Are you seeing the whole picture? Tracking the Light presents: A Glinty Electric Bus.
Did I notice this scene in my rear view mirror one morning in the 1990s? I think so. Anyway, a memory of a image—something like this was nagging me.
On the morning September 3, 2009, I set up on Hayes Street in San Francisco with my 100-400mm lens. Just after sunrise I exposed a series of images of an electric bus (trolley bus) catching the glint of the rising sun as it crested Alamo Hill.
For me the wires make the photo interesting. Not only do the dual wires power the bus, but they visually tie the scene together.
I like the dramatic lighting and monochromatic effect of the silhouette. I’ve carefully included the pole at the far left to visually anchor the wire network to the ground. This also adds balance.
There’s a famous vista made just to the left of my location. It features a staggered row of gingerbread style Victorians with the San Francisco skyline. It is an iconic setting that appears on post cards, calendars, books and etc. You’d recognize it if you saw it. While the clichéd vista is typically exposed in the afternoon from the park, my view is from the street in the early morning.
PKP at Brzeszce, Poland on the 18th of August 2006.
Poland is a great place to make railway photos. There’s tremendous variety and something new at every turn.
I made two trips to Poland in 2006, largely to photograph freight trains. Denis McCabe and I were exploring coal lines in Silesia when we found this location where lines cross near Brzeszce. The north-south line was an unusually busy route. We didn’t need to wait long between trains.
For this image, I opted for a cross lit shot. Taking this angle with a medium telephoto from the ‘dark side,’ allowed me to emphasized the front of the locomotive, while including interesting elements such as the long train of coal cars and the overhead Warren-truss bridge in the distance.
The engine driver is illuminated nicely too, which adds a human element often missing from modern railway photos.
Today’s Tracking the Light displays two images exposed about a year apart from the same overhead bridge near Orbisonia, Pennsylvania.
In both instances I’m photographing the first train of the morning working upgrade away from Orbisonia station using a telephoto lens.
Although the location and time of year, and overall scene are similar, I’ve produced two different images, owing to slight differences in my angle and the lighting, as well as the position of the locomotive and its exhaust smoke. In addition I was using different camara-lens combinations.
Subtle changes can result in significantly different photos.
Should I head to the mainline (Conrail’s water level route) or explore branch lines? Do I stick with Conrail or seek out a short line? These were among the quandaries facing my photographic choices when I had some time off from college.
As a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I had a full schedule of classes, labs, and projects. I was a ‘work-study’ student, which implied I had to spend about 25-30 hours a week toiling for peanuts on top of classes, assignments & etc.
My point is that I had very little free time, and rarely a full day off, and so when I made time to make railway photos, there were tough choices (like mainline versus branchline; Conrail versus those other outfits).
Now and again I’d cheat. (I don’t mean on exams). A bright sunny day? Now who will miss me in class?
Unfortunately on a glorious October day, one RIT’s photo professors and I had the same idea. We were both photographing the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville freight. We crossed paths at Avon, New York. We knew that each of us should be someplace else, and we knew where that was. He said to me, “I won’t say anything . . .”
Often I’d head to the mainline. My time was short and I wanted results, and Conrail rarely disappointed. Sometimes I’d select a known good spot, and work through my exhaustive reading list while waiting for a headlight to appear.
Other times, when the sun was out, I’d take a more aggressive approach and select my locations purely based on photographic merit and move from place to place as suited the action and the light.
An eastward KCS train 29 works its way upgrade through a tunnel and kudzu covered cutting. It was the dead of winter so the vines had died. I wonder what it’s like here in July? This is the former Mid South, nee Illinois Central east-west route, now part of the KCS-Norfolk Southern Meridian Speedway joint-venture.
In January 1996, I was the guest of Gerald Hook. He’d invited me to Baton Rouge to give a presentation on how a magazine was produced to the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. At the time I was Editor of Pacific RailNews and had a bit of insight into these matters.
Gerald gave me a tour of area railroads. On January 21, 1996, we drove from Baton Rouge to Vicksburg, Mississippi to meet with Danny Johnson, who led our expedition.
It was a great day to explore railroads! Thanks guys!
The old station at Chojnow was once a fine facility but had seen better days. The tracks, although highly polished, were tired looking and overgrown with grass, the station building was in need of fresh paint, while the platforms were crumbing and everything was covered in layers of graffiti and grime.
