In 2003, Irish Rail operated its sugar beet trains via Kildare because the normal routing between Waterford and Limerick Junction was closed as result of a bridge collapse at Cahir, County Tipperary. On December 6, 2003, I was in place at Cherryville Junction (where the Waterford Road joins the Cork Road—a few miles west of Kildare Station) to catch a laden sugar beet train on its way from Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford to Mallow, County Cork. (Since there is no direct chord at Cherryville to allow a movement from the Waterford Road onto the Cork Road in the down direction, this sugar beet train would continue up to Kildare where the locomotive would run around, thus allowing the train to reverse direction for its onward journey to Mallow.)
It was a characteristically dull day. I was working with a Rollei Model T (120 size roll film fitted with a f3.5 Zeiss Tessar) and Fuji Neopan™ 400 film. Key to obtaining the desired tonality was my process. For developer I used Agfa Rodinal Special™ 1:32 with water for 7 minutes, then after dual fixing baths, Perma Wash™ for 3 minutes, and 10 minutes in running water, I toned the negatives in selenium solution (mixed 1:9 with water) for 9 minutes, then re-washed for 20 minutes in running water. (Warning: selenium is poisonous and should be handled with extreme care in a well-ventilated room). See: Installment 6: Black & White revisited; Old Tech for a New Era part 2—Secrets Revealed!.
In the mid-1990s, I often photographed Santa Fe in the bucolic splendor of Franklin Canyon. While I made many images of Santa Fe’s trains, for me this atmospheric image captures the wonderful quality of the place and I featured it in my big book on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway published by MBI Publishing in 2005. (Out of print)
There are very few places where I my memory predates the railway. However, Dublin‘s LUAStram system (opened in 2004) offers one example. I made my first photos of Harcourt Street in March 1998. It was a rainy evening, and I was experimenting with some tungsten balanced Fujichrome to enhance the blue twilight glow.
Moving a dozen years forward, on November 3, 2010 I was interested in replicating the effect of my earlier efforts (without any attempt at precisely recreating the scene; my 1998 photo was made from the south-end of the street looking north, while the 2010 image was from the north-end, looking south). The image of the tram was made with my Canon 7D with the 28-135mm lens. Here, the tungsten color balance was accomplished in-camera using the ‘light bulb’ white balance setting. (See: Steam at Dusk, December 15, 2012) . This image was made during the final glow of daylight, and rather than neutralize the bluish light by using the auto white balance setting, I opted to enhance the effect while offering adequate compensation for the warm-balance street lamps. I was particularly drawn to reflections in the street and the repeating window frame patterns in the Georgian buildings above the tram. The pedestrian silhouettes seem apropos for the time of year; here past meets present.
Vermont Rail System freight 263 led by former Texas Mexican GP60 381 works on Green Mountain Railroad’s former Rutland grade near Mt Holly, Vermont on February 18, 2002. Fresh powder, a clear blue dome combined with red locomotives and tonnage make for an irresistible combination. Cross-lighting the scene adds a bit of contrast and drama. Yet the snow minimizes the effect of deep shadows. Exposing in snow takes a bit of practice. Most metering systems will tend to render the snow too dark resulting in an underexposed image. A good rule of thumb: close down one full stop from normal sunlit daylight exposure. With 100 speed slide film as used here; instead of f6.3 1/500th, I’d recommend about f9 1/500th. An advantage of working with a digital camera in snow is the ability to check exposure on site, and not have to wait until after the action has passed to find out that the photos are exposed incorrectly.
Photographs from my day following Vermont Railway GP60 381 in the snow have appeared in a variety of publications. I used this image on page 35 of my 2003 book TRAINS—A Photographic Tour of American Railways, published by Gramercy. The book’s cover features a broadside view of this locomotive near Chester, Vermont.
