Central Vermont Railway northward freight 323 at Windsor, Vermont, October 14, 1993. (Scanned from a 35mm slide using an Epson V500 scanner.)
This is among my favorite railway images. It was part of a sequence of photos I made—a similar version to this one appears on page 88 of Railway Photography (Solomon & Gruber, 2003). Need I detail the charms of Vermont in autumn? Crisp weather, colorful foliage, quaint villages, and stunning scenery have long made Vermont Octobers popular with photographers, while classic rural railway operations make it a great place to experience American railroads in action. My parents first brought me to Vermont in search of railways in the late 1960s, and my earliest memories of railroads include poking around Bellows Falls and riding Steamtown’s trains. In autumn 1993, I was on my annual shoestring tour of the East that brought me from Montreal to central West Virginia over the course of six weeks as I chased the foliage from north to south, while traveling in concentric circles looking for photo opportunities of trains.
Based on previous years’ travels, I’d ascertained that the first week of October tended to produce peak color in central Vermont, so on October 7th, I set out from Monson, Massachusetts, in a borrowed Honda Accord. Driving north on I-91, I got off at Bellows Falls, where I hoped to find working either the Central Vermont or Green Mountain railways. While, it isn’t necessary to find trains moving to make great autumn railway photos, I prefer action images to add a bit of thrill to the chase. At that time, CV’s Palmer, Massachusetts, to St. Albans, Vermont, through freight tended to depart Palmer yard limits in the very early hours of the morning and find daylight between Brattleboro and Bellows Falls. This proved true, and I followed the train for most of the morning, making photos along the way. Among the locations I chose was a view of this plate girder bridge over the Connecticut River near Windsor, Vermont. Standing on the New Hampshire side of the river (near the famous long covered bridge) I’d opted for a 200mm Nikon lens, and framed the locomotives tightly on the bridge; in the process I cropped out most of Mt. Ascutney. In that photograph the sun was shining brightly, so in almost all respects I’m happy with the result — except for the fact that my focus on the locomotives cropped one of Vermont’s most famous mountains.
My notes from the day show that I exposed my photographs using Kodachrome 25 at f5.6 and 1/125th of a second. At the time, I recorded each day’s photography on a detailed form. Kodachrome 25 was then my staple medium, and so went unrecorded; however, when I deviated from that choice I’d make special note of the film in my log. Later in the day, I photographed Central Vermont’s southward 324 on this same plate girder span featuring the covered highway bridge in the distance (this image appeared in TRAINS Magazine in 1998).
One week later, I made a repeat trip to Vermont. By this time the foliage was past peak, yet I was determined to make the most of the day, as autumn remained my prime season for photography. At 7:15 AM, I was back at Bellows Falls where I found a Boston & Maine (Guilford) local working the Green Mountain interchange tracks near the passenger station. A heavy river fog blanketed the town making the scene dark, but not especially ethereal (f4, 1/15 sec). The signal on the Conn-River mainline lit up in the northward direction, ‘yellow-over-green-over-red,’ meaning ‘Approach Medium,’ and I knew that CV’s 323 was close. Rather than make dull photographs with Kodachrome in the dimly lit morning gloom (which may sound more attractive than it was), I continued north to Claremont, New Hampshire, where the railroad crosses the Sugar River Valley on a high tower-supported girder trestle. My hope was that by the time CV 323 arrived the morning sun may have burned off the fog on the bridge. Good theory, but no joy. I ended up with a foggy silhouette of the train on the bridge at 8:05 AM.
While CV’s freights tended to clip along, I made good speed and returned to my spot near the Windsor covered bridge. I had enough time to set up my Bogan tripod and take a couple of cursory meter readings with my Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter. The fog was lifting as I heard the train whistle for the highway crossing on New Hampshire Route 12A, and shortly before the train eased onto the bridge the sun popped out. Instead of the 200mm Nikon f4 lens I’d used the previous week, this time I chose my Nikkor 105mm f1.8 so as to better include Mt. Ascutney. Normally, I’d have used my Nikon F3T (my principle camera at the time), but this had suffered a shutter failure the previous weekend, and instead I was working with my Nikkormat FT3 (oddly adorned with red leather instead of black—not my choice, but I’d bought it second hand as a cheap extra body). CV 323 rolled into view as mist was rolling off the river — the sunlight was down about a stop from full daylight (which in an October Vermont would typically warrant about f4.5, 1/250, on K25). My exposure notes recorded “8:30 AM Windsor, VT (Conn River Bridge) f4.5 1/125 (bracket?) COSMIC Light!”.
I probably made three exposures: up a third, down a third, and spot on f4.5, that was my standard routine when the light was changing rapidly. Keep in mind there was a slow order on the bridge, so 323 wasn’t moving very quickly. (I also apparently made a 50mm view probably with my Dad’s Leica, although I’m not sure what happened to that image—possibly it didn’t turn out as hoped.) Although, this was by far the best shot of the day, I continued northward, and later in the morning picked up the New Hampshire & Vermont railway local that ran from White River Junction, Vermont, to Whitefield, New Hampshire. That also proved fortuitous, as much of the old Boston & Maine line between Wells River, Vermont north to Whitefield was abandoned and lifted a few years later. The bad news? I left the lens cap for my 105mm at the Windsor covered bridge! (one of many lens caps unhappily abandoned in the heat of a chase).
If you find a copy of Railway Photography that John Gruber and I wrote back in 2003, and seek out page 88, you may notice that the caption indicates that I used my F3T with 200mm f4 lens for the October 14, 1993 photo. This is an error, and in fact that was the data for the October 7th image at the same location. How could that happen?! Simple, when I wrote the photography book, I looked at the wrong set of notes. My mistake!