That’ll Do, Pig

As I get older, my sleep is less regular and more interrupted. I hear that’s pretty normal for us “old folks” but it’s a bit frustrating.

Recently I woke up at about 4 AM, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

The night before, I had been considering going out railfanning at night. I like night photography and I enjoy standing outside in the quiet night. However, it was cloudy, so I shelved that idea.

I looked outside at 4 AM and I could see stars. Go time!

After a quick breakfast, I left a note for my wife and hit the road for the CN Rivers subdivision. I usually go there at night because it has the most trains per hour of any line around Winnipeg.

I found a CN train waiting at Hall Road, just west of Winnipeg… with an aurora!

Aurora at 5:05 AM

I was almost dancing in excitement as I set up to record the scene. This was the first time I’ve managed to catch a stationary train with the Northern Lights.

About a minute after I arrived, a westbound CN train went rolling past. That’s the lead photo of this post.

I tried a few different angles. I was most happy with the one above, with three of the train’s four locomotives visible, the crossing to the right, and the aurora arcing overhead.

If that was the last photo I took that night, I would have been very happy.

Eventually the crew got their green light, and they rolled away under the green of the aurora at 5:17 AM.

I packed up and headed west along the Rivers subdivision. A few miles later, I came across another stopped CN train, at mile 15.

Starry Train at 5:26 AM

You can see that the aurora was mostly behind clouds at this angle, but the stars were still out. I love this image.

The crew saw me taking photos, and they turned the headlights on and off a few times. Appreciated!

It wasn’t long before this train started heading east as well. I elected to try a few pan shots of the tail end as it went by. I did some fairly heavy editing on this image, and I like how it turned out.

At this point, the sky was starting to lighten. I decided to head north to the Canadian Pacific main line to try my luck there.

CP at 6 AM

My luck was really good! When I arrived trackside, I saw the headlights of a westbound train leaving Winnipeg. I decided to get them at the west end of the Makwa siding, near the town of Rosser.

Because of the tremendous amount of snow we’ve received this past winter, the nearby fields were underwater. This led to a rather unique shot of the onrushing train with a (temporary) lake in the background!

That elevator in the distance is the new Viterra grain elevator. The old one is still present – the tip of it is visible above the train.

As soon as the head end passed me, I returned to my car and took off in pursuit. I eventually overtook the train and arrived in Marquette a good minute before the train arrived.

Marquette at 6:25 AM

Fortunately I had enough time to hop out of the car and get my camera settings locked in before the train rushed through the town.

With the head end past, I turned back east and tried “dragging the shutter” with some longer shutter times to see how they looked. I like the effect.

I had a real feeling of satisfaction when I finished taking the photos of the two CN trains with the aurora in the background. I was going to title this post “stick a fork in it [it’s done]” but I decided to go back to the beloved movie “Babe” and borrow the great actor James Cromwell’s final words instead.

James Cromwell from the movie "Babe"

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.


Of course, I wasn’t done railfanning. More to come.

11 thoughts on “That’ll Do, Pig”

  1. Maybe you couldn’t sleep because the Northern Lights were calling you, Steve. Those are some amazing shots. The aurora is really bright in your pictures. It must have been absolutely incredible to see in person.

    The Makwa siding picture is timed perfectly too. The sky is starting to lighten with night’s end. But, the light from the locomotive still illuminates the track and the elevator lights are also illuminating the elevator. The water also adds a uniqueness to the picture.

    All in all, I’d say that giving up a couple, or maybe three, hours of sleep for all of these pictures was a more than fair trade.

    • That could be, Brian – whispery magnetic voices tickling my synapses and invading my dreams?

      The camera shows the aurora better than the naked eye can, but it was certainly visible to the naked eye. When the aurora is really bright, it is stunning to watch.

      I agree, giving up some sleep was worth it in this case! I’m glad you liked the photos.

  2. Well that’s just not fair… you got more shots in one morning worthy of the 2023 trackside guide covers than I’ll get in a whole year running about!

    Absolutely gorgeous shots all, a great morning out chasing!


  3. Yes, great pix, Steve – and the Cromwell photo and remark made me smile. Loved that movie.


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