On Christmas Day 1979, I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Mexico City on an Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. At Mexico City airport I met my uncle and we spent a week wandering around. Among our adventures was a visit to Cuernavaca where I met an elderly survivor of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire. My uncle and I rode National Railways of Mexico local train from Cuernavaca to Iguala behind an imported General Motors G16 diesel-electric. The fare was 8 pesos each—not much money, even in 1979! Throughout these wanderings I made good use of my Leica IIIA and Summitar lens. I exposed black & white and color slide film with mixed results. Despite some dodgy exposures (my light meter wasn’t the greatest) and considering I was only 13 at the time, I managed to take some memorable images.
During the second week of May 2007, I was in western New York to photograph for my book The Railroad Never Sleeps. This project involved coordinating 37 photographers across North America who produced railroad images on May 10th — the anniversary of the completion of the first trans-continental railroad in 1869. The concept was one full day of railroad photography organized chronologically. Each photographer picked their own topics and techniques. I opted to work my old territory from college, which included a cab ride (by prior arrangement) on Genesee Valley Transportation’s Falls Road Railroad. While the book featured the best of the photography on May 10th, I continued to make images over the next few days traveling with fellow railroad photographer Hal Reiser.
The old Erie Railroad is one of my favorites, and on the morning of May 12th we were poised at Letchworth State Park near Portage, New York to photograph the famous viaduct over Genesee Upper Falls in Letchworth Gorge. At 8:17 am, Norfolk Southern’s detector at mp 359 (near old River Junction) sounded alerting us to a westward train. The roar of the falls can make it difficult to hear a train approaching and it is helpful to have some advanced warning. A few minutes later NS freight 309 inched across the trestle with now-rare C39-8 ‘Classic’ 8554 in the lead. I made a series of color photographs with my Canon EOS-3 and Rollei model T. One of the telephoto vertical views appeared on page 13 of my 2011-title Modern Diesel Power published by Voyageur press.
To learn more about the significance of Erie’s Portage Viaduct see my detailed and illustrated response in ‘Ask TRAINS,’ page 64 of the February 2013 issue (on stands soon!). For this article, I show the bridge with a westward Delaware & Hudson freight exposed on Kodachrome almost 19 years earlier (May 14, 1988).
As a follow up to my November 7, 2012 post Irish Rail in November Light , I thought I’d post a scan of a slide I made the same day as the digital photos. RPSI 461 was its way back to Dublin as part a trial run on November 6, 2012. I exposed this image with a Canon EOS-3 on Fujichrome Provia 100F. I intentionally aimed into the sun to silhouette the locomotive as it crossed the open lands of the Curragh. My feelings on the photo are mixed. While I captured the essence of the scene and the photo is razor sharp, it isn’t precisely what I’d hope for. The sky lacks the texture and color I remember, and I’m not comfortable with the angle. Not every image works perfectly.
Finding static locomotives in nice light offers an opportunity to make studies of the equipment. Wisconsin & Southern operated a fleet of clean, well-maintained second-hand General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) diesels. These were representative of the classic models built at La Grange, Illinois, during the mid-20th century and dressed in a handsome red and silver livery. For me they were prime examples of GM’s finest American diesels, yet at the time I was photographing them, these locomotives were past their prime and harked back to an earlier era. General Motors locomotives, even their more utilitarian models, were characterized by well-balanced aesthetic designs, while their classic postwar streamlined locomotives are icons of American railroading. These images are a small selection focused on the locomotives.
On the afternoon of August 21, 2009, I worked San Francisco’s famous hills aiming to make images of Muni’s cable cars, arguably one of America’s most pictured railway operations. I set the exposure manually using the camera’s spot meter to base my judgment. I sample the sky and street and aimed for texture in the highlight areas, allowing the shadows to go dark. My choice of film was Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 (EB3) which offered an ideal color-balance for such a silhouette. San Francisco’s many above ground wires added a geometric framing to the image.
