Thursday, September 6th was another red letter day of railfanning for me in 2018. I knew the James E Strates Carnival was set to move from the Northeast to its first southern engagement for the fall season in Danville, VA. I had missed it in 2017 due to the train experiencing severe delays, and I estimated that it would come through my area on a Tuesday again. Imagine my surprise Thursday morning when I saw that the train was departing Harrisburg, PA, having begun its journey the previous night. Thankfully, I only had a morning shift (though to be perfectly honest, I would have cancelled all afternoon plans) and after a quick stop at home to grab lunch and my camera bag, I raced off to Front Royal, VA, to catch up with the train on Norfolk Southern’s H Line.
I arrived at the Fairgrounds Road crossing to find a pair of fellow railfans enjoying the usual afternoon parade; both were quite surprised to learn from me that the carnival train was fast approaching. Though I did drive up a mile or so to check out another spot on the railroad, I chose to to the Fairgrounds crossing, which offered a wide open view of the tracks. Hearing the scanner crackle to life, I walked a couple hundred feet up the road to stake out my shot, and waited. The thermometer was nudging 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but thankfully the humidity was low, so standing in the afternoon sun wasn’t entirely miserable. After perhaps 10 minutes of waiting, I finally set eyes on a train I’ve been trying to catch for years; headed by a lone SD70ACu, I began clicking away as the 45 car consist of the last show train in America passed in front of my viewfinder.
After returning to my car and performing a short victory dance, I high-tailed it to my next planned photo location of Delaplane, VA, on Norfolk Southern’s B-Line. I waited for a good 20 minutes, and eventually got nervous that I may have missed the train, so I got back on I-66. While driving east, I heard on the scanner that 047 would meet another train at the Gainesville siding. One of my former favorite railfanning spots, I set up shot at the mostly defunct grade crossing near the Cabellas. The lighting angle was awful, so I elected not to photograph the train. Instead, I let the camcorder roll and simply watched the procession trundle past. Much to my surprise, when the last car of the train cleared, I saw the head end of the other train already parked in the siding; I had expected the Strates train would have to wait for a bit before continuing east. I more than likely broke the speed limit as I raced eight railroad miles east to the curve at Powell Junction, on the southern edge of Manassas, VA, where a handful of other railfans were ready and waiting to take advantage of the excellent evening light at this location.
As the last few cars of the train passed, a pedestrian waiting to cross the tracks asked me “what’s the point of all this?” referring to us railfans incessantly snapping photographs of what, to her, appeared to be just another boring train. I explained to her that this was one of the rarest trains in the country, only passing through here once a year, carrying carnival rides. I also explained that we are simply nerds, which seemed like a more satisfying answer, if surprising to her.
Though I had snapped a picture of nearly every car on the train, I still wasn’t satisfied for the day, and opted to head south for one more runby of the train before heading home. I picked out a spot between Bealeton and Remington, VA, slightly elevated above track level in the hopes of getting a fresh angle on some of the cars. Unfortunately, the light was fading and neither my point-and-shoot camera nor my camcorder were up to the task of capturing crisp images of the train, which was now moving faster on the NS Washington district. Below are three images of the train from this spot, and below that is a link to my YouTube video from this day. As always, thank you for reading and watching!