A Classic Arby’s neon sign

The classic Arby’s ® neon sign that many of us grew up with seems to be vanishing from the night landscape of America.

I haven’t seen one of these signs in California in I don’t know how long.

There was one not far from where I spent my wee years.  It was a treat to go to Arby’s and watch your sandwich being created on the slicer.  The root beer came from a tap, and you pumped your own Arby’s sauce.  The things you remember…

Anyway… I found myself on 24th Street in Port Huron, Michigan.  I was on a mission to capture this Arby’s neon sign in all its’ glory – that being during the few seconds that both “roast” and
beef” are illuminated.  For those of you that haven’t seen one of these signs, the lights on the border of the “hat” flicker to give the illusion of motion, and “roast” and “beef” cycle on and off.

But I had a problem.  Someone left their tripod and remote release at home.

But I had a mission.

So, it was time to MacFrog it.  (That was a weak reference to MacGyver that I couldn’t pass up!)

My flannel shirt got folded and crumpled up just right to serve as my tripod on the roof of the car.  I even folded the camera strap and put it under the lens for support.

I set the camera to manual focus, turned off the lens stabilizer, set the camera to ISO 100, turned the flash off, set the shutter speed to 1/5 of a second, and shot away.  And shot away.  An shot away.  I had to time it just right to catch “roast” and “beef” on at the same time.

I managed to get what I wanted on 2 of 19 attempts.  Not a great success rate, but that was one of those nights I gave thanks for digital photography and its’ instant feedback.

A classic Arby's neon sign on 24th Street in Port Huron, MI. December 2015.

A classic Arby’s neon sign on 24th Street in Port Huron, MI. December 2015.

You can check out the current “neon signs and other signs” gallery by clicking here , or just start at Laughing Frog Images.


PH&D in Black & White

I finally got around to uploading over 70 black and white images of the PH&D in black and white, and a couple of the GTW and Amtrak in Port Huron, to the galleries.

These images represent most of what is found in the Frog’s second book – “The Port Huron & Detroit Railroad in Black and White 1984“.


I struggle with admitting that I found my black and white work to be more stirring and evocative than my color work.  I still can’t explain that to myself.  Perhaps it’s the nostalgia that black and white photography brings with it.  A connotation of times past?  I don’t really know, but it stirred me as I was scanning the negatives and working on the book.  And it still does.

I spent a great deal of time working on fixing 15+ years of less than ideal negative storage.  It wasn’t until sometime around 2000 that these negatives found a home in archival plastic pages that then made their way to binders for flat storage.  They’re still not perfect.  As I mention in the gallery commentary, if you want to order a certain image, and notice that there’s something I missed, please let me know and I’ll fix it and report the image.  I just reached a point where it became apparent to me that some people really want to see these images, and they can’t do that if they’re stuck on my computer.

As I write this, I’m looking at the image above and there’s a part of me saying “get rid of that pole and the wires above the engine!”  I don’t know why that thought came to me now.  And there’s a part of me saying “but that’s not how it was – so just leave it alone!”  And that’s the part of me that’s winning.   All of that said, if there’s anyone that does want the pole removed to make this “THE” PH&D in black and white image for you – let me know and I will take it out (and add a disclaimer to the caption for the sake of being honest!).

All of that said, as I look at the picture more, it occurs to me that there is so much in this image that speaks.

The trackage itself tells a story – these are the roundhouse leads.  The wood-sided buildings.  Old naked ties where there once was a track.  The PH&D main fading off into the distance.  The Detroit Edison power plant in Marysville off in the distance (it’s gone now).  And then, there’s the main subject.  ALCo S-2 # 60 and her caboose.  There’s the last light of the day softly and evenly highlighting the details on the 60.  The pole hanging by the cab speaks of an earlier time, but the “No Foot-Board” reminders and rotary beacon on the cab pull us into the 1980’s.

