Monday 29 February 2016

The Feb 2016 Gala on the Worth Valley Railway

Wow, another long stretch between updates… I know it must look like we’re up to nothing at the moment; the reality is the big sculpture project we’re in the middle of isn’t quite ready to post about yet, so in the meantime, more railway photography.
It was the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Winter Steam Gala over the weekend, and now being in a job where I (Ben) have weekends free, it seemed a good opportunity to get back out taking train pictures.
Saturday dawned dull and grey, and without much enthusiasm I set out for a favourite local location, alongside the river Worth about five minutes from home. A few years ago this location was deserted, and I’d get it much to myself during galas (mainly because the derelict, semi-developed, semi-abandoned park there is a bit of a haunt for local druggies, teenage ne’er-do-wells and people walking scary dogs). Now though any gala sees about a dozen people there, so I ended up relocating to an arguably worse position and in so much of a rush that I hadn’t noticed the camera was on the wrong setting. Cue one depressingly blurry picture from a bad angle, and a feeling that I ought to give up this photography lark.
A bit later in the day saw me, the two eldest Childs, and my father in law out and about in the rather more scenic Haworth-Oxenhope stretch, briefly meeting up with an old mate of mine who I used to do quite a lot of railway photography with back in the day.
 A nice wooded location, if somewhat muddy, but I was hampered by a number of factors. The lighting was poor (flat white Tupperware-lid sky), and this impacted on the camera. Our D90 was a good SLR in its day, but its day has definitely passed, and as soon as HMRC stop taking so much emergency tax off me we’ll have to invest in a new digital SLR if we’re going to keep this game up. Added to that was the ever-present huddles of other photographers (loads this year!) who’d bagged all the best locations, and a general slightly scruffy appearance of the line at this point, and it frankly proved to be a bit of a somewhat uninspiring day.
Feeling somewhat annoyed by it all, on the spur of the moment I decided to head out to get a night-time shot with the last train of the day, another attempt at the night-trails type long exposure abstracts I shot on the railway last year and the year before. So spur of the moment in fact that I’d forgotten that the tripod was bust, but I figured I’d improvise. The shot turned out a little odd because the wind blurred the trees on the right, but with a slight tweak of the contrast it gave a very abstract shot, depressingly the only one of the day I was properly happy with (and which proved this camera might only be good for this sort of abstract shot these days). As if to counter that happiness, shortly after the train had passed I remembered why only idiots go into this bit of park after about 11am, when on the path out I was accosted by a couple of hooded teenagers swaggering into the place. By chance they thought I must be one of their mates as nobody else would dare go onto ‘their’ patch in the dark, and by the time they realised their mistake I’d legged it. Thank god it was dark. Still, adrenaline rush.
Sunday was much better- today would be a mass family outing actually riding on the trains. We were on the first one out of Keighley, a vintage train hauled by the newly-restored Taff Vale Tank loco, number 85. Being so immersed in Steampunk projects at the moment I have a soft spot for this sort of loco, and there is something wonderful about riding in vintage compartment stock, a slight sense you’re in a period Sherlock Holmes detective story.
A quick word on the trains though- the Worth Valley have been suffering a bit lately with motive power at gala events, with them unable to bring in visiting engines due to Bradford Council not wanting to shell-out to mend a bridge, and Notwork Rail being funny about trains arriving by rail. This years gala also saw several home-fleet engines out of action, meaning the whole gala was in the hands of only five locomotives. But the railway did a brilliant job, it was a nicely varied fleet of engines and it was a very enjoyable day.
Star of the show for us was of course "Big Jim", the American S160 loco. This was one of many hundreds of these engines built in the Second World War for service around the globe, and a lot of them stayed running post-war in countries like Greece and Poland. This particular loco came from Poland in fact, and though it is very much out of character for a railway trying to portray itself as a 50’s midland-region branch line, it is a very popular loco with enthusiasts, and with me and the Childs in particular. For starters whenever it goes past the house blowing its chime whistle it sounds like we could be in a Wild West film. Then you have the distinctive livery, the general look of the engine, the power… it’s definitely the favourite of our kids, and they liked seeing it on so many trains during the Sunday.
 Probably its best appearance for us was on the non-stop service in the afternoon when it came barrelling through Ingrow West station, whistle howling at all the people stood a little bit too close to the edge of the platform.
Happily the camera was coping a lot better with the lighting on the Sunday which meant it was a bit easier to get pictures. The only loco I didn’t manage to get a snap of this time was the 4F, mainly because it was hauling a lot of the trains we ended up riding.
I also took the opportunity to do a couple of the long-exposure tunnel shots again.
And so to the evening- I like nipping out to photograph the demonstration freight trains if they run, but due to the locomotive shortages this year it was only running on the Sunday evening, late in the day and in fading light, so I figured another arty long exposure pic might be in order. By this point the timetable had slipped a bit, so unexpectedly we got to see "Big Jim" in the twilight. We also got stared at with a slight but palpable sense of loathing by some neighbours who hadn’t realised I was a railway enthusiast up to this point, but hey-ho (there seems to be two kind of people on our street- those who like the railway, and those who get annoyed that a few times a day steam trains noisily pass, as if it was a secret when they bought their new-build houses there was a decades-old preserved railway running through the middle of the estate. I suspect it’s the kids of those families who spend many a happy summers day lobbing bricks at the trains). But I digress and rant.
By the time the goods train did arrive, the lighting was a bit awkward- too dark for a decent ‘normal’ shot and too light for an abstract light-trails shot. I tried anyway, and believe it or not but there is a train in this photo. Still, even if I couldn’t get a proper picture of it, it was nice to see.
So overall, a not too bad weekend of photography and fun riding the trains. If anyone connected with the railway happens to see this I’d like to congratulate them on another enjoyable gala, particularly given the trouble they had organising it all again this year. The family enjoyed riding the trains, and I managed a few nice pictures, particularly as I haven’t had opportunity for much of this sort of thing lately. It’s also reassured me personally that I can still enjoy photography, when I can fit in in around the various other pressures we’re dealing with at the moment (and also the fact all our art-related work of late has been sculpture-based, leaving not much time for photography). It has however once again proved that we really, really need a new digital SLR and that I need to kick HMRC up the backside to get me off this punishing emergency tax code I’ve been stuck on since last year…