March Darkness

by Jim on 2013/03/03

[Jimbaux took the low road in, [but] he’ll take the high road out.]

Well . . . . and Madness, Clouds, Pain, and Stupidity Too

Saturday was as much an afternoon at reclaiming life and its quality as it was to be bombarded with the never-ending stupidity of humankind, southern Louisiana style.  You see, dear readers, I’ll reveal to you now that I’ve been largely incapacitated and in plenty of pain for much of the last month, and I feel somewhat comfortable revealing that now after a day that sees me reclaim some of my vigor along with photographic evidence thereof.  Perhaps I should not count my chickens before they hatch, but I am cautiously optimistic.  I’m on some powerful drugs and have been going to physical therapy for some issues in my lower back.  This is not the first time that I have problems there, but this is the worst that it has ever been.  I’ve been missing plenty of work and have been largely confined, and given my family history of such things, the issue seems to be genetic more than anything, but I have faith that things will get better.

You might remember the picture of my visit to Silver Falls State Park in Oregon in August 2009.  Well, after hiking a steep but short trail, I could barely walk the next day.  Over the next month, I started feeling some strange and disturbing things in my torso; perhaps I’m a hypochondriac, but I just was not at all accustomed to getting sidelined by anything other than the common cold or flu.  I was terrified at the prospects for the future that this meant.  I guess I’m a terrible patient, and I have more recently realized why a patient is called a patient; this patient needs to learn to be patient.  Physical therapy that fall revealed several spasmed muscles in my back, and it also fixed them.  By the middle of the spring of 2010, I was back to normal and really lifting plenty of steel in the weightroom.  This time, though, the pain is much worse; I wasn’t on drugs back then, but, still, I have to have faith that things will get better.  Maybe they already are.  If anything, these pictures are my own way of proclaiming that despite whatever limitations I now have, I can still do this.

I Repeat, Put Your Lights On!

As we spend a brief outing of an hour – 59 minutes passed between the first picture and the last picture here – at CTC Live Oak, I’ll return to a topic on which I have preached much before, that being the simple and essentially effortless but potentially life-saving common courtesy of having one’s headlights on at all times while driving an automobile, something that is the law in some places (like it is on railroads throughout the USA, Canada, and Mexico) and should be the law here but yet is not.

This issue became a bigger-than-usual topic this afternoon since, as you can see from the pictures, ’twas a thickly cloudy and therefore dark late winter day (which, along with the health topics explained earlier, is an explanation for the double entendre meaning of the title of today’s post), much like it was on the same weekend a year ago when I got many great shots in the area, and since Live Oak is not only a place that is heavily traveled by motorists but also is a place where a pedestrian-foamer (yeah, and speaking of double entendres, there are plenty of opportunities for them with that term) can’t venture past the shoulder of the road very far without trespassing; so, one must always be mindful of passing cars here.

Coincidentally, ’twas a year ago this very weekend that I got many good cloudy shots out at this and other nearby locations – including the Chip Local and Chip in a few locations – and now I’m here doing it again.  You might have noticed an increase in the number of shots I take at Waggaman; I spent plenty of time and took plenty of photos here in 2005-2006, but then I basically almost totally avoided the place.  Now, I like it again, perhaps a “what’s old is new again” thing.

The 20,000th Image Taken With My New Camera

Momentarily, we’ll pause the preaching to show a photo of the first of four (or five, depending on what we’ll count as a train picture, as we’ll see later) trains we saw moving through the junction.

This is BNSF train M-NWOLAL coming through the junction, leaving the former Texas & Pacific mainline and crossing over to the former Southern Pacific mainline.  The NWOLAL, as its name suggests, originates in New Orleans and terminates in Lafayette, but that’s not the whole story.

Remember that BNSF doesn’t serve any carload customers in the New Orleans area and only got the eastern part of the SP line across Louisiana after the UP-SP merger, which on its own eliminated competition on that corridor.  BNSF’s role in New Orleans is as an interchange partner.  Two westbound mixed freight carload trains leave New Orleans every day, the M-CSXLAL and the M-NWOLAL.  The M-CSXLAL is entirely a CSX interchange train, and the M-NWOLAL simply carries traffic from all of the other railroads except UP (since any customer on the ex-SP line that to which BNSF has access, UP also has access) reaching the metropolitan area, mostly Norfolk Southern, a good bit of Canadian National, and a little bit of KCS and New Orleans Public Belt traffic.  Once in Lafayette, any cars that are bound for any of BNSF’s Louisiana customers, including some that will travel back eastward to New Iberia or Schriever, are removed from those trains.

