The far northern strip of Montana along the Canadian border is very remote. But what it has, it has a lot of…cowboys, wheat, big skies, wide open prairies, native American Indians, and trains. This part of the state is called the Hi-Line, which gets its name for the railroad that runs along U.S. Highway 2. Roughly 40 very long trains pull cargo every day travel along the BNSF Railways tracks that span the entire length of the state. So making photos of trains would make sense, right? Not necessarily. Train photography, you see, has many more hoops a photographer needs to jump through than one might think.
Railroads, you see, are very dangerous places. And because of that BNSF Railways and other rail companies in America are very careful to protect their tracks and their right-of-ways along the tracks. They just do not like people near their railroads. Venture too close to the railway to make a photo and you might find yourself in jail. Even if you ask for permission BNSF is very unlikely to grant it. It’s one reason I have not spent much time making photos of trains.
Trainspotters and railfans (as they are called) are railway enthusiasts and they are very common in these parts, but they make the people who make the railroads very nervous. Who is more ardent, the railroads or the railfans? I’m not so sure. But I do know train conductors and engineers have a nickname for the most enthusiastic railfans (think of a 50-year old Sheldon Cooper from the television show “Big Bang Theory”). They call them foamers.
For the record, I’m not a “foamer.” I’m not even a casual trainspotter. But I am a photographer and I consider trains and the hard working people behind the scenes at railroads interesting. I think it would make a compelling subject to photograph.
Recently I was fortunate to stumble onto a beautiful scene early one morning between Havre and Kremlin, Montana. A BNSF train was hauling oil from the Bakken oil fields to the west coast to be refined just as the sun began to crest the horizon. It was one of the most brilliant skies I have seen in Montana, which is known for brilliant skies. I was parked at the crossing gate waiting for the train to pass and quickly got into position to make the shot (see above). It turned out to be one of the most incredible photographs I made so far in 2015. And it caught the attention of BNSF for all of the right reasons. And because of that fortunate scene I may be photographing trains a lot more frequently in the near future. My fingers crossed.