Among my slides from 8 September 2008, was this image of freights at Wien Huttelsdorf, Austria.
In the afternoon, I aimed my Canon EOS3 loaded with Fujichrome Provia 100F toward an ÖBB Siemens-built Taurus electric as it hummed its acceleration song while leading a freight out of a siding and out on to the main.
In the foreground is a ‘slip-switch’ or ‘puzzle-switch’, an arrangement of rails that allows maximum route flexibility between converging routes.
For 15 years this slide sat unlabled in the dark. Working from my notes taken during my September 2008 trip, I was able to accurately label these photographs.
Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts is effectively the gateway to railways on Cape Cod. The immense railroad lift bridge over the Cape Cod Canal was the largest of its kind when completed in 1935.
This impressive lifting through truss is normally left in the ‘open’ position to allow the passage of water traffic. It is lowered by a bridge operator when necessary to allow a train to pass. The bridge operator is located on the bridge.
Another historic structure is the old New Haven Railroad signal tower. This cast concrete structure was built to a standard plan that was adopted at many locations on the railroad.
Interestingly, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh also built cast concrete signal towers to this plan.
I made the following photos of these New Haven Railroad icons on our visit to Buzzards Bay in November.
Massachusetts Coastal GP7U 2006 was originally Santa Fe Railway GP7 2689.
On our visit to Cape Cod, we found this antique from 1951 basking in the late afternoon sun at the Hyannis yard.
I made a selection of photos from different angles, using different cameras and different lenses, to show how the angle of the sun and other differences can greatly affect how color is perceived and recorded.
So which is the ‘true’ color of the locomotive? There isn’t any ‘true’ color, it all depends on how you perceive it in the moment. The appearance of paint color changes with as the light changes.
Cape Cod Central’s cranberry is a difficult color in part because it is a mix a blue and red hues. Blue is greatly affected by the color of the sky; red by the sun. With a polarized sky and the sun low on the horizon the angle of view (and angle of reflection) affects the apparent color more than on a day with more diffused sunlight and the sun higher in the sky.
Complicating matters for the modern day photographer is that different camera sensors and color profiles also affect the way that color is recorded.
On 2 December 2005, clouds had given way to a burst of late afternoon sun at Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford as sugarbeet was being loaded into the wagons that would take them by rail to Mallow, County Cork.
What this photo cannot convey is the earthy scent of the freshly harvested beet and the ‘clop clop clop’ sounds of the beet being loaded.
Below are two versions of the Fujichrome slide scan. The top is the raw unmodified scan. The bottom is my adjusted JPG of the same scan. I aimed to make a more pleasing photo by lowering contrast, lightening shadow areas, and warming the color temperature
Since this photo was made; the beet traffic ended (long story), the beet wagons were scrapped, and later the railway through Wellingtonbridge was closed to regular traffic. However, old Irish Rail 134, one of 15 Class 121-GM diesels, was preserved and has since been restored and repainted into its as-built gray and yellow livery.
Friday, November 24, 2023, marked the beginning of the Polar Express season on Mass Coastal Railroad/Cape Cod Central Railroad.
Since we were in the neighborhood, Kris and I checked in on Cape Cod Central and located the excursion train-set that was being prepared for the day’s “Polar Expressing” near Mass Coastal Railroad’s HQ in East Wareham, Massachusetts.
Low November sun made for some nice light to photograph the static set. Working with my various cameras, I made a series of photos.
I’ve presented several variations of the same basic image. I have my favorite, which I’ve indicated in the caption below.
Not far from our Lancaster apartment, Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line to Harrisburg crosses the Conestoga River on an impressive multiple-span stone arch bridge.
Fellow author and photographer, Dan Cupper had shown me how to reach this bridge before Kris and I relocated. Since our move last Spring I’ve paid several visits to the western bank of the river, but I hadn’t caught Amtrak’s diesel-hauled Pennsylvanian here until the afternoon of Halloween Day.
The combination of late-season foliage, polarized sun and relatively clear autumn air, made this an ideal time to picture the train on the bridge. I checked various angles along the riverbank before deciding upon this place to make my images.
Photos exposed using a Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens.
Twenty years ago, during November and December I would focus my photography on Irish Rail’s Sugar Beet campaign.
This was an intensive and fascinating operation that focused on the movement of sugar beet from the loading point at Wellingtonbridge, Co. Wexford to the sugar processing factory in Mallow, Co. Cork. The trains were typically hauled by a variety of Irish Rail’s 1960s and 1970s-era General Motors diesels and used a fleet of antique vacuum-braked four wheel beet wagons.
