Looking Back At 2022
With December coming to a fast close as always, the year nears its end. 2022 has been a whirlwind year, As most years go, it was a rollercoaster at times, with high highs and and deep lows. In some areas, I did a lot this year, and in others, very little. With this year, I added thousands of miles in trips to my car, visited new places and shot in more states than in any previous year, as well as some very different adventures that have made quite the impact on my life. Many connections, many things... busy, busy year.
A lot happened this year! Let's start from the beginning...
Starting out, December and January are the slowest months in my photography hobby. Limited light and time reduce my opportunities to get out there with my camera drastically. January this year was no exception, except for a pair of weekends that saw me barreling down the IC mainline on near-identical chases of CN A408, led by IC1000/IC1026. Continuing the deathstar theme of 2021 in the early weeks of 2022 - and with the first same locomotive each year, even - was a great start. This saw my farthest chases south, and my first time in Centralia. I have yet to embark on a chase that far again, but I'd like to head back down that way again.
February gave me a chance to get back to the NS Bloomington District, a location I'd started shooting the year prior. Rumours were abound that the old US&S H5 searchlights across the line were slated for replacement, so I raced towards them at any opportunity - even in the snow and ice.
A day trip to Indiana was also on the books last minute, as I learned of the Chicago South Shores streetrunning ops in Michigan City were coming to a close. Some friends and I all pooled together to make the trek, and we were shooting the unique operation all day long on its final day. It was a trip that was definitely overlooked, and certainly with all the others there shooting I was just one of many, so my photos were less successful online. Regardless - what a trip!
The following weeks were busy as I finally got into ATCS - Advanced Train Control System - which allowed me to view the general locations of trains on signalled lines by showing signal indications. There, my hunt for trains on the Bloomington District took off. Frequent trips to the old Wabash main were paired with shots closer to home - local traffic, IC and NS alike. One of the elusive GP40Rs in black made it home and on Humko, and became a prime but ever difficult target to hit, while other trains in the vicinity caught my eye from time to time.
I'd also been getting back into model railroading and HO scale throughout the year thanks to being egged on by friends. I attended my first Cornfield free-mo meet with my friends at the Illini Railroad Club over in McClean, IL. Getting to run stuff on the huge layout there - and also in the train show in Urbana a few weeks previously with these guys - was great fun and has caused me to spend an unhealthy amount of money on the hobby already. But, it is fun! I'm hoping to start throwing together my own little modules and eventually a proper layout one day in the future - if I ever get enough space, at least.
Meanwhile, throughout these months - and since November of 2021 really - there had been a lot of waiting, meanwhile. Trips had been planned - some for photography, one of which morphed into a huge week later in the year, but some for more personal things. One such trip was the last week of April and into May.
In 2021, I took a trip to London, meeting with friends and seeing a show from my favourite artists. One of the people in the group was new to me, a friend of one of my friends in the group. Turns out, she and I got along really, really well. So well, in fact, that we kept talking online even after we'd had to leave at the end of the London trip, and we then planned for her to come here for a visit.
Finally, in April, she was here for a week. And what a wonderful week it was.
Though it'd been official for months before already, this April trip with Tal was a huge step forward in our relationship. It was a delight to have her here for that week. Being able to share my family, my home, my country, and myself with her was something truly special. There is a huge difference in dating someone online versus in-person. Borders mean that in-person is hard to do at present, but that can be solved after some time. Trips like these will have to tide us over... for now.
We were busy in that week. A lot of it was just exploring and showing her around the area, and then I also gave her a taste of my hobbies. We chased a few trains together as a result, giving me my first opportunity to shoot the Bloomer Line, and also catch the aforementioned IC GP40R departing Champaign behind two other deathstars. Even though she isn't a railfan, she said she enjoyed the chases with me and supports my hobby. Hey, can't ask for much more than that, can you?
The week went by so fast, and despite family health problems during that time, it was a wonderful experience. It was the first of our trips - and far from the last!
In the next few weeks, I went on a day trip with a friend to visit the B&O signal haven of Deshler, Ohio, and also found myself getting some additional ink on my body. Signals and a tattoo pretty much back to back. Fun times, eh?