Yes, as the subheadline states, that was the 30,000th image taken with the little Rebel that my parents got me as an early Christmas gift in November 2011, a replacement for the camera that mysteriously went missing from my truck (not a good place to leave it) in my time inside the Capitol Beltway in the spring of that year, though I still have the camera that the SuperHero Supreme (you know, my rap partner for my “Write It Down” song) lent me indefinitely.  So, if you’re thankful for the pictures that I take and share, you can thank my parental units too.

A New Shot, Though One Long Imagined

I mentioned very recently that it has been a few years since I had seen an outbound train use the ex-SP on both sides of the crossover, the way that SP trains would have done since the crossovers weren’t built until the merger; in more literal operational terms, I had not in a long time seen a train go straight from the Avondale Sub to the Lafayette Sub.  That changed today, and I finally got to do a picture that I’ve been imagining for a long time but haven’t had a chance to do until now.  Here is UP train MCXEW – a solid interchange train from the CSX that arrives in New Orleans as train Q601 and is bound for the ex-SP Englewood Yard in Houston – departing town, and you can look down the old T&P mainline and see the headlights of the MAVLI emerging from the yard.

Though I fired off several shots as the MCXEW passed, the inclusion of this one just before the train obscures the “AVONDALE SUB” sign – which you also saw in the first picture – is indeed intentional.

Former UP Avondale trainmaster Dave Blazejewski – who now works for the Alaska Railroad and takes many good pictures there that you can see by clicking on his name- explained the “convoluted” arrangement of the tracks and their ownership:

The former SP main west of Live Oak is owned by the BNSF, but east of Live Oak it is owned by the UP. Meanwhile the #1 main east of Live Oak is owned by the BNSF while the #2 Main and the Drill Extension are UP tracks. The reason for this convoluted arrangement is so that the UP would have a signaled main track all the way around Avondale since the old SP mainline between Live Oak and West Bridge Jct. was ABS equipped but the former MP (TP) lines east of Live Oak were dark.

Thanks, Blaze.  I’ll add, though, just from my own numerous observations there in the last few years, though, that UP trains off the Livonia Sub that need to be yarded in Avondale – as opposed to the numerous run-through trains, like the stack train that you’re about to see – often do stay on the former MP-T&P line through the junction, as you will see at the end of this post.

High Ground, High Road

Doesn’t today’s song rock?  Doesn’t Three Days Grace just rock?  There are some double entedres with its choice too.  The astute observers looking at the above two pictures will notice that the camera is about cab-height with the train.  Yes, I’m standing atop my truck, as I often do.  You may wonder why or how I can do that with my back in bad shape, or if I should do it at all, certainly a fair question, and the fairness thereof being the reason that I’m mentioning it here.  First, the reason that I frequently do it in the first place is that the extra six feet of elevation often makes a big, positive difference in shot composition, and I usually wish that I could get a little bit higher; it’s the reason why I’d buy a bucket truck if I had a sudden influx of a large quantity of cash.  Second, climbing atop the truck and getting these shots is my own unique way of maintaining my youth and vigor, far more unique than weightlifting.

However, none of those explanations answer the original question about whether I can or should do it with my current condition.  To explain that, I’ll first say that the process is really more “hoisting” than it is climbing, and hoisting is more of an upper-body activity; thankfully, even if and while there are problems in my lower spine, and even if my legs are not known for their strength, I have long had relatively good upper body strength (for a guy my size.)  Since the problem in my back is much more on the left side, I step on to the rear bumper with my right foot and then climb the rest of myself onto the bumper that way, with no additional pressure on the left side.  Then, it’s a fairly simple matter of grabbing the luggage rack and pulling myself on top of the rack.  I can still do it, but I just need more time to do it now, and, furthermore, I need even more time to get down, as I gingerly climb down instead of just sliding off, a process that I really should make permanent even once I start feeling normal again.

