Saturday morning and in moments, I was hopelessly smitten. Fifty and a bit years later, the passion still runs deep in my veins and whenever I visit the UK, I do my utmost to schedule some time on a station or part of the countryside where steam trains run.

The week preceding Easter this year saw me in a bitterly cold England, following the hospitalisation of my octogenarian father. With some time on my hands, the West Somerset Railway’s (WSR) Spring Steam Gala beckoned.

Tender, rain. Minehead  Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Tender, rain. Minehead
Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Late winter Somerset didn’t put on it’s best for me. It rained, sleeted and the wind easily blew the thermometer below zero (Centigrade). Despite the conditions, the Railway did it’s best and ran to the fair weather timetable it published, despite the trains being barely half full of chilly visitors.

The WSR’s Web site is very informative and highlighted lots of spots where photography was possible, many in this case temporarily inaccessible with mud and water everywhere. Nonetheless, camera in hand and steam power nearby, the hours of a childhood spent on windy, wet platforms and bridges all came rushing back.

Heading north; former LMS 4-6-0 no. 45231 heads an enthusiasts' special near Settle  Sony NEX-7, 135mm f2.8 Leica Elmarit

Heading north; former LMS 4-6-0 no. 45231 heads an enthusiasts’ special near Settle
Sony NEX-7, 135mm f2.8 Leica Elmarit

Unexpectedly, my photo buddy – we’d originally planned some time photographing on Exmoor – re-discovered his own childhood; the noise, steam and smells taking him back to family visits in the ‘60s Midlands.

Prime time for steam was in the mid decades of the last century, a time of black and white film and less than satisfactory colour. Today, despite the technological ability in even the simplest point and shoot, it seems wrong to produce colour images, when monochrome is so much more appropriate.

Glimpse of the past; two century old steam locomotives with a morning train on a bitterly cold winter morning on the Bluebell Railway  Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Glimpse of the past; two century old steam locomotives with a morning train on a bitterly cold winter morning on the Bluebell Railway
Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

My workflow is simple enough, do the edits in colour; a tweak of the definition slider, minor curves adjustments – there are lots of shadows and dark details to bring out – and then into black and white. A bit of extra contrast and a vignette. Job done.

Close up - valve gear  Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Close up – valve gear
Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Weather and circumstances combine to deliver moody, gritty images that evoke memories of days gone by – days all too easy to remember as simpler, less challenging and if memory serves, way, way better.

Turn of the (last) century? A morning train waits at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway  Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Turn of the (last) century? A morning train waits at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway
Nikon D800E, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Embsay. An industrial 0-6-0 steam loco shortly after sunrise. Already a warming fire has been lit and the locomotive will soon be ready for the day's work  Sony NEX-7, Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux

Embsay. An industrial 0-6-0 steam loco shortly after sunrise. Already a warming fire has been lit and the locomotive will soon be ready for the day’s work
Sony NEX-7, Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux

Heading north (2); former LMS 4-6-0 no. 45231 heads an entusiasts' special near Settle  Sony NEX-7, 135mm f2.8 Leica Elmarit

Heading north (2); former LMS 4-6-0 no. 45231 heads an entusiasts’ special near Settle
Sony NEX-7, 135mm f2.8 Leica Elmarit

No. 30777 "Sir Lamiel" leaves Bishops Lydeard with an afternoon service train  Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

No. 30777 “Sir Lamiel” leaves Bishops Lydeard with an afternoon service train
Nikon D700, AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Christopher Mark Perez September 15, 2013

    Oh, now you’ve gone and done it. I LOVE steam power. Nice photos. Interesting post. Leaves me wondering where a person can find such things in or around Paris. Any suggestions?

    • Avatar
      paulperton October 08, 2013

      Christopher, no idea around Paris, but hop on Eurostar and you’ll find plenty within easy distance of London. I’d start with the Bluebell Railway, the Mid-Hants and perhaps a trip west to Didcot. Very few heritage railways operate every day in the winter, so check their Web sites and see what might be on offer.

      Oh yes, you’ll be outside so remember to take some warm clothes along with your camera.

  2. Avatar
    philberphoto September 17, 2013

    Great story and great pics! It reminds me of when I was a child, and rode a train drawn by a steam engine. I thought it was fantastic, powerful, romantic, and I loved to hang my head out the window to see the puffs of smoke pouring from the engine. Except that I soon learned that there was a price to pay: getting coal dust in my eye. Ouch! Thanks for this moment of blissful regression!

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