Illinois Central Deathstar tattoo! I didn't want to do a black-i (aka inverted IC) because I don't like the look, so I went with black in the negative space of the deathstar logo, which came out incredible. One of the hardest parts was tracking down a proper copy of the logo, as most online are spaced wrong and tracing a photo of a locomotive has its own problems thanks to locomotive noses. I bought a 1995 IC system map which had a big printout of the logo, scanned it at high res, and that became our source material. Done by Trinity at No Regrets in Champaign IL - big shouts to her!
The end of May saw the double ended tragedies of Lodges losses - signal and grain elevator alike. I detailed that more in "The Losses at Lodge."
The beginning of June, meanwhile, saw another trip - a weekend in Wisconsin with friends. Our server hosted a meetup at a cabin near Ferryville, WI, and we spent that time chasing trains on the CP River/Marquette subs, honking train horns, and having some chaotic but fun nights. Hell of a trip!
Barely a week after I arrived home from Wisconsin, the surprise QJ excursions caught me way off guard, but I managed to sneak up to Silvis to shoot the last day of them. Talk about a nice day trip.
While occasionally shooting local trains, two major trips were coming up fast. Reading T1 2102s return to service had sparked a trip idea from a couple of my friends, so we decided to plan something out for that. As signal enthusiasts, we opted to take on the NS Roanoke division with its former Norfolk & Western Color-Position-Light signals. With the news that signals were coming down soon, we planned it hit it hard.
However, I had a ways to go to get to Roanoke, where the trip would start as a group. Our timing gave me a weekend I didn't know what to do with, until another friend mentioned the CSX Big Sandy subdivision. A little plotting on maps later and I had a plan in mind. I could knock out five stones in one trip - 1) the former C&O signals on the Big Sandy, 2) the Belpre-Industrial Parkersburg Railroad in Parkersburg, WV and southeast Ohio, 3) exploring part of West Virginia I've modeled into a route in a train simulator and getting first-hand photos and inspiration, 4) the N&W signals on the Roanoke sub, and 5) the RBMN T1 2102.
Wew. What a trip. It was incredible though - the Big Sandy was unbelievably fun, a bit scary at times (those roads!), and netted me a great selection of photos, necessitating a return. The BIP was a lovely little adventure, and one I'm eager to repeat to achieve some better photos. West Virginia Route 16 from St. Marys to Gauley Bridge was one hell of an adventure. Little cell service, winding and hilly roads, and a unique look into the heart of the state I'm modeling virtually and one day in HO scale, with luck.
The area I travelled in WV mostly contained no real tracks, the route I've been building in a train sim and maybe one day in HO scale is fictional. But, for a moment, imagine if it were real...
Setbacks from blocked roads didn't keep me from reaching Roanoke, where I met with two friends. We'd shoot the Roanoke division for the next three days, with one of the two departing on the second day as the remaining two of us wandered northwards.
It was excessively hot, traffic was minimal, and the waits were long, but it was a success by all accounts. There are many shots I'd like to redo and more places to explore, but alas, time was not on our side, and many signals we saw are gone, their photos now their only memory. If the remainder do continue to survive, I hope to return one day, but we shall see.
The T1 was also a hell of a ride. That was a fast paced chase, and I'm glad I wasn't the driver for it that time around! We got some nice shots all told, and it was a good adventure.
Originally, this trip would have had us shooting the NS Port Road line, but severe storms overnight had knocked trees across the tracks in numerous places, and traffic was shuttered, so I returned home a day early and with time to process some photos.
It was only a week later, however, that I was once again flying across the ocean and returning to England! Yes, once again I was there, and this time specifically to meet Tal again.
Unfortunately, this trip went sideways after just a few days. It started off great, but a few days in, I was whacked across the head with a horrible illness that kept me shut in the whole rest of the trip and then some. It felt like a fever at first, nothing that bad, but overnight I was hit with a strep-like throat pain among other things.
Thankfully, Tal was there and took care of me the best she could, be it going out and getting medicine or food, or just being there and comforting me. I would not have made it if she wasn't there - I was practically bedridden and had no way of getting, well, anything.