I can tell you now that I’m typing this almost 24 hours later that the pain that I’m feeling right now is not any worse than it has been in the last two weeks.  I’ve felt very much like an old man in the last month, but at least this old man can still hoist himself atop his truck.

Darkness Keeps Falling, And What’s With This Z-train?

To my surprise, the eastbound Z-train snuk up on me from the Livonia Sub.  That was its normal routing until a year ago, but it’s been primarily taking the Lafayette Sub ever since, with the congestion on the Livonia Sub caused by the increase in unit crude oil trains going to St. James and all of the maintenance projects there to improve capacity.

I had to reposition myself very quickly to get this shot, a view that you’ve seen in my brief and fair “fair pair” post back in November, and I only had time to just step onto the bumper.  Were I feeling normal, I could have “climbed” atop the truck very quickly, but due to my back condition, this was as high as I could get in time.

Yes, as you can see, it’s dark, but wouldn’t you know that there were still some clueless moron motorists driving their automobiles with no headlights?  By operating so stealthily, especially those with dark gray automobiles, these people are endangering the safety of others, including me.  As I sit in my truck next to the road here, I need to be able to see what’s coming before I open my driver’s side door next to the road and get out.  Even as I’m looking ahead at the track or down at my phone, I can see those with headlights on coming in my rearview mirror.  However, I was surprised when I finally got out, as I had a too-close encounter with someone whom I had not seen coming.  How can I see you in your dark vehicle against a dark background of trees under a dark sky if you don’t have the human decency to put your headlights on?

Please keep in mind too, especially when you look at the above picture, what retired Southern Pacific manager Ray Duplechain told us, that a train operating on the road without headlights on is a “serious safety violation.”  If the railroads, at whom motorists in the populace are often targeting their anger for trains not being safe, know that having lights on is a major safety feature, so should all motorists!

One Must Speak Out Against Injustice

Some of you will think my actions too extreme.  I accept that, simply because continuing a dangerous behavior that has such a simple solution is itself unacceptable.  There are indeed other ways that this fight should be fought, and I’ll get to that shortly.  Often, I try to not look at the road here, but I can’t help but signal to some of the motorists – by pointing to headlights and making quick open-and-close motions with my hands by my side – that their headlights are not on.  Look at these pictures.  Look at how dark it is.  Everyone has to use these roads, and motorists need to make what are essentially life-and-death decisions in split seconds.  Especially if you have a dark colored vehicle, being in motion – in an object much larger than the human body at speeds much larger than that which would not harm a human body – without having your headlights on is just plain rude.  Some of you who already question my thoughts and decisions might picture me “telling” people to put their headlights on.  Nope.  I assume the best in people, assuming that their lack of headlights on is merely an accident and not intentional; as I told Mike Matalis in a reply to his comment, I simply inform people that their headlights are not on.

Some People Are Just Plain Stupid, And They Have Driver’s Licenses

A few stopped to ask what I was trying to tell them.  I simply said that their headlights were not on, and I told one of them that he had thus snuck up on me.  At this point in the story, all of them simply drove their dark vehicles away and did not put their headlights on.  How appalling!  What jerks!

I’ve detailed my encounters with law enforcement for taking pictures, and some shallow readers have somehow interpreted that as me being on a “campaign against the police” (a phrasing that was said about me in a private e-mail that one wrote about me to a third party which was forwarded to me shortly after some contentious discussion last June.)  Some people actually react better to reason and logic than to force, but today’s incidents simply prove that police are an absolute necessity; unfortunately, for some people, if not for most people, a law requiring headlight use at all times would be far more effective than persuasion by reason.  I think that that’s the point that Tom Beckett was trying to make to me in the third paragraph of his comment on the “Put Your Lights On” post.

Beckett’s comment (please read it if you haven’t already done so, as it is very good) was also addressing the issue of automatic headlights, which are often called “daytime running lights,” a term that itself is quite insulting, since by suggesting that normal headlights can’t “run” in the “daytime” that they therefore should not run then, that you shouldn’t put them on, and that, since your “daytime running lights” come on without any effort or even thought from you, that you therefore need not even be aware of their important role in safety.

