Friday, January 08, 2016

10 Questions for Mark Zulkoskey

Railroad magazine used to have a regular feature highlighting an "Interesting Railfan". I thought I would run a similar series with some railfans who have agreed to participate. I'm asking each railfan 10 questions, some standard and some customized for the particular person. I hope you enjoy it. (See all in the series)

Mark (L) with his father at the
Grey Cup Train, 2012
Mark Zulkoskey is a railfan living in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. We've never met but I've enjoyed and envied his photos on Saskatchewan Railways. He graciously agreed to answer my 10 questions.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a registered social worker living in the Central Saskatchewan city of Prince Albert, which also conveniently, was my place of birth. I always vowed to move but the prairie has oddly grown on me. I work as a Cognitive Disability Consultant for two health regions which has the added bonus of a lot of travel. I married the lady who has tolerated my obsession with trains for the last five years this summer. Of course we married at the Wetaskiwin Railway Museum and believe or not it was her idea and not mine! The running joke that day was that I preferred to ride with the engineer in the RS23 rather than with my bride. I have a 6 year old step son who I have worked to indoctrinate into the world of rail. 

I quickly mention a funny story that proves my relationship with my wife is destined to last. Back in 2012 we were enroute to Saskatoon for her birthday supper. My wife’s birthday is in late March and we tend to get our worst blizzards then. I decided it would be a good idea to photograph some trains first. I roared down a back road, bouncing on the snow drifts until we were stuck. Two stuck tow trucks and six hours later we were out. Strangely enough it provided some good bonding time. Frankly if she didn’t leave me for that injustice, I don’t think she will now…
The Hudson Bay Railway, The Pas, MB, 2014

2. Why do you like trains?

My father used me as his launch pad into trains and I guess I followed suit. Much of my early childhood consisted of chasing CN GMD1s and CPR RS23s out to the local pulp mill or off onto the 60lb branchlines that surrounded my hometown. I started shooting trains with a bright blue Fisher Price camera that took 110 film. Summer day trips to all corners of Saskatchewan cemented my love in the prairie hinterland, rail and grain elevators.  My father often said he would use me, with my little train hat plopped onto my head, to gain access to rail yards and to get the occasional ride. My first ride was on a pair of GMD1s and one of my fondest moments of my childhood.

I was bullied in grade 6 and some of that came out of my interest in trains. I stopped railfanning almost overnight, but the call of the haunting whistle late at midnight called me back. When I turned twenty I returned to my early love, perhaps for the nostalgia but also inadvertently because my new found appreciation of our vanishing grain elevators coincided with railroad branchlines. It has all been downhill since then.

3. Where’s your favourite place to railfan?

Alaska Rail north bound empty coal train
in Chugach State Park, Alaska
This past summer I had the opportunity to railfan Alaska Rail on my honeymoon. The rail carved through the mountains, presenting spectacular photographic opportunities.

And yet at the end of the day I still find myself traipsing through farmer’s fields, flying down dusty back roads and returning to the same small town motels of Saskatchewan.

The prairies are a photographic challenge. Bald prairie challenges the photographic eye and forces me to reevaluate my shots. The rail network of Saskatchewan also continues to be rather extensive. The vast array of shortlines helps keep some diversity in my shots and it isn’t uncommon to photograph four or five railways in one day. A few places of notable mention are the hills east of Biggar, the badlands near Eastend, the CNR bridge in Prince Albert and the CPR line to Nipawin.
Carlton Trail GP10s, summer 2015. Note 1004 & 1064 have since been retired.

4. If you could railfan anywhere, anytime, where and when would it be?

Definitely sometime in the 1960s or 1970s anywhere in North America. For me this was the golden age of rail and the pathetic demise of Alco. Canadian rail would still be slugging along with CLC locos and MLW would still be churning out smoke spewing locos. I’d love to shoot Southern Ontario or my mother’s home town in Northern Ontario on the ONR. Plus the convenience of passenger travel wouldn’t hinder my ability to reach many communities across the country.

5. What’s your favourite railway?

CN has been the stalwart railway of choice recently given their frequency and array of motive power; but I don’t think I’d classify them as a favorite. Great Western’s colourful power, M420s and the rolling hills of the south would probably throw them into the ring of favorite railways. Rather than quantifying a favorite list, I’d probably opt to shoot the shortlines that dot the prairies. 
CN east of Biggar, SK in 2014

6. What do you use to edit your photos?

Typically Lightroom 4 or Photomatix  Pro 5 if I’m shooting in HDR. I used to manipulate with Photoshop for fun occasionally but I haven’t had the time for that in a few years. I’ve gradually upgraded my gear over the last few years and I really started focusing on post production when I started shooting RAW in 2013.

7. What do you aspire to be shooting in five years?

I really want to focus on capturing the prairie spirit in my pictures over the next few years. I want to capture that elusive dream in my shots, the dream that so many immigrants had as they settled on the prairies (think Hearts Hill or Bents, SK). The prairie spirit is alive and well in so many communities today, through the local co-op branches to the cooperative programs that have kept the rail lines busy with producer cars. That’s what I want to be shooting.  Of course I want to continue to travel and while my family will be growing in the next few years, I hope to make it out to the Maritimes, Quebec and the Rockies. 

8. Where do you share your photos?

Typically on Facebook book through my Saskatchewan Railways page or on RailsMBSK.

9. What projects do you have on the go?

My father and I are in the process of building a switching layout for future hobby shows. The rest of my stuff is gathering dust until I can move into a larger home. I’m currently working on painting and decaling my HBR GP40-2(W).
CTRW 2015, Mark's third GP10 for Carlton Trail

I’m buying a new camera in the spring, so I’m looking forward for a few photo runs this summer in Saskatchewan and Alberta and perhaps Manitoba. My long term photography project is to photograph every remaining grain elevator in Saskatchewan. This began in 2009 on a road trip to North Battleford. I was stopped in Leask and noticed the two lonely elevators. I remembered long trips to Alberta as a child, watching the rows of colourful elevators pass me by and how so many have now turned to dust. I started with a point and shoot and the magic of Google Maps and slowly made progress. Of course my perfectionism has caused me to do more than the one re-shoot. As of Jan 1, 2016 I have photographed 482 Sask elevators in 364 communities across the vapid prairie. I now only have 12 elevators left on my list to photograph!

10. Go Riders?

Actually I’m not much of a football fan and I’m sure that will raise the eyebrows of a few Sask railfans. I’m more of a hockey guy, so go WHL Prince Albert Raiders! (at least they're green - Steve)

Thanks, Mark!

To see more of Mark's work, visit the Saskatchewan Railways Facebook community.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Liked the Saskatchewan Railways FB page. Also, great CTRL Geep photo, but how about dem Richardson covered hoppers they're pulling?

Great to learn more about Mark. Thanks for sharing, Mark and Steve!