Southern Pacific, Camphora, California September 1992

A September 1992 evening at Camphora, California finds sugar beet being loaded.

I’m at Camphora in California’s Salinas Valley along Southern Pacific’s Coast Line, where some venerable ‘beet racks’ are being loaded; it’s near the end of the day, the sun is diffused by a fog-bank drifting in from the Pacific. These ancient old freight cars are the attraction. They’re on borrowed time. Although these still cary Southern Pacific lettering on their wooden sides, SP had sold them to Union Sugar, thus the USGX reporting marks at the ends of the cars. Not only are these among the last freight cars in revenue service that still feature wooden sides, but they are some of the last revenue cars still equipped with traditional friction bearings—virtually all other rolling stock rode on roller bearings.

Fade forward: within just a few years, not only were these old cars retired, but the sugar beet traffic dried up, and in 1996, SP itself was merged into Union Pacific. For me,  looking at this image elicits synesthesia: the agricultural smells that accompanied beet growing fill my nose, and I recall the drive I had to make back to the Bay Area when I finished making my exposures.

In September 1992, I was working exclusively with a Nikon F3T, which was fitted with a ‘fast’ 105mm lens (f1.8) for this exposure. The fast lens allows me to work with slow film and my choice of wide aperture allows for narrow depth of field which sets off the end of the beet rack and loading equipment from the background. The wires help frame the image. As with many of my SP color photos, this one was exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film, and even that has gone the way of the SP and the wooden-sided beet racks. Everything changes.

A detailed view of Union Sugar wooden sided beet racks at Camphora exposed on K25 in September 1992.

Locomotive Boscastle, February 1998

In February 1998, Colin Nash brought me for a productive visit  to Britain’s preserved Great Central Railway. It was typical winter’s day in Leicestershire; the dawn brought crisp cold sun, yet the ground was damp. In other words, excellent conditions for photographing steam locomotives at work. To attract visitors, many railway museums and preserved railways focus operations on summer months, with trains tending to run during the middle part of the day. While this obviously suits casual visitors, it isn’t the optimum time for photography. Harsh high light, and warm dry days offer precious little to enhance the drama of a steam locomotive. I’d much prefer rich low sun of winter with high-dew point and frosty temperatures, that result voluminous effluence from steam locomotives and dramatic contrasts that portray the machinery in dramatic light.

Thankfully, Britain is blessed with a variety of top notch preserved railways, many of which operate during the colder months. During the past 15 years, I’ve made numerous trips to the United Kingdom in search of steam, as well as to make images of revenue mainline railways. This exposure was made with my Nikon F3T and an f2.8 135mm lens on Fuji Astia 100.

Steam locomotive at work.
Locomotive 34039 Boscastle works toward Leicester North in February 1998. This engine is one of Oliver Bulleid’s famed West Country 4-6-2 Pacifics built for Southern Railway. The image was exposed with Nikon fitted with f2.8 135mm lens on Fuji Astia 100 slide film.

Kid with a Camera: Gun Hill Road, the Bronx, New York Summer 1980

IRT number 2 train approaches Gun Hill Road on the White Plains Road Line in the Bronx. Exposed in summer 1980 using a Leica IIIA with f2.0 Summitar lens (details unrecorded, or records lost).

This photo dates me. I found it looking through some scans for another project and it struck a chord, so I thought I’d put it up. In the 1970s and early 1980s, my grandparents lived at Co-op City in the Bronx, and every summer my brother Séan & I would travel to New York for a week-long visit. These trips provided me with great photo opportunities;  their apartment overlooked Amtrak’s former New Haven line connecting New Rochelle with Penn Station (Hell Gate Bridge route), and we would regularly explore the city. My grandfather had spent most of his life in New York and he enjoyed showing us around. This day we took a bus from Co-op city to the old IRT station at Gun Hill Road. Back then I always carried my antique Leica IIIA with Summitar lens. New York’s subway was a favorite subject and I made many photos of it, most of them not so good. I inherited this habit of photographing the subway from my father, who had been making photos of the subway system since the mid-1950s. I was only 13 when I made this image. I processed it in the sink using Kodak Microdol-X developer. I admit that my processing technique was about as raw as my imaging skills. Despite these flaws, I think I did a pretty good job of capturing the scene. That was 32 years ago! Seems like forever. I scanned it on my Epson V600 and cleaned up the scan in Photoshop. This is  full frame, although I adjusted the contrast slightly to make up for what I lost in processing.