Anticipating change is key to documenting the railroad. In nearly three decades of photography along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, I’ve tuned my images to clues of this route’s past. While the PRR vanished into Penn Central in 1968, key PRR infrastructure has allowed necessary visual cues that retain elements of the old railroad. Among these are PRR’s iconic Position Light style signals that date to the steam era, and have survive the decades of change. However, a wise photographer will have noted that this style of signal hardware is out of favor. While Norfolk Southern has been gradually replacing its PRR era signals with color lights, I’ve learned that a recent NS application with the Federal Railroad Administration includes elimination of most remaining wayside signals from its former PRR Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
The writing is on the wall for these signals. Among those to go are favorites on the ‘west slope’ (between Gallitzin and Johnstown, Pennsylvania). I worked this area intensively in summer 2010, making an effort to capture trains passing former PRR Position Lights. Be forewarned: the signals that protected trains hauled by PRR’s magnificent K4s and M1b steam locomotives and have survived these long decades will soon pass from the scene.
I researched the development of PRR’s Position Light signals for my book Railroad Signaling. Here’s an excerpt:
PRR’s first position lights were installed in 1915 along the Main Line between Overbrook and Paoli, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with its new 11,000-olt AC overhead electrification. Early position light signals featured large background shields to protect the view from effects of harsh backlighting. Aspects mimicked those of upper quadrant semaphores by using rows of four lamps. After a few years of service these position lights were deemed successful. However, before PRR adopted the signal for widespread application, the form of the position light signal head was refined: Each head used rows of three lights oriented around a common center lamp with the outer lamps forming a circle. Lamps were mounted on bars with a circular background panel affixed over the lamps and shades to prevent backlighting. Traditionally this panel was made of Armco iron, measuring 4 feet 4 inches in diameter, with 7-3/4 inch holes punched in it for the lamps. Each single head can display several basic aspects: ‘clear’, represented by three vertical lights; ‘approach’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 1:30 clock position to the 7:30 clock position; ‘restricting’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 10:30 clock position to the 4:30 clock position; and ‘stop’ (or ‘stop’ and proceed) by three lights running horizontally. An individual signal head is only provided with lamps for the aspects it is expected to display and unnecessary holes are covered over. The lower of two heads, tended to use a slightly different shape for the shield panel. By using two heads, a great variety of speed signal aspects mimicking those of two and three head semaphores are possible. Slow speed aspects are provided by dwarf position signals that use a slightly different light pattern.
Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.
Last night (December 15, 2012) I made this atmospheric image of Valley Railroad 3025 at Essex, Connecticut before it departed with one of the railroad’s popular North Pole Express excursions. I felt that evening twilight and the crescent moon added a timeless quality to the scene. The locomotive is a 1989-product of China’s Tangshan Locomotive Works and was cosmetically modified to resemble a New Haven Railroad J-1 class Mikado. I worked with my Canon 7D fitted with a 28-135mm lens ( at 38mm) on a Gitzo tripod; camera set at ISO 200 with an exposure of 0.8 seconds at f5.6. To enhance the hue of the sky and balance the headlight, I set the camera’s white balance to tungsten (indicated by a light bulb in the WB menu). I chose the exposure manually and deliberately silhouetted the locomotive boiler while retaining subtle detail in the moon and number board. This image is present full frame, although it might be later tidied up with some selective cropping—photographer’s prerogative.
This image was part of a sequence aimed to fulfill a commission by Mark Hemphill when he was Editor of TRAINSMagazine. While one of the other images in the sequence eventually appeared in the magazine, a tightly cropped version of this photo appeared on page 160 of my book Modern Locomotives—High-Horsepower Diesels 1966-2000, published by MBI in 2002. My MBI caption reads: “Amtrak road No. 1 is a P42 GENESIS™ built by General Electric at Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1996. In October, 2000, it led Amtrak No. 449, the westbound Boston section of the Lakeshore Limited, at West Warren, Massachusetts. The locomotive wears Amtrak’s short-lived Northeast Direct livery that was discontinued with the introduction of the Acela livery in 2000.” It was exposed with Nikon N90S fitted with 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. I selected a relatively slow shutter speed, probably 1/60th second, and panned the front of the locomotive as it rolled by. Track speed is 60mph for passenger trains, so there was plenty of movement to allow for background blurring.
