Making tracks

My niece and nephew on railroad tracks near Russell, Ky., October 1978.


The story: Adventures in babysitting

I was always intrigued by the curve of this railroad spur near downtown Russell, Ky., but I could never figure out how to shoot it. Then it hit me – drop two red-headed kids onto the tracks on a autumn afternoon and start shooting.

Sounds easy, right?

This image, taken in October 1978, is one of my favorites, not just because the color, composition and subject work well.  Every time I see it I'm reminded of the story behind the image.

The kids are my niece and nephew, Lori and Kevin.  I called my sister Susan that morning and asked if I could borrow the two kids for an hour or so for photos. I never mentioned anything about railroad tracks, of course. She’d just had her third kid so she was happy to let me take the two older ones.

I had no kids at the time (our first was born two months later) and had never been in a situation where I was supposed to be the grown-up. I had trouble keeping track of these two even in the confined space of a car on the short drive to the location. Heck, I hoped one of them didn’t run off when I let them outdoors. That would be difficult to explain to my sister. I don’t think she’d buy that I only had one when I left her house.

When we reached the track I put Lori and Kevin a few yards from where I wanted them to be for the shot, ran to where I needed to be and had them walk toward me. Kevin had already picked up the biggest, greasiest stick he could find. Lori was stepping carefully trying to avoid oil. I took five or six shots, then packed the kids in the car before one ended up lost or damaged.

My sister had this photo on her wall for more than three decades. It sparked memories for her of when the kids were young ... and of trying to get grease off Kevin for a couple of weeks. And that Lori, who dressed herself, had her pants on backwards.

But I got the shot.