Pennyrile Hike & Photo Walk

Pennyrile Hike & Photo Walk

View from the top of the dam.

Many times during the year, we all make short trips that seem routine.  We tend not to bother documenting them.  After all, a half hour drive isn’t Really a Roadtrip is it?  But our lives are made up of these moments.  If we only pay attention to the big ones, we miss out on the chances to share our daily experiences with others.  

One of our frequent stops is the state park at Dawson Springs.  Every year, Pennyrile State Park has photo weekends, one in the spring and another in the fall.  Various members of our local photography club participate in these and compete for awards.  However, the park also holds nature hikes and other events throughout the year that we sometimes attend without thinking of them as an actual TRIP.  This past weekend several of us joined Naturalist Becky Clark for a morning hike along two of the park’s most popular trails.  

All trails in the park are clearly marked.

We started out behind the lodge, climbed down the natural limestone steps to the dam, that creates the lake, and walked across the top.  Becky gave us a brief history of the park before we proceeded down to the base of the dam for a quarter mile hike along the Clifty Creek Trail.

 Since our group was familiar with the area, we tended to lag behind, more interested in taking photos than listening to Becky’s talks.  She was very patient with us as we caused her to repeat several times, “Our photographers are catching up now,” before the main group could move along.

From Clifty Creek, we crossed the road and headed up the quarter mile Indian Bluff trail which, while being the same length as Clifty Creek, is a bit more strenuous.  By the time we got back to the lodge, my Fitbit claimed we had climbed up the equivalent of 10 flights of stairs.  The trek was leisurely though and the information Becky presented along the way about various wildflowers, trees, wildlife, and cliffs was interesting.  

The weatherman played an April Fools joke on us with his forecast.  Instead of sunshine and warmth, we got overcast and a chilly breeze; but it wasn’t too cold and it didn’t rain on us.  The cool spring has made some things late in blooming, but we did get some nice wildflower shots and the rocks on Indian Bluff are interesting any time of year.   After the organized hike, Jim and I decided to check out one of our favorite spots in the park.  A small waterfall hidden in the woods at the end of the beach.  It has a nice flow, at present, due to all the rain we’ve had lately.  Overall, it was a pleasant trip shared with friends and natural beauty.

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We tend to dismiss places that are close to us as though travel is required to make a place interesting.  One of the things I hope to do over the next few months is demonstrate the fallacy of that way of looking at things.  Kentucky has many beautiful spots.  In May, we will be paying a brief visit to the Red River Gorge area.  This trip will be mostly reconnaissance.  We’ve never been there before.  Years ago, we talked about making short trips to places in Kentucky and Tennessee, but then we got too caught up in heading cross country.  This summer maybe we will begin to correct that.  


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A day railfan trip that turned into a night trip!

A day railfan trip that turned into a night trip!

March 25, 2017 – The Princeton railroad station was built in 1875 and has been beautifully restored. Once housing the C&EI and L&N railways, it was the lifeline of commerce and transportation for the county. Passenger service was discontinued in the late 1960’s. The Princeton Train Depot is now home to the Gibson County Visitors Center and features a railway museum with a restored train caboose.

Sometimes I start out planning to do one thing when I set off on a railfan trip, but end up doing something different which usually results in nice photos I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise!

I try to do some railfan photography several days during the week, usually Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Mostly because on CSX’s Henderson Subdivision, which runs here through Madisonville, Ky, these are the busiest days.

Well, last saturday, March 25th, 2017, the weather was overcast and it was drizzling rain off and on most of the morning as I sat here working on the computer and trying to motivate myself to get out the door and on the road. Yes, I too sometimes have to motivate myself to take pictures! LOL

After posting a few queries on Facebook to a couple railfan groups, about current traffic for trains in the area I want to railfan, I finally decided that I was going to point my Toyota RAV4 north and see where it’d lead me!

Responses to the  Facebook posts were providing some info that trains were out there moving, just not a lot of them, so it seemed, but that never deters me as I always seem to find them. For me it’s not about the number of trains, but catching unusual or different angles, scenes or trains when I’m trackside. This day seemed to start out challenging, to say the least!

March 25, 2017 – CSX Autorack train Q247 arrives at the north end of Howell Yard in Evansville, Indiana.

Out of Madisonville I followed CSX’s Henderson Subdivision north to Evansville, Indiana and during the whole trip I only saw and heard (I use a scanner to listen to the train traffic) one train, a southbound, which I was too late in catching to get a photo! It wasn’t looking good! 50 miles and only one train? Maybe I should have stayed home, but the clouds in the sky were fantastic and I was determined to catch some trains with them!

