The Curse of the Code Lines.

Oh the Wonderful Wires!

In the 1980s, I often bemoaned the ‘telegraph wires’ as I called the code lines that lined most mainlines.

Conrail's fomer New York Central main line at Churchville, New York on April 10, 1987. The infamous code lines were lurking on the south side of the tracks. Exposed on Kodachrome 25.
Conrail’s fomer New York Central main line at Churchville, New York on April 10, 1987. The infamous code lines were lurking on the south side of the tracks. Exposed on Kodachrome 25.

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.

On the afternoon of February 25, 1987, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 color slide using my college roommates's Canon A1 with 50mm lens; f4.5 1/250th of a second. The poles and wires were my primary subject, the westward Conrail  intermodal train was included for incidental interest.
On the afternoon of February 25, 1987, at Churchville, New York I exposed this Kodachrome 25 color slide using my college roommates’s Canon A1 with 50mm lens; f4.5 1/250th of a second. The poles and wires were my primary subject, the westward Conrail intermodal train was included for incidental interest.

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.

Conrail C30-7A 6593 leads symbol freight PXSE -9 eastbound at mp397 South Byron, New York. Exposed on K25 using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron. 'Full sun setting'-240 foot candles according to my Sekonic Studio Deluxe. Camera set at: f4.5 1/250th of a second.
Conrail C30-7A 6593 leads symbol freight PXSE -9 eastbound at mp397 South Byron, New York. Exposed on K25 using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron. ‘Full sun setting’-240 foot candles according to my Sekonic Studio Deluxe. Camera set at: f4.5 1/250th of a second. Here’s I’ve worked with the code line, using it to frame up the passing freight.
Sunrise at Donahue Road in Batavia, New York finds PXSE rolling east and SENF (Selkirk-Niagara Falls) roaring west. For me the code lines and morning glint light made this a favorite sequence. Exposed on PKL (Kodachrome 200) using a Leica M3 fitted to a Visoflex with 200mm Telyt lens mounted on a tripod. f6.3 1/250th of a second.
Sunrise at Donahue Road in Batavia, New York finds PXSE rolling east and SENF (Selkirk-Niagara Falls) roaring west. For me the code lines and morning glint light made this a favorite sequence. Exposed on PKL (Kodachrome 200) using a Leica M3 fitted to a Visoflex with 200mm Telyt lens mounted on a tripod. f6.3 1/250th of a second.
Sunrise at Donahue Road in Batavia, New York with SENF (Selkirk-Niagara Falls) roaring west. Exposed on PKL (Kodachrome 200) using a Leica M3 fitted to a Visoflex with 200mm Telyt lens at f8 1/250th of a second.
Sunrise at Donahue Road in Batavia, New York with SENF (Selkirk-Niagara Falls) roaring west. Exposed on PKL (Kodachrome 200) using a Leica M3 fitted to a Visoflex with 200mm Telyt lens at f8 1/250th of a second.

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.

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3 thoughts on “The Curse of the Code Lines.”

  1. The Sekonic incident meter used a “high” slide outdoors with a factor of 32x, so the foot candle reading was 7,680 (your reading of 240 multiplied by 32).

    1. Thanks for that clarification. It’s been a long time since I worked with the Sekonic light meter, and I guess I forgot that part about the slide. My notes simply read ‘240 can’.

  2. Very interesting comments and approach to the subject of code lines! And nice use of them in the photos you provided – you added an important element of railroading and used the lines to help frame your mail subject. Very effective!

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