Into The Poison Ivy


CSX train passes over a double stone arch bridge over a small river
A westbound CSX train heads east over the Westfield River

Into The Poison Ivy

Sep 06, 2012

Ten stone arch bridges were built in Chester and Middlefield Massachusetts in 1840. A few are still in use on CSX’s Berkshire Subdivision and a couple more are standing and visible from the realigned tracks. To the people who recognize these bridges, they represent railroading in the mountains.

I hiked out to the location in the day noted that the riverbed was mostly dry and that the obvious shot was from the north side, the side closer to the trail. “I hope nobody steals my camera,” I thought as left it on the riverbank and headed back to the car for another armful of gear. It got dark. The mosquitos came and went while I thought about who might have left all these beer cans and whisky bottles lying around. Finally, around midnight four trains passed in quick succession. The westbound I needed for my shot were both on the far track and I was now the proud owner of a photograph of the top half of a locomotive. I packed up asking myself “what kind of railroad runs on the left side?”

On the third trip to the location, I carried the gear under the bridge to shoot an eastbound from the south elevation. While most of the river is only 18 inches deep there is a large pool around the bridge and no way over the wall-like railroad grade. One drybox at a time over a downed tree. As I set up, two westbounds worked up the hill, one on one track, one on the other. “Huh….should I switch back to the other side?”


camp stove
Keeping warm with tea
I stayed put and hoped for the best. It would take at least an hour to move the six flashes. Nothing came through on the radio. The banks were lined with lush poison ivy and after a couple hours of sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, it was time for some tea.

Moments after the fire burned out in my stove, the dryboxes slid into the river. Seriously? The inquisitive porcupine that disturbed them was in fact, serious. It was also serious about not leaving. A headlight and two ditch lights poked through the trees. I nearly missed the first eastbound of the night drifting down the grade. To hell with the porcupine, back to the camera!

Moments later, it started to rain. I reboxed the camera equipment on the dry sandbar under the bridge. The West Branch of the Westfield River came up and I got out.