25 Years Ago, Conrail Demolished Palmer’s Boston & Albany Freight House.
During the 1980s, Conrail demolished many disused structures along the Boston & Albany line. The East Brookfield freight house went in 1984, Worcester’s went in 1986. In January 1989, I noticed that the railroad was preparing to erase Palmer’s B&A landmark.
The wrecking machine was parked out in front and had already taken a bite out of the northeast corner of the steam-era red brick structure.
I proposed a short article to the editor of Palmer Journal Register. The newspaper supplied me with a roll of black & white film and processed it for me. I photographed the building from every angle and wrote the article that appeared about a week later.
Conrail made short work of the old building, which had stood at the west-end of the yard near Haley’s Grain Store. Today there is almost no evidence of the building.
For me it had been tangible evidence of the old Boston & Albany—never mind Conrail or Penn-Central. While its usefulness to Conrail may have ended, I recalled speaking with the agent there on various occasions in previous years.
I still have the negatives that I exposed with my Leica M2 and I’ve scanned these using my Epson V600.
Of my older black & white images, I feel this is among my most successful compositions. For me it goes beyond simple documentation of the railroad, yet captures the essence of Northeastern railroading in the early 1980s.
I’m standing in the ruined shell of the old Boston & Maine tower at Johnsonville, New York, where the line to Troy had diverged from the route to Mechanicville and Rotterdam.
In the tower’s broken windows, I’ve framed a distant eastward B&M freight (operated by Guilford Transportation Industries). The railroad, like the tower, is a shell of its former glory, having suffered from decades of decline. Yet, the trains still roll.
The stark, yet diffused November light adds to the scene and backlights the train illuminating the locomotive exhaust. Although the train is small, it is clearly the subject of the photo. The eye is immediately drawn to the locomotives and only later explores the rest of the image. I was particularly pleased with the placement of the old railings inside the tower.
For many years I had a 5×7 inch black and white print of this image on my wall.
Amherst Railway Society‘s Big Railroad Hobby Show show is pure sensory overload. Everywhere you look there’s something or someone that seizes your interest. An old friend, an F-unit, a trolley buzzing underwire, video of a steam locomotive, the sounds of trains.
I exposed several hundred photos in a few hours, but after a while my mind began to numb. Railways of all kinds in all directions.
Here we have a typically New England scene; a fresh blanket of snow has fallen and the sky has cleared to a clear blue dome. Perfect light right?
Not exactly. The great contrast between the brilliant bright snow and the shadow areas makes for a difficult exposure. Complicating matters was Conrail’s rich blue paint.
While I was fortunate to catch Conrail’s TV9 leaving West Springfield Yard, I faced an exposure conundrum. If I exposed for the train, I risked grossly over exposing the snow, furthermore if I simply set the camera based on the snow on the ground, I’d end up with a pretty dark slide.
In the end I compromised, and stopped down enough to retain detail in the snow, while leaving the rest of the scene reasonably exposed.
However, 28 years later I’m still not satisfied with the slide.
There are three problems. I was concentrating on the exposure and the moving train (while trying to manipulate two cameras simultaneously) and I missed the level by about two degrees. Secondly, the Kodachrome film had a decidedly red bias, which resulted in pinkish snow (hardly what my eye saw that day).
I was easily able to correct these flaws after scanning the slide. I imported it into Photoshop and made three changes.
1) I cropped and rotated the image to correct for level.
2) Using the red-cyan color balance sliders, I shifted the highlights and mid-tone areas to toward cyan to minimize the excessive red in the scene. (cyan is the color opposite of red)
3) I made a localized contrast adjustment on the locomotives by outlining the area I wanted to change and then making a slight change using the curves feature.
I’ve illustrated the original unmodified scan two intermediate steps and the final image.
Old Pointless Arrow and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ah Springfield! Probably best known because of the Simpson’s cartoon set in a mythical city of that name. Could be Springfield, Massachusetts, or Illinois, any of a couple dozen other cities with this common name.
On April 5, 2004, I met Tim Doherty for lunch and we made a few photos in Springfield.
A visit to Union Station found a westward CSX freight with a Conrail blue General Electric DASH8-40CW rolling through.
