Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.
My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.
Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.
Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!
I was visiting Philadelphia for the holiday season. I’d just got my Lumix back from Panasonic following a warranty-repair and I was happy to make some photos with it.
A wander around Center City on December 30, 2010 with my family made for ample opportunities to exercise the shutter. Sometimes the ordinary scenes make for interesting photos, and over time these tend to age well; witness below.
This view was exposed on the platforms of SEPTA’s Market East station (the 1980s replacement for Philadelphia & Reading’s Victorian train-temple, Reading Terminal—today a convention center, sans tracks).
Here I found a pair of 1960s vintage Silverliners working the R3 service. These elegant classics were nearing the end of their working careers. After nearly five decades, the last of these machines were withdrawn in June 2012.
When I was a kid, change puzzled me. I’d look back over my father’s photographs and collection of timetables and books and wonder what had happened to the trains and railroads he’d seen and experienced.
But as a young child, I’d assumed that all change was in the past. Certainly things had been different. New York Central had become Penn-Central, and Penn-Central had become Conrail. But I naively assumed that everything else would remain constant!
Then I began to notice change myself: My favorite GG1 electrics were replaced by modern AEM7s and E60s. Those old Penn-Central black diesels were become ever more scarce. Boston’s PCC cars had become fewer and fewer.
By the late-1980s, I’d witnessed enough changes to recognize that documenting the railroad required careful attention to detail, and it was important to anticipate change before it begins.
Too often, railroad photographers wait until change is already underway before they act to make photographs. Sadly, sometimes they wait too long and miss the best opportunities to photograph.
With this in mind, in the 1990s, annually I drafted lists from which to work. It’s one thing to ponder photographing time-worthy subjects; its better to have a clear and prioritized strategy!
In 1993, I was remarkably organized: I’ve included a portion of that year’s ‘photo projects’ list. If you read through this carefully, you’ll see there’s considerable foresight in my approach. I was doing my best to predict the future and act upon that knowledge.
Below are pages from that list:
I’m really glad I made these lists! We can look back today, 21 years after I wrote this list, and see that many of the subjects I hoped to document have indeed vanished or changed. The pen-marked ‘ticks’ indicated that I’d made an attempt at the item.
How did I draft this list? Did I have a crystal ball? How did I know in 1993 that SP was soon to vanish? Why did I give SP’s Modoc line high priority? What caused me to anticipate changes to Canadian Pacific east of Sherbrooke? Pay special attention to my notes and comments for the clues. In some cased my anticipated dates were premature, but my vision was pretty accurate (I’m sorry to report.)
What is on your list for 2014?
Change is on-going. Think! What can you photograph now that will soon change unrecognizably? Remember, it is the common everyday subjects that are too often ignored until it’s too late to make photographs. Don’t wait until the last minute. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the rail. Anticipate, plan and then act.
Contrasting Views of Indiana Railway Lines, June 2004.
In a world of railway mergers and consolidation, we can divide railway routes into groups; survivors and losers. Some lines have prevailed while others have been abandoned and ripped up.
Of course, we can further divide surviving lines. There are lines that continue to function as busy corridors, while others may only exist in fragmented form, or as downgraded local routes. Often fragments have been sown together and so now old railway line serve routes that may be very different than as originally intended.
Putting these concepts on film presents a puzzle and a challenge.
In June 2004, I was exploring western Indiana with Pete Ruesch and with his help I exposed these two photographs. The ‘winner’ is a sunset view of Norfolk Southern’s former Wabash mainline at Marshfield, which serves as a heavily-traveled long-distance freight corridor. The ‘loser’ was a recently abandoned vestige of New York Central’s Egyptian Line at the Indiana-Illinois state line.
Both were exposed with Nikon cameras on Fuji color slide film.
During the first half of 1994 I spent a lot of time photographing Southern Pacific on Donner Pass. I was especially interested in making images of hard to reach or rarely photographed locations.
June 21st is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and provides unique lighting opportunities. On this long day, I’d hoped to make some unusual images in the deeper reaches of the Truckee River Canyon.
At the time I had good access to train information, and I knew SP had a westward DVOAF (Denver-Oakland Forwarder) heading up ‘The Hill’ (as SP’s Donner Pass crossing is known, ironically).
