This day, twenty four years ago, April 12, 1989, I sat in the morning sun at School Road in Batavia, New York, 399 miles from Grand Central Terminal. This was a favorite location to watch the Water Level Route on a weekend morning. At the time I was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I lived south of Rochester at Scottsville, New York, and it was about a half and hour drive to this lightly used crossing. Here I’d read, write in my notebook, and document the passing parade of Conrail freights and the occasional Amtrak train. A talking equipment detector a few miles to the west would alert me to approaching eastward trains, but westward trains might creep up on me. These tended to be crawling, as there is a slight grade up the Niagara Escarpment known local as Byron Hill. ‘Hill’ is a relative term, since this grade seemed almost invisible to the eye. However, freights powered for the low-grade run from Selkirk to Buffalo would stagger up this nominal rise. On this morning, the distinctive chug of General Electric 7FDL diesel engines caught me ear above the twittering birds and the rush of a light breeze. Before I knew it the gates were motoring down and lo and behold, a westbound was coming down the hill.
My Leica M2 was fitted to an f4.0 200mm Leitz Telyt using the awkward Visoflex II attachment, which effectively transformed my rangefinder into a single-lens reflex. This entire contraption was positioned on my recently acquired Bogen 3021 tripod with ball-head. (The ball arrangement seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but I was forever fighting it to make fine adjustments with long lenses.) This morning, I had everything all set up and pre-focused; I exposed a couple frame of Kodachrome 25. Leading the train was one of Conrail’s unusual GE-built C39-8s, a favorite model because of its angular cab-arrangement.
Six weeks after I made this image, I graduated from R.I.T. and by end of September that year, I was on my way to California. The old crossing at School Road closed a number of years ago as part of a grade crossing elimination scheme. Last summer, I unexpectedly found a former Conrail C39-8s at Lansdale, Pennsylvania along with a few of its ilk in black Norfolk Southern paint, but that’s a story for another post.