Later, we went down to an footbridge near the Basketball Hall of Fame to catch Guilford Rail System’s elusive EDPL (East Deerfield to Plainville, Connecticut) freight.
In 1982, Boston & Maine bought several Connecticut-based former New Haven Railroad operations from Conrail, and EDPL was one the only remnants of that transaction. At the time, the freight ran once a week. Catching it was a matter of planning and good luck.
I exposed these photos on Fujichrome Velvia 100F (RVP100F) color slide film using my Contax G2 rangefinder with a 28mm Biogon lens. The film was processed locally in Springfield at ComColor, which back then offered a 2-hour turn-around time for E6 films (processed and mounted).
In 2008, ComColor ceased processing E6 film. At the time, I was told my rolls were ‘the last run.’
They were Budd’s follow up to its successful stainless steel rail diesel cars built in the 1950s. But where Budd’s RDCs had established standards for self propelled diesel cars, Budd’s SPV-2000 didn’t measure up.
I think ‘SPV’ was supposed to mean ‘Self Propelled Vehicle,’ but all the railroaders I knew called them ‘Seldom Powered Vehicles.’
These were adapted from the original Budd Metroliner (MP85) car style and in the same family as Amtrak’s Budd-built Amfleet.
For a few years they were routinely assigned to Amtrak’s Springfield, Massachusetts-New Haven, Connecticut shuttle trains.
I admit now that I didn’t like the SPVs. I didn’t like them because they were new, and I much preferred the traditional RDCs. Also, at the time, I found the round car style un-photogenic.
Despite my dislike of the SPV’s, I photographed them anyway. While I wish that I’d made more photos of them, I’m very glad that I bothered to put them on film at all.
As it turned out, Amtrak appears to have disliked the SPV’s even more than I did! Their tenure on the Springfield run was short. By 1986, they’d been largely replaced with locomotive hauled consists. Other than my own photographs, I’ve seen very few images of these cars working on Amtrak.
Here’s an irony: in retrospect I’ve come to appreciate the SPV’s. They were a rare example of a modern American-built self-propel diesel car, and to my well-traveled eye, I now find them very interesting. So, what seemed new and common, now seems rare and peculiar!
I made this photo when I was a senior in high school. Paul Goewey and I’d planned to meet some friends at Springfield Station, and then drive north to photograph Boston & Maine at Deerfield.
While we waited for the others to arrive, I exposed a series of images of Conrail on the former Boston & Albany mainline. At the time, Conrail regularly stored locomotives between runs on track 2A in the station (at right). On the left is a set of light engines led by Conrail 6608, one of ten C30-7s.
More interesting is the locomotive trailing 6608, a relative-rare former Erie-Lackawanna SDP45.
The trip to the B&M was very successful and I exposed two rolls of 35mm Kodak Panatomic-X ASA 32 (Kodak Safety Film 5060) with my Leica 3A, and a couple of rolls of 120 B&W with my dad’s Rolleiflex. I processed all the film in the kitchen sink, using a crude formula of Microdol-X. I sleeved the negs and made 3×5 size proof prints.
The 120 negatives have been in my files for three decades, but the 35mm negatives had vanished. I have a photo album from 1985, with many of these images, but for years was vexed by the loss of the 35mm negatives. As a rule, I don’t throw photographs away.
The other day, I found a carton with school papers and photographs. There, at the bottom was an unlabeled crumpled manila envelope. What’s this? Ah ha!
It was chock full of negatives from 1984-1985. All missing for decades, many of them unprinted.
I scanned these negative strip on my Epson V600 scanner. Using Photoshop I cleaned up a few minor defect and made necessary contrast adjustments, then exported a reduced file size for display here. A photo lost for nearly three decades can now be enjoyed in through a medium I couldn’t have foreseen when I exposed it.
The word was out that Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad painted heritage locomotive was to work a detoured stack train over CSX’s Trenton Subdivision to avoid a scheduled engineering project at Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Pat Yough and I planted ourselves at the West Trenton, New Jersey SEPTA station in anticipation. A number of other enthusiasts had similar plans, so there was plenty of company.
The former Reading station building at West Trenton is now privately owned (and serves a non-railroad function), while the platforms remain active for SEPTA’s regularly scheduled passenger trains to Philadelphia.
