A Christmas in Paradise


I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year to ring in 2019. This past December 22nd, I returned once again to the Strasburg Rail Road for their final day of two train operations for the 2018 season. The railroad was by far the busiest I've ever seen it, with a reported 5600 tickets being sold that day alone (if I recall correctly). The SRC had half hour trains all the way up to 4:30 pm which is nothing if you compare to 2017 when on the last two train day prior to Christmas they had half hour trains up to 5:30 pm. Regardless, I stopped by to shoot some pictures and enjoy the sights and sounds of steam railroading across the Amish country of Pennsylvania. I hope you enjoy them!

"Meeting of the Minds": Enginemen Aaron Sholley, Dave Domitrovich and Student Hostler and Fireman Gabe Bocchino chat in the early morning hours inside the enginehouse at East Strasburg as former Great Western decapod #90 simmers away awaiting her next call to duty.

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Engineman, and the morning's hostler, Dave Domitrovich rakes over the coals in the belly of the beast.

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I've always found it neat to be able to see the fire through the holes in the side of the firebox of #90 and even #89. As told to me by employees there, those holes help the locomotive breathe better when running and create better combustion. 

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"Forged Art"

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"Student and Teacher": Student Hostler and Fireman Gabe Bocchino warms up the air pump on N&W M Class #475 as his mentor Engineman Dave Domitrovich, while blowing down Great Western decapod #90, keeps an eye on his new apprentice.

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"A Man of Steam": The silhouette of Dave Domitrovich, stands out from the steam engulfing both him and the N&W M Class he is aboard, as #475 clears her lungs on the blowdown pad at the Strasburg Rail Road complex. You may notice the upturned brim on Dave's hat and although hard to see, the well worn jacket with wool trim. Those belonged to former SRC Engineman David Boyer. It has been about 3 years since his passing and while it seems like yesterday that he's been gone, the memory of David around the railroad lives on particularly in his good friend Dave. For steam railroaders, like Dave, this job is not just a check. It's a passion, a livelihood, and a tradition. And even with David Boyer gone from this Earth, I'm sure Dave knows his friend is still right there with him every time he tugs on the throttle of an iron horse.

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"A Window in Time": Student Hostler and Fireman Gabe Bocchino is shrouded in steam as he blows down N&W #475. Even for such a simple task, one has to appreciate how many workers of the N&W have seen this same view while aboard this locomotive. Steam locomotives are truly living, breathing historical time warps.

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Aaron Sholley is in the hero's throne of N&W #475 as the 10:30 am train is shoved into the East Strasburg station to board its eager passengers for a trip across Paradise.

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"Two Train Service": Engineer Aaron Sholley guides N&W #475 and the 10:30 am train into the siding at Groff's Grove as Great Western decapod #90 builds steam in preparation for her assault on Cherry Hill with the 10 am train. This is one of the few places in America where two steam locomotives pass each other in regular service on an active railroad.

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"Brothers": Engineer Aaron Sholley, in the right hand seat of N&W M Class #475, gives a friendly wave and "high-five" to his fellow Engineman Dave Lotfi. To the workers at the SRC, this job is more than just a fun weekend gig, its a true shared passion.

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A sunny, but wintry day in Paradise.

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"Along the Blacksburg Branch": Amidst a classic farm scene N&W #475 eases her way into Groff's Grove outside of Paradise, Pennsylvania. The Strasburg Rail Road is likely one of the most photographed locations for steam railroading so finding new angles is both fun and a challenge. I'd like to imagine though that this classic countryside scene was fairly common for the M Class back in her days of hauling freight south of the N&W capital of Roanoke, VA.

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"The Flying M": Engineman Aaron Sholley sits comfortably in the right hand seat of N&W #475 as she races through the weeds and fields surrounding Long's Curve outside of Paradise, Pennsylvania.

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In a wonderful sunset, SRC #475 races home on Long's Curve on her last day of operation prior to her mandatory 1472 inspection. #475 is expected to be back in action sometime in 2019.

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Thanks for looking!


Photos (15)
Original Post
Allan Miller posted:

Excellent photography, Mike, and a great "day in the life of Strasburg RR" documentation.

Thank you Allan that means a lot to me! 

I try hard to put the employees and railroad in a positive light always since the friendly faces there work so hard every day to keep a dying trade and breed alive. They definitely deserve all the recognition they can get. If you ever see the original photos of the Strasburg Rail Road when it first started you'd be astonished as to how far they've come. 

juniata guy posted:


The similarities between your work and that of the late John Gruber are amazing!

These are so good all I can say is WOW!



Thanks Curt. It's funny you mention his name because, while I've never had the pleasure of meeting John, I recently started studying his work and was quite astonished as to how similar his stuff is to mine in some areas. I don't know if that's just a product of people seeing similar scenes in the same way or fate, but you tell me! Railroad photographic artists like myself tend to look at things uniquely but being compared to the late John Gruber is very humbling, so thank you again. 

Good evening Mike, great photo's.

You can almost hear the sounds of it he engine breathing sitting in the engine house and out running down the rail.

I agree that the people are the ones that are sometimes forgotten or over looked but deserve all the credit for making things work everyday.

You captured this in your photo's.

Again great photo's and thanks for sharing them here on this fourm !!!

Mark Strittmatter


Indiana, PA 

juniata guy posted:


The similarities between your work and that of the late John Gruber are amazing!


I had the pleasure of working with John Gruber on what I still regard as the finest prototype railroading magazine produced to date: Vintage Rails.

John was truly an inspired and inspirational guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed my association with him (I wrote a model railroading column, from an historical perspective, for each issue of the magazine). He was an outstanding rail photographer and a first-rate publication editor. The magazine was published by Pentrex, but John was the founding editor.

John would, I'm sure, be delighted to view Mike's splendid work.

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