The heat is beyond stifling.
Though the Johnson grasses and the wild sunflowers at ballast’s edge bend mightily, the harsh southerly wind brings no respite. It is as an open-hearth furnace, and on it is carried the familiar aroma of creosote liquifying in the brutal Texas sun, wafting about briskly as the shimmering heat waves transform the landscape as if Monet himself was at work with palette knife and brush on fresh canvas.
The black-topped road surface that the photographer is standing on is spongy beneath his feet and threatens to stick to the soles of his shoes.
It’s just damned hot!
102 degrees to be exact at 4:45 pm as KCS de Mexico ES44AC 4679 and a stablemate hustle a heavy unit train of gasoline and diesel-laden tank cars westbound through Harwood on the Union Pacific’ Sunset Route on June 13th, 2018.
The focal length of 300mm accentuates the heat waves as they blast forth from the turbocharged stacks, seemingly trying to melt the historic old cantilever signal into oblivion. But the face of 4679 is crisp and clear, as if Claude Monet has changed his style mid-work from an impressionistic view to a more realistic showcase of head-end high-horsepower arriving dramatically into the scene.
With the auto racks and covered hoppers of a holed eastbound waiting in the curved siding, the 4679 blasts past the west switch of the siding and the junction with the historic branch to Gonzales, seen curving off to the right, where up into the 1950s ancient 4-4-0s made their last stand running as trains 216 and 218, hauling an antiquated wooden combine and mixed freight on the twice-daily-except-Sunday connection up and down the 12 miles of light iron to meet the east and west bound accommodations that plied the Texas & New Orleans portion of the Sunset Route.
During that time, photographers near and far flocked to south central Texas to record the operation, among them notables such as Phil Hastings, Robert W. Richardson, A.E. Brown and Mr. Everett De Golyer produced fine period images of this interesting operation.
No longer a Union Pacific property, the branch still operates over the 12 miles of rolling pasture land between Harwood and Gonzales as the Texas, Gonzales & Northern railroad, where 2nd and 3rd-hand, first and second-generation SWs and Geeps and SDs move kaolin clay, grain and feed, crude oil, and heavy quantities of frac sand destined for the local oil fields of the Eagle Ford shale region.
But for now, it’s just damned hot.
And as the big GEs storm by, kicking up the roadbed dust and rail rust, adding their boiling diesel exhaust to the aroma of melting creosote on the hot southerly winds, you breathe it all in, and…
That’s the smell of railroading.
Indeed, it would be beyond blasphemous, especially in today’s world of digital everything, to defile, deflower, defame and despoil a paint scheme as brilliant and colorful and eye-catching as the classic “Southern Belle” motif of the Kansas City Southern.
To even attempt to electronically convert a scheme as old as and as gorgeous as this to a monochromatic gray scale borders on sheer railroad photographic madness.
The purists would surely become apoplectic, dropping to their knees and waging virtual war with The Gods of the Shining Railhead until some semblance of sanity restored order and vanquished the violators.
So, for the purposes of this visual and vocabularic essay, the lead SD70ACes of this southbound heavy grain block drifting downgrade through the tiny central Texas community of Reedville at 6:43 pm on the 29th day of May 2018, will forever remain in all their chromatic glory as they bravely signal their approach at the County Road 173 crossing at milepost 47.11 of the Union Pacific’s Lockhart Subdivision and follow a westerly compass bearing straight into the setting sun.
It would take a full five minutes for this lengthy behemoth to pass through the unincorporated burg, which occupies the far western corner of Caldwell County and is literally a stone’s throw away from the historic El Camino Real de los Tejas, a byway dating back to the Spaniards of the late-1600s.
At milepost 51.9 she’ll enter Track number 2 at milepost 209.1 of the Austin Sub at Ajax and continue her southerly journey.
Today, there will be no grain to load out of the old elevator that is trackside; the spur track is still in place, but it, like the elevator that it serviced have laid dormant and rusting for many years now.
Although the black-land farms of the area produce bountiful crops, business is not expected to return.
The turnout has been removed from the mainline; a sad feature of today’s economics.____