American Gallery: Hudson Valley, 20 Years Ago Today

Amtrak on the Hudson
Amtrak FL9 488 leads an Empire Corridor train along the Hudson near Breakneck Ridge, north of Cold Spring, New York on November 20, 1992. Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens; K25 slide film.

It was exactly 20 years ago today; November 20, 1992, I made this photograph of an Albany-bound Amtrak train along the Hudson Line near Breakneck Ridge north of Cold Spring, New York. Like today, this day in 1992 dawned cold and crisp. I was armed with my Nikon F3T with a 35mm PC (Perspective Control) lens and loaded Kodachrome 25 film. I metered manually with my Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held light meter. Amtrak’s classic FL9s were still working the Hudson Line on Empire Corridor trains. Later in the decade these were supplanted by modern General Electric dual-mode Genesis locomotives.  Back then this train was common; today it’s a classic. Likewise, Kodachrome 25 was then my staple film, but its been gone for several years (discontinued well before Kodak stopped making K64). Wait 20 years, and see what changes unfold. Time passes and everything changes. Make your photos as you see them.

Mass-Central: Monday November 19, 2012


Autumnal scene on the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
Mass Central 960 near Forest Lake, Massachusetts at 8:35 am on November 19, 2012. Exposed with Canon 7D, 28-135mm lens at 44mm, ISO 200 f7.1 at 1/500th second. Post-processing: minor contrast and saturation adjustments in Photoshop.

Between November 2008 and March 2009, I researched and wrote an article on Mass-Central for TRAINS Magazine that appeared in the March 2010 issue. I continue to photograph this short line which serves 25 miles of the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch between Palmer and South Barre, Massachusetts. While on some days, I’ll make a project of working the branch, making photos from a variety of angles, and staying with the train for the whole day. This morning, after finishing non-photographic business in Palmer, I opted to catch the morning freight on its way northward on the branch. Today, I was only interested in catching it near Forest Lake, where the line crosses a short fill. During the summer this tends to get too brushed in for a satisfactory image, but after the foliage has gone, the location opens up. The difficulty this time of year is working around harsh shadows. I exposed this image at 8:35 this morning using my Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm zoom. Initially I was tempted to make a tighter image, focusing more on the locomotive, but in the end I settled for a wider view that takes in more of the setting. Had Mass-Central been using its rare EMD NW5 number 2100, I’d probably stayed with a tight view. Reviewing my images, I decided the contrast was too much, and the light on the engine resulted in slight over exposure. As a result, I made a nominal adjustment to exposure curve using Photoshop, while boosting the saturation slightly to give the water and sky a bit more snap. These subtle changes required just a few minutes to implement. Other than that, the image is presented here un-cropped and more or less as I exposed it. Since Mass-Central departs Palmer northbound most weekday mornings between about 7 and 8:30 am, I’ll probably make another attempt at this location before the leaves return. The remarkable thing about digital photography is that as I write and post this, the train is still out on its run.

Mass-Central at Thorndike, Mass.
Mass-Central tracks at Thorndike, Massachusetts at 8:16 am on November 19, 2012. Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany branch makes a near horseshoe through the village of Thorndike, just a few miles north of its interchange with CSX and New England Central at Palmer.



Monson Semaphore Challenge

A little known piece of historic railway infrastructure is the old semaphore along New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont Railway mainline in Monson, Massachusetts. I grew up in Monson and over the years I’ve included this signal in a few photos. Located about a mile from the railway crossing between NECR and CSX at Palmer this signal traditionally served as a fixed distant to the absolute signal protecting the Palmer diamond. Since it’s fixed, it’s always in the diagonal position indicating ‘approach’. Today, its within NECR’s Palmer yard limits. A similar signal exists about a mile north of the diamond. My challenge on November 15, 2012 was including it in photos of a northward New England Central freight. I made these early in the morning and low sun with a bit of frost offered some cosmic lighting, however the top of the semaphore was viewed against the opaque backdrop of evergreens. Ideally, I position myself a good distant back, which would show the sag in the track, mountains in the distance, while providing a silhouette of the semaphore with the train approaching it. Since the signal is on the outside of a curve, the closer I walked to it, the less of the curve and track in the distance were apparent, and no matter where I seemed to stand, I couldn’t find a good means of positioning the signal. This is not a new problem, I’ve been fighting the circumstances for years, but its worse now since the trees have grown exacerbating the situation. What I’ve offered here are two solutions, neither perfect. Since the northward train was moving slowly, I had an opportunity to adjust my exposure and framing. The more distant exposure shows the track and train in a more ideal light but the seamphore blade is lost; while with closer image, I’ve waited for the nose of the locomotive to enter the shadows and then slightly over exposed the picture in order to better separate the semaphore blade from the background trees.  With both photos I was working with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 200 mm f2.8 telephoto lens. I metered manually and made several test exposures before the train filled the frame. I exposed closer images as well, but these didn’t work at all. Except for scaling, the images are unaltered and un-cropped.