When we arrived, morning clouds were giving way to sun. A pair of westward CSX trains was holding just west of the electrified zone and the radio was alive with activity.
In a little more than an hour we caught three SEPTA trains and four freights. This kept me and my three cameras pretty busy. My goal was not just to photograph the trains, but to capture these trains in this classic railroad environment.
This morning dawned with a blood-red sunrise. Something about a red sky in the morning?
What I’d call ‘winter’ has been given all sorts of new fancy names. Probably the most absurd is the ‘polar vortex.’ Next up is the term handed to today’s precipitation: ‘bombogensis.’
Call it what you like. By about 2:30 pm today 6 inches of snow was improving photography all over Philadelphia, and by 5 pm there was 8-10 inches was making for interesting images.
My brother Sean and I spent the afternoon in Philadelphia making photos of SEPTA and snow accumulation while running errands. Falling and drifting snow made for some dramatic photography opportunities.
Snow exposure I always tricky. My basic rule of thumb is to use the camera meter to set a gauging point, then open up (over expose) by 2/3s to a full stop above the camera meter. Using the histogram on the back of the camera, I then fine tune my exposure depending on the setting.
Philadelphia was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s headquarters city. Despite multitudes of change in the industry since PRR merged with New York Central in 1968, there’s still plenty of Pennsy cues around Philly.
For me this is like finding hints of a long lost empire.
For me, SEPTA is one of the most photogenic American big city transit systems. Sure, other cities have their charms, but Philadelphia has a lot going for it; variety, accessibility, interval services on most routes, real time displays at stations, visual cues to its heritage, interesting and varied equipment and etc.
On January 16, 2014, my brother Sean and I, spent an afternoon and evening wandering on SEPTA’s rail systems making photographs. I had a minor agenda to ride a few pieces of the network I’d not yet traveled on.
I worked with two cameras; Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D, but traveled relatively light (no film body or big telephotos)
All of the lines we traveled were well patronized (some at standing room only) and yet everything seem to run to time. SEPTA’s staff were friendly and helpful. (Especially when we were running for trains).
I used my trip on Amtrak 475/175 as an opportunity to make a few photographs. While I had some bigger cameras in my bag, I exposed all of these images with my Lumix LX3.
I boarded shuttle train 475 at Berlin, Connecticut just as the sun was setting. By the time I arrived in New Haven, only a faint blue glow remained of daylight.
I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I used the station signs and other available flat surfaces on the platform to steady the camera. To avoid camera shake, after composing my image, I set the self timer to 2 seconds and press the shutter button.
Also, I overexposed each image by 1/3 to 2/3s of a stop to compensate for the prevailing darkness.
The trip was uneventful. Amtrak is my preferred means for navigating between cities in the Northeastern USA.
Amtrak 449, in sun and rain; one day and the next. Last week, I was over in East Brookfield visiting the LeBeaus to do some videography for a music video. Dennis LeBeau lives a block from the Boston & Albany (CSXT’s Boston Line).
I said to Dennis, “I’m just going to nip down to the bridge to catch 449. It should be getting close.”
“Passes here every day at one-thirty. I’ll join you in a minute.”
I phoned Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent: 1-800-USA-RAIL) to find out if 449 as on time out of Worcester. As it turns out, it departed Worcester Union Station 4 minutes late.
Worcester is at CP45, East Brookfield is CP64. It takes 449 about 25-30 minutes to run the 19 miles.
Since it was nice bright afternoon, I opted for a broadside view that shows a few of the houses in town. At 1:39, Dennis shouted to me from the road bridge, “He’s around the bend.” I was poised to made my photograph with my Lumix LX3.
This can be tricky since there’s really only a split second to get the train in the right place. If the camera isn’t cued up, all I’ll get is a photo of the baggage car. But I was ready, and put the train precisely where I wanted it.
The train glided through town. I turned to make a few going away views with my Canon, and said to Dennis, “You know that never gets old. I’ve been photographing that train since the 1970s.”
Dennis said to me, “I’ve been watching it since it was the New England States Limited, with New York Central E8s!”
A day later, I was in Palmer (CP83). The word was out that Amtrak 145 (one of the Genesis P42s in heritage paint) was working 449. The weather was foul, but since I was in town anyway, I figured I’d give the train a roll by.