I often make interesting images when I’m just playing around. Between 2001 and 2007 I regularly worked with a Contax G2 rangefinder and I typically used it to expose either Fuji color slide film or black & white negatives. One day, in autumn 2001 I loaded the camera with Agfa Scala, a distinctive black & white reversal film that when processed offered high-contrast monochrome slides. Among my subjects was New England Central which runs right through Monson, Massachusetts. This day, the southward freight required a helper out of Palmer Yard to assist its ascent of State Line Hill. While not unheard of, New England Central doesn’t use helpers every day. I caught the train several times with my G2, then waited an eternity for the slides to come back. No fault of the lab: after I sent them in, I’d returned to Dublin, and so it was about three months from the time I exposed the photos to when I finally examined them. Interesting! That was eleven years ago now.
Yesterday (Wednesday Dec 12, 2012) I made productive use of winter light while photographing between Ayer, Fitchburg and Gardner, Massachusetts. Where many of my images focused on the railroad, delineating it from its surroundings, on reviewing my work, this scene at Gardner caught my eye. Here, almost lost in a modern setting, is the hood of a GP40-2L with only ‘Rail System’ helping to identify this transportation hardware in virtual visual geometric patchwork quilt. Is this how most of the world perceives railways? I wonder.
One of my favorite late-season projects was documenting Irish Rail’s annual sugar-beet campaign. This combined many of my railway interests in one action-intensive activity. Sugar beet was delivered to the station at Wellingtonbridge County, Wexford and loaded into antique purpose-built four-wheel freight wagons. Trains typically weighed 775-Tonnes, and were hauled using Irish Rail’s General Motors diesels to a processing plant at Mallow, County Cork.
Wellingtonbridge was a quiet place most of the year, except in beet season when it was a hotbed of railway activity. A signal cabin at the west end of the platform controlled movements using a network of rods and wires to move points and set semaphore signals. The single-line between Wellingtonbridge and Waterford was governed using a traditional electric train staff system, and was often at the limits of capacity. As soon as an empty train would arrive, a laden train would take the staff and head west toward Waterford. Leaving Wellingtonbridge the line climbed sharply up Taylorstown Bank, and here GM diesels would roar away in Run-8 (maximum throttle) for several minutes to keep moving. Irish Rail prohibits sanding the rail, and on damp days (which are common to Ireland) the diesel’s would slip. While most of the time they’d make the grade, there were some hairy moments.
In 1999, I began photographing ‘the beet’—as my Irish friends called it, and continued my work until January 2006. Every season was threatened to be the last, and so it was little surprise when the operation finally ended after the 2005-2006 season. The reasons for this were complex, but were directly related to a withdrawal of European Union subsidy. The wagons were cut up as were many of the locomotives that hauled them. A few years after the beet finished, the South Wexford Line’s (Waterford-Wellingtonbridge-Rosslare) sole daily passenger service was suspended, leaving the tracks empty. Today the railway at Wellingtonbridge is dormant, so I have no regrets making pilgrimages to stand in frosty damp mucky fields on dark days, hoping for a bright moment as 645 diesels roared my way. I’d be there now doing the same if I had the chance.
Since the mid-1980s, I’ve made a project out of the former Erie Railroad. (See posts: Curiously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Erie Semaphores Revisited). For more than two decades, I’ve examined the old Erie route on film, exploring its lines across its old network. While the Erie has been gone for more than half a century, the context of this historic property lends continuity to my photography, despite a variety of different modern operators. In addition to photos of moving trains, I’ve documented structures, bridges, as well as both active and abandoned lines. I spent a week in October 2009 photographing along the Erie between Hornell, New York, and central Ohio. On the morning of October 8, 2009, I followed Western New York & Pennsylvania’s westward freight HNME (Hornell to Meadville) from Niobe Junction to its terminus at the former Erie yard in Meadville, Pennsylvania. It passed Niobe Junction at 6:45 am, and my first photos that day were made in the early twilight. Speed restrictions on the line made for ample opportunities to photograph the freight as the sun brightened the sky. Changeable October conditions lent for a cosmic mix of low light and ground fog. Working with my Canon EOS 3s and color slide film I produced a variety of satisfying images that fit in well with my greater body of Erie photography.
