Norfolk Southern OCS 4-11-17: Finally caught it after 10 years!

 A photograph I've been waiting a decade to take: Norfolk Southern's Office Car Special through the Virginia countryside.

A photograph I've been waiting a decade to take: Norfolk Southern's Office Car Special through the Virginia countryside.

Every major railroad maintains a fleet of passenger cars to be used for business and special events, such as the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the Masters golf tournament. In 2007, Norfolk Southern overhauled a quartet of EMD F-units to assign as regular power for their train of business cars. Underneath the classic carbodies, the engines are built to GP38-2 standards, with the outside painted in a scheme reminiscent of the Southern Railway's "tuxedo" black and gold. While these engines have existed for roughly a decade now, I've never had a chance to catch them pass through...until now.

The Masters golf tournament took place in Augusta, Georgia, over the weekend of April 8th-9th. The OCS train left Altoona and went west to Ohio before turning south, a departure from the usual route straight down the Piedmont region, as there were passengers to be picked up in Columbus. However, the route back took the train up the easternmost NS main line, which included the Washington District and the B-Line; my home railfanning turf! I've always missed this train when it came through, either because I was busy or I simply wasn't aware it was headed my way. This year, not only did I find out a day in advance I could expect the train, but I already had the whole afternoon off to wait for it!

Thinking I could get a neat "S curve" video, I posted myself in Delaplane, VA. The OCS was unoccupied for the return trip to Altoona, which meant it didn't move with much priority. During my wait, I was able to catch two mildly interesting intermodal trains: NS 228 with a fantastic horn, and NS 211 with a Ferromex unit leading the way. Unfortunately, I was set up to shoot a westbound train, so my eastbound shots weren't terribly well lit.

I also learned the hard way about an issue with my new camcorder. Once the unit is powered on, you can close the screen flap and the camera will be on "standby" mode until you open the flap again. However, you must wait a few seconds for the camcorder to fully come online again before you hit "record," otherwise said button won't respond. Thus, instead of a 2-minute video of 211 with the Ferromex leader, I got a 4-second clip of myself saying "...OH FOR GODS SAKE." The video of 228 turned out well, at least:

Train 211 was set to meet 955 (operating symbol for the OCS) at Gainesville. While waiting, I heard the OCS crew call in NS police, concerned about trespassers on the tracks, who turned out to be fellow railfans looking for shots of the gorgeous passenger train. I was certainly not the only one out and about trying to photograph this train; many railfans were reporting the location as the train came north, others impatiently asked when the train would reach them, and still more appeared trackside near me. A big hello to everyone I met, apologies I didn't remember all of you.

One railfan observed that the sun angle wasn't quite right on the south side of the tracks. While I wanted to agree, I was also concerned about changing my position at the last minute, lest the train come while I'm trying to set my cameras back up. Sadly, he was right, as my first pictures of the train came out far too shadowed:

Once I got back in my car and took a moment to review my photos, I realized the lighting was indeed sub-par. Given that I refused to let my first catch of such a beautiful train be poorly lit, I elected to move further west on the B-Line to try again. After zooming down 66 and the back roads of Linden, VA, I came up on a spot where I had caught 611 last year. However, the lighting at this spot wasn't any better, so I got back in the car and drove further. I then happened across two of the best railfan photographers in the area, set up at a sweeping curve that was perfectly lit. I eagerly joined the photo line and had maybe one minute to spare before the rails began singing and the roar of the F units was heard just around the bend. As soon as the head end appeared through the trees, us shutterbugs began clicking away, all vying for that money shot, and I'm proud to say I got mine:

A video of the OCS is linked below. Thanks for reading, watching, subscribing, and enjoying!