In other words, it made for a fascinating place to make some photos with the rising sun while waiting for a minor cross-border express train. A long electric freight had just entered the passing siding to clear the mainline.
In the mid-2000s, PKP reminded me a lot of Penn-Central in the1970s.
In my travels around Poland, I’d photographed many stations and lines in various states of functional decay; a tenuous state. When a railway reaches such a condition, it will either vanish altogether, or find itself ripe for investment. In either case, it will be forever changed.
Sunrise at Chojnów, Poland on April 29, 2002; exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90S fitted with a Nikkor f2.0 135mm DC ‘defocus’ telephoto.
In the 1980s, I often bemoaned the ‘telegraph wires’ as I called the code lines that lined most mainlines.
It seemed like more often than not, railroads placed these multiple-tier code lines on the south side of their mainlines. This inevitably interfered with my photography and plenty of otherwise good photographic locations were fouled by the rows of poles and the wires between them.
In early 1989, when Conrail was cutting down the old code lines east of Buffalo. I thought, Hurray! Good riddance!
However, I quickly realized how wrong I’d been. In fact I’d been photographing the wires for years.
Yes, the code lines made for a visual challenge. And, undoubtedly these sometimes got in the way. But they were part of the railroad. Traditionally, they were key to its operations and often serving as a crucial part of the signaling system. They had been there since the steam era. After all, the railroad was more than just locomotives rolling along at speed.
It occurred to me how I’d often improved my photographs by working with the wires. The visual elements and patterns added by the army of time-worn polls connected by rows of cables made for more compelling images.
After the code lines were gone, the brush started to grow. And that’s now a much worse photo-hazard than the wires ever were.
They are easy to use. It’s like stepping back in time. Sort of.
Panasonic’s new camera comes with a fantastic lens and sensor combination, but what if clarity seems too sterile? Perhaps, you want to get the effects (and defects) characteristic of old film cameras? No problem!
The LX100 has a button on top of the camera called ‘filters,’ which alters the color, contrast, exposure and sometimes the focus of digital files to emulate a variety of effects that were once characteristic of older camera-film combinations.
The advantage of the ‘filters’ feature is that the effects are done ‘in-camera’ without the need to fiddle around with photo-shop or other post-processing software. The button opens a menu and you simply select the desired filter. This shows you the treatment on screen and in the viewfinder.
In my early days of photography, I experimented with a variety of older cameras, and sampled various film types. My skills weren’t yet developed and my results were a bit random. The LX100’s filter mode allows me to step back to those early experimental times when any photographic result seemed like success.
The best part of filters is that you can easily switch from one mode to the next and back to normal again quickly. Below are some of the filter results. I’ve given these comparative names in ‘quotes’ that I felt were more appropriate than Panasonic’s, but put the camera-filter name in [brackets] for reference. Just so you know. Ok?
Do you have any favorites?
Funny, there didn’t seem to be a filter for ‘Kodachrome 25’.
It isn’t fair to judge a new camera after only a few hours of working with it. I find that it takes a while to get used to any new equipment.
In April 1990, I was given the loan of a Nikon F3 SLR. After a month of putting it through its paces, I knew I had to have one. Yet, I wasn’t fully comfortable with the camera for at least 6 months.
As mentioned in the previous post, last week Eric Rosenthal loaned me a brand new LX100. So I brought it out for some tests.
I found this to be a very powerful tool. It looks and feels much like a traditional rangefinder, yet has many electronic features.
While making a basic photo with the LX100 is straight forward, the camera’s multitude of buttons, dials and layers of menus needed to access the camera’s various modes, color profiles, filters, and features, plus video and panoramic options isn’t intuitive. In fact it’s intimidating.
To really give the LX100 a fair treatment, I’d need several weeks to properly figure it out and become comfortable with its operation.
However, I was able to make a variety of interesting photographs of which a few are presented here. Other than scaling the Jpgs, I’ve not altered the images in post processing in regards to color, contrast, gamma, or other visual effects.
So is the LX100 a good camera for railway photography?
If you desire the ability to manually control a digital camera, and prefer traditional dials over toggle switches, along with a built in view finder in addition to a rear screen, the LX100 is a great option.
The camera reacts quickly. It has a ‘burst’ feature that allows you to take three images in rapid succession. It can make RAW and JPG file simultaneously. The lens is fantastic and the sensor is amazing, so the images are exceptionally sharp.