Some people who can afford to do so buy automobiles new every five years.  I’ve driven that long – and well over 100,000 miles – in a vehicle that I bought used, and even though I drive with the headlights on all of the time, I only recently changed the headlights on them; so please don’t tell me that you keep them off to save money.  My safety, your safety, and the safety of your children are more important than that anyway.

Also, please read the comment from Cole Jackson on this picture about how the claims that wearing reflective vests has saved his life.

None Of The “World’s Problems” Has This Plainly Simple Of A Solution

Some of you are probably thinking, “Jimbaux, there are plenty of bigger problems in the world than people driving without headlights on.”  Indeed, yes, there are things like making unwarranted assumptions (which I cover here quite frequently), government overspending, waste, fraud, abuse, speeding, drunk driving, pollution, overpopulation, poverty, gangs, murder, rape, robbery, health care, the War On Drugs, unemployment, family values, etc.  Those are all very legitimate problems, but they mostly are very complex problems that would require complex solutions, and, even if they don’t have complex solutions (like murder and robbery, for example, as you should just have to say “don’t rob or kill anyone”), they are often impossible to prevent and difficult to enforce or solve.  Such is not true for headlights!  Just flip the damned things on, and then you’re done!  That’s it!!  How complicated is that??  You don’t have to think about it!  And, for enforcement, once a law enforcement officer does see the car, which may be more difficult with the lights off, which is the damned point, it’s unambiguous to determine whether or not it has its lights on, and from a good distance!  The same is not true for things like cell phone use, seatbelt use, or being drunk (since a drunk driver can get away from police detection if he happens to drive properly through whatever area that police are watching.)

Furthermore, you may think that you’re a good enough driver and therefore don’t need to have your headlights on.  You may indeed be a good driver, but not only are you not the only person on the road, but you don’t even know who will be on the road.  It may be true that of all wrecks that would have been avoided had one of the driver’s headlights been on, the fault in most cases would not have been on the person not having the headlights, but if you get in a wreck and get killed or paralyzed and you didn’t have your headlights on, will you just be able to deal with that and have all things be equal by just knowing that it was the other driver’s fault?  Isn’t having headlights on better than death or paralysis or a coma?

Also, as I said the last time that I preached on this issue, having your headlights on does not harm you in any way.  I’m always hesitant to think that a driver using a cell phone should put it away, which is part of why I am against laws banning their use while driving.  Not only do I not know how it is affecting his driving (like any more than music or a conversation in the automobile), but I also don’t know how important the call or text message is, either to him in general or to the specifics of the reason that he’s driving (like getting directions from someone.)  Heck, the driver may be looking at a map on the telephone.  Are we going to outlaw looking at any maps of any kind while driving?  Why is it okay for me to take out and look at my very big DeLorme detailed atlas while driving, but I can’t look at a map – or anything else – on a telephone?

So, denying someone the use of a telephone while driving denies that person some potentially time-sensitive communication, but how does having your headlights on (even if you can see ahead of you) inconvenience you in any way?  Please explain that to me!

Additionally, It’s Not Even A Function On “How You Drive”

Someone said to me in response to all of this something to the effect of, “but I’ve seen you drive faster than the speed limit in X, Y, and Z occasions.”  I found that response to be incredibly shallow and ignorant, especially coming from someone as “educated” as the person from whom it came.  I have both sped before and have gotten speeding tickets; I deserved them, a statement that might – but should not – come as a surprise to those aforementioned who rather shallowly think that I’m “on a campaign against the police.”  Even with – or despite – cruise control, maintaining a proper, safe speed is something that requires constant attention and constant maintenance.  You can drive on a 300 mile trip, and if you speed just for one mile of it, and the speed contributes to an accident, then the good driving that you did for the other 299 miles is irrelevant.  Proper speed must be maintained at each of the infinite points in time and in space as you are driving.