Over the years, my friends and I got to know many of the players in this magnificent stage show, which often added a personal element to watching and photographing the trains in action.
The 2003 beet campaign had an unusual twist. Earlier in the year, an accident at Cahir, Co. Tipperary on the Waterford-Limerick Junction line had damaged a key bridge, as a result the sugar beet trains were diverted northward to Cherryville Junction (on the Dublin-Cork line) and to Kildare where the locomotive would run around, and then toward Cork via Limerick Junction.
On November 27, 2003, my friends and I were set up at Cherryville Junction. Irish Rail class 071 No. 081 had been holding at the signal as trains passed on the main route. Then when traffic cleared, the 081 with 750 tonnes of sugar beet got the signal to crossover and head ‘up-road toward’ Kildare. The locomotive was roaring away as it snaked through the Cherryville crossover.
I exposed this view on Provia 100F (RPD-III) using a Nikon F3 with 180mm Nikkor telephoto.
Much has changed in the intervening years, but I still carry the 180mm lens and Irish Rail 081 is still on the roster. The sugar beet trains are but a memory.
On our November visit to Cape Cod this year, Kris and I spent a day photographing beaches and tracing the route of the Old Colony Railroad line that once ran all the way to the pier at Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The railroad was abandoned decades ago and most of the infrastructure was scrapped or recycled. However, in places it’s possible to see evidence of the old right-of-way, or at least conceptualize where the tracks once were.
I made these photos using my Nikon Z-series mirrorless digital cameras.
Although there were no trains expected, Kris and I called into the old New Haven Railroad station at West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Late November foliage and fading sun made for some wonderful atmospheric conditions.
I like the signs from various eras that identify this place. The Conrail blue sign is especially cool.
In earlier posts (from 2018, 2021 and 2022) I’ve featured the decaying Delaware & Hudson cabooses that reside here and passing Mass-Coastal/Cape Cod Central trains.
On Tuesday, Kris, her mom Sharon, and I visited this popular museum (formerly known as the Plimouth Plantation) which is focused on recreating and interpreting the early English settlement at Plymouth and their interactions with the people that had been there for generations before the Europeans arrived.
I made a selection of photos with my Lumix LX7 to capture the essence of the place. I liked the musket demonstation the best, but the herd of goats were also pretty neat.
Afterwards, we sussed out MBTA’s disused Plymouth station. Apparently, commuter rail service to Plymouth had been suspended some time ago and as of Tuesday it had not been restored. The rail was rusty, but the electric sign was still welcoming us.
I was always impressed by the length of Electro-Motive Division’s SD50 diesels. I first saw these on Conrail in 1983-1984.
Although more powerful than the common SD40-2, the SD50 was a troubled locomotive design and wasn’t as well regarded as the earlier EMD road diesels.
Despite this, many of the old SD50s are still at work in secondary services. In recent weeks, I’ve been featuring Norfolk Southern’s SD40Es, many of which were rebuilt from old Conrail SD50s.
Reading & Northern has a small fleet of SD50s, including several former Missouri Pacific units built in 1984. Back in October, Dan Cupper and I caught up with Reading & Northern SD50E 5049 (originally Missouri Pacific SD50 5049) working the old Reading Company yard at Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.
R&N 5049 was putting together a train of empty coal cars to head out to a loading point on a vestige of the old Lehigh & New England, known as the Arlington Branch. I’ll feature photos from that adventure in a later episode of Tracking the Light.
Street trackage offers great opportunities for placing the railroad in a cool setting.
Kris and I had just finished our lunch with Wayne Duffett, who was in Middletown to inspect bridges for the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad.
While Wayne was making his arrangements, we watched as former Western Maryland Alco S-6 151 was fired up. This was going to make a run down Brown Street to collect a car from the Norfolk Southern interchange.
We set up about midway down the street. The Alco was preceded by a trainman with a flag as I exposed this group of digital photos using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens.
On the evening of November 20, 2018, I stood at the back of the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Budd Vista Silver Buckle—then named Silver Splendor–which was positioned at the rear of Amtrak train 48 the eastward Lake Shore Limited. As we glided away from Chicago Union Station, I made a series of digital photos using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit.
There’s something magical about rolling along at speed through complex urbanity under the veil of darkness, pierced by electric lights and a prevailing sodium vapor glow.
Silver Splendor was on its way east to Conway Scenic where it would be renamed Rhonda Lee. I became very familiar with this Budd dome when I joined the ranks of Conway Scenic full time in 2019. Hard to believe these photos were made just five years ago!