Things did not improve by the time I had to leave for home, and while I was on my feet and improving physically a little bit, the weather was against me. The extreme heat wave in July occurred during my stay, and my train was cancelled. The next one in was late, overcrowded, and stuck moving at restricted speed.
Despite my best efforts, the heat wave caused me to miss my flight. I was able to freely rebook to another one, but this flight had me going to Washington DC, Dulles, instead of Chicago O'hare, where I'd have to layover over night to catch a connecting flight to Chicago. The problem I did not realize at the time is my connecting flight left out of Reagan. I flew into Dulles at midnight. There is no public transportation that late. So, one expensive Lyft and some hours nodding off in an airport later, I was able to make my flight home.
I was too sick to return to work the rest of the week. Still not sure what it was, really - the throat pain and headaches were the real killers, not so much my respiratory system, not really covid symptoms. Near the end we did go to a clinic and the nurse suggested it could be covid, but maybe not, and who really knows. Wonderful.
It would be weeks yet until I got out of doing anything other than going to work, no photos for a good while. Eventually, I ventured out with my friend for another daytrip, this time to Lafayette, IN. We scored some NKP R2 signal photos, and did some general scouting and sight-seeing. Nice little trip. Previously, we'd also visited the Bloomington District for the first time since Lodge fell. That was a tough one to see.
With the memory of how horribly sick I was and how our last trip hadn't gone so well, Tal and I were eager to make up for it with another US trip. We had tentative dates scheduled for it, and we had a plan all worked out, but we were waiting on some crucial information. We were hoping to have her come over for and we'd chase a steam engine, or come over on my birthday - one of the two. The MILW261 hadn't yet announced dates, though the NKP765 did throw some up. In fact, they had a date on my birthday. We were about to pull the trigger on that when the 261 guys announced a weekend of excursions - also, on my birthday!
Plans were made, time off requested, and plane tickets bought. In the meantime, the NKP765 did have two closer dates, so with the newfound knowledge that we'd be shooting 261 instead, I went out to Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan to shoot the 765. Very fun weekend! Busy to be sure, but it was a mighty fun little trip, with another big steamer crossed off my list.
September saw me crisscross central Illinois for deathstars, signals, shortlines, and museums. Monticello Railway Museums Southern 401 was back, and I was able to snap a few photos there - then Railroad Days came about and I visited, also getting a chance to blast my Wabco E2 horn.
A buddy of mine recently became engineer-certified on the Decatur & Eastern Illinois railroad, a Watco property, so he invited me to come shoot his first official road train, and I was happy to oblige. With some deathstars early in the month and more runs on the Bloomington District, it was a busy month.
Right at the end of September, though, just days before Tal would be flying in for my birthday and the 261, the stars aligned - literally. I was able to venture out deep in the night and capture a photo - rather a series of photos - that I've been dreaming of taking for a long, long time now.
In Between Days was the photo of the year. I had taken the risks and got what I had been dreaming of. I wrote about in the post also named "In Between Days."
Then, of course, Tal was here. No sicknesses were contracted this time, and we had another wonderful week together. My parents offered to buy us tickets to ride one of the two Milwaukee Road 261 excursions, so we chased one day, rode the other. This outing also gave me a chance to show her the classic American road trip a little bit. Quite a difference in scale on this side of the pond!
Our plans long-term are to bring her here permanently (with all that entails!), so really introducing her to the more American way of life is a valuable thing to do. But, more importantly, it gives us time to be together, which is something we rarely get a chance to do. It's not easy, but it's worth it.
Unfortunately, this was the last time I'd see her in person for 2022 - we have our first trip scheduled for 2023 though, I'll be venturing over there and we'll be seeing the Pendulum live band at long last (a life goal for me!), and as I write this we've both just gotten our time off for a longer trip in May approved.
While she was here, we saw some interesting trains - obviously 261/32A, but also NS D36 with a pair of Southern Pacific rebuilds in tow. IC1011 greeted us at Parnell shortly before, and that shot somehow became one of my top photos on Flickr overnight. We also attended Cornfield at McClean again! Though that was unfortunately her last day on the trip, but she was quite jazzed by all the model trains and already wants to help build some scenery and do some painting and weathering for a module/layout. Truly, I have hit the jackpot.
