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Travels With Lucy: Empire State Express


January 12, 2018:

This was a fun day.

We hadn't done much foaming through Ohio the day before, due to the crummy weather and general travel malaise and the like, but when Lucy and I woke up this morning in beautiful Olean, New York, it was like twelve degrees (C) above freezing and the rain had stopped, and we had a plan, and good reason to be optimistic.

The plan: drive through Western New York taking pictures of rare trains and also visit Letchworth State Park.

Tiffany Morley is basically the queen of this area for train photographers on Instagram, and I'd cribbed from her feed to chart a course to various shortline railroads through upstate New York.

It's why we'd wound up in Olean in the first place; it's headquarters of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad, which rosters a number of massive, six-axle rare Montreal Locomotive Works diesels that, in the rest of the world, have by and large gone extinct.

Modern-day railroading is often pretty cookie-cutter, at least in terms of equipment, so I'd really wanted to see these Canadian expatriates if there was any chance that I possibly could.

As it turned out, the WNY&P yard and shops were like a block from my hotel. And three of the big MLWs were lined up outside the engine house, preparing for a day's work. I foamed profusely and proceeded to take some shots, hoping they were going my way soon, but no dice, and I hit the road and skipped town, headed for my next destination, the falls at Letchworth.

Another Instagram all-star whose work I really admire is Rochester TV anchor John Kucko, whose photography and drone footage tends to focus on the spectacular scenery and weather in the region, with the odd train thrown in as well.

John's spectacular shots and video of the falls at Letchworth, where a Norfolk Southern bridge crosses the Genesee River hundreds of feet above the falls, made this a must-visit for me, with the added bonus that the park would have great walking trails for Lucy, who'd been cooped up in the truck for days now.

It turned out we'd chosen a wonderful day to visit the park, too; the unseasonably high temperatures had created a massive, monster flow of meltwater runoff, and the falls were all chaos and roaring thunder. I met another photographer at the lookout, and we marvelled over the speed at which full-sized tree trunks were plummeting over the edge and disappearing into the mist below.

Truly one of the highlights of the drive. We didn't see any trains on the high bridge above, but it didn't matter. The place was spectacular enough already.

We left the park and meandered through upstate New York toward the Finger Lakes region under threatening skies, until we reached the town of Geneva on Seneca Lake, home of the Finger Lakes Railway.

This is another of Tiffany Morley's favourite lines to shoot, and with good reason; the railroad features a lot of classic power, much of it painted in a "Lightning Stripe" theme that's an homage to the classic New York Central Railroad, which operated from 1853-1968 and is one of the all-time great companies in American transportation history.

As luck would have it, we happened upon a quartet of Finger Lakes diesels in the throwback scheme just parked along the Geneva waterfront, and I took a bunch of pictures of the locomotives and the truck (and if you squint, you can see Lucy riding shotgun) before exploring the rest of the town to see if anything was moving.

No signs of life, though, so we pressed onward, and outside of Syracuse we shot our last train of the day, another Finger Lakes locomotive switching cars beside an old-school semaphore signal, another first for me!

I did some poking around Syracuse for more shots, but after the placid and bucolic pace of the Finger Lakes, the city at rush hour just wasn't doing it for me, and after a quick stop for an oil change, I put the truck on I-90 headed east toward Albany and the Massachusetts line.

I had reason to hurry; it was fifteen degrees (C) in Syracuse that day, but the weather forecast was grim. By morning, heavy snow and freezing temperatures would cripple the region, and I wanted to get out of there before any of that happened.

Dinner that night was McDonald's from a rest stop near Albany, eaten in the truck as a torrential rain poured down out of the gloom. I don't want to talk about it.

Accommodations were the Motel 6 in Framingham, Ma, outside of Boston, and it was a better choice than my decision for dinner. I was pretty pleased with Motel 6 on my travels; they were dog friendly but not complete dumps and in fact pretty decent for the money.

As I write this (it's still April here) I'm plotting Phase 2 of #ProjectNomad; we'll see if Motel 6 holds up on the next go-around.

[Note: Motel 6 did not, as it turns out, comport itself as well on the second phase. Turns out it's pretty hit or miss with those guys.]

Anyway, we'd made the Eastern Seaboard, and I figured we had one more night on the road. The next day, we'd drive up through Maine and, fingers crossed, hop back over the border into Canada.

I slept the sleep of somebody who's been driving for weeks and eaten fast food two days in a row.

Lucy, on the other hand, slept fine.