Several weeks back, our friend Wayne Duffett had business on Pennsylvania’s Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad, a short line that operates a short segment of the former Reading Company. Wayne posed with the railroad’s vintage GE 65 ton diesel number 2. Later, we drove to Middletown, where we had lunch in the classic Brownstone Cafe on Union Street.
After lunch the railroad fired up its antque former Western Maryland Alco S6 switcher to do a little work. Stay tuned for views of the grand old Alco at work . . .
Among my thousands of ‘lost’ Kodachromes is this view from 32 years ago on Southern Pacific’s Modoc Line.
‘Lost’ is a relative term. In the 1990s, I was exceptionally prolific. I spent lots of time making photos: Not just of railways but of just about everything. If you were standing next to me in the 1990s, I probably made a photo of you too.
Anyway, while I made a great many photos, I was especially picky in my editing and rejected thousands of images. Today, many of the ‘rejects’ look pretty good. In some instances, I was diligent and labeled even my substandard slides. In other circumstances, I never got to the yellow boxes and they went straight into a carton full of more slides.
These ended up packed away in my parents’ attic for more than 25 years. Gradually, I’ve been retrieving the cartons, going through the ‘lost’ slides, and pairing them up with my notebooks.
So! This box was labeled ‘Modoc Beet’. Luckily, I took pretty good notes on the trip, and I have a good memory of making the photos.
On November 18, 1991, Brian Jennison, J.D. Schmid, and I chased the ‘Beet Hauler’ compass east on SP’s Modoc Line from Texum near Klamath Falls, Oregon to Stronghold, California and back. This was led by three 1950s-era SP SD9s (rebuilt as SD9Es).
I noted that we photographed the outward (empty train) at Texum, Malone, Oregon, and Stronghold, California, paying special attention to the locations of wigwag grade crossing signals, and the semaphores at Stronghold, where SP crossing BN’s former Great Northern.
This particular image didn’t make my cut in 1991. It sat in the box for 32 years until Monday, when I scanned it.
Unfortunately, I cannot specifically identify the location, although I suspect it is near Malone.
There’s enough unlabeled slides in my lost Kodachrome files to fill years’ worth of posts on Tracking the Light.
On our brief visit to Havre de Grace, Maryland in mid-October, I made these views of Amtrak’s late-running train No., 120 gliding across its early Twentieth Century bridge over the Susquehanna River. Leading the train was ACS-64 No. 633.
This antique bridge fascinates me. It’s an old-school pin-connected deck truss. And it’s an impressive imposing structure for its size and length. Word to the wise: get your photos because it is soon to be replaced!
While nothing lasts forever, I’ll miss this old bridge when its gone.
I made these photos with my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom.
Here is another photo from the real-life setting for my one-time Wee Reading Company HO model railroad.
A few weeks back on my birthday, Dan Cupper and I made a productive exploration of old Reading Company lines operated by Reading & Northern.
This included following the PNPV local freight led by a pair of former Lehigh Valley SW8 switchers up the old Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven Railroad—one of the oldest surviving railroad routes in the United States, now in operation for more than 190 years.
At Becks this train stopped to switch out the far end of West Cressona Yard.
I admit that this looks very different in real life than on my former model railroad, but it was still neat to be standing there admidst rusty autumn leaves and two 70 plus year-old diesels.
Below are two versions of the same image. The top is the Nikon NEF RAW file, scaled as a JPG for internet but otherwise unaltered.
The next down is the same file adjusted to improve appearance.
I’ve also included a screen shot of the Adobe Lightroom work window that shows how I used the slider controls to obtain my results.
I’ve been testing the quality of a Fujinon XF f2.8 50-140mm zoom lens using Kris’s Fujifilm XT4 digital camera.
This is an extremely sharp and versatile piece of glass. I like the Fuji X series cameras because they are relatively easy to use and produce excellent color right out of the camera that require relatively little adjustment.
A couple of weeks ago, I put a Fujinon XF f2.8 50-140mm lens through its paces at Christiana, Pa. These photos were made with the camera set to RAW, with the files processed using Iridient X Transformer to take maximum of the Fuji RAW format by converting them to DNG format
I then used Adobe Lightroom to output files as scaled JPGs for presentation here.
On October 21st, Kris and I paused at Reading & Northern’s Tamaqua (Pa.) Yard, where I photographed the railroad’s No. 2004.
Initially, I was interested in making photos of the locomotives resting here in an autumnal scene. When I recognized 2004 as one of the railroad’s ‘rare’ SD38s, I decided to make the most of this find.