On the downside, it uses a fixed lens that is limited to a 24-75mm range (in traditional 35mm film camera terms). Its menu navigation is counter-intuitive. For a small camera it is pretty heavy. And, it’s relatively expensive, B&H Photo in New York advertises it for nearly $900, which is three-times what I paid for my LX7 a few months ago.
What can I do with it? How comfortable is it to use? How do the photos look?These are some of the questions that I have of any new Camera. The LX100 has been eagerly awaited and only recently released.
Last week Eric Rosenthal, my digital photography guru and new equipment advisor, lent me a brand new Lumix LX100 to play with. Unfortunately, I’m facing a series of tight deadlines, so I really only had a few hours to put the camera through its paces.
This wasn’t enough time with the LX100, and I could have spent days working with it! The LX100 is a versatile piece of equipment with lots of features, so I had only begun to play with it when it was time to get back to work.
As regular followers of Tracking the Light are aware, for nearly five years I’d worked with a Panasonic Lumix LX3 (among other cameras). In May I sampled the newer LX7 and in June I bought one. The LX3 was a great camera (I exposed more than 64,000 images with it, before the LX3 expired following a series of mishaps), and the LX7 is a worthy successor. (I’ve never seen an LX5, which was briefly offered as the replacement for the LX3).
The LX100, while kin to the earlier Panasonic Lumix LX cameras, is a different machine. It is not only more advanced, but it is better built, it features a heavier body, a larger lens (more glass) and a more modern sensor, and so in the hand it feels more like a traditional rangefinder camera.
What I liked the most about the LX100:
1) It has a built-in viewfinder, so unlike the earlier LX-series cameras you need not rely on the rear display screen to compose photos. The viewfinder comes on when you put your eye to it. It has a diopter, so you can adjust it to suit your vision (I wear glasses and for me this is an important feature). The viewfinder is especially valuable for composing photos of moving trains in daylight.
2) The LX100 uses traditional rings and dials, which allow you to set the aperture, shutter speed, focus and zoom-lens manually. While you can manipulate these settings by navigating the camera’s menus, for the most part you don’t need to. This makes it work more like a traditional camera. Again, for making railway photos this is important to me because I can make adjustments quickly and intuitively without having to stare at the display screen in bright daylight and/or when your subject is rapidly rolling into view.
3) Like the LX3 and LX7, it has the option of making both RAW and JPG files simultaneously, which in my mind makes this a tool for making publication quality images.
4) It has an outstanding Leica lens which allows for very sharp images, and at f1.7 allows lots of light, which again is important for making railway images, especially in low-light situations, and allows for shallow depth of field, when that is desirable. Also, the lens stops down to f16, which gives it greater versatility.
5) The LX100 uses a sensor that is larger and more advanced than that on the LX7, and this allows for higher quality images while is specifically designed to make more effective use of the camera’s built-in aspect ratios (the dimensions of the image frame). Like the LX7, it has a switch to select the following standard aspect ratios: 1:1 (square), 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. I found the average RAW file was about 16.5 MB. (I’ve discussed this feature in previous posts).
But how do the images look? Below are a few rough comparison images made using the LX100 and my LX7. All images were made hand-held. I did my best to approximate the focal length of the lens, and to use comparable shutter/aperture settings. These images are from the in-camera Jpgs and now the RAW files (which are substantially larger). I did not post-process the images or alter them for color balance, sharpness, contrast, or cropping. But I did scale them for internet presentation.
However, WordPress, which is how Tracking the Light is presented, tends to compress images and I find that they never look as good on this site as they do directly on my computer screen. So take that into consideration.
For the most part, I was trying to match the camera’s output as closely as possible for the sake of appearance. I set both cameras at their respective ‘Standard’ color profiles. (Both cameras have several color profiles to select).
Since the LX100’s lowest ISO is 200, and the LX7’s is 80, this presented a bit of a quandry. If I set both cameras at 200, the LX7 images would have a quality disadvantage, while if I set the LX7 at 80, I would need to use a slower shutter speed or a smaller f stop to make an equivalent exposure. (The caveat is that the LX100 is a more versatile camera by virtue of its superior sensor. Simply, it can do more because it has greater range.)
The LX100 has a multitude of features, modes, filters and etc, which I’ll discuss in a follow up post.