In August 1998, I was visiting a friend in Bonn, Germany. I’d wandered down the Rhein by train with a promise to return by dinner at 8 in the evening. At Mainz, I bought a ticket for an IC (Intercity) train that scheduled to arrive in Bonn that would have just barely got me back in time. However, EC (Euro City) train 8 Tiziano (Milano Centrale—Hannover) arrived on the platform six minutes ahead of the IC train. I boarded this instead (and was required to pay a 7 DM supplement for the privilege) and after being whisked up the Rhein’s left bank arrived at Bonn with a few minutes spare. I was immediately distracted by the amazing red sunset that illuminated trains heading out of the station toward Köln. I decided to wait on the IC train that I would have taken. Working with my Nikon F3T and Fuji Sensia II (100 ISO) I made a sequence of glint photos from the platforms and I over stayed my time at the railway station and so arrived a few minutes late. Not a problem: Understanding too well my predilection for low-light photography my host had anticipated my delay; she smiled, “Oh, when I saw the nice light, I assumed you’d be late.”
This morning (December 9, 2012), New England Central 603 worked north from Palmer, Massachusetts to the Pan Am Railways interchange at Millers Falls. To pick up and drop cars, the train worked a north-facing switch that required it to pull out onto the high bridge over the Millers River. The span is classic; a pin-connected Pratt deck truss built in 1905 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The contrast of New England Central’s former Union Pacific SD40-2 on the 107 year old truss looks more like a model railroad diorama than a scene typical of modern American freight railroading. Here the soft early-afternoon sun accentuates the diesel’s details, while offering a stark view of the bridge structure against the backdrop of late-autumn trees. In the summer fully foliated trees tend to minimize the impact of the bridge’s cross members.
I’m mindful of pending change. New England Central is a Rail America railroad, and if the Surface Transportation Board approves Genesee & Wyoming’s bid to acquire Rail America, New England Central’s operations and locomotive colors may soon be different. The implications for photography are impossible to gauge, but the wise photographer will capture the scene as it is today and make the most of every opportunity, for each may be the last.
I made my first trip to Poland in May 2000; while part of my quest was to experience steam in revenue service, among the most compelling images I made were of derelict engines such as this one in Silesia. I worked with both 35mm slide film and 120 black & white, the latter exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T.
On this warm May evening in 1986, I exposed a trailing view of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited as it hits the Central Vermont diamond at Palmer. The train radiates the glint of the setting sun. Between eastward and westward main-tracks, Conrail has installed the dispatcher controlled switch that in July 1986 became ‘CP83’ and resulted in the removal of the old westward main track on the Boston & Albany route between Palmer and Springfield (CP92). [The numbers of the control points signify the approximate distance from Boston’s South Station.] At the left is the canopy on Palmer’s Union Station which Conrail removed in November of 1986. Today the old station has been restored inside and serves as the popular Steaming Tender railroad-themed restaurant.
Every so often trains converge and pause, presenting opportunities to make interesting and dramatic images. Such was the case yesterday, December 5, 2012, at the junction known as ‘the Willows’ east of Ayer, Massachusetts (where the former Boston & Maine Fitchburg Mainline meets the B&M Stony Brook line). Where the Fitchburgh continues toward Boston, and now used by MBTA commuter trains, the Stony Brook serves as part of Pan Am Railway’s primary freight route. A pair of freights had come west over the Stony Brook and were waiting to continue over the Fitchburg line to Ayer, (where they would diverge and head southward on the former Boston & Maine line to Worcester).
On the left is Pan Am Railways’ POSE (Portland, Maine to Selkirk) with CSX (former Conrail) SD60M 8747 leading. (At Worcester this will become CSX Q427 for its journey over the former Boston & Albany toward CSX’s Selkirk Yard, see post Palmer, Massachusetts 11:01pm November 30, 2012). On the right is an empty coal train returning from the generating station at Bow, New Hampshire to the Providence & Worcester. This was led by a mix of P&W General Electric diesels, leading is former Santa Fe DASH8-40BW 582 in BNSF paint with P&W lettering. Both trains were waiting for an MBTA equipment move coming from Worcester (MBTA has been detouring equipment using the Worcester-Clinton-Ayer route as to bypass a damaged bridge on Boston’s Grand Junction Branch—which normally handles transfers between South-side and North-side operations.)
