Category: Strasburg Rail Road

The Great Depression Train

Train (obviously)
Train (obviously)

One night when we were teenagers my friend Jeff jumped in front of a train because he thought it was the best way to handle things at the time. A group of us had gone to the movies and as usual Jeff was out of control drunk. After another argument with his mother, a recovering alcoholic, he made his way to the tracks and waited.

Somehow he didn’t die but only broke his pelvis, and he continued to drink as heavily as before. He had his problems: two alcoholic parents, one who shot himself playing Russian roulette and a couple of missing fingers from a homemade bomb explosion, but which one caused such deep depression? Maybe all of them or maybe something else.

I lost touch with Jeff in my late twenties and watched other friends attempt to handle their depression in various ways. Most drank and did drugs as I did, and as time went by several ended up dead. After a breakup with his girlfriend my friend Cary tied a bayonet to his steering wheel and drove into a bridge. Others overdosed or shot themselves, and a former boss chose hanging.

Forty years later I still continue to struggle with depression and see many in the same boat. A photographer I used to follow, Don Graham, often wrote about his battle with Bipolar disorder and several months ago took his own life. He was in therapy and on several medications.

Depression is a fight we have with ourselves, completely created by our thoughts and we get stuck there. Antidepressants will only take you so far and often the side effects are unbearable. Therapy may help, but unless they’ve been there themselves it can seem like just words they learned from a course in college.

I think of depression like a train: Sometimes you can see it objectively, and despite all the smoke and noise you can distance yourself from it and get through the day. Other times its headed right for you, and like my friend Jeff, you stand there as it runs you over.

My favorite author, Charles Bukowski wrote: Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it. Think about it. Think about saving your self.”

The Aristocrats

Strasburg Rail Road Station
Strasburg Rail Road Station

“There was an air of indifference about them, a calm produced by the gratification of every passion; and through their manners were suave, one could sense beneath them that special brutality which comes from the habit of breaking down half-hearted resistances that keep one fit and tickle one’s vanity—the handling of blooded horses, the pursuit of loose women.” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Note: I did not speak to this woman so I have no idea if she’s loose.

I’ll Fix It in Photoshop

The Photo Shop
The Photo Shop

Some people understand that in photography it’s all about the light. They scout out a location, set up a tripod, check their camera settings and patiently wait for the golden hour that usually lasts a few minutes.

Other people will shoot something they find interesting when they’re standing in front of it, even if conditions aren’t perfect. I’ll fix it in Photoshop they think to themselves, sometimes converting to black and white or using a filter or special effect.

The problem is that photography is all about the light, and most of the time you can’t make a bad photo great by playing with curves, levels, exposure and all the other tools in Photoshop.

Award winning photographer Jay Maisel once said: “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.” I think that’s a little like saying there are no bad dogs, but if you watch The People’s Court cases with flesh eating Pit bulls you might disagree.

I’m posting this photo as an example of what not to do because the light was bad and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop. I can go back this afternoon with a tripod and patiently wait, maybe even get a great sunset reflected in the windows, or I can remind myself of another Jay Maisel quote: “There is no one solution to all problems. It’s the problem itself that can lead to the solution.”

I think a giant sandwich and an afternoon nap in a nice warm bed might be the solution in this case. If it’s good enough for Dagwood it’s good enough for me.

Train of Thought

Working on the railroad
Working on the railroad

“Trains are beautiful. They take people to places they’ve never been, faster than they could ever go themselves. Everyone who works on trains knows they have personalities, they’re like people. They have their own mysteries.” Sam Starbuck, The Dead Isle

Can Lightroom Presets Save You?

Thomas Gets Clean
Thomas Gets Clean

Lightroom presets may not save you but they might be able to save you some time in post processing. Even if you don’t like the effect you can learn how it was created by looking at the applied settings, then just reset and start over.

The above photo is a RAW file converted using B&W Sombre Street, which is one in a set of twelve free presets called Street-Photography by Contrastly. Another set of presets I’ve found useful are offered by ON1.

Between the two there are ten free sets contain well over 150 different presets as well as free brushes for making local adjustments. Installing and removing them is as easy as shooting a bald eagle at the Conowingo Dam with a $12,000 600mm lens, maybe even easier.

All presets work with Adobe Lightroom 4, 5, 6, and CC. I downloaded mine a long time ago for Lightroom 3, so if you need that just do a quick search for older versions. Don’t forget to apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos, they leave that up to you.

This photo is far from perfect but it took me ten seconds using the preset versus at least ten minutes to convert to black and white manually. Other than recovering some blown highlights you would never notice the difference at this size anyway.

Remember, you can’t save a bad photo; you can only convince yourself that it’s not a bad photo.

Note: Thomas is not in this facility to get clean and sober, he’s just having a bath. I feel it’s important to point this out for those who think that all trains come from the wrong side of the tracks.

Free Presets for Adobe Lightroom ON1 Inc.

Free Street Photography Presets by Contrastly

The Lesser Vehicle

The Lesser Vehicle
The Lesser Vehicle

Hinayana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the smaller or lesser vehicle. So how does this affect me, the average spiritual seeker you might ask? I’ll give you a simple yet crystal clear example, none of that finger pointing at the moon stuff.

Yesterday I was at the Strasburg Rail Road where hundreds of people gathered to ride Thomas the train. Compared with the larger steam engines, Thomas was clearly the lesser vehicle (no offense intended).

Or so I thought until I saw this miniature steam engine which actually runs on coal. There seemed to be a serious debate going on, probably about the vehicles or paths known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism.

Chögyam Trungpa once said: “We must begin our practice by walking the narrow path of simplicity, the Hinayana path, before we can walk upon the open highway of compassionate action, the Mahayana path.”

I didn’t ask if this lesser vehicle was headed for the open highway of compassionate action, but with all those little train fans running around I think it probably was.

A Stop at Willoughby

A Stop at Willoughby
A Stop at Willoughby

Willoughby? Maybe its wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things.

Or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of The Twilight Zone.

The Right Track

The Right Track
The Right Track

Getting on the right track isn’t easy, even figuring out which is really the right one can be confusing. For example, the track on the left in this photo is actually the right track for the returning train, and sometimes they have to switch to the middle one to get to where they need to go.

It might be easier to think of it as a path, and as you may have discovered for yourself, people sometimes go down the wrong path to get to where they think they need to go. This is true for addiction and all kinds of things that come with living in this world of illusion.

Finding the right path takes as long as it takes, if you realize you’re on the wrong one, get off and begin again, repeat as necessary. Mahatma Gandhi said the path is the goal; my goal is to find the path to freedom.

This is a line from a song called Daly City Train by Rancid: “Some men are in prison even though they walk the streets at night, other men who got the lockdown are free as a bird in flight.”

There really is no easy way to be free.