Night Elevators

This is the sequel to Steve, meet STEVE

After seeing STEVE – and the rest of the aurora borealis – and the Milky Way – I still felt great, even at 1:30 AM. I decided to fulfill a long-held wish – photograph the Oberon grain elevator at night.

First, I stopped in Oakville, where I caught an eastbound and then a westbound train passing the former Pool elevator.

Oakville

Grain elevator at night
Eastbound train passing the Oakville grain elevator

I had very little time to set up for the eastbound train. The photo isn’t as good as what I would have liked, but I still like it.

Fortunately, I was aware that a westbound train was coming, so I stayed where I was to capture it.

Westbound train passing the Oakville grain elevator
Combined: 4s at f/6.3; HDR image of elevator at 1.3, 4 and 10 seconds, f/2.8. ISO 200.

The moon was making things tricky. I elected to let it “go white” rather than attempt to show detail on it and make the rest of the scene very dark.

One thing I love about night train photography is making a long exposure photo and seeing shadows on the side of the train. It seems… wrong… but there it is.

15 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200

It was a relatively long drive through the middle of the night to get to Oberon. First, drive around Portage la Prairie. West of Portage, the highway roughly parallels the CN and CP main lines, with CP to the south and CN to the north. The highway stays with CP but CN diverges north at MacGregor, heading toward Saskatoon.

On the map, you can easily see the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s influence on town names, reeling off in alphabetic order – Bloom, Caye, Deer, Exira, Firdale, Gregg, Harte, Ingelow, Justice, Knox…

At the Carberry turnoff, I took highway 5 north and crossed the CN Rivers sub midway between Gregg and Harte. Well, I would have crossed it but there was a train rolling through when I arrived. So I sat there, car windows rolled down, listening to the “ding ding ding” of the crossing bell and the rumble of doublestack containers skating past on twin ribbons of steel.

Soon I was underway again, continuing north to route 353 and heading a few kilometres west to Oberon. It’s a bit of a drive, but, oh, it was worth it.

Oberon

25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200

Oberon is my favourite grain elevator in Manitoba… maybe even my favourite, period. The old Lake of the Woods elevator at Elva was a close second, but it’s gone now. I fell in love with Helston’s elevator when I saw it in 2014, but I keep coming back to Oberon. It’s a combination of weathered wood and slow decay that gets me.

All was quiet in the town while I went about my business, photographing the moon-lit elevator against a sky full of stars and graced with Northern Lights.

I took advantage of a car’s passage to capture its headlights lighting the east face of the elevator.

Grain elevator at night with aurora borealis
25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200

The lettering is still visible on both sides of the elevator, standard phrases that used to grace many Manitoba Pool elevators across the province.

OBERON

CO-OPERATIVE ELEVATOR ASSOCIATION

POOL NO. 228

“SERVICE AT COST”

25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200

That was thirty minutes well spent.

If you’re at Oberon, you might as well visit Brookdale… after all, it’s only 6 km further west.

Brookdale

25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 800

The town of Brookdale is certainly larger than Oberon. That means more street lights and therefore more ambient light, so the photo angles are more limited than Oberon. Still, it’s possible to photograph the J.R. Jones Farms Ltd. elevator there with some stars.

Checking out the image

It was 4 AM by this point, so it was time to head home.

Fog had started rolling onto highway 5, so it was slow going down to the Trans-Canada Highway. The fog was strange, almost like very low clouds. At times it felt like driving through a tunnel, with a foggy roof but still clear at ground level for the most part.

Thank goodness the fog hadn’t reached Oberon when I was there!

Foggy highway intersection
Fog at the Trans-Canada Highway intersection

With the fog, it was relatively slow driving for a while. It cleared by the time I reached Austin.

Austin

6 seconds, f/4.0, ISO 400

Austin is a bustling little town and there is a lot of ambient light. It’s hard to take night photos there without a street light or yard light in the shot. I did my best but it wasn’t great.

The Austin grain elevator is looking pretty worn. I imagine it won’t be long before it’s taken down.

Bloom

G3 grain elevator at night with train
Train at the G3 grain elevator at Bloom

I wasn’t going to stop at the new G3 elevator at Bloom – honestly, I wasn’t – but I saw there was a train in the loop track and that made the decision for me.

I set up and started shooting. The train was slowly creeping around the loop, spotting each grain car under the spouts to get loaded with grain from the elevator. The train was powered by a CN locomotive followed by an ex Citirail loco.

CN locomotives at sunrise
CN locomotives in the lead

As I was photographing that train, I noticed a westbound train approaching. I relocated to the other side of the road crossing and waited. By this time, the sky to the east was getting lighter.

Railway signals and crossing at sunrise
Red signals at sunrise

Here’s the train zipping through the crossing:

Train passing grain elevator and crossing at night
Streaking

Elie

Wreathed in fog

By the time I reached Elie, the sun was almost over the horizon. The low-lying fog was licking around the base of the elevator.

Mile 17.8

Although this is neither a night photo nor an elevator photo, I’ll still include it as it puts an exclamation point on a great night of photography.

Just One More Thing

I recently read Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. This is a recent novel featuring a very bad-ass female Indigenous monster hunter. I liked it a lot.

My Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you buy anything using the links.

Like many good thrillers, Trail of Lightning starts by throwing you into the action with Maggie stalking a monster that has stolen a child. Over time you learn the back story about the post-apocalyptic world that Maggie lives in and her own back story.

Maggie is a fierce but troubled monster hunter who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Think of Linda Hamilton from the Terminator movies plus some magic. She gains a few allies along the way, although she has some serious trust issues.

I really liked that the Navajo culture and Dinétah area is front and centre in this novel. The author introduces some Navajo words and concepts in a way that helps you to understand them without someone stepping out of the action to explain them.

Trail of Lightning is the first in the Sixth World series, and is followed by Storm of Locusts.

Buy Trail of Lightning

9 thoughts on “Night Elevators”

  1. Spectacular photos, Steve! Looks like you caught a meteor in the first photo under the Oberon heading, and the one in Brookdale. What a great night!

    Reply
  2. I always like to see elevator pictures, Steve. The ground fog creates an interesting effect at Elie. It is interesting to me how wood elevators show the effects long term expose to the elements. The Oberon elevator really shows these effects.

    The elevator at Austin has a lot of damaged and missing metal cladding. But, that should be mostly cosmetic. The repairs wouldn’t be too difficult. Other aspects of the elevator, such as the overhead door on the truck unloading ramp, suggest to me that the elevator is still being at least somewhat maintained.

    I have been trying some night photography lately. So far, any of my shots that include the moon show the moon as looking white, very white, or really, really white.

    Reply
    • Hi Brian, Oberon has some great weathering.

      I don’t know the condition of the Austin elevator, but from what I’ve been told by a guy who has demolished a lot of elevators, the cladding tends to hide a lot of rot so it’s hard to know the condition from the outside.

      Photographing the moon together with anything else is really hard, because the moon is so bright in comparison to other objects at night. You really have to decrease the shutter speed / exposure to be able to photograph the moon as anything other than a white blob.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the photography tips. I’ll keep experimenting and see if I can figure out what works.

    That makes sense about the rot behind the cladding. The water gets in behind the metal and by the time the wind takes the cladding, there isn’t much wood left for the nails to bite into.

    Reply

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