In July 2002, my friends Markku Pulkinnen and his wife Marja-Liisa hosted my visit to Oulu, Finland.
I’d taken an overnight train from Helsinki. Markku and I spent several days photographing VR (Finnish Railways) action around Oulu, before embarking on an adventure north of the Arctic Circle to explore Swedish iron ore railways.
I made this panned image one afternoon of a southward passenger train gaining speed after it departed the Oulu station. This is a common class Sr2 electric, a type derived from a Swiss prototype as used on the Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon (BLS) class 465 and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) class 460.
Although Finland is relatively flat, I found it a wonderful place to explore and make railway photos. In the summer, Oulu benefits from very long days. While the sun goes down, twilight remains through out the night. As result of Markku’s hospitality, I was afforded great insights into Finnish and Swedish railway operations.
It had hardly snowed at all in Rochester when I departed before dawn in my 1973 Plymouth Scamp. I found the traveling treacherous on Interstate 390 , but I was determined to made photos in the snow along the former Erie Railroad mainline.
I arrived at Gang Mills as the storm was clearing to the east. The sun was just starting to poke out from behind the clouds and there was a fresh layer of snow over everything.
I had three cameras with me that day, including my roommate’s Canon A1 that was loaded with a fresh roll of Kodachrome 64 (a gift from Kodak). Using my Leica, I exposed a few photos of eastward Conrail APL Stack Train TV-302 that was changing crews. Then plotted my course east.
While I knew the line west toward Hornell through the Canisteo Valley, this was my first trip eastward along the former Erie toward Binghamton. I neither had good maps nor a scanner, but I had an eastbound train, fresh snow, sunlight and Kodachrome. (And the desire to make photos!).
Over the next few years, I’d become very familiar with the old Erie mainline in this area, but rarely would I have conditions like this again.
My grandparents lived in Coop City in The Bronx for a dozen years. Their 19th floor apartment had an open terrace that looked across the Hutchinson River toward Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line that ran from New Rochelle over the Hell Gate Bridge toward Penn-Station.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we’d make regular visits. I was delighted by passing of Amtrak trains, and by the time I was ten, I’d figured out how to interpret the timetable to predict when trains would pass.
Amtrak was still operating a fair few former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics, and these were my favorite. From about mid-1978, I’d keep my Leica 3A poised at the ready and if a GG1 were to appear, I’d make a color slide, or two.
While I made a great many photographs, my photographic efforts were, at best, rudimentary. Complicating matters was my general panic when a GG1 finally appeared.
As the train rolled into view, I’d try to gauge the lighting using an old Weston Master III photo cell and rapidly adjust the aperture on my Summitar lens, but my understanding of exposure was purely conceptual. In other words, I went through the motions, but really didn’t know what I was doing.
Also, I was photographing the scene with a 50mm lens, and the tracks were at least a quarter mile distant. Later, I learned to use my father’s telephoto lenses for some more effective views, but by then new AEM-7s had replaced the GG1s.
Recently, I rediscovered a box of long lost Kodachrome slides, including a bunch of my surviving photos from my grand parent’s terrace. This one is one of the few passable efforts, and will a little cropping, and some post processing in Photoshop, it isn’t too bad.
Learning technique is every photographer’s challenge. My learning curve was slow, in part because it was often months between the time of exposure and when I got slides back from Kodak. By the time I reviewed my results, I hadn’t remembered what I’d done, and didn’t know what to do to improve future efforts.
By comparison, kids starting today with digital cameras can see their results immediately and have the opportunity to learn quickly. Perhaps, from one of these same terraces, some kid today has captured one of the final runs of Amtrak’s HHP8s (recently retired from active work) or the rapidly disappearing AEM-7s!
The other day, I was searching for some images for a book project, and I discovered a long lost yellow box of Kodachrome slides.
In the 1980s, normally, I was pretty good about labeling my slides. This box simply read, “Buffalo unlabled”.
I thought, “uh oh, what’s this . . . ”
Like, pirate’s treasure!
I’d managed to stamp my name on each slide. And, back in the day, I removed a couple of choice images to make Cibachrome prints. But other than that this roll was untouched. These haven’t been projected, or printed.
Unfortunately, my notes from the day also appear to be absent, so some details on railroad operations and exposure data have been lost to time.
