Camp Nickajack

Upon moving to the Southeast back in the late summer of 2001, I had began experiencing a whole new facet of railfanning - as a social function - which most northeasterners are not very open to. The various events that I had attended in Dalton, Austell, and Folkston GA over the past couple of years had inspired me to try to come up with an event myself. But the creative side of me wanted an event that focused more on the venue, and less on the traffic density and roster shooting.

I had photographed trains numerous times at Lake Nickajack before. Less than a half a mile from the meeting point of the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia borders, This man-made lake was created back in the late 1960's with the damming of the Tennessee River. L&N's former NC&StL's Chattanooga-Nashville main had closely followed the river's original southern bank just upstream from the new dam, and would have to be relocated. TVA provided the funding to relocate about eight miles of rail line to the southern border of the new lake, as well as a CTC machine to operate this section of single track (the original routing was two-track). The causeway that was built to handle the the rail line and a section of TN route 156 had created several backwater lakes that added to the scenic value of the current setting. What's more, NS's Memphis line utilizes trackage rights along this stretch of CSX main, entering this line at Wauhatchie, TN to the east (timetable south) and Stevenson, AL to the west (timetable north). Some of these NS trains include the BNSF trains coming out of the Powder River Basin coal fields and going to GA Power's Plant Sherer. So that's three major railroads represented on one rail line, in a scenic location. Add in a location to set up a campsite, and you have the makin's for Camp Nickajack.

Unlike an open membership with most events, I wanted to keep this initial activity's attendance at a much more controllable level. After all, this would require a lot of coordination for food and camping equipment, especially since there would be no utilities or accommodations whatsoever (the warning message stated, "We're roughing it, boys"). As a result of proper preparedness and ingenuity, the event was extremely relaxing and enjoyable, despite the fact that the traffic level took a dump on us during Saturday.

Below are a compilation of photos from Ben Chapman, Bart Youngblood, Caleb Herndon, Jonathan Guy, and myself taken during this event.

Ben Chapman is the first to the campsite early Friday morning, and captures a loaded Sherer train heading for Chattanooga. After taking these pictures, his camera battery dies, and he's forced to shoot video for the rest of the venture.
Later in the morning, myself, Jonathan Guy, and Bart Youngblood arrive, and we finish setting up camp (after photographing a couple of passing trains). Looking like a burned-out 1980's porno star, I begin chopping firewood.
With camp set up, it was time to go to a couple of photo locations around the lake. My first attempt at racing to a particular locale ended up in some scrapes and bruises due to a fall (yes - I did save the camera), but the second attempt landed an ex-Conrail GE leading Q582 thru the rock cut.
Meanwhile, back at camp, Ben and Bart stand poised for the next passing train...
A loaded Georgia Power-Plant Sherer train, possibly in the form of NS symbol 734, heads toward Chattanooga.
Later that night, after Caleb arrives at the camp, we climb through the briars to the top of the rock cut (which was supposed to be the original campsite) for some night shots. I pull out my old manual Nikon body, loaded with a roll of Provia 400F (since August of 2003 - WAAAAYYY too long), and take a six to eight minute exposure of a northbound CSX train tracing out its route around the lake.
I had counted about twelve to fourteen trains from the time I bedded down until I woke up the next morning. First to arrive after my official awakening was a southbound CSX train with a wild UP/TFM lashup!
Another invitee to Camp Nickajack arrives - behind the throttle of an SD50!!! Unfortunately, the demands of his job did not allow him to stop and enjoy some breakfast of bacon and pancakes...
I wash the breakfast dishes as Q218 rolls by...
The backwater lake immediately adjacent to the campsite was full of all sorts of interesting things, such as a kitchen sink and this newspaper machine. Suprisingly, there were living fish in this water, too.
Jonathan, Bart, and Caleb leave for an exploratory drive between the lake and TVA's Widows Creek power plant, and Ben and I stay behind to keep watch over the camp. I build myself a half-assed tree stand in a pine tree adjacent to the shoreline, and capture an NS train from Memphis with a unique power lash-up, and then a CSX local at speed a couple of hours later.
Meanwhile, during the drive, Bart demonstrates the proper gear that a prepared railfan carries. He then swings into action prior to the arrival of an NS train.
Traffic levels prove to be extremely slow this day. CSX train Q126 calls the signal for CP James, so I bicycle down to the rock cut to capture him.
Despite the rather slow traffic, it was nice to be able to just kick back and relax. Of course, the clientel taking advantage of the good fishing opportunities in the lake kinda made up for the low number of trains...
We once again climb the rock cut to take advantage of the late setting sunlight. Q582 enters into the cut; and as the tail passes by the campsite (to the left, out of sight in the second picture), the head end is about to roll over the Nickajack detector at milepost 132.
Shortly thereafter, a southbound CSX train passes by with an NS GE on the point.
Jonathan demonstrates the tools of modern-day camping...
We try to get some dramatic results from the setting sun behind this CSX southbound, but only with marginal results. My position in the treestand didn't help matters any.
The last shot we took prior to leaving the campsite was this time-exposure of a passing loaded Sherer coal train (NS 738). We fired a pair of flashes to capture the brilliant Scotchlite markings on the lead units, only to find out that the second one had very little reflective material due to being a "Greinstein" SD70MAC.

Photos from Camp Nickajack '05, '06, and '07

Last updated 02/23/08