Going Postal on rails

Mail from a train what’s the Zip code for that?

This is one of the must-see attractions at the Southeastern Railway Museum.  I have seen many shots of the Post Office Car sorting bins – usually done as HDR images because the lighting is so hard to manage.  Much of the car is fairly dark except for the super-bright bulb lights hanging from the ceiling.  The car is also long and narrow so what is close up is much brighter than what’s at the other end of the car.

RailroadMuseum-81
Car 1701 – U.S. Railway Post Office Grand Junction

This stainless steel car was built by Pullman for the Tennessean passenger train. Post office cars were used to sort mail while in motion for subsequent delivery to destinations.  You can see from the picture above, that since this is an official post office, you could even drop a letter in the slot on the side of the car!

RailroadMuseum-34One of the things that I found most interesting was at the opposite end of the car from where the sorting bins are.  A heavy-duty hook hangs from a railing next to a door in the side of the car.

Think about it – all those old movies with the train running past a station and the mail pouch waiting to be picked up.  Yep, I think it’s that hook.  Of course, in most of the movies, there was someone either hanging precariously from the hook or nearly getting knocked off the train by it.  I’m sure in reality that it was probably just used to pick up heavy mail bags and load or unload them but it’s much more fun to imagine the great railroad chase with people running across the top of the train, dodging the hook and ducking below tunnel openings just in the nick of time!

A few notes on my post-processing for these:  I recently had the privilege of attending an Advanced Digital Darkroom class with James Duckworth.  Jim taught us some of the more involved Paintshop techniques and I used some of his methods in processing these.

  1. On the featured image of the mail bins, I took a 5 exposure bracket of the mail car.  Then, instead of running those through Photomatix to get a HDR, I picked out the best overall exposure and one with the best shadow detail and one where highlights were not blown out and brought these into Photoshop as layers.  After some detailed work with layer masks, I was able to get a good combination that looks natural.
  2. For the image with the mail hook, I used focal merge.  I took one exposure with my focal point on the hook, to get that sharp and a second one with the focal point near the middle of the car to get the mail bags and bins in focus.  Once again, these were brought in as layers and I used the mask tool to blend the two and get that extended depth of field.  This is my first attempt at “focal stacking” and I thought it came out pretty well.

Southeastern Railway Museum
3595 Buford Highway
Duluth, GA 30096

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
11mm at f/11 – 10 sec – ISO 100