Amtrak GG1, Pelham Bay Park.

Kid with a Camera.

My brother would shout, ‘Look! A GG1!’

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.

An Amtrak-painted former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric works toward Penn-Station in April 1980. Exposed on Kodachrome 64 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. The photo has been cropped and contrast and color were adjusted in postprocessing.
An Amtrak-painted former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric works toward Penn-Station in April 1980. Exposed on Kodachrome 64 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. The photo has been cropped and contrast and color were adjusted in postprocessing.

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!

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One comment on “Amtrak GG1, Pelham Bay Park.

  1. Colm O Callaghan on said:

    What a great view from that apartment, 19th floor.