The slide mounts are stamped November 1988, but these may have been exposed on October 28th, as I spent the morning making industrial images around Niagara Falls for a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
I’d walked the old Skyway south of downtown Buffalo to make photos of the steel works. At the time I was impressed by the dramatic lighting on Lake Erie.
26 years after being misplaced, I’m happy to have these slides back in circulation again!
At 3:35pm on Thursday, February 25, 1988, Conrail C32-8 6617 and C36-7 6622 chugged eastbound upgrade through Warren passing the old Boston & Albany station.
Waiting for trains at Warren, you can hear heavy freight coming for several minutes, as they labor on the grade up the Quaboag River valley. General Electric diesels make a distinctive sound as they gain speed. Usually by the time the train passes downtown Warren, the train is making a pretty good clip.
This freight was Conrail’s SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester), a working through freight that typically dropped cars at West Springfield and Palmer.
I’d been trackside since the morning, but spent several hours following a Central Vermont local freight working to Belchertown, and this was the first eastbound Conrail train I’d photographed, although I put several Amtrak trains on film.
After SEPW went east, I headed over to Tucker’s Hobbies (which was then on Bacon Street, within sight of the old station) to visit with Bob Buck.
Compare the 1988 view, with these photos I exposed few weeks ago at almost exactly the same location. (I posted a version of the action image in an earlier post, but I thought it made for a nice contrast.)
Since 1988, the old westward main line was lifted (it was out of service since late 1986), the code lines were taken down, the station has fallen into disrepair (it hadn’t served a passenger train since the 1950s) and the line has become rather brushed in. Step back to 1888, and there was grade crossing at this location, but that’s another story altogether.
Over the years, I’ve made hundreds of images of San Francisco Muni’s streetcars. There’s a great of variety of equipment from the famous cable-cars to historic and colorfully painted PCCs and other vintage equipment, plus modern European designed trams. The setting is stunning and the weather can be cosmic with wafts of Pacific fog coming over Twin Peaks.
Here’s a sample of a few favorite Muni images.
San Francisco is among the many cities featured in my new book Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber. The book is now available through Amazon and other retailers. John and I wrote this compact 64-page soft-cover volume in 2013. It is priced at under $10.
It was nearing the end of Irish Rail’s final beet season, which ironically turned out to be one of the busiest campaigns.
Toward the end of the day, my friends and I had positioned ourselves near milepost 90 on the South Wexford line at the top of Taylorstown Bank on the climb up from Wellingtonbridge.
Irish class 071 number 073 was lifting an estimated 775 tonnes of sugar beet and had been in run-8 for several minutes; the roar of its 12-645E3 diesel drowning out the sounds of birds and sheep in the surrounding fields.
The train was at a crawl when it reached the top of the grade. I made a sequence of photos using three cameras. This was made with my N90S with a 400mm Tokina lens fitted to a Manfrotto tripod.
I felt that the 400mm view was the trickiest to pull off, and honestly I considered this among my experimental attempts, as I fired of a whole series of images in rapid succession. I made a more conventional view as the train got closer.
Irish Rail’s Sugar Beet season was a busy time for me, photographically. The season began in early September and usually ran through early January, depending on the volume of the harvest. In the early 2000s, I’d typically be in Ireland from late-October through the early weeks of the new year.
While I’d miss the brighter, dryer, warmer days early in the beet season, I’d make up the difference by photographing on the dark, wetter, colder days in November and December.
The atmosphere of the beet season is what I remember. The dampness, the muck, the dirty old four-wheel wagons. The sounds of General Motors diesels accelerating out of passing loops, and working in Run-8 on wet track.
Irish Rail’s staff were always friendly, and between trains there would a welcome cup of tea in a signal cabin or gate keeper’s shack.
Over much of the route traditional mechanical signaling was still the rule. The slap of lever and the thunk of a semaphore blade falling into place was the sign that something was about to happen.
And there was the smell of the beet. Especially in the fields around Wellingtonbridge, County where beet was grown.
The last laden beet train rolled towards Mallow, County Cork in January 2006, a little more than three years after I made this image.
Telephoto View of today’s Amtrak Special crossing the Connecticut River.
See my earlier post on Tracking the Light for a panoramic view of the same train. Half an hour before the special crossed the bridge there was sunlight, but by the time the train arrived the clouds had rolled in.
This afternoon Amtrak operated a special train on the New Haven-Springfield line.