It was stabbed at CP83 by a southward New England Central freight going into the yard, which allowed ample time for photos. Such a contrast in days. Pity the heritage P42 hadn’t worked west a day sooner.
Pan Am Railway’s EDMO roars west on the Boston & Maine.
It’s almost like stepping back to the 1970s; three EMDs powered by turbocharged 16-645 diesels working under searchlight signals with a carload train.
This is a nice contrast to the parade of double-stack containers and unit trains that characterize most American mainlines. While the details of the motive power have been altered since they were built, the spirit of the operation reminds me of watching trains more than 35 years ago.
If you think about it, as point of comparison, if in 1979 you were to see 35 year-old motive power and a traditional freight train that probably would have been either steam engines, or EMD FTs leading 40-ft cars.
Sure, you could argue that Pan Am’s paint scheme is a relatively recent development, and the locomotives have been modified since the 1970s (the lead former Santa Fe SD45-2 had its 20-645E3 swapped with a 16-cylinder engine among other changes), but that belies the point.
The other day, I had a few packages to send out. I’d delayed going to the post office until after the school buses were out, using the logic that if I waited, I wouldn’t get stuck behind one on the way back.
On the way into the PO, I heard a distant whistle. And while at the desk, a train rumbled by.
New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line runs on a slightly elevated gradient behind the Monson, Massachusetts PO. This is on the climb up State Line hill, and heavy trains make a good racket coming though town. This freight, however, wasn’t very heavy and the engines weren’t working too hard.
I made an expeditious exit after mailing my packages, and started south on Route 32. No sooner than I was south of town, I found myself looking at the back of a school bus!
And this bus then stopped, as required, at the South Monson grade crossing.
I could hear the southward climbing. It had already gone through. Fortunately, once over the tracks, the bus driver kindly pulled in to let traffic around. I sailed southward, and arrived at State Line crossing. Once out of the car, I could hear the train working.
Although the light was fading, there was enough to work with. While, I’d left most of my cameras at home, I had my Lumix LX3 in my coat pocket. I set up a shot immediately south of the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line, and included the granite marker at the left of the image.
After the train passed, I followed it to Stafford Springs, where I made a few more photos. As it turns out, these NECR images are my first railway photos for 2014.
This pair of images will never be repeated. Here we have Irish Rail’s afternoon passenger to Dublin consisting of Mark 3 set led class 201 number 222 (known colloquially as the ‘Bishop Tutu’). That same afternoon, at about 3:40pm an empty timber with a mixed pair of 121/141s arrived from Waterford.
What was unusual that day was an electrical power cut had required the use of portable generators at the station, making for an unusual discordant cacophony at the normally peaceful location.
Despite the racket, I went about making photographs. Here, I carefully composed both views from the footbridge by the signal cabin using the same angle to show the contrasting trains in the classic scene. It was the end of an era. Soon all would change.
Since that time, Irish Rail has retired the small General Motors diesels. The 121s made their final runs in 2008, the 141s finished a couple of years later. The Mark III passenger carriages were withdrawn from traffic; today passenger trains to Westport run with Irish Rail’s Rotem-built 22000-series railcars.
I exposed both photos on Fujichrome with my Nikon F3 fitted with a 1960s vintage Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens.
I returned to Dublin on the evening passenger train, also with Mark 3s and a 201 class General Motors diesel.
Tracking the Light takes a diverging route: Cats, Lionel, Beer, and Rock and Roll. Take a look at my most recent production. I’ve filmed and edited a short music video.
The soundtrack is the song Rock and Roll Panic performed by The Big Gunz of East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Popular for their evening entertainment at Dunny’s Tavern, the Big Gunz are a classic trio consisting of Paul, Tommy, and Dennis LeBeau.
Rock and Roll Panic third rail mix was filmed with my Canon Eos 7D and Lumix LX3 cameras, and has a train in almost every scene!
Mount Shasta looms more than 90 miles to north, as Southern Pacific’s most famous locomotives races railroad west through along Hooker Creek (near Cottonwood, California).
I exposed this image on September 2, 1991. Southern Pacific had organized the historic streamlined engine to make a public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop which spilled toxins into the river above Dunsmuir. The railroad had hired me for two days to make photographs of the PR event.