It has to be said, there's little better in life than being with someone who encourages your hobbies. That was always a worry of mine when considering relationships previously (as I do have a lot of them, all expensive and taking up tons of space and time), but with Tal, I have no worries there whatsoever. As long as I don't bankrupt us doing all this of course!
Since then, I've done little else photo wise. A little more Bloomington District action, and then I ventured to Iowa City to chase the UP donation train with the 3985, 5511, 6936, and others, which was a freezing yet fun overnight trip.
Since returning from Iowa City, I've shot hardly anything. It's those winter blues - or rather, the fact daylight savings time exists and ruins any chance of shooting stuff 5 out of 7 days a week. Between work and wanting to spend time talking with Tal on the weekends - as during the weekdays our schedules don't align enough to do anything more than text for a couple hours - I have little time for photography.
Here and there, I'm able to sneak in a photo or two, but it's not easy, to say the least.
Of course, like last year, I made a point to get out and try and shoot something on New Years Eve. My first attempt was an A407 IC duo, but that didn't work out - the Bloomington, however, granted me one last chase. I missed Osman by a hair - just one more minute! - but I secured a few last minute shots at the signals at Lodge, Monticello, and Bement, as well as codeline near Mansfield. My last photo for the year wound up being the Monticello intermediate - rather fitting, considering it was one of my first signals of the year, and the Bloomington and its signals has been such a major point in my photography lately. Although I'm slightly soured by missing the ICs and Osman, it was still a good send off for the year.
But, regardless, this years rollercoaster brought with it a great many things. I've greatly expanded my model railroad hobby, collecting a number of HO scale locomotives and rollingstock to model the IC in the 90s, though I lack any sort of layout presently. My computers at home have seen change - my Mac suffered a catastrophic hard drive failure (seriously, do not ever buy a computer with a fusion drive. Unstable as hell, not worth it) and the backups of it were deleted by the very program macOS uses to restore them. I saved my photos though! At the cost of my DJ library, sadly, so that hobby has all but nosedived for now. My Windows PC got big, nice new monitors to allow me to edit photos on there properly - and also because I wanted new monitors. I even acquired an RTX 3070, and next year I'll slowly pick up the rest of the PC parts I need to build a fresh PC.
My car, meanwhile, has had better years. I've had to sink a few grand into major repairs this year - my catalytic converter failed on me just after the Iowa City/Silvis trip a few weeks ago, and I had to have tires, brakes, and a strut replaced earlier in the year as they were just wearing out and needed replacing. This year has been rough on it, although its a toss up as to whether 2021 did it worse. The little Kia will keep going and is in good shape once again, but I do worry about it at times. It'll need an upgrade - a new vehicle more suited towards what I do - in time, but that's a very pricey thought and one that gets to wait a while yet. Fingers crossed she makes it another year.
And of course, there is Tal. Our relationship definitely sped right up through the year as soon as we met in person again, and it has overall been great. Despite the disastrous trip in the middle of the year, our other two trips have gone well and we remain in constant communication thanks to the internet. It goes well despite the challenges, and if all continues to go well, then we could start closing that long distance gap as early as early 2024. Exciting prospects, no? By no means easy, but very much worthwhile if everything goes according to plan.
The last item on the docket - the print store is done and now up! A limited selection are available, and I'll have another post in more detail about this soon, but that was a project I've been chipping away at for a long while now that I can finally mark off as complete. Take a peek at it!
So, yeah, that about covers it. 2022 was a mixed bag, but it was an overall pretty good year. The trips I went on, the things I've seen and shot, and the people that tagged along are just some of the highlights of this crazy, crazy year. 2023 is going to be an interesting one - already I've got two trips with Tal planned, one railfanning trip in the tentative/pre-planning stages, and more short trips or adventures that I'm hoping to finally execute this year. We'll see what happens this next year, but with any luck, it'll be a good one too.
Only way to find out - let's see where it takes us! Anyway, until next time.
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Hello, my name is SM, and this is where I write.
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