It is my understanding that the special began the day at Albany. It was scheduled to operate down the Hudson to Mott Haven, then to New Haven, up to Springfield, then to the Knowledge Corridor and east on Pan Am.
Amtrak’s northward Vermonter (Train 56) was about 18 minutes late, and the special was about ten minutes behind it. One of the Pan Am business cars was located immediately behind the locomotive. This had traveled west to Albany on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (Train 449) the other day.
This is a cropped version of a photo I made with my Lumix LX7. I also exposed a couple of views with my Canon EOS 7D. I’ll be downloading those shortly!
The National Historic Park at Lowell has transformed 19th century textile mills into interpretive museums. Connecting various museums is a recreated historic streetcar line using electrified former Boston & Maine mill spurs. Most of the time authentic looking replica cars are the order of the day.
A Boston & Maine Alco-built 0-6-0 is also on display.
I visited briefly on my way through town and exposed a few photos of the streetcar against the urban backdrop. On previous visits I’ve traveled on the trolleys and made more extensive photographic studies.
However, owing to the late season, the trolley was working a very limited schedule, and my time was short, so I didn’t go for a spin this time.
The Lowell trolley is among historic operations covered in the final chapter of my latest book, Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber, by Shire Publications. In this compact 64-page soft-cover volume, John and I offer a concise look at streetcars in North America and feature a variety of vintage and contemporary images, including many made by my father, Richard J. Solomon, on Kodachrome film.
Beginning in the mid-1950s my father, along with many of his friends, made a project to document streetcars on film. Since then he has traveled to many cities in the United States and Canada (as well as overseas) and exposed thousands of color slides.
I began traveling with him as soon as I could stand, and some of my earliest recollections involve trips on streetcars and subway trains.
My latest book Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber, is now available through Amazon and other retailers. John and I wrote this compact 64-page soft-cover volume in 2013. It is priced at under $10
This is a Shire Publications production and features a concise look at streetcars in North America. It reproduces a variety of vintage and contemporary images, including many historic views made by Richard J. Solomon on Kodachrome film. Readers will find that John and I have covered a lot of territory in just a few pages.
Although I didn’t select the cover image, I feel it’s fitting since it features a Boston PCC car. As a child, I lived in Newton Centre, just a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line and here I often watched, traveled on, and photographed Boston PCCs with my father.
A clear blue dome prevailed on November 3, 2014. Although I was saddled with errands, I took the time to set up a few photos along MBTA’s recently re-doubletracked line at the Willows east of Ayer, Massachusetts.
The schedule shows two trains through this location within a few minutes of each other. My interest was with the bright foliage on the far side of the tracks.
I’ve always preferred late autumn foliage when many of the leaves have fallen, the remaining trees are rusty and almost all the green leaves have turned.
I was rewarded with MBTA’s new HSP46 2001 working westward toward Fitchburg. Although some of these new locomotives have been lurking around for about a year, this was my opportunity to photograph one. It was great to get one on the move in bright sun with foliage, I was delighted.
The new design of the HSP46 is unlikely to be confused with anything else. Not, as of yet, anyway. These are being built by Motive Power Inc at Boise, Idaho. Inside are General Electric mechanical and electrical components.
An accomplished railroad photographer once said to me, “to get great railroad photos, the railroad has to be ‘on’, the weather has to be ‘on’ and you have to be ‘on’. You can’t control the first two, but you can control yourself.”
There are those days where everything falls into place. The morning of October 15, 1995 was clear and bright; I had Kodachrome 25 in my cameras; and Dean Sauvola and I were in place at Genoa along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s double track line parallel to the Mississippi.
We’d positioned ourselves high above the town and waited. Between 9:34 am and 10:32 am the railroad performed and we photographed four trains in nice light. A little later we heard of a southward Canadian Pacific freight on the westbank of the river and reposition to Lansing, Iowa for a productive chase to Postville.
Later in the day we resumed photography on the east bank and photographed another parade of trains along the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy at Glen Haven, Wisconsis. By the end of the day we’d photographed eleven trains in clear October sunlight. Tick all three boxes for October 15, 1995!
A favorite location along the river was the Mississippi Palisades Park a few miles north of Savanna. Back in the mid-1990s, Mike and Tom Danneman and I would park at the public lot near river level and follow a designated hiking trail to one of several overlooks.
There standing on a plateau a top a river bluff made from millions of years of sediment, we command grand views of the river.