However, having headlights on is something that you don’t have to constantly maintain!  You don’t have to constantly hold down the button to keep the headlights on!  It’s not even a function of how you drive; it’s a function of your vehicle being on the road in the first place at all!  Just put them on when you start your vehicle, and you don’t have to think about them again for the rest of your 300-mile trip!  That’s also why I won’t easily fault someone for a little bit of speeding here and there (and, just like with telephone use, you have something to gain by speeding, unlike not having headlights on), even if he’s responsible for anything that happens due to the excess speed; however, there’s no excuse – no reason – for not having your headlights on.  Please, again, tell me, what benefit are you getting by not having your headlights on?

That’s enough of that for now.

What About The Trains?

Yes, here’s another shot of the eastbound ZLAAT, taken a few seconds later at 17:18 CST, both of these taken at 1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, something that would not have nearly this good of a result in the film days:

Perry suggested to me that the Z-train was probably running via the Beaumont and Livonia Subs because of track-work taking place at Sulphur.  That makes sense to me.

You can see how dark it is now.

One More Train

As I mentioned, some of the inbound trains off the Livonia Sub do not cross over to the former SP, usually because they have to be yarded, as does this MLIAV seen 23 minutes after the Z-train, with the same f-stop and shutter speed as before, but now at ISO 800, with not-so-inspiring results:

Once again, we’re only standing on the bumper, not on the top of the truck itself.  That’s it for pictures.  There were still people driving without headlights on as I was packing up to leave as it was this dark, but, this time, two of them turned their lights on as I pointed out that they were not on.

Lagniappe, As If You Needed Or Wanted More

A Few More Thoughts On Headlights

There have to be better ways to persuade people to put headlights on – and, more importantly, to recognize the need to do so – other than in-person signalling and writing blog posts, but I hope that you do what you can on your end to make it happen where you are and for the people around you; the life that you save, afterall, could be your own or that of a loved one, all for something that could have so easily been avoided.  I keep telling myself that I’m going to write to local legislators and other influential government people, but I just haven’t done it yet.

Before trying to make it a law, though, perhaps it would be best to try to make it de facto practice of those whose jobs it is and will be to enforce the law, and, while at it, anyone who drives for a large, well-known organization (like UPS, with its dark vehicles that I’ve seen moving through driving rain without headlights on.)  I counted three times in one day a few weeks ago a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy driving without headlights on close to sunrise and sunset (when I’m usually on the road anyway.)  In the morning, there were some fog and clouds, and the two in the afternoon were both coming out of the setting sun, meaning I’d have seen them much sooner had they had their headlights on.

Perhaps I need to reach out to the sheriff about this, but I just realized as I was in the shower during a break from typing this that I should reach out to one of my media contacts with the Louisiana State Police.  That would probably get us much further toward this goal and its safety.  I want officers of the law themselves to understand and believe the reasons for the need for headlights on before we make it a law for the average citizenry; I guess recent evidence indicates that we’re not there yet.  It would be good if they got in that habit, not only while on the job, but also in their own vehicles during their own time, spreading the practice to their family and friends.  Then, too, someone flashing headlights at someone who doesn’t have them on might be more likely to be properly understood.

I welcome your feedback.

A Few More Thoughts On Health

The situation with my back has had me demoralized and reclusive, but there is reason for hope.  It came at a weird time, though; it got bad in early February, when I first realized I needed professional medical attention.  My health had actually greatly improved in the three months prior to early February.  I shed nearly 20 pounds, as 2012 saw me with some all-time-high weights, and I ate better and walked and ran more.  I got back in the weightroom regularly and was almost up to pre-mid-2010 strength levels, which I considered a success on its own since I don’t ‘need’ to be as muscular as I once ‘needed’ to be.  I was feeling great, better than I had in a few years.  So, naturally, it was demoralizing when the back situation started.  A few hours before these pictures were taken, and then again the day afterward, I took short walks for the first time in a long time.  I had been until early February in the habit of walking for more than two miles per day and jogging for parts of it.  I hope that I can get back to that.

On top of the inactivity caused by the condition, I’ve been eating much more fast food in the last month, simply because it hurts too much to stand up to make food and wash dishes on most days.  I was and still am scared that some of that weight that I had so thankfully lost is now coming back.  This seems to be improving, though.  If this teaches us anything, it’s that we need to surround ourselves with help, and I thankfully have some.  For all of its troubles, life is good, and we here in the modern industrialized world truly live like kings compared to much of the rest of the world.

