The "Jukes Tree" outside Chama, New Mexico on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic narrow gauge. The location looks virtually the same in this September 1986 photo as it did in Fred Jukes’ 1908 photo, and still looks the same today.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
By Greg Monroe/Photos by the Author
Déjà-vu: “A feeling of reliving or re-experiencing something that happened in the past.” I think it is safe to say we all have experienced at times that eerie feeling of having “been there” or “done that” before, maybe more than once or twice. And this theme is a good way to give some new purpose to your time trackside as well as add interest to a railfan slide or image show.
In the early 1980s I worked near the Burlington Northern and Denver & Rio Grande Western “Joint Line” tracks in downtown Littleton, Colorado. I had occasion to see many trains passing through town, and often spent some of my off days photographing in this area. The town’s concerns had been growing over the many long, slow moving trains passing through town blocking the two grade crossings, potentially delaying fire and ambulances responding to emergency calls. The solution was a mile long “depression” built between 1983 and 1987 to lower the rails under the crossings. The accompanying black and white photo of a Burlington Northern northbound train was taken in 1982 before the depression project had started. The second photo is of a BN train in the same location, but taken 14 years later after the depression project was completed. Déjà-vu.
A Burlington Northern northbound rolls through Littleton, Colorado, on the Joint Line in 1982.
Burlington Northern northbound through Littleton, Colorado, in the same location but in the Railroad Depression in 1996. Today there is a double light rail line where the tire tracks are.
At times the feeling is so real I almost believe I can go back to my old job (impossible since the building has since been torn down) or walk out to the tracks to snap a passing train from the same view point (impossible as the tracks are now lined with a high chain link fence). I have to mentally pinch myself to get back to reality.
Another excellent example of a déjà-vu railroad location is the iconic Jukes Tree outside Chama, New Mexico on the former Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge line, now the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. This tree, a large, mature and very distinctively shaped pine, was made famous by D&RG employee and railfan Fred Jukes’ 1908 photo of a little train passing under it. Today this tree is little changed from over 100 years ago. Going back into the 1950s or even farther, railfans pilgrimaging to Chama have included photos of this tree with a train passing underneath in their itinerary. Every time I see this tree or photos of it, I get a déjà-vu feeling about Fred Juke’s photo as well as the several times I have photographed the tree. (There were actually two different Jukes Trees, the second one no longer standing. (See “The Mystery of Jukes Tree” in the April 1990 issue of Railfan & Railroad.)
Creating a sense of déjà-vu for yourself can be done in several ways. First, pick a location you have photographed that you find inspirational and have been getting the desire to go back and photograph again, such as with my experiences on the Joint Line, and show them side by side at a slide or image show. Or maybe you have traded slides and have acquired one or several showing interesting or historic locations that you would like to see and photograph yourself. You may have seen an interesting photo from a few decades ago in a book or magazine, and you could go out and photograph that location as it is today.
Perhaps you could re-shoot a location one of your favorite railfan photographers who has inspired you is known for, duplicating his or her composition as much as possible. A photo by Richard Kindig of a steam locomotive in the “Tunnel District” on the Moffat Line west of Denver was an inspiration for me to try to find that location and duplicate it with the Rio Grande Zephyr. If you have an old photo of a particular locomotive that is now in operation on another railroad, if you have the chance to be in the engine’s new location a comparison of the same locomotive in the different locations for different railroads would be interesting.
Also consider extending the déjà-vu experience by photographing the same location several times, over a period of weeks or even years. This might be a good long term project to follow if the surroundings are in the process of change, such as new buildings going up. Especially if this has required changes to, or realignment of, the tracks. In my case with the Joint Line depression location, since the 1996 photo a light rail line has been added here, yielding yet a third variation to the location.
Be it a well known location such as the Keddie Wye, Tehachapi Loop, Horseshoe Curve, Tower 55, photos of Big Boys and Challengers on Sherman Hill, O. Winston Link’s night time views of the N&W, or just your favorite local railfanning spot... What brings a feeling of déjà-vu to you?
Portions of this article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Railfan & Railroad.