My first stop was CSX’s Howell Yards in Evansville, Indiana. This is a spot where you can drive all the way around the yard and get good shots from various angles. My favorite location however is on the west side of the yard across from the engine service facility. This is where I caught a autorack train coming into the yard heading south and empty coal train northbound from the yard. Knowing the route the coal train would take I decided to head on north toward Princeton, Indiana to get ahead of the coal train to catch it along its way north. This way I’d be sure of at least getting a few shots with a train.

March 25, 2017 – Empty coal train CSX E234 heads through St. James Curve at St. James, Indiana as it makes it’s way north on the CE&D Subdivision.

The first spot I wanted to catch the coal train was a location known by railroaders as St. James Curve, which is just outside the small hamlet of St. James, Indiana, just past I-64 off of Hwy 41 north. After arriving and waiting about 5 minutes the coal train, E234, graced my presence as it swept through the curve into the frame to allow me to catch this sweeping photo with the beautiful clouds in the sky! First photo I was really happy with from the day!March 25, 2017 – CSX empty coal train E234 heads north through St. James Curve at St. James, Indiana, on CSX’s CE&D Subdivision.

Knowing how fast the train was moving I knew I only really had one other spot I could get to before the train and that was the restored depot in Princeton, Indiana, which was the furthest I planned on going on this trip today. 

Again, I was rewarded with this shot as the coal train prepared to pass the station as it continued its trip north. 

March 25, 2017 – CSX empty coal train E234 passes the depot at Princeton, Indiana as it heads north on CSX’s CE&D Subdivision. The station was built in 1875 and has been beautifully restored. Once housing the C&EI and L&N railways, it was the lifeline of commerce and transportation for the county. Passenger service was discontinued in the late 1960’s. The Princeton Train Depot is now home to the Gibson County Visitors Center and features a railway museum with a restored train caboose.

At this point I was satisfied that I had a couple nice photos in the camera, but still I wanted more!

I had been in contact with fellow railfan photographer Ryan Scott via Facebook Messenger and phone, since I got to Howell Yard in Evansville. He also was out railfanning and we decided to meet up at the depot in Princeton to visit and railfan together.

That’s where things started to change from my original plan! We spent time looking and shooting at the Norfolk Southern Yard at Princeton and along the other lines in and around town and at the Alliance Coal Mine loop where coal trains load. Ryan then suggested night photos! He’s not had much success on shooting photos at night and was looking for some tips and help. I hadn’t planned on staying trackside that late, but it had been quite awhile since I did any night work so I went for it.

March 25, 2017 – The red light from signals light up the front of NS 871 with an empty Norfolk Southern coal train that tied down in Lyle Siding at Princeton, Indiana, waiting on a crew to take it on east on the NS Southern West district.

Now, for the railfan friends of mine that read this, here’s some of the tips I passed onto Ryan as we were shooting at Norfolk Southern’s Lyle Siding and in downtown Princeton during our night shoot that you might find helpful as well.

First, before we got out of the car, where we had some light, we set our cameras as follows: 

  • Turn off auto ISO if you use it and set your ISO to 250.
  • Set your camera on manual and the shutter speed to 20 seconds with your lens aperture to it’s widest opening.
  • Remove any filters that might be on the lenses you’re going to shoot with. Otherwise you can get some ghosting in your photos when the lights reflect back into the filter.
  • Place your camera on a tripod!
  • Then set the self timer on your camera to somewhere between 3-10 seconds. This is to insure that there’s no camera shake, resulting in a blurred image, when you trip the shutter.

Review your first photo on your LCD screen. If it’s too dark, increase your exposure by giving it more time, ie 30 -60 seconds. If your camera won’t allow beyond a 30 second exposure then increase your ISO setting to give you another stop of light. That means go from 250 to 500 ISO, or something equivalent. I try to keep my ISO as low as possible as this helps to keep the noise (grain) down in the photograph. Keep adjusting like this until you get an exposure that you like and feel you can work in. If the photo is too light then of course you go in the other direction with your exposure.

March 25, 2017 – Great time shooting some night action with fellow railfans Ryan Scott and Dave Kunkle! We caught this empty Norfolk Southern coal train that tied down in Lyle Siding at Princeton, Indiana, waiting on a crew to take it on east on the NS Southern West district. A big shout out to Dave Kunkle who was gracious enough to be our “grip” and use his hat to cover a bothersome light on one of the RR Boxes next to the crossing!

Focusing can be an issue when shooting at night as well. I usually bring a bright spotlight to shine on my subject to aid in focus, but since I didn’t start out planning to shoot night photos, I didn’t bring one. So, we had to improvise.

