Saturday, July 24, 2010

Early memories of trains are sketchy. There are vague memories of going to Newburyport to pick up an aunt who would come in on the train from Lynn. I don’t think passenger service went further than Newburyport back in the 60’s, although freight trains were fairly popular. My brother and I learned to count at railroad crossings when my parents asked us to count the cars of the passing train. There were crossings in East Kingston and it was easy to tell, because of the shape of a few buildings and their closeness to the tracks, that at one time, trains stopped here. There were crossings in Exeter and an abandoned train depot was next to the variety store we frequented as high school students. I never walked the tracks, nor did I ever go to a swimming hole where kids jumped from a bridge, although hearing them talk about it sounded exciting. I remember crossing tracks that seemed to go on forever either way when we went to the creek where my dad would dig clams and we’d go down river to fish.
Outside of those incidences, trains were a dull mystery to me. As I grew older, sighting became less frequent and once I was able to drive places myself, I noticed more empty tracks, places where tracks were removed, and building that were once stations falling to ruin. Still, it was years before my interest began to peak and I don’t know what set me off.
“It’s sad about the trains,” became a mantra that made my friends chuckle. Perhaps it was that a way of life was disappearing that matched a sadness in my soul. Maybe it was a growing awareness in the landscape around me. Whatever it was, my interest rose.
I don’t know why, but I fell in love with an old building near the Newfields-Newmarket line (I recently found out it was called Rockingham Station.) I stopped one time to take pictures which surprised me that I would want to photograph something so run-down and dilapidated. There was a deep inner unexplainable sorrow over this piece of history.
And so it went on. I continued the “It’s sad about the trains” statements, but never did any further research. I did, however, go on a couple of scenic train rides on the Conway train and once I took the family on the Cog Railway and a couple of trips out west showed me that other states have more active railroads many of which are massive, many tracked systems.
Recently my interest was again sparked with the chance to enter photographs for a show and now that I am doing more research, I am amazed at what the railroad system once meant to the state and industry. Yes, there is still sadness as the decline in industry meant the decline in rail use and people desiring individual transportation just about put an end to train travel in the state. However, there are active lines in NH, Maine, and Vermont. Amtrak re-opened the lines between Boston and Portland, I don’t think they ever stopped service along the Connecticut River, and there are a few scenic trains running.
I am now on a journey to photograph rails and stations mostly in NH but also across the border into Vermont. Mostly I am fascinated by areas no longer in use. The architecture of the old stations and depots are fascinating. Textures, patterns, and lines in wood, brick, or stone are intriguing. I am pleased to see the Rails to Trails programs touching a piece of history and allowing the public the opportunity to see the beauty of our state and some towns are actually fixing up old buildings to be used as businesses or museums.
The active stations and areas are also amazing. I am pleased to have the opportunity to photograph trains in motion and after the solitude and bit of sadness with abandoned sections, it’s refreshing to witness the activity around the in-use stations.
It’s a big project I am undertaking, but it is bringing me much joy.

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