I’ve been thinking, as much as I can think about non-work related…things, about the railroad. The steel rails that criss-cross this country have worked their way into my perception of space, understanding of transportation and the movement of freight. At night, I can hear the low, haunting whine of freight trains that rumble through the industrial park half a mile from where I lay my head. As I’ve mentioned before, I have really started to pay attention to the space that they occupy and the place that the right of way passes through. I find the terminology related to railroading to be quite interesting.
I had these ideas in the back of my head as I circled downtown Sunbury on Thanksgiving morning. As I’ve written about before, the train tracks in Sunbury run through town, slicing the town into two uneven parts. It was quiet and cold with the sun perpetually disappearing behind the clouds.
After I circled around town a few times, I parked my car next to the former Augusta House restaurant and started to walk.
I have a loose rule about photographing in towns, which I like to think allows me to see a bit more than driving around aimlessly. I walk 2 to 3 blocks away from my car, 2-3 blocks over and then walk back, forming a square or rectangle. I allow myself to wonder around and within that blocked off area, as a way to get a taste of the place I am. This way, I can return to a town again and again and in theory, I have a way to see the whole thing in bits and pieces. A place seems less daunting in blocks and numbers.
The south side of Sunbury is scarred with the past. The greying South Second Street leads out of town but not before passing silent school houses, worn houses, and remnants of industry. The train tracks run along on South Center Street, which is where I found myself towards the end of my exploratory morning. Taking long steps across the ties, I passed houses so close to the tracks that their front yards were thick gravel.
I hadn’t ever really seen this space before and I was struck by the staggered and strange juxtaposition of the houses on the left side of the tracks versus the right. Respectively, one side was dilapidated, with chipped paint and neglect while the other was well-kept and lawn-ornamented. I walked along the ties with the same strange step until I came to the last cross street in town. Here, the tracks passes behind the Weis Distribution center and in front of a groomed cemetery.
Here, that cross street marks the elusive edge of town. There are buildings, some houses, and a gas station beyond this point but the tracks follow the Susquehanna and then head out into farm land and mountains thick with trees. Edge of town: this demarcation seems loaded, heavy with potential and well, to be Springsteenian about it, darkness.
I didn’t get very far beyond the cross street. I crossed it but didn’t get much further, though I wanted to keep walking. I had been gone for much longer than I anticipated and hot mashed potatoes and gravy were waiting back at the house. As always, I made a mental note to return for another day.