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.

One comment on “Monson Semaphore Challenge

  1. Sean Solomon on said:

    That evergreen definitely added to the challenge of getting all of the other elements of aesthetics into that shot. I appreciate the discussions of November light, There are many opportunities for great pictures this month, especially in Philly, because there is still alot of foliage with fall color in combination with the November light.