As I’m traveling by train, I often wonder during a late-night stop, “Who is at a station this late? And why are they here?” Of course, that curiosity wears off as the train starts up again and I go back to sleep speeding toward my destination.
When Amtrak discontinued the Three Rivers in 2005, a train that ran from New York to Chicago via the old B&O main line through Ohio, I was busily photographing its nocturnal trip across the state. I had an O. Winston Link flash-style shot of it by the retired interlocking tower in Nova and had watched it speed by with a group of railfans in Sterling. The time that really sticks out for documenting the train was when I came to the iron triangle on its last day of operation.
There I met with Bill & Phyllis Gerritsen, the unofficial ambassadors for Fostoria, Ohio. Every night at 3:05 a.m. and 3:35 a.m. (assuming the CSX dispatcher had the trains running on time) they greeted passengers who stepped off the Three Rivers, be it college students, Amish, old folks, or other passengers. The Gerritsens would help the passengers with baggage or give them a ride home if they lived in town.
They welcomed me into the station, which only half of it was open to us; the other was used as offices for the local maintenance of way department. The space we were in was very small, about the size of a college dorm room. In it, we laughed and joked, and it sure did beat hanging outside on a cold March night.
Throughout the night people came to the little station saying their goodbyes and thanking the couple for their time. We watched several episodes of Looney Tunes while waiting for the passenger’s DVD player to help pass the time since the westbound train was a couple of hours late. When the last Amfleets glided over the diamonds destined for the second city, a group of railfans had the Gerritsens stand next to the station in the still twilight of the morning to pose for a photo. After that we said our goodbyes and the Gerritsens locked up the station for the final time and mailed the keys off to the railroad.