At the time, Burlington Northern would run a parade of trains in the afternoon and we’d photograph these roaring up and down the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy line. This was a versatile location, good for photos at all times of the day. I don’t know that we ever tired of it.
At other times, we’d try angles from river level as well.
My old boss at Pentrex Publishing, Don Gulbrandsen, encouraged my photography along the Mississippi by describing the whole experience as the ‘Spirit of the River.’ While for me the main attraction was the railroads; the towns, scenery, boats and barges, locks and wild life (mostly birds of the feathered variety), which made for added interest.
Between 1994 and 1996, I made numerous trips to the Mississippi River Valley, largely working between Savanna, Illinois and La Crosse, Wisconsin and the corresponding towns on the Iowa-side.
I often traveled with Tom and Mike Danneman, Dean Sauvola, Tim Hensch and others, who added their perspective to the Mississippi Valley. While Burlington Northern (BNSF after September 1995) was the busiest line, whenever possible, I focused on the other railroads, namely Canadian Pacific’s Soo Line and Chicago, Central & Pacific.
The vast majority of my photography from these trips has never been seen, save for the occasional slide show in the 1990s. The other day, on request from a regular Tracking the Light reader, I opened a blue Logan Box filled with cardboard-mounted chromes that is labeled ‘Midwest 1990s,’ and contains some of my Mississippi River highlights.
Some of the photos are classic views, others are more interpretive. At the time, I was aiming to expose scenes that captured the railroad in its environment, often with a greater emphasis on the environment than the trains.
Scenes like this were once common: piggyback trains on their final lap to Boston running along traffic on the adjacent Massachusetts Turnpike. But, not any more.
A few years ago, CSX finally closed its yards at Beacon Park, having expanded its intermodal facilities in Worcester and West Springfield.
I made this view on bright, brisk clear afternoon at Newton, Massachusetts. Polarized sunlight can be typical Boston weather in early winter.
It’s nice to get clear sunny days, yet the area’s low humidity combined with other elements can make the light too contrasty. Not all sunlight has the same qualities, and I’ve found that sunlight can vary greatly from region to region and at different times of the year.
But when autumn fades to winter, more changes than just the leaves. In eastern Massachusetts stark midday wintery lighting presents its own of visual challenges.
The cold razor’s edge Boston’s winter sunlight makes for blinding bright highlights and opaque shadows. But is it too harsh? I’m much fonder of softer mid-autumn sun.
Stark light, not withstanding, I’m happy to have made this view of a Conrail piggyback train on the Boston & Albany. The Conrail Trailvan trailer behind the locomotives makes it a more interesting image.
Working with my old Leica 3A—a camera I’ve been using on and off for some thirty-odd years—I made this image of CSX’s westward Q293 at Palmer, Massachusetts on the morning of October 5, 2011.
My lens of choice was a 21mm Super Angulon, which tends to vignette a little in the corners. I processed the film using my customized chemical formula that makes the negatives easy to scan. This image received virtually no post-processing after scanning, except to remove a few dust specs and to scale for internet presentation.
Sometimes the old cameras yield the most satisfying results. Some of my earliest photos were made with this same camera-lens combination.
Soon, Amtrak’s Vermonter will be detoured back to the traditional passenger route north of Springfield, Massachusetts, leaving the New England Central’s former Central Vermont line between Palmer and East Northfield, Massachusetts freight only for the first time in 25 years.
On the afternoon of October 27, 2014, fellow photographer Bob Arnold suggested that we make a photo of the southward Vermonter (train 55) at Three Rivers, where line crosses the Chicopee River on a plate girder bridge.
It was a nice clear sunny day and the foliage was splendid. Somehow the Vermonter managed to lose about 20 minutes in its short run down from Amherst, a station that will cease to serve as a regular stop with the route change.
If you are interested in riding or photographing Amtrak’s Vermonter on this route, don’t delay, time is running out.
Otto Vondrak encouraged me to post some black & white work as part of the a Black & White Challenge for Facebook, so I’m on my third photo of five, all exhibited through my Tracking the Light photo blog. Normally I post daily, so consider these ‘extra posts’ (with white flags).
Using my Rolleiflex Model T, I made this image on film of a disused steam locomotive on a siding at Jarwarzyna, Poland. I find dead locomotives sad to look at, but they make interesting subjects. The contrast of the Spring flowers with rusting metal offers hope, although not necessarily for the engine.