The Human Element
So story time. This photo wasn't planned, but nothing could really be more appropriate.
The whole impetus of my long weekend trip to PA was to see this...the legendary N&W Class J #611 which was visiting the Strasburg Railroad for a short time for a very special reunion of N&W steam. Her normal home is Roanoke, VA and she has never trod these rails before. While she is here for a month involved in various special events this was the sole weekend she would be out on the line all day pulling Strasburg's slate of regularly scheduled weekend trains and meeting her sister N&W engine the recently returned to steam #475.
Clearly, the Strasburg Railroad and Virginia Museum of Transportation's (611's owner) plan to draw in visitors worked because I met railfans from all over the country and the world out shooting. And the trains themselves were packed with riders and more "normal" (less hardcore railfan) people who still were interested in this historic machine that they made the effort and spent the money to come see for themselves and take a ride.
Even many locals were curious enough to make the effort to come out trackside to get a look at the 611. These two folks are Jay and Lucy, and as I soon found out they are Mennonites from a nearby community. While standing up on this hillside in a harvested field with a bunch of other photographers they came walking up. I initially asked if it was their farm. They said no, and that they had heard about the special train and rode their bikes over 15 miles from their town to come have a look. They made certain to mention that they were not Amish, but I'd already figured as much given that while their clothing was simple and old fashioned (although one of them was wearing sneakers) it wasn't plain pattern less black and white attire as most Amish seem to wear. Furthermore, most Amish eschew contact with those outside their faith and they all seem to have a rather serious...or even dour demeanor. But not Jay and Lucy, they were all smiles and quite friendly which is how this photo came about.
You see, they saw me walking up with a couple broken ears of corn in one hand and a camera in another. They made a joke if they were for my horse, but then I explained that all my friends were laughing at me because I found them on the ground and were using them as "props" for my train photos. The two wives (another couple was with them) chuckled at my explanation and then I remarked to the men, "see, even they are laughing at me."
With the ice thoroughly broken we talked photography and life for a bit as we waited for 611, and I took this rare opportunity to connect with someone so different from me. I asked them about their faith and the difference between Amish and Mennonite. I learned that they are similar in that they are all anabaptists (meaning unlike most Christians they don't get baptized until adulthood) but that in the 1600s (1693 per google) Jacob Ammann led a schism because he believed that the church was conforming too much to the world, and was failing to practice what he believed was the proper form of Biblical church discipline, shunning. Those who followed Ammann formed what would become the Amish church. Anyway, I won't go into more religious history here because you came for trains. But what was cool is that meeting them led me to spend a half hour or more researching and learning about these different faiths and their similarities and differences.
We are all just people after all and it's pretty amazing that something as utilitarian as a train can bring people together. These sort of events and the moments like this that bring strangers together really do serve to help restore my faith in humanity.
Anyway, as the train approached I saw Jay and Lucy strike a pose just watching and an idea struck me. Since I'd already explained my use of "props" I asked if I could use them as a prop since they were much more interesting than those old ears of corn. But I made sure to be respectful of their faith not knowing what was or wasn't permitted. They granted me permission even though they themselves don't use phones or electronic devices. I asked if there was a way to share the results with them and Lucy gave me her brother's phone number who does use modern technology, and she said I could text the images to him and he could print them.
There are many other images I've shared on my page and I'll post a few more here eventually, but of all my 611 photos of the trip I think this is my favorite for the story it tells and the memories it holds.
It was a good day.