Brian Jennison provided transport, and the two of us spent a long weekend making numerous images of SP 4449 with the matching Daylight train. I borrowed Brian’s 300mm Nikkor telephoto for this dramatic image. SP ran one of my photos in their company magazine, Southern Pacific Bulletin.
While SP’s public runs ran from Redding to Dunsmuir and beyond to Black Butte, after the train returned to Dunsmuir, it would run light to the wye at Tehama for turning. It was on this portion of the journey(s) that I made some of the most dramatic photos because they occurred in the evening when the lighting was most pleasing.
I’d chosen this angle to feature Mt. Shasta. Unfortunately, owing to the time of year, the famous volcanic cone wasn’t covered with snow in its higher regions.
This photo has appeared in books, and I’ve used many of the images from the trip in publications. SP 4449 remains one of my favorite locomotives.
Amtrak 449, the Lake Shore Limited with E8As near Palmer.
For my eleventh birthday my father gave me a 1930s-era Leica 3A and a role of film (with more to follow).
Every so often Pop would gather my brother Sean and I into the car and head over the Boston & Albany (then Conrail) to wait for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Back then, the train was still running with heritage equipment and typically hauled by fairly tired E8As.
If we were really lucky we might catch freight too.
On this day in summer 1978, we drove to Palmer. I think we’d started up the Quaboag River Valley, but realized we might not have time to reach Warren before the westward Lake Shore came roaring down the valley. So we reversed and picked a spot near milepost 81, not far from the Route 20-67 split (east of town).
We didn’t wait long. I could hear pairs of twin 12-567s working before the headlight a appeared at the bend near the old barn. And then there it was!
“I see it!”
I made several exposures with the Leica. Unfortunately, in my panic to capture the train passing I shook the camera, so the head-on view is a bit blurred.
I processed the negatives from this adventure in the kitchen sink and made prints that I placed in a homemade photo album. The negatives were well processed and have survived in good order. I scanned them a few weeks ago. My notes from the day appear to have gone missing though.
For me, a casual visit Ukraine in July 2007 was a great opportunity to ride and photograph former Soviet Railways.
Although the weather was scorching, the sun remained out for days and the quality of light was fantastic.
My favorite place was L’viv, a former Hapsburg provincial capital (previously known as Lemberg), and one of the great un-sung European cities. I found the railways here accessible and very easy to photograph. The city itself was completely fascinating: dusty cobble stone streets with trams everywhere. The beer was cheap and the vodka cheaper.
L’viv’s railways were some of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here heavily built double track electric lines were saturated with a mix of local electric multiple units, very long intercity passenger trains, and an unceasing parade of heavy freights. In addition to electrics, occasionally a matched pair of 2M62 diesels would chortle by.
Still photographs cannot convey the traffic density; no sooner than one train was out of sight, and the next could be heard grinding along.
Among the wonderful things about Ukrainian railways; lots of carload traffic and virtually no graffiti!
The blue hour settles over Dublin on a typically damp spring evening in March 1998.
I spent the evening working with my Nikon F3T to make photographs in my new neighborhood at Portobello, where I’d rented a flat a short distance from the old Grand Canal.
To enhance the effect of dusk and help balance for incandescent lights, I exposed this image on Fujichrome 64T, a tungsten film that offered a bluer-color balance designed for use with incandescent lighting. Years earlier, when I worked in a commercial photo studio this had been our standard film (albeit in 4×5 and 8×10 sizes).
You can produce a similar effect with digital cameras by adjusting the color balance manually. Many cameras, including my Lumix LX-3 and Canon EOS 7D, offer incandescent light color balance settings. If you use the ‘auto white’ balance, it will tend to cancel out the bluish twilight effect.
When I was growing up in New England, Penn Central was a railroad that everyone loved to hate.
It was hated for representing a decaying industry. It was hated for its unimaginative paint scheme and its Spartan image.
It was hated for not being the sum of its parts and not being the railroads that spawned it. It was hated for its financial debacles.
I didn’t hate Penn Central.
To me it was fascinating, and in my earliest memories, it was the railroad. It was E-units and passenger trains. It was GG1s under wire. It was yards full of freight cars worked by old Alco S-switchers. It was Grand Central Terminal and Boston’s South Station.
