Purchase photos

Train tracker

1/11/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- Some people like to hunt. Some people like to fish.

Luke Lohrmeyer likes to follow trains and take pictures of them.

"I compare it to fishing or hunting; it's the same thing," Lohrmeyer said. "They go out and wait 'X' amount of hours for a deer or a fish. I'm just out here doing it with 10,000 tons of rolling metal."

The 19-year-old Lohrmeyer, a 2013 graduate of Ellis High School, has been fascinated by trains since he was little.

"Probably when I was about 4 or 5," he said. "I lived a block from the tracks. I could see everything from my window, upper-story bedroom window. That kind of got me hooked.

"I started reading magazines, websites -- just kind of took off from there."

Lohrmeyer has been taking pictures of trains for approximately four years. He puts his pictures on different train websites. Using a Canon Rebel XS, he has taught himself through trial and error the ins and outs of photography.

"Got a camera, went from there," he said.

Lohrmeyer has several photos of trains at sunset.

"I really don't go out and try for those," he said. "I don't know what it is. I just happen to stumble upon them all the time. I don't go out for the purpose of shooting at sunset."

Lohrmeyer also doesn't look for any particular locomotive to shoot. Instead, he's interested in documenting the history of trains.

"Mostly, it's just recording trains for 20, 30 years down the road," Lohrmeyer said.

And Lohrmeyer will go far and wide for his photos. He's chased trains in Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado, and all over Kansas.

"It's better when you go to eastern Kansas," he said. "There's a better variety, a lot more trains than out here, where a good day is six in 24 hours. The line that comes down from Marysville, Kan., to Topeka sees 70. Emporia, they can push a hundred a day."

The thrill of the chase makes it exciting for Lohrmeyer and his train-following friends. When Lohrmeyer "chases" a train, he will have a starting point for taking pictures. He then will get into his vehicle and race ahead of the train, stop, get out and shoot more photos. He then climbs back in, gets out in front again, and shoots more pictures. Repeat, again and again.

The most times he has done it in one chase was when a steam engine came through in 2012, and Lohrmeyer made approximately 20 stops.

"It excited me," Lohrmeyer said. "It was a fun chase."

Lohrmeyer, who knows to keep his distance, said the train crews know him by now and don't mind him chasing. One chase, Lohrmeyer won't soon forget.

It was the early-morning hours of July 16, and Lohrmeyer had finished chasing one train when he picked up another train at Toulon, heading west, scheduled to pass through Hays.

Instead of taking Eighth Street into town, Lohrmeyer took the route on the bypass on Old. U.S. Highway 40. At the four-way stop on south Vine, Lohrmeyer saw the signals for the crossing and crossing gate on Vine Street go up and thought that was odd. The timing didn't make sense because the train couldn't pass through the crossing that quickly.

"I saw the dust and everything blow across Vine Street," Lohrmeyer said.

Lohrmeyer drove onto Vine and saw the train wreck, with the engines on fire. He alerted the Hays Police Department there was ethanol on the train.

"They're so lucky that everybody made it out," Lohrmeyer said. "I'm still amazed that they did."

Lohrmeyer's knowledge of trains goes deep. On a recent afternoon, a coal train passed through Ellis. A bystander said he counted the number of cars. Lohrmeyer asked how many, then said let him guess.

"Hundred and six," he said.

Close -- it was 105. Lohrmeyer said coal trains have approximately 104 to 106 cars.

Lohrmeyer's hobby of taking pictures of trains is a unique one around these parts, not like hunters and fishermen.

"I'm really the only one in western Kansas," he said.