Change your focus point to center weighted so you have a single point to focus with. Then pick a bright spot on your subject and try to focus. If the camera can’t lock in the focus using the brightest spot, then see if there’s not something brighter about the same distance away that you can focus on. Another thing you can do if you are shooting with someone else, is to have your friend stand in a safe spot next to your subject and turn their smart phone’s flashlight on facing the camera and focus on the light from it. Of course you can manually focus as well, but for my aging eyesight I find autofocus works better for me.

Now, once you have the camera focused you need to turn off the autofocus on your lens or camera. Otherwise when you press the shutter button on the camera it’s going to try to refocus when you take the photo, probably resulting in an out of focus photo. I personally use the back focus button on my Nikon D800 and turn it off on the shutter button. This way I don’t have this issue. Most of your DSLRs have this feature. If yours doesn’t then you’ll have to turn it off on the lens between subjects.

Other than that, shoot a lot and check your focus after shooting each photo! Do this by viewing the photo on your LCD and zooming in tight to check your focus. Nothing more disappointing than shooting a bunch of photos to find they’re soft or out of focus, after you get back home.

As you can see from several of the photos here, I came away with some nice photos for not really having planned for shooting at night.

Oh, by the way, I left to start this trip at noon Saturday and by the time I got back home it was 12:30 am Sunday morning. Sometimes, things work that way though! All in all a good trip! Be safe out there when you’re trackside or traveling!

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Coordinating Toddler Schedules

Coordinating Toddler Schedules

As you can see from the new countdown plugin, we have several trips planned.  I will be researching for most of them over the next few months and will be posting highlights from what I find from time to time.  One trip that we are trying to put together is still up in the air because of scheduling problems.  

My oldest daughter, Chrystal, is currently living in Chicago.  She is a favorite with all our Littles and they miss her very much since she moved last summer.  She comes home to visit as often as possible, but it’s a six hour drive each way and that limits her trips to once a month or so.  It’s hard for toddlers to understand why she isn’t here more and they have no concept of where she’s now living.  

So, she and I decided last fall that we’d plan a trip this summer for her grandson, Xavier, along with Damion and Elaina, to see where she lives and works.  There are a million fascinating things to see and do in Chicago and we know they will have an amazing time.  It would be nice if we could take all seven of the ones who live here,  but traveling with that many under the age of six is too much even for me.  As it turns out, getting three of them there may be too much.

Obviously, we thought, the trip would have to wait until school was out.  I suggested sometime in June.  She said, “Probably not.  I think Xavier will be in Texas with his dad then.  July is also impossible, even if Xavier is home by then, Damion and Elaina both have birthdays that month, as does one of Xavier’s sisters that lives in Texas.  School starts back the first week of August.  Damion spends every other weekend with his dad, so that left only two available weekends in May. We settled on the week of May 20th.  When we started notifying parents, Damion and Elaina’s grandmother said, “No, we’ve already got plane and hotel reservations to take them to the beach that weekend.  (Hmph, sigh) 🙄  Back to the drawing board.

Another consideration, Damion and Elaina will be playing T Ball this summer.  We don’t have schedules for that yet, so we can’t even begin to see how it will affect things.  Their grandparents will also want to take them camping, at least once.  They only do one kid at a time, so that ties up two more weekends.  

Maybe we should just give up on the summer.  It is much shorter than it used to be when school didn’t start back until Labor Day week.   I’m thinking maybe we’ll have to wait until fall break in October.  We are both retired.  Chrystal is off every weekend.  The kids are five and under.  Scheduling shouldn’t be this hard.  I dread to think what it will be like when they are ten.


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Where did my love of photographing trains come from?

Where did my love of photographing trains come from?

Road trips don’t always have to be somewhere far away or a long number of days on the road. As most of you know I’m pretty much hooked on trains! As such, I hit the road usually at least once a week to search for new and different train photos for my Facebook page, online sales store and also my website.

So, where did my addiction to photographing trains come from anyway?

PCC & St. Louis Railroad, Conover, Ohio

Well, I can’t really say for sure, but I’ve told my sister April and others that I think it comes from when we lived in Conover, Ohio, about a block away from the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, then commonly referred to as the Panhandle Route, which was was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system. Of course I was only about 2 when we moved from there, so my sister and others say I couldn’t remember trains from that young an age. As for me, who knows for sure.