But by the time I really become conscious of Penn Central, it had already been melded into Conrail. I have a few true Penn Central photos, but they aren’t very good.
I made this image in 1986, ten years after Penn Central’s operations had been conveyed to Conrail. At the time I often made ‘details’—close up views of railroading.
For me the texture of the image shouts the ‘Penn Central’ of its detractors.
“Let’s get an ice cream,” my pal T.S.H. said as we drove by Conrail’s sprawling former Pennsylvania Railroad yards at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
There was a roadside ice cream stand on one side of the highway and the tracks on the other. I made this image showing Conrail SD40 6288, while enjoying the ice cream on the hood of the old Dodge Dart we were using as transport.
This engine had been painted with a slogan promoting the United Way. Second out was a former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2. This was a local that had come down from Altoona with bad-order cars for the car shops.
It was July 27, 1987 and we were on the tail end of a week-long exploration of Pennsylvania. The days had been hot and hazy, but evenings offered some rosy light, (when there wasn’t a thunderstorm). We had started the day on the old Baltimore & Ohio, working our way from Confluence to Sand Patch, then drove north to Hollidaysburg.
The ice cream is just a memory, but I still have the old chromes.
In July 1983, on one of my first solo-trips by automobile, I visited Bangor & Aroostook’s yards at Northern Maine Junction. My friend Bob Buck had recommended this location because at the time the railroad was very accommodating of photographers.
You could sign a release and pretty much have the run of the place—so long as you stayed out of the roundhouse. The railroad had a guestbook and a gift shop. The employees were friendly and would answer questions.
I think I was there on a weekend, because the Bangor & Aroostook was quiet. There was dead line filled with F3A and BL2s that garnered my attention, but nothing was moving.
I asked one of the railroaders if there was anything running; he replied there wasn’t, but he’d find out if anything was coming on Maine Central. A short time late he came back to me and said there was an eastbound close.
Maine Central’s line bisected Bangor & Aroostook’s facilities, and I waited on the south side of the main line to favor the sun. After a little while, a lone former Rock Island U25B hauling two piggyback flats rolled by with its bell ringing and strobe lights flashing; this was the East Wind (New Haven, Connecticut to Bangor, Maine).
I made several image with my Leica 3A, but I wasn’t impressed. One engine? Two cars? Four piggyback trailers? No caboose?! I said to the Bangor & Aroostook man who had waited with me, ‘Not much of a train, was it?’ He just shrugged. I don’t think he was impressed either.
What I had witnessed was Guilford’s early 1980s effort at capturing high(er) value piggyback traffic. The theory behind trains such as Maine Central’s East Wind was that by speeding schedules and lowering operating costs, the railroad could compete with highways for more lucrative time-sensitive shipments, rather than merely settle for low-priority low-value bulk-commodity traffic.
In retrospect, although the train didn’t impress me at the time, I made a valuable record of that early period after passage of the 1980 Staggers Act, when railroads were trying to break into new markets. It was also the first caboose-less train I’d seen, and gave me a hint of what was to come in the future. The U25B? That was a bonus.
On May 16, 2001, I was on my way from Dublin to Kilarney by train. Rather than take the most efficient route, I aimed to wander a bit on the way down.
I changed trains at Ballybrophy for the Nenagh Branch to Limerick, then traveled from Limerick to Limerick Junction where I’d time my arrival to intercept the weekday 10:34 Waterford to Limerick cement train.
At the time I was making good use of my Rolleiflex Model T to document Ireland and Irish railways in black & white.
I’d process my negatives in my Dublin apartment and make 5×7 proofing prints at the Gallery of Photography’s darkrooms at Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Often, I schedule one day a week for printing.
Over the course of a half dozen years, I exposed several thousand black & white images, and made hundreds of prints. Sometimes I’d give prints to friends on the railroad. On more than one occasion I’d later visit a station or signal cabin and find my work displayed on the wall.
However, most of the prints remain stored in boxes. While this may help in their preservation, it doesn’t allow people to enjoy the images.
Here I’ve displayed just a few photos, where instead of scanning the negatives, I’ve scanned prints and this shows both my cropping of the image and the borders. I developed a distinctive border style for my square images that I felt worked well with the format.