Also healthy, though, is to make sure that despite your ailments, you do as I have done – as seen in these pictures – and find a way to get out and do what you love to do.



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 bn196 March 3, 2013 at 17:18

Always hated March the most, I’m sure is was partly due to my Catholic upbringing in 1950s Pennsylvania.
I used to ride the 48 quite prolifically hobo style and always liked the Sunset Route in Louisiana a lot. That’s how I discovered LaFayette.
I too am challenged with chronic pain, hope you’re feeling better, and as always… enjoyed the couch trip.


2 NotAFoamer March 3, 2013 at 21:50

I’m a headlight sinner on the highway to hell. Nice shots, James-they don’t all look the same.


3 Will Cunningham March 4, 2013 at 06:37

Hope the back continues to improve so you can do more of what you love! We all have our reclusive moments, days, weeks, but glad you still got up and out to make something beautiful! I for one stayed in and did pretty much nothing:(


4 Tom Beckett March 4, 2013 at 16:26

I lived in New York’s Southern Tier for so long, I don’t blink when I see a dark day photo. That was most of them for us!!! As the late, noted Binghamton rail photographer JJ Young Jr used to say when asked about proper exposure, “1/2 day with the back of the camera open.” He knew whereof he spoke-of course he was also shooting B&W most of the time. You get used to it after a while.

I see you’re still fighting the “headlights on” battle. I think doing so is a good idea, but good luck with that. Thanks for referencing my comment from the last time that came up. As we say here at JB Hunt, “MAKE SURE THEY SEE YOU!!” Our trucks run with lights on all the time as a matter of policy, based on that Smith System key. As I noted in that comment, I think that requiring auto manufacturers to build the cars so that the lights come on automatically when the car is started is probably the best way to solve that problem. It’s been the law in Canada since at least the mid 80’s, and seems to work there. Since automobiles are essentially a multinational product in North America, and cross borders without restriction, essentially the same models sold continent wide. Building this feature into all North American vehicles should not only be simple to implement, but also should not be costly. Maybe not as good as persuasion, but sometimes you just have to idiot proof things.

I find the argument that running with lights on kills the lights faster is absurd. My Toyota has 246,000 miles on it, I have changed two headlights on it in that time. Admittedly, the running lights use a different filament-it’s not as bright, at least on mine-so that leaves the main headlight unaffected. Neither of the two lights I changed were due to the running lights, which still worked both times.

I’m still out on cell phones, though I think there are enough people whose concentration and ability to pay attention to their surroundings and focus on their task becomes seriously compromised when on a phone call, that it’s a good idea to ban the practice, if only so the rest of us can go about our day without the risk that some distracted idiot will run into us because he’s too involved in his call to pay attention to his primary task.

You’re right about the 300 mile trip. We say here that the most important mile is the one right in front of you-that’s where the action is!! You need to run them all safely to make it count.

With all that in mind, I’d just be happy if people would pay attention, do sensible things, stay in the correct lane(that’s my gripe-driver running in the left lane who don’t belong there) and drive like they want to get where they are going.

I’m also a big believer in elevation. I’ve put dents in several car roofs climbing on them. The Toyota is better than some, due to the extra sturdiness of the luggage rack. I’m a big boy by any stretch-6 foot and around 250-so I have to tread carefully up there, but it can be done if you step in the right places. Getting up and down is not as easy as it used to be, though with the spare tire on the back, I can go from ground to bumper to tire to roof. Not only do I get a better angle, but also it’s useful to reduce the ground clutter of a street level shot.

I had to laugh at the idea of the bucket truck. For years, when I’d drive down to New York from Binghamton, I’d go past this used truck dealer near Middletown. They had a cherry picker out near the road. Every time I saw it, I’d think, ” that would be neat for train chasing.” All I need is a place to set up the truck. I bet it got 10 MPG, which was a deal breaker for me, even at $1.20/gallon in those days. There are a lot of shots I would liked to have gotten with that thing.

Hope your back feels better. Pain is no fun, and back pain is an elusive target for the doctors.



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