My friend Rich Reed and I arrived at the Willows to catch the unusual MBTA move with the hope of also seeing the pair of freights. This easily accessibly junction is split by a public grade crossing. When we found the two freights side by side this became the main photographic event. The day offered a changeable mix of sun and clouds and so my initial exposures were made under overcast conditions. Complicating my exposures were headlights and ditch lights on CSX 8747 which when photographed straight-on flared and proved too bright relative to the rest of the scene. To compensate I waited for the sun to come out (thanks sun!) and then made a few views off axis to minimize the effect of the ditch lights while taking advantage of the better quality of light. While this solved the difficulty of the flared lights, it wasn’t as dramatic as the head-on view and didn’t show the freight cars, just the locomotives.
Switching from a 28-135mm zoom to a 200mm fixed lens proved part of the solution by offering a more dramatic angle, but ,if anything, this exacerbated the difficulty of the engine lights. The longer lens forced me to move back from the locomotives in order to fill the frame. I made some test pictures, and analyzed them on-site while I waited for a moment when clouds partially diffused the sun. This allowed for bright light on the front of the locomotives, not only increasing the drama, but it offered the necessary compromise condition to better cope with locomotive lights (making them less objectionable). Another trick, I adjusted the white-balance in-camera for a slightly warmed tone (by setting the WB to ‘overcast’—pictured with a puffy cloud). After about 10 minutes, I could hear the MBTA special approaching from the West and shifted the focus of my photography. Soon after this passed, the coal train received a signal to proceed westward, and the whole scene changed.
Here are a few photos from a roll of 35mm B&W film that for all intents and purposes has never seen the light of day until now. Why? Back when I exposed them, the trains pictured were the most mundane-sort to be seen in Ireland. Really, it was just the routine parade of passenger trains that arrived and departed Dublin’s Heuston Station every day. The light wasn’t especially good, and at the time I was primarily experimenting with my Nikons using some telephoto lenses. I was just playing around, and I didn’t deem the pictures sufficiently interesting to print. After processing, they went directly into the file without second thought. I came across them only today while searching for some views I made in Dublin on Christmas Day 1999 for use as a Christmas card. In the interval, over the last ten years, the Irish Rail passenger scene in Ireland has completely changed, so what were dull and routine now look pretty interesting to my eye. I’ve scanned some choice images on my Epson V600 for presentation here.
My choice of film was Fuji Neopan 400, which I processed in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with ordinary Afga Rodinal) which was a highly active developer sold in liquid form, difficult to obtain in the U.S. When working with this developer I tended to use a relatively dilute solution that allowed me a 3.5 minute development time with the film rated as recommended by the manufacturer.
Southern Pacific Daylight in California’s Central Valley
It was a clear bright evening, and rather than continue our pursuit of 4449 we opted to remain at the east switch at Brock for a few freight trains that were pending. (As a matter of record, SP’s rigid directional interpretation of its timetable meant that while Brock siding was geographically north-northwest of Sacramento, as far as the railroad was concerned it was timetable-east of the California capital. Thus ‘eastward’ trains were actually traveling in a northwesterly direction.)
Twenty Cylinder Diesel Sound Show
About an hour after the restored streamliner passed, SP’s Redding Turn returning to Roseville Yard took the siding at Brock. Then at 6:55 pm, a manifest train roared eastward led by pair of SP SD45Es. While the SD45s weren’t the main event, and in fact remained in my ‘seconds file’ for two decades, I’m really pretty pleased with the results today. My old Leica M2 with the 50mm f2.0 Summicron, loaded with Kodachrome 25, did the honors. For me the SD45’s most impressive attribute lies beyond the realm of photography. These locomotive were powered by the 20 cylinder 645-E3 diesel, which produced a resonating low-base throb that for my ears was one of the most memorable sounds of the diesel era.
As I write this I’m eagerly anticipating arrival of an Author’s Copy of my latest book: North American Locomotives published by Voyageur Press.
