By Sarah Brown – October 20, 2022

PHOTOGRAPHERS capture images of the Santa Maria Valley No. 205 steam locomotive as it chugs past the Santiam Travel Station. Photos by Sarah Brown

Seated on a step stool and holding his hefty 1962 Speed Graphic camera with both hands, Victor Hand waited Friday, Oct. 7, for the Santa Maria Valley No. 205 steam locomotive to charge past the Santiam Travel Station in Lebanon.

“It’s the best thing for railroad stock; you can’t beat it,” Hand said about his camera. “I’ve avoided going digital like all these guys. I figured it would make me an instant amateur.”

Hand, from Maine, said he’s been photographing trains for 65 years, starting at age 14, and has captured images of them in as many as 53 countries.

RAILFANS await the approach of the Santa Maria at the Travel Station.

He’s published two books of his work and is donating much of his collection to the Center for Railroad Photography and Art archive.
He was nestled this day among about 50 other photographers from across the United States who were part of a railroad photo charter tour organized by Pete Lerro III of Pennsylvania-based Lerro Photography.

They lined up on both sides of the track – some standing, others sitting – and waited as the Santa Maria backed into position ready for full speed ahead, complete with clanging bell, plenty of steam and its distinctive whistle cry.

The railfans came from all over: Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Washington, Massachusetts, Tennessee, South Carolina, California, Montana, Virginia, Nevada, New Jersey, Arizona and Washington, D.C.

They spent two days at the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi prior to arriving in Lebanon for two days on the Albany and Eastern Railroad, where they took daytime and nighttime shots of the Santa Maria locomotive near Gore Drive and on the trestle and bridge at Gill’s Landing.

The train passes over the tressle at Gill’s Landing for a daytime shot from photographers. Photo by Melody Reese

They also photographed the train at the Santiam Travel Station and staged period-appropriate cars for street running shots through Olive Street.

Martin Hansen, who met with Lerro months in advance to determine areas for the best photographs, said, “This is probably the only place in the United States that you can do street running with a steam locomotive.”

The enthusiasts capture photographs and videos from different angles while the tour runs the train on the line several times, he said, and they pay nearly $700 for the opportunity.

“You don’t get many chances to do this,” Jonathan Fischer, of Seattle, said.
Fischer explained how rail services, such as Amtrak, don’t run through places like Lebanon, so if someone wants to ride on a “chunk of track,” services like Lerro’s are the only way to do it.

“People like trains, and trains connect people to each other,” he said. “This is actually a human activity organized around trains. A lot of these people are former railroad employees that like the allure of it.”

TRAIN AND CAMERA BUFF Victor Hand talks about his experiences photographing trains around the world.

Hand is one of those former railroad employees. He began as a locomotive fireman (also known as an “ash cat”) and ended up working in mergers, acquisitions and operations planning.

Now he spends his time maintaining a 1,800-square-foot model railroad and continuing his photographic hobby by participating in tours like this.

It’s like going on a safari, Lerro said, a train safari.