It possibly came from our mom’s brother who was my Uncle Willard Moore, who was a yardmaster at the then L&N Railroad’s Atkinson Yard here in Madisonville, Ky. I can’t however say that I ever recall going out to the yard to visit him there, but here again I was still young. I do remember walking the spur line that went to downtown Madisonville which came out to the bulk oil plant that ran alongside of the Government housing projects where I grew up most of my young years. We’d hike the tracks to downtown which was the center of the universe for a young kid back in the day when downtown was the happening place.

L&N Depot, Madisonville, Ky – (West Ky NRHS Photo Archive Photo from the Harold Utley Collection)

I recall passing the L&N depot when I’d walk this line with my brothers or friends. Can’t say I remember any passenger trains stopping there then, but I know they did when I was a kid.

I guess I can truly say that I recall the most when this addiction began of photographing trains, at least that I can remember for sure, was in Germany!

I had just finished a graduate course in Photojournalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse University in 1978 where the US Air Force had sent me for training to be a Photojournalist (PJ) where I worked with Combat Camera until I retired in 1995. My first duty assignment was at Rhein Main Air Base, just outside Frankfurt Germany. This is where I met the Grant Family. Norm was our photo maintance man and he along with their son Dale and his wife Gloria, were all into trains and we struck up an instant friendship that carried us pretty much through our whole lives. Norm recently passed away, but I’m still good friends with Gloria and Dale (who is an engineer for BNSF Railway now).

Jim Pearson watches a maintenance operation from the cab of a German Steam engine outside Frankfurt, Germany in 1979. (Photo by Norm Grant)

I can remember to this day our train trips to downtown Frankfurt’s main train station where we’d spend countless hours photographing trains from the platforms there. I guess then Germany and Europe in general was the place I fell in love with photographing trains. During all my travels, in the three years I was stationed in Germany, I always included photographing trains somewhere, on a regular basis.

After I left Germany and was assigned to Norton AFB in southern California where that love of photographing and chasing trains didn’t change at all and has continued through today.

People say why and I say why not! LOL Everyone’s got a hobby of some sort and this one has served me well over the years by taking me to places I might never of gone and allowing me to make friends with fellow railfans from around the world.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! So, expect to see a few train pictures here from my travels!

Me changing film at Lepzig, East Germany during an photo assignment in the area after the fall of the Eastern Block walls and fences. (Photo by Jose Lopez Jr.)


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Revising Our Goals

Revising Our Goals

When we started this website, our purpose was to provide a way for friends to follow us on our trips and to share some of our photos with them.  That has been a problem from the start.  To begin with, when we are traveling, we don’t really have much time for posting.  We are on the road for six or more hours a day and spend evenings editing pictures or just relaxing after the long drive.

Secondly, we don’t travel every week, or even every month.  That leaves us with long periods of time with no new subjects for posting.  We could just give up and take down the site, but we aren’t ready to do that.  So, I’m trying to come up with travel related ideas to fill in the gaps. Originally, we had thought to do that with local weekend trips.  However, with the advent of 12 little Indians in our lives, that hasn’t really happened either.  Most of the time, we are just too busy living to spend much of it traveling.  

So, I’m open to suggestions if you have any.  My current thinking is that Jim spends a lot of time lately chasing trains.  He could make a short post once a week about where he’s been or where he’s planning to go and post some pictures of his excursions.  I haven’t mentioned this to him yet, but it was my first thought.  He’s also made several trips this past year on other photography related adventures that he could write about.

For myself, the furthest that I travel most weeks is to the church and back five days a week delivering children to preschool and picking them back up.  That will change somewhat when school is out though.  There will probably be trips to the parks and the zoo.  There’s the family reunion in Ohio.  Still, not a regular thing that could fill a blog.  

 However, one thing I do all year round is get ready for our big trip in the fall.  Jim’s Combat Camera group meets somewhere in the country for their annual reunion and I design a trip around that location.  I plan the route and research interesting places along the way.  In the past, we’ve spent up to three weeks on the road with the 3 day reunion somewhere in the middle.  I’m thinking I could share my research.  Who knows, you might decide to visit some of the spots I look into yourself.

This year’s reunion is in Colorado Springs and we are probably just going straight there and straight back, a week at most.  This is an economizing measure because next year, we are planning on skipping the reunion for a trip to Europe.  That one will require a lot of research.

Jim has wanted an excuse to go back there ever since he got out of service.  My grandson Brad is stationed in Germany, at present, and Jim sees this as his opportunity. The only parts of Europe I’ve ever longed to see are Ireland and Scotland, but I am an aficionado of mountains and i’ve heard they have some good ones in many parts of the continent, so I’m willing to give it a try. 

I’m hoping that, one way or another, we can come up with, at least, one post a week.  Stay tuned for a potential schedule.  

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