This morning, while I was polishing off some text and captions for another future Voyageur Press project, tentatively entitled Railroad Family Trees, I thought I heard familiar thunder in the valley.
What’s that? I turned down the volume of Led Zeppelin’s Going to California to listen outside. It was the unmistakable sound of turbocharged 645 diesels at work. I opened the window and turned off the music (sorry Jimmy). Clear blue sky, and a New England Central train was into the grade on State Line Hill — roaring slowly southward.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’d been eyeing some of New England Central’s recent acquisitions: rebuilt GM six-motors wearing Union Pacific’s Armor Yellow. Of special interest to me are those that feature old SD45 bodies and thus characterized by angled radiator intakes (factory built SD45s were powered with 20-cylinder 645-E3 diesels, but during remanufacturing these machines were modified and received a variation of the smaller 16-645-E3). While I’d made static photos of these locomotives in the yard, I’d been waiting for an opportunity to catch one on the road in nice light.
Opening email I hastily attached the remaining documents for my editor, pressed ‘send,’ then grabbed my cameras, scanner and notebook (a real paper one) and made for the car. Soon, I was in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and after about 10 minutes I heard the southward freight whistling for nearby crossings. As the train crawled into view my intuition proved correct: New England Central 2674 was leading on train 603. (I’d probably known this sooner if I’d been listening to my scanner instead of Zeppelin).
In Stafford Springs a succession of grade crossings combined with a sharp curve limits speed to 10 mph; and today’s train was taking it handily, giving me ample opportunity to exercise my Lumix LX3 and Canon 7D (didn’t bother with film today). As it crawled through town I opted for pursuit, and continued to the Route 32 overpass on the Stafford-Ellington town line, where I made another set of images.
Later in the afternoon, errands brought me north toward Palmer, Massachusetts, and so I spent the remainder of daylight photographing a variety classic General Motors Electro Motive Division diesels at work. CSX’s local B740 was working the former Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, while Mass-Central’s daily freight arrived on the Ware River Branch with its rare NW5 trailing. This 1947-built antique is among the most unusual locomotives operating in New England today. Later, a New England Central local came on duty using one of its few remaining GP38s to work Palmer. All in all, a day filled with classic GM diesels, and not a modern safety-cab to be seen! (Although GE Genesis units worked Amtrak’s Vermonter.)
It’s late, it’s dark, and it’s bitterly cold (ok, it’s been colder). I’m tired and I’m in Palmer where I’ve made countless thousands of images. I left my tripod at home. However, I’ve been eying the odd wintry textured sky, and then the CSX home signal at CP83 clears to a high green. There’s a train coming west, and it’s not too far away. As always, I’ve got my Lumix LX-3. I dither for a couple of minutes. No, I should make a photo. I’m here, there’s no good excuse not to. So, I walk to the South Main Street overpass. This was rebuilt in the 1990s in a manner ill suited to photography. A high concrete parapet combined with a chain link fence blocks most places I’ve like to work from. Yet, the fence proves my salvation. (I’ve done this before, now what did I do?)
I wedge the Lumix into the chain-links, using the fence to hold my camera. I set the exposure using Aperture Priority (A on the dial), and as explained previously (see: Installment 4: Lumix LX-3—part 2: Existing Light Digital Night Shots) I use the toggle switch to manually override the exposure, setting it to +2/3. This will compensate for the evening’s relative darkness and lighten up the gloomy sky.
I hear the westward train approaching. It’s about a mile away rolling under the Tennyville Bridge (Route 32). Looking west, I make a test exposure at about 7 seconds, but manage to jiggle the fence in the process. My exposure is spot-on but the is photo softened by blur—no good. I try again, but this time the auto-focus can’t find a focus point and the picture is worse.
Now the lights of the train are illuminating the signals. I’d better get it right this time. I make two more exposures. While the first is too dark, the second is spot-on. In this one, CSX’s Q427 (a manifest freight that originates on Pan Am Railways and is destined for CSX’s Selkirk, New York yards) is racing toward the signal. I’ve got it. It works. Yea! Success. I can go back to my car and thaw out, and never mind CSX’s westward Q119 following two blocks behind.