I'd rather be lucky than good
— Lefty Gomez, New York Yankees 1930-1943
Forty-five years ago — on September 1, 1969 to be precise — I squinted through the viewfinder of my first 35mm camera and composed a photograph that remains a favourite all these years later. The camera was a borrowed Ilford rangefinder; the place was the CPR Glen Yard in Westmount, Quebec, a few miles west of Windsor Station and downtown Montreal. I was fifteen.
I’d had the Ilford for a few months and had become more or less mechanically proficient with it by the time my friend Mike and I set out in his MGB for a Labour Day weekend trip to Montreal. The little rangefinder was my introduction to serious photography, and while I had the serious part down all right, I was nowhere near good.
So I was winging it on that September Monday, struggling in my self-taught, seat-of-the-pants style to capture the magic of a Montreal morning on film.
We were walking toward the roundhouse as Delaware & Hudson PA1 No. 17 and RS2 4022 came drifting down the lead. The Glen was the shop, staging, and servicing yard for all of the locomotives and equipment for the passenger trains to and from Windsor Station. The D&H Alcos were backing downtown to join their train, No. 34 the Montreal-New York Laurentian, already positioned at the downtown station by one of the Glen yard engines.
I fired off a few frames as D&H Alcos ambled along with a pair of CP S2s following close behind, nipping at the heels of the PA like puppies on a country lane. The D&H PAs — the last four of their kind in service in North America — were what we’d come for. The power rolled by and I turned to get the PA. As I did so, No. 233, the Montreal-Ottawa Rideau popped out from behind the distant buildings.
The timing was all wrong and there was no time to reposition for a photograph of the running meet. The D&H Alcos were moving too slowly and No. 233, with CP E8A No. 1800 in the lead, was closing in too fast. Suddenly, as if they’d sensed my predicament, D&H 17 and 4022 let out a throaty 244 roar and accelerated into the frame. I had one chance.
The resulting image, with one of the celebrated D&H PAs and one of only three Canadian E units in a single frame has been forever etched in my mind — and in frame 19A of a strip of Plus-X film.
I’d like to take credit for the photograph, for anticipating the arrival of No. 233, and for setting myself up to be in the right place at the right time. But being good didn’t really have anything to do with it. I’m with Lefty Gomez on this one.