Any locomotive more than a half-century old is undoubtedly worthy of attention. However, where the four-motor GP38 was among the most common EMD diesel-electrics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a great many still at work on American rails, its six-motor cousin was never common. Among the 53 SD38s built, Detroit, Toledo & Ironton bought five. Similar in appearance to the SD38, was the six-motor SD40 numbered more than 850 built. Even more common was the seemly ubiquitous SD40-2, which numbered in the thousands.
When Grand Trunk Western acquired DT&I in 1983, these rare birds joined the GTW roster. In 1986, I was surprised to find a freshly painted GTW SD38 working a cable laying train on the Central Vermont Railway in Palmer, Massachusetts. It was the first time, I’d ever seen a six-motor diesel on CV’s Palmer Subdivision. In researching the history of the 2004—pictured here—I found that R&N’s 2003 (GTW 6253) was the locomotive I’d photographed all those years ago.
Hopefully, during our wanderings in coal country over the coming weeks and months, I’ll come across R&N 2003, which will bring me full circle with this rolling antique and help complete my SD38 photo story.
A week ago, Kris and I had to make the extremely difficult decision to put our dog Boomer to sleep. This was a complicated problem with only one possible outcome.
When I face trying times, I often turn to the railroad as means of getting through. Instead of dwelling on the immediate pain of the uncontrollable, or inevitable, I can focus on rails to the horizon, passing machines and changing light.
On the evening after Boomer’s passing, we drove to Esbenshade Road, where over the summer and autumn, we’d often watched the Strasburg Rail Road. On some of these occasions Boomer had accompanied us and watched with awe as the steam locomotive rolled by with train in tow.
This evening a blood red sunset colored the sky. I made photos with both my Lumix LX7 and Kris’s Fuji XT4 fitted with a new 50-140mm lens. For a few moments, I poured all of my energy into making images of old No. 90 working west in the fading light of an autumn evening.
It had been about 20 years since my last visit to the Main Line at Tyrone, Pennsylvania, where Norfolk Southern’s former Pennsylvania Railroad tracks make a sharp curve through the narrow valley along the Little Juniata River the south end of town.
Last month, Kris and I pulled up to theTyrone Amtrak station, and when I stepped out of the car I could hear the distant sounds of General Electric diesels chugging east.
We didn’t have long to wait and soon a headlight appeared.
Working with my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm zoom, I made this series of photos. Telephoto compression in the tight curve at the station makes it look like I was much closer to the tracks that I really was.
Auto focus made it much easier to keep the locomotives looking sharp.
In March 2023, the United States Postal Service issued a plate of five railroad station stamps. Among these is the former Reading Company station at Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. This hasn’t served as a Reading passenger station since 1963, but is now a railroad themed restaurant.
In October, I paid two visits to the Tamaqua Station Restaurant; first with Kris, to meet up with Pat Yough, Scott Snell and Brian Plant, during our fall foliage photography of Reading & Northern’s 2102 under steam; second, about a week later with Dan Cupper.
During the course of these visits I made more than a dozen photos of the classic building—inside and out.
The Crescent is Amtrak’s daily long-distance train that connects New York City with Atlanta and New Orleans.
Nearly five years ago, my father and I traveled overnight on the Crescent between Wilmington, Delaware and New Orleans as part of a three-day Amtrak epic that began at Windsor Locks, Connecticut and concluded at Houston, Texas.
During mid-October, Kris and I spent the afternoon following the Susquehanna River down to Perryville, Maryland. I navigated our way to the MARC commuter rail station from memory. (I’d last stopped there in 1992). This is situated along Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Northeast Corridor. Upon arrival, I saw there was a train coming, alerted Kris and grabbed my Nikon Z6 to make telephoto views.
As the train approached, I made this sequence of digital images, while Kris filmed its passing with her phone. It was the southward Crescent with Viewliner sleepers and diner at the back.
Crosslit late autumn sun made for dramatic images as the train braked for the slow order over the Susquehanna River bridge. The challenge was capturing the light on the train between shadows from the electrification supports. (Tip: It helps to have a rapid release setting to take bursts of images.)
Another train was approaching from the far side of the river. But I’ll save that for a later post.
October is my favorite month for making railroad photos. Low sun and rich autumnal foliage can make for stunning settings. Yet, finding brilliant colored trees lineside isn’t always so easy.
Driving along on the highways in Anthracite country of eastern Pennsylvania in October you’ll see plenty of beautifully colored trees, but often, when you find your way to the tracks the leaves there are still green, or brown, or gone.