In the dozen years that have passed since I exposed these photos, Limerick Junction and the trains that serve it have changed dramatically. The semaphores, cement trains and Class 121 diesels are all gone.
Does anyone even remember friction bearings? By the 1990s, these were all but a forgotten technology, replaced with the omnipresent roller bearings. Southern Pacific’s season sugar beet racks were once of the few exceptions and continued to work until about 1992 with the old technology.
However, prior to that in January 1988, I had a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York) that involved making photos of railroad workers. I’d arranged through the Rochester & Southern to spend time around Brooks Avenue Yard.
I spent a lot of time there, relative to what was required of me for the class.
At one point the general manager, or someone in the know, directed me to a rip track where workers were packing friction bearings. This was really an arcane aspect of railroading.
I exposed a series of black & white negatives in the 645 format using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T. It was a dull cold day. I think I was using Verichrome Pan (rated at 80 ISO) to get a period effect. I used a wide aperture, probably f3.5, which gave me shallow depth of field.
Verichrome was a difficult material to work with in low light and my negatives were very thin.
To make the most of these photos I used an unusual printing technique: I intentionally printed the photo darker than normal, then used a potassium-ferrocyanide solution to bleach the highlights. I did this both across the print in a tray, and using a cotton swab on select areas such as the around the journal boxes.
The result is more or less as you see it here. This print has been in a box since 1988 and has hardly ever seen the light of day. (Incidentally, in case the name doesn’t suggest it to you, potassium-ferrocyanide is decidedly unhealthy, so use it cautiously, if you must.)
I don’t think my professor was especially impressed with my results. What did he know about bearings anyway?
Here we have an immense abandoned bridge, rising above the trees like some Tolkienesq ruin from an ancient empire, the vestige of some lost civilization.
I was researching for my book North American Railroad Bridges in March 2007, when Pat Yough and I ferreted out the former Lackawanna Railroad Bridge in western New Jersey at Paulins Kill.
This was no ordinary railroad bridge. Lackawanna’s Slateford Cutoff (Port Morris, New Jersey, 28.5 miles to Slateford Junction, Pennsylvania) was built beginning in 1908 to shorten its mainline and lower operating costs by reducing gradient and curvature. The line was showcase for reinforced concrete construction.
Here’s an excerpt of my text on the Paulins Kill bridge:
The seven-span Paulins Kill Viaduct was 1,100 feet long and 117 feet tall at its highest point, and required an estimated 43,212 cubic yards of concrete and 735 tons of steel.
It was part of a super railroad and one of the best engineered lines of the early 20th century. Here the vision of Lackawanna president William H. Truesdale prevailed to invest private capital to the improve efficiency and capacity of his railroad.
Yet, by the 1970s this railroad was no longer valued. Its route was deemed redundant, its traditional traffic had vanished, and so Conrail which reluctantly inherited the line from Erie-Lackawanna, abandoned it.
While this was a gross waste of infrastructure and, to my mind, demonstrated a lack of vision on the part of planners and governments, it does make for fascinating photographs.
Someday, hopefully, the Slateford Cutoff may again see trains.
I exposed this image on the evening of August 20, 2010 of a westward CSX stack train at CP431 in Depew, New York. What makes this photo interesting to me is the former New York Central signal bridge and searchlight signals.
Since I made this photograph, CSX has replaced many of the searchlights on the Water Level Route with modern color light hardware. While I’m sorry to see the old signals go, I’m not surprised.
Back in the 1990s, I wrote an editorial in Pacific RailNews (when I was editor of that magazine) warning enthusiasts that searchlights were on their way out, and explained why. At the time, searchlights were very common.
The photo is timely. This year I’ll be authoring a book tentatively titled Classic Railroad Signals to be published by Voyageur Press. It will be a follow up to Railroad Signaling, that I wrote several years ago, and will feature a variety of classic American signal hardware:
Semaphores, Searchlights, Positional Lights and Towers, of all varieties.
This will be a great book. I’ve been researching and photographing the subject for many years!
Happy New Years to you! May it be a great year for your photography.
This comet photo is timely as this year I’ll be authoring a book tentatively titled Classic Railroad Signals to be published by Voyageur Press. It will be a follow up to Railroad Signaling, that I wrote several years ago, and will feature a variety of classic American signal hardware