Western New York in the 1980s.

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 . . .”

October 26, 1987 was a clear and bright day. Conrail's WBRO-15 had 37 cars for the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville. I didn't go to class. Kodachrome 25 exposed at Avon using my Leica M2 with 50mm lens.
October 26, 1987 was a clear and bright day. Conrail’s WBRO-15 had 37 cars for the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville. I didn’t go to class. Kodachrome 25 exposed at Avon using my Leica M2 with 50mm lens.

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.

On January 8, 1989, a rare Conrail C30-7 (one of only ten on the roster) leads a westward empty coal train through Rochester, New York. I exposed a sequence of photos using my Leica M2 with a 200mm Telyt fitted to a Visoflex. In retrospect that was a bizarre and awkward camera-lens combination for making moving train photos. But I used it all the time with great results. A thin layer of high cloud softened the sun.
On January 8, 1989, a rare Conrail C30-7 (one of only ten on the roster) leads a westward empty coal train through Rochester, New York. I exposed a sequence of photos using my Leica M2 with a 200mm Telyt fitted to a Visoflex. In retrospect that was a bizarre and awkward camera-lens combination for making moving train photos. But I used it all the time with great results. A thin layer of high cloud softened the sun.

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7 comments on “Western New York in the 1980s.

  1. Chris Playford on said:

    Exactly where were you standing for both of those shots?

    • I was on, or near, an overhead bridge over the tracks.

    • Chris Playford on said:

      Sorry for not being a bit more specific with my question. Avon: South of route 5 and 20? With Conrail either going to or coming from on the branch line to Kraft? And downtown Rochester: by Frontier field? What looks like the high rise apts. on St. Paul St. in the very last part of the background is throwing me off. So wonder exactly where and how did you get to that location as I would love to get a couple of shots myself there. Thanks! And sorry to bug you about this!

    • Hi,
      Sorry, I didn’t realize which post this was attached to. I did’t mean to be vague.
      It was 25 years ago that I made this image and my specific memories are hazy. It was west of the Amtrak station and bridge over the Genesee, near where the R&S ex BR&P line went into the subway.. Let me check my notes and see if I can figure out a more specific location.
      Check back in a day or so.
      Brian Solomon

    • Here’s some more information on the Rochester/Western New York images from the 1980s.
      The empty Conrail coal train with C30-7 6606 was exposed on January 8, 1989. As noted previously, I was west of the Amtrak Station, and west of the bridge over the Genesee River, and immediately west of where I-490 crosses under the old Water Level Route. According to Google maps there is an ‘Industrial’ street near the line on the south side, and Canal Street just west of there. I was in that vicinity on an embankment. I knew this train was coming, and I wasn’t in position very long. At the time I was keen to photograph the C30-7, which even then, was a rare locomotive on Conrail.

      Please let me know if this helps,
      All the best,
      Brian Solomon

      The Conrail WBRO-15 and LA&L photo was made in Avon at the interchange. I believe this specific photo was made just to the south of the old Erie Railroad passenger station (and immediately south of Route 20). If you look very carefully you might be able to see the grade crossing for Route 20 between the two locomotives. The Conrail GP38 is blocking the view of the station. At that time Conrail still owned/operated the Erie line to Avon.

    • Chris Playford on said:

      Thank You for taking time to answer this!! Now I can see where that curve is on the map. Forgot that there is a S curve there. And at Avon, just exactly where I thought you were. The train is ‘hiding’ King Cole complex also. Thanks again.
      Love the overseas pictures also!