Locomotive Geometry: Part 1

Alco diesel detail
This image appears on page 49 of my book Vintage Diesel Power published by Voyageur Press in 2010. I exposed it on October 13, 2008, courtesy of Genesee Valley Transportation. GVT was operating the locomotive on its Falls Road Railroad between Lockport and Brockport, New York. This is a relatively rare Alco RS-32 built for New York Central. It often operated on the Falls Road for New York Central and later Penn Central. The photo was exposed with a Canon EOS-3 and 20mm f2.8 lens on Fujichrome film.

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.

Rare Electro-Motive model NW5 at Palmer, Massachusetts.
Mass-Central NW5 2100 is an old favorite. Built for Southern Railway in 1947 to work the New Orleans Union Station, it found its way to Massachusetts when I was in junior high school. On the afternoon of October 18, 1983, my late friend Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren phoned to say that Mass-Central was on its way to Palmer to collect interchange from Conrail. I caught the antique Electro-Motive engine by the old Boston & Albany freight house. Exposed with Leica IIIA with Summitar f2.0 50mm lens on Kodachrome 64 slide film
Central Vermont GP9s.
I grew up to the sounds of Central Vermont GP9s roaring away in run-8 as they clawed their way up State Line Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. I often photographed these locomotives in my youth. By the time I made this photo on December 23, 1986, I had begun my photographic studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, and was back for Christmas Break. Old 4442 was a favorite machine. It is climbing State Line as it had countless times before. Leica IIIA fitted with a Leica Visoflex II and 65mm Elmar Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.


New England Central GP38s.
In February, 1995, New England Central Railroad (NECR) assumed operations of the former Central Vermont Railway. By that time, CV’s GP9s had been gone a few years. NECR’s first locomotives (and the only ones painted for the line) were a fleet of handsome GP38s. By the late 1990s, these were an equivalent age as had been CV’s GPs when I knew them a decade earlier, yet somehow they didn’t seem so ancient. After all, age is largely perception. NECR GP38s rest in the afternoon sun at Palmer Yard in March, 1997. Nikon F3T with Nikon 24mm f2.8 Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 battery box door detail.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 6145 worked on Rochester & Southern’s former B&O Brooks Avenue Yard in Rochester while I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I made many photographs of this Electro-Motive diesel; this image exposed on October 22, 1987. with my Leica M2, 50mm Summicron and Kodachrome 25 slide film. If I knew why it was called “The Mighty Jumbo”, I’ve forgotten now.


See: Vintage Diesel Power by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

Preserved Western Pacific diesels
Preserved Western Pacific diesels at Portola, California, on May 10, 2008 capture the spirit of another era. This image appeared in my 2009 title Railroads of California published by Voyageur Press. The photo was exposed on Fuji Velvia 100 slide film using a Canon EOS-3 and 100mm f2.0 lens. WP 608 is an Electro-Motive Corporation model NW2 built in 1940 for Union Pacific, and later acquired by WP. While WP 707 is a GP7 bought new by the railroad.
I’ve always enjoyed intense sound produced by Electro-Motive’s 20-cylinder 645 diesel engine. That doesn’t translate to photography, except that I have a disproportionate number of images of diesels powered by that engine. On May 4, 1996, I made this photo inside Wisconsin Central F45 6656 to feature the big prime mover. Exposed using a Nikormat FT3 with Nikon 28mm AF lens, Fujichrome Provia 100 slide film, exposed manually.

See: EMD Locomotives by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

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