Semaphore with train in Monson, Massachusetts.
Northward New England Central train approaches milepost 64 in Monson, Massachusetts on the morning of November 15, 2012. Exposed using a Canon EOS 7D with 200mm f2.8 lens set at f3.5 1/500 400 ISO.
NECR GP38 and Semaphore.
Closer view of the same train with a slight lighter exposure and vertical framing to better feature the semaphore. Exposed using Canon EOS 7D with 200mm f2.8 lens set at f3.5 1/320 400 ISO.

Gallery 8: Irish Bog Railways—Part 1

Bord na Mona Bog train.
In November 2012, a laden Bord na Móna train ambles across the bog toward the Edenderry Power Station seen on the horizon. Exposed with Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.

Ireland’s Bord na Móna (Peat Board) operates an extensive network of three foot gauge railways in the midland’s for the primary purpose of harvesting peat for electrical generation from raised bogs in the Midland area. Bord na Móna’s website ( indicates that the company has more than 700 km (approximately 435 miles) of permanent line and another 140 km (86 miles) of portable temporary track. Some routes are more than a half century old, while temporary lines are located (and relocated) as needed to reach sections of the bog ready for harvesting. It’s been described as Europe’s most extensive industrial railway. Unlike traditional railways (which in Ireland are built to 5 foot 3 inch standard), bog railways use minimal infrastructure and engineering. Tracks are maintained for relatively slow speed freight movements and this part of the charm.

Plaque on road bridge.
Bord na Móna plaque marks a road bridge over the line near Clonbulloge, County Offaly.

I first explored Ireland’s bog railways more than 14 years ago, and over the years I’ve occasional made images of Bord na Móna, but until recently I’ve not focused on these unusual railways, instead preferring Ireland’s main line operations. However, over the last few weekends, I’ve begun to explore and photograph the Bord na Móna network that serves the Edenderry Power Station.

Dramatic weather sweeps across the Bog of Allen near Daingean on 3 November 2012. The Bord na Mona crosses this country boreen at grade. Many narrow gauge spurs are only very lightly used and rainbows may be more common than trains. Exposed with Lumix LX3 at ISO 80.

The Bog of Allen in Counties Offaly and Kildare offers a stark landscape that reminds me a bit of the Scandinavian Arctic. While today the bog is largely devoid of trees, historically this was a heavily forested area (thus the concentration of peat). Locations for photography are very limited; by virtue of the bog, there are relatively few roads reaching points served by Bord na Mona. Low late-autumn sun suits photography in such an austere environment by accentuating the raised bog’s texture and while emphasizing the trains.

Bord na Móna’s Edenderry Power Station is just a few miles from the village of Clonbulloge. A frosty November morning mades for ample condensation of water vapor escaping the plant. Bog trains feed this plant from the surrounding area. Exposed with Lumix LX3.
The road bridge over the line near the Edenderry Power Station offers an excellent place to watch and photograph Bord na Móna railway operations.

Exploration and patience are the key to catching the trains in action. Trains typically operate in pairs which facilitates switching and simplifies operations. Some lines are operated as double track, others as single line. However, the lack of easy access and myriad routes radiating across the bog make for a challenge. I’ve found that using my Canon EOS 7D and EOS-3 with Provia 100F and long telephoto lenses can produce some of the most effective images, although I’ve also made some interesting wide views with my Lumix LX-3. Just to cover the bases, I’ve also dragged out my Nikons for a bit of B&W work. The images presented here are part of a work in progress.

Bord na Mona locomotive.
In October 2012, a Bord na Móna locomotive clatters along with an empty rake heading toward a loading point. Exposed with Lumix LX3 set at ISO 80.
In late October 2012, a pair of trains are loaded on temporary track near Rathangan, County Kildare. Exposed using Canon EOS 7D fitted wtih 200mm lens, ISO 200.

A pair of laden turf trains work toward the Edenderry generating station having loaded near Rathangan. Exposed with Canon EOS 7D and 200mm lens; ISO 400, f4.5 at 1/500 second.