I didn’t get all of what this picture said 31 years ago.  I’m not sure I get all of what it says now.  If I keep going, I might test the saying that a picture does in fact say a thousand words.  But that might bore you.

So, I’ll stop now and invite you to check out the Port Huron and Detroit in black and white as seen in 1984 on Laughing Frog Images.

Half of all profits on products from the PH&D galleries go to the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society to support all that they do. 

For each PH&D book sold through Laughing Frog Images or our CreateSpace Store, $5.oo is donated to the PH&DRRHS.

PH&D books at PH&DRRHS HoboFest

The Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society will have the both of the Frog’s books – “Port Huron and Detroit Railroad and Connections in Color, 1982-1984” and the “Port Huron and Detroit Railroad in Black and White, 1984” – available at their 2015 HoboFest, September 11-12 2015.

All proceeds from the books available at HoboFest go to the Society for their maintenance, restoration and preservation activities.

HoboFest event details can be found by clicking here.  The Society also has a webpage and Facebook page.

These books are the first two creations in the “Through My Lens” series, and show the PH&D as I saw it from my first visit in 1982 until the last run on December 13, 1984.

To the best of my knowledge, these are the only two books ever published that focus on the PH&D.

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The color book includes images of the PH&D from Tappan Tower to St. Clair, as well as the GTW, CN, and Chessie System (C&O/PM) in Port Huron.

The black and white book also covers the line from Tappan Tower to Sr. Clair and features photographs from the cab of PH&D Alco S-2 #60 and caboose #62 on a St. Clair run.  Also included are topographic maps of the PH&D with photo locations, PH&D forms and a look at train orders from the Grand Trunk Western.  Way back when, paper, not computers and smartphones ran the railroads, and it’s not often you can see how things used to be.

Can’t make HoboFest, but you still want the books (as only a complete set will do)?

The books are available at Laughing Frog Images (click the “Get Our Books!” link at the top of the page) and CreateSpace.  For each book purchased through Laughing Frog Images or CreateSpace Laughing Frog Images will make a $5.00 donation per book to the PH&DRRHS.

The book is also available on Amazon, but due to the associated costs of selling through Amazon, there is no donation made to the Society.



PH&D in Color Published!

The Frog is finally pleased and able to announce that The Port Huron & Detroit Railroad and Connections in Color 1982-1984 is officially in print and available via Laughing Frog Images and the Laughing Frog Images CreateSpace estore!

This book has been in the making for over 30 years – at least in my mind!  Way back on the last day of the PH&D in December of 1984, the notion that I would be able to scan my PH&D slides at 5000dpi, use software to help compensate for shooting in bad lighting and for my primitive abilities with Kodachrome 64, and self-publish a book was beyond imagination.

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This project started out with the intention of being a fine-art book, with a hard cover and printed on high-gloss paper.  As the project grew, so did the price.  While my intentions were noble, it became apparent that I might not purchase my own book because it was so expensive!  So, the project went on hiatus while I searched for a new publishing option.

The passing of the PH&D didn’t get much notice.  Keep in mind that this was back in the days without the internet, without message boards, without email, and cell phones.  So, in a way, this story has never been told.  Telling the story in a way that is accessible to anyone is important to me. And the research continued.

I finally found a publisher that offered a way to tell the story in color and at a price that most everyone could afford. Granted, I had to give up the hard cover and high-gloss paper – it’s a soft cover book on trade paper (and the photo reproduction challenges that go with it), but the story could finally be told.  Naturally, the project that I’d started was in a format that was not compatible with CreateSpace, so I had to start all over again.

And here we are on April 18.

After more digital proofs than I care to think about, and several physical proofs, it’s finally “real”.  I have learned a new appreciation for editors and proof readers, as every time I reviewed a proof, I found something else.  I have now either found everything, or looked at the book so much that I’m blind to any remaining errors.  Somehow, I know when I receive my print copy, something is going to jump out at me…

For the people of the PH&D that I got to know from 1982 to 1984, those still with us, and those who have passed, I am pleased to share with you The Port Huron & Detroit Railroad and Connections in Color from 1982 to 1984.

It only took 32 years to get this shot!

I was in Port Huron, MI for the December 2014 meeting of the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society that commemorated the 30th anniversary of the end of the railroad.

Anyway, as I was checking out of my hotel and loading the car for the trip to the Detroit airport, I was proud of myself as I was actually 15 minutes early.

And, then I heard a horn that didn’t sound like it was on modern power that would be heading into/out of the tunnel….

I thought to myself that hey, I AM a little early… and maybe, just maybe, they’re going to switch the paper mill that’s on the waterfront by the Bluewater Bridge. So…, east on Water Street I went! When I got the to the drawbridge over the Black River and looked east, I saw a headlight! And then, I saw the headlight move away from me… The low speed chase was on!

I arrived at Dunn Paper to see GTW 4909 (ex-MP) switching the mill. I got the obligatory shots with Lake Huron in the background, and also of the Bluewater Bridge in the background as the 4929 worked. And, I was dragging my feet to leave, as I’d been trying for 32 years to get a shot of a train and a Lake Boat here.

And I hemmed and hawwed and hesitated as I kept looking at the time.

I was really ready to leave as I’d pushed it about as long as I could when two cars came to a rapid halt in the parking area. Two folks with cameras around their necks jumped out. Having never seen ANYONE do that before (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.), I figured something was about to happen here.

I saw the bow of a boat emerge from the mist! I was finally going to get my shot of a train and a Lake Boat! Well, I did, sort of, anyway. The Lakes Contender / Ken Boothe Sr. is actually an ATB – an Articulated Tug and Barge, and, to the purists, not really a Lake Boat.

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I’ll take it for now, as the closest I’ve ever lived to this area is just shy of 350 miles!

And, yes, I made my flight. I got to the gate about five minutes before boarding began!

Algoma Montrealais update.

Well, as it turns out, she made one more voyage…

Over the Christmas holiday, as a matter of fact.

I was doing a little web surfing to see if I could find out where she was, and what ultimately happened to her and discovered that she made one more turn before the end of the year.  The end of the year was also apparently the expiration date of certain certifications for operation – and re-certification would have been costly.  The folks at Algoma have received some new boats of late, and that apparently figured into the fate of the Algoma Montrealais.  The last I can find is that she’s sitting in the Montreal area.

As I was searching, I found many others captured her last voyage in image and video forms.  You can check those out by simply searching “Algoma Montrealais last voyage”.

A photographer who goes by Gales of November captured her upbound at Port Huron from the Sarnia (Ontario) shore as she was passing by the Fort Gratiot Light.  It’s a great image that you can view here.  Yeah, I know, I’m referring you to another photographer’s work – but I’m not too proud to admit that I admire the image, and that I’m a bit jealous.

Below is one of my last photos of her next-to-last downbound voyage before she disappeared into the mist south of St. Clair, MI.

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For more photos of the Algoma Montrealais and Great Lakes Boats, just click here.

You can read my original post on the Algoma Montrealais here.

PH&D Collages added!

For the 30th anniversary of the end of the PH&D as we knew it, I created five PH&D collages as viewed through my lenses and captured on Kodachrome from 1982-1984.

Four versions of the PH&D collages were donated to and auctioned off at the December 2014 meeting of the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society to help them in their fundraising efforts.

Now, all five are available on Laughing Frog Images in the Port Huron and Detroit Color Collages gallery.  Any of them will print in full in 2×3 format – any other ratio will result in cropping.

As with the main Port Huron and Detroit in Color gallery, half of the profits from this gallery will be donated to the PH&D HS.

If you don’t purchase a PH&D product from Laughing Frog Images, please visit their page, and consider joining or making a donation to assist them in bringing Alco S-1 #52 home!


Grand Trunk Western, MI, ’82-’84

We’ve added a new gallery to Laughing Frog ImagesGrand Trunk Western in eastern Michigan, 1982-1984.

The Grand Trunk Western in eastern Michigan was a natural side trip to the pursuits of the Port Huron and Detroit from 1982 to 1984.

Their Tunnel Yard office was directly across the Pere Marquette and Grand Trunk Western mains from the PH&D office.

Everything in and out of Port Huron (PH&D, PM (as the ex-PM/C&O/Chessie System was known, and the Trunk) went by or near Tappan Tower at the West end of the yard.

The Trunk had a regular run-through freight with the Milwaukee Road, so you could see Milwaukee power in Port Huron.  The assimilation of the Detroit Toledo and Ironton was taking place during this time, as was the assimilation of the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line.  Assimilation meant variety, and also lament.  There were ex-Rock Island GP38-2’s running around in patched Rock Island paint.  There was variety…

The Tunnel Yard engine facility was wide open.  Switchers and Geeps lay in wait.  One of the shades of GT blue was the correct one!  And, there were still some units running around in GT black.

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Detroit Toledo and Ironton’s Flat Rock Yard was an easy diversion off of I-75 between Toledo and Detroit.

And, back then, in a galaxy far far away in a time long ago, as long as you checked in, stayed off of the tracks and equipment, and didn’t do anything stupid, you could take your pictures in peace.

So, it was easy.

But… the PH&D was the main attraction, and easy shooting of the Trunk didn’t always mean that everything was always in the best light. I’ve tried to make the images as close to perfect as I can, but in some cases, they’re dark below the frame.  I debated whether or not to include some of them – but I decided to include them, as a dark underframe on a GTW unit is better than no GTW unit at all.

That said, I captured a reasonable representation of the GTW in eastern Michigan in that time frame.  This gallery will likely appeal to model railroaders as well as the ferroequinologists out there.


Port Huron & Detroit in color, 1982-84

I discovered the Port Huron & Detroit Railroad with a forgotten cohort in July of 1982.

An Alco-powered shortline in Michigan, the Port Huron & Detroit was something new to me.  Alco switchers were all but gone in Western Pennsylvania. And the folks there put up with, educated, tolerated, and supported a young railroad photographer.

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I was shooting Kodachrome 64 – each slide cost me just shy of a quarter for film, postage and processing. I was making $4-5 dollars an hour through various summer enterprises. And I lived about 300 miles away.  30+ years later, I wish I’d shot more… I have too many memories of the people that made the railroad what it was, and too few pictures of them.

Back then, I was still mastering Kodachrome, let along photography in general.  After working the scanner for hours, it’s been hours of cleaning, editing, and fixing.  The PH&D gallery can be found on Laughing Frog Images by clicking here.

I made several trips to the Port Huron & Detroit through the end of the railroad’s time shooting black and white and color (that’s how you had to do it back then – no click of a mouse in a software program like there is these days!).  In December of 1984, the Port Huron & Detroit was purchased by CSX.  I still keep in touch with a couple former employees. Doesn’t seem like 30 years ago…

The Frog is working on a black and white Port Huron & Detroit gallery – hopefully it will be up before Thanksgiving.

Port Huron was also served by the Grand Trunk Western and Chessie System (former Chesapeake and Ohio, and before that, Pere Marquette).  The Chessie line was still referred to as the “PM”, and had a carfloat operation to Sarnia, Ontario that I never shot…  (Yes, I regret it – but the lighting was bad in the morning, and by the time the light came around, I was chasing the PH&D.)  You could drive in to the Trunk’s engine facility, check in – and as long as you stayed off of the tracks and engines – and didn’t do anything stupid, all was well.  Look for future blog posts and galleries from these railroads I came to know because of the PH&D.

The Port Huron & Detroit Railroad Historical Society’s Facebook Page can be found here.

Half of all profits from this gallery will be donated to the Port Huron & Detroit Historical Society.