Rather than catch this at one of many easy to reach locations off Interstate 80, I decided to hike west of Floriston, California toward old Iceland—where SP’s grade separated mainline came back together. My intention was to photograph the Harriman-era truss bridge with the train in evening sunlight.
As was often the case with SP, my desired westward freight ‘fell down’ (it was delayed) and didn’t reach my location in time. I stayed in place despite this set back. I was rewarded with a dramatic sequence of images, culminating with this silhouette.
The front of the locomotive has plunged into deep shadow, yet a shaft of sunlight has illuminated the engineer. It stands out among my hundreds of Donner Pass images, and is one of my favorite. I just can’t believe its been nearly 20 years since I exposed it!
Railway tracks are the defining infrastructure of this transport system. They are key to the whole technology as well part of the title of this Internet Blog.
Often, tracks are view as secondary to the trains that use them. Photographs tend to focus on the locomotives and cars, rather then the tracks themselves.
With this post, I’ve focused on the tracks. I’ve selected a few photographs from my archives in which the tracks are the subject: tracks leading to the horizon across a desolate desert landscape; tracks curling around a bend in the snow; tracks in the weeds and tracks catching the sunlight.
Tracks capture our imaginations, and the images of tracks can be timeless. Yet not all tracks are the same. The condition of the line and nature of the landscape is telling. I’ve made hundreds of images like these over the years; sometimes from trains, other times from the ground, or overhead bridges. The formula is simple, but the results vary greatly.
Often the thought of what lies beyond is the most intriguing. What lies around the curve or just over the horizon? It are images like these that inspire wanderlust for railway journeys. In days of yore, how many young men left home in pursuit of that the elusive view around the next bend in the tracks.
Dublin is a quiet place on Christmas morning. Almost everything is shut. The roads are relatively empty. The buses aren’t running. There are scant few people on the normally busy streets. And the railways are asleep.
Irish trains don’t run Christmas Day. And Dublin’s terminals are locked up tight. It’s a strange sight to see Heuston Station by daylight with nothing moving around it. This normally busy place is unnaturally quiet.
Yet, what better time to make architectural views of the 1840s-built terminal?
There are no buses or LUAS trams to interfere with the station’s classic design. Cars are relatively few. You can stand in the middle the street to compose photos with little chance of being run over.
The other night in Palmer, Massachusetts an arctic breeze was blowing, but that didn’t stop me from making time exposures to capture the holiday spirit.
I exposed these photos despite numb hands and cold feet. I used my Lumix LX-3 (choice night camera in cold weather) fitted to a large Bogen tripod.
Years ago, I fitted plastic-foam pipe insulation to the tripod legs (as per recommendation by experienced cold-weather photographer Mike Gardner). This makes it easier to handle the tripod when it’s very cold.
My exposures varied from about 1.6 seconds at f2.8 (ISO 200) to 25 seconds at f4.0 (ISO80). I set the camera manually using the histogram from test exposures to gauge my settings.
Christmas lights on dark nights make for exceptionally difficult contrast. If you overexpose to allow good shadow detail the lights get blown out (losing their color[s] as a result). Underexpose to feature the lights and the sky and shadows turn to an inky black.
Somewhere in between is a compromised setting. Rather than ponder the subtleties of the histogram as the blood in my toes congealed, I opted to take a series of images, one after the other, and select the best of the bunch in a warm environment later on.
Southern Pacific 2472 Entertains its Public in May 2008
Back in May 2008, I was researching for my book Railroads of California, when I visited the Niles Canyon Railway and made this photograph of Southern Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2472 at Sunol.
This Baldwin-built heavy Pacific was a fine sight that attracted thousands of visitors to the railway. To the delight of its fans, it powered excursions over the line between Sunol and Niles Station at Fremont.
I’ve made lots of photos of 2472 over the years; and one of these images from the 1990s is the cover of my recently released locomotive anthology titled Classic Locomotives published by Voyageur Press. By contrast, the photo display here is focused on the engine’s fans rather than the locomotive itself.
Incidentally, This old Baldwin has been one of my favorite locomotives for years, and coincidentally, when my mobile phone provider issued my cell phone number about ten years ago, it was these four digits I was given. Although the phone company had the right idea, they gave me the prefix for the Prairie wheel arrangement rather than that for a Pacific.
Villach is in southern Austria near the Slovenia-border. Here the Tauern and Semmering routes converge; there’s several yards, a handsome old passenger station, some stunning scenery. To the south, lines again divide, with one route heading southwest toward Italy, and another south into Slovenia.
There’s no shortage of trains.
This is a good thing, because while standing out on a freezing January 2006 morning, I was beginning to question the wisdom of making railway photographs.
After several hours in the cold, I noticed the Austrian equivalent of a convenience store near tracks and this seemed inviting. Inside it was immaculately clean, warm, nicely decorated, and (most importantly) it was serving piping hot cups of chocolate and freshly baked pastries. Hooray!
There was plenty of time to witness and photograph the Austrian Federal Railways after a thaw.
Photographing on the old Boston & Maine in the Snow.
A few weeks ago I called into Tucker’s Hobbies to visit with Rich Reed who was working the counter. I picked up a copy of Don Ball Jrs’ classic book Americas Railroads, The Second Generation.
I remember finding a copy of Ball’s book at the Wilbraham Library when I was in Junior High School and being very impressed by the photographs and their arrangement.
In October 1981, my parents drove me to Brattleboro, Vermont on a windy, rainy evening to watch a slide show that Ball was presenting. After the show, I spoke to him briefly. I met him once again, two years later on Steamtown’s Vermont final run from Bellows Falls to Rutland. Ball was running the operation at the time.
Anyway, as I was thumbing though the pages, I came across an image at the bottom of page 29 of a pair of Boston & Maine GP9s in the 1970s-Blue Bird livery with a long freight. The location looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. The caption read ‘Lunenburg, Massachusetts.’
This puzzled me. I’m usually very good with picking out specific locations. I have a memory for that sort thing . . . most of the time.
“Hey Rich, where’s this?”
“Lunenburg, that’s Derby Curve just west of the new interlocking. We were there a few months ago to roll by the NS intermodal train.”
Indeed we were, I remember!
So then, on Thursday, December 19, 2013, Rich, Paul Goewey and I were back in that part of the world, and we went to the very spot where Don Ball made his photograph. That wasn’t really why we were there, but we were.
The reason for our visit was that the lighting angle suited a westbound train. More to the point, Pan Am Railways’ POED (Portland to East Deerfield) freight had stalled about a mile to the west. A light engine had come out from Ayer and had tied onto the head-end to assist the train up to Gardner.
Instead of standing precisely in Ball’s shoes, I scrambled up the side of the hill to get a slightly higher angle. We photographed the parade trains, including the struggling POED. Looking back at Ball’s photo, it is interesting to see how much the location had changed over the years. And the railroad too!
On Thursday (December 19, 2013) I made these photos of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Commuter trains on the old Fitchburg route.
For some 35 years, Electro-Motive F40PH diesels have worked these lines. MBTA’s early F40PHs supply head-end power from the 16-645E3 prime mover by running the engine at high rpms. The result is a high-pitched scream that has given these locomotives their nickname.
Replacement locomotives are on their way and the first have already arrived. How much longer will these old screamers work the Fitch? Bets anyone?
Twilight, apparently, may strictly defined by the specific position of the sun below the horizon.
‘Civil Twilight’ as defined by the National Weather Service, is ‘the time at which the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon.’ Key to this period is that ‘there is enough light for objects to be clear distinguishable.”
I’ve always used the term in a more general sense to indicate the time of day when there’s a glow in the sky (before sunrise or after sunset). I suppose, the more appropriate title for these evening photographs would ‘Dusk at Bellows Falls.’
Anyway, it was the end of day’s photography in October 2004, when Tim Doherty and I visited Bellows Falls to witness the arrival of Guilford Rail System’s WJED (White River Junction-East Deerfield) freight.
This train worked interchange from Vermont Rail System’s Green Mountain Railroad and I made a series of atmospheric images at the passenger station. In the lead was a former Norfolk Southern high-hood GP35, a rare-bird indeed.
Bellows Falls is one of my favorite places to make railway images. I’ve been visiting as long as I can remember. My family had been taking day trips to Bellows Falls, and some of my earliest memories are of the tracks here. But, I’ve rarely made photos here at this time of day.
Twilight? Dusk? Evening? How about: dark enough to warrant a tripod, but light enough to retain color in the sky?
Wisconsin Central GP7 and a Northern Pacific 4-6-0 in August 1996.
This old Kodachrome is a prize! Sometimes a scene has more background that I could have incribed on the slide mount.
Back in August 1996, Dick Gruber and I drove up to Osceola, Wisconsin to spend a weekend photographing Northern Pacific 4-6-0 number 328 that was scheduled for Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Osceola & St. Croix Valley trips over Wisconsin Central’s former Soo Line.
Two days worth of trips were scheduled and we made the most of this classic locomotive under steam. There were some challenges; such as finding a place to stay. I recall scouring motels in the Minneapolis area without any luck.
We ended up back in Osceola in the early hours chatting with crew. The mosquitoes were fierce and accommodations were lacking. I had a sleeping bag in my car, and one of the steam crew suggested I sleep on 328’s tender.
I took this suggestion to heart and laid out my bag on a flat spot away from the coal and got a few hours rest. The heat from the boiler kept me warm, while the smoke discouraged the bugs. Unfortunately, about 5:30 am, a crewman woke me with an apology. “Sorry, you’ll need to move, I need to stoke the engine.”
This was the start for a long but productive day of photography. Some 13 hours later, I made this image. After an excursion, NP 328 had run, ‘light engine,’ (by itself) to Dresser to turn on the wye. Here it met a Wisconsin Central local freight with a former Chicago & North Western GP7, still in its former owner’s paint.
At the time I was researching for my book The American Steam Locomotive (Published by MBI in 1998). I couldn’t help but thinking, that it was GP7s like this one had ousted 4-6-0s from their duties more than 40 years earlier. (However, 4151 was built new for Rock Island, and only acquired by C&NW in 1981). The irony is the GP7 was probably scrapped while today 328 is still around (pending overhaul).
I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.
One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.
Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.
Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.
I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.
Ballybrophy is a rural station on Irish Rail’s Dublin-Cork main line. It’s probably the smallest community on the route to retain an active passenger station and survives as result of it being the connection to the Nenagh Branch.
Most trains blitz the place at track speed. A few miles east of the station is a summit known as the top of Ballybrophy Bank. Here a lightly used road crosses the line on a bridge which offers a nice view for Cork trains.
I’ve made many visits to Ballybrophy over the years, both to ride the Nenagh Branch and to photograph trains on the mainline.
These images were exposed on an unusually sunny June 3, 2006 using my Contax G2 rangefinder.
The classic old stone railway station at Ballybrophy is a treasure. There’s plenty of time between trains to study the architecture. Contax G2 with 45mm lens.
Among my favorite locomotives are Electro-Motive’s classic end-cab switchers, of the sort introduced in the mid-1930s with EMC model SC.
I became familiar with this type as a result of an O-Gauge Lionel NW-2 dressed for Santa Fe that my father bought for me about 1972. Later, I watched and photographed full scale switchers on Penn-Central, Conrail and Boston & Maine.
This type in effect emulated the shape of the common steam locomotive, allowing the engineer to look down the length of the hood, instead of a boiler. Electro-Motive wasn’t first to use this arrangement, which Alco introduced in the early 1930s. But, it was the Electro-Motive switcher that I found to have a classic sound and shape.
When I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1980s, Rochester & Southern’s Brooks Avenue Yard was just a few minutes away. I routinely stopped by the yard to see what was going on.
At that time, R&S 107—a former Southern Pacific SW1200—could be routinely found drilling cars. Over the years, I made a number of images of this old goat.
I left Rochester in 1989. I wonder what has become of this switcher? Does it still sport the SP-order oscillating lights?
Sunny Morning on Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Metro Rail.
I’d argue that the Buffalo light rail line is one of America’s least photographed railways. It’s certainly not something I’ve often seen pictured.
The system has several peculiarities. One of the strangest is its route, which runs in a subway through the northern Buffalo suburbs but on the street in the historic downtown.
I’ve made several visits to photograph and ride this unusual railway. I had an especially clear morning on May 4, 1989 when I exposed this pan on Kodachrome with my Leica M2. The car is on Main Street and passing St Paul’s Cathedral (located just a few blocks from Buffalo City Hall).
When seeking out railways to document, I’m always on the lookout for those operations that appear to elude other photographers. Admittedly, while the Buffalo light rail isn’t the most exciting railway in western New York, it can be photogenic and is thus worthy of pictures.
I spent several days exploring Prague in Spring 2000. Unlike many cities in Western Europe, Prague escaped widespread damage during World War II and much of the historic city center has retained its classic architecture.
Prague also has an extensive public transport network, including an underground metro, suburban and long distance heavy rail services, and one of Europe’s largest tram systems.
The combination of great architecture in a scenic setting along the Vlatva River and well-maintained Tatra trams allowed for many photographic opportunities. The trams also afforded me convenient transport.
I quickly discovered that although beer in the city center was cheap by western standards, it could be obtained for about a third the price and in greater varieties in the suburbs. I also found the Czech’s very personable and so spent several great days wandering around in good company.
I exposed these images with my Nikon F3T on Fujichrome Sensia. I calculated exposure manually using my Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held photo cell.
Irish Rail’s 2003-2004 didn’t go as planned. Just as the season was gearing up, the Cahir Viaduct on the Limerick Junction-Waterford line collapsed under laden cement train, closing the line and forcing the detour of sugar beet trains via the much longer Waterford-Cherryville Junction route.
This complication for Irish Rail was a boon for photographers as it resulted in sugar beet trains running in places where they didn’t normally go.
This was especially timely, because the portion of line from Athy to Waterford West was still under control of traditional signal cabins with mechanical semaphores and the electric train staff system. But not for much longer! An all-color light mini-CTC control system was being installed and was finally commissioned in Spring 2004.
I began the morning of November 29, 2003 in Dublin, where it was cold, dark and very wet. It was one of those days where horizontal rain is the norm and it never gets bright enough for the street lights to shut off.
Despite the bad weather, a fellow photographer and I headed toward Cherryville Junction by road with visions of intercepting sugar beet trains on their diversionary route. Somewhere between Kildare and Cherryville, the ever-elusive NIR 112 (on long term loan to Irish Rail) roared uproad with an empty beet train returning from Mallow to Wellingtonbridge.
We reversed direction, and went to Kildare, where I exposed a ‘record shot’ of the train. My exposure was noted at f2.8 1/8th of second. (What some of us would call ‘f-dark at a week’ meaning; ‘hopeless exposure for a moving train.’)
Undaunted we pursued this unusual train toward Waterford, taking advantage of crossings with other trains on the single track line. Near Thomastown, we passed through a front.
This was like a line drawn across the sky! To the north it remained foul and dark, to the south clear, cold and bright! We made our way to an overhead accommodation bridge on the Dublin side of Thomastown station where I exposed this view of the train approaching the home signal.
I count this among my truly unusual Irish railway photographs.
In the damp evening gloom on July 18, 2003, Irish Rail’s signalman at Clonmel awaits the arrival of the Waterford-Limerick passenger train. He holds the metal staff that will authorize the train to proceed over the line to Tipperary.
Often the most telling railway images don’t emphasize a train. In this photo, the Irish Rail General Motors diesel and Cravens passenger carriages are incidental. Here: the evening light, poised signalman eying the approaching train and quiet rural station tell the story.
I exposed this photo on Fujichrome Sensia 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder with 28mm Biogon lens on a Bogan tripod. It was part of a series of images I made that evening at Clonmel of the signalman, the station and passing trains.
One of my all-time favorite Irish Rail subjects was the annual weedspraying campaign. Every spring, a Bo-Bo would be allocated to haul the ancient looking contraption that functioned as the weed spraying train. Over the period of several weeks this would gradually make its way across the network.
Highlights of the campaign typically included travel over a variety of lines closed to traffic and this made for high adventure! [scene censored to protect the innocent]. I also made countless images of the train on regularly used lines.
Yet, finding the train could be a challenge, as it often didn’t hold to its program. Equipment difficulties were among the cause for delay.
On this bright morning in the second week of May, several of us had intercepted locomotive 175 with the spray train at Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary and followed the train toward Waterford. I made this image from the Fiddown bypass just east of the old station at Fiddown. The distant signal for Fiddown gates can be seen in the distance.
Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.
The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.
I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.
Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.
The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.
Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.
In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!
When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.
Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.
When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?
It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.
A Classic Photograph from A Dozen Years Ago Today.
It was just 12 years ago—December 8, 2001—that I stood in the damp grassy field overlooking Taylorstown Viaduct, Co. Wexford, to make this image of freshly painted General Motors 141s leading an empty sugar beet train toward Wellingtonbridge.
Sugar beet season typically ran from late September until just after Christmas and was a great time to make Irish Rail freight photographs. Operations were focused on loading trains at Wellingtonbridge and tended to result in a series of daylight movements over the scenic South Wexford line.
Between 1999 and 2006, with the help of my Irish friends, I made dozens of trips to photograph, record and experience the sugar beet season. The weather wasn’t always fine; often it was dark and rainy but there were sunny moments like in the scene pictured here.
Unfortunately, sugar beet operations ended in early 2006, and a few years later Irish Rail closed the line between Waterford and Rosslare Strand to regular traffic. The bridge and tracks remain, but movements on the line are now very rare. The locomotives and wagons were scrapped a few years ago.
In the mid-1990s, I made numerous trips to California’s remote and desolate Modoc County in the far northeastern portion of the state. Here Southern Pacific’s rolling Modoc Line hosted big trains which made for a stunning, but difficult, subject.
Not only was the line exceptionally far away, but also traffic was unusually sparse and often erratic. SP had built the route in the late-1920s, piecing together the old Nevada-California-Oregon 3-foot gauge with bits of new construction and other trackage.
My favorite part of the Modoc was the old narrow gauge N-C-O section, where it looked as if tracks had been laid down on the desert floor with little concern for heavy grading.
This raw construction was evident at the Indian Camp Loop (compass south from Alturas) where SP’s line curved around to gain elevation.
In the second week of February 1994, Brian Jennison and I set out from Verdi, Nevada making the lonely drive up to the Modoc Line where we spent two rare days photographing trains.
We scored big with an EUCH-Q (Eugene-Chicago Quality) manifest freight that was led by a pair of brand new EMD GP60s.
Here’s a tip: when working sparse or erratic lines it really helps to have an inside track on operations, yet all the information in the world can’t help you if you’re not trackside! When you are trackside it’s helpful to know where the best locations are in advance of trains. In this case we had both the needed operational knowledge as well as prior location knowledge, and made the time to be trackside to take full advantage of it.
In early summer 1986, Conrail was weeks away from converting the Boston & Albany route from a traditional directional double track mainline to a single-track line under the control of CTC-style signals with cab-signal. The first section to be cut-over to the new control system was between Palmer to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Among the results of this change was the abandonment and eventual lifting of the old westward main train west of Palmer.
I was well aware of this pending change and had been documenting Conrail’s work in the area over the preceding months.
On the evening of June 17, 1986, I focused on the westward main track at the Quaboag River bridge just west of the Palmer diamond as Conrail’s eastward SEBO-B dropped down the short grade toward the Palmer yard.
While the train adds interest to the scene; my main focus was the track in the foreground that would soon be gone. I made a variety of images in this area on the weeks up to Conrail’s cut-over day.
Photographing directly into the clear summer sun produced a painterly abstraction. I’ve allowed some flare to hit the camera’s lens which obscures shadow detail and makes for a dream-like quality.
Years after I exposed this frame, I moved to California where I met photographers that had perfected this photographic technique. Interestingly, railroad photographers had been using backlighting to good advantage for a long time. In searching through archives I’ve come across fine examples of Fred Jukes’ and Otto Perry’s works with similar backlighting effects.
In November 1986, Kodak supplied me with a free roll of TMax 100 black & white film as part of a ‘care package’ of new products for students in the Photographic Illustration programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology .
The T-Max black & white films were brand new at the time. They were significant because they used a new ‘T’ grain that featured flat silver halide grains that were supposed to reduce the visual granularity in the film (and lower the film’s silver content).
On this bright sunny morning, I went trackside in Rochester to expose my free film. I had Kodachrome 25 in my Leica M2, so I borrowed my roommate’s Canon A1 for the film test.
I photographed a variety of Conrail trains on the former New York Central Water Level Route. I made this image of Rochester & Southern’s Belt Line local crossing the former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh bridge over Water Level Route at Lincoln Park, west of downtown Rochester. (In 1986, Genesee & Wyoming’s Rochester & Southern assumed operation of the former BR&P 4th Sub-division from CSX’s Baltimore & Ohio.)
Leading R&S’s local was Alco RS-3m 211 leased from the recently formed Genesee Valley Transportation.
The locomotive has a long and colorful history. It featured both a large steam generator and dynamic brakes (thus the high short-hood) and was one of only five RS-3s were built this way: four served Western Maryland, while this one went to the Pennsylvania Railroad but later was traded to the Lehigh Valley, becoming its 211. After 1976, Conrail replaced 211’s original Alco-244 diesel with a recycled 12-cylinder EMD 567 engine.
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak’s southward Vermonter is south of Three Rivers in Palmer, Massachusetts. I’ve often favored this view along the old Central Vermont Railway where the tracks run along the side of the road. The train is approaching Palmer’s yard limits and is trundling along at a casual pace.
Everyday scenes like this one are easy enough to find, yet tend to hold their interest over time. Items such as the trash cans on the left and the car on the road may someday garnish greater interest than the P42 leading the Vermonter.
Yet, someone interested in trains in the future may see this and exclaim, ‘You mean that way back in 2013, they ran the Vermonter via Three Rivers? No way! Why?’
California’s rolling Tehachapi mountains south of Bakersfield is one of the West’s great places to watch and photograph trains. Here through creative use of scale, depth-of-field and backlighting, I’ve made a real railroad look like a model!
In the early 1990s, I made several productive trips there. In Spring 1993, Brian Jennison and spent a few great days making images of SP and Santa Fe trains. On this morning we were joined by local photographers Bruce Perry and the late David Burton.
On the morning of April 3, 1993, I climbed a grassy hill near Bealeville to make this image of Santa Fe’s westward second 199 winding its way downgrade between tunnels 1 and 2.
Working with my Nikon F3T and 35mm PC lens, I played with focus and scale to make an image that looks like one exposed on a model railway. This was my way to cope with some difficult lighting on a photogenic subject and following in the California tradition, I’ve micturated on established ‘rules’ of conventional railroad photography.
I’ve always liked the purple lupin in the foreground.
Earlier this year, my friend Dan Bigda asked me to make photographs of his magnificent O-scale layout for a feature article in the January 2014 issue of O-Scale Railroading (recently published).
I made several visits and with the help of Dan Bigda and Dylan Lambert, I exposed several hundred digital images with three cameras.
For close ups and macro views I used my Lumix LX 3 and my father’s Lumix LX-7, while for telephoto images, I worked with my Canon EOS 7D.
Most of the scenes were artificially lit with hot lamps. I positioned twin Lowel halogen lights on tripods to emulate natural light. Depending on the scene, I worked with blend of direct light with light diffused with photo umbrellas.
Almost all the photographs required long exposures and most were made with the aid of a tripod.
Dan’s layout features some fascinating structures, and I made a special effort to capture these as well as making images of the trains. Also, Dan has a great collection of O scale freight cars and well weathered locomotives.
The layout recreates the setting of New England industrial railroading as it looked from the late 1960s until the early 1980s.
Digging through my older photographs, occasionally I come across something really interesting.
I’d exposed this black & white photograph using my father’s Rollei Model T at Bernardston, Massachusetts, where the railroad crossed an old mill dam on a classic stone arch bridge.
Brandon Delaney and I had gone up to Brattleboro, Vermont, where we found a pair of Boston & Maine GP9s working local freight ED-4. I made a number of images of engine 1736 working in the snow. Then we followed the train south into Massachusetts.
Brandon had previously explored this location at Bernardston and so we set up and waited.
For me this is a lesson in balance and composition: By placing the locomotive over the first pier of the bridge rather than allowing it to move further onto the bridge, I’ve created both visual tension and compositional balance.
The GP9 plays off the old mill at the bottom of the bridge to the left, while de-emphasizing the locomotive allows the eye to focus more on the bridge but never so long as to ignore the engine altogether. The bridge, after all, is the main subject, while the locomotive and mill are secondary to the scene.
I’ve been back here several times over the years and the scene has changed. The old mill and mill dam are history. I don’t know if they were washed away in a flood or were deliberately demolished. At the time they offered links to New England’s faded small-scale industrial past.
Today, because the dam is gone the bridge appears taller since the full length of the piers can be followed right in to the river-bed. Trees have encroached on both sides of the bridge, and even in winter, it can be difficult to get more than one locomotive on